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T

HE only parts of the American continent that
Columbus ever saw were a few rods of the

Venezuelan coast near the Orinoco delta, where he failed to land, and a portion of the peninsula of Yucatan, which he mistook for the eastern shore of China. He was, however, none the less the real discoverer of the New World, and therefore none the less entitled to give it a name. But following close in his wake came Ojeda, in 1499; and with Ojeda came one Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian pickle-dealer of Seville, who was not even a navigator. His highest naval rank had been that of boatswain's mate on an expedition which never sailed; and yet "in this humbug-loving world he managed to baptize half the earth with his own dishonest name."

After coursing along the portions of the Venezuelan coast which Columbus had discovered the year before, Ojeda passed out of the Gulf of Paria, proceeded westward along the mainland to Cumuna, - the oldest European settlement in Venezuela, - and thence to the great bay, or inlet, of Maracaybo. Entering this bay he observed on its half submerged shores an Indian village, the houses of which were built on piles to avoid inundation; and from its fancied resemblance to Venice, he called it Venezuela, or “Little Venice," a name which was subsequently applied to the whole country. Thus it came about that a mountainous region as large as Spain and Italy combined, was doomed to bear a name quite as inappropriate as that which the Seville pickle-dealer gave to the whole continent, though it has the merit of being less fraudulent in origin.

The waters of Lake Maracaybo cover a vast area, and have an average depth sufficient to float the heaviest ocean steamers at all seasons of the year. The lake is connected by a narrow strait with the gulf of that name, and thence with the Caribbean by another strait some 20 miles long and about 5 miles wide. The entrance to the lake is, however, so obstructed by sand bars that only light draught vessels can pass in and out. The gulf itself is about 150 miles in extent from east to west by about 60 north and south.

The city of Maracaybo, situated on the borders of this great lake, and now one of the most important commercial marts of Venezuela, was founded by the Spaniards as early as 1571, and was formerly a walled and well-fortified town. Its present population is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000, and comprises every shade of color, from the jetty African to the blond and blue-eyed German. Besides being the natural outlet and market of the vast and productive region of western Venezuela, Maracaybo is the most available port for a large portion of eastern Colombia, and perhaps fully half of what is known in our markets as “Maracaybo coffee” is really a Colombian product.

Many years ago — nobody knows just when or why - Maracaybo got a very bad name abroad. It was called “a sickly place," and one European writer (who had possibly seen it once for an hour or so) pronounced it “the graveyard of earthly hopes and fears.” Of course he could know very little about it,

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and like others, merely reiterated an opinion current among those who knew quite as little of the place. The implication is that it never really deserved this bad repute, or, if it ever did, that it deserves it no longer. And this, I think, is true. The rate of mortality is really less there than at Caracas; and yet Caracas enjoys, but perhaps not quite deservedly, the reputation of being “an earthly paradise.” The average temperature at Maracaybo is about 80 degrees Fah., which, in this humid atmosphere, is quite oppressive; but the city itself is not unhealthful. It is situated on

a sandy plain where there is less malaria and yellow fever than at many of the other Caribbean ports.

Still, foreign writers, taking their opinions second hand, persist in calling it “ a sickly hole"; and I recall

I an amusing incident illustrative of this persistent prejudice. A western politician of some local prominence, who had long been pressed upon the attention of our State Department for a consular position in South America, was finally nominated and confirmed as consul to Maracaybo, much to the disgust and discomfiture of the incumbent, who wanted to retain his place. The new consul arrived at his post in midsummer, and became the guest of his predecessor whom he was about to relieve. Discovering a metallic coffin in an obscure closet of his bedroom, he inquired of his host next morning why such an article of furniture should be there. The host was profuse in his apologies, but added by way of explanation that such things were not unusual in Maracaybo, especially during “the fever season, which," said he, “is just now setting in”! The new consul took the return steamer for New York, leaving his predecessor undisturbed.

Eastward from Maracaybo, far around the great peninsula of Paraguana, and but a few miles south of the arid Dutch island of Curação, is the quaint old town of Coro, - one of the oldest European settlements on the continent, having been founded in 1527. It was the capital of the province of Venezuela as late as 1576, and is now the capital of the state of Falcon, one of the constituent commonwealths of the Venezuelan federal Union. The town is beautifully situated near the Caribbean coast, at an elevation of over 100 feet above sea-level, and has a mixed population of about 10,000. Its chief articles of export are coffee, chocolate, tobacco, castor beans, timber, and dyewoods. It is a place of some historic interest also, for it was here where General Miranda offered his first armed resistance to Spanish misrule at the beginning of the long struggle for independence.

Further to the eastward, about midway between Coro and La Guayra, and nearly opposite the little Dutch island of Bonaire on the north, is the important seaport town of Puerto Cabello, one of the most beautiful and picturesque places on the Caribbean coast. Puerto Cabello is one of the finest harbors in the known world, and is said to have derived its name from a saying of the old Spanish navigators, that "a vessel is safe here anchored by a single hair." It has been said also — and repeated often enough to gain general credence that somewhere beneath the placid waters of this magnificent harbor “repose in a leaden coffin the mortal remains of Sir Francis Drake, the great English freebooter, who, after a long career of brutality and crime, died here of yellow fever in December, 1595.” Such is the generally accepted tradition. But, like many others that have been adopted as authentic by those who write books about South America, the story will have to be spoiled. Drake was never anywhere in sight of the Venezuelan coast in 1595. It was not he who crossed the mountain near La Guayra and sacked Caracas, as has been so often alleged by careless writers. That brutal outrage was committed by another English freebooter of less note, named Preston. Drake did visit the northern Bahamas early in the winter of 1595; but there is no evidence that he was ever at or near Puerto Cabello during that year. He died at sea in December of that year, but was buried in the Caribbean, many leagues from the Venezuelan coast.

The city of Puerto Cabello is situated on a long, narrow peninsula at the foot of a high range of mountains, and is connected by railway with the beautiful little city of Valencia, some forty-eight miles distant in the interior, and thence by the waters of Lake Valencia with Cura and other important inland towns. It has an abundant supply of pure fresh water, several beautiful little parks, wide and well-paved streets, a number of modern-looking houses, and is now well lighted by electricity. The mean temperature of the place is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The present population is about ten thousand. It is the market of export for the states of Carabobo, Lara, and Zamora, three of the most productive commonwealths of the Venezuelan federal Union. The exports are mainly coffee, chocolate, indigo, tobacco, hides, cabinet timber, dyewoods, and, formerly, considerable quantities of cotton. It is one of the historic spots on the Caribbean coast, and many are the strange and weird sixteenth century legends which cluster about it. It was a rendezvous of the old buccaneers, and less than a hundred years ago was successfully defended against an assault by the British fleet commanded by Commodore Knowles. It was here, also, during the war of independence, that General Päez made his marvellous night attack on Cal

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