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SONS OF GENTLEMEN -
in the days of the Titanic
The Adventures of Greeny,
an apprentice in tall ships 1908 to 1912
by Captain T. B. Greenhalgh

AVAILABLE ON THE KINDLE FROM
AMAZON.co.uk PAGE
AMAZON.com PAGE

Sons of Gentlemen

VENEZUELA ADVENTURE

Before Captain T. B. Greenhalgh, my grandfather, wrote "Sons of Gentlemen" he appears to have submitted articles to magazines and I am discovering them as I research his career after an apprenticeship in tall ships, writes Peter Greenhalgh.

The first one I found is the article below, which appeared in the February 1952 issue of "The Wide World", a publication billed as "The Magazine for Men".

It's 60 years old... and how times have changed – a "magazine for men" was certainly different in those days!

SEE ALSO: AN OIL TANKER TO THE RESCUE



SOUTH AMERICAN EXCURSION

By Captain T. B. Greenhalgh

A colourful account of a motor-car trip into the interior of Venezuela. Short as the journey was, it provided the Author and his wife with several thrills !

Puerto Cabello, Venezuela – the name may be translated "Port of the Hair" – is said to have been so called on account of its harbour offering shelter so perfect as to enable ships to lie securely moored by nothing stronger than a hair. It seemed well named as my vessel came to anchor, for there was not a ripple on the water except that made by the passage of the ship. There was no wind, and the town lay baking in the fierce heat of the tropical sun.

For once in my career as a sailor my wife was on board, and, in the shade of an awning, we stood on deck together taking in the scene. From near the summit of a high hill of blackest rock a citadel no less black frowned over the harbour, while below, guarding the actual entrance, stood another fortress, which I knew to be also a prison. The small town, lying in the shadow of the mountains, on terrain as flat as a table, was no more than a few feet above the level of the Caribbean Sea. Between the sea and the hills we could trace a road running out of the town and climbing abruptly into the high interior.

In the morning I had sandwiches cut for our lunch, hired a car, and told the driver to take us to see the country. After negotiating a rutted track that would have been impassable during the rains we found ourselves in a pleasant and spacious valley among the mountains, and on a greatly improved road. For tropical country it was sparsely wooded, yet beautiful—like an English landscape magnified to immense proportions. The road crossed and re-crossed the valley from one hillside to another. A mountain stream ran swiftly along the middle of the valley, and sometimes the car splashed through it in crossing; at other times there would be a primitive bridge, built roughly of boulders, with little space left underneath for the water. It seemed scarcely hotter than a summer day in England.

HOT AND COLD

We stopped for lunch near a village, where women, their skirts looped up, were washing clothes in the stream. The driver got out and chatted to one of them. They walked away together, and in a few minutes our smiling Jehu returned with three eggs, a welcome addition to the sandwiches. He pointed to a feather of steam rising from the ground some distance away. Curious, we walked towards it and found a hot spring. The water was boiling! The driver put the eggs in; then he sat back on his haunches and grinned at us while waiting for the eggs to boil hard. When they were done he lifted them, with the aid of a couple of twigs, from the water to the ground.

"With everything laid on like this one can hardly ask for salt, can one?" I inquired of Mary.

"I suppose not," she answered.

With a smile in his dark eyes, the driver put a hand in one of his pockets, drew out a spill of rather grimy salt, and presented it to Mary with a gesture worthy of a nobleman of the old school.

" Splendid!" said I, feeling it incumbent on me to play my part. "Now I'll bring the rest of the lunch."

I sauntered away towards the car, and returned with two large bottles of beer, one of which I presented to the driver.

"I think he deserves it. He's a treasure," remarked Mary.

"Having found a boiling spring in which to cook our lunch," I remarked, all we need now is an ice-cold one to cool our beer. Even he can't produce that, I'm sure!"

The driver, who had been studying my face attentively while I was speaking, jumped up, ran to the bank, and plunged his arm into the stream.

"Fresca! Fresco!" (cold, cold) he cried, triumphantly.

Then he drew a length of string from his pocket, knotted it about the neck of one of the bottles, which he lowered into the stream, and tied the free end to a bush.

"Muy fresca" (very cold), he reiterated, and bowed to us, his olive countenance alight with friendliness.

Laughing, we bowed back to him. Evidently pleased with himself and us, he took up his bottle of beer and his egg, and made off towards the village. During lunch I drew the bottle from the stream, opened it, and, filling a glass, offered it to Mary.

