On the 16th of November, at eight in the evening, we were under sail to proceed along the coast from Cumana to the port of La Guayra, whence the inhabitants of the province of Venezuela export the greater part of their produce. The passage is only a distance of sixty leagues, and it usually occupies from thirty-six to forty hours. The little coasting vessels are favoured at once by the wind and by the currents, which run with more or less force from east to west, along the coasts of Terra Firma, particularly from cape Paria to the cape of Chichibacoa. The road by land from Cumana to New Barcelona, and thence to Caracas, is nearly in the same state as that in which it was before the discovery of America. The traveller has to contend with the obstacles presented by a miry soil, large scattered rocks, and strong vegetation. He must sleep in the open air, pass through the valleys of the Unare, the Tuy, and the Capaya, and cross torrents which swell rapidly on account of the proximity of the mountains. To these obstacles must be added the dangers arising from the extreme insalubrity of the country. The very low lands, between the sea-shore and the chain of hills nearest the coast, from the bay of Mochima as far as Coro, are extremely unhealthy. But the last-mentioned town, which is surrounded by an immense wood of thorny cactuses, owes its great salubrity, like Cumana, to its barren soil and the absence of rain.
In returning from Caracas to Cumana, the road by land is sometimes preferred to the passage by sea, to avoid the adverse current. The postman from Caracas is nine days in performing this journey. We often saw persons, who had followed him, arrive at Cumana ill of nervous and miasmatic fevers. The tree of which the bark* furnishes a salutary remedy for those fevers, grows in the same valleys, and upon the edge of the same forests which send forth the pernicious exhalations. M. Bonpland recognised the cuspare in the vegetation of the gulf of Santa Fe, situated between the ports of Cumana and Barcelona. The sickly traveller may perchance repose in a cottage, the inhabitants of which are ignorant of the febrifuge qualities of the trees that shade the surrounding valleys.
[* Cortex Angosturae of our pharmacopaeias, the bark of the Bonplandia trifoliata.]
Having proceeded by sea from Cumana to La Guayra, we intended to take up our abode in the town of Caracas, till the end of the rainy season. From Caracas we proposed to direct our course across the great plains or llanos, to the Missions of the Orinoco; to go up that vast river, to the south of the cataracts, as far as the Rio Negro and the frontiers of Brazil; and thence to return to Cumana by the capital of Spanish Guiana, commonly called, on account of its situation, Angostura, or the Strait. We could not determine the time we might require to accomplish a tour of seven hundred leagues, more than two-thirds of that distance having to be traversed in boats. The only parts of the Orinoco known on the coasts are those near its mouth. No commercial intercourse is kept up with the Missions. The whole of the country beyond the llanos is unknown to the inhabitants of Cumana and Caracas. Some think that the plains of Calabozo, covered with turf, stretch eight hundred leagues southward, communicating with the Steppes or Pampas of Buenos Ayres; others, recalling to mind the great mortality which prevailed among the troops of Iturriaga and Solano, during their expedition to the Orinoco, consider the whole country, south of the cataracts of Atures, as extremely pernicious to health. In a region where travelling is so uncommon, people seem to feel a pleasure in exaggerating to strangers the difficulties arising from the climate, the wild animals, and the Indians. Nevertheless we persisted in the project we had formed. We could rely upon the interest and solicitude of the governor of Cumana, Don Vicente Emparan, as well as on the recommendations of the Franciscan monks, who are in reality masters of the shores of the Orinoco.
Fortunately for us, one of those monks, Juan Gonzales, was at that time in Cumana. This young monk, who was only a lay-brother, was highly intelligent, and full of spirit and courage. He had the misfortune shortly after his arrival on the coast to displease his superiors, upon the election of a new director of the Missions of Piritu, which is a period of great agitation in the convent of New Barcelona. The triumphant party exercised a general retaliation, from which the lay-brother could not escape. He was sent to Esmeralda, the last Mission of the Upper Orinoco, famous for the vast quantity of noxious insects with which the air is continually filled. Fray Juan Gonzales was thoroughly acquainted with the forests which extend from the cataracts towards the sources of the Orinoco. Another revolution in the republican government of the monks had some years before brought him to the coast, where he enjoyed (and most justly) the esteem of his superiors. He confirmed us in our desire of examining the much-disputed bifurcation of the Orinoco. He gave us useful advice for the preservation of our health, in climates where he had himself suffered long from intermitting fevers. We had the satisfaction of finding Fray Juan Gonzales at New Barcelona, on our return from the Rio Negro. Intending to go from the Havannah to Cadiz, he obligingly offered to take charge of part of our herbals, and our insects of the Orinoco; but these collections were unfortunately lost with himself at sea. This excellent young man, who was much attached to us, and whose zeal and courage might have rendered him very serviceable to the missions of his order, perished in a storm on the coast of Africa, in 1801.
The boat which conveyed us from Cumana to La Guayra, was one of those employed in trading between the coasts and the West India Islands. They are thirty feet long, and not more than three feet high at the gunwale; they have no decks, and their burthen is generally from two hundred to two hundred and fifty quintals. Although the sea is extremely rough from Cape Codera to La Guayra, and although the boats have an enormous triangular sail, somewhat dangerous in those gusts which issue from the mountain-passes, no instance has occurred during thirty years, of one of these boats being lost in the passage from Cumana to the coast of Caracas. The skill of the Guaiqueria pilots is so great, that accidents are very rare, even in the frequent trips they make from Cumana to Guadaloupe, or the Danish islands, which are surrounded with breakers. These voyages of 120 or 150 leagues, in an open sea, out of sight of land, are performed in boats without decks, like those of the ancients, without observations of the meridian altitude of the sun, without charts, and generally without a compass. The Indian pilot directs his course at night by the pole-star, and in the daytime by the sun and the wind. I have seen Guaiqueries and pilots of the Zambo caste, who could find the pole-star by the direction of the pointers alpha and beta of the Great Bear, and they seemed to me to steer less from the view of the pole-star itself, than from the line drawn through these stars. It is surprising, that at the first sight of land, they can find the island of Guadaloupe, Santa Cruz, or Porto Rico; but the compensation of the errors of their course is not always equally fortunate. The boats, if they fall to leeward in making land, beat up with great difficulty to the eastward, against the wind and the current.
We descended rapidly the little river Manzanares, the windings of which are marked by cocoa-trees, as the rivers of Europe are sometimes bordered by poplars and old willows. On the adjacent arid land, the thorny bushes, on which by day nothing is visible but dust, glitter during the night with thousands of luminous sparks. The number of phosphorescent insects augments in the stormy season. The traveller in the equinoctial regions is never weary of admiring the effect of those reddish and moveable fires, which, being reflected by limpid water, blend their radiance with that of the starry vault of heaven.
