39 Years Later
More Roots on the
Other Side of Lake Maracaibo
After that I went to bed because I have to
be up at the crack of dawn (well not really). I have to be out
of here by 9 am because tomorrow I'm going to Cabimas and La
Salina and Tia Juana. It must be the 7th of June and I struck
out early this morning at about 9am with my super taxi-driver
chofer, I should say Antonio Carrera, and we struck out for
La Salina, Tia Juana and Cabimas. We drove through Maracaibo
then we crossed the bridge (10 km long) that I've never taken
before in my life. (Yes, I left Venezuela before they built
the bridge across the Lake Maracaibo. I lived here in the days
of the ferry.) Because before you used to have to go and take
a ferry. It used to take a long long time. After we got to the
other side, we took the “old” road that went along
La Salina and Hollywood Camp
There's Palmarejo and then Santa Rita, then
Cabimas and La Salina. We drove through all of that and stopped
off at one gas station and I took a picture, then we went on
to the crossroads in La Salina. Then what did I see? The huge
tank that used to…that still contains oil. What did I
see on the other side of the street? The commissary (where Mom
used to go buy groceries. Come to think of it, I have only been
in that place once. From age 8 to 12, I missed out on all the
grocery store trips that most kids are priveleged to go on.
Mmmnn interesting), which was where they sold food after a while.
In the beginning they only sold food in a little tienda, they'd
always say “Let's go off to El Chino
to buy food.” Must have been a Chinese guy. That was so
small I wonder how we ever scraped enough food together to get
a meal. I can't imagine what we ate. I remember we used to buy
(but I didn't find the tienda: I don't know where it is, if
it's still there or not) butter in a can! Get that.
Driving into the Camp
Here we drive on and
here are those tanks. What do I see on my left? The
camp of La Salina. Well not La Salina, it's called Hollywood
Camp with a little guardhouse and a fence
around it (the camp). EXACTLY the same way it looked
50 some odd years ago.
I want you to know that nothing
had changed except they had painted the houses a different
color (gray, they used to be painted all different colors.
One of our houses, the first one, was gray with red
trim. The second you will see was light green with yellow
trim) Most people had added on another couple of rooms
on underneath the house Because there was only one room
before, it was the maid's room. Everything else was
absolutely identical. I remember that it was the second
street to your right as you come through the guard house
(by the way, all the guards allow us to come through
these camps and clubhouses with no problems other than
giving your passport number occasionally) and there
was still the old cattle guard on the road where you
came through. The entrance to that camp, by the way,
was just right across the street from the office where
I guess Daddy used to work.
There's My House!
You come in and it's the second street to your
right and the second house (to your right on the right hand
side of the street) there, I can't remember what the number
was, but I took a picture of it.
first house in Hollywood.
It has not changed a bit except they put a
fence out in the front. There's a tree , I don't think it's
a mango tree, I used to build treehouses in. I remember being
stranded out on a limb literally with an iguana staring me in
the eyes. What an adventure for a young girl who had just arrived
in South America! Come to think of it, I only saw one iguana
the whole time I was there. And the driveway and everything
and the streetlamps were the same and I think they used to have
ditches for the rains but they don't have ditches any more:
they must have fixed that part of it. It is SO incredible to
walk in there and see the house you lived in 50 years ago when
it has not changed a bit. When you think of all the other things
that have changed in this country and THAT has not changed a
bit. Let me tell you it is something else to see that. So my
goodness, I'm just recovering from that.
Our Other House
Then I remembered that we had another house
(we had that house because there were only two kids) because
when Michael became a little older they (the company, Creole)
thought he can't stay in the same room with his sister, so we
got another house that was much bigger so each kid had his own
room. And that was straight to the back row of houses in the
camp and, as I recall it, it was the last house with 3 bedrooms
on the row. And lo and behold, what do you think? There it was
sitting in all its splendor.
other house in Hollywood camp. It's the 3-bedroom one
near the fence where I used to hear the burro bray,
mentioned below, every night.
It had NOT changed an iota and they had not
built any more houses along that row because if they had I wouldn't
have been able to remember exactly where it was because it was
on the back row and didn't have any streets running parallel
to it. There it was and there was nothing new.
My Trusty Burro Clock
Behind the fence, there still is a fence running
around the whole camp, there are all these little houses and
I remember in the olden times, there used to be a burro (a donkey
not a Mexican tortilla) that lived there. And every quarter
of an hour on the quarter of the hour, he would just stand there
and just bray. I'll never forget that damn burro. Tell me if
you have insomnia, I'd recommend it. (Speaking of burros, I
don't remember seeing any anywhere this time I went to Venezuela.
Are they out of style?)
Time Had Stood Still
Meanwhile, there are those two houses, that
were sitting there just exactly as if time had not marched on.
