Interlude on the Orinoco
In the vast Venezuelan delta south of bustling, crowded Trinidad lie the distinct sounds and sights of the jungle.
Their typical Warao village was close by. We passed several villages that varied in size. Built high on stilts along the riverbank, these palafittes are connected by a planked walkway with occasional logs to the water, where they secure canoes. Generally about 20 by 30 feet in size with a clay firepit, palafittes have branches woven together for floors, thatched roofs, and no walls. Each is crowded and home to extended families that follow a matrilocal social system in which the bridegroom moves to his new wife’s home.
Clothes hang from the rafters, hammocks are the only furnishing, and days are spent child minding, fishing, hunting, and gathering meager crops and medicinal herbs. I was pleased to find most villages have small elementary schools furnished with plastic desks and chairs. Older students have to go to Tucupita, although it appears that much of a teenage girl’s time is spent caring for younger siblings while the boys go fishing.
Going ashore in the dinghy, we were welcomed at Boca de Tigre’s dock and shown around. Built in 1993, it was the first of the lodges in the area, built with high, airy buildings. Carlos, the owner, soon returned from piranha fishing along with his teenage son and friends, all visiting from Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, for a week’s holiday. Carlos and a friend spoke English, and our first question was about these aggressive, flesh-loving fish. “Don’t swim in the water close to the bank,” Carlos said, “Otherwise, you’ll be fine, unless you’re bleeding!” A good thing to learn!
Before we knew it, we were Carlos’ guests for two days. The lads’ enthusiasm was boundless, and we were soon sitting at the long, convivial dining table with the family and lodge guests for a delicious fish dinner, then dancing the mari-mari to the four-string guitars of a local musician and his son; they apologized that it wasn’t the traditional violin. After donning long rubber boots next morning, we motored up a small caño in a narrow dugout, ducking under the trailing vines until we reached the path for a jungle walk.