I went up into the infinite solitudes. I saw the sunrise gleaming on the mountain-peaks. I felt myself nearer the stars — I seemed almost to be in sympathy and communion with them.
The first sight of Santa Cruz (where we arrived next morning) is disappointing. When you see it from the deck of your ship, looking from right to left, you see a red, brown, and yellow coast, barren grey mountains, and ravines. The mountains, being exposed to much wind, present the most curious, harsh, and fantastic outline against the sky. These are called Passo Alto (a child would guess their volcanic origin); they are wide irregular masses of rock, as desolate and savage as can be imagined. Close to the water is a flat, whitewashed town, which always looks in a white heat. The only two high buildings are churches. The town bristled with cannon near the sea. The mountains, which are close to the town on the right, and shut it off, were covered with round, bushy, and compact green splotches, which were in reality good-sized fig trees. Behind the town is a steep rising mountain, with a good winding road; to the left of it is a regiment of windmills drawn up in line, as if waiting for Don Quixote; and in the distance, still on the left, and extending away from you, are masses of mountains, and hanging over them is a little haze in the sky, which might be a little woolly cloud, sugar-loaf in shape, which you are told is the Peak of Teneriffe. The sky, the sea, the atmosphere are perfect, and far surpassing Madeira. Most exhilarating is the sensation thereof. The island, saving one pass, is covered with small barren hills, some of them conical, some like Primrose Hill, only much bigger, which are, I am told, the small disturbances of volcanoes.
These were my first impressions as we were rowed to a little quay in a little boat, and a dozen boys took our dozen packages; and a small walk brought us to Richardson’s Hotel, as it was, a funny, old, broken-down place, with a curious interior, an uncomfortable picturesque remnant of Spanish-Moorish grandeur and style, better to sketch than to sleep and feed in. There was a large patio, or courtyard, and a broad carved oak staircase, and tiers of large balconies to correspond, running all round the interior of the house, into which galleries the rooms open. Green creepers covered the roof and balcony, and hung over, falling into the patio, giving it an ancient and picturesque look, like an old ruin. Rita, a peasant woman, came out to wait upon me, in a long white mantilla, topped by a black felt Spanish wide-awake, a comfortable-looking woman, but neither young nor pretty. The food was as poor and ancient as the hotel, and the servants to match. I could imagine the garlicked sausages to have been a remnant left in a mouldy cupboard by some impoverished hidalgo of a hundred years back.
Richard wanted to pass a few days here, but I suggested that, as the yellow fever was raging, and as Santa Cruz and all round could be seen in three or four days, we should do it on return, and meantime seek some purer abode, lest a yellow-fever bed or infected baggage should lay us low; so we voted for Laguna, or rather San Christoval de la Laguna, a large town fifteen hundred feet above sea-level, and consequently above fever-range; and we ordered the hotel carriage at once.
The vehicle was the skeleton of the first vehicle that was ever made — perhaps the one Noah provided in the Ark to drive his family down Mount Ararat when it became dry — no springs, windows, blinds, lining, or anything save the actual wood; three mules abreast, rope, reins and driver all ancient to match. We found a crowd of men wringing their hands at the amount of small baggage to be packed away in it, swearing they could not and would not try to put it in. Always leave these men to themselves. After loud vociferation, swearing, and quarrelling, they packed it beautifully, and we were stowed away on the top of it, and rattled out of the town at a good pace, up a winding road, ascending the steep country behind Santa Cruz towards Laguna. As we rose higher we had a splendid view of the sea, and the white flat town with its two solitary towers lay at our feet. The winding road was propped up with walls to prevent landslip; the mountains looked wild and rugged; the weather was perfect. We met troops of pretty peasants with heavy loads, and every here and there a picturesque chapel or hermitage.
Our drive was pleasant enough, and I think at about 3 p.m. we were driving hard up and down the old Noah’s-Ark-town called San Christoval de la Laguna. We drove to three inns. Number one was not possible. Number two, something like it; where they were going to put us into the same room (perhaps the same bed — who knows?) with a sick man (maybe a convalescent yellow-feverist). We held a parley and consultation. Was it possible to go on? No, neither now nor to-morrow; for the new road was being made, the old one broken up, and the coach (which, by-the-way, was the name given to a twin vehicle such as ours) was not allowed to run farther than Sausal, three miles off, from which we had twelve miles more to accomplish in order to reach the valley and town of Orotava — the El Dorado, and deservedly so, of Teneriffe. We did not like to descend again into the heat and pestilence of Santa Cruz. Moreover, we had made up our minds (not knowing Laguna) to pass a week there, and had ordered our muleteers to bring up and deposit our baggage there.
