Tackling a Loaded Cattle Truck: An Angel Job

Here’s a story that’s closer to home.

SNOW ~ Winter roads

 

My graduate student son was at the wheel of my tiny Datsun car as we drove from Fresno toward Tulare on a beautiful wintry California day.  I, of course, kept up a gentle nagging, but everything appeared fine.  Then it wasn’t.

Something happened.  It took us a few seconds to realize what had occurred.  Our little Datsun was slapped across the front of a large truck carrying about 30 heavy cattle, the driver unaware of us when he changed lanes.

It took us a minute to realize that we were looking at mosquitoes—dead ones—on the grill of the truck.  That certainly didn’t make us feel much better, mentally forecasting our own future on this free ride down the highway.

The driver didn’t stop; he never knew we were there.  The car on my side sank lower and lower; fractionally, but it sank.  I realized that pretty soon the edge of my car door would be in a similar condition, especially if we hit a tiny rough spot in the road’s asphalt.

I turned to my son.  “Mark, I love you.” That’s all I could say.  He responded in kind, both of us sitting there like stool pigeons in a shooting gallery.  The car slid fractionally lower.  Soon it would drag enough on the highway that it would throw us beneath the heavily-laden truck.  It seemed like hours as we perched there.  Later we learned a couple of things.

A scale-weighing employee had seen the crash; she’d called the Highway Patrol. She also told us that she knew we would soon be dead, and began to say prayers for us.  I was working the heavenly hotline for my guardian angel, asking that entity to respond with something that could save us.  It was obvious that the truck driver had no clue he was giving us a free ride on his truck.

The car shifted lower. My son and I hugged each other.  He’d kept honking, but the noise of the truck kept the driver from hearing our horn.  I hoped our angels had better hearing.

Then, the truck pulled over, us still attached like with an umbilical cord.  When the truck stopped, our little car settled happily on the gravel, falling off the silver grill.  The truck driver came around to check his tires, which he thought was causing him a “littlerough” driving problem. When he saw us, he said, “Where did you people come from?”

I said, “Off the front of your truck.”

Just then two cars drove up:  one containing two Highway Patrol officers; the other, one of my students.  She and her mother ran back to see if we were okay.  I was so “out of it” that my first words to them were, “Thank you for the nice Christmas card.”  They looked at me as though I was insane.  Who cared about a card, when they’d just been saved from a very messy death?

But I knew there was someone else I needed to thank. Someone who’d been with us in that car that day. Our angels.

The officers said they’d fully expected to see us dead, splattered on the highway; there was no way we could have survived such a crash. But we were standing there, a little shaky, but alive. I turned away for a minute to thank someone else who’d intervened for us.  Someone who had protected me on other occasions when I’d been in danger.  But this was the closest call I’d ever had.  So, my prayer of thanksgiving had to be of higher quality than ever before. But what does one say to an angel; a simple thank you seemed far too little.  But that’s all our angels accepted, despite my repeating over and over:  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

My angel wasn’t finished. In order to ease and repair my aching body, particularly my back, I went to a local chiropractor.  His gentle hands did an excellent job of healing me.  When I later found out he was legally blind, I had to thank my angel once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bear That Blackmailed People

Here’s a little piece, based on a true story, about safe travel practices when visiting wild places this season.

MaryAnne looked up from her book, her brown eyes watching her parents in the front seat of the car.  This vacation had not been as much fun as previous ones.  Maybe she was getting too old to go places with her parents and little brother.

At the thought of Jeremy, she slanted her eyes toward him.  Maybe a tiny pinch would make him mad enough to look alive. But she knew her mother would be furious with her . . . and one of the promises she’d made to herself before the trip started was that she would behave “more grownup” to please her mother.

But it certainly was hard work, being grownup.  She narrowed her eyes at Jeremy again.  No.  She’d better read.  The book was about a girl her age who seemed to be having some of the same problems . . . primarily with a small brother.

