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Lindsey Edson ″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

Legends of Light

VENEZUELA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [983] | Scholarship Entry

Over 40,000 bolts ripped across the night sky. I sat up in the hammock, hugged my knees, and awed at the relentless lightning cracking like a whip from cloud to cloud. No rain followed. The indigenous people here call it “rib-a-ba,” or “river fire in the sky.”

The only way to arrive was by a lone motored boat, through the Catatumbo River. A playground for anacondas, dolphins, monkeys, and the occasional Motilones Indian risking a swim. The primitive river empties into the mouth of Lake Maraicabo, pooling in readiness for the electric rave. Scientists speculate answers against a divine phenomenon: uranium in the bedrock, high levels of methane or the collision of winds.

Nature's flashlight revealed her first. A women paddled on a raft fashioned from a piece of Styrofoam through the marshy lakebed to the hospital where I lay, lightly swinging from two posts. Out on the lake, tin and plywood shacks rose out of the water perched on stilts to form a “palafito” village. Just a crowd of leggy, dark flamingos.

“Dios mio!” cried the woman, windmilling her arms. I nearly fell out of my hammock. The lightning blazed on, arcing like a rainbow, revealing her tear streaked cheeks. She met my gaze with determination, an enigma parallel to Catatumbo.

The doctor rushed to her side, pulling her off the raft. “Stingray bite,” he announced for my benefit. The air held its heavy breath with anticipation of rain.

At the center of the hospital, past the hammocks, we led her to a table. The doctor announced in Spanish, "The venom hasn't spread.” The woman closed her eyes in agony, pressing a palm to her forehead.

I took her hand. The doctor returned with a cloth and wrapped the wound to stop the bleeding and dipped her leg in a basin of hot water to fight the pain with heat. “The burning should subside,” he said.

Another symphony of rapid-fire lightning cascaded. My shoulders skipped. “You like the smile from the sky,” the woman said, turning to me. I returned a grin. “My people, we believe the fireflies are paying tribute to the spirit of creation. It starts at dusk and looms till dawn now for thousands of years.”

Out of the corner of my eye, the state flag flickered, illuminating a proudly centered yellow bolt to identify the region. I exhaled. Tempestuous Venezuela is of course the only place home to the greatest everlasting storm.

The women looked skyward as I marveled at her audacity. She spoke for the last time, “Tonight will be something special.”

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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