Margarita Island: A Pearl Lost in the Crisis

Margarita Island has been my favorite destination since I first met her (because she is a woman, a beautiful one) some years ago. Beaches, sunsets, crystal clear waters… Margarita has the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.

However, Margarita, as a Venezuelan island far away from the capital city, has to face even more difficulties than Caracas. While Margarita is still one of the touristic destinations receiving most tourists a year in Venezuela, it faces high levels of scarcity, a troubling water and power supply and civil insecurity.

Life on Margarita Island

On a regular day, people from Margarita Island are not watching the wonderful sea behind them; they are watching the doors of a bakery, waiting for the Arab guy to tell them the bread is ready. They have been building a line for hours, they have received numbered tickets for buying “frozen-price” bread. There yet exists bread regulated by the government at 300 bolivars (0,015 US dollar), but it is sold once a day, and the lines are never-ending. You can easily spend half of your day waiting there, next to a hundred more people.

Finding cash is the actual nightmare on Margarita Island. Automatic tellers are being loaded once a day, and will only last for one to two hours. People have to go to their bank agencies and stand in lines for several hours to withdraw a maximum of 20,000 bolivars (1 black-market dollar) a day, from their own money. Of course, you can use points of sale, but they are not available everywhere. You need cash for many things, such as taxis, because app-serviced taxis are not popular enough in Margarita.

Going shopping used to be the favorite activity of all tourists on Margarita since the island is duty-free. Nueva Esparta, the state that includes Margarita Island, was declared a duty-free port in 1973, and that made the island a famous place to go shopping at very low prices. However, nowadays there is neither a variety of products nor a reliant stock. As you are walking by, you find many stores closed, just abandoned. And the open stores… they all sell their products together with (very expensive) imported food.

Water And Power Issues

Blackouts are a daily pain in the neck. Maybe if you have the time, you eventually find the products you want to shop, but blackouts are not going to let you buy anything. Blackouts affect the entire island, even the biggest malls, on a daily basis, and they may last from 20 minutes up to six hours. As a consequence, people on Margarita Island are having serious problems with electrical devices failing because of blackouts.

Tap water is now a privilege reserved for big hotels and resorts but not for ordinary people. People on Margarita have tap water for two days a MONTH and sometimes just every 21 days. So they have to spend money on water tanks and pumps and in security systems. How is it possible to run a touristic place like this? No water, no guaranteed public services.

Food on Margarita Island is delicious, but scarcity makes it difficult to find. Empanadas sellers, for example, now only work on the beach at weekends because, as they told me, they do not have the ingredients to work and they have to stand in line for food during the week. On top, some beach restaurants have closed due to the economic crisis.

Food and medicine scarcity has already taken the lives of many Margariteños (people from Margarita), and it seems to be never-ending. Likewise, crime, which has increased as economic problems increased, is now a problem for all on the island. Margarita Island is not only suffering from robberies but also from cases of kidnapping and murder.

It’s Still a Beautiful Island

Despite all these difficulties, I still love going to Margarita. Here are some reason why:

Imagine a place where you can rest on a hammock listening to nature’s sounds, a place where you can eat the sweetest mangoes directly from the tree, a place where you can eat fresh fish and sea fruits. On Margarita Island, you can go to any beach and enjoy clean water, beaches and the sound of the Caribbean Sea.

Besides this, you can enjoy being with the happiest people and going to parties. The Margariteños relax as nobody else does. On Margarita, there are many places, such as bars, clubs, and discotheques, to have some drinks and dance. But if you prefer quiet walks, you can visit the museums, castles, fortresses, and churches; and they will tell you the history of Margarita Island and Venezuela. Having different kinds of fun in the same place is something we, Venezuelans, have not yet learned to appreciate.

Virgen Del Valle

People on Margarita Island trust in their miraculous Virgen del Valle for everything. And they celebrate her every September 8th like the good devouts they are. On every street, they creatively garnish the image of the Virgin Mary, take her in procession, and people wait for her in front of their houses to clap as she passes by. Traditionally, Margarita girls dance in front of the Virgin to honor her. Besides, regional musicians play and sing traditional Margarita music. A festival that even the ones who do not believe in her, or in God, have to see and enjoy.

In El Valle del Espíritu Santo, where the Virgen del Valle has her own church, hundreds of people visit her every single year during the days from September 1st to 8th. On September 8th, the day of Virgen del Valle, several masses take place, with the first one starting as early as 5 am, which is attended by locals and tourists. At 10 am, the bishop celebrates the central mass, and at the end of it, they sing happy birthday to the Virgin with a birthday cake! In El Valle del Espíritu Santo, you can also enjoy delicious traditional food, sweets, and drinks. A piece of culture that we enjoy as much as that piece of cake.

I would like to have the island that I used to know back. The one that was full of tourists, smiles and open places. The one we see today is struggling to continue to be the pearl of the Caribbean, struggling to keep being beautiful and diverse. The economic situation we are experiencing right now is affecting every part of the country, the farther you are from the capital, the fewer products, and services you have. I don’t think the situation is going to get better this year, or even the next one. I would like to, but I don’t believe it. Meanwhile, I can go to my calm, beautiful island, hang a hammock and forget about Carachaos “for a while”.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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