"Why!" she exclaimed. "It's almost ice-cold!"

"He is a treasure, indeed," said I. "I'll get him to take us to Caracas to-morrow."

Strangely reminded of home, we spent the afternoon near that spot, wandering about the valley and along the banks of the swift and musical stream. Then, as dusk was falling, we drove back to the town. Before dismissing the driver I elicited the information that we could hire a car to go to Caracas, the capital city in the hills; but not, he regretted, this "good" car; it was far too valuable to be permitted to go so far on the dangerous mountain roads. We could have a car not quite so excellent — one which would not represent such a loss to the owner in the event of an accident. And it would be cheaper for us!

Soon after breakfast the following day we set off, both of us in high spirits. The driver, we noted, had brought an assistant. The road, after leading through the valley in which we had picnicked, began to climb the sides of mountains, and before long it became a mere mule-track with a crumbling edge. On our left was a vertical wall of rock, the track having been cut out of the mountain-side; on our right was a precipitous drop into the valley. There was no more width than necessary to allow two cars to pass if one pulled up.

As we mounted higher the winding of the track became fantastic, and where it doubled back on itself the greatest care had to be taken in manoeuvring the big car. Six inches of powdery dust covered the whole surface.

A ROAD TO REMEMBER

On the other side of the track a railway ran along the mountain-sides, and presently our driver, turning round with one hand resting negligently on the wheel, bade us look down on the remains of a locomotive and coaches which had jumped the metals at a hairpin bend. Sitting on the valley side of the car, I became fascinated by the depths, and kept my head thrust out over the side the better to see down. The crumbling edge of the track was also a matter of interest, for the rear wheel never seemed to be more than six inches or a foot from it, and, as we drove along, the wheel continually threw small stones and gravel down into the valley.

"Don't do that," begged Mary, giving a little tug at my arm.

"Don't do what?"

"Don't keep looking down like that!"

"Why not? We shan't fall over the edge because I'm looking down."

"I'm not so sure of that! It's the driver. He keeps turning round, looking at you and laughing, with only one hand on the wheel!"

"I hadn't noticed it," I told her, "but I'm sure he's a good driver and knows the road." Then I addressed him. "What are those little crosses for, stuck in the edge, all along the road?"

Turning round in the way Mary disliked, he smiled engagingly. "Automovil" (motor-car), he explained, with an expressive, downward gesture of his free hand. "Peligroso!" (dangerous) he added, and his smile became a wide grin, as if the tumbling of a car and its occupants into those terrible depths was just a matter of a little mild excitement. Out of respect, he went on to explain, a cross was always put up; it also served as a warning. Even good drivers had been known to go over; one had to give the strict attention to one's driving. But a little danger added interest to a journey, especially one taken for pleasure, verdad? (true?).

Having absorbed the gist of these remarks, I did my best to smile back, and, in halting Spanish, told him his remark was true enough. For myself, however, it would not detract from the interest in the slightest if I could feel assured that he was sufficiently competent reduce the danger to a minimum. With his eyes on my face instead of on the road, the man nodded and smiled anew. Then he put on speed to an alarming extent, as if to show me what he could do on that narrow track.

With the altitude increasing, the car began to lose power. At times, with the track mounting more steeply, it would come to a standstill, and the assistant would jump out to find large stones to place under the rear wheels to prevent it running backwards when we tried to start it again. On such occasions all of us, except the driver, had to get out and push to help it along until it gathered speed, after which we would follow on foot until it reached a less-steep incline, where it could wait for us.

The driver calmly informed us there would be a few kilometres of that sort of thing; which was why he had brought an assistant along. At its highest point, however, the track would flatten out and then drop downhill into Caracas. But we could not go on at night. "Dangerous!" he explained, with his usual grin; we should have to stop at Maragay.

Dusk was falling as we came to the outskirts of that city, a dusty place built on comparatively flat ground between the mountains. Children, begging for cigarettes, surrounded the car as we drew up in front of an hotel. I was interested to see at close quarters what I had already noticed in passing through villages, where the younger children had been playing naked. This was the occurrence among them not only of yellow hair, but fair skin. A little boy standing not two feet from me was no albino. His hair, shoulder length, was golden; his skin had the paleness natural to the northern European; his eyes were a clear brown; his features betrayed no trace of Indian stock. I wondered whence he could have sprung. From sea-rovers ravaging the Spanish Main, or from the "English Battalion" that fought for Bolivar, the Liberator? Or was he, perhaps, the unknown descendant of some proud family of old Castile?