Maybe it would have been better to have been an only child.  MaryAnne looked out at Canada’s Fraser River as it wound beside the twisty and turning road up the Fraser Canyon.  No, she usually was happy with her family just as it is.  Even if her parents had quarreled a little about which way to take into Jasper.

“George, the view is better going south, so we should go through Prince George and make a circle back through Golden and Kamloops.”

MaryAnne’s dad had sighed. “Elaine, the Rockies are wonderful from either way, but I can tell you intend to be stubborn about this . . . so the northern entrance it will be.”

Sometimes MaryAnne felt sorry for her dad, especially when her mother was stubborn.  Sometimes she wondered if that was where she got her own stubborn ways.  Not that she was as stubborn as her mother, of course.  MaryAnne smiled and turned again to read her book

After getting gas for the car in Jasper and looking at the tall totem pole in the railway station, MaryAnne was ready to watch the unfolding of some of the highest and prettiest mountains in the world.  Making the trip more exciting, each mountain visible from the road was identified by name on an arrow that pointed toward the mountain.

She bounced on the seat.  Now if Jeremy kept quiet, her day would be perfect.  She just loved mountains . . . and trees . . . and white-green tumbling water.  And all three of those things were guaranteed here.  Now if the bear and deer and falcons would cooperate and show up, too.  Sheer heaven!

Then MaryAnne’s dad stopped the car so her mother could look at the wildflowers growing by the roadside.  Other people were already crouched there, looking at the orange, yellow, red, purple, and white flowers, taking pictures with cameras that gasped with each shot.  Her mother got back into the car, her face flushed with pleasure.  MaryAnne bounced again.  This was a super wonderful day!

Then she made the mistake of looking at Jeremy.  Earlier he’d patiently pulled the stuffing out of his teddy bear, his boyish look marred by a careful frown.  MaryAnne thought about telling her mother, but then she pressed her lips together.  She’d already tattled once today, and she’d better not push her luck.

Her mother kept saying two wrongs didn’t make a right, although MaryAnne wasn’t quite certain what that meant.

She swung her legs, looking critically at her toes in her sandals, wiggling them to gaze with pleasure at the pink color on her toenails.  Her mother said eleven was too young to wear fingernail polish; she had relented to let her wear it on her toes.

But when she looked up, she saw her mother’s face wasn’t so happy.  Worried, she turned to see what was wrong.

IT was a small black bear with brown patches all over his fur.  He was almost leaning in the window next to her dad, looking suddenly much larger than he had before.  MaryAnne knew from reading all the signs in the park that one shouldn’t feed the animals, especially the bear.  She opened her mouth to warn her father, when her mother spoke.

“George, let’s get away.  Roll that window up.”

“I can’t.  His hand . . . uh . . . paw . . . is in it.  Maybe if I start the car.”

He ground the starter, and the engine roared from the excess gas in the engine.  MaryAnne, now watching the bear with a frightened gaze, saw the bear back up, looking surprised.

Good.  He was going to leave. But he didn’t.  Instead he moved to the side of the car and began to rock it.  The bear seemed bigger than ever, but to rock a medium-sized car—it almost made MaryAnne carsick.  Would he tip the car over?

Then the bear stopped and looked at them again, almost as though he was waiting for them to do something.

“George, look at the bear’s eyes.  It’s like he’s thinking.”  MaryAnne’s mother whispered.

“Well, I don’t like what he’s thinking, Mama.” MaryAnne felt like crying.  What was going to happen to them?

“You always wonder about what your dog thinks.”  MaryAnne could tell her mother was upset when she talked about silly things.  Maybe she was afraid, too.

“George, what are you doing?” MaryAnne knew her mother was nervous when her voice sounded so sharp. “Roll that window up again.”

Her dad shook his head.  “Maybe I’ll throw a sandwich far away from the car and he’ll run to get it.  Then we can get away.  I wish I knew where a forest ranger was.  And now there seems to be no one else around.  We need to solve this ourselves.”

“Don’t open the window wider. Please.”  Jeremy’s voice was just a whisper.

The bear shook its head and began to rock the car again.  Then he stopped, waiting and looking at them.

