Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero

Many of the original IWCS members were prolific travelers in search of their wood specimens. Here is another fine, nostalgic description of one such member's trip to the mountains of Venezuela in 1949, published in November of that year. Volume 2, Number 11.

A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero
by J.H. Standen


Turmero is a typical South American village, narrow streets, room for two cars only, - the houses directly lining the narrow sidewalks, the patios are on the inside. The whole town is a little shabby, but when you get to know the people, they are very friendly.

Here we leave the main road between Caracas and Maracay and start on a mountain road, more or less to the north. It isn't the kind of road you'd want to try with your car, - it is strictly for jeeps. If you meet anyone, the fellow going up the mountain has to back down to a place wide enough to pass. Fortunately, traffic, except for donkey trains, is almost nil.

We wind along a dusty valley road for several kilometers before we start to climb, but once we start, we really climb. A swift lovely mountain stream is alongside the road all the way, often a good distance down the hill.

And the number of tree species:- you'd go green is you could see. Nettle relatives with trunks a foot through (sure I know Elm is closely related, but these even have nettle-like flowers. Giant fig trees (not edible) with trunks 6 feet or more through, with buttresses, each big enough and almost thin enough for dining room table tops.

That fellow there is Homalium pittieri, named after friend Pittier. (He is in the hospital in Maracay now, recovering from a leg operation. He's in his 93rd year.) That tree with the purple flowers is Lonchocarpus margaritensis, named by Pittier.

That tree with those long pods ins't a legume, it is Capparis flexuosa, named by Linnaeus. There are more Capparis species in this country than you could shake a stick at. Lots of Lauraceae too, Nectranda, Ocotea, etc. And as for Rubiaceae, all the way from herbs to giant trees, literally dozens of genera.

For example that fellow with the older leaves red is a Cinchona pubescens sister species to the quinines. The tall treelike shrub with the colored leaflike bracts, reminding one somewhat of Poinsettia, is a Pogonopus speciosus. The one with the sparse white leaflike bracts is a Calycophyllum. Incidentally this one is a new collection for Venezuela, and will, for the time being, go out to the boys as Calycophyllum sp., until Dr. Lasser runs it down or actually names it. There's a Genipa americana, also in Rubiaceae. And as for the Leguminosae, Machaerium, Piptadenia, Poponax, Inga, Senegalia, etc., etc., etc., until you are nearly dizzy.

Now we are up to my friend, Bartolo Perez' home. He died about three weeks before I write this. Because his family know of my respect and affection for this wonderful old woodsman, I'm invited to stay for dinner. The widow weeps a little when I tell her what a fine man her husband was. She complains with some bitterness because I didn't come to see him oftener. If only I could have. We had tentative plans to go tapir hunting higher in the mountains.

The family home has mud walls and a thatched roof. There are no doors. The floor is dirt. As we eat, the pigs and chickens wander through. But the food is good and the people gentle, well-mannered, hospitable, and obviously intelligent. The son, who came up from Turmero with me, shows me some of his ceramic work. It is excellent. We make plans to collect some more specimens as soon as I can spare the time. They are so helpful that it is even embarrassing. If they had their way, I'd chuck my job and stay right there collecting wood specimens. With this idea, I'm sure, many of the Society are in vociferous accord.
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