We quitted the shore of Cumana as if it had long been our home. This was the first land we had trodden in a zone, towards which my thoughts had been directed from earliest youth. There is a powerful charm in the impression produced by the scenery and climate of these regions; and after an abode of a few months we seemed to have lived there during a long succession of years. In Europe, the inhabitant of the north feels an almost similar emotion, when he quits even after a short abode the shores of the Bay of Naples, the delicious country between Tivoli and the lake of Nemi, or the wild and majestic scenery of the Upper Alps and the Pyrenees. Yet everywhere in the temperate zone, the effects of vegetable physiognomy afford little contrast. The firs and the oaks which crown the mountains of Sweden have a certain family air in common with those which adorn Greece and Italy. Between the tropics, on the contrary, in the lower regions of both Indies, everything in nature appears new and marvellous. In the open plains and amid the gloom of forests, almost all the remembrances of Europe are effaced; for it is vegetation that determines the character of a landscape, and acts upon the imagination by its mass, the contrast of its forms, and the glow of its colours. In proportion as impressions are powerful and new, they weaken antecedent impressions, and their force imparts to them the character of duration. I appeal to those who, more sensible to the beauties of nature than to the charms of society, have long resided in the torrid zone. How dear, how memorable during life, is the land on which they first disembarked! A vague desire to revisit that spot remains rooted in their minds to the most advanced age. Cumana and its dusty soil are still more frequently present to my imagination, than all the wonders of the Cordilleras. Beneath the bright sky of the south, the light, and the magic of the aerial hues, embellish a land almost destitute of vegetation. The sun does not merely enlighten, it colours the objects, and wraps them in a thin vapour, which, without changing the transparency of the air, renders its tints more harmonious, softens the effects of the light, and diffuses over nature a placid calm, which is reflected in our souls. To explain this vivid impression which the aspect of the scenery in the two Indies produces, even on coasts but thinly wooded, it is sufficient to recollect that the beauty of the sky augments from Naples to the equator, almost as much as from Provence to the south of Italy.
We passed at high water the bar formed at the mouth of the little river Manzanares. The evening breeze gently swelled the waves in the gulf of Cariaco. The moon had not risen, but that part of the milky way which extends from the feet of the Centaur towards the constellation of Sagittarius, seemed to pour a silvery light over the surface of the ocean. The white rock, crowned by the castle of San Antonio, appeared from time to time between the high tops of the cocoa-trees which border the shore; and we soon recognized the coasts only by the scattered lights of the Guaiqueria fishermen.
We sailed at first to north-north-west, approaching the peninsula of Araya; we then ran thirty miles to west and west-south-west. As we advanced towards the shoal that surrounds Cape Arenas and stretches as far as the petroleum springs of Maniquarez, we enjoyed one of those varied sights which the great phosphorescence of the sea so often displays in those climates. Bands of porpoises followed our bark. Fifteen or sixteen of these animals swam at equal distances from each other. When turning on their backs, they struck the surface of the water with their broad tails; they diffused a brilliant light, which seemed like flames issuing from the depth of the ocean.* Each band of porpoises, ploughing the surface of the waters, left behind it a track of light, the more striking as the rest of the sea was not phosphorescent. As the motion of an oar, and the track of the bark, produced on that night but feeble sparks, it is natural to suppose that the vivid phosphorescence caused by the porpoises was owing not only to the stroke of their tails, but also to the gelatinous matter that envelopes their bodies, and is detached by the shock of the waves.
[* See Views of Nature Bohn’s edition page 246.]
We found ourselves at midnight between some barren and rocky islands, which uprise like bastions in the middle of the sea, and form the group of the Caracas and Chimanas.* The moon was above the horizon, and lighted up these cleft rocks which are bare of vegetation and of fantastic aspect. The sea here forms a sort of bay, a slight inward curve of the land between Cumana and Cape Codera. The islets of Picua, Picuita, Caracas, and Boracha, appear like fragments of the ancient coast, which stretches from Bordones in the same direction east and west. The gulfs of Mochima and Santa Fe, which will no doubt one day become frequented ports, lie behind those little islands. The rents in the land, the fracture and dip of the strata, all here denote the effects of a great revolution: possibly that which clove asunder the chain of the primitive mountains, and separated the mica-schist of Araya and the island of Margareta from the gneiss of Cape Codera. Several of the islands are visible at Cumana, from the terraces of the houses, and they produce, according to the superposition of layers of air more or less heated, the most singular effects of suspension and mirage. The height of the rocks does not probably exceed one hundred and fifty toises; but at night, when lighted by the moon, they seem to be of a very considerable elevation.
[* There are three of the Caracas islands and eight of the Chimanas.]
It may appear extraordinary, to find the Caracas Islands so distant from the city of that name, opposite the coast of the Cumanagotos; but the denomination of Caracas denoted at the beginning of the Conquest, not a particular spot, but a tribe of Indians, neighbours of the Tecs, the Taramaynas, and the Chagaragates. As we came very near this group of mountainous islands, we were becalmed; and at sunrise, small currents drifted us toward Boracha, the largest of them. As the rocks rise nearly perpendicular, the shore is abrupt; and in a subsequent voyage I saw frigates at anchor almost touching the land. The temperature of the atmosphere became sensibly higher whilst we were sailing among the islands of this little archipelago. The rocks, heated during the day, throw out at night, by radiation, a part of the heat absorbed. As the sun arose on the horizon, the rugged mountains projected their vast shadows on the surface of the ocean. The flamingoes began to fish in places where they found in a creek calcareous rocks bordered by a narrow beach. All these islands are now entirely uninhabited; but upon one of the Caracas are found wild goats of large size, brown, and extremely swift. Our Indian pilot assured us that their flesh has an excellent flavour. Thirty years ago a family of whites settled on this island, where they cultivated maize and cassava. The father alone survived his children. As his wealth increased, he purchased two black slaves; and by these slaves he was murdered. The goats became wild, but the cultivated plants perished. Maize in America, like wheat in Europe, connected with man since his first migrations, appears to be preserved only by his care. We sometimes see these nutritive gramina disseminate themselves; but when left to nature the birds prevent their reproduction by destroying the seeds.
We anchored for some hours in the road of New Barcelona, at the mouth of the river Neveri, of which the Indian (Cumanagoto) name is Enipiricuar. This river is full of crocodiles, which sometimes extend their excursions into the open sea, especially in calm weather. They are of the species common in the Orinoco, and bear so much resemblance to the crocodile of Egypt, that they have long been confounded together. It may easily be conceived that an animal, the body of which is surrounded with a kind of armour, must be nearly indifferent to the saltness of the water. Pigafetta relates in his journal recently published at Milan that he saw, on the shores of the island of Borneo, crocodiles which inhabit alike land and sea. These facts must be interesting to geologists, since attention has been fixed on the fresh-water formations, and the curious mixture of marine and fluviatile petrifactions sometimes observed in certain very recent rocks.
The port of Barcelona has maintained a very active commerce since 1795. From Barcelona is exported most of the produce of those vast steppes which extend from the south side of the chain of the coast as far as the Orinoco, and in which cattle of every kind are almost as abundant as in the Pampas of Buenos Ayres. The commercial industry of these countries depends on the demand in the West India Islands for salted provision, oxen, mules, and horses. The coasts of Terra Firma being opposite to the island of Cuba, at a distance of fifteen or eighteen days’ sail, the merchants of the Havannah prefer, especially in time of peace, obtaining their provision from the port of Barcelona, to the risk of a long voyage in another hemisphere to the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. The situation of Barcelona is singularly advantageous for the trade in cattle. The animals have only three days’ journey from the llanos to the port, while it requires eight or nine days to reach Cumana, on account of the chain of mountains of the Brigantine and the Imposible.
Having landed on the right bank of the Neveri, we ascended to a little fort called El Morro de Barcelona, situated at the elevation of sixty or seventy toises above the level of the sea. The Morro is a calcareous rock which has been lately fortified.
