"Terra Firma - very large, about which nothing is known", was how Columbus described the mainland of South America. David finds himself on anything but firm ground when he arrives in Venezuela to work for Jordi's uncle Manuel, the Minister of Planning. Jordi's exotic family befriend him - the uncles who chased out the last dictator, the grandfather, too old for deep-sea fishing but still chasing young women at ninety. He finds cliffs to rock climb in the vast coastal range and the empty interior. At the Ministry he meets Chelo, who takes him to see a fortune-telling witch when they should be working. And he discovers that the site of the new town he is helping plan is on an earthquake fault and that his boss, Manuel, owns the land.