An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – Traveling the River to the New Camp


Bill Leach posing with part of sword from swordfish caught of the coast of Guiria, Venezuela

Bill Leach posing with part of sword from swordfish caught of the coast of Guiria, Venezuela

PROLOGUE: Venezuela did not have much of a highway system in the 1930’s – the only city that really needed one was Caracas which had been built inland to protect it from marauders – and was dependent on its rivers and coasting boats for the movement of goods and people. Almost everything that Creole needed that could not be flown in came in by boats that penetrated the jungles, the swamps and the savannahs where no road could go. This post will feature quite a few pictures of the boats and the rivers to supplement the narrative. With few exceptions the pictures were all taken by Bill Leach during 1937-1938.

Shore of the Gulf of Paria which is between Venezuela and Trinidad

Shore of the Gulf of Paria which is between Venezuela and Trinidad

Shark caught off Pedernales in the Gulf of Bahia

Shark caught off Pedernales in the Gulf of Bahia

 

Beachfront huts for the fishing village

Beachfront huts for the fishing village

March 1st – Finished with my work here in Caripito temporarily and am leaving tonight for Temblador via the company boat the Caripiteno. Here it is about midnight and the boat is ready to take off for Guiria, Pedernales, the mouth of the Orinoco, Boca de Uracoa, Port of Tabasca. The night ride down the San Juan River from the Caripito terminal is uninteresting since nothing can be seen.  One only has the dark sky to gaze at and sometimes one catches a glimpse of a shooting star. The remainder of the night was comfortably cool and had a good night’s rest. At times I would wake up hearing the whistles blowing as the boat was approaching river bends and warning tankers coming upstream.

One of the Standard Oil supply boats being unloaded

One of the Standard Oil supply boats being unloaded

During the early hours of the morning the going was a bit rough as we entered the Gulf of Paria for this gulf is really a large expanse of water being fed from the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean through a narrow channel between the Island of Trinidad and the Venezuelan mainland. The outlet of the Gulf of Paria at the northwest is the Boca Grande which empties into the Caribbean Ocean. Had a light breakfast on board the boat and from my chair I could see Soldier’s Rock, the place where Zane Grey caught the largest known Tarpon in the world.  Finally arrived at Pedernales, landed and wandered about the camp.  Not much to the place but I can say that the breezes get pretty strong and cool at times. While approaching Pedernales I obtained a good view of the lateral damage incurred in this immediate vicinity by the disastrous hurricane which swept this section early in 1933.  Thousands of trees which were stripped of their leaves and bark still remain like sentinels above the dark green jungle growth.

Ciudad Bolivar across the Orinoco from La Pena. Ciudad Bolivar was originnaly named Angostura [the narrows] because the Orinoco is only about 1,000 feet wide at that point.

Ciudad Bolivar across the Orinoco from La Pena. Ciudad Bolivar was originally named Angostura [the narrows] because the Orinoco is only about 1,000 feet wide at that point.

Orinoco River at high stage at Ciudad Bolivar when the level climbed about 35 feet above normal. The wall of the Paseo is visible at the right - normally the width of extensive wharves away from the river.

Orinoco River at high stage at Ciudad Bolivar when the level climbed about 35 feet above normal. The wall of the Paseo is visible at the right – normally the width of extensive wharves away from the river.

At luncheon at the Pedernales mess hall I met some of my former acquaintances.  Remained at the clubroom most of the afternoon reading playing pool, and also playing the latest Victrola pieces. At 3:30 p.m. took the launch and boarded the Caripiteno and left the terminal by 4:30 p.m. Started up the Rio Manamo one of the many streams that branch from the Orinoco River at the delta. The jungle growth certainly is very dense on the mainland and the islands. 

Location of the Pedernales camp on the headland.

Location of the Pedernales camp on the headland.

Slightly better detail of the camp.

Slightly better detail of the camp.

Building a rig on the lee side of the camp headland

Building a rig on the lee side of the camp headland

Most of the rigs associated with this camp had to be serviced by motorboat.

Most of the rigs associated with this camp had to be serviced by motorboat.

Looking up the Manamo river from the Pedernales Camp.

Looking up the Manamo river from the Pedernales Camp.

Birds of all descriptions and colors are seen in the trees and flying overhead. The bird that appealed to me the most to me was the Scarlet Ibis which has a flaming scarlet color and which is a little larger than our pigeons. Parakeets, herons, galzas, pelicans, and a host of other birds are seen by the hundreds.  Saw one porpoise gently taking its time going down the river towards the mouth of the Manamo apparently unconcerned as to whether or not it would ever get there.

Along the river.

Along the river.

Night falls fast in the tropics and in no time at all we are traveling past the continuous jungle at 12 knots an hour.  All that I could see was the inky darkness and an occasional indian village whose lights punctured the darkness.  These indian villages are few and far between and are quite a way from civilization. Their monotony is occasionally broken up by a passing company boat or a tanker.

caripiriver

Arose early on the morning of the third and found that the Caripiteno was anchored at the junction of the Rio Manamo and the Rio Uracoa.  The village of Boca de Uracoa is located at this juncture. Took a company launch up the Rio Uracoa towards the Port of Tabasca.  On the way up saw plenty of alligators and birds.  The day was spotted with periodic showers so did not really see what could be seen on a real fine day. The flamingoes and the galzas and the host of other birds could be seen actually by the thousands.

Indian hut along riverbank

Indian hut along riverbank

At the terminal of the Port of Tabasca we took a company auto and drove towards Temblador.  First stopped at the site of the proposed new camp and was surprised at the amount of work that was already done.  The site of the new camp is mighty fine and it will be a really fine place when the whole place is completed which should be in about a year and a half.

Temblador rigs at sunrise

Temblador rigs at sunrise

The old camp has changed considerably since I was here during the early part of 1937.  There are derricks strung out in all directions about the camp.  I can recall when I was here last year the wells were often better than ten miles apart. The most eastern well was the Uracoa and the most western well was Temblador 4; the camp being between the two wells, and the extreme distance between the farthest above mentioned wells were about 55 to 60 kilometers apart. The work is all concentrated around the camp and the production of the field is in the minds of the superiors.

bahiatrinidad
The roads are much improved over the sandy ones that I had to ride over the previous year. There are over 1500 men working here at the present time and there will be many more when work gets well under way. I wonder what the place will be like in a year from now.  No doubt there will be plenty of changes. Decided to have all of my hair cut off and when the barber did get through with me I looked more like a billiard ball than anything else, but however, it certainly feels even though it does not look good.

ss venezuela
March 27th. Five of us namely, Crawford, Todd, Mills, Himlic, and myself took a ride toward the new camp, Mata Venada, and then branched off northerly towards our latest wildcat well, Aceital No. 1 and then continued on to Laguna Cocopariti (Indian name for “Shallow Waters”).  On the way over we decided to stop at a Venezuelan Rancho and were indeed surprised at the hospitality offered us by these humble people. They evidently appreciated our stopping there even though it was for only a short time. These people certainly kept their place well, that is clean, orderly, and beautifully flowered.  At the moment I have forgotten the number and the various names of the flowers and plants but there certainly was a great variety of them.  There were plenty of fruit trees in the garden and I tried eating a few species of the native fruit and the taste was not bad at all.

losindios
We then proceeded towards the laguna but were not able to find a native currial.  I imagine that the ride around the laguna would be well worth while for there are plenty of things to see in the form of flowers, trees, and other plant life. This laguna feeds into the Rio Manamo and no doubt there are plenty of fish, alligators and culebras in these waters. On our return trip back to camp decided to stop again at the rancho and visit some more.

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