The coachman thought he knew of another house where we might get a room. So we drove to the “forlorn hope,” which looked as bad as the rest, and were at first refused. The patio was a ruin, full of mud and broken plantains, the village idiot and the pig huddled up in one corner. In fact, the whole house was a ruin, and the inevitable carved-wood balcony looked like tawdry finery on it. The landlady was the most fiendish-looking old woman I have ever seen, with sharp, bad, black eyes. She exchanged some words in a whisper with three or four ruffianly looking men, and said that she could let us have a room, but only one. Richard went up to inspect it, and while he was gone, and I was left alone, the village idiot worried and frightened me. Our quarters consisted of a small barnlike room with raftered ceiling, a floor with holes big enough to slip your foot through into the courtyard, whitewashed walls, and a small latticed window about two feet square near the ceiling. It was filthy, and contained two small paillasses full of fleas, two hard kitchen chairs, and a small kitchen table. For safety, we had all our baggage brought up. We asked for a light, and they gave us a rushlight, growling all the time because we did not find the light of a dim oil-lamp in the passage enough, and bread sufficient nourishment; but we clamoured for supper.
After three hours’ preparation, during which we were inspected by the whole band of ruffians composing the establishment, and after loud, bewildering chatter about what should become of us on the morrow, we were asked with much pomp and ceremony into the kitchen. We could not both go at once, as there was no key to our door, and the baggage was unsafe. Richard was not away five minutes, but returned with an exclamation of disgust, threw himself on the paillasse, lit a cigar, and opened a bottle of Santa Cruz wine we had brought with us. I then started, and found it necessary to hold the light close to the ground, in order not to put my feet through the holes, or fall on the uneven boarding of the gallery. In a dirty kitchen, on a dirty cloth, was a pink mess in a saucer, smoking hot (which, if analysed, would have proved to be eggs, beetroot, garlic, and rancid oil), stale bread, dirty rancid butter, looking like melted tallow-grease; and what I thought was a large vinegar-cruet, but in reality a bottle of wine, completed the repast. I tried to eat, but, though starved, soon desisted. When I returned to my room, Pepa, the dirty handmaiden — who was always gaping into the streets for excitement (which was not to be found in Laguna), but who proved more good-tempered and honest than her mistress — followed me, and, looking nervously around, put a large key into my hand, and told me to lock my door at night. I did not need a second hint, but also piled up the baggage and kitchen chairs and table against what looked to me like a second suspicious door, opening out on leads and locked outside. I then got out our arms — two revolvers and three bowie-knives — loaded the former, and put one of each close to our hands ready. Sleep was out of the question for me on account of the fleas, which were legion; but I experienced nothing of a more alarming nature.
We were up betimes, and clamouring to get on to Orotava. They naturally wished to keep us, and so they invented every excuse. They all spoke loudly and at once. “The public coach was engaged by a private gentleman for several days; there were no horses or mules to be had for some time” (they would almost have told us there was no hotel at Orotava, if they had dared); “the yellow fever raged everywhere except at Laguna, which was above its range.” “Well, then,” we said, “under all these circumstances we would walk.” Now they never walk themselves, and a woman doing such a thing was incredible. They said, ”He might walk; but what about the Señora and the baggage?” Seeing, finally, that we were determined, and offered good pay, the driver of the vehicle agreed to drive us three miles farther on to Sausal, and to furnish us with several mules for our baggage; but no riding, mules, never thinking that we should accept such a proposition. To their surprise, we closed with it at once. They tried a last dodge in the shape of charging us the exorbitant price of five dollars, or £1, for our atrocious night’s lodging and mess of eggs, and we gave it cheerfully. When we went to pack up, we discovered that, although we had been there but fifteen hours, and had never left the room at the same time without locking our door and taking the key, they had contrived to steal our best bowie-knife, but had touched nothing else. It were better to leave gold than a knife in the way of a Spaniard. We would not even stay to dispute this.
We finally started in the “coach,” in high glee, through the melancholy streets, up a rising country, grand and hilly, and over a good road. Richard said that it was a most interesting mountain-pass, for reasons which were rather au-dessus de ma portée; and as I have no doubt of it, I will describe the trifles.