MaryAnne felt a pudgy little hand squeeze its way into her hand.  She looked down. Jeremy made a funny sound.  She glared at him, then noticed that his chubby face was flushed, and that his eyes were full of round, fat tears.  He was pressing his mouth together . . . maybe to keep his lips from quivering.

She had a funny feeling in her chest.  She surprised herself by squeezing his hand back, carefully because he was lots smaller than she was.

Her mother giggled.  “George, I think that bear is blackmailing us.  He must try this with other people driving through here.”  She reached into the cooler and took out a squashed tuna fish sandwich.  “Here, you’re too close to him. I’ll throw it out my window . . . and you be ready to drive away—fast!”

MaryAnne was afraid this plan wouldn’t work, but her mother didn’t seem worried.  She hoped her mother was right.  And it felt good to have Jeremy’s hand in hers, so she gave him a smile.  He looked a bit surprised, but she felt his hand relax.  Now she felt even better.  Maybe Jeremy wasn’t so bad, after all.  For a little brother, that is.

Her mother rolled down the window—and tossed the sandwich back behind the car, but the bear saw it. Or smelled the tuna. Instantly, he stretched up his back legs, then broke into a loping run toward the back of the car.  MaryAnne’s dad pressed on the gas pedal, and the car shot forward down the highway.

Jeremy and MaryAnne knelt on the back seat to watch the bear, now finished with the sandwich.  Then they looked at each other, amazed.  It seemed as though the bear was waving “thanks” to them.  Now they knew he had been blackmailing them!

Jeremy began to chatter to their mother and dad, both of them were also talking at the same time.  The only person who wasn’t talking was MaryAnne.

She was busy trying to figure out why Jeremy didn’t bother her anymore.  At least not right now.  And, in a funny way, she understood what her mother meant by two wrongs not making a right. And, it still was fun—even if being blackmailed—to travel with her folks. She reached over to give Jeremy a little, tiny pinch.

End note: If you keep bear spray in the car when visiting wild places, you can keep your sandwich and help prevent this behavior in wildlife!  :-)

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Barbados and Grenada – Part 2

Now let’s visit Grenada.

Good ol’ Chris Columbus first saw the island in 1498.  It was occupied by Caribs and Karina peoples.  The British tried to settle the island, but failed, so the French bought the island from the Caribs and Karinas in 1650, which caused a war to break out between other islands natives.  Britain again got the island in 1783.  It got its independence in 1974.  Then political troubles resulted in several coups d’etat, involving some who wanted a communistic country and those who didn’t.  One leader was executed.  Six days later, and some of you will recall this, U.S. forces along with those of six other Caribbean nations invaded Grenada, saying the safety of U.S. medical students was imperiled.

A worse event was the September 2004 direct hit by Hurricane Ivan, when 90 percent of homes were damaged or destroyed.  This hot and humid island is often the brunt of hurricanes, but none as bad as Ivan.  With tourism the main basis for the economy, this was a terrible double blow to the islanders.

Queen Elizabeth II is also the formal head of Grenada, again represented by a Governor General, but again the power rests with a prime minister.  Again, the lower House of Representatives is elected by the people, but the governor general appoints the senators.  Grenada is also divided into parishes…another French contribution?

The capital is St. George’s, one of the most colorful ports in the Caribbean.  It’s in a dead crater and has old forts surrounding it.  It reminds people of Portofino, Italy.  Buildings are Georgian style, with red tile roofs brought from England as ballast on ships.  Pastel walls brighten the town against the tropical green background.    In that tropical jungle one finds palms, oleander, bougainvillea, hibiscus, anthurium, bananas, and ferns.  About 80% of the English-speaking population is of African descent.  Half are Catholics; the rest mostly Anglican.

Grenada is called the Spice Island.  Tropical, very fertile and lush, the land is just the place for growing spices.  Grenada produces more spices than anywhere else in the world…cloves, cinnamon, mace, cocoa, tonka beans, ginger and one third of the world’s supply of nutmeg. Actually the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and cocoa.  If spice vendors “bug” you, just say you already have some.  But you need to know, the spices are fresh and better than at home.