The view from the summit of the Morro is not without beauty. The rocky island of Boracha lies on the east, the lofty promontory of Unare is on the west, and below are seen the mouth of the river Neveri, and the arid shores on which the crocodiles come to sleep in the sun. Notwithstanding the extreme heat of the air, for the thermometer, exposed to the reflection of the white calcareous rock, rose to 38°, we traversed the whole of the eminence. A fortunate chance led us to observe some very curious geological phenomena, which we again met with in the Cordilleras of Mexico. The limestone of Barcelona has a dull, even, or conchoidal fracture, with very flat cavities. It is divided into very thin strata, and exhibits less analogy with the limestone of Cumanacoa, than with that of Caripe, forming the cavern of the Guacharo. It is traversed by banks of schistose jasper,* (Kieselschiefer of Werner. )* black, with a conchoidal fracture, and breaking into fragments of a parallelopipedal figure. This fossil does not exhibit those little streaks of quartz so common in the Lydian stone. It is found decomposed at its surface into a yellowish grey crust, and it does not act upon the magnet. Its edges, a little translucid, give it some resemblance to the hornstone, so common in secondary limestones.* It is remarkable that we find the schistose jasper which in Europe characterizes the transition rocks,* (The transition-limestone and schist.) in a limestone having great analogy with that of Jura. In the study of formations, which is the great end of geognosy, the knowledge acquired in the old and new worlds should be made to furnish reciprocal aid to each other. It appears that these black strata are found also in the calcareous mountains of the island of Boracha.* Another jasper, that known by the name of the Egyptian pebble, was found by M. Bonpland near the Indian village of Curacatiche or Curacaguitiche, fifteen leagues south of the Morro of Barcelona, when, on our return from the Orinoco, we crossed the llanos, and approached the mountains on the coast. This stone presented yellowish concentric lines and bands, on a reddish brown ground. It appeared to me that the round pieces of Egyptian jasper belonged also to the Barcelona limestone. Yet, according to M. Cordier, the fine pebbles of Suez owe their origin to a breccia formation, or siliceous agglomerate.
[* In Switzerland, the hornstone passing into common jasper is found in kidney-stones, and in layers both in the Alpine and Jura limestone, especially in the former.]
[* We saw some of it as ballast, in a fishing boat at Punta Araya. Its fragments might have been mistaken for basalt.]
At the moment of our setting sail, on the 19th of November, at noon, I took some altitudes of the moon, to determine the longitude of the Morro. The difference of meridian between Cumana and the town of Barcelona, where I made a great number of astronomical observations in 1800, is 34 minutes 48 seconds. I found the dip of the needle 42.20°: the intensity of the forces was equal to 224 oscillations.
From the Morro of Barcelona to Cape Codera, the land becomes low, as it recedes southward; and the soundings extend to the distance of three miles. Beyond this we find the bottom at forty-five or fifty fathoms. The temperature of the sea at its surface was 25.9°; but when we were passing through the narrow channel which separates the two Piritu Islands, in three fathoms water, the thermometer was only 24.5°. The difference would perhaps be greater, if the current, which runs rapidly westward, stirred up deeper water; and if, in a pass of such small width, the land did not contribute to raise the temperature of the sea. The Piritu Islands resemble those shoals which become visible when the tide falls. They do not rise more than eight or nine inches above the mean height of the sea. Their surface is smooth, and covered with grass. We might have thought we were gazing on some of our own northern meadows. The disk of the setting sun appeared like a globe of fire suspended over the savannah; and its last rays, as they swept the earth, illumined the grass, which was at the same time agitated by the evening breeze. In the low and humid parts of the equinoctial zone, even when the gramineous plants and reeds present the aspect of a meadow, a rich accessory of the picture is usually wanting; I allude to that variety of wild flowers, which, scarcely rising above the grass, seem as it were, to lie upon a smooth bed of verdure. Within the tropics, the strength and luxury of vegetation give such a development to plants, that the smallest of the dicotyledonous family become shrubs. It would seem as if the liliaceous plants, mingling with the gramina, assumed the place of the flowers of our meadows. Their form is indeed striking; they dazzle by the variety and splendour of their colours; but being too high above the soil, they disturb that harmonious proportion which characterizes the plants of our European meadows. Nature has in every zone stamped on the landscape the peculiar type of beauty proper to the locality.
We must not be surprised that fertile islands, so near Terra Firma, are not now inhabited. It was only at the early period of the discovery, and whilst the Caribbees, Chaymas, and Cumanagotos were still masters of the coast, that the Spaniards formed settlements at Cubagua and Margareta. When the natives were subdued, or driven southward in the direction of the savannahs, the preference was given to settlements on the continent, where there was a choice of land, and where there were Indians, who might be treated like beasts of burden. Had the little islands of Tortuga, Blanquilla, and Orchilla been situated in the group of the Antilles, they would not have remained without traces of cultivation.
Vessels of heavy burthen pass between the main land and the most southern of the Piritu Islands. Being very low, their northern point is dreaded by pilots who near the coast in those latitudes. When we found ourselves to westward of the Morro of Barcelona, and the mouth of the river Unare, the sea, till then calm, became agitated and rough in proportion as we approached Cape Codera. The influence of that vast promontory is felt from afar, in that part of the Caribbean Sea. The length of the passage from Cumana to La Guayra depends on the degree of ease or difficulty with which Cape Codera can be doubled. Beyond this cape the sea constantly runs so high, that we can scarcely believe we are near a coast where (from the point of Paria as far as Cape San Roman) a gale of wind is never known. On the 20th of November at sunrise we were so far advanced, that we might expect to double the cape in a few hours. We hoped to reach La Guayra the same day; but our Indian pilot being afraid of the privateers who were near that port, thought it would be prudent to make for land, and anchor in the little harbour of Higuerote, which we had already passed, and await the shelter of night to proceed on our voyage.
On the 20th of November at nine in the morning we were at anchor in the bay just mentioned, situated westward of the mouth of the Rio Capaya. We found there neither village nor farm, but merely two or three huts, inhabited by Mestizo fishermen. Their livid hue, and the meagre condition of their children, sufficed to remind us that this spot is one of the most unhealthy of the whole coast. The sea has so little depth along these shores, that even with the smallest barks it is impossible to reach the shore without wading through the water. The forests come down nearly to the beach, which is covered with thickets of mangroves, avicennias, manchineel-trees, and that species of suriana which the natives call romero de la mar.* To these thickets, and particularly to the exhalations of the mangroves, the extreme insalubrity of the air is attributed here, as in other places in both Indies. On quitting the boats, and whilst we were yet fifteen or twenty toises distant from land, we perceived a faint and sickly smell, which reminded me of that diffused through the galleries of deserted mines, where the lights begin to be extinguished, and the timber is covered with flocculent byssus. The temperature of the air rose to 34°, heated by the reverberation from the white sands which form a line between the mangroves and the great trees of the forest. As the shore descends with a gentle slope, small tides are sufficient alternately to cover and uncover the roots and part of the trunks of the mangroves. It is doubtless whilst the sun heats the humid wood, and causes the fermentation, as it were, of the ground, of the remains of dead leaves and of the molluscs enveloped in the drift of floating seaweed, that those deleterious gases are formed, which escape our researches. We observed that the sea-water, along the whole coast, acquired a yellowish brown tint, wherever it came into contact with the mangrove trees.