The chief travellers on this road were muleteers, picturesque men in blankets and sombreros, sitting on comfortable-looking and heavily laden pack-saddles, walking or galloping, and singing in a peculiar Moorish roulade, and smoking their little paper cigarillos. The only difference that I could see between them and a Spanish gentleman was, that the latter’s mule was better bred and went a faster pace, and he had, in place of the blanket, a black cloak, with perhaps a bit of red sash or binding. Pretty peasant women, with a sturdy yet graceful walk and undulating figures, went by. They wore white flannel mantillas, topped by a sombrero, and carried enormous weights on their heads, and sang and chattered, not at all distressed by their burthens. We passed all the scenes of historical interest in our passage through the island. Our coach arrived finally at Sausal. Our aneroid marked nineteen hundred feet at the highest part of our drive through the pass. Here we dismounted, and the coach waited for an hour to see what passengers it might pick up.
We were in a very peculiar position, quite by ourselves (without even a servant), at a wayside house of refuge on a mountain-side, beyond which precincts no vehicle went at this time, and where it was impossible to remain, and without knowing a soul in the island. Luckily Richard spoke the language well. Still, we did not exactly know where we were going. We had an indistinct wish to go to Orotava; but where it was, or how distant at that moment, we knew not; nor did we know, when we got there, if we should find any accommodation, and if not, how we should be able to get back, or whether we should have to pass the night out of doors. Yet it was the happiest moment of my life. I had been through two mortally dull years (without travel), in commonplace, matter-of-fact Old England, where one can’t get into a difficulty. Independently of this, our baggage — some twenty-five packages — was scattered all over the place on mule-back, some coming up from Santa Cruz, some from Laguna, and the smaller ones with us. They would not know what had become of us. And how were we to rid ourselves of-those we had with us? We saw several handsome, proud, lazy-looking fellows, in blankets, sleeping about, outside the cottage, and asked them if, for a couple of dollars, they would carry these, and walk with us to show us the way? Not a bit of it! They did not want to earn two dollars (8s. 4d.) at such a price! They have nothing, and want nothing but sleep and independence. At last a party of muleteers came by. Richard explained our difficulties, and one good-natured old fellow put our small traps on the top of his pack, and we left orders at the house of refuge with the girl that any mules passing by laden with an Englishman’s luggage were to come on to Orotava, and then commenced our walk. And an uncommonly pretty, pleasant walk it was. This path was only fit for mules; and the continuation of the good road we could not enter upon, on account of the people at work, and incessant blasting.
At the end of four hours a mere turn in the road showed us the tropical valley in all its beauty, and the effect was magical: the wealth of verdure and foliage, wild flowers, and carolling birds of pretty plumage. A horseshoe-shaped range of mountains shuts out the Vale of Orotava from the rest of the world, enclosing it entirely, except where open to the sea and its cool breezes; and we gradually wound down under its eastern range, sloping to the beach.
A boy guide met us, and led us through many a winding, paved street of Orotava, till the trickling of the mountain stream reached our ears; and then, following its course, he brought us to the door of our fonda gobea, or inn, which, from its outward appearance, charmed me inexpressibly. It is an ancient relic of Spanish-Moorish grandeur — the palace of a defunct Marchesa — a large building, of white stone, whitewashed over, built in a square, the interior forming the patio, or courtyard. Verandahed balconies run all around it inside, in tiers of dark carved wood, and outside windows, or wooden doors, empanelled, and with old coats of arms above them. These open on to balconies of the same. There is a flat roof, with garden or terrace at the top. The inside balconies form the passage. All the rooms open into the side next the house; the other looks into the court. We were very weary and dusty as we entered the patio. The amo, or master, made his appearance, and, much to our chagrin, conducted us to a room very much like the one we left at Laguna. I will not say that our spirits fell, for we looked at each other and burst out laughing; it was evident that the Canaries contained no better accommodation; but people who go in for travelling laugh at the discomforts that make others miserable; so, with a glance at an upper skylight, a foot square, we agreed that it would be a capital place for work, in the way of reading, writing, and study.
While Richard was settling something, and drinking a cup of coffee, I asked the amo to let me inspect the house, and see if I could not find better accommodation; but he assured me that every nook and cranny was occupied. I explored an open belvedere at the top of the house, a garret half occupied by a photographer in the daytime, and the courtyard, and was going back in despair, when I came upon a long, lofty, dusty, deserted-looking loft, with thirty-two hard, straight-backed kitchen chairs in it. I counted them from curiosity.
“What,” I asked, “is this?”
“Oh,” he replied, “we call this the sala, but no one ever comes into it; so we use it as a lumber-room, and the workwomen sit here.”
“Will you give me this?” I asked again.
“Willingly,” he replied, looking nevertheless as surprised as if I had asked to sleep in the courtyard; “and, moreover, you can run over the house, and ask Bernardo [a peasant servant] to give you whatever furniture you may choose.”