The main difference I could see, from the outside anyway, was
a television antenna and I think somebody had a satellite dish
stuck in his yard (Yes, I lived there before there was television!!!
Yes, there was time when television didn't exist!). Nothing
had changed. Everything was the same. They had just painted
the houses. But the houses were sitting there in the same shape.
That's it. Oh la la la la. When you've said THAT in French,
you've said everything.
La Salina Club -Totally Changed
Then we went over to the other side of the
road where there was a “new” camp. We had to drive
around for awhile, then we found the La Salina Club
and so I walked in there and I thought Hmmm. I did not recognize
a thing. Nothing, absolutely nothing. I don't think the tennis
courts had changed but they had moved the pool (of all things)
from one side to the other of the movie screen. They changed
the floor that used to be just like the floor in the Maracaibo
club. Nothing was the same. I can't relate to that kind of stuff.
There was an old guy at the door, well, a guy my age, (that's
young, of course) and he said, “Yeah, the pool used to
be there right in the front of the movie screen and they changed
it and moved it in the back. They turned the movie screen around
this way and they built a pool where the dance floor was.”
You wonder why they would do something so silly. People are
entitled to do all sorts of silly things if they want. Why they'd
rip a pool out just to move it 20 meters away, but anyway, tant
pis. There were a lot of old trees but I had not marked
the old trees in any way so I'd be able to recognize them later.
What I did notice were some older houses across the street.
I remember lots of palm trees around there and there were not
that many. I don't know if I was just a little kid remembering
palm trees that weren't there. The houses I saw looked like
they could have been one of the houses that the Fenichells lived
in. I think I got a glimpse of a school that I probably went
to. I just can't remember that thing well enough to get excited
about it. But the houses (ours) I sure do remember and they
were sitting right there.
Las Cupulas - The Quonset Hut Camp
I forgot to tell myself about going to Las
Cupulas, which is the first place we even laid our heads down,
so to speak, in La Salina. Las Cupulas was a quonset hut village
that Creole had just erected for the newcomers that we were
back in 1947. I found the old oil well that was across the street
from our quonset hut and that I could see when I was lying down
in bed. I think it's the same one because it is right across
the street from a slab of concrete on which the quonset hut
was built (and torn down today). It's still there. That well
would make a wooooong, wooooong, noise all night. And it still
does! And so is the gas flare that was right by it. I'll never
forget that when I first got here, I was eight and a half and
I looked out my window in the quonset hut and there was the
woooong, wooooong well and the gas flare. And it's still there.
There is something else I've noticed. There
is no longer that smell of crude oil/tar around that I associate
with Venezuela. Maybe it's because they are not pumping oil
out right where I was traveling in Venezuela. I missed that
The Oil Tanks
On the way out, I take
pictures of the tanks. Good grief. When I was a kid,
I used to run up the side of those things with Carol
Ann (Creamer) I think. It's totally dangerous and all
that sort of thing. But anyway, just had a major blast.
There is another thing we drove past but there's nothing,
no kind of monument, a place where we'd just goof off
and having fun when it would fill up with water after
the rain and tadpoles would develop. Incredible just
to think, that's here you used to live when you were
eight and a half-nine years old.
Looking for Paulina
Anyway, after that, we decided, I decided,
after seeing the club I did not recognize, that we were going
to take off to go find Paulina's house. Paulina was our nursemaid
for years and we love her. So we took off in the direction I
thought it was in and we saw some guys and we asked them. I
thought it was just past the camp. Nobody seemed to recognize
the name of the street even. So that was not good. Then my cab
driver said, “Why don't we just go off and see Tia Juana
and then we can come back and see that later”. I thought
OK, but if you think I'm going to forget about this, “Forget
it, I'm not going to forget it”. So we took off for Tia
Tia Juana-The Golf Course that Dad
The road we took was parallel to one I used
to take every day between La Salina and Tia Juana. When we moved
to Tia Juana, I was still going to school in La Salina. For
some reason, I wanted to go to school in La Salina. The chofer
got kind of lost for a while. I said no, “I want to go
to the Creole Camp” and he wasn't
sure which one it was. I said it's the one with the golf course
in it. So we got to the golf course and I was thinking of the
three holes that Dad built 10,000 years ago with his buddies
because when we first got there, there was no golf course. So
my Dad and a bunch of other guys said, “There's no way,
we can't live here if there's no golf course.” And there
wasn't a swimming pool and there wasn't ANYthing for that matter.
So they got together and they built 3 holes. They got some Caterpillars
and started shoving dirt around and knocking trees down: and
they built 3 holes. Right around the corner from the house.
