10th October, 1928.
My friend has a Chrysler car waiting. I am surprised to
hear that throughout this mountainous country there is a
system of roads, which I am told, are the best in South America;
that we now can travel by automobile with comfort. We lose
little time in leaving Estacion Tachira as we both are eager
to reach an altitude before sun-down, which will give us
a view of the valley country. The climb to the small city
of Colon in the glow of a tropical sunset is one of the most
beautiful trips I have ever made. The road is paved with
small cobble stones, (we learn that all the roads here have
been made by peon convicts) and as we climb I picture the
Catskill and Blue Mountains of New England and the Cumberlands
in Virginia - we see all the splendid beauty of the Northwestern
Sierras, the whole in a tropical setting that beggars description.
We notice the palms, ferns, vines and flowers are giving
way to the hardier foliage of a higher altitude; we have
a fleeting glimpse of a canyon which I likened to the grand
canyon of the Arkansas in Colorado.
The trip up to Colon is a grueling
effort for the car as in the 19 kilometers we rise 3000
feet. The car was in second the whole distance and it
was necessary for the chauffeur to cool his engine
several times. The sunset prompted us to continue our journey
for the day to the beautiful gem
of a mountain town, Rubia, (Ruby) which is rightly named.
My friend is enjoying as keenly as myself every new panorama
as we take the turns. He insists that there are many wonderful
views in the gathering twilight which we will be able to
see while at their best. The cool temperate mountain air
to my fever infested lungs; the keen appetite; wearing
a coat the first time in two years; the transformation
to transpire in the course of a few hours are some of my
thoughts while at this part of my trip.
Around a sharp, bend in the read we
enter the city of Colon, (population approximately
3,000) . It is spotlessly clean, cobble stone streets, narrow
side walks, with varicolored houses all tile roofed. This
presented a vision for longing eyes after two years of mud,
thatch and heat.
We think of Salt Lake City with its running water at the
curb. We have the same circumstance here, differing only
in that the water gurgles along in a small paved hollow,
six inches deep in the middle of the street. The town is
decorated in Venezuelan bunting; flags are flying from each
house; and remember it is the 5th of July, National Independence
Day for this country. Incidentally the 4th of July was decreed
a holiday here for the yanks. This is quite a new thing and
so far as I know sets a precedent. What we can expect on
the National Days of the European countries represented here
is to be seen.
We have a small cup of very strong coffee (grown locally)
and my friend leaves me to write while he attends to business
interests. Seemingly he is a partner in a Caracas wholesale
textile house and judging from appearances he is successful
end withal a boon companion.
A word concerning him won't be amiss;
from our casual meeting in Encontrados and later our dinner
together in the small Posada, we built up an acquaintance
that has been mutual and really agreeable. Several incidents
have come up since that have given us both an opportunity
to be helpful and here we are, like old chums completely
at ease. He insists that I also travel with him tomorrow.
I promise only after he will allow me to meet my expense.
Ordinarily car hire here is at the rate of $3.00 per hour
and cars are not to be had at will.
While I was writing the last paragraph I met two native
Spaniards of this region. We had a lengthy conversation in
Spanish and I gathered a number of pointers on this part
of the world. I learn we are on the Orinoco divide; that
in the course of the next half hour's travel we cross from
the west to the east and we will have wonderful views of
the llanos and savannas of the Orinoco head waters; that
we now are in the great coffee country of Venezuela; that
we will have need of heavier clothing as we will be in snow
before reaching Rubia.
I watch the arrival of a pack train.
The mules are all blinded with a head-band of gunny-sacking
about 5" wide. They
are kept this way to .keep them from eating along the trails.
The scene reminded me of a time in northern Washington when
I hired out as a packer. After considerable trouble and with
the help of other packers, I managed to get my packs slung
and we started for Mt. Baker with cruising supplies for a
government survey party. We didn't get very far, but the
distance was nothing to the amount of trouble I had. Mules
are really of a complex nature, but pack mules are temperamental;
they know their packer, and when they aren't properly slung
they proceed to unload themselves in short order. In fact
my whole outfit were rolling around in the weeds with packs
at all angles; they were stretched out from Mt. Baker to
the Canadian border and altho I made a heroic effort to straighten
them out, they really caused me to loose my job the very
first day. Since then I have been a spectator only when it
comes to pack mules.
Before leaving Colon we service the
car at a small service station which is under government
supervision. However, it had this sign: “Su Agencia
Ford” (Your Ford Agent). We are now obliged to register
our names, car number and destination on a slate that is
given to us by a bare-footed policeman. On arrival at Rubia
we will have to register into town at a similar station.
