An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – A Journey Onward


There are certain preconceptions, often reinforced by too much TV or too many movies, that rob us of accurate perspectives of the geography of different places. When we think of South America as being one vast jungle we are no better informed than our fifteenth century brethren who had maps whose edges contained annotations of here be dragons. A more accurate rendering might be that there are still huge areas that have yet to be made accessible – some of them still as remote as when Bill Leach wrote this in 1937 – and that they include all varieties of geology, flora and fauna and sometimes the best way to relate someone else’s story – particularly when you are using their words to do it is just to get out-of-the-way and let them speak for themselves.

Looking through the jungle from Caripito toward the mountains and tomorrow

Looking through the jungle from Caripito toward the mountains and tomorrow

April 1,1937,  and  I am prepared to go  to Temblador. The meaning of the word in Spanish or Venezuelan is “Electric  eel”.  I left Caripito late in the  afternoon with W. C. Proctor who came  from Cumarebo to take the job of tool pusher  in the Temblador area.  We arrived in Quiriquire at about supper time and picked up a chauffeur.  Left Quiriquire  about 7:00 P.M.  and departed for Maturin,  made a stop for pampherilia for the chauffeur,   and continued for our next stop which was Santa Barbera. The ride from Maturin was  a bit  irregular in  that we crossed several rivers and crossed rather large Savannahs,  but did not  see anything interesting.

Dikes in the foreground being built to protect the savannah from river flooding.

Dikes in the foreground being built to protect the savannah from river flooding.

Stayed overnight  in Santa Barbera at the  adobe home of a friend of Procotor,  and although the rest was  insufficient for a set of tired muscles and bones,   I can say that   I really enjoyed the belated rest.   I had    for  the first time,since  I arrived in Venezuela,   the pleasure  (?) of attempting in a    “Chinchura” which is the Venezuelan equivalent of a hammock.   I wont even attempt to  say just how many times I nearly fell out of the   “Chinchura”while  trying to get to sleep  in a comfortable sleeping position.   One actually has  to lie crosswise  in this type of sleeper.     However  it was a novelty and an experience for a northerner.

If not actually travelling on the river you are never far from it

If not actually travelling on the river you are never far from it

The following morning I made only a weak attempt to partake  of the native breakfast;   two fried eggs and  they were greasy,   an onion,   and  a cup of coffee     well,   I only ate the  eggs  and  thought  that it would be best to wait until I arrived at the Gulf Oil Camp at Officina.  After a rather dusty ride  over vast,  and  I mean vast,   flat lowlands or  savannahs we finally arrived at the camp.   I did eat a hearty dinner and after a short rest we  decided that  it would be best to continue for Temblador.

stopover
The ensuing ride towards our destination was a tortuous one,  in that  it was   dusty,  dry,  and bumpy.   It certainly will feel good to ride over the smooth pavement again and  I wonder whether or not I’ll ever feel like leaving the  good old U.S.A.  again,  even if it  is for the love of money. We had to ford a few rivers and at one place,  namely the Rio Tenoro,  we were  met at the  river bank by a group of natives who guided the  driver over the  best part of the river bed.  It is always best to have  twenty (20)   Bolivars ready for this   emergency otherwise the  driver will lead himself through places gouged out in the  river bed by these canny natives. These natives are not as  dumb as one thinks that they are.  Woe be  it to the  driver who does not have the  20 Bolivars  for the natives at the  start of the fording of the  river –  if one gets stuck in the river bed he  can be assured that  the pulling out of the auto will easily cost him at  least 100 Bolivars,   and if the driver  is fresh and  berates the natives this man can figure on remaining in the  river bed until other  aid arrives in the  form of a passing truck or auto containing some help.  Although it is sort of a gyp I will readily admit that  it  is best  to have  the 20 Bfs on sight.

on the river

We also crossed the bad lands and forded the river in the area called Purgatoria, and the name does not miss it by a heck of a lot.  The ride thru this area was as tiresome as any of the route taken by us.  The land is as cut up as the area around Espanola, Tucumcari, or in other ways similar to pictures that I have seen of Estes Park, Colorado.  The land is as arid as I have encountered in the southwestern part of the U.S., and although there are a few scattered rivulets one would wonder just why they did not dry up in a short time.  The creeks or rivulets have their banks lined with numbers of Morichi Palms, and these trees gave a sort of tropical appearance to the surrounding bareness of the country.

The trunk of a Morichi palm

The trunk of a Morichi palm

These Morichi Palm trees along the rivers give the traveler a good idea of what an oasis in the desert is like to a traveler lost in the wide expanses of a foreign territory; such was the feeling that coursed through me when I saw the “Canyo” in the middle of the Purgatoria area.

parrot
Later in the day I saw some more beautifully plumaged parrots, birds, and a few perfectly white herons or cranes. These white creatures surely are graceful in their flight; also saw my first deer in this area and it certainly did make a fast getaway from our vicinity.

SOV at Temblador from a derrick top

SOV at Temblador from a derrick top

Well, it took about five and one-half hours to go from Officina to our destination, Temblador – we arrived just in time to go to super. After the meal I straightened out my things and took a well-earned comfortable rest.

Native huts at Mata Negra village near Temblador

Native huts at Mata Negra village near Temblador

Bill had grown up in upstate New York. From Schenectady he and his brothers had been able to hop on the train and see Babe Ruth play baseball in either Boston or New York and he had his first real job with GE there. The transition to the New Mexico School of Mines must have been something of a shock to him perched on the edge of the desert and the mountains but even though Socorro was thirty miles from water and four feet from Hell there were roads and signs and a sense of civilization. In Venezuela he had his first confrontation with the state of nature, not some idyllic literary fallacy but rather the miles of nothing that could be benign or treacherous – or both – and the possibilities had to be exciting and frightening at the same time.

 

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