What inspired “Crossing the Orinoco”?
Sometimes things present themselves to you on a platter. Other times you start writing and don’t know exactly what it’s about until you get into making it work right. This seems to be about time and space. Certain settings inspire that. The high desert in New Mexico does that to me. Large places with few people. When I worked on ships, I liked standing at the stern at night in the North Atlantic and watching the screws kick up a wake of phosphorescence. In the mist, sea and sky were one.
What can you tell us about the Orinoco itself?
It’s one of the mighty rivers, like the Mississippi, Amazon, Nile and Yangtze. And it cuts a powerful arc across Venezuela through jungle and plains to a fantastically large delta. I’ve crossed it in a few places and motored up the Apure, its main tributary. I’m not a geographer or explorer, but just about any river turns me on, even a creek. And rivers produce some interesting characters.
Do you yourself have any nicknames, now or in the past?—any nicknames you would like (or would have liked) to have?
My favorite is probably “Gringo Loco.” It does a good job of characterizing my relationship with Venezuelans. I also like “Huecos Bill,” but that’s another story.
Tell us about William Reese Hamilton, lover of moments.
Like the rest of you, I write. And because I’ve been around a little longer I have more experiences. I admire great description, but I prefer to move through space rather than standing still, so description becomes integrated with character and action. From my sixth to ninth birthdays, I lived in a Japanese internment camp. That probably did the most to mold my aberrant personality.
Word is you’re a Venezuelan river&wave riding kid who takes off at any moment into the mountain rainforests of Choronî. True?
I don’t really surf so much as swim. My favorite beach is El Diaro and I hike over a little mountain to get to it. Weekdays it’s pretty isolated, so I feel I’m on my own desert island, where I can swim out through the turquoise sea and ride the waves into a clean white beach. The trails I hike were used by Spanish settlers and the Indians before them. I can drop off the main road and lose a couple of hundred years, in places where people live without electricity or running water. I can jump on a launch and travel twenty minutes to towns you can only get to by sea. It’s a trip.