Voyage to Venezuela (14) – Dan’s Impressions From Curacao to Camp – November, 1938

This is a series of posts concerning Lad’s Voyage to Venezuela, taking a similar route as John Jackson Lewis during the first portion of his journey, about 88 years later. Lad and Dan had been hired by their Uncle Ted Human (husband of Helen (Peabody) Human), Aunt Helen, sister of Arla Mary (Peabody) Guion, Grandpa’s wife who had passed away in 1933 after a long illness. This is Lad’s version of the adventure he was taking and the same trip Dan had taken earlier in the year, traveling with Ted Human to South America.This is part of a letter Dan wrote home telling the family a little about his trip to Venezuela and his impressions along the way. 

Curacao is a small Island in the West Indies.  It is a free port, where goods can be imported or exported without duty.  The outstanding characteristic of the island is oil.  As we neared the island we could see a thin film of oil on the normally blue, blue Caribbean.  Upon entering the harbor we could see the water line ….  A deposit of black oil and tar.  The famous pontoon bridge (Swings from a pivot on one end) opened for us as we edged slowly up the narrow channel.  We docked about a mile from the main shopping district, where we descended the landing stairs to the first terra firma since leaving New York.  The island had a disconcerting habit of lurching, now and then, like a Tom Collins, but we soon got our land legs and rode and walked around the city.  Women balancing various bundles (some even more difficult than the new deal budget) on their heads were seen often.  There are many autoes, mostly new, moving slowly around the narrow streets.  The Santa Elena was due to sail at midnight, but there was an exceptionally large cargo, so that the sailing didn’t occur until 3 AM.  I was about the only passenger still up and around, but the experience of seeing a large liner maneuvering around in the small channel to get out to sea, and the site of the thousands of lights on the oil refinery across the small harbor, was well worth the logy feeling next morning, as we sighted the first mountains of South America.

La Guaira (La Guayra) appeared through a misty rain about 11 AM.  It is a small, squalid Town surrounded on three sides by South America, and on the fourth by the Atlantic.  The long process of getting thru’’ the customs lasted from 12 noon until late in the PM.  The sun, which had come out in the excitement of landing, was nearing the horizon as we started up the amazingly spectacular highway to Caracas.  As our native driver careened madly up the hills and around hair-pin turns in the open Packard (1932) I decided that, if a reckless driver is dubbed a “cowboy”, then this driver must be a whole ranch!  I thought, a few times, that I was heading for the last round-up.  Toward the top of the mountains one of the front tires was pulled partially from the rim by taking too many corners too hard, and we stopped while the spare was put on.

As we sped into Caracas I received my first impression of a very humorous city.  The streets were so narrow that only one-way traffic was permitted.  There were plenty of Autoes, each equipped with an air horn worked by a rubber bulb, like the 1818 Ford, this in addition to the standard horn.  It is a city ordinance that the loud standard horns must not be blown in the City, so that at every intersection there occurs a series of most interesting bleats, wheezes, honks, and snorts.  The idea seems to be for every driver of the hundreds of cars in Caracas to blow the horn at every intersection, step on the gas, and may the best man win.  They even bluff trolley cars into giving them the right-of-way.  Of course, the trolleys are diminutive, as are the buses, so that they can fit in the streets, (period) ….. Gambling is illegal, so the Gov’t runs lotteries to make the people feel better ….. The houses are composed of several rooms built around an open, tiled court.  This court, is the same as a living room, but it is a bit hard on one’s imagination during the rain to have drops falling in grandma’s crochet work while drains from the roof gutters pour forth a gush of water that hurries across the floor to the center, where it disappears into a grilled hole.  The outside of the houses in the center of the city is a block-long affair of assorted doorways over which is hung a picture of Christ, Mary, or a few holy ghosts, widows which are barred (that word should be windows, altho’ it is true that widows are also barred), and large openings, which, when examined more closely, turned out to be stores, hidden by a copious layer of filth.  In all fairness to Caracas, however, it is only right to mention that every one of the city plazas are as pretty as any park in any city, even tho’ block apiece.  Some of them have tiled walks, with designs in them.  Also there are beautiful homes on the outskirts of town.  The weather is still unsettled.  It is a strange sight to see a cloudless sky of blue filled suddenly with dripping clouds which slip around the mountain peaks and glide through the higher passes like a mass of fog, high above the valley floor, wetting the city from above, while all around the sky is still blue.  The general effect is like April showers, but less reliable.