[* Suriana maritima.]
Struck with this phenomenon, I gathered at Higuerote a considerable quantity of branches and roots, for the purpose of making some experiments on the infusion of the mangrove, on my arrival at Caracas. The infusion in warm water had a brown colour and an astringent taste. It contained a mixture of extractive matter and tannin. The rhizophora, the mistletoe, the cornel-tree, in short, all the plants which belong to the natural families of the lorantheous and the caprifoliaceous plants, have the same properties. The infusion of mangrove-wood, kept in contact with atmospheric air under a glass jar for twelve days, was not sensibly deteriorated in purity. A little blackish flocculent sediment was formed, but it was attended by no sensible absorption of oxygen. The wood and roots of the mangrove placed under water were exposed to the rays of the sun. I tried to imitate the daily operations of nature on the coasts at the rise of the tide. Bubbles of air were disengaged, and at the expiration of ten days they formed a volume of thirty-three cubic inches. They were a mixture of azotic gas and carbonic acid. Nitrous gas scarcely indicated the presence of oxygen.* Lastly, I set the wood and the roots of the mangrove thoroughly wetted, to act on a given volume of atmospheric air in a phial with a ground-glass stopple. The whole of the oxygen disappeared; and, far from being superseded by carbonic acid, lime-water indicated only 0.02. There was even a diminution of the volume of air, more than correspondent with the oxygen absorbed. These slight experiments led me to conclude that it is the moistened bark and wood which act upon the atmosphere in the forests of mangrove-trees, and not the water strongly tinged with yellow, forming a distinct band along the coasts. In pursuing the different stages of the decomposition of the ligneous matter, I observed no appearance of a disengagement of sulphuretted hydrogen, to which many travellers attribute the smell perceived amidst mangroves. The decomposition of the earthy and alkaline sulphates, and their transition to the state of sulphurets, may no doubt favour this disengagement in many littoral and marine plants; for instance, in the fuci: but I am rather inclined to think that the rhizophora, the avicennia, and the conocarpus, augment the insalubrity of the air by the animal matter which they contain conjointly with tannin. These shrubs belong to the three natural families of the Lorantheae, the Combretaceae, and the Pyrenaceae, in which the astringent principle abounds; this principle accompanies gelatin, even in the bark of beech, alder, and nut-trees.
[* In a hundred parts there were eighty-four of nitrogen, fifteen of carbonic acid gas that the water had not absorbed, and one of oxygen.]
Moreover, a thick wood spreading over marshy grounds would diffuse noxious exhalations in the atmosphere, even though that wood were composed of trees possessing in themselves no deleterious properties. Wherever mangroves grow on the sea-shore, the beach is covered with infinite numbers of molluscs and insects. These animals love shade and faint light, and they find themselves sheltered from the shock of the waves amid the scaffolding of thick and intertwining roots, which rises like lattice-work above the surface of the waters. Shell-fish cling to this lattice; crabs nestle in the hollow trunks; and the seaweeds, drifted to the coast by the winds and tides, remain suspended on the branches which incline towards the earth. Thus, maritime forests, by the accumulation of a slimy mud between the roots of the trees, increase the extent of land. But whilst these forests gain on the sea, they do not enlarge their own dimensions; on the contrary, their progress is the cause of their destruction. Mangroves, and other plants with which they live constantly in society, perish in proportion as the ground dries and they are no longer bathed with salt water. Their old trunks, covered with shells, and half-buried in the sand, denote, after the lapse of ages, the path they have followed in their migrations, and the limits of the land which they have wrested from the ocean.
The bay of Higuerote is favourably situated for examining Cape Codera, which is there seen in its full extent seven miles distant. This promontory is more remarkable for its size than for its elevation, being only about two hundred toises high. It is perpendicular on the north-west and east. In these grand profiles the dip of the strata appears to be distinguishable. Judging from the fragments of rock found along the coast, and from the hills near Higuerote, Cape Codera is not composed of granite with a granular texture, but of a real gneiss with a foliated texture. Its laminae are very broad and sometimes sinuous.* They contain large nodules of reddish feldspar and but little quartz. The mica is found in superposed lamellae, not isolated. The strata nearest the bay were in the direction of 60° north-east, and dipped 80° to north-west. These relations of direction and of dip are the same at the great mountain of the Silla, near Caracas, and to the east of Maniquarez, in the isthmus of Araya. They seem to prove that the primitive chain of that isthmus, after having been ruptured or swallowed up by the sea along a space of thirty-five leagues,* appears anew in Cape Codera, and continues westward as a chain of the coast.
[* Dickflasriger gneiss.]
[* Between the meridians of Maniquarez and Higuerote.]
I was assured that, in the interior of the earth, south of Higuerote, limestone formations are found. The gneiss did not act upon the magnetic needle; yet along the coast, which forms a cove near Cape Codera, and which is covered with a fine forest, I saw magnetic sand mixed with spangles of mica, deposited by the sea. This phenomenon occurs again near the port of La Guayra. Possibly it may denote the existence of some strata of hornblende-schist covered by the waters, in which schist the sand is disseminated. Cape Codera forms on the north an immense spherical segment. A shallow which stretches along its foot is known to navigators by the name of the points of Tutumo and of San Francisco.
The road by land from Higuerote to Caracas, runs through a wild and humid tract of country, by the Montana of Capaya, north of Caucagua, and the valley of Rio Guatira and Guarenas. Some of our fellow-travellers determined on taking this road, and M. Bonpland also preferred it, notwithstanding the continual rains and the overflowing of the rivers. It afforded him the opportunity of making a rich collection of new plants.* For my part, I continued alone with the Guaiqueria pilot the voyage by sea; for I thought it hazardous to lose sight of the instruments which we were to make use of on the banks of the Orinoco.
[* Bauhinia ferruginea, Brownea racemosa, B ed. Inga hymenaeifolia, I. curiepensis (which Willdenouw has called by mistake I. caripensis), etc.]
We set sail at night-fall. The wind was unfavourable, and we doubled Cape Codera with difficulty. The surges were short, and often broke one upon another. The sea ran the higher, owing to the wind being contrary to the current, till after midnight. The general motion of the waters within the tropics towards the west is felt strongly on the coast during two-thirds of the year. In the months of September, October, and November, the current often flows eastward for fifteen or twenty days in succession; and vessels on their way from Guayra to Porto Cabello have sometimes been unable to stem the current which runs from west to east, although they have had the wind astern. The cause of these anomalies is not yet discovered. The pilots think they are the effect of gales of wind from the north-west in the gulf of Mexico.
On the 21st of November, at sunrise, we were to the west of Cape Codera, opposite Curuao. The coast is rocky and very elevated, the scenery at once wild and picturesque. We were sufficiently near land to distinguish scattered huts surrounded by cocoa-trees, and masses of vegetation, which stood out from the dark ground of the rocks. The mountains are everywhere perpendicular, and three or four thousand feet high; their sides cast broad and deep shadows upon the humid land, which stretches out to the sea, glowing with the freshest verdure. This shore produces most of those fruits of the hot regions, which are seen in such great abundance in the markets of the Caracas. The fields cultivated with sugar-cane and maize, between Camburi and Niguatar, stretch through narrow valleys, looking like crevices or clefts in the rocks: and penetrated by the rays of the sun, then above the horizon, they presented the most singular contrasts of light and shade.
