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Family Adventures in Venezuela 0

By Kathleen Peddicord

Richard didn't show. The driver Lief's friend had recommended evidently didn't understand Lief's Spanish over the broken cell connection, so we went down to the front desk of the hotel to ask for help. How to get from Caracas to Rio Chico?

A hotel taxi would cost us 180,000 bolivars (that is, about $90). "What would a non-hotel taxi cost us?" we asked. The friendly woman behind the counter didn't seem to mind the question and offered to call an outside cab company. Ten minutes later, a street cab arrived...the driver asking for but 100,000 bolivars to carry us the two-and-a-half hours to the beach. Half a day late, we were on our way.

The route to the coast at Rio Chico is traversed two-thirds of the way by highway in good condition, the final third by paved road, relatively pot hole-free. The mountainsides we traveled were lush and green.

For some reason, Rio Chico (in the state called Miranda) isn't covered in the two guidebooks to this country we brought with us, even though its beaches are some of the nearest to the capital. Our specific destination, an oceanside resort called Isla de Oro, was built in the late 1970s by the then-president of the country who needed a getaway where he could spend time with his mistress (so the story goes). Rather than creating an intimate love nest, this president thought big and undertook to erect a series of five 12-story towers and a handful of small cabanas just back from the beach...plus three pools, four tennis courts, bars, restaurants, and other trimmings of a mega-resort. Three of the five towers were built...and most of the more than 200 units were awarded to friends and family of the lovers. In other words, financially, the thing was a disaster. But, I guess, otherwise, it served its purpose.

Isla de Oro has advantages. It's situated on a wide, sandy beach. It's flanked on either side by a gated community (which helps with security). And, behind it, runs one of the many natural canals this country is known for. There are more than 100 miles of them. In fact, it's these canals that gave the country its name. Amerigo Vespucci, in 1499, was the one to dub the area "Venezuela," meaning, literally, "Little Venice."

For being so (relatively) close to the capital city, this stretch of the country's coastline is surprisingly undeveloped. "Why is there so little else built on the beach here?" I asked one of the current residents of Isla de Oro.

Building restrictions, she explained. Powers that have been in recent decades have made an issue of the country's beaches...of keeping them unspoiled and available to the people, not only the wealthy. No further high-rise construction, right now, is allowed in the region (though permission to build the other two of the five originally intended towers at Isla de Oro has been grand-fathered).

A small but growing expat community is making Isla de Oro its home, full- or part-time. Interesting people, good company, they're working hard to engineer the rebirth of the property. Repairs and improvements, to the structures and the grounds, are being carried out under the direction of the Homeowners' Association. "The work is being done," one of our new friends assured us. "I was last here a month-and-a-half ago, and I can see the progress that visit to this one."

The staff is eager to please, but the service is more charming than five-star. You can have breakfast beneath an umbrella on the beach, watching the surf...but you'll wait an hour for your eggs. We didn't mind.

Of course, one of the biggest advantages to the place is the pricing. Our family of four is dining out every meal...and we can't manage to spend more than $30 at a go, including drinks.

And you can own one of the condos in one of the towers for as little as $25,000, unfurnished and unrenovated. An upgraded, furnished unit might cost twice that. You know what high-rise condos on the beach go for in Florida.

The beach at Isla de Oro is nice, but our new friends here tell us they know a better beach, more remote. Tomorrow morning we're to drive to a boat launch 20 minutes away to board little boats to take us to a beach at Tacarigua.

Meantime, here at Isla de Oro, Kaitlin is working on her tan...Jack is playing with his new friend Donald in the wading pool...and Lief is chatting with Donald's father about investment opportunities in the region...

P.S. Oil was discovered in Venezuela in 1914 and has taken the country for a wild ride in the decades since. When the world price of oil is up...so is the Venezuelan economy. In other words, right now, with oil selling for more than $60 a barrel, the outlook here is rosier. Still, economically, the country is a basket-case, treating oil revenues less like gross national income than lottery winnings.

P.P.S. We stayed, at Isla de Oro, not in the one of the towers but in one of the seven little cabanas, on the canal. It, like the entire property, is in the process of being renovated. In its current state, a little rough around the edges but comfortable...and owned by a nice couple from the UK. Phil and Cat found their way to the coast of Venezuela a few months ago, bought the bungalow by the beach, and set about settling in. We probably visited too soon. Give Phil and Cat a couple of more months, and the place should be charming. Meantime, while the work is proceeding, they made it available to us for a bargain rate. You can get in touch with them directly regarding their rental-in-the-making by e-mail at pwmailbox@yahoo.com. For more about Isla de Oro, go to www.BeachClubResidences.com.

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First Published: Aug 07, 2005

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