With an ever winding and climbing
effort we continue on up to summit. We sit back and are
thrilled by a panoramic mountain scene that holds us spell
bound; we notice the cold freshness of our altitude; we
breathe deeply and live again with a snappy tingle of life
as in Iowa; we cross a range at 8,000 ft. only to be confronted
with another range slightly higher. Far below us, thru
the gathering dusk, we see a small Pueblo, from the distance
it appeared as a gem setting in this remote fastness. Here
and there we see small white adobe houses and we wonder
what manner they have of living in a place so far removed
from civilization. We fail to see the coffee bushes which
cover the mountain's sides lower down as it is becoming
too dark. (I was unable to make any more notes but continued
from memory on our arrival at Rubia, which is 62 kilometers
south of Colon.) Venezuela here raises most of the coffee
which it exports, (a kilometer is 660 feet more than our
We notice a ringing in our ears; our temples are commencing
to pain and we are soon in a drizzling cold rain. In the
course of a short time the rain turned to spitting snow and
believe me, my teeth were chattering, altho I had on more
clothes than I ever wore in an Iowa winter. We top another
summit (approximately 11,000 ft.) and we are certainly glad
to start down. From this point we drop to approximately 4,500
ft. The trip down mountain was a creeping careful cautious
affair as the snow offered a hazard that I won't soon forget.
A short way down we come upon a lodge of President Gomez.
He has quarters and a garage here as he was a native of these
parts. Incidentally the mountain we just came over is called
the Zumbador. Gradually we leave the snow area; into rain
once more and finally out into a starry night above the clouds.
Passing thru them on our down trail we finally come out into
a beautiful night. We can see, far below, the lights of Rubia.
We are two hours arriving there. We arrived at 1:30 A.M.
Put up at a very good hotel but went to bed hungry as it
was too late to have a meal prepared. A good night's sleep
on a canvas stretcher bed under two blankets - the first
I have used since being in the tropics. A good breakfast
in the morning and while my friend looks after his affairs,
I start to take a stroll about town but a downpour interferes
and we are compelled to stay indoors until afternoon. Seems
impossible to continue our trip today as I know the mountain
roads will be dangerous.
In the afternoon I accompany my friend
on his business
visits to several stores. The courtesy these people show
each other upon meeting impressed me so that I am prompted
to tell you their custom of greeting. With their exchange
of salutations they embrace each other and while doing so,
they pat each other gently on the back. We finish our business
in the course of an hour and as the skies are now quite clear,
we decide to leave for Oranea, another Mt. town about 85
kilometers further south. You will find it on the map at
the extreme Southwestern border of Venezuela. We cross the
boundary there into Colombia.
Before leaving Rubia, a word about the hotel where this
is written. The building is a Spanish adobe; one story high,
built around a patio that is planted to flowers; a dozen
bird cages are suspended from the edge of the patio and their
song is keeping the place alive. The hotel is managed by
a matronly old woman who has all the graces of an aristocrat.
I had quite a conversation with her and felt as tho I was
in the presence of one who in younger life must have been
of a very distinguished family. Her Spanish was a ripple
that was pleasant to just listen to. We enjoy a well cooked
meal here we leave: fried eggs, fried cheese and hot buns,
the coffee was delicious. We dress in lighter undergarments
and change to a linen suit and provide ourselves with light
blankets as from here we drop down to where the country becomes
real hot again.
The trip from Rubia to Oranea was quite uneventful, a series
of up down but always the temperature became warmer. We stopped
at Oranea just long enough to service the car and register.
It is 125 kilometers from here to San Cristobal, the end
of our side trip. I will then part with my friend and I am
certain I will miss his good fellowship.
The drive to San Cristobal gave me
a chance to see the extensively cultivated mountainous
low country. Mile after mile of coffee, sugarcane and tobacco.
I never saw a plow however, and my friend told me they
use the fork of a tree for that purpose, We notice the
peculiar color of the natives and we are surprised to learn
that they are South America's White Indians. They are direct
decedents of the Incas. They are hardy, industrious and
I believe represent the highest standard in semi-civilized
advancement. They make everything they use; wear clothing
that has been woven by their women; their homes are generally
made of stone and I noticed many works of art which were
crudely hewn from granite. All their harness, tools, looms,
and utensils for their manufacture are made by them. Their
weaving is recognized as the best. A hat for instance, of
the type known in the States as a Panama, would cost from
$40.00 to $100.00 if it was genuinely from here.
Their dyes and pottery are famous, and withal they are peaceful
and very religious. Spanish is the universal tongue. However,
there were some words which I was quite unable to understand.