The mountain of Niguatar and the Silla of Caracas are the loftiest summits of this littoral chain. The first almost reaches the height of Canigou; it seems as if the Pyrenees or the Alps, stripped of their snows, had risen from the bosom of the ocean; so much more stupendous do mountains appear when viewed for the first time from the sea. Near Caravalleda, the cultivated lands enlarge; we find hills with gentle declivities, and the vegetation rises to a great height. The sugar-cane is here cultivated, and the monks of La Merced have a plantation with two hundred slaves. This spot was formerly extremely subject to fever; and it is said that the air has acquired salubrity since trees have been planted round a small lake, the emanations of which were dreaded, and which is now less exposed to the ardour of the sun. To the west of Caravalleda, a wall of bare rock again projects forward in the direction of the sea, but it has little extent. After having passed it, we immediately discovered the pleasantly situated village of Macuto; the black rocks of La Guayra, studded with batteries rising in tiers one over another, and in the misty distance, Cabo Blanco, a long promontory with conical summits, and of dazzling whiteness. Cocoa-trees border the shore, and give it, under that burning sky, an appearance of fertility.
I landed in the port of La Guayra, and the same evening made preparations for transporting my instruments to Caracas. Having been recommended not to sleep in the town, where the yellow fever had been raging only a few weeks previously, I fixed my lodging in a house on a little hill, above the village of Maiquetia, a place more exposed to fresh winds than La Guayra. I reached Caracas on the 21st of November, four days sooner than M. Bonpland, who, with the other travellers on the land journey, had suffered greatly from the rain and the inundations of the torrents, between Capaya and Curiepe.
Before proceeding further, I will here subjoin a description of La Guayra, and the extraordinary road which leads from thence to the town of Caracas, adding thereto all the observations made by M. Bonpland and myself, in an excursion to Cabo Blanco about the end of January 1800.
La Guayra is rather a roadstead than a port. The sea is constantly agitated, and ships suffer at once by the violence of the wind, the tideways, and the bad anchorage. The lading is taken in with difficulty, and the swell prevents the embarkation of mules here, as at New Barcelona and Porto Cabello. The free mulattoes and negroes, who carry the cacao on board the ships, are a class of men remarkable for muscular strength. They wade up to their waists through the water; and it is remarkable that they are never attacked by the sharks, so common in this harbour. This fact seems connected with what I have often observed within the tropics, with respect to other classes of animals which live in society, for instance monkeys and crocodiles. In the Missions of the Orinoco, and on the banks of the river Amazon, the Indians, who catch monkeys to sell them, know very well that they can easily succeed in taming those which inhabit certain islands; while monkeys of the same species, caught on the neighbouring continent, die of terror or rage when they find themselves in the power of man. The crocodiles of one lake in the llanos are cowardly, and flee even when in the water; whilst those of another lake will attack with extreme intrepidity. It would be difficult to explain this difference of disposition and habits, by the mere aspect of the respective localities. The sharks of the port of La Guayra seem to furnish an analogous example. They are dangerous and blood-thirsty at the island opposite the coast of Caracas, at the Roques, at Bonayre, and at Curassao; while they forbear to attack persons swimming in the ports of La Guayra and Santa Martha. The natives, who like the ignorant mass of people in every country, in seeking the explanation of natural phenomena, always have recourse to the marvellous, affirm that in the ports just mentioned, a bishop gave his benediction to the sharks.
The situation of La Guayra is very singular, and can only be compared to that of Santa Cruz in Teneriffe. The chain of mountains which separates the port from the high valley of Caracas, descends almost directly into the sea; and the houses of the town are backed by a wall of steep rocks. There scarcely remains one hundred or one hundred and forty toises breadth of flat ground between the wall and the ocean. The town has six or eight thousand inhabitants, and contains only two streets, running parallel with each other east and west. It is commanded by the battery of Cerro Colorado; and its fortifications along the sea-shore are well disposed, and kept in repair. The aspect of this place has in it something solitary and gloomy; we seemed not to be on a continent, covered with vast forests, but on a rocky island, destitute of vegetation. With the exception of Cabo Blanco and the cocoa-trees of Maiquetia, no view meets the eye but that of the horizon, the sea, and the azure vault of heaven. The heat is excessive during the day, and most frequently during the night. The climate of La Guayra is justly considered to be hotter than that of Cumana, Porto Cabello, and Coro, because the sea-breeze is less felt, and the air is heated by the radiant caloric which the perpendicular rocks emit from the time the sun sets. The examination of the thermometric observations made during nine months at La Guayra by an eminent physician, enabled me to compare the climate of this port, with those of Cumana, of the Havannah, and of Vera Cruz. This comparison is the more interesting, as it furnishes an inexhaustible subject of conversation in the Spanish colonies, and among the mariners who frequent those latitudes. As nothing is more deceiving in such matters than the testimony of the senses, we can judge of the difference of climates only by numerical calculations.
The four places of which we have been speaking are considered as the hottest on the shores of the New World. A comparison of them may serve to confirm what we have several times observed, that it is generally the duration of a high temperature, and not the excess of heat, or its absolute quantity, which occasions the sufferings of the inhabitants of the torrid zone.
A series of thermometric observations shows, that La Guayra is one of the hottest places on the earth; that the quantity of heat which it receives in the course of a year is a little greater than that felt at Cumana; but that in the months of November, December, and January (at equal distance from the two passages of the sun through the zenith of the town), the atmosphere cools more at La Guayra. May not this cooling, much slighter than that which is felt almost at the same time at Vera Cruz and at the Havannah, be the effect of the more westerly position of La Guayra? The aerial ocean, which appears to form only one mass, is agitated by currents, the limits of which are fixed by immutable laws; and its temperature is variously modified by the configuration of the lands and seas by which it is sustained. It may be subdivided into several basins, which overflow into each other, and of which the most agitated (for instance, that over the gulf of Mexico, or between the sierra of Santa Martha and the gulf of Darien) have a powerful influence on the refrigeration and the motion of the neighbouring columns of air. The north winds sometimes cause influxes and counter-currents in the south-west part of the Caribbean Sea, which seem, during particular months, to diminish the heat as far as Terra Firma.
At the time of my abode at La Guayra, the yellow fever, or calentura amarilla, had been known only two years; and the mortality it occasioned had not been very great, because the confluence of strangers on the coast of Caracas was less considerable than at the Havannah or Vera Cruz. A few individuals, even creoles and mulattoes, were sometimes carried off suddenly by certain irregular remittent fevers; which, from being complicated with bilious appearances, hemorrhages, and other symptoms equally alarming, appeared to have some analogy with the yellow fever. The victims of these maladies were generally men employed in the hard labour of cutting wood in the forests, for instance, in the neighbourhood of the little port of Carupano, or the gulf of Santa Fe, west of Cumana. Their death often alarmed the unacclimated Europeans, in towns usually regarded as peculiarly healthy; but the seeds of the sporadic malady were propagated no farther. On the coast of Terra Firma, the real typhus of America, which is known by the names vomito prieto (black vomit) and yellow fever, and which must be considered as a morbid affection sui generis, was known only at Porto Cabello, at Carthagena, and at Santa Martha, where Gastelbondo observed and described it in 1729. The Spaniards recently disembarked, and the inhabitants of the valley of Caracas, were not then afraid to reside at La Guayra. They complained only of the oppressive heat which prevailed during a great part of the year. If they exposed themselves to the immediate action of the sun, they dreaded at most only those attacks of inflammation of the skin or eyes, which are felt everywhere in the torrid zone, and are often accompanied by a febrile affection and congestion in the head. Many individuals preferred the ardent but uniform climate of La Guayra to the cool but extremely variable climate of Caracas; and scarcely any mention was made of the insalubrity of the former port.