We stopped nearly five days in Caracas, and at every opportunity I explored the various sections.  We did a small job on the fairgrounds in Caracas.  We left for Carora on Tues. AM.  There was a good road as far as Puerto Cabello.  We passed through highland and tropical lowland.  We sampled some small bananas which were supposed to taste like apples ….. Poor things, they tried hard enough, I suppose.  Later we stopped for gas, and I tried the juice of the coconut, and learned that olives were not the only food which needed an acquired taste.  We went as far as Barquisimento Tues. We continued on to Carora over an increasingly bad road, desert bad-lands, across washes through some of which water still flowed from the rainy season.  We arrived in Carora and stopped long enough to get directions to Camp.  We arrived here late Wed.  afternoon.

Daniel B Guion (Dan) and his crew in Venezuela

I am installed now on the Carora to Cabimus road survey.  My duties, to date, include running levels for profile and manager of the two trucks in Camp (one rack body Ford V8, the other a Ford V8 Station Wagon), called respectively a camion and a camionetta by the natives.  My “crew” is two men ….. One for holding the rod, the other for clearing brush from the line.  Jesus was with me today! One of my men is named Jesus, pronounced Haysu.

There are four regular man besides myself in Camp.  Ted (Uncle Ted Human) and another fellow are here now, but will leave soon.  There are several peons in our employ.  There must be at least fifteen.  We have not yet left civilization behind, there are still several “towns” ahead of us, usually made up of one or two mud-and-wattle thatch-roofed huts.  The peons who live in these parts are part Indian, largely Negro, and part Spanish.

I have not been bitten yet by: 1) a snake, 2) a tarantula, 3) a malarial mosquito, 4) a scorpion, 5) a burro, but I have been tackled by blackflies, assorted mosquitoes, and very, very friendly garapatis, who are so affectionate that they burrow their heads right into my skin and hate to leave.  These garapatis vary in size from a pinpoint to the size of a small beetle, and are a sort of tick.  I pull them out with tweezers.

The camp is well above sea level, so that the type of vegetation more nearly approaches that of U.S., rather than the tropics, altho’ the plants here are all strange.  The temperature is just like our summer.  I am told that there are deer, wild turkey, tigers (wild cats), Iguanas and monkeys in this vicinity, but I have seen naught but birds and lizards so far.

I drive the truck to Carora tomorrow (Sunday, Nov. 6).  I shall mailed this letter then, providing I can get through the mud-holes, riverbeds and rough spots.  I shall drive the truck, and all our peons plus their friends and relatives will go with me.  They want to go to town, perhaps to see Snow White and the 7 Dwarves which is playing there.  The Walt Disney cartoons are in English, down here.  The feature pictures are English with Spanish sub- titles or straight Spanish.

Please show this to anyone interested.  I am well and happy.

More later.                     Dan

Next Saturday and following, I will post  the letters Lad sent home during his voyage and his first few days in Venezuela. 

Tomorrow, I will begin posting Special Pictures each Sunday for a while.

Judy Guion



4 thoughts on “Voyage to Venezuela (14) – Dan’s Impressions From Curacao to Camp – November, 1938

  1. Valerie says:

    Absolutely fascinating account, thank you.
    Loved the descriptive “series of most interesting bleats, wheezes, honks, and snorts” !