If you get a chance, a visit to the National Museum gives a good picture of the File:Grenada National Museum C IMG 0488.JPGbackground of Grenada.  It’s set in an old French army barracks and prison built in 1704.  It has archaeological finds and other exhibits, including a marble tub used by Josephine Bonaparte (Napoleon’s wife) when she lived on Martinique. Another Caribbean island , Ft. George, is another possible visit site. In 1705, the French built it, and it has a 360-degree view of harbor.

Barbados and Grenada – Part 1

You know Columbus wanted to find a shorter route to the “Indies”—China and India and the Indonesian islands.  What did they have that sophisticated, Renaissance Europe wanted or needed?  Spices, silks, satins, and gunpowder and spaghetti (noodles).  Stories had trickled into Europe for decades (thanks primarily to Marco Polo) of a wonderful land to the west of Europe which was the “Indies.”  Of course, sailors had to get past sea monsters and terrible storms.  But the thought of something to make rancid meat and moldy vegetables taste better and with wives demanding pretty materials for dresses…the attempt was tempting.

It had to be.  So when he and his three tiny ships reached land, the people there must be Indians, since this must be the Indies.

Today these islands are known mostly for tourist-related events.  But between Columbus and sun-burned tourists are several hundred years of colonization—Spanish, French, British and Dutch primarily.  Bet you didn’t know that tiny Netherlands was a major player in commercial wars centuries ago!

What did these other countries want?  Coaling stations for the Brits, gold for Spanish, spices for French, trade for the Dutch.  Except for Spain, the others went in for plantation-building to raise sugar, tea, and spices, all requiring the use of slaves in order to be profitable.  Soon slavery became another source of income as well as the agricultural income.A map of Barbados from Richard Ligon's 'A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados' (1657). Bridgetown abutts Carlisle Bay at the bottom of the map.

Spain went further west to Mexico and Peru to find gold, silver and other wealth to ship home to Spain. That act gave rise to another occupation…piracy.  That gave rise to increased law enforcement attempts, and that gave rise…you get the point.

Those gorgeous plantations on these islands (like those in the U.S. south) disguised the brutality that decimated thousands of the Indian populations.  What brutality didn’t kill, European diseases, smallpox, measles, and venereal diseases killed.   (Much like our own American Indians suffered the same fate—another story.)

Let’s talk about two of the islands in this wonder archipelago of pearls in the blue Caribbean.  First, Barbados.

The name “Barbados” comes from a Portuguese explorer in 1536, who originally called the island “Os Barbados” ( The Bearded Ones) because he saw the island’s fig trees, whose long roots he thought resembled “beards.”

The island was uninhabited when first settled by the British in 1627, although Amerindian tribes had lived on the island earlier.

No other island can compete with Barbados in the area of natural beauty, places to visit, and food!

Bathsheba

Bathsheba in Barbados

But best of all, the pink and white sandy beaches, maybe the best in the Caribbean Basin, are found in Barbados.

Barbados, after over 300 years of British control, tight during earlier years and looser after it became a Commonwealth member, got its independence in l966.

Lots of evidences of those 300 years of occupation remain—left side driving, cricket and Queen Elizabeth II is officially head of state. She is represented by a Governor General, but the real power is with the prime minister elected by the Bajans, and his cabinet. There’s a House of Representatives elected by the people; the Senate is appointed by the governor general.  Interesting…and this is the same in several other islands.  It would be like our U.S. presidents appointing senators. (Until the second decade of the 20th century in the U.S., by the way, our U.S. Senators were picked by state legislatures because the “common man” wasn’t considered smart enough to elect senators…then women got the vote!!!!)

Politically, the island is divided into parishes, maybe an inheritance from some French influence, much like our Louisiana.

