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Saturday, August 18, 2012


     Simon Bolivar was no slouch.  Two hundred years ago he led five South American countries to independence.  In Venezuela every town has a park named after him.  There is even a "Bolivar City".
We were invited to visit our relatives in Ciudad Bolivar.   One night in early July we boarded a bus in Caracas and headed south-east.   By dawn we were crossing the magnificent caramel-colored Orinoco River.  I'd been thinking about it ever since Enya put it into song 25 years ago. 
    Like her paean to dreams of travel ("Orinoco Flow" (Sail Away) ), our summer adventures opened our eyes to new things.   Next to the highway truckers slept in hammocks strung from one bumper to the next.  When our bus arrived it was  6:30 am in Venezuela but 7 am in Miami.  When I asked about the disparity I was told that President Chavez changed the time six years ago "to give the people extra time to get to work".
      Ciudad Bolivar sits on the south bank of the river where its broad shoulders narrow to a half-mile.  It reminded me of our own Mississippi, except that our river does not constantly carry pieces of jungle with it .   Some look like little islands floating east to the Atlantic.
     An old Frenchman told us the river used to be filled with crocodiles then years ago, officials decided they were bad for tourism.  Henri added, "Sunning themselves on the river's banks made them easy targets."   Despite the eradication of crocs, tourists are rare there.
    There are plenty of fish.  We visited local fisherman who were selling wht they'd pulled out of stirring cafe con leche waters.  One of them kept busy waving a plastic whip trying to keep flies  from eating his fish.
     Hungry ourselves,  we opted to take a water cab to a restaurant on the other side of the river.   I touched the cool water as we glided along, mindful of the piranhas that were said to lurk below.   We paid dollar for the ride and six more for lunch. 
In Ciudad Bolivar we stayed with my wife's relatives in their beautiful 1880's home.  

It opened up to a terrace which opened up to a church and the river below.  

Independence Day (July 5th)  started at 7 am with the church tower playing the national anthem.  Francesca smiled, remembering how her mother used to sing it to her. 

 An hour later a military band played it again in the Simon Bolivar Plaza.  This chip salesman stood at attention.

     The old town was a perfect place to relax.  We were able to leave the fast pace of Caracas behind and appreciate the quiet river and its people .  Their faded buildings reminded me of Ybor City and the old Key West. 


Some sported colorful coats of paint, an effort, I was told, to spice things up.   Others were built on huge, smooth boulders that led down to the river.

 At night I'd look down from our balcony to see cats quietly playing in the street.  We needed one for a mouse problem so I began to chum them with chicken.  Every ten minutes a car or a wandering dog make the four of them scurry.  A minute later I'd be chumming again.   Efforts to catch one were futile, too feral, too fast, those Orinoco gatos.
 One day we visited new friends who have a finca in the country.  We drank cold bottles of Polar, (the national beer) while floating in a spring-fed pond.  Later, they cooked a huge pot of arroz con pollo over an open fire.  For sure, the chickens were free-range.  Some watched us eat their brethren.    
   The dinner guests were speaking in a language I did not understand so I kept busy eating mangos.  There were many and I shared some with caged parrots and later, our hosts.
Francesca was asked, "What is it with your husband, feeding us so many mangoes?"  She explained how my love for them led to starting a crazy Miami mango parade.  As she translated this to me they smiled with approval.

A few days later it was time to leave the quiet behind. 

A roaring a jet lifted us over the great river one last time.  In its grasp were the usual trees, bushes, and other flotsam headed to sea. 

We flew north until we reached Miami.  
Those trees and bushes? 
I suppose they're lost somewhere in the Orinoco's flow.

Rope speed bump

open-air kitchen

Guard, Independence Day

Fruit bat in garage

Bones of a palm tree seed pod


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