PROLOGUE: Everyone who travels encounters something different than what they left behind. New languages, new people, new topography greet the traveller at every turn and while Margaret Edythe Young may have experienced in turn British insularity, Gallican indifference and Latin indolence she did so in a world that was familiar to her, shared the same modern conveniences she was used to and she was insulated by guides and chaperones who prevented anything that may have given the least intimation of adventure. The travel that was thought to complete a liberal education was the ideal tool to confirm and reinforce it prejudices and while she may have been exposed to a wealth of cultural antecedents she saw nothing new or unexpected.
Her future son-in-law, Bill Leach, enjoyed travels of a far different sort. He went where, as Kipling would have it, all the people like us are We, and everyone else is They – and to complete the thought everything We brought with us or built is Ours and anything left is Theirs. The most imposing obstacle to either party was the jungle. They had centuries of experience of living in it, passing through it and living with it. We were new to it. We had tamed a continent and were harnessing everything from rivers, to coal to oil to drive the dynamo of progress. We would learn that maybe They were right.
Here it is February 5th and all is well. Met a fellow named Beecher at the Quiriquire Camp who is on a seismograph party, and who has just returned from working in the delta and he had some interesting things to tell. Of course I had to take some of the things with a grain of salt for I am unable to vouch for the authenticity of his talks since I have seen nothing of what he talks about. Sometime in the near future I may have the opportunity to vouch for what he states, but since things are so far out of reason down here one can expect to see or hear and believe anything.
He informs me that prior to RIDDELL’s committing suicide (I mentioned this case earlier in the story) that while he was out alone in the savannahs near the swampy lowlands in the eastern part of the Orinoco Delta, that he was encircled by a “Culebra,” which is known to us northerners as an anaconda, or water boa. This snake had wrapped itself partly around him and started to constrict him with lightning-like rapidity. Riddell’s hands were free and he made a grab at the snake’s head and held with a vicelike grip and in the meantime snapping the head in all directions and literally snapping the head with unimaginable strength. This sudden counter attack evidently took the snake by surprise and released its hold on him.
The fellow was so scared that he ran wildly to the camp and related his story. I don’t know for certain whether or not the fellows believed him or not, but a number of times during the night he would wake up screaming about the incident. A number of times the fellows would find Riddell wandering about the camp in sort of a daze so that the rest of the party made arrangements to have one fellow near him all the time.
At times his actions were decidedly peculiar to his normal self that the fellows were afraid of what would possibly result with sort of a warped state of mind. One day when the guard was rather lax he managed to sneak off by himself , went to his tent, took a shotgun and blew the whole charge into his stomach. Death of course was instantaneous. Louis Molnar who was in his party later vouched in almost the same words of the incident.
At another time Molnar and Beecher were doing some surveying out in the savannah only a few months ago and had another odd experience. The two were walking across the savannah with some of the natives who were in the party when one of the natives yelled for them to jump. Both men jumped sideways and between the two something flew between them about stomach high. The natives familiar with the region claim that it was one of the flying snakes that inhabit the swampy lowland delta region. It is commonly or locally known as the “Flying Viper” and is of the poisonous variety.
Beecher showed us pictures of the savannah tiger treed by native dogs. It showed a native with a machete tied to a flexible pole stabbing at the tiger. After a few stabs at the animal the peon killed it. I am going to try to get a picture of the incident for it certainly is a beauty. Of course the tigers around here are not really large but they are dangerous enough for one to be real careful.
Beecher also told us stories about seeing tapirs, tigers, chiguires (hog-like animals of which I have heard plenty about but have never had the opportunity to see), land and water boas (culebras), a fer-de-lance, rattlers and other interesting animals. Some of these I have seen. His tale of seeing a battle between a crocodile (Caiman or Baba – the latter is only a local name) and a water boa was exceptionally interesting. The water boa crushed the crocodile and later proceeded to swallow the victim (I have seen pictures of a water-boa slit open after gouging an alligator and do not doubt the story one bit). The water-boa had such a hard time of swallowing its victim that the jaws were spread wide open as if ready to snap at something that looked tempting. The snake slowly wrapped its tail around the open jaws of the alligator and clamped the jaws shut and then leisurely began to swallow the remainder of the victim. Slowly the snake crawled away to a shady spot of a nearby tree and began to doze off. After doing such a swallowing task the snake is drowsy and can be approached closely. In this instance after allowing about a half an hour for the drowsiness to overcome the snake the natives proceeded to butcher the snake and no resistance was offered. The stomach of the snake was slit open and the innards revealed the crushed alligator.
During one of these trips on an off day Beechar and Molnar came upon an old indian trail that led up a dry cano and after travelling some distance came to a small indian camp. The party remained here for about one week and waited for the remainder of the party who were expected to arrive for some future seismograph work. One day Beechar permitted the one indian who was able to speak a little Spanish to look through the telescope of the surveying instrument at the moon. When the indian saw the moon so large and close he was so scared that he ran away evidently thinking that the instrument was some sort of a demon. After this incident the instrument had to be guarded closely for the same native indian made some awkward attempt to attack it.
The seismograph boys use plenty of dynamite in their work and quite often “shots” are set off in the river bottoms and throw a large water-spout into the air. The fish in the vicinity of the shot are often blown to bits while others are merely stunned by the concussion of the shot. Often times rather peculiar shaped fish are brought to the surface.