Revellers Parading Through the Streets at Crop Over Festival, Barbados Pocket Guide

Crop Over Festival

Locals are called Bajans. Thank goodness, English is the primarily language.  About 9 out of 10 Bajans are of African descent, with small groups of Europeans and Asians.  Most Bajans are Protestants.  I love the two major holiday festivals:  one is called Carnival and the other is Crop Over Festival, obviously celebrating harvest.

This most easterly of the Caribbean islands started as a plantation-based economy.  The land is mostly limestone. The rainy season is from June to October.   Constant trade winds, marshes and mangrove swamps are a major part of Barbados.  Large sugarcane plantations still dominate the central part of the island.  Rum, sugar, and molasses production was big during the 20th century, but today my guess is that tourist crops now dominate. Bridgetown is the capital, about a mile from the port.

As for shopping, don’t buy black coral items…illegal to bring into the U.S.  Rum cake is a specialty which if shrink-wrapped will last six months.  As for other Bajan arts and crafts, there’s a store in Bridgetown called Artifacts.  Pottery is also a good buy, but if you see me loitering me in front of any pottery, please save me!!

Barbados is a major site for spotting sea turtles.  A large rum distillery offers a tour.  Rainforest hikes and cave exploration, visits to Francia Plantation…and many other places to visit.

Barbados turtleCave In Barbados

Cartagena and its Country, Columbia – Part 2

“I have to get to Cartagena!”  (Who said that?)

“My sister’s in trouble in Cartagena!  She’s been kidnapped! I have to get there!”  (Who said that?)

If I use the words Romance and Stone…. does that help? Kathleen Turner? Michael Douglas? Danny DeVito?

Well, now YOU are going to Cartagena….so let’s learn a bit about that city, as well as the country in which it’s found.

This city of about a million people was founded in 1533, named after a seaport in Spain, and became a major center of early Spanish settlement in South America.  Today, it’s a popular tourist destination.  Which is why we’re here.

Its history is some fun.  It was wealthy because all the stuff from the New World on its way to Spain came through Cartagena into the Caribbean.  There roved those wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ll throw a few names out to whet your thirst…Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth of England’s favorite “legitimate pirate,”  and his own near-relative John Hawkins were two of the English privateers.  Drake, who landed at night to conquer the city at dawn, burned houses and destroyed part of the Cathedral.  Drake forced the authorities to pay him 107,000 ducats, took some jewelry and 80 artillery pieces.  In 1568, Hawkins besieged the city for seven days.  In 1697, a fleet of French soldiers and pirates tried to take Cartagena.

To fight off these repeated attacks, the Spanish Crown hired prominent European military engineers to carry out the construction of fortresses, which today mark one of Cartagena’s signs of identify.  The construction took 208 years. But, the port still attracted pirates.

In 1741, the city was attacked by English troops in a fleet of 186 ships and 23,600 men against 6 ships and 3600 men.  After weeks of intense fighting, the siege was repelled by the Spanish who inflicted heavy casualties on the English troops.  (Check out the War of Jenkins’ Ear or the Battle of Cartagena, but I like the first title better…and it’s the one I know about the battle.)

As if there wasn’t trouble enough, the Catholic King Phillip of Spain established the Inquisition Holy Office in Cartagena and ordered built the Inquisition Palace, which was finished in 1770 (when we were just starting our…  uh…dispute with England for our independence.) And it’s still there with original colonial features.  When Simon Bolivar invaded to free Colombia from Spain, the Inquisition disappeared again.  (In case you’re interested…during its two centuries of existence, some records show that the court carried out 12 autos-de-fe, 767 defendants were punished, six of them burned at the stake.

Finally, 250 years after the Spanish conquered it, Cartagena declared its independence in 1811.  It’s called the Heroic City.

With tropical location, the climate changes little…ranging from low of 76 F to high of 89 F.  About 40 inches of rain per year…rainy season is in October.

Let’s look at the town itself. The Rafael Nunez International Airport is about ten minutes from downtown.  In that area, downtown, there’s a Centro Historico, or Walled City, where you can find information on the history of the area. This is the real heart of the city, with a mixture of architectural design, mainly of colonial style, but there are some Italianate buildings, like the Cathedral’s bell tower.