I was not long in thanking him and carrying his offer into execution. Bernardo and I speedily fraternized, and we soon had the place broomed and aired. It had evidently been the ballroom or reception-room of the defunct Marchesa in palmy days. Stone walls painted white, a wood floor with chinks in it, through which you could see the patio below, and through which “brave rats and mice" fearlessly came to play; a raftered wood ceiling with a deep carved cornice (through the holes above the children overhead subsequently pelted us with nuts and cheese); three chains, with faded blue ribbons, suspended from the lofty ceiling, whereon chandeliers had evidently hung. Three carved-wood doors (rusty on their hinges) opened on to a verandah balcony, from which we had a splendid view. The hotel opened sideways, on the hillside, on to a perpendicular street, with a mountain torrent dashing down it beneath the windows. To the left, above, was the mountain range of Tigayga; to the right was the town, or villa; and below, and sideways to the right, was the cultivated valley, and the sea stretching broadly away, and, when clear, we could see the white cone — the immortal Peak. One double door, of cedar wood, opened on to the balcony overhanging the patio; and one more into another room, which I had subsequently to barricade against an inquisitive old lady, who wanted to see if English people bathed and ate like Teneriffians.
Such was the aspect of the loft after a brooming. I then routed out an old screen, and ran it across the room, dividing it into two, thereby enabling the amo to charge me for bedroom and sitting-room In the bedroom half I ran two straw paillasses together for a bed; two little primitive washstands, capable of containing a pint of water; and two tiny tables of like dimensions for our toilet. My next difficulty was to rig up a bath and a stove. Hunting about, I found a large wine-wash, as tall as myself. I rolled it in, and ordered it to be filled every day with sea water. The drawing-room contained two large kitchen tables (one for Richard’s writing, one to dine on), and a smaller one for my occupations, a horsehair sofa, a pan of charcoal, kettles, and pots for hot water, tea, eggs, and minor cooking.
Presently mule after mule began to arrive with the baggage; not a thing was missing. I divided the thirty-two hard-backed kitchen chairs between the two apartments. For want of drawers or wardrobe we kept most things in our trunks, hanging dresses, coats, and dressing-gown over the screen and chairs in lieu of wardrobe. Books, writing, and instruments strewed the whole place. I was delighted with my handiwork. We had arrived at seven, and at nine I went to fetch my philosophic husband, who had meanwhile got a book, and had quietly sat down, making up his mind for the worst. He was perfectly delighted with the fine old den, for we had good air, light, a splendid view, lots of room, and good water, both fresh and salt; and here we intended to pass a happy month — to read, write, study, chat, walk, make excursions, and enjoy ourselves.
Saturday, March 21, 1863. — Of course we could not rest until we had “done” the Peak. We were in our saddles at nine. Our little caravan consisted of six persons and four animals — Richard and myself mounted on good horses, two mules laden with baggage, one guide, and three arrieros, or muleteers. Our distance varied (by different reports) between eighteen and thirty-two miles, from the Villa d’Orotava to the top of the great Peak and back; and by the route we returned from choice — a longer, varied, and more difficult one — I dare say it was nearer the latter mark, and our time was thirty-five hours.
We clattered up the streets, and went out by a pretty road, studded with villages, gardens, cottages, barrancos, and geraniums falling in rich profusion over the walls into the main road. We turned abruptly from this road up the stony side of the Barranco de San Antonio, and proceeded through cultivated fields, but ever winding by the barranco, which becomes deeper and deeper. Here rushes a fierce mountain torrent. The stone at the sides is scooped as smoothly by its impetuous rush as a knife would carve a cake of soap, and you hear the rebounding in the gigantic caverns, which present all the appearance of being excavated by an immense body of water. On the borders of this mass of stone and of rushing waters, startling caverns, and mysterious rumblings, the edges were bound with rich belts of chestnut trees, wild flowers of every sort, myrtle and rosemary, looking as placid as in a garden; and you do not expect to be awestruck — as you are — when you look into the depth of the ravine, into which you might have taken a step too far, deceived by the treacherous borders, if the strange sounds below had not induced you to look down. We were now about two thousand five hundred feet above the sea.
We ascended a very jagged and rough mountain, like a barranco, ever ascending, and came upon a beautiful slope of forest of mixed bay and broom. The soil, however, is a mass of loose stones as we wind through the forest, and again emerge on another barren, jagged, and stony mountain, like the one before the forest. It is now eleven o'clock, and we are four thousand five hundred feet above the sea, and the men ask for a halt. The valley rises like a hanging garden all the way till you come to the first cloud and mist, after which are no more houses; the mist rests upon the woods, and ascends and descends for about the space of a league. We had now just got to the clouds. They usually descend to this distance, and, except on very clear days, hang there for several hours in the day — if not all day — shutting out the upper world of mountains like a curtain, though above and below it all may be clear. We dismounted in a thick, misty cloud, and looked about us, leaving the men to eat, drink, and breathe the animals.