Since the year 1797 everything has changed. Commerce being thrown open to other vessels besides those of the mother country, seamen born in colder parts of Europe than Spain, and consequently more susceptible to the climate of the torrid zone, began to frequent La Guayra. The yellow fever broke out. North Americans, seized with the typhus, were received in the Spanish hospitals; and it was affirmed that they had imported the contagion, and that the disease had appeared on board a brig from Philadelphia, even before the vessel had entered the roads of La Guayra. The captain of the brig denied the fact; and asserted that, far from having introduced the malady, his crew had caught it in the port. We know from what happened at Cadiz in 1800, how difficult it is to elucidate facts, when their uncertainty serves to favour theories diametrically opposite one to another. The more enlightened inhabitants of Caracas and La Guayra, divided in opinion, like the physicians of Europe and the United States, on the question of the contagion of yellow fever, cited the instance of the American vessel; some for the purpose of proving that the typhus had come from abroad, and others, to show that it had taken birth in the country itself. Those who advocated the latter opinion, admitted that an extraordinary alteration had been caused in the constitution of the atmosphere by the overflowings of the Rio de La Guayra. This torrent, which in general is not ten inches deep, was swelled after sixty hours’ rain in the mountains, in so extraordinary a manner, that it bore down trunks of trees and masses of rock of considerable size. During this flood the waters were from thirty to forty feet in breadth, and from eight to ten feet deep. It was supposed that, issuing from some subterranean basin, formed by successive infiltrations, they had flowed into the recently cleared arable lands. Many houses were carried away by the torrent; and the inundation became the more dangerous for the stores, in consequence of the gate of the town, which could alone afford an outlet to the waters, being accidentally closed. It was necessary to make a breach in the wall on the sea-side. More than thirty persons perished, and the damage was computed at half a million of piastres. The stagnant water, which infected the stores, the cellars, and the dungeons of the public prison, no doubt diffused miasms in the air, which, as a predisposing cause, may have accelerated the development of the yellow fever; but I believe that the inundation of the Rio de la Guayra was no more the primary cause, than the overflowings of the Guadalquivir, the Xenil, and the Gual–Medina, were at Seville, at Ecija, and at Malaga, the primary causes of the fatal epidemics of 1800 and 1804. I examined with attention the bed of the torrent of La Guayra; and found it to consist merely of a barren soil, blocks of mica-slate, and gneiss, containing pyrites detached from the Sierra de Avila, but nothing that could have had any effect in deteriorating the purity of the air.
Since the years 1797 and 1798, at which periods there prevailed dreadful mortality at Philadelphia, St. Lucia, and St. Domingo, the yellow fever has continued its ravages at La Guayra. It has proved fatal not only to the troops newly arrived from Spain, but also to those levied in parts remote from the coasts, in the llanos between Calabozo and Uritucu, regions almost as hot as La Guayra, but favourable to health. This latter fact would seem more surprising, did we not know, that even the natives of Vera Cruz, who are not attacked with typhus in their own town, sometimes sink under it during the epidemics of the Havannah and the United States. As the black vomit finds an insurmountable barrier at the Encero (four hundred and seventy-six toises high), on the declivity of the mountains of Mexico, in the direction of Xalapa, where oaks begin to appear, and the climate begins to be cool and pleasant, so the yellow fever scarcely ever passes beyond the ridge of mountains which separates La Guayra from the valley of Caracas. This valley has been exempt from the malady for a considerable time; for we must not confound the vomito and the yellow fever with the irregular and bilious fevers. The Cumbre and the Cerro do Avila form a very useful rampart to the town of Caracas, the elevation of which a little exceeds that of the Encero, but of which the mean temperature is above that of Xalapa.
I have published in another work* the observations made by M. Bonpland and myself on the locality of the towns periodically subject to the visitation of yellow fever; and I shall not hazard here any new conjectures on the changes observed in the pathogenic constitution of particular localities. The more I reflect on this subject, the more mysterious appears to me all that relates to those gaseous emanations which we call so vaguely the seeds of contagion, and which are supposed to be developed by a corrupted air, destroyed by cold, conveyed from place to place in garments, and attached to the walls of houses. How can we explain why, for the space of eighteen years prior to 1794, there was not a single instance of the vomito at Vera Cruz, though the concourse of unacclimated Europeans and of Mexicans from the interior, was very considerable; though sailors indulged in the same excesses with which they are still reproached; and though the town was not so clean as it has been since the year 1800?
[* Nouvelle Espagne tome 2.]
The following is the series of pathological facts, considered in their simplest point of view. When a great number of persons, born in a cold climate, arrive at the same period in a port of the torrid zone, not particularly dreaded by navigators, the typhus of America begins to appear. Those persons have not had typhus during their passage; it appears among them only after they have landed. Is the atmospheric constitution changed? or is it that a new form of disease develops itself among individuals whose susceptibility is highly increased?
The typhus soon begins to extend its ravages among other Europeans, born in more southern countries. If propagated by contagion, it seems surprising that in the towns of the equinoctial continent it does not attach itself to certain streets; and that immediate contact* does not augment the danger, any more than seclusion diminishes it. The sick, when removed to the inland country, and especially to cooler and more elevated spots, to Xalapa, for instance, do not communicate typhus to the inhabitants of those places, either because the disease is not contagious in its nature, or because the predisposing causes are not the same as in the regions of the shore. When there is a considerable lowering of the temperature, the epidemic usually ceases, even on the spot where it first appeared. It again breaks out at the approach of the hot season, and sometimes long before; though during several months there may have been no sick person in the harbour, and no ship may have entered it.
[* In the oriental plague (another form of typhus characterised by great disorder of the lymphatic system) immediate contact is less to be feared than is generally thought. Larrey maintains that the tumified glands may be touched or cauterized without danger; but he thinks we ought not to risk putting on the clothes of persons attacked with the plague. — Memoire sur les Maladies de l’Armee Francoise en Egypte page 35.]
The typhus of America appears to be confined to the shore, either because persons who bring the disease disembark there, and goods supposed to be impregnated with deleterious miasms are there accumulated; or because on the sea-side gaseous emanations of a particular nature are formed. The aspect of the places subject to the ravages of typhus seems often to exclude all idea of a local or endemical origin. It has been known to prevail in the Canaries, the Bermudas, and among the small West India Islands, in dry places formerly distinguished for the great salubrity of their climate. Examples of the propagation of the yellow fever in the inland parts of the torrid zone appear very doubtful: that malady may have been confounded with remitting bilious fevers. With respect to the temperate zone, in which the contagious character of the American typhus is more decided, the disease has unquestionably spread far from the shore, even into very elevated places, exposed to cool and dry winds, as in Spain at Medina–Sidonia, at Carlotta, and in the city of Murcia. That variety of phenomena which the same epidemic exhibits, according to the difference of climate, the union of predisposing causes, its shorter or longer duration, and the degree of its exacerbation, should render us extremely circumspect in tracing the secret causes of the American typhus. M. Bailly, who, at the time of the violent epidemics in 1802 and 1803, was chief physician to the colony of St. Domingo, and who studied that disease in the island of Cuba, the United States, and Spain, is of opinion that the typhus is very often, but not always, contagious.
