We were barely five minutes from the shore when the dolphins appeared, their splashing visible along the distinct line between the earthy-red of the landmasses and the deep blue of the Caribbean. At the tiller, Jhonny (the silent Spanish "J" affording him an unusual title) made a beeline for them, attracting their attention by rhythmically thumping the side of the boat. Momentarily distracted by the new playmate, the dolphins swam alongside, darting in and around the hull before tiring of our slow speed and breaking away in search of breakfast.
Our encounter took place in Mochima National Park in northeastern Venezuela, a stretch of Caribbean coastline dotted with sleepy beach-front communities such as Santa Fe. The park covers 360 square miles between the towns of Puerto La Cruz and Cumaná, both of which service the popular Isla de Margarita by ferry. This island is the country's largest, where towns like Porlamar and Pampatar (some of the continent's first European colonies) are welcome escapes for Venezuelans from the relative intensity of the cities.
The town of Santa Fe comprises a thin strip of sand lined with colourful guesthouses, moored speedboats and a large pelican population. The scruffy bird's ungainly style of fishing is as engaging to watch as it proves effective and the best seat in the house for ornithological observation is the local market. Painted bright blue, its various stalls serve up empanadas, fresh juices and arepas - disks of savoury cornbread, fried and stuffed with fillings which depend on the time of day.