We put up at the hotel, and, finding nothing of much interest in the town, were soon in bed and asleep in the cool mountain air. An early breakfast had been arranged, for we were to start again at six-thirty in the morning.

THE COWBOY

After leaving Maragay the journey was a repetition of that of the previous day until we met a cattleman. He was an impressive figure, sitting slim and upright on his pony, and dressed in all his cowboy regalia, which consisted largely of polished black leather with much silver ornamentation, crowned by a huge sombrero. We were wondering how to get past him when he raised his hand gently, so as not to startle the pony, as a signal for us to stop. As he turned his mount we were able to catch a glimpse of a long, swarthy face with drooping moustaches, aquiline nose, and dark eyes. The pony was blinkered and evidently of a nervous nature, and he swung it so its nose was pressed against the vertical rock.

Then he tightened his bridle, and lifted his hand to motion us on. The car crept cautiously past, with about six inches of track to spare; luckily, apart from a few nervous twitches, the pony remained still. In reply to a question the the driver told me the animal was blinkered because if it caught sight of the drop into the valley it would probably take fright and throw itself over the edge.

A more exciting diversion came in the form of a side-slip. The car — hugging the mountainside, where the dust was more than usually thick — suddenly skidded, the wheel wrenching itself from the driver's hands. In an instant the front wheels were at the edge of the track. There was nothing the driver could do but brake and stall the engine, while his assistant helped to wrench the wheel over to full lock. Hoping for the best, I found Mary's hand gripping mine tightly. The car slipped a few more feet, coming to a standstill with the front wheels parallel with the track, the right-hand one precisely on the edge. The driver got out to have a look, then returned to his seat. Having shifted the lock before starting the engine, he reversed on to the track, his features broadening into his engaging smile as he noted the concern on the faces of his passengers.

"We nearly had a cross of our own, then," I remarked in English.

Guessing the meaning of my words, the driver agreed. That was nothing, he assured me; skids were to be expected in such dust, and particularly with the car we were in. It happened to him at least once every time he came that way. That was why the owner would not allow him to take the more valuable car to Caracas. I felt relieved to know that Mary was unable to grasp the full meaning of his words.

The steep descent into Caracas was gay with flowers growing round pleasant white houses on either side of the road, but in the city it was raining — a drenching, vertical downpour that flooded the streets ankle-deep. All we could do, after driving about rather aimlessly, was to find an hotel at which to book a room for the night.

Our journey having taken longer than intended, I telephoned our agent at Puerto Cabello, and found that the ship would be ready for sea in three days' time — earlier than expected. That meant we should have to start back next morning instead of spending a day in Caracas.

The rain continued all night, but the following morning was fine. Hurriedly we bought all sorts of things unobtainable in the islands from which my ship hailed, and then set out, only to run into the rain again as we started to climb. The dust had turned to mud, and at times the car slipped alarmingly, but nevertheless continued to make its way upward.

ABOVE THE CLOUDS

An expanse of snow-white cloud spread across the valley from the level of the track to the mountain slopes on the other side. It was the first time Mary and I had seen clouds from above. They had the appearance of a heavy fall of snow on flat ground, and looked solid enough to support the car if it ran over the edge.

On an easier gradient than usual the driver presently informed us that if the mud would allow the car to keep going until we had passed the next ridge there would be no more rain. If not — and it was very difficult driving in mud - he would have facing him the extremely hazardous, if not impossible, job of turning in order to get back to Caracas. One could, of course, simply wait until the rain stopped and the road dried, but that might not be for a week. To return in reverse, he added somewhat unnecessarily, would be out of the question!

Thinking of the ship, and at the same time wishing he would look at the road instead of at me, I urged him to press on. In another couple of hours the ridge was passed, and to our relief the rain ceased. It was dark when we drew up at the hotel in Maragay.

The following morning, about two hours after starting off, we had to stop on account of a puncture. The driver, with his friendly grin, remarked that it was unfortunate the spare tyre was also punctured. Moreover, it looked as if somebody had borrowed his jack. The Captain, he felt sure, would appreciate the difficulty. I told him I did appreciate it — and how did he, the person responsible, propose to jack the car up without a jack? He said we could wait for another car to come by, but that might not be for a week; or we could look for stones to place under the front axle. On my advice he and his assistant decided to look for stones, and leaving Mary sitting in the car, I went with them. The dearth of large stones in a country remarkable for rocks was surprising! However, in about half an hour we returned with enough suitable ones.