The whole of our ascent appeared to me to be like ascending different mountains, one range higher than another, so that when you reached the top of one you found yourself unexpectedly at the foot of another; only each varies as to soil: stones, vegetation; stones, cinders, stones.
At one o’clock we passed the last vegetation, six thousand five hundred feet, with a shady clearing under the retornas, which our men told us was the Estancia della Cierra — the first station. The thermometer in shade was at 60’. Here we unloaded the mules, and tied them to the bushes, upon which they fed. We ate, drank, the men smoked, and then we reloaded and remounted, and soon emerged from the last vegetation, and entered upon Los Cañadas, through a gap, by the gate of Teora — a natural portico of lava. Here we ceased ascending for some time, the Cañadas being a sandy plain, extending fifteen miles in circumference round the base of the Peak. Richard wished to build him a house in this his peculiar element, wanted a good gallop, and all sorts of things. The hot sun literally rained fire, pouring down upon our heads and scorching the earth, and blistering our faces, hands, and lips, as if it spitefully begrudged us our pleasant excursion and boisterous spirits. There was water nowhere.
The Peak of Teneriffe, From the Vale of Orotava
We rode along the plain laughing and chattering, and presently began to ascend again the same soil as on the plain, but steepening and more bleak and barren, with not a sign of life or vegetation. We came to the mountain, and put our poor beasts to the steep ascent, breasting the red pumice bed and thick bands of detached black blocks of lava. The soil, in fact, consists of loose pumice stones sprinkled with lava and broken bits of obsidian. Our animals sank knee-deep, and slid back several yards; and we struggled upwards after this fashion for three-quarters of an hour, when we came to a little flat space on the right, with blocks of stone partially enclosing it, but open overhead and to one side.
This was the second station, called the Estancia de los Ingleses, nine thousand six hundred feet above the sea; temperature 16’, only accessible on the south-eastern side. Here we gladly dismounted, after eight hours’ ride.
The arrieros unpacked and dismantled their beasts, let the mules roll, and put all four in shelter with their nosebags, and then went in search of fuel. Richard went off to take observations; and I saw him with pleasure enjoying the indescribable atmospheric charm under the rose-pink blush of the upper sky. I knew mine was Martha’s share of the business, and that I had better look sharp; so I unpacked our panniers, and made the estancia ready for the night. In less than an hour our beds were made comfortable, and composed of railway-rugs, coats, and cloaks. There were two roaring fires, and tea and coffee; and spread about were spirits, wine, fowls, bread, butter, hard eggs, and sausages. We could have spent a week there very comfortably; and we sat round our camp-fire warming ourselves, eating, and talking over the day. The men brought out hard eggs, salt fish, and prepared gofia — the original Guanche food — which is corn roasted brown, then pounded fine, and put into a kid-skin bag with water and kneaded about in the hand into a sort of cake. They were immensely surprised at a sharp repeater which I had in my belt, and with which we tried to shoot a raven; but he would not come within shot, though we tried hard to tempt him with a chicken’s leg stuck upon a stick at a distance.
We read and wrote till seven o’clock, and then it grew darker and colder, and I turned in, i.e. rolled myself round in the rugs with my feet to the campfire, and did not sleep, but watched. The estancia, or station, was a pile of wild rocks about twenty feet high, open overhead to one side, with a space in the middle big enough to camp in. At the head and down one side of our bed was a bank of snow; two mules were tethered near our heads, but not near enough to kick and bite. The horses were a little farther off. There were two capital fires of retorna wood; and strewed all around were rugs, blankets, and wraps of all sorts, kettles, canteens, bottles, books, instruments, eatables, and kegs. It was dark at seven o’clock. The stars shone brilliantly, but it was only the third night of the moon, so we were badly off for that. But the day had been brilliant, and our only drawback had been that the curtain of clouds had shut out the under-world from us about one o’clock for good and all. Our men consisted of one guide, Manuel, and three arrieros. They lay round the fire in their blankets and black velvet sombreros in careless attitudes. (I did not know a blanket could look so picturesque.) Their dark hair and skins, white teeth, flashing eyes, and handsome features, lit up by the lurid glare of the fire, and animated by the conversation of Richard, to say nothing of the spirits and tobacco with which he made their hearts glad, made a first-rate bivouac scene, a brigand-like group, for they are a fine and hardy race. They held loud and long theological discussions, good-humouredly anathematizing Richard as an infidel, and showed their medals and crosses. He harangued them, and completely baffled them with his Mohammedan logic; and ended by opening his shirt, and showing them a medal and cross like their own — the one I had given him long ago. They looked at each other, shook their fists, laughed, and were beside themselves with excitement. I laughed and listened until the Great Bear went down behind the mountain-side, and then fell fast asleep. The men took it in turns to keep up the fire, while they slept around it. The only sound heard was once or twice the spiteful scream of a mule trying to bite its neighbour, or a log of wood being thrown on the fire; and outside the estancia the silence was so profound as to fully realize “the last man.” The pleasant reminiscences of that night will live in my memory when most other things are forgotten, or trials and sorrows make me temporarily forget to be grateful for past happiness. It was perfect repose and full contentment. The tangled world below was forgotten, and the hand of him whom I cannot dispense with through life was near to clasp mine.
