Living La Vida Roques Download PDF
Do you dream of escaping your cubical for a kiting Shangri-La where sessions never stop? Meet Elias Percales and Lieselotte Vieweg—they fled conventional jobs for Los Roques to live every kiter’s fantasy.
Elias Pernales unfurls a map on his living room floor. “This is where we’ll launch our kites for the downwinder,” he says, pointing to a landless splotch of blue. I crouch next to him for closer scrutiny. We’re looking at a map of Los Roques, a Caribbean atoll that’s part of Venezuela. I arrived here four days ago. “There’s nothing there but open sea,” I inform him. “How do you expect us to rig?”
“The map is wrong,” Pernales scoffs. “Don’t worry. We’ll find an island. Everything will be fine.”
Pernales, who lives here, is certain of his geography. I have to trust him. We chartered a skiff early in the morning
to do a 16-mile downwinder along a barrier reef where, according to Pernales, we’ll find the best riding in the islands. The skiff is too small to attempt a boat launch, so a smidgen of land would be useful.
Los Rogues is 350 mangrove islets, sandbars and cays populating a swath of the Caribbean roughly 80 miles north
of Caracas, Venezuela. Virtually all of the islands in this national park are uninhabited, except for Gran Rogue (grand rock), where 1,200 barefoot residents cluster into a village about the size of a Costco. The streets are paved with fluffy sand, the nights are refreshingly cool and for six months of the year (January to June) robust trade winds rake this low-lying archipelago that annually sees only a handful of kiteboarders. There is flat water and surf, and there are endless empty miles of aquamarine pools where you can downwind for hours in waist-deep shallows so unfathomably clear and smooth it’s like riding on a pane of glass.
I’m here for eight days with my wife, Ashley, and photographer alexander Nesbitt to kite with Pernales and his 42-
year-old girlfriend, Lieselotte Vieweg. The couple teaches kiteboarding for dare2Fly, the kiting arm of Vela Windsurf resorts. Pernales, 44, is sun-bronzed, cinematically handsome and ripped like a triathlete. His eyes are luminous, his smile eternal. he’s infectiously easygoing. Vieweg, too, is in a state of perpetual bliss. And she’s extraordinarily fit as well, a lean and limber goddess of hewn muscle and sandy blond locks.
They live in a clapboard pine bungalow they built themselves on Francisquí, a mile long mangrove-thatched islet where they are the lone residents. Their two-room cottage is made of pine planks and oiled with diesel fuel, which protects the timber from the corrosive salt air. There is no plumbing or fresh water. A perimeter fence made of 64 discarded windsurfing boards pitched on end surrounds the encampment like a medieval wall. “It’s the board cemetery,” jokes Pernales. Their front yard is an expansive flat-water lagoon; their backyard is a perfect side-off right break. A day for Pernales and Vieweg begins with a wave session, and then, with kites aloft, they’ll amble across narrow Francisquí to ride the lagoon—all before breakfast.
Their world—an escapist fantasy of indulgence and tranquility—is precisely what lured me here. Since my entrée into kiting, I’ve had a recurring dream: sell the farm and flee to a far-flung island to live as a kite bum. Admittedly, I’ve got a good gig penning tales of adventure. Ashley is a lawyer, a profession she enjoys amidst bouts of bipolar freneticism. Ultimately, though, we’re still cogs in “the Machine.” But when we heard about two nine-to-fivers (Pernales toiled at an ad agency; Vieweg was a restaurateur) who’d ditched their big-city jobs to devote their entire existence solely to kiting, we were at once inspired and curious. Maybe my dream wasn’t so far-fetched? to find out, we decided we had to meet them in person. A pilgrimage ensued.
“Getting food is difficult,” Vieweg tells me when I ask her what’s the hardest thing about living on Francisquí. “Whenever the supply ship comes to Gran Rogue, you have to get there right away before everything is gone,” says Pernales. “We also have to get all our fresh water from the desalination plant in town, so we only have a little bucket to bathe with.” Vieweg, who is swinging in a hammock strung across their open-air living room, nods in agreement. “That is one of the worst things,” she says.
Vieweg and Pernales met in 2001. Vieweg had come to Los Rogues on vacation. She was living in Merida, an Andean mountain town of 200,000 that’s the country’s adventure-sports capital. Vieweg owned a restaurant in Merida. She bought it shortly after returning to Venezuela from London, where she’d spent seven years working for a catering company. “When I got back from London, I’d had enough of all the rushing around,” she says. “Life there is just completely different.” She came to Los Rogues intending to stay a week, but she found a job at a posada in Gran Rogue and never left. Pernales happened to be working for the same posada and it didn’t take long before sparks began to fly. “I don’t know what happened,” Vieweg says, giggling like a schoolgirl recounting her first love. “We started to work together and we just stayed a couple ever since.”
They took up windsurfing and began teaching for Vela. But by 2003, they’d grown weary of the daily boat commute between Gran Rogue and Francisquí, where Vela had its school. A caretaker was living on Francisquí in a ramshackle lean-to. “When he decided to leave, we decided to move,” recalls Vieweg. They wrangled the necessary park permits to expand the hut into living quarters, ordered supplies from Caracas—lumber, nails, tools, concrete—and invited 10 friends to help with construction. The couple set up a makeshift tent camp on the island. Not long afterward, a 60-foot cargo ship arrived with supplies. “It was truly amazing to see this huge ship unloading all our wood onto the sand,” says Vieweg. “For the next 15 days, we worked with our friends from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening until our house was finished.”