The driver packed them under the axle — all but one — and then indicated to me that he
and his assistant would inflate the tyre, if the puncture would allow, and always provided that the pump was not out of order. Then, perhaps the Captain would do him the great favour of forcing the last stone under the axle. They would then deflate the tyre, take it off, and repair the puncture. But first of all he would make sure there was a puncture outfit in the tool-box. It would be absurd to do all that heavy work and then find no repair outfit!

"It would indeed," I agreed fervently. " Worse than absurd!"

HARD WORK

The two men, working turn and turn about under the hot sun, with the sweat pouring off them, presently succeeded in inflating the tyre with the battered pump. Into the space thus created between the stone bed and the axle I carefully inserted the last stone. The driver pulled out the valve to deflate the tyre, the stone bed collapsed, and the car subsided on to the rim! The driver announced — among other things the gist of which I could not catch — that we should have to do it all over again. We found more stones, made a firmer bed, and next time the operation was successful.

"Isn't he clever? " remarked Mary, admiringly. "I should never have thought of doing that!"

The puncture eventually repaired, we made good progress, and by the time darkness fell we had passed Valencia, a small city in the foothills. There was still a drop of a few hundred feet into the gloom on our left, and about two hours' driving to Puerto Cabello, when the engine first missed a few times and then stopped altogether. The driver got out, went to the rear of the car, and came back to inform us there was no more petrol! Owing to his indicator being out of order, he added, he had been taken unawares. It was unfortunate, but not so unfortunate as it would have been if we had been going uphill.

We would now, he went on, coast downhill to level ground, and within a few kilometres of where the car would come to a standstill he knew a village where he would be able to get petrol — if they were not sold out. It was fortunate, the Captain would agree?

I replied that the Captain did agree; but I added that a driver who undertook a long journey on unfrequented roads without a jack, failed to check petrol at places where it could be obtained, carried a punctured spare tyre, a defective pump, and did not know whether or not there was a repair outfit in the car, was hardly deserving of such good fortune.

COMFORTING!

The man wasn't at all offended. He cheerfully admitted his fault in regard to the petrol, but, for the rest, he stressed the fact that the owner paid little attention to the upkeep of this old car. It was used for so many mountain journeys that it was sure to go over the edge sooner or later, and he naturally wished to lose as little equipment as possible! One could see the difficult position in which the driver was placed, could not one? Thereupon he released the brake, and the car started to coast giddily downhill, the headlights occasionally revealing the precipitous drop on the left of the narrow track and the wall of rock on the right.

After a while the driver took one hand off the wheel again and, leaning negligently over the back of his seat, confided to me that he was not in favour of coasting. He was inclined to be nervous, he said, and it gave him a sensation of not having that control over a car so essential in negotiating mountain roads, especially in the dark. When Mary inquired what he was talking about I told her I hadn't taken it in properly.

Gradually the ground flattened out until it became level. The driver allowed the car to run as far as it would; then he got out, took an empty petrol-can from the luggage compartment, and told us he would not be away long. His assistant would go with him to take a turn at carrying the can. Before leaving us they would switch off the headlights, and then we should be rewarded with a spectacle that might while away the time, and perhaps compensate us for any inconvenience we might be suffering.

With that he extinguished the lights. For a moment the darkness was intense. Then, over the flat land about us, there appeared a glow that seemed to spread inimitably. It was as if the ground were on fire, or a furnace burning under the surface were sending up myriads of sparks to a height of ten feet or more, while the distant slopes were outlined in radiance, as though covered with a golden carpet. In the strange light our faces were faintly visible.

" Fireflies!" I cried, in amazement. "I've never seen anything like it!"

"Oh!" cried Mary. "How wonderful! It's like fairyland!"

Fascinated by what seemed to us a display of unearthly splendour, we sat there watching. Then, gradually, we became aware that the air was vibrating with the dry chirruping of cicadas and the croaking of a mighty chorus of bull-frogs.

"What a din! " exclaimed Mary. "I hope there are no pumas or wild cats about. They seem to have everything in this country!"

"Anything like that would slink off if I switched on the headlights," I hastily assured her, hoping my words were true.

In a surprisingly short time the driver and his mate returned with the can, full of petrol, and we reached Puerto Cabello without further incident about midnight. There I signalled to the ship with my torch, and a boat soon arrived at the steps. I noticed that steam was being raised. In the morning we should be homeward bound, with a cargo of memories of our little trip into the interior.