Venezuela, And The Orinoco Basin
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
AN ENORMOUS COUNTRY OF GREAT POSSIBILITIES--HOW NAMED-ITS SUGAR LANDS AND CACAO ORCHARDS-ITS COFFEE, WHICH WE DRINK AS MOCHA -THE ORINOCO, AND ITS VAST PASTURES--HOW THE LLANOS LOOK-THE GOLD REGIONS--LAKE MARACAIBO-CARACAS, THE NATIONAL CAPITAL.
VENEZUELA is yearly coming closer to the United States; our new possessions in the West Indies make her almost a neighbour. We have regular ships that sail from New York to La Guaira, calling at Porto Rico on the way. The trade between the two countries steadily increases. Uncle Sam has now a permanent exposition of American goods at Caracas, and American capital is invited to develop the country. The field is a great one and well worthy of study.
The word Venezuela means Little Venice. The Spaniards who entered Lake Maracaibo about 400 years ago found settlements of Indian fishermen, living in huts built on piles above the water. They were reminded thereby of Venice, so they called the new region "Venezuela" or Little Venice. The country, however, is anything but little. It has an area of one-seventh the size of the United States ; it is larger than Germany, France, and Holland combined, and it has so few people that the greater part of it is a wilderness. Its population is about 2,500,000. The people are the offspring of the union of Spaniards with Indians and of pure Indians. The whites number about one-fifth of the whole; they own most of the property and are to a great extent the rulers of the country.
This vast area is a land of mighty mountains, vast plains, and numberless streams. The Andes run through it on the west, other mountains and highlands are found on the east and south, and between the two is the vast valley of the Orinoco, with its natural pastures of millions of acres. In the coast lands and in the plateaus and highlands of the mountains are the chief agricultural regions of the country, regions devoted to the raising of sugar, coffee, cacao, Indian corn, and other cereals. Coffee is the chief industry, there being 33,000 coffee estates from which 100,000,000 pounds of coffee are annually exported. Of this fully one-half goes to the United States and is sold there as Mocha coffee. It is more difficult to raise coffee here than in Brazil; the plantations must be irrigated and the coffee trees shaded to protect them from the hot sun.
The sugar estates and cacao orchards are on the lowlands ; there are in all about i i, 000 sugar estates and 5,000 cacao orchards. The cacao produced is of a very fine quality. It is grown along the coast where the climate is very unhealthy; most of the product goes to Europe, where it sells from 50 cents to $1 a pound.
One of the least explored yet most valuable parts of Venezuela is the basin of the Orinoco, which is wonderfully well watered. Rivers and rivulets course through it like the veins of a leaf. The Orinoco has numberless tributaries. It is the third river in size in South America, and the ninth in size among the great rivers of the world. It is i,600 miles long and is navigable for steamers for about 800 miles from its mouth, or almost as far inland as Chicago from the Atlantic. It is said to have 4,500 miles of navigable waters, including its own course and its tributaries. It rises in the Andes and flows through central Venezuela into the Atlantic through the llanos, perhaps the greatest pasture-fields in the world. The llanos embrace an area about five times that of the State of Ohio, running on both sides of the river. They are mostly treeless plains, covered with a rich growth of grass, which is green in winter and parched and brown in summer.
Only here and there along the streams are clumps of woods, and about the only part of the lower Orinoco that has trees is the delta. As the Orinoco river approaches the sea, it divides into branches like the ribs of a fan, enclosing a territory about as large as the State of New Jersey. Many of the branches are deep enough to be navigable, and steamers from the island of Trinidad sail through them into the main stream and go 375 miles farther to Ciudad Bolivar, the metropolis of central Venezuela.
Here the Orinoco narrows. It is only half a mile wide and 36o feet deep, rising 40 feet when in flood. Above this other steamers will take you a distance of almost 500 miles to the Falls of Atures, and in smaller boats you can go almost to the foot of the Andes. You can, in fact, sail out of the Orinoco into the Cassiquiare and down that river into the Rio Negro, which leads to the Amazon. From the Amazon you can sail far into Peru and Bolivia on its various tributaries, or by the Tapajos up to a point so close to the beginnings of the Parana system that by carrying your canoe a few miles you could get into the Paraguay-Parana and float down to the Rio de la Plata, thence out into the Atlantic. By a short canal a waterway might thus be made from the edge of the Caribbean sea right down through South America to the Rio de la Plata.
The basin of the Orinoco is devoted chiefly to stock-farming. On the llanos there are in the neighbourhood of 10,000,000 cattle. They are of the long-horned Texas variety, and are raised for their meat and hides. Many of the hides go to the United States. The meat is cut off in strips and made into jerked beef, quantities of which are exported to the different islands of the West Indies. There are practically no dairy interests; indeed, little butter is used outside the cities, and much of that sold in them is imported in tins. Only a small part of the llanos is well-stocked, and the number of animals might be greatly increased. It is estimated that almost one-half of Venezuela is pasture land ; many of the high valleys are used for breeding goats, of which there are several million in the country,. There are also about 3,000,000 horses and 3,000,000 mules, and not less than 8,000,000 donkeys. The donkeys are the burden-bearers and freight-carriers of the country, and on them the produce is taken to the seaports. You see long trains of them on almost every highway, and they are found by the hundred in and about every town market. In Ciudad Bolivar there are no carriages. The streets are paved, but they are in some places so steep that they are almost dangerous to travel with saddle horses.
