Memoir: A Thousand Mountains


Itzel Jimenez

Sophia Hildago

An orange road the color of a clay baseball field twisted up a mountain, dotted with old broke businesses, dilapidated shacks, and hanging drapes which functioned as doors. This was Venezuela, my roots, and I was heading to a mountaintop town called Colonia Tovar.

This was while Hugo Chavez was in rule, a man I only knew as poison to the country. Whenever he was brought up in a conversation in my family, it was always about how he was abusive with power. He would crush the word democracy and spit it into citizens’ faces, punishing any who even attempted to interfere or oppose with his plans. He would even go as far as threaten closure to any opposing public media sources, one of the largest being the CNN of Venezuela, Globovision. His promise to the citizens was to make a socialist program for the country. It always baffled me how he was despised by so many citizens, and yet was elected for four terms. Being as young as I was I knew nothing of this.

All I knew was he was a bad person who wasn’t letting Venezuela be the beautiful country I imagined it to be.

The superficial beauty of the land and animals is all that kept my eyes sparkling with awe. We passed through the area of La Yaguara, and the luscious green tropical forest in the distance was teeming with wildlife.

Even the ramshackle twisted town roads simmered with wildlife of its own unique variety. These animals weren’t the wild jungle animals: jaguars, monkeys, sloths, and anteaters. In the towns, commonly domesticated “pets” roamed free. As an eight-year-old, I was amazed. Dogs, cats, horses, chickens.

I was compelled to count them all. I quickly asked for a piece of paper and pen then wrote my categories and started tallying. The trip was really long, but it wasn’t longer than my other trips, so I was pretty used to it. I was having too much fun counting and seeing all the animals anyway. It was like seeing rows of Littlest Pet Shop toys in a store.

They were all too adorable, I wanted to just take them all home and have them cuddle and play with me. Once I arrived to the town, I counted the tallies and puffed out my chest in pride when I read the number out to my mom and grandma, proud of myself for being able to keep track and count them all.

Some of the dogs and cats were skinny to the bone, others too fluffy and matted to tell; the sight of an animal with good health was rare. As I worried how these animals were surviving, I realized  the people on my mountain were not all that different. Most were skinny,and dirty with mud and dust, wrapped in ragged clothes. I didn’t know a grown man could have the same look as a begging dog, but that day I was witness to it.

Both the animals and the people had that hungry look and a glint of desperation for survival.

In the end, I counted around over 250 dogs, 150 cats, 30 horses, and 30 chickens. The realization of the amount of animals in that condition suddenly hit me. It was a surprising amount after all.

Now the country’s leader has long been dead and replaced by a man named Nicolas Maduro. If Chavez was poison, then Maduro is a bullet through the heart of the country. Instead of being a savior, he was a sudden shot of hysteria that rang through the country, causing riots and fear for the future. He was exactly like Chavez but worse, making his citizens resort to fleeing the country just to find food and sources for  smuggling toilet paper.

I always found his name ironic. Maduro means “ripe” in Spanish, and yet the country is rotting faster than ever before.

I’m sure the animal count has diminished. I think I have a rough estimate as to the animal count on that particular mountain. There are hungry people, both young and elderly. There isn’t enough food or money for anyone there, and they still keep that glint of needing to survive in their eyes. The animal count was like boiling water, ferocious until it dried up.

I know today, the dogs would be 50, cats would be 20, and horses would be five. Chickens would no doubt be zero.