One of the few things
that my brother, sister and I looked forward to was the ferry
ride between Palmarejo and Maracaibo. I think the reason for
the excitement it generated when we were young was that it was
so different. Sure, we took a launch out fishing on Sundays,
but that still did not take away from the anticipation of the
Now, my family lived on the eastern
shore of Lake Maracaibo and over the twenty years that I lived
in Venezuela, I must have taken at least 50 rides on the ferry.
At one time, Creole would take us to
Maracaibo and bring us back on one of their newer launches.
It could be an exciting ride, but it was very long and if
the weather made the surface of the lake choppy, the ride
could be exhausting. Most of the times that we took a launch
was when we were going to catch a plane to go on vacation
or returning from vacation. But that practice eventually ended
and we would have to make the long drive to Palmarejo to catch
Then sometime in the early ‘60s
an outfit in Cabimas established a high-speed hydrofoil service
to and from Maracaibo. Well, that was progress. They built
a modern dock in Cabimas with a nice covered passenger building.
But you know my memory of the “Fletcha”
as it was referred to, was that when I had to use the restroom,
I noticed that the Venezuelans who had never utilized a flush
toilet in their lives would throw the soiled toilet paper
on the floor in a corner of the room. Some things make an
impression on you that last a lifetime. The hydrofoil was
a real thrill though; as the engines revved up it would gradually
lift free of the water and it actually flew through the water
on short, stubby wings that remained below the surface of
the water. That always amazed me but in the back of my mind
was what would happen if it hit a log that had washed out
of one of the rivers feeding the lake during rainy season.
The opening of the bridge was the beginning
of new chapter leaving a quaint way of life buried in early
But all of those alternative forms
of transportation never lessened the quiet thrill I got when
I rode the ferry.
The day would begin with a early wakeup
call from the folks, “get up, get dressed, brush your
teeth and come to breakfast” so, getting dressed was
a T-shirt, alpargatas and shorts, a few quick licks with toothbrush
and into the kitchen for a quick breakfast of fried platanos,
queso blanco and a couple of eggs washed down by a cold glass
of KLIM. Then into the jeep and off we would go.
We lived in Tia Juana, Campo Verde,
for 13 years so the trip is etched in my memory. Out the gate
crossing the cattle guards. The guardia at the gatehouse ignored
us. Then out the main gate and left onto Carretera National.
Always left from any of the Creole camps except Hollywood.
Down the road, past Campo Rojo on the right and then Shell
on the left and their tank farm; then Taparita, the small
Mene Grande camp; next Ule on the right and then the alcabala
which might or might not be manned by the guardia national
–“thieves in uniform” my father would say.
Further down the road we passed Punto Gordo where the power
plant was and the small camp for the employees who worked
The next stretch of road ran close
to the lake shoreline and tall coconut palms overhung the
narrow blacktop road. It would still be comfortable as the
sun wasn’t overhead yet and the open sides of the jeep
let the air circulate around us. We would then come upon the
Creole camps where we had lived many years before with Hollywood
on the right and Las Cupolas on the left, past the main entrance
to the production area and into Cabimas which was a crowded,
dirty, village of cramped small buildings crowded higlypigly
against each other. I never liked Cabimas.
Leaving Cabimas was always a relief
for me, it meant that we weren’t that far from Palmarejo
and the rest of the ride was along uncluttered countryside
with the road paralleling the shoreline. The sun is now higher
in the sky and the heat is building when we pull into the
line of cars and assorted trucks, busses that were waiting
to get on to the ferry. Dad and Mom, who had made this trip
and untold number of times were not happy about missing the
ferry that we could see pulling away from the dock, so Dad
got out of the jeep and went to purchase tickets for boarding
the ferry. My brother, Bill and sister, Cris and I got out
and wandered down to the dock. I liked the ferry dock area
with the coconut palms and the nice setting.
Eventually a ferry from Maracaibo arrived
and offloaded its cargo of vehicles and walking passengers.
We didn’t recognize anyone getting off. Dad, called
and we all piled back into the jeep and Dad followed the cars
in front of us onto the ferry. As we drove onto the ferry
boarding ramp I would wonder what would happen if the ferry
accidentally became dislodged from the dock. Probably all
of us would die and all my friends would miss me. The ferry
held two rows of vehicles on each side with an upper passenger
deck accessible via two opposing set of stairs centrally situated
between the divided rows of cars.
We all got out of the jeep and worked
our way upstairs where we cold watch the ferry load and then
pull up the ramp and back out of the dock. Before it pulled
out, my brother, sister and I could see where the toilets
flushed into the water just above the waterline and the bagre
swimming around the discharge looking for tempting morsels.
We all hated bagre, the disgusting things.
One of the thrills of riding the ferry
was that the best pastelitos in the world could only be had
on the ferries. We would all buy as many piping hot pastelitos
as we could which we washed down with a Coke or Fanta. I liked
Fantas. My father’s usual caution ringing in our ears
– “wipe off the mouth of the bottle before you
take a drink”. He was always right as the Venezuelan
soft drink bottlers did not know about sanitation and a clean
handkerchief always, always came away with a brown circle
– it wasn’t the residue from the bottle lid cork,
I assure you. In spite of the dirt, the best Cokes and Fanta
I ever drank were those made in Venezuela.
We would then to the railing overlooking
the bow of the ferry and enjoy the breeze that we never experienced
back in the camps until the rainy season came. Now the sun
was directly overhead and the sun beat down on us and reflected
back from the surface of the lake. That’s how Dad ended
up with all those skins cancers on his ears and nose that
he had to have burned off -- from 31 years of working on the
Anyway, eventually we could look over
the side of the ferry and see Leper Island in the distance.
(Did you know that the government of Venezuela eventually
closed the island and then sent its lepers to a Leper Community
in I believe Colombia for treatment. If you saw the Motorcycle
Chronicles you will have seen the colony represented in the
Eventually, we arrived at the bustling
harbor of Maracaibo, the ferry docked unloaded and Dad drove
us to wherever we went that day.
Now returning by ferry was pretty much
identical to coming over to Maracaibo with one great big exception
and that was the hundreds of people that crowded around the
vehicles waiting for the ferry that wanted to sell you anything
under the sun – but mostly contraband. It was a fast
a furious babble scrabble of mostly men selling: Smuggled
American cigarettes, watches, lighters, sunglasses and then
there were the Guajira women selling handmade alpargatas with
colorful pompoms and woven goods. They would thrust whatever
they were selling into your face tossing out prices and if
you looked them in the eye, well then, they would follow you
to the point they were held back attempting to tempt you to
buy from them. If one seemed successful then others would
crowd around hoping to make a sale. They would work both sides
of the jeep. I can still see images of them swirling around
the sides of the jeep, thrusting their hands at us holding
whatever they are selling.
As the ferry pulled away from the dock,
the din of the crowd faded in the distance. I looked forward
to our next trip.
The “Bridge” began a new
chapter, colder, less sensual. I don’t think I will
read any further.
That’s how I remember it.