Devils and Angels

By Jheri St. James

It was an angel named Nazarena Toledo Sanchez who sent us the soil of Venezuela. She wrote that it came from “Margarita-LaAsuncion-Castillo de Santa Rosa, the capital of the Margarita Island and a cultural and historical place.” She was a link in a chain of Sister Cities people who finally helped Gary Simpson gather this soil. Gary joined Sister Cities International because of members’ help with the collection in Armenia. August Pujois and Steven Naimoli are the names of links to this final South American soil acquisition.

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It is a continental mainland with numerous islands located off its coastline in the Caribbean Sea. Bordering Guyana east of the Essequibo River, Brazil to the south and Colombia to the west, Venezuela wears a necklace of islands to the north: Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, St. Lucia, Barbados, Curacao, Bonaire, Aruba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Leeward Antilles. Its capital is Caracas. The yellow in Venezuela’s flag stands for land wealth, the blue for courage, and the red for independence from Spain (1522-1821), facilitated by Simon Bolivar, also liberator of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

The name “Venezuela” is believed to have originated from Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer who, working for the Spanish crown, led a 1499 naval expedition along the northwestern coast’s Gulf of Venezuela. On reaching the Guajira Peninsula, the crew observed dwellings and villages that the native people had built over the water (palafitos), which reminded Vespucci of the city of Venice, so he named the region “Venezuola,” meaning “little Venice.”

There are a variety of landscapes in Venezuela. The extreme northeastern extensions of the Andes reach into Venezuela’s northwest and continue along the northern Caribbean coast, Pico Bolivar being the nation’s highest point. Extensive plains stretch from the Colombian border in the far west to the Orinoco River delta in the east. To the south, the dissected Guiana Highlands contain the northern fringes of the Amazon Basin and Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall. The Orinoco originates in one of the largest watersheds in Latin America.

Mother Nature is prolific here. Large portions of the country were originally covered by moist broadleaf forests Some 38% of the over 21,000 plant species are unique to the country, 23% of the reptilian and 50% of the amphibian species are also endemic. Venezuela hosts significant biodiversity across habitats ranging from Xeric scrublands to coastal mangrove forests. Its cloud forests and lowland rainforests are particularly rich, for example hosting over 25,000 species of orchids, including the flor de mayo orchid, the national flower. The araguaney is Venezuela’s national tree, whose characteristic lushness after the rainy season led novelist Romulo Gallegos to name it “la primavera de oro de los araguaneyes.” (The Golden spring of the Araguaneyes).

Notable mammals include the giant anteater, jaguar, and the capybara, the world’s largest rodent. In the Amazonian forests south of the Orinoco can be found Manatees, Boto river dolphins and Orinoco crocodiles, which have been reported to reach up to 6.6 meters in length. A total of 1,417 bird species including ibises, ospreys, kingfishers and the yellow-ornage turpial, the national bird.

Naturally, all this wildlife is threatened by logging, mining, shifting cultivation, development and other human activities. In response, federal protections for critical habitat were implemented. The country has a biosphere reserve that is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; five wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention. In 2003, 70% of the nation’s land was under conservation management in over 200 protected areas, including 43 national parks. Below, some more photos of Venezuela’s grandeur.

Puerto Cruz beach in Isla Margarita

Angel Falls, the tallest
waterfall in the world

Canaima National Park has Precambrian geological formations that rank among the world's oldest.

The name of Angel Falls came from a “hell-raising soldier of fortune,” a daredevil obsessed with finding gold. Instead he found the world’s tallest waterfall, which was not really his discovery. That honor belongs to Ernest Sanchez la Cruz in 1910. The name apparently was the result of headline newspaper writers’ work. In 1933, Angel was plying his trade as a bush pilot in South America, ferrying men and supplies out of the jungles. There, he said, an old prospector hired him to find a mythical “golden river.” With a payment of several thousand dollars, the miner guided Angel to a mysterious mountain site in Venezuela known as Auyan Tepui or Devil’s Mountain. It was here that he first saw the dramatic waterfall spilling from the mountaintop. After loading the plane with 75 pounds of gold nuggets, the miner mysteriously died; Angel headed back to the States.

In 1937 he was back in Venezeuela with his new bride, red-haired Mavis Marie, and two other passengers. As they headed for the mountain, Angel mistook the shimmer of the falls for the glint of gold and landed his plane in six feet of mud atop Devil’s Mountain. There it sayed, mired in the muck. It took the four two weeks to hack through the jungle and down the mountain to safety. In 1938, the American Museum of Natural History sent an expedition with Angel and pilot and guide, which bolstered Angel’s renown. “The U.S. press picked up on the world’s highest waterfall,” Carl Posey wrote in a 1991 issue of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine. And the press focused on a “natural legend: a pilot with the airworthy name of Angel who had stranded his airplane on Devil’s Mountain. Angel’s ashes were interred at the Portal of Folded Wings, an aviation shrine near Burbank Airport. But in 1960, Mavis Marie Angel and her sons flew over Angel Falls and scattered his ashes. The widow had intended to recover her husband’s plane too. But “seeing the Flamingo there atop the 8,000 foot mesa of Devil’s Mountain,” she told The Times after the expedition, “I decided to leave it there beside Angel Falls. It simply belongs there—not in a museum. Nevertheless the Venezuelan government removed the plane in the 1970’s. Today it is on display at Ciudad Bolivar Airport. (photos: and

The angels must have sent us the angelic Sister Cities International group, August Pujols, Steven Naimoli, and Nazarena Toledo Sanchez. We thank them once again for their willingness to participate in our project. The word for peace in Venezeula is “paz.”

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