Clock Tower Gate

The official entrance to downtown is through the Clock Gate, which leads you into the Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages). Then the Aduana (customs house), then the mayor’s office. And the Museum of Modern Art.

Also nearby are the Plaza de Bolivar and the Palace of the Inquisition, then the government Palace, across from which is the Cathedral of Cartagena. (Remember how the Spanish designed towns:  a mid-place square (Zocolo in Mexico City, plaza in other cities, where one side there’s a church, one side has the government building, and often a type of lodging on another side.  A museum is often on the fourth side of the square.  Always the church and the government building.)  Stop to admire the restored Santo Domingo Church, decorated with a famous sculpture, Mujer Reclinada (Reclining Woman), by a famous Colombian artist Botero.

The Teatro Heredia (Heredia Theater) is an architectural jewel located in front of the Plaza de la Merced.  A little further on in the University of Cartagena. The Claustro de Santa Teresa (cloister) has been remodeled into an upscale hotel.   Several other convents also have been remodeled into beautiful hotels.

Inside the Old City, you can go to Las Bovedas ( The Vaults) from where you can see the Caribbean Sea.

The commercial and financial area of the city is the Matuna, where you can find nice hotels and good restaurants.  It’s one of the most representative areas in Cartagena where African people brought here as slaves used to live.   More churches and convents are here also.

Bocagrande (Big Mouth) is the most modern area of the city.  Shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries are here; a little farther on are the beaches and nightlife.

Today, Cartagena has focused on heavy urban development, particularly skyscrapers. Hollywood loves the atmosphere of Colombia, although Romancing the Stone was filmed in Mexico.  But, another movie, The Mission, was filmed in Cartagena and Brazil, as was the movie Love in the Time of Cholera.  Cartagena shows up in some novels as well.

But don’t you fail to get out and walk around the downtown. Maybe you’ll recognize some scenes you’ve seen or read about. Just know you’re seeing a town with a history that’s beyond colorful and exciting.  May you find some color and excitement here, as well.

Why I Write

What makes a person want to write?  That takes time, inspiration, research…..and “seat of the pants” work.  I have now completed six novels, the Briana Fraser series, and thought I’d share some of the “inspiration” part with you—in case you might want to write or wondered why I did.

My writing partner, Sharon Owen, writing as Sharon St. George, has penned a series, published by Camel Press, in part featuring Northern California medical facilities, eastern cities, and travel to the Azores, in search of the truth about an injured young man, then for a lost girl, and into a string of dangerous accidents, including a mysterious death. The titles so far: Due for Discard, Checked Out, Breach of Ethics, and Spine Damage.  She was careful to have characters with particular skills, employment abilities and difficulties, plus challenging relationships with each other, including a romance, making her novels realistic. I liked what she’d done with her website; I asked if I could “imitate” her site. She agreed.

As a voracious reader of mysteries, especially those placed in dangerous locales, I have written a series about an Ashland, Oregon bookstore employee and Shakespeare Festival volunteer, who reluctantly signs on to assist the U.S. government with “problems” in foreign nations. (The titles so far: “Argentine Assignment”, “Belize Barter”, “China Caper”, “Peru Paradox”, with “Mexican Marimbas” and “Russian Ruse” following in short order.)

My main “hero” characters aren’t saints, nor geniuses, but they love their country and take dangerous risks to complete “assignments” given to them by their government to help make a difference for that country. Even my anti-heroes, except in the Mexican novel, aren’t intrinsically evil, but they won’t win any cheers; maybe a bit of sad recognition or understanding.

Important to me was to develop novels that portrayed at least my vision of, respect for, and appreciation of the people of the countries in which I placed the action, including the problems the people of those countries face—poverty, power, anti-law attitudes, pride—even the religious goals of a group of nuns in Peru! Other action includes a bull fight, a contest that perhaps portrays human struggles to succeed in a dangerous world! (And I have spent considerable time in these countries.)

