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Rant #286
(published July 13, 2006)
Letter from Porlamar: The Tale of John Smith, and the Driving Habits of Venezuelans
by Bob Johnson
Dear Son,

I am in Porlamar on the south side of the Isla Margarita, off the coast of Venezuela. I've just left the north side of the island, the town of Juan Griego (John the Greek). He was helpful during the war of liberation from Spain.

I ran into two Americans who have lived on sail boats for the last twenty years. They are real interesting characters.

John Smith had been in the military during Vietnam as a hospital corpsman. He trained at the Great Lakes Naval Training facility near Chicago. On leave he visited the Museum of Science and Industry. There was an exhibit there that allowed children to get into the cockpit of a helicopter and play a video game where they shot at Vietnamese villagers. There were people, mostly nuns and clerics, protesting this horrific display. John was in uniform. He joined their sit-in and was arrested by the Naval Shore patrol. He was kicked out of the military after that. John has been living on boats in the Caribbean since.

The boat he has now was purchased with money received from a son of Winston Churchill. John rescued him from a boating disaster when the Brit was drowning. John performed mouth to mouth and revived the guy. At the time, John was without a boat. He had been struck by a large ferry boat that never stopped. His boat went down. He was living in a cemetery in Grenada. He became friends with the fellow he saved. Churchill learned of his predicament and gave him the money that John used to buy the boat he lives on now. John was one of the founders of Greenpeace, but hasn't been part of it since 1983.

The other fellow is 78 years old and has been living on his boat for a long time as well. He spoke much less, so I learned much less about him. Lon is from Montana.

Neither of them has a passport. They are anchored here because everything is so cheap here. A lobster dinner at a nice beachfront eatery was priced at $8.00, Filet Mignon for $5.00.


I rented a car, it had no air conditioning. I got another, it had a broken door handle. I got another, and after putting my bag in the trunk, it wouldn't open. I got another, it had no license plates. The rental lady said no problem. I filled up the tank on the second car and the total was 4,000 bolivares. I got the third car gassed for 3,600 bolivares.

It's 2,200 bolivars to the dollar.

I've got to run—got to check out of my hotel. On the entire island I have seen maybe 8 stop signs. All the gas stations are liquor stores. It is not illegal to drink and drive.


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