Ciudad Bolivar is a town of about 1o,000 people. It is made up of one-story buildings, constructed of brick and mud, and covered with plaster painted in all colours of the rainbow. The houses are Spanish in style, and nearly all have roofs of red tiles. There are a number of large stores, a market, a theatre, and a custom-house.
It is in the Orinoco basin that some of the chief gold fields of Venezuela are found, although it is said that there is gold in every one of the States. In the Yuruary region is the mine of El Callao, which produced $40,000,000 worth of gold between the years 1866 and 1889. It has at times yielded more than $1,000,000 worth of gold a year, and is still being worked, although the up-per levels have been exhausted.
Most of the people of Venezuela live; north of the Orinoco. They are to be found cultivating the high plateaus and valleys in the mountains. The country is in the torrid zone, and the lands along the coast are low and tropical, although they are not as hot as some parts of the llanos where there are no sea breezes. The low coastlands raise all kinds of tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples, cocoanuts, and cacao. A little higher up you come into the coffee regions, and in the longitudinal valleys of the Andes you find a climate which is perpetual spring. Here grow all 'sorts of vegetables and fruits, and almost all kinds of cereals There are many irrigated farms that produce fresh vegetables all the year round. Here are the chief cities such as Caracas Valencia, Barquisimeto, and Merida, and it is here that the bulk of the population live. As you go higher up, the climate is colder, until on the tops of the Andes you reach perpetual snow.
Venezuela is especially well off for harbours. It has about 2,000 miles of coast line along the Atlantic and the Caribbean sea, and has 32 natural harbours. At the far west is the Gulf of Maracaibo, opening out into the Lake of Maracaibo, which is about twice as large as Rhode Island and has an average depth of 100 feet, so that the largest ocean vessels can sail in it. It has, however, two bars at its entrance, one of which is only o feet under water, and until these are removed the larger steamers cannot come in. The country about the lake is a rich agricultural region. It produces coffee, cacao, tobacco, rice, cotton, and indigo, besides all sorts of tropical fruits. It is a rich sugar region, and mines of gold, copper, lead, and vast deposits of asphalt and coal are said to be in the mountains near by. The chief town of the region is Maricaibo, near the mouth of the lake. It is a Spanish-built city of about 40,000 people, sur-rounded by cocoanut groves.
A little farther down the coast is the harbour of Puerto Cabello, a bay so safe that it is called the Port of the Hair, Cabello meaning "hair " and the name signifying that a single hair will hold a vessel at anchor. Still farther to the eastward is the Port of La Guaira, where all the principal steamship lines land, and where the steamers from New York come three times a month. La Guaira lies at the foot of the mountains, the town running for a mile or more round the bay. It is an old town and exceedingly hot, but not unhealthy. It is the port for the capital, Caracas, which is situated on the other side of the mountain, only 6 miles away. It takes, however, 24 miles of railroad travel to reach it, for you have to climb to an altitude of almost a mile to get over the pass into the valley in which Caracas lies. A tunnel might be made through from one city to the other, and a concession to this effect has been granted, but so far no real work has been done.
Caracas lies almost a mile above the sea. It is in a beautiful valley about 2 miles wide and 15 miles long, surrounded by mountains, some of which are 2 miles in height. The valley is covered with sugar plantations, vegetable gardens, and orchards of oranges, lemons, and other fruit. The city contains about 80,000 people; and is one of the liveliest and most enterprising of the South American capitals. It is laid out in squares, with streets crossing one another at right angles, and running out from the Plaza Bolivar in the centre much like the streets of Washington are laid out about the Capitol. There are a number of statues to be seen here and there, among them is one of Simon Bolivar, the founder of Venezuelan independence, and also one of George Washington.
The houses are chiefly of one story. They have thick walls, red-tiled roofs, and iron-barred windows. They are built in the Spanish style about patios; most of them are covered with stucco and painted in the most delicate tints of yellow, blue, red, and green. There are no chimneys. The buildings are flush with the street, and from the roofs extend out iron water-spouts to a point about midway over the sidewalk, so that a shower is liable to send a stream down the collar of the passerby.
Caracas has a large theatre, a national library, a university with schools of law, medicine, theology, and civil engineering, and cemeteries of the pigeon-hole style, like those of other South American cities. The chief cemetery is called Paradise, so that the man who is buried in it is sure of Paradise, if not of Heaven.
Carācas has a half dozen daily newspapers, the largest of which has a circulation of about 5,000; it has also weekly and monthly periodicals. It has streetcars and electric lights, a telephone exchange, and in fact almost every sort of modern improvement.
It is the seat of the government of Venezuela. Here the President lives, and here congress sits and makes the laws for the country. It is here also that the chief churches are located. Roman Catholicism is the State religion, and numbers among its followers the whole of the population, save about 10,000; of the latter 3,500 are Protestants, and 400 are Jews, the remaining 6,000 being without religious profession.