I have escaped my daily routine for one week. And again I set my path to “Oriente” though to more civilized areas, as a manner of speech, than the wet lands of the Delta.
My first stop at lunch time was Clarines, old village of Venezuela noteworthy for having one of the best examples of early Venezuelan churches, simple as it corresponded to a rather poor colony of Spain, and fortified as the natives were restless for decades and would have none of the Spaniards religion or way of life. Clarines has always been in my memory, since as a kid my parents would take us at least once a year for extended holiday in the Cumana area where they had plenty of friends left before they moved to Caracas. I remember barely more than a toddler how empty of any comfort was the road, still in large part a dirt road, without any place to stop for a decent drink, and few gas stations so you needed to be watchful. In those days every Venezuelan had a roll of toilet paper in his car.
Although I have been to Margarita and Cumana since those years, I had not taken the road for more than two decades and this year I decided to make the trip as part of my brief vacation. The Church of Clarines was the same as I recalled, isolated on top of the hill as surrounding dwellings must have been cleared long ago. Still burning under the inclement sun of Clarines who is seared in my memory as one of the hottest places I knew. No wonder, we did stop always around noon time as it was the only place between Caracas and Barcelona where parents could let their kids run for a few minutes. As such Clarines is for me synonymous with bright sun and exhausting heat.
Then Clarines was empty. I remember that each time we stopped to visit there was no one on Bolivar Square in front of the church. Maybe a stray dog, that was all. Around ,the original adobe houses were shut tight, though now I think it was probably due to the siesta. One year they had opened a little bodega, with near empty shelves but where to our great surprise we could find some cold “uvita Grapette”, my favorite drink as it left my tongue purple.
Plaza Bolivar was as empty as I recalled, except for a couple of lovers on a bench. It has been redone nicely, taking advantage of the old trees planted a century or more ago. But the surrounding houses remained shut at noon, not a single café or joint in what is perhaps one of the highest points of Colonial architecture of Venezuela. The Bolivarian Revolution has no business to do with that history, even if its sturdy construction is a silent witness of the resistance of the natives so loved, we are told, by Chavez. From the road you would never know that you were driving past Clarines who probably received its latest care under the presidency of Luisinchi, who was born there.
The Church was closed. It looked rather worn out, more than what I recall. Though it must still be in use on Sundays. If the Plaza Bolivar was neat, the area surrounding the church was in dire need of a good sweep. All in all it was rather anguishing to observe the solitude of the Church, the only building of the square surroundings in need of a facelift, in need of a mere cleaning up.
The rest of Clarines has changed. The top of the hill might still be lonely without shops or places to have a drink but it has been scrubbed up some and two streets have been returned to an ancient cobble stone look. Far distant Colombians have arrived too, as they have arrived everywhere in Venezuela. If I remember Clarines as a totally noiseless place, this time I will leave with the sound of loud vallenatos coming from some house. And even a Colombian luncheonette, which was closed anyway.
But what has changed the most was the lower town, the one we entered first after we had left the main highway. This are did not really exist then but today it is a tawdry main street of stores and bustling activity in spite of the heat, where the only stores modern and clean are the now inescapable Movistar and Digitel dedicated to cellular phones and calling cabins. The new city has its back to its past, completely, full of PSUV slogans and personality cult to Chavez accompanying the local rojo-rojito potentate, whereas the hill is rather strangely scarce in those. If Clarines was in my mind close to Casas Muertas, today it is a new small town, probably rescued from oblivion by the need to provide with services the busy road and the nearby monstrous petrochemical complex. I wonder what the new people of Clarines think of their venerable church.
But all progress is not negative. After Clarines I did stop for lunch to a very nice place called La Medianidad, I think. The folks who manage it bring to this desertic area their cheeses produced elsewhere. And they opened a very busy restaurant where I had this wonderful cachapa below, accompanied with one of the best “papelon con limon” I ever had. Such luxury would not even have been a dream when I traveled first the old dirt road. (1)
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
1)Cachapa is a corn pancake served with a generous portion of cheese “queso de mano”. Papelon con limon is lemon juice sweetened with the sugar cane juice solidified in brown cones after the first pressing of the cane. The only sugar available in Venezuela for centuries before refined white sugar was developed. It is difficult to have a more Venezuelan meal than the one in the picture.
As usual, click on the pictures to enlarge.