    • Judy Guion says:

      Valerie – Dan’s use of language is exceptional. You really can picture where he is when he writes of various places. I loved his description of Normandy weeks after D-Day.
      And so I am pleased to report to you today that “one of our boys made it”. Dan is in France, as evidence of a v-mail letter written from “an orchard in Normandy”. “I am sitting at home in front of my tent while around me a Normandy farmer and his entire family from little Josette (who carries their cider and black bread) to le grande mere (who wields the rake) toiled to gather the hay for the winter fodder. It is a far cry from London, which city we were quite ready to leave, as you must realize. Only distant rumbling of guns keeps us from forgetting the war which seems so out of place here in the peaceful countryside. The channel crossing, although significant, was effected without incident. Our experience with the local folks thus far has been gratifying. We have been able to buy fresh eggs and cherries, which was virtually impossible in London. The people have treated us with the utmost cordiality. My French studies are bearing a bumper crop of fruit now. Please send me as soon as possible a small pocket dictionary (French – English). Also please send some soap. It is scarcer here even then it was in England”.

      Normandie, 3 Aout, 1944

      Altho much of the novelty of our new surroundings has worn off, I am still impressed by the casual manner in which the people here live their lives while whole villages and towns are bludgeoned into stark masses of rubble and the roar of planes fills the sky and the endless stream of trucks, jeeps, tanks etc rumble incessantly toward the front, camouflaged in their own tattle-tale dust clouds. Norman folk carry pitifully small bundles that represent their personal possessions are crowded into the steep-sided gutters that line the narrow roads. They are people who are returning to their homes – many of which are mere spectral walls, some of which are miraculously untouched.

      In odd contrast to the villages and roads, the countryside has made no compromises with the old man Mars. It is as if he set his feet down only in certain villages which lay along his path, and no evidence of his passing exists beyond the tall, thick hedgerows lining the highways. It is haying time. Fields are dotted with piles of sweet hay, with men kneeling beside them, tying the hay into neat little bundles by a dexterous twist of a strand of grass. These bundles will be fed to the horses and cattle when winter comes, later in the year, to Normandy.

      War is fickle. We seem to have been projected into a countryside that scarcely admits the war is going on. I cannot help remembering the day we left London to come here – the sirens were moaning plaintively and we saw several buses laden with evacuee children. Yet here, so much closer to the front, evacuees are returning to their homes! Only at night do we hear Jerry’s planes – usually just a few scattered bomb-reconnaissance planes. We can no longer hear the guns from the front.

      I have spoken to many French people since coming here, and I am gratified to know that my French classes at Richmond were thoroughly worthwhile. I have difficulty in understanding French when it is spoken rapidly but that, of course, is to be expected. The following bits of information I was able to catch from those Frenchmen who were persuaded to speak slowly:

      Rations under the Germans – 2 pkgs (40 cigarettes) per person per month; 2 small pieces of crude soap per month; no chocolate or other candy. Cider is made in December. If it is made right it will keep for three years (if the Germans and the Yanks don’t get it!) From the hard cider is made “Cognac”, more properly called “calnados” from the country that manufactures it. Even more properly it might be called rot-gut apple jack by those who have the temerity to try it. Eggs are not abundant because it has been impossible to find grain for the poultry.

      The German soldiers, recently here, were youngsters from 16 to 20 years old. They were largely service troops, and very poorly fed – “even the dogs would not eat their food” said one reliable source. They often became so hungry that they would munch grass! Some returned from furloughs in Germany almost in tears, with reports that their families, their homes, their friends had all been killed or destroyed in the allied air offensive. Germans visiting French homes were quite agreeable when they came along to a house, but if two or more came together they were distrustful – afraid that what they might say would be held against them by the others.

      I have taken every opportunity to talk to the people, hoping to become proficient in the language while I have the opportunity. I talk to the washerwomen who come to the stream running below our camp. I speak to the farmers working in the fields near us. I speak to the children who long ago, learned to ask for “shooly goon” and “bon-bons” from every passing soldier. I visit the farms each evening and gossip with the families – reviewing the war news, asking for cider or cherries, answering questions about America (“are there many elephants there, and camels in the deserts?”) I help two charming French girls with their English lessons, patiently striving to make them pronounce the “th” without a “z” sound.

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