Our South American Neighbors - G. Southworth

Caracas and Venezuela—
Its Hospitable Land

On his third voyage to America the white sailed ships of Columbus made their way from the Caribbean Sea into Lake Maracaibo. On the shores of the lake and on its islands, the explorers found the huts of Indians built upon piles. The sight recalled to Columbus' men the city of Venice in faraway Italy. And so the land received the name Venezuela, or "Little Venice."

This pretty, although inappropriate name, has clung to a great mountainous region totally unlike Venice in every way. Being larger than the combined area of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, "Little Venice" is not exactly little. Among the eleven countries of the southern continent, Venezuela, with her 393,976 square miles and her population of nearly 3,000,000, stands sixth, or just halfway.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


If, in place of sailing west on the high-prowed, slow-moving little ships which brought Columbus from Spain, you were to glide out of New York harbor on a modern ocean steamer, and were to journey south—almost due south—you, too, would reach Lake Maracaibo and Venezuela, "the front door of South America."

With such a title what could be more fitting than the Venezuelan's well deserved reputation for hospitality. All tourists, without exception, speak of the unusual courtesy of the Venezuelan officials, from the considerate custom house officers to the accommodating policemen in the streets. And to be entertained in a Venezuelan home is a charming experience.

These social people are particularly friendly to visitors from the United States for their natural hospitality is increased by a feeling of gratitude to us as a nation. More than once Uncle Sam has stretched a helping hand across the Caribbean Sea to Venezuela. Our country was the first to recognize the United States of Venezuela as an independent nation. But the proof of greatest friendship came in 1895 when the United States, at the risk of an appalling war, forced Great Britain to release her hold on the coveted Orinoco territory which she was most anxious to add to her neighboring possession of British Guiana.

Caracas, the charming capital of the republic, is one of the most picturesque capitals in the New World. The city lies in the beautiful valley of the Guaire river. Yet this "valley" has an altitude of some 3,000 or more feet, thanks to which Caracas possesses a delightful, even temperature. The capital's climate is varied, not by changes from heat to cold, but by seasons of alternating dryness and moisture.

The city has splendid buildings, several fine churches, a famous university, and numerous artistic homes. The style of the buildings is Spanish, and the homes, with their spacious open courts surrounded by the rooms of the house, are most attractive.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


It is rightfully said that there is not an inartistic touch in the town. Caracas does not intend that there shall be any. No pains are spared, no labor or treasure grudged, which can contribute to make the capital a beautiful, well-equipped, and healthful city.

One of the finest statues in Venezuela is the imposing figure of Columbus so placed on the neighboring Calvario Hill that it can be seen from nearly every part of Caracas.

Among the artistic squares of Caracas there is the Plaza Washington, or Washington Square, in the central portion of the city near one of its handsome, modern churches. In the center of the square rises a fine statue of George Washington, erected by the Venezuelan government.

Caracas is justly proud of being the birthplace of General Francisco de Mirando, called the Precursor of Spanish American independence, and of General Simon Bolivar the Washington of South America. The family of Washington presented Bolivar, the only Latin American hero to be so honored, with a medallion, bearing on one side a miniature portrait and on the other a lock of hair of the Father of His Country. General Bolivar always wore this medallion in preference to any of his numerous other medals.

The resources of Venezuela are numerous and as yet have hardly been touched. She has mountains, and those mountains have treasures of gold and many other minerals. She has extensive plains stretching for miles through the valley of the Orinoco river. These plains are known as the llanos, which, like our western plains, afford excellent pasturage for large herds of cattle. And she has dry and exceptionally healthful table-lands, or plateaus. This variety of physical features produces an equal variety of climate, products and soil.

Venezuela's chief exports are natural products. They include coffee, cacao, sugar, balata or rubber milk, hides and skins, rubber, gold, copper ore, iron, asphalt, petroleum and cotton.

The total value of the country's imports is almost twice as great as her total value of exports. These imports are cotton goods, flour, machinery and automobiles, drugs and medicine, rice, wines and certain canned goods.

It is fitting that Caracas, the capital and largest city of Venezuela, should also be the great commercial center of the republic. Caracas is connected with the outside world by the railway which runs to the seaport of La Guaira. These two cities are only about five miles apart "as the crow flies." But the railway, which has to wind ever up and up the intervening mountain before it reaches Caracas, is fully twenty-five miles long.

Sometimes a comparison of two cities makes much clearer the picture of both. Suppose, then, we compare Caracas with the capital of its near neighbor, Colombia.

In the first place, Bogota is larger in size and in population, is considerably higher and somewhat cooler and is much more isolated from the world. Caracas has more warm sunshine, and a more picturesque location. Caracas, modern, gay and fashionable, is perhaps a bit frivolous, while secluded Bogota is more stern, and holds herself aloof. The mountains near Bogota are bleak, barren and forbidding, while the beautiful mountains surrounding Caracas are green to their very tops. Though Colombia's mountains have a certain awesome grandeur, Bogota has the appearance of having climbed up out of the swampy plateau to take refuge on the side of the inhospitable hills. Caracas, on the other hand, seems to be nestling in her mountains.

A particularly lovely view of these Venezuelan mountains is to be had from Paraiso, a fashionable suburb to the south of Caracas. Before the balconies of the charming villas in Paraiso is spread one of nature's most artistically colored canvases. The intense blue of the sky, the lighter hazy blues of the distant mountains, every possible shade of green on the hillsides, a fascinating riot of colors in the gardens, and the red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls of Caracas to the north—all these make a wonderful picture never to be forgotten.

Nature, then, it seems, has joined with the hospitable Venezuelans to make their land an attractive doorway to the South American continent.

Questions for Review and Study

  1. How did Venezuela get its name?
  2. Does the name fit the country?
  3. Compare Venezuela with the United States as to size.
  4. In what direction from New York is Lake Maracaibo?
  5. Tell how Uncle Sam has helped Venezuela.
  6. Name and describe Venezuela's capital.
  7. What are Venezuela's leading exports?