At half-past three o’clock Manuel awoke us. It was a pitch-dark night save the fires. The thermometer at 14’. We got up and crowded on every warm thing possible, made some coffee, using brandy for milk. Now one of the arrieros was to remain behind to look after the fires, beasts, and estancia generally. I mounted my horse, and Richard one of the mules. Our guide went first. One arriero with a pitch-pine torch, and one arriero to return with the animals, made our party to start. At half-past four o’clock we commenced upon what seemed the same kind of thing as the last part of yesterday’s ride — steep, broken pumice, obsidian, and lava — only twenty times more difficult and steep, with an occasional rock-work or snowdrift. We were the first people who had ascended in winter since 1797; and even the guide did not exactly know what might happen for the snow. Manuel went therefore first with a torch; then Richard; then the second torch; then myself on my poor Negro; and, lastly, a third torch. Our poor beasts sank knee-deep, and slid tremendously. Once or twice my steed refused, and appeared to prefer descent to ascent, but fortunately changed his mind, or an inevitable roll to the bottom and broken bones would have been the result. Richard’s mule went into a snowdrift, but emerged, with much pluck, without unseating him. I got a little frightened when it got to the steepest part, and found myself obliged to cling to the mane, for it was too dark, even with torches, to see much. In three-quarters of an hour we came to the highest and third estancia, ten thousand five hundred feet above sea-level, called Estancia de los Allemanes.
Here we dismounted, and our third arriero went down with the animals, while we, pike in hand, began the ascent of the Mal Pais, which is composed of what yesterday I had imagined to be walls of black stone, radiating from the ridge below the cone to the yellow mountain, but which are really very severe lava beds, about thirteen hundred feet high, consisting of immense blocks of lava; some as big as a cottage, and some as small as a football; some loose and rolling, others firm, with drifts of snow between, and piled up almost perpendicularly above you; and when you have surmounted one ridge, and fancy yourself at the top, you find there is another still more difficult, until you have had so many disappointments that you cease to ask. It took me two hours, climbing on my hands and knees, with many rests. First I threw away my pike, then my outer coat, and gradually peeled, like the circus dancers do, who represent the seasons, army and navy, etc., until I absolutely arrived at the necessary blouse and petticoat. As there were no thieves, I dropped my things on the way as I climbed, and they served as so many landmarks on return. Every time we stopped to breathe I was obliged to fill my mouth with snow, and put it on my head and forehead — the sun had blistered me so, and the air was keen. At about 5.30 a.m. a truly soft light, preceding day, took the place of torchlight. The horizon gradually became like a rainbow, with that peculiar effect it always has of being on a level with one, and the world beneath curved like a bowl, which is very striking to a person who is on a great height for the first time. More toil, and we pass the icedrift at our right, and sight the Cone, which looks like a dirty-white sugar-loaf; which, I was told, was a low comparison! Every ten minutes I was obliged to rest; and the guides, after each few moments’ rest, would urge me to a toutine — just a little more — to which I had manfully to make up my mind, though I felt very much fatigued.
At 6 a.m. the guides told us to turn round: a golden gleam was on the sea — the first of the sun; and gradually its edge appeared, and it rose majestically in pure golden glory; and we were hanging between heaven and earth — in solitude and silence — and were permitted to enjoy this beautiful moment. It was Sunday morning, March 22 — Passion Sunday.20 Out of the six souls there, five of us were Catholics, unable to hear Mass. We knelt down, and I said aloud a Paternoster, Ave Maria, and Gloria Patri, and offered to our Lord the hearts of all present with genuine thanksgiving, and with a silent prayer that the one dear to me, the only unbeliever of our small party, might one day receive the gift of faith.
