The salted world of Araya
Tiwy.com, Rem Sapozhnikov (November 2004)
There are two ways to get to the Araya peninsula – either by ferry or by car. The former option is fast. The ferry runs between the town of Cumana on the continent and the urban village of Araya and the whole blue waives trip takes not longer than an hour.
A car trip to Cumana will take not less than four to five hours but will certainly be more exciting. First, a winding road on the shore of the continent, then rather difficult searches of the peninsula entrance as the only ‘Araya’ sign got fairly old and rusty.
But then the adventure traveler will find himself face to fact with a tough road that leads to the western end of the peninsula where there will be a roof over his head, magnificent deserted beaches, appetizing and not expensive food in local taverns and grand ruins of the fortress that is the main tourist object of Araya.
At first the road runs through the solid greenery in which there are rare springs of small banana groves and Antilles-style villas. The red tile of the roofs and expensive cars speak of the fact that dwellers of these secluded states are not only well-off, but romantic ones at that, those who seek for the maximum contact with the nature.
The green luxury of the tropics ends here in 40 to 50 km of the pecky asphalt and a traveler dives into yellow-brown and often orange-red Martian landscape that is enliven here and there by intricate cactuses and timid goats.
Sometimes the eye gets small deserted hotels and even tourist centres where there is no a single person. Travel arrangers seem to miscount something.
The drive must be attentive at the wheel as Hurricane Ivan that ‘gently’ touched the peninsula, has destroyed the road in many places and gaping holes lie in wait for him round every corner and it is very likely to fall down the slope.
The closer to the town of Araya the more evidence of civilization can be found – small villages decorated with the portraits of president Chaves, car repair shops without clients, small shops with the minimum choice of goods.
The peninsula is visited by people who seek for unique impressions, and they are not disappointed! It is a kind of immersion to the colonial epoch when the most expensive fortress of the Spanish Crown built between 1622 and 1655 was struggling against Dutch, French, English and other pirates’ assaults, that wanted to occupy Araya not for the sake of gold or drinking water that were never found Araya, but for the sake of salt. It was more expensive than gold. Then salt was the only means to keep products in the hot damp climate. The garrison of the fortress consisted of 182 soldiers, a priest and 5 cooks. After several bloody clasps it was realized in the pirate circles that the salt mines in Araya were under the strict control and the black-flag ships seized to pop up at these rocky shores. The fortress importance faded and in 1770 it was exploded in accordance with the king’s order, as it was too expensive to keep it for the treasury. However, the powder charge appeared to be a poor one and destroyed only part of the fortress. And so it stands up to now giving amazement by its size and sever look.
Salt was mined in Araya for centuries and it is being mined nowadays as well. The white pyramids are well-known symbol for the Venezuelans - it is Araya.
The violet and lilac lakes, that evaporate salt under the baking sun, are another customary vision of the island.
Though the Araya population does not exceed 35 to 36 thousand people, the salt industry fails to give employment for everyone. That is why the authorized bodied of the state of Sucre, that includes the peninsula, concentrate on the projects of its economic revival. The most promising project is the construction of a deep-sea port. ‘An open air aquarium’ is also planned to be created, it will give an opportunity to step into the underwater world of corals, coloured fish and medusas.
But these are plans for the future. At present an Araya visitor feels to be a discoverer, more like Christopher Columbus, that stepped on the beam of the peninsula during his third trip to ‘India’ in 1498.