No 10 Curaçao 12th April 91
via New York
My dear Mother,
Once more I write you from Curaçao but this will likely be the last letter for some time from this little Dutch Island.
After posting my No 9. 3rd inst., I received your welcome letters of 9th & 16th Mar. When the New York mail arrives the P.O. officials require almost a whole day to sort & deliver it with the result that the homeward-bound steamer leaves before we get our letters, a system, – or want of system -, that would be speedily remedied in more civilised regions, as it entails the loss of 10 days in the exchange of correspondence with the States & Europe.
How do you get along with your “Edge-Hill” neighbours?
The Pond is a funny idea; surely a tennis-court would have been more to the purpose.
Just now your letter of 9th Feby. has been forwarded to me, having gone round by Barranquilla, & Cartagena. It contained enclosures from Emma, Olga & Jim with birthday wishes, for which, though they come rather late I am none the less grateful. I see I was wrong in blaming Emma, as I did in a recent letter, for not writing to me & I now humbly apologise.
There is now no blank in your weekly news from 26th Jany till 1th March.
Last week I was down in Maracaibo & just returned this morning. It was frizzingly hot there – it is the hottest place along the coast. You know it was from Maracaibo that the wicked man came who died, went below & finding it chilly, sent back for his blankets.
I had made the same trip, two years before, on the S.S. “Merida”, then called the “Maracaibo”, & Captain Laksy, Chief-engineer Meyer, & Black Steward & factotum Thomas, were old friends of mine, so both on the downward & upward trip I was the distinguished passenger. The best cabin & the seat next to the Captain were given to me, & I had the run of the Captain’s room. When Captain Laksy did not come to table, I was installed in his place by Thomas, so that the other twenty-five passengers looked upon me as a personage of some importance.
The run from Curaçao to Maracaibo takes about twenty-eight hours, & the return trip some six hours more owing to the stiff easterly winds & strong current. Leaving the island we make for the isthmus peninsula of Paranaguá, which is inhabited only by wild Indians among whom white men do not venture. A curious phenomenon is to be seen here. At night, all the year round, there is a continuous play of brilliant sheet lightening over the interior of the peninsula. So regular & unremitting is this that it serves as a guide to passing vessels & is known as the “Lighthouse of Zulia”. It is to be seen from many miles away all round, & yet when people approach the spot from where it seems to originate, it disappears. Several explanations have been offered of this interesting phenomenon, – one that there are large oil-springs & coal beds in the vicinity giving off natural gas which ignites in spontaneous flashes, – another & more plausible one that the lightning is the evidence of electrical disturbances caused by the difference of temperature between the warm swampy ground & the cold water of the river Zulia which flows through it. The river, always cool, is said turn ice-cold immediately after sunset, but this is probably a tale of some imaginative traveller, already passed into a popular belief.
Maracaibo lies half-way up the large bay of its own name – more like an inland lake than a bay. The entrance to this bay is a narrow & shallow bar which is constantly shifting, making Maracaibo the most dangerous port in this part of the world. Coming out we drew 10 feet 5in & the lead gave just 11 feet of water on the bar. As a rule the little steamer comes bumping over the sand, but this time we came in beautifully, without touching.
I spent only four days in Maracaibo & I was glad not to have to stay longer, on account of the heat & the bad hotel.
The food was bad & the place was infested with rats that scampered all over my bedroom all night long. I caught two one evening in a trap, & I could count them by the dozen as they ran up & down the walls & shutters & over the table. Add to that a plague of mosquitoes & you can form some idea of the paradise that Maracaibo forms for the passer through.
There is however a large German colony – mostly very nice fellows who live comfortably & well in their houses in the outskirts of the town.
One evening I went out with Mr von Jess, dined & slept at his house & returned to town early next morning, riding out & in on horseback, & the day before leaving I lunched with Mr Birtner. Both these gentlemen are partners in the firm of Minlos Breuer & Co, the largest house in Maracaibo. Mr Birtner has a beautiful “Hatico”, as these country houses are called, on the shore of the lake. The garden is shaded by palms & tree-ferns & is bright with roses & other flowers, while half a dozen splashing fountains keep the air cool & the leaves green. A picturesque little bathing house stands out over the lake & above it is an American “wind-mill” pump which supplies the fountains & fills the cisterns.
Mrs Birtner is a native lady but Mr B. has trained her up in the way she should go, & she gave us an excellent luncheon, consisting of clear soup, haunch of venison, beefsteak, rice-cakes, delicious melon, mangos, bananas, & oranges, – a very agreeable change from the oily awfulness of the hotel. Before table we sat in the garden under the shade of a fine tree & drank the water or milk of a fresh cocoa-nut that the negro servant had fetched down & split open for us. The dining room is almost “al fresco” – open all round, with a light roof to keep the sun off. Climbing plants & tropical shrubs formed the walls, & bright-feathered birds hopped through the branches waiting for crumbs, while the humming birds sucked the many-coloured flowers. To see it & enjoy it all, even for a short time atoned for all the outside un-pleasantnesses.
Must post this now without waiting for the letters I hope to receive by mail just in.
- Maracaibo is the capital of the state of Zulia in northwestern Venezuela. For the lake: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Maracaibo ↵
- Actually Paraguaná Peninsula ↵
- Catatumbo lightning is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs over the mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. It originates from a mass of storm clouds at an altitude of more than 1 km, and occurs during 140 to 160 nights a year, nine hours per day, and from 16 to 40 times per minute: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catatumbo_lightning ↵
- Zulia River is a river in Venezuela and Colombia. It is a tributary of the Catatumbo River. The Zulia forms a small part of the international boundary between the two countries. ↵
- Probably Eduard von Jess (b 7th May 1863 Hamburg; m Ana Julia Lossada Diaz in Maracaibo; d 13th July 1935 Maracaibo) In the early 1900s he was a merchant with Breuer, Möller & Co, Maracaibo, which had split off in 1895 from Minlos, Breuer & Co. founded in 1860. He was also German Consul. ↵
- Friedrich Wilhelm Birtner (b 3rd February 1854 Bremen; m 15th December 1883 to Flor de Maia Baldo Jara). ↵
- Minlos, Breuer & Co is described in a research paper about German businesses in Maracaibo found on the Internet (in Spanish): "The Germans had majority control of the import-export trade of the port of Maracaibo. The most powerful German firms in the capital of Zulia were Blohm & Co. installed in this city in 1854 and Minlos, Breuer & Co. founded in 1860." https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Minlos ↵