We arose, and continued our now almost painful way, and at 6.45 reached the base of the dirty-white sugar-loaf. Here we breathed; and what had seemed to me to be a ridge from below was a small plain space round the base of the Cone. The thermometer stood at 120’ in the steam, but there was no smell of sulphur till we reached the top. Manuel and Richard start, pike in hand. My muleteer took off his red sash, tied it round my waist, and took the other end over his shoulder, and with a pike in my hand we did the last hard work; and it was very hard after the Mal Pais. The Cone is surrounded, as I have just said, by a little plain base of pumice, and its own soil is broken, fine pumice — out of which, from all parts, issue jets of smoke, which burn you and your clothes: I think I counted thirty-five. We had five hundred and twelve feet more to accomplish, and we took three-quarters of an hour. The top consists of masses of rock; great and small, covered with bright, glistening, yellow sulphur, and frost; and from which issue powerful jets of smoke from the volcano within. Richard helped me up to stand on the corona, the top stone, at 7.40 a.m. It is so narrow there is only room for one person to stand there at once. I stood there a minute or two. I had reached the Peak. I was now, at the outside computation, twelve thousand three hundred feet high.
The guides again suggested a Gloria Patri, in thanksgiving — Richard a cigar. Both were accomplished. The guides had been a little anxious about this first winter attempt. They now told us it had been deemed impossible in Orotava to accomplish it; and as for the Señora, they had said, she could not even reach the second Estancia de los Ingleses, and lo! there she stood on the corona! From where we stood at this moment, it is said that on a clear day the eye can take in the unparalleled distance of eight hundred miles in circumference of ocean, grasping the whole of Teneriffe as from a balloon, and its coast, and the whole fourteen Canaries and coast of Africa. Unfortunately for us, the banks of clouds below were too thick for us to do more than obtain a view of the surrounding mountain-tops and country, and see the crater. The sea we could only behold at a great distance. We spent forty minutes at the top, examining the crater, and looking all around us; during the latter part of which operation, I am sorry to say, I fell fast asleep from sheer fatigue, and was aroused by Richard hallooing to me that my clothes were on fire, which, alas! was too true. I pocketed specimens of obsidian, sulphur, and pumice. It was piercing cold, with a burning sun; and we experienced a nasty, choking, sickening smell of sulphur, which arose in fetid puffs from the many-coloured surface — dead white, purple, dull red, green, and brilliant yellow. A sense of awe stole over me as Richard almost poked his head into the holes whence issued the jets of smoke. I could not help thinking of the fearful catastrophes that had taken place — how eruptions, perhaps from that very hole, had desolated Teneriffe — how, perhaps, it was that which had caused Hanno to say that on the coast of Africa it rained fire; and yet here we were fearlessly poking our heads inquisitively into it. What if this should be the instant of another great convulsion?
I did not experience any of the sensations described by most travellers on the Peak, such as sickness, pains in the head or inside, or faintness and difficulty of breathing, though the air was rare in the extreme, and although I am of a highly sensitive and nervous temperament, and suffer all this when obliged to lead a sedentary life and deprived of open air and hard exercise. I found my brain clear and the air and height delightfully exhilarating, and could have travelled so for a month with much pleasure. The only inconvenience that I did experience was a sun that appeared to concentrate itself upon me as a focus (as, I suppose, it appeared to do the same to each of us), and a piercing cold and severe wind besides, which combined to heat and yet freeze my head and face, until the latter became like a perfect mask of hard, red skin, likewise my lips and inside of my mouth. My hands, feet, and knees also were torn by the rocks, and I was a little bruised by sleeping on stones; but that was all; and my only difficulty about breathing proceeded from the labour of climbing on hands and feet, and had no connexion with the rarity of the atmosphere; and as we were, I believe, the first winter travellers living who had ascended at that season, we had an excellent opportunity of judging. My guide also told me that I was the only señora who had performed some feat or other; but I could not exactly understand what.
At 8.30 we began the descent, planting our pikes and our heels in the soft stuff, sliding down ten or twelve yards at a time, and arrived in a quarter of an hour at the little plain base. Here we breathed for a few moments, and then started again for the descent of that truly Mal Pais. It was even worse to descend. I only wondered how we got up in the dark without breaking our ankles or legs over those colossal ruins, called the “Hobberings,” of the Peak. Twice twisting my ankle in the loose masses, though not badly, warned me that it was better to take my time than get a bad hurt; and the others were most considerate to me, both going and coming, begging me not to be ashamed to stop as often and as long as I liked. We were therefore two hours coming down, picking up the discarded garments on the way, and inclining a little to the right, to see the ice cave — Cueva de Zelo — which occupied twenty minutes. It is a large cavern in the rock, hung with huge icicles, and covered over with ice inside. We now descended to the place we had mounted on horseback in the night. How the poor beast ever came up it is my astonishment; and I am sure, if it had been daylight, I should have been a great deal more frightened than I was. It was a case of “poling” down on our heels again; and our two guides hailed the two below with a Guanche whistle, which meant “Put the kettle on.”