I could not find that house. I wanted to find the hole, because
I thought if I found the hole then I could find the house. I
talked to the guys at the Tia Juana Club
and said, “Which were the first 3 holes that were built
around here?” He answered, “They were all built
at the same tim”". “Oh, that can't be because
my Dad built the first 3 holes” I said. One of these older
guys said “Oh, I remember those first three holes. Actually
we had to change the first three holes because” I don't
know why, I just figured they had to build houses on them or
something. So they built the golf course farther away. There's
a 9 hole golf course there. Looks very good to me.
like to think that this was one of the holes that my
Dad built with some golf cronies. But back then they
had just bulldozed the surrounding "jungle"
and made 3 holes to play golf on. There was nothing
there! I remember seeing some jaguar pups in the woods
nearby there! Talk about adventure!
Obviously, it's not the one my Dad built.
But it's because he did build it that they built another one,
I'm sure. I remember going to the club once for a dance after
I had moved away. No big deal. Besides, they were also tearing
up the swimming pool. This must be the time of the year for
tearing up swimming pools or something. God it's so hot no one
would even want to go in there anyway.
Our House in Tia Juana
Mmmn, now, what are we going to do. I thought
well, if we can't find that first house we lived in, maybe we
can find the second house. We used to live next to the superintendant's
house at one point. I remember there was a big gap in between
their house and our house. So I found the place thanks to some
help from the guy from the golf course, so I took a picture
of one of the houses.
is the 2nd house. Couldn't find the first one in the
camp - I was too disoriented.
It was an old house but a low house (not on
stilts). That was the house where I'd teach Mike how to read
during the siesta hour in my room in the back. I just really
didn't think there was any way I could get in there and bug
people because I wasn't 1000% sure that that was it. So I saw
Tia Juana and saw the big dike. You can no longer climb up on
the dike like you could in the olden days. I had done that and
had seen an armadillo on the dike! Now that I come to think
of it, there was a club, but it didn't have anything in but
tennis courts or something. I guess they tore that down. After
that, I thought my curiosity had been satisfied for Tia Juana
anyway. It was kind of oneish in the afternoon so we started
driving back toward Cabimas.
Finding Paulina's Street
I could tell that the chofer did not want to
go combing all over Cabimas again So I said, “Why don't
you ask another cab driver?”. He said, “Oh cab drivers
take their families around on Sundays.” I said, “But
yeah, if we see one, their brains will not be fried just because
they are taking their families around over the weekend, they'd
know where it is.” He didn't seem to go for that nor did
we see any cabs then although I had seen some earlier on. Then
I said “Let's go to the pharmacy. I'll bet you they'll
know.” Calle Progreso #30, mmm, and for some reason, I
all of a sudden remembered “Las Cabillas”. And Las
Cabillas has got to be some kind of an urbanization or something
like that. Why did I remember that? So I said, “Let's
go into that part of the town and let's ask the pharmacy people
on Avenida Las Cabillas if they know where Calle Progreso is.”
Calle Progreso #30
And sure enough, get this, the lady said it's
just right down there. The chofer somehow forgot what they said
and I thought he was remembering, so I didn't pay any attention
to what they said, as usual. Anyway, he couldn't really find
it. I said, “Well, let's just stop by and ask them again”,
so we did. He remembered all of a sudden at the Ford place.
It's supposed to be 4 streets after that. We kept asking people
at least two or three other times. This time they sounded like
they knew, at least they knew of the street. We finally got
to calle Progreso, N° 147. We got to what looks like the
end of the street and we were only at N° 80. I said, “Ah,
I bet that street continues over there off on the left.”
Sure enough, it was Calle Progreso again, Number 30, Number
30. We got to N° 28 and 32 but we just couldn't find N°
30. So we asked some people out in the street.“We are
looking for somebody called Paulina Castillo. From what I gather
we couldn't find the house for one thing, not that particular
number. It's been torn down or renamed or another number put
on it. Paulina was not there and they didn't seem to know her
or her son, because she had a son and I cannot remember his
name. So once I had found the street and we could not find the
house because there wasn't one with a 30 on it and nobody knew
of her, I think my curiosity was satisfied. What else can I
do, if there's no house and there's no person. At least I went
there and I tracked down everything I possibly could. So I am
satisfied it was as much as I could possibly do in one day anyway.
So that is the mission that I had for myself
to do in Venezuela. Mission accomplie! I am so glad I did this.
You wanted to go see everything again? You went to see everything
again - most of it is still there and some of it is there just
the same way you thought it was. Some of it has not changed
a bit. Not a bit. And God, when you think of it, just coming
back and everything is basically the way you left it, 39 or
more years ago. Eh ben dis-donc ma chérie. I
want to tell you it is something else. None of it has been washed
away by tidal waves or anything like that. There it is! That's
it folks for today anyway. I basically don't have any more questions
for myself. So just soak up the atmosphere, the food and the
sun for the next couple of days then go back. I'm totally zonkerood,
let me tell you.