An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – A trip to Santiago de León de Caracas


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PROLOGUE: I take possession of this land in the name of God and the King, were the words of Don Diego de Losada in founding the city of Caracas on July 25, 1567. In 1577 Caracas became the capital of the Spanish Empire’s Venezuela Province under Governor Juan de Pimentel (1576–1583). During the 17th century, the coast of Venezuela was frequently raided by Dutch, English, French and freebooter pirates so with the coastal mountains as a barrier, Caracas was relatively immune to such attacks – one of the reasons it became the principal city of the region. The other being the cultivation of cocoa under the Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas which stimulated the development of the city and cemented its position as the capital of the Captaincy General of Venezuela.

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An attempt at revolution was put down in 1797. But on 5 July 1811, a Declaration of Independence was signed in Caracas. As the birthplace of “El Libertador“, Simón Bolívar, it was the focus of the independence from Spain movement.  Even though an earthquake destroyed Caracas in 1812 – which was portrayed by authorities as a divine punishment for the rebellion against the Spanish Crown – the war continued until 1821, when Bolívar gained a decisive victory at the Battle of Carabobo.

simon bolivar

Between one-quarter and one-third of Venezuela’s population was lost during  two decades of warfare – including perhaps one-half of the European population – which by 1830 was estimated at about 800,000. Much of Venezuela’s 19th century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule which culminated in the Federal War (1859–1863), a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died, in a country with a population of not much more than a million people. In the latter half of the century Antonio Guzmán Blanco, another caudillo, served a total of thirteen years between 1870 and 1887, with three other presidents interspersed.

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The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I would  prompt an economic boom that by 1935 would have Venezuela’s per capita gross domestic product Latin America’s highest. In power from 1908 Juan Vicente Gómez benefited handsomely from this, as corruption thrived, but at the same time, the new source of income helped him centralize the Venezuelan state and develop its authority and he remained the most powerful man in Venezuela until his death in 1935. The gomecista dictatorship system largely continued under Eleazar López Contreras and through the Second World War as the combination of big oil and the American government insisted on the maintenance of stability. It was during this period of relative stability that Bill Leach was in Venezuela and visited Caracas.

cathedral

Well, here it is the 10th of December and I am going by auto to Coro, a matter of about 50 kilometers from Cumarebo, where I’ll Take the Pan American Plane for La Guira. Took the plane, one of the newest and largest Douglas in the service from Barranquilla, Colombia to LaGuira, and after flying gracefully over the mountains, coastline and sea, finally landed at La Guiara which is the airport for Caracas.  One cannot land in or near Caracas since it is securely nestled in the Andes Mountains.  It is difficult to land at La Guira at times for during certain seasons winds create a downdraft that is considered dangerous for landing, for the mountains dip steeply into the sea here.

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Hired a native taxi to drive me to Caracas and I must admit that the trip was an exceptionally beautiful scenery drive, for one climbs 2600 meters, or 1616 feet from sea level at La Guira to Caracas which is about 40 kilometers or about 30 miles away – but it should be borne in mind that in a straight line it is no more than 10 miles away at the most even at that it may be less. Anyways the trip was a great one and I enjoyed every bit of the way.

street scene
The city of Caracas that I have seen is typical of the Spanish city that I have seen in pictures. The gardens, parks, more important buildings, and the more interesting sights are kept well and seem to be spotlessly clean.  I was especially impressed by the district around the Swiss Club for that district certainly was beautiful.  The grounds around the country club were a wonderful sight to see also.

miraflores palace

The streets around the business districts were not kept as clean as could be expected from the shine boys keep throwing their empty shoe polish cans out into the streets. There is forever a blowing of the automobile horns by all the chauffeurs and it seems that the one making the loudest noise has the right of way at the intersections.  It seemed to me that these intersections were as noisy as a boiler factory.

train

The city itself is fast approaching the average American city when it comes to keeping in step with Americans in regards to ownership in the new styled cars; the most noticeable types being the Oldsmobile, La Salle, and the Buick.  The people have a flair for going in for odd sounding horns, for at times I thought I was in fog or out at sea with all the fog horns blowing around me.

plaza bolivar

Plaza Bolivar is located in the heart of the town and a steady parade of all types and classes of people amble along at ease with the world and with no evidence of a care in the world.  I used to spend a few of the evenings idling in the plaza just to see the curious crowds go by.  It is different to watch a Venezuelan crowd in comparison to the average American crowd.
There are two modern hotels in the city.  I tried to engage a room at the popular Domke but the place was full so I had to migrate to the Majestic which is the only first class hotel.  It certainly is a classy hotel for the city.  It is the stopping place for the incoming elite – why shouldn’t it be when they charge B’s 25 for a day! The meals are served by waiters in swallow-tails and that tends to make the place distinguished in every respect. I can vouch for the service being infallible.

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On Friday the 10th I promenaded around the town and took in the general sights of interest, and also did a little shopping for myself,  made a number of long trips to try to get some souvenirs but was unfortunate. Seems funny to me that a city of the size of Caracas would not have a place where one could buy souvenirs.  In the evening I went to the Teatro Principal and saw “Stella Dallas” and was much impressed with the picture.

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On Saturday the 11th I did get a little more shopping and finally went over to the Pan American offices to get straightened up in regard to my passage and reservation for Caripito on the coming Monday morning. Did not do a darn thing on Sunday outside of going to church; I just idled leisurely around the hotel the whole day long.  At night I went to the Plaza Bolivar and listened to the Sunday concert; there certainly was a large crowd to listen to the music.

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Monday morning and here I am departing for La Guira and in the general direction of Cachipo.  Took the 1:15 p.m. P.A. amphibian and headed for what is classified as home.  Has to go quite a bit south of Carpito on the return trip for the heavy mountainous clouds did not permit much horizontal visibility.  Finally arrived at the airport and while there I met O’Connor with whom I had worked in Temblador; he was heading for San Francisco for his long vacation.  Finally took the company car to Caripito and was fortunate to be able to receive my old room.

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Nothing eventful has passed during the Christmas and the New Year’s holidays.  The usual field parties arrived in camp and the members were ready to do their holiday absorbing.  I for one was one of the few remaining sober ones.

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