Since the yellow fever has made such ravages in La Guayra, exaggerated accounts have been given of the uncleanliness in that little town as well as of Vera Cruz, and of the quays or wharfs of Philadelphia. In a place where the soil is extremely dry, destitute of vegetation, and where scarcely a few drops of water fall in the course of seven or eight months, the causes that produce what are called miasms, cannot be of very frequent occurrence. La Guayra appeared to me in general to be tolerably clean, with the exception of the quarter of the slaughter-houses. The sea-side has no beach on which the remains of fuci or molluscs are heaped up; but the neighbouring coast, which stretches eastward towards Cape Codera, and consequently to the windward of La Guayra, is extremely unhealthy. Intermitting, putrid, and bilious fevers often prevail at Macuto and at Caravalleda; and when from time to time the breeze is interrupted by a westerly wind, the little bay of Cotia sends air loaded with putrid emanations towards the coast of La Guayra, notwithstanding the rampart opposed by Cabo Blanco.
The irritability of the organs being so different in the people of the north and those of the south, it cannot be doubted, that with greater freedom of commerce, and more frequent and intimate communication between countries situated in different climates, the yellow fever will extend its ravages in the New World. It is even probable that the concurrence of so many exciting causes, and their action on individuals so differently organized, may give birth to new forms of disease and new deviations of the vital powers. This is one of the evils that inevitably attend rising civilization.
The yellow fever and the black vomit cease periodically at the Havannah and Vera Cruz, when the north winds bring the cold air of Canada towards the gulf of Mexico. But from the extreme equality of temperature which characterizes the climates of Porto Cabello, La Guayra, New Barcelona, and Cumana, it may be feared that the typhus will there become permanent, whenever, from a great influx of strangers, it has acquired a high degree of exacerbation.
Tracing the granitic coast of La Guayra westward, we find between that port (which is in fact but an ill-sheltered roadstead) and that of Porto Cabello, several indentations of the land, furnishing excellent anchorage for ships. Such are the small bay of Catia, Los Arecifes, Puerto-la-Cruz, Choroni, Sienega de Ocumare, Turiamo, Burburata, and Patanebo. All these ports, with the exception of that of Burburata, from which mules are exported to Jamaica, are now frequented only by small coasting vessels, which are there laden with provisions and cacao from the surrounding plantations. The inhabitants of Caracas are desirous to avail themselves of the anchorage of Catia, to the west of Cabo Blanco. M. Bonpland and myself examined that point of the coast during our second abode at La Guayra. A ravine, called the Quebrada de Tipe, descends from the table-land of Caracas towards Catia. A plan has long been in contemplation for making a cart-road through this ravine and abandoning the old road to La Guayra, which resembles the passage over St. Gothard. According to this plan, the port of Catia, equally large and secure, would supersede that of La Guayra. Unfortunately, however, all that shore, to leeward of Cabo Blanco, abounds with mangroves, and is extremely unhealthy. I ascended to the summit of the promontory, which forms Cabo Blanco, in order to observe the passage of the sun over the meridian. I wished to compare in the morning the altitudes taken with an artificial horizon and those taken with the horizon of the sea; to verify the apparent depression of the latter, by the barometrical measurement of the hill. By this method, hitherto very little employed, on reducing the heights of the sun to the same time, a reflecting instrument may be used like an instrument furnished with a level. I found the latitude of the cape to be 10° 36′ 45″; I could only make use of the angles which gave the image of the sun reflected on a plane glass; the horizon of the sea was very misty, and the windings of the coast prevented me from taking the height of the sun on that horizon.
The environs of Cabo Blanco are not uninteresting for the study of rocks. The gneiss here passes into the state of mica-slate (Glimmerschiefer.), and contains, along the sea-coast, layers of schistose chlorite. (Chloritschiefer.) In this latter I found garnets and magnetical sand. On the road to Catia we see the chloritic schist passing into hornblende schist. (Hornblendschiefer.) All these formations are found together in the primitive mountains of the old world, especially in the north of Europe. The sea at the foot of Cabo Blanco throws up on the beach rolled fragments of a rock, which is a granular mixture of hornblende and lamellar feldspar. It is what is rather vaguely called PRIMITIVE GRUNSTEIN. In it we can recognize traces of quartz and pyrites. Submarine rocks probably exist near the coast, which furnish these very hard masses. I have compared them in my journal to the PATERLESTEIN of Fichtelberg, in Franconia, which is also a diabase, but so fusible, that glass buttons are made of it, which are employed in the slave-trade on the coast of Guinea. I believed at first, according to the analogy of the phenomena furnished by the mountains of Franconia, that the presence of these hornblende masses with crystals of common (uncompact) feldspar indicated the proximity of transition rocks; but in the high valley of Caracas, near Antimano, balls of the same diabase fill a vein crossing the mica-slate. On the western declivity of the hill of Cabo Blanco, the gneiss is covered with a formation of sandstone, or conglomerate, extremely recent. This sandstone combines angular fragments of gneiss, quartz, and chlorite, magnetical sand, madrepores, and petrified bivalve shells. Is this formation of the same date as that of Punta Araya and Cumana?
Scarcely any part of the coast has so burning a climate as the environs of Cabo Blanco. We suffered much from the heat, augmented by the reverberation of a barren and dusty soil; but without feeling any bad consequences from the effects of insolation. The powerful action of the sun on the cerebral functions is extremely dreaded at La Guayra, especially at the period when the yellow fever begins to be felt. Being one day on the terrace of the house, observing at noon the difference of the thermometer in the sun and in the shade, a man approached me holding in his hand a potion, which he conjured me to swallow. He was a physician, who from his window, had observed me bareheaded, and exposed to the rays of the sun. He assured me, that, being a native of a very northern climate, I should infallibly, after the imprudence I had committed, be attacked with the yellow fever that very evening, if I refused to take the remedy against it. I was not alarmed by this prediction, however serious, believing myself to have been long acclimated; but I could not resist yielding to entreaties, prompted by such benevolent feelings. I swallowed the dose; and the physician doubtless counted me among the number of those he had saved.
The road leading from the port to Caracas (the capital of a government of near 900,000 inhabitants) resembles, as I have already observed, the passage over the Alps, the road of St. Gothard, and of the Great St. Bernard. Taking the level of the road had never been attempted before my arrival in the province of Venezuela. No precise idea had even been formed of the elevation of the valley of Caracas. It had indeed been long observed, that the descent was much less from La Cumbre and Las Vueltas (the latter is the culminating point of the road towards the Pastora at the entrance of the valley of Caracas), than towards the port of La Guayra; but the mountain of Avila having a very considerable bulk, the eye cannot discern simultaneously the points to be compared. It is even impossible to form a precise idea of the elevation of Caracas, from the climate of the valley, where the atmosphere is cooled by the descending currents of air, and by the mists, which envelope the lofty summit of the Silla during a great part of the year.