We reached the next stage at 10.11. I was now rather “done up,” so I drank a bowl of strong green tea, and performed a kind of toilet, etc., under the lee of a rock, taking off the remnants of my gloves, boots, and stockings, and replacing them with others, which I fortunately had taken the precaution to bring; washed, brushed, and combed; dressed a little more tidily; and glycerined my hands, feet, and face. I then wanted to lie down and sleep; but alas! there was no shade except in the snowdrifts; so I tied a wet towel round my head, and erected an umbrella over it, and slept for half an hour, while Richard and the men breakfasted and reloaded. We sent the animals down the remainder of the steep ascent which had taken up our last three-quarters of an hour yesterday — that is, from the estancia where we slept to the commencement of the Cañadas — and we followed on foot, and were down in about half an hour. This is the bottom of the actual mountain out of which the Cone rises. Once more being on almost level ground, we soon passed the desert, fifteen miles in circumference, surrounding the mountain. There were still ranges of mountains and country to descend, below it, to reach Orotava. We accomplished them all after a hot but pleasant ride, broken by rests, and arrived safe home at Orotava at 7 p.m.
We spent a thoroughly happy month at Orotava, in the wilds, amongst the peasantry. No trammels of society, no world, no post, out of civilization, en bourgeois, and doing everything for ourselves, with the bare necessaries of life. All our days were much alike, except excursion days.
We rose at seven, cup of tea, and toilet. Then came my domestic work (Richard had plunged into literature at half-past seven): this consisted of what, I suppose, Shakspeare meant by “chronicling small beer”; but I had no fine lady’s maid to do it for me — she would have been sadly out of place — ordering dinner, market, and accounts, needlework, doing the room, the washing, small cookery on the pan of charcoal, and superintending the roughest of the work as performed by Bernardo. Husbands are uncomfortable without “Chronicle;” though they never see the petit détail going on, and like to keep up the pleasant illusion that it is done by magic. I thought it very good fun, this kind of gypsying. Breakfast at ten, write till two (journals and diaries kept up, etc.), dinner at two; then walk or ride or make an excursion; cup of tea on coming in, literature till ten, with a break of supper at eight, and at ten to bed: a delightfully healthy and wholesome life, both for mind and body, but one which I can’t recommend to any one who cannot rough it, or who has no serious occupation, or lacks a very agreeable companion.
Sometimes, when Richard was busy writing, I would stroll far away into the valley to enjoy the sweet, balmy sea-breeze and smell of flowers, and drink in the soft, clear air, and would get far away from our little straggling, up-and-down town on its perch, and cross over barrancos and ravines and enjoy myself. One day, so occupied, I came upon a lovely quinta in a garden, full of fruits and flowers, a perfect forest of tall rose trees and geranium bushes, which hung over the garden hedge into the path. Two charming old ladies caught me prigging — Los Senhoras T. They came out and asked me in, showed me all over their garden, gave me fruit and sweetmeats and flowers, and kissed me. They did not know what five o’clock tea meant, but I often wandered there about that time, and found a charming substitute in the above articles, and I quite struck up a friendship with them.
We put off leaving our peaceful retreat until the last possible day, when we went down to Santa Cruz. When we had been at Santa Cruz three or four days, the fatal gun boomed — the signal of our separation. It was midday, and there was my detestable steamer at anchor — the steamer by which I was to return to England. I felt as I did when I was a child, and the cab stopped at the dentist’s door. I may pass over this miserable day and our most miserable parting. Richard was going again to pestilential Fernando Po. I should not see him for many, many weary months, and perhaps never again. How gladly would I have gone with him; even to the eleventh hour I had hoped that he would relent and let me go. But the climate was death to a white woman, and he was inexorable. He would not even let me sleep one night at Fernando Po. So we parted, he to his consulate, and I to go back home — which was no home without him. I pass over the pain of that parting. With many tears and a heavy heart I embarked on my steamer for England.
20 On reading through this manuscript with Mr. Wilkins, I am struck with the coincidence that it was on Passion Sunday, March 22, 1896 (thirty-three years later), that my dear sister, Lady Burton, died. — E. Fitzgerald.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06