Venezuela, 39 Years Later

More Roots on the Other Side of Lake Maracaibo

Striking Off

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 the lakeshore.

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.

My 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.

My 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. Voilá.

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 smell.

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 Juana.

Tia Juana-The Golf Course that Dad Built

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.

I'd 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.

This 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.

Mission Accomplie

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.