as we descend from Merida highlands (1.610 m) down a long canyon road, the sheltered scenery between steep slopes becomes arid. And, soon, stony, dotted with cacti.
Almost half an hour of slope later, we reach Las González.
We find the gateway to the Pueblos del Sur decorated with a panel semi-political that classifies the destination as touristic and, at the same time, promotes the figure of Marcos Diaz Orellana, the governor Bolivarian of State.
The Chama river splutters there, accelerated by the slope that makes it flow even faster into Maracaibo, the great lake from which, when it is in the political and economic conditions for it, Venezuela extracts most of its oil wealth.
We crossed it by an old iron bridge with a field look. On the opposite bank begins the ascent to the mountains and valleys where the final destination end.
The Andean Path To Pueblos del Sur
The asphalt road proves to be worn, winding, increasingly narrow. The undoing of one of its curves and counter-curves reveals to us a motorcyclist-artist in the region. It had stopped by a clayey wall. There he worked on a commemorative sculpture, with a knife raised and a helmet placed with the visor down, to protect himself from the dust caused by his excavation.
Due to the deliberate stop of the bus and the curiosity of the multinational group of passengers, the traffic practically stops flowing.
We are forced to continue on our way. We only stopped when we arrived at a village called Mucusún. There, we are surprised by a band of blackened natives dressed in wicker skirts and crowns of feathers and feathers. They were all solidary pauliteiros.
They danced to the squeaky music of a cellist accompanied by two guitar players and a choreography that favors the release of movements.
The Indigenous-Christian Legend of the Virgin of Coromoto
The exhibition of those who informed us that they were Cospes Indians paid homage to the Virgin of Coromoto. At one time, the Cospes were refugees from the colonization and forced evangelization of the Spaniards. Until the Virgin appeared to them in the Guanare jungle where they took refuge and urged them to be baptized and to convert.
Almost all indigenous people accepted. This was not the case with the chief – named Coromoto – who feared losing his importance. Coromoto fled. The Virgin appeared to him again. Angry, Coromoto tried to grab her but the Virgin disappeared, materialized in a small plant print that would later be found and is venerated by Venezuelans.
As for Coromoto, he was bitten by a poisonous snake. He returned to Guanare dying, where, in a trance, he began to ask for his own baptism. Saved from death by the Virgin and converted, he became an apostle. He begged a group of Indians who were still resisting to convert.
Later, with the Catholic name Ángel Custódio, he died of old age.
The Cospes Indigenous Resume Their Exhibition
The Cospes dance takes place between an elevated plantation and an opposite rural house, covered with aged colonial tiles.
When he finishes, the chief of the “indigenous” inaugurates a speech as pompous as possible in which he praises the arrival of visitors to FITVEN, the Venezuelan international tourism fair that had given rise to the whole stage.
And, above all, the initiative of the Ministry of Tourism of its Bolivarian homeland to make those remote places a tourist destination.
We confront Coromoto's actor with cameras at the ready. The chief returns to his role as leader of the sooty indigenous people. Take a wooden cupid bow and make yourself even wilder.
Aim your bow and the tiny arrow. At the same time, it hides its face and emits the screams and howls of a panicked creature, interspersed with snorts of fury.
We followed the act until the Indian Cospe put an end to it. After which we return to the bus blessed by the sound of a maraca that starts playing in our direction.
The Pauliteiros, Locos and Locations Exuberant Mucuambin
We continued into the mountain range pursued by a van pick up loaded with spit Indians who would join the party later on. When we reach the outskirts of Mucuambin, the scene is repeated. This time, in color.
We went down to the side of the road. There, they'll arrest us with frantic pauliteiros dances, several in gaudy fringed costumes, in the style of caretos from the Americas, in honor of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers.
Each one displays its irreverent look. Some wear masks that are hideous heads of goats, cows and other domestic animals.
Fascinating eternalizations of totemic cults and rituals of the peoples chibcha e Arawak with which the Spanish colonists struggled in the XNUMXth century and which they ended up annihilating or assimilating.
Even babies are subject to tradition. We see them fall asleep in their laps, in reduced clothes with the same standards as the elders. Meanwhile, some adults are perfect in their childishness. They ride on wooden horses in the middle of a wheel of tireless sticks.
Also in Mucuambin, the show reaches its end.
Once again, we return to the organization's bus ride. A folkloric band of motorcyclists follows us, driven by the satisfaction of their duty done.
San José, Heart of the Pueblos del Sur
After a few more curves, almost always over abysses, and a huge slope that crosses the valley full of cornfields of the San José River, we enter the central square of the homonymous city, what is considered the nuclear settlement of the Pueblos del Sur.
Next to the police station, a black mural joins the trio Chávez, Castro and Morales. Validates the municipality's Bolivarianism with the maxim "We are not willing to leave a homeland reduced to rubble by capitalism".
An anxious crowd awaited the arrival of the entourage, under the shade of the trees and lined up in a dizzying diagonal, under the sheds of the centuries-old houses. We barely enter the square, instead of crazy, it is a battalion of locals also with big hair and in long antique dresses in bright colors that assume the prominence.
Make the inevitable resound sticks on each other. This rhythm, synchronized with that of the drums, keeps the residents used to that animation only at other times of the year, in a kind of trance.
The owner of the best located business in the village, wearing a cowboy hat, doesn't ask for help. Invoices many extra bolivars, sheltered between a weathered wooden counter and untidy shelves.
Also Marilin Fernández, the neighbor next door, gives in to the lure of profit. Take advantage of the availability of your decan glacier and improvise your own wine cellar which it marks with a simple rectangle of paper written in marker over the window.
“Come and see my wood oven!”. She invites us to make up for her youngest daughter's rebellious resistance to socializing with outsiders.
We don't think twice. inside the home, we find spartan and dismal rooms but also with an open-air central patio that would have changed little or nothing since the colonial construction of the house.
In that same patio, Carolina produces herself with great care in the mirror, always keeping an eye on Marilin's grandson, even so, hoping to still catch the best of the pilgrimage.
The End of the Evening Party and the End of the Soggy Afternoon
Outside, the celebration had moved to a small ranch to which authorities at the time kept access restricted, in order to avoid an unwanted flood.
On the farm's lawn, there is a lunch banquet and a wider display of traditional Pueblos del Sur life and festivals.
There is a historic warehouse under self-service. And a wait that some visitors are subject to in order to get glasses of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. Under nearby sheds, another group of musicians play themes famous among the natives. Sellers show handicrafts and the flavor of the region's main delicacies.
We also joined the enthusiastic audience of a musical, female and youth theater play that addresses the difficulties in finding the right man for marriage.
Pitch-black clouds had long taken over the valley. As soon as the play ends, it starts to rain down in pots. All of San José takes refuge from the more than guaranteed water.
We stopped between the farm and the central square, next to a group of teenagers who had finished some sporting event and were rewarded with homemade ice cream packed in bags.
One of them hears us talking and asks if we are Portuguese. “Well, it seemed to me that I was recognizing that way of speaking. There are a few more out there. They haven't talked like you for a long time, but I'm sure some understand you better than I do!”.
We wait for the downpour to give way to the lull and we return to the heart of that Pueblo del Sur in ecstasy, attentive to the signs of life of the unexpected descendants of Luso-Venezuelans.