National Geographic : 1939 Jan
I KEPT HOUSE IN A JUNGLE our papaya trees and screech in constant competition with the yodeling toucan. The most prolific of our bird colonies are the lovely little puff birds, which build in the sandbanks and gladden the still summer air with a soft sweet song. The "God birds," as the peons call wrens, do their daily duty in awakening us each morning. THE BELLBIRDS' SILLY SYMPHONY But the most whimsical of all, both in song and movement, are the bellbirds. They flit about in the branches of our spreading ceiba trees in a manner that would endear them to Walt Disney for his Silly Symphonies. They are about the size of a large robin, but so elusive I have never been able to get close enough to see whether they are brown or black. They call "dong-rong, dong-rong" with the metallic clarity of a silver bell. They always seem to fly in pairs. When one calls, the other answers, so there is a duality of song, which on a clear day may be heard over a mile away. A BUSHMASTER IN CAMP No one warned me two years ago that I would ever run for a month-old newspaper with the avidity of a child after candy. But that was long before I had learned to depend upon the radio for my one contact with the outside world. News in Quiriquire takes two forms that which we receive by radio, bringing us flashes from a world of action, and that other form of "news" which has to do with daily life in the jungle. The latter lends constant color to what might otherwise prove a monotonous existence. Scarcely an hour ago Bill rushed in with the news that a 7-foot bushmaster had just been killed in front of the labor office. We lost no time in loading our camera and dashing down to catch a picture of it, still warm and half-coiled. Although mapanares, fer-de-lance, and boas are common enough in this part of Venezuela, during two years we have seen but three bushmasters killed in our forest. While we are on the subject, I must tell a most dramatic snake story. The event occurred during a trip down the Orinoco Delta upon which I accompanied my hus band. It is a thrilling tale of a vicious water battle between a cayman and a water boa, or anaconda; so unusual was it, not only to me, during my three years' stay in the country, but to our Venezuelan neigh bors, that had we not taken photographs for proof, I shouldn't blame anyone for raising an eyebrow in skepticism. Taking the Stanocoven launch from Caripito wharf, we soon left the San Juan and entered one of the many branches of the Orinoco. Along this stream there is much to glad den the eye. Snow-white egrets wing their way in colorful contrast with scarlet ibis. Red howler monkeys swing themselves by their tails from tree to tree, bruising the soft summer air with savage screams.* Orchids bloom in profusion from many dere lict treetops. INDIANS WADE IN RIVER TO CATCH THEIR DAILY MEAL Dotting the gunmetal waters of the mighty river are occasional clusters of squat, potbellied Indians wading out from shore to catch their daily meal of fish. Drifting past hillside pueblos of abandoned charm, we finally reached our destination on the Orinoco Delta, the houseboat of an American oil company. It was piloted by Stanley Simmons, a young geophysical prospector. With a crew of twenty natives he worked up and down the side streams, searching the creepy, matted undergrowth for oil structures. Simmons had penetrated places where no white man had ever entered. He had cut his way through the tangled jungle with a machete. He had thirsted in the jungle until his sole source of water was to slash a slender stalk of vine. For five years his only home had been this dilapidated houseboat which his native crew had named the Ark. When we pulled up beside his boat, his pleasure at seeing us was significant of a man who has too long been deprived of speaking his own language. From the deck of the Ark we watched a kaleidoscopic scene flash from the banks of the river. Beauty runs rampant along the Orinoco. Proud palms spike the sky with gay green blades. From the luxuriant undergrowth of the jungle flame thousands of tropical flowers. Our eyes followed a group of macaws, flying ever in pairs, scat tering their brilliant plumage like miniature *See "Monkey Folk," by William M. Mann, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1938.