Other struggles are faced by the human characters in the novels, all presented in the culture, climate, church affiliations, courage, and conviction of the characters as they fight to fulfill their assignments.  Ashland gets a big “plug” because of my love of the town and for Shakespeare. And for the deer who each spring make national news as they flood into the small town (and in my yard when I lived there!) by the hundreds.

My hope is that readers will enjoy and appreciate some of the “atmosphere” of the countries mentioned earlier, as much as I did in reliving the days, weeks, even months I’ve spent in those wonderful places. But it’s always nice to come home!

 

 

 

 

A Potpourri of Venezuela, Colombia and Cartagena – Part 1

You’ve all heard of Irish Stew and of Hungarian Goulash:  today I’m telling you about a trio of places that makes up a potpourri—surely as hot and tasty as Goulash and Stew. I’ll touch on them in order of our passing by or stopping at.

So, I’ll begin with a country that is vital to the United States—and other countries around the world—Venezuela.  It comprises a mainland and many islands in the Caribbean, and borders (more or less) with Guyana, Brazil and Colombia, although there have been border disputes between all three countries and Venezuela.  The current fight is with tiny Guyana.

But, let’s back up a few centuries.  People have lived in this area at least 15,000 years. The modern world learned of the land when in 1499, a fellow whose name you’ll recognize sailed in along the coast of Venezuela.  Here, he saw villages that people had built over water, reminding him of Venice Italy, so he named it Venezuela, which means “little Venice.”  Others have said that the local natives were called Veneciuela … so you take your choice.  Spain colonized this area in 1522, killing the locals who were descendants of Carib Indians; an uprising for independence began in 1811, but in 1812, a terrible earthquake hit Caracas, so those attempts failed.

In 1821, Simon Bolivar (the Liberator), who is recognized as the liberator of several South American countries (Ecuador and, obviously, Bolivia), led a revolt against the Spanish, which resulted in a messy decade of fighting until 1830, when the country became somewhat settled—and free of Spain.

For the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was in continual turmoil and/or dictatorships. In 1958, the country began a series of somewhat democratically elected presidents.

File:SaltoAngel4.jpg

Angel Falls – By Paulo Capiotti [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The economy of the country began to reach heights with the discovery of huge oil deposits, reaching its best until the l980’s.  But huge public spending and internal and external debts of the government during the Petrodollar years of the 1970s and early 80s led to a collapse of oil prices during the l980s, all of which crippled Venezuelan economy.  When the money went south, so did the dream of democracy.  Major coup attempts, two in 1992 and one in 2002, have led to rising poverty and crime and increasing political instability in the country.

Venezuela is a beautiful country:  the Andes mountains in the west, has part of the Amazon Basin, and has Angel Falls, the world’s largest waterfall… a wide diversity of plant and animal life…maybe among the widest of any other country.  The Orinoco River drains a large land mass, one of the largest in Latin America…not just South America…Latin America.  Cloud forests and rain forest are particularly rich, for example, with 25,000 species of orchids.

File:Manatee.jpgNotable mammals include the giant anteater, jaguar, and the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.  There are also manatees, river dolphins, and Orinoco crocodiles—which can get as long as 26 ft., plus a host of bird species—ibises, ospreys, kingfishers, and the yellow-orange turpial, the national bird.  Mining, logging and shifting cultivation (known as slash/burn cultivation, I think) have endangered many of these animals and plants.

Venezuelans have been sports figures in the U.S., primarily in baseball. Several are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Soccer is also a popular sport.

Artists and writers have achieved worldwide recognition, as have architects…all heavily dominated by Latin American culture.  Ninety-six percent of Venezuelans are nominally Roman Catholic, but I doubt that includes regular church attendance.  It usually doesn’t in Latin America.

Income: petroleum sector accounts for about half of the GDP and for around 80% of their exports. Spanish is the national language

Since we really aren’t welcome there, let’s go on to the other two ingredients in our cultural “stew”…but I hope you know that Venezuela is a beautiful country; it just needs good people to lead it…. Next time, we go on to Colombia and one of its major cities, Cartagena, which we WILL visit.