National Geographic : 1940 Apr
CARACAS, CRADLE OF THE LIBERATOR The Spirit of Simon Bolivar, South American George Washington, Lives On in the City of His Birth BY Luis MARDEN ISING abruptly out of the tradition haunted Caribbean, the northern coast of South America presented a green steepness as my ship docked at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira. So sharply do the mountains tilt into the sea here that I fancied the town to be fleeing up into the foothills before the ceaseless attack of the white-lipped surf. La Guaira, port of call for cruise ships of many lines, lies at the heart of the legendary Spanish Main, that stretch of South Ameri can coast synonymous with adventure. From here black-bearded dons in breast plate and morion struck inland in search of the mythical El Dorado-the king coated with gold dust. They never found the glit tering monarch, but the revenue of silver and gold they sent back to Spain from the New World all but gilded their own em peror. AIRLINERS OVER THE SPANISH MAIN Today great airliners from Miami and Trinidad land at La Guaira's airport, bring ing modern travelers to a land rich in such varied products as oil, gold, pearls, and orchids. The harbor is important chiefly as the principal port of a country of 3,500,000 people (Color Plate II). But La Guaira has a life of its own. On the crowded fish pier I saw enough of the heterogeneous products of warm seas to furnish specimens for a class in marine biology. Fish, turtles, lobsters, and other sea denizens were displayed in multicolored array. There were big yellow-eyed red snappers, smaller porgies and pompanos, and great green sea turtles, sleek-headed chelonians that often weigh more than a hundred pounds (page 478). Over a char coal brazier one man was steaming shellfish that looked like large sea snails. "They are quiguas," my Venezuelan guide said. "Try them; they are good for you." They tasted something like steamed clams or oysters. The fishermen of La Guaira are great wags. As we watched a group fishing with hand lines from the pierhead, one old fellow drew in his line. The hook was bare. When he cast again without baiting the hook, my curiosity was aroused. "Excuse me," I said, "but how do you expect to catch anything with an unbaited hook?" He looked up at me solemnly and, wag ging his finger back and forth in the Latin sign of negation, said, "No, senior, let him who wants to bite, bite; here we deceive nobody." Seven airline miles over the mountains from La Guaira-23 roundabout miles by road-lies Caracas, Capital of Venezuela and birthplace of Sim6n Bolivar, liberator of what are now six Latin American nations (Plate VIII).* In a United States-made car I started over the automobile highway to the Capital. The ascent at first was gradual, and I could see below me on the right the yellow oblong of the airport. Caracas itself has no land ing field, and all the air passengers for the Capital must go up from the coast by elec tric train or automobile. The new highway from the port twists its way up into the Cordillera of the Coast be tween the narrow-gauge tracks of the elec tric railroad and the older earth and gravel highway. All three are on the eastern side of the ravinelike Tacagua Valley. The state of mind induced by hairpin turns and steep grades is not alleviated by the sight, at the halfway station of the road, of a pedestal surmounted by the battered wreck of a car. When I asked my driver why it was placed there, he said, airily, "Oh, just for a reminder!"-though it did not seem to remind him of anything except that it was time for greater speed. ONE LITERALLY DROPS IN ON CARACAS Close to Caracas is Pefia de Mora, the most spectacular turn of the entire route. Here the highway loops around a crag that drops sheer away from the guard rail to the red-earthed valley and river bed (Plate III). * See "I Kept House in a Jungle," by Anne Rainey Langley, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. January, 1939.