An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – A Little R and R in Ciudad Bolivar

PROLOGUE: The Hispanic portions of North America and most of South America are tremendously different from the portions of North America originally colonized by the English. This latter part of the continent has undergone so many waves of immigration and so many cultural infusions that, as George Bernard Shaw observed, England and America are two countries separated by a common language. Although the Spanish colonies would sever their political ties they never severed – or had severed by waves of immigration – their cultural ties and although nobody speaks quite the same Spanish in every country their common language still unites them.


Looking at the old map of the coast of South America that shows the Amazon and Orinoco rivers [the Orinoco is at the far bottom right] the things that strike you are the fact that all of the cities are along the coast and that at the early date of this map the Orinoco appears as prominent as the Amazon. The cities being on the coast meant that the Spanish empire did not spread inland in the same way that the British did in North America and hence the indigenous people have continued to play a significant role for a much longer time.


Of course the other significant difference between the Hispanic and non-hispanic colonies was the racial question. There were slaves – both literal and figurative in both societies – but in the Spanish colonies there was no prohibition against miscegenation. Not only was it possible to have openly acknowledged griffes, mulattos, quadroons, octoroons and quintroons in the same family but the same admixtures were possible involving the Europeans, the natives and slaves brought from Africa and while there was certainly a caste system the farther from the capitol you ventured the less likely it was to be enforced – people of talent were too thin on the ground to waste any of them and most belonged to a faith that assured their equality in the eye of their Creator.


Bill Leach had Ukrainian parents – he was christened Vladimir Lech which had been anglicised for school – but he was a first generation American busy trying to assimilate but without the generational burden of prejudices. Accordingly his views of the society seem open and free of the disparagement that you so often find in observers of foreign societies. Enjoy taking a few days off with Bill – I am sure he did – just watch out for the ice cubes in the drinks – they will cause a hangover every time!


On June 6th left Temblador camp in the general direction of Ciudad Bolivar, left here at 9:45 A.M. and arrived at the Gulf Oil Company camp at La Pena at 1:10 P.M. The ride was rough in places but the thought of getting away from Temblador made me forget the ride.  However I did see some rather interesting country even though it was similar in many respects to this area.  The distance to Ciudad Bolivar is 180 kilometers over sandy roads of all descriptions.

the river
30 kilometers before reaching the Gulf camp one can see the low lying mountains to the south and this was a treat to the eyes.  What wouldn’t be a treat after seeing flat savannahs day in and day out.  Upon reaching La Pena Mr. Clarke, Mr. Plunkett, and myself cleaned up, had dinner, and then took a ride on the launch to the other side of the river where Ciudad Bolivar is located on the banks of the Orinoco.  The ride was pleasantly appealing in that it gave me an idea as to how large and swift this river really is.  During the ride I saw my first water dog, an animal that has the head of a seal and a body like a dog.  Barracuda were also plentiful in this stream.

On reaching Bolivar the first thing that we had to do was to put on our coats since this is a Spanish custom rather strictly adhered to in a good many of the South American cities.  I certainly would have liked to have discarded the coat for it was extremely warm and uncomfortable. 


The next thing to do was to sit in the shade of the trees of the Paseo or as we would say, the promenade, to drink a few beers to quench our thirst.  It was very interesting to watch the promenaders slowly meandering up and down the sidewalks. 


After sitting here for a while we decided to enter the Country Club where there was a dance in progress.  It seemed funny to me that the people down here like to dance during the daytime, especially from 12 P.M. to 5 P.M.  However the place was crowded to the limit and it seemed that everyone was enjoying himself and herself. 


After remaining here for a short time we decided to take a taxi to the Hippodrome where the races were in progress and after seeing a few races we then went back to town where there seemed to be a more interesting time to be spent.


We idled in town for a time, sitting down and walking until we were too tired to do any more walking.  From 7 o’clock until 9 o’clock we watched the crowd strutting along and it seemed to me that the whole town was out for a walk in the cool and comfortable evening.  The sidewalks were crowded with many of the young boys and girls, especially young girls of which there were many.  It was interesting to see many of the street walkers make attempts to pick up any visitors and some were successful to a great degree.

After an hour of this we decided to make the rounds of any of the interesting nightclubs where dancing and drinking were the mode of the younger set. We remained at one of the more prominent ones until it was time to beat a retreat back to our headquarters. The following morning the three of us did some shopping for ourselves and for other fellows at the camp and then took our ride over the river to the Gulf camp where we picked up our belongings packed them and then left for the good old work scenes of our stamping ground of Temblador.


However the return trip was not as interesting as was the trip to town for we had covered too much ground during the space of a week end. Will make an attempt to recover that same routine on the next trip, but whenever that trip comes around I cannot say since one of these trips depends upon laxity of work in the field.  Anyway I’ll look forward to the trip.



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