New Pastimes

My first year in Venezuela was very enjoyable. There were so many new places where we could go. Bob had a company jeep that we could use for the week-ends. We liked to go off into the wilds, not exactly jungle but not too far, where there were only very primitive roads, often with big holes in them. We never knew what we might come across. We took a packet of sandwiches and a bottle of water with us. When we found an interesting spot to explore, we would carefully get down into the road and walk a little further into the bush. One Sunday, when everything everywhere was quite still, I noticed some movement on the floor ahead, looking as though there was a small bunch of leaves waving about. Was I wrong? Indeed I was! As I got closer I realised in horror that it was a nest of baby snakes in perpetual movement. We retired as fast as we could and got back into the jeep to eat our lunch.

In these wild places there were small groups of people living in a very primitive fashion in small villages. We rarely saw them because they stayed away from the track, possibly because they valued their privacy. One day as we were travelling in the jeep, I suddenly said to Bob “Where did you put the sandwiches?” He turned for a brief moment to look and at the same time a big hole opened before us and our jeep fell over sideways. Suddenly a group of young men, scantily clothed, appeared from nowhere making a lot of noise. Chattering away they placed themselves all around us and lifted the jeep back on to the track in seconds, whereupon they began to give cries of delight and danced around.

They were clearly friendly and pleased to be able to help us. Bob offered them money but they absolutely refused to take it. They were still dancing around in exultation as we drove away. They were even more pleased that we could speak Spanish to them. They hadn’t expected that from the likes of us.

Another favourite place was Lake Maracaibo which makes a large hole along the northern edge of South America if you look at the map. Work finished at Bob’s office after Saturday morning. I had the picnic ready and we set off for the beach; this time in the car because the road was good enough and clear of bushes.

Many of us went there. Several loved sailing, but neither Bob nor I wanted to do it. It was fairly safe to swim in. The beach was lined with palm trees so we had shade and could tie our hammocks there. Sometimes we would stay overnight. We made fires and sang songs. Our cars were useful for bedrooms for the smaller children. One day we had an invasion of crabs, slightly reddish in colour. They suddenly emerged all the way around the shore about mid-day. It was unnerving to see such a number, they looked like an enormous moving rug with no beginning and no end. They got closer and closer and soon we got back in our cars and left before they reached us.

When the children had birthdays we followed the South American rituals. A “pinata” like a large cracker, crammed full of small presents, were attached low enough in a tree for the children to reach. Each child was given a padded stick and they all bashed away until the bundle was torn and the small gifts would fall to the ground where they were quickly picked up.

We all got very used to South American music, songs and dancing. I have always loved them. Many of them have a strong feeling of plaintiveness expressed in such a way that they are heart-rendingly beautiful. The best of them seem to have a universal appeal. “Besame Mucho” (Kiss me a lot) was popular in many different countries, including ours in the 1960’s.