With their digs complete, Vieweg and Pernales turned to their next goal: learning to kiteboard. That didn’t take long. after all, some of the best riding on the planet is 20 steps from their back door—they can, quite literally, roll out of bed and onto the beach for a session. They regularly venture farther afield, too, piling gear into their inflatable dinghy and motoring to nearby cays to scout for new spots along the archipelago’s periphery, where, even today, vast tracts of beckoning flat water and myriad surf breaks have yet to see a single kiter.
The downwinder Pernales suggests is one of these places—off the grid, uncharted, nameless. But the fact that my Google Earth snapshot shows open sea where Pernales intends to commence our downwinder is a little worrisome. To get there, we blast upwind in an 18-foot fiberglass skiff with a 200-horsepower outboard clamped onto its stern. our boat is named Caracol (seashell), and after 45 minutes its captain, Israel Alfonzo, kills the engine and we coast silently into a cerulean swimming pool with a sandy bottom. The water is translucent and brilliantly lit—beholding it without sunglasses is retina-searing.
And, sure enough, Pernales is right. There’s a mite of land where, on paper, none should exist. It’s the quintessential castaway cay, a circular flyspeck of shimmering white sand less than 50 yards wide. The island is a parody of itself, a caricature Gary Larson might sketch for a Far Side cartoon. I’m awestruck: this is the secret spot of the century (and I’m not telling). An intoxicating, 15-knot wind blows across a flat-water rink only gods and devils should know about. I’m certain we’re breaking some kind of metaphysical law just being here.
We tumble out of the boat into 80-degree water, our kites scrunched under our arms, and wade onto the tiny spit to rig up. It’s not nuking, but because we’re in the center of a silky slick—a cup of chai has bigger chop—it hardly matters. Within minutes, people are ripping and whooping and nailing moves they’d never before landed. Pernales, in particular, is boosting huge air over Caracol while Nesbitt’s shutter clicks through frames like an Uzi. I ride upwind to practice back rolls and raleys. At one point, I spook a ray burrowed in the sand taking a snooze. it materializes inches below my board, and with a single pulse of its wings, propels itself into a speedy glide to safety.
We arrived intending to downwind back to Francisquí, but nobody has any intention of leaving these dreamy conditions. Still, after three hours (a span that flashes by in what seems like minutes) Alfonzo urges us to get a move on. it’s 3:30 p.m. and he warns us that the late afternoon glare will make it impossible to see through the water. It’s low tide, and en route to Francisquí we’ll have to navigate a coral labyrinth scarcely 6 inches below the surface. Pernales leaves first, zipping downwind on his 12-meter road. I follow close behind on my 12-meter crossbow 2. We’re both super powered—the glassy water offers zero resistance. It’s easy to get cranking, even when the knots are modest. Pernales banks starboard, pointing toward a long reef that will flank us throughout the downwinder. Fifty yards away, double-overhead surf is barreling toward us from the open sea, but it crashes onto exposed coral. Our ride is butter smooth.
Everyone is trying to stay near Pernales, who is zigzagging to avoid the numerous and virtually invisible coral heads. about four miles farther, the breeze climbs 5 knots and we’re rocketing. We skirt a tiny mangrove islet, keeping our kites high to avoid its wind shadow. That’s when I see the shipwreck. It’s a monster, a gargantuan cargo ship perhaps 800 feet long that beached itself so ferociously hard on the reef it split clean in two. Local fishermen spotted the shattered vessel resting in the shallow water long after it foundered. Its crew had vanished, their origin unknown, and its contents long gone.
I kite toward it, tacking within 200 yards. A sheer wall of rusting steel rises 300 feet from azure water. It’s both terrifying and mesmerizing. I’ve kited into the set of Waterworld. But i can’t get too close or it’ll kill my wind. That doesn’t stop Pernales, who is riding between its broken halves, his kite passing mere feet from the severed hull. From my position, it almost looks like he’s kiting through its empty hold. Hands down, it’s the ballsiest kiting maneuver I’ve ever witnessed. Should he crash, he’d be ground into mincemeat by a nightmarish deathtrap of eddies, roiling white water, craggy coral heads and rusty shards of splintered steel. Thankfully, he makes a few passes for the camera (Nesbitt is shooting from Caracol) and gets the hell out.
It takes two more hours riding downwind through twinkling flat-water ecstasy to reach Francisquí. I don’t want it to end. But the sun has dipped below the horizon and the orange sky has ignited the island in fiery hues. I tell Vieweg that I’ve never kited so far and for so long in water so smooth—I hardly hit a ripple bigger than a baseball. “There is nothing to stop the wind here,” she reminds me. “And the reef keeps it very flat.” only Gran Rogue boasts some meager elevation; its pinnacle lighthouse is perched at 400 feet. The rest of the islands lie perilously close to sea level. Luckily, Los Rogues is too far south in the northern hemisphere to get hurricanes, but the islands cannot combat the inescapable siege of global warming. Pernales and Vieweg have already relocated a portion of their house because of rising sea levels. “The water just got too close,” says Vieweg. “In five years, we’ll probably have to move the house again. Every year the sea gets higher. it’s frightening. Los Rogues is beginning to slowly disappear and in 50 years, it probably won’t exist at all.”
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