We think this would be a great country to live in, but we
know these people earn very little money. (Coffee picking
is about all there is to work at and this is all done by
At the crest of a range we have out first car trouble, a
broken front spring and repairs are 50 miles away. We make
a temporary repair by placing a 3" block of wood between
the axle and frame of the car; wired the block in securely,
and we are on our way. While making this repair I had a severe
headache as the altitude must have been approximately 7,500
ft. In the descent, which was our last range to cross, we
could see the lights of San Cristobal thousands of feet below
us. We stop at the small pueblo of Tarriba. Here the temperature
is fine in the day time but real chilly at night. The country
continues to be one of coffee, sugarcane and tobacco. We
see fine herds of cattle and we wonder where their market
can be. The people look us over with a good deal of curiosity
- at a distance. It was a balmy ride from Tarriba to San
Cristobal. Arriving there about 8.50 P.M. San Cristobal is
well located and has every appearance of being prosperous.
Our hotel in San Cristobal, while
not as good as we expected, altho the best the city afforded,
was located facing a park in the heart of the city. We
are quite pleased with everything and decide to take time
to conjugate the Spanish verb "Hogar" which
means, to play. We, or better I, met two American Geologists
stopping here and like all good yanks we had to celebrate.
This little city (population 10,000) is built on a ledge
overlooking the Rio Fria. By far the greater part of the
people are Indians. We see their industry on every hand;
we notice how healthy they are; small in stature, but robust
physically. The mountain climbing they have done for ages
shows in the well developed muscles of their legs and thighs.
We see women with heavy loads of panela, (bars of brown sugar)
sugar cane and other produce which they carry on their heads.
We notice their healthy, clear complexion; the manner they
have of dressing their hair in a fashion that affords a cushion
for their packs.
The hotel furnishings were meager. A canvas stretcher bed;
one untanned leather chair; a wash stand and a cement floor.
The food too was primitive. I found it necessary to purchase
canned and bottled imported food which the Geologists and
myself opened at meal time. In fact we had no other choice,
as the sameness on the menu became trying. The two Geologists,
I learn, are in the employ of the Standard Oil of N.J. We
soon are acquainted and as they have been on the trails in
a hostile country for two years, I am kept busy answering
questions concerning conditions in Maracaibo, the oil fields,
etc. I find them very good company in the course of the next
few days; to see us together you would think we had known
each other for years. My friend takes his leave and we regret
very much his going.
While staying in San Cristobal I enjoyed
my first real rest since coming to S.A. This climate proves
to be just the required remedy for one with fever. My appetite
was never better and everything I do is done with more
zest than I ever knew I possessed. I am invited on a working
trip with the geologists. I learn considerable of the geological
nature of this area. In the course of eight or ten kilometers
we find outcroppings of coal beds, oil bearing shales
and many fossil specimens of the Cretaceous era. We come
upon a solidified oil sand that is rank with the odor of
oil, and we know we are in a very shallow oil territory.
We cover 18 kilometers by mid-day and while we eat our
lunch we hear more of our location geographically.
It would be quite impossible to follow
me on any maps you might have in the States of this country,
as Rand McNally and other mapping companies in the States,
undoubtedly never had an engineer in these out of the way
parts. There are however, some good maps of a confidential
nature, which have been obtained at a tremendous cost.
You might be able to locate the Rio Fria, a tributary
to the Torbeo Rio. The Torbeo in turn flows into the Orinoco.
At this point the Rio Fria is a swift moving mountain stream
that one could use, with only a few portages, all the way
to the Orinoco and on to the Guannas. We find ourselves
eager for this bit of adventure, but it is quite impossible.
My friends are occupied in geological
survey and stratographic research. This work is interesting.
Notes and maps are sketched covering: anticlines, domes,
formation outcrop-pings, Barometric reading and of course
gathering samples. We gain first hand knowledge of the
work they perform, which later is the basis of exploitation.
We learn that close by there are some natural oil-seepages;
that the Indians have been using this oil for ages. The
gravity is 34° Baume (approximately the gravity
of commercial kerosene). Later we buy two oil lamps which
are used by them. It would be difficult to find their like
in a museum. The lamps are a very crude receptacle made of
pottery. A small indentation on one side of the saucer like
affair holds a wick, which floats in the oil. The overhanging
wick furnishes the flame. We also buy a dozen tobacco boxes
made of cow-horn, polished and carved crudely with Indian
In the course of the next week we make plans for our return.
We were ready on the 13th of July. We have been away 17 days.
It will be necessary to lose very little time in getting
back to the Catatumba, as we still have the trip up the Tana
to El Cubo before us.
The trip back was quite uneventful; we arrived at Encontrados
in good time and on the evening of my arrival I was fortunate
in meeting a company launch which would leave at 12.00 mid-night.
The night offers more protection and I found that it was
the regular practice to leave for El Cubo at this time.