When in the season of the great heats we breathe the burning atmosphere of La Guayra, and turn our eyes towards the mountains, it seems scarcely possible that, at the distance of five or six thousand toises, a population of forty thousand individuals assembled in a narrow valley, enjoys the coolness of spring, a temperature which at night descends to 12° of the centesimal thermometer. This near approach of different climates is common in the Cordillera of the Andes; but everywhere, at Mexico, at Quito, in Peru, and in New Granada, it is only after a long journey into the interior, either across plains or along rivers, that we reach the great cities, which are the central points of civilization. The height of Caracas is but a third of that of Mexico, Quito, and Santa Fe de Bogota; yet of all the capitals of Spanish America which enjoy a cool and delicious climate in the midst of the torrid zone, Caracas is nearest to the coast. What a privilege for a city to possess a seaport at three leagues distance, and to be situated among mountains, on a table-land, which would produce wheat, if the cultivation of the coffee-tree were not preferred!
The road from La Guayra to the valley of Caracas is infinitely finer than the road from Honda to Santa Fe, or that from Guayaquil to Quito. It is kept in better order than the old road, which led from the port of Vera Cruz to Perote, on the eastern declivity of the mountains of New Spain. With good mules it takes but three hours to go from the port of La Guayra to Caracas; and only two hours to return. With loaded mules, or on foot, the journey is from four to five hours. The road runs along a ridge of rocks extremely steep, and after passing the stations bearing respectively the names of Torre Quemada, Curucuti, and Salto, we arrive at a large inn (La Venta) built at six hundred toises above the level of the sea. The name Torre Quemada, or Burnt Tower, indicates the sensation that is felt in descending towards La Guayra. A suffocating heat is reflected from the walls of rock, and especially from the barren plains on which the traveller looks down. On this road, as on that from Vera Cruz to Mexico, and wherever on a rapid declivity the climate changes, the increase of muscular strength and the sensation of well-being, which we experience as we advance into strata of cooler air, have always appeared to me less striking than the feeling of languor and debility which pervades the frame, when we descend towards the burning plains of the coast. But such is the organization of man; and even in the moral world, we are less soothed by that which ameliorates our condition than annoyed by a new sensation of discomfort.
From Curucuti to Salto the ascent is somewhat less laborious. The sinuosities of the way render the declivity easier, as in the old road over Mont Cenis. The Salto (or Leap) is a crevice, which is crossed by a draw-bridge. Fortifications crown the summit of the mountain. At La Venta the thermometer at noon stood at 19.3°, when at La Guayra it kept up at the same hour at 26.2°. La Venta enjoys some celebrity in Europe and in the United States, for the beauty of its surrounding scenery. When the clouds permit, this spot affords a magnificent view of the sea, and the neighbouring coasts. An horizon of more than twenty-two leagues radius is visible; the white and barren shore reflects a dazzling mass of light; and the spectator beholds at his feet Cabo Blanco, the village of Maiquetia with its cocoa-trees, La Guayra, and the vessels in the port. But I found this view far more extraordinary, when the sky was not serene, and when trains of clouds, strongly illumined on their upper surface, seemed projected like floating islands on the ocean. Strata of vapour, hovering at different heights, formed intermediary spaces between the eye and the lower regions. By an illusion easily explained, they enlarged the scene, and rendered it more majestic. Trees and dwellings appeared at intervals through the openings, which were left by the clouds when driven on by the winds, and rolling over one another. Objects then appear at a greater depth than when seen through a pure and uniformly serene air. On the declivity of the mountains of Mexico, at the same height (between Las Trancas and Xalapa), the sea is twelve leagues distant, and the view of the coast is confused; while on the road from La Guayra to Caracas we command the plains (the tierra caliente), as from the top of a tower. How extraordinary must be the impression created by this prospect on natives of the inland parts of the country, who behold the sea and ships for the first time from this point.
I determined by direct observations the latitude of La Venta, that I might be enabled to give a more precise idea of the distance of the coasts. The latitude is 10° 33′ 9″. Its longitude appeared to me by the chronometer, nearly 2 minutes 47 seconds west of the town of Caracas. I found the dip of the needle at this height to be 41.75°, and the intensity of the magnetic forces equal to two hundred and thirty-four oscillations. From the Venta, called also La Venta Grande, to distinguish it from three or four small inns formerly established along the road, but now destroyed, there is still an ascent of one hundred and fifty toises to Guayavo. This is nearly the most lofty point of the road.
Whether we gaze on the distant horizon of the sea, or turn our eyes south-eastward, in the direction of the serrated ridge of rocks, which seems to unite the Cumbre and the Silla, though separated from them by the ravine (quebrada) of Tocume, everywhere we admire the grand character of the landscape. From Guayavo we proceed for half an hour over a smooth table-land, covered with alpine plants. This part of the way, on account of its windings, is called Las Vueltas. We find a little higher up the barracks or magazines of flour, which were constructed in a spot of cool temperature by the Guipuzcoa Company, when they had the exclusive monopoly of the trade of Caracas, and supplied that place with provision. On the road to Las Vueltas we see for the first time the capital, situated three hundred toises below, in a valley luxuriantly planted with coffee and European fruit-trees. Travellers are accustomed to halt near a fine spring, known by the name of Fuente de Sanchorquiz, which flows down from the Sierra on sloping strata of gneiss. I found its temperature 16.4°; which, for an elevation of seven hundred and twenty-six toises, is considerably cool, and it would appear much cooler to those who drink its limpid water, if, instead of gushing out between La Cumbre and the temperate valley of Caracas, it were found on the descent towards La Guayra. But at this descent on the northern side of the mountain, the rock, by an uncommon exception in this country, does not dip to north-west, but to south-east, which prevents the subterranean waters from forming springs there.
We continued to descend from the small ravine of Sanchorquiz to la Cruz de la Guayra, a cross erected on an open spot, six hundred and thirty-two toises high, and thence (entering by the custom-house and the quarter of the Pastora) to the city of Caracas. On the south side of the mountain of Avila, the gneiss presents several geognostical phenomena worthy of the attention of travellers. It is traversed by veins of quartz, containing cannulated and often articulated prisms of rutile titanite two or three lines in diameter. In the fissures of the quartz we find, on breaking it, very thin crystals, which crossing each other form a kind of network. Sometimes the red schorl occurs only in dendritic crystals of a bright red.* The gneiss of the valley of Caracas is characterized by the red and green garnets it contains; they however disappear when the rock passes into mica-slate. This same phenomenon has been remarked by Von Buch in Sweden; but in the temperate parts of Europe garnets are in general contained in serpentine and mica-slates, not in gneiss. In the walls which enclose the gardens of Caracas, constructed partly of fragments of gneiss, we find garnets of a very fine red, a little transparent, and very difficult to detach. The gneiss near the Cross of La Guayra, half a league from Caracas, presented also vestiges of azure copper-ore* disseminated in veins of quartz, and small strata of plumbago (black lead), or earthy carburetted iron. This last is found in pretty large masses, and sometimes mingled with sparry iron-ore, in the ravine of Tocume, to the west of the Silla.
[* Especially below the Cross of La Guayra, at 594 toises of absolute elevation.]
[* Blue carbonate of copper.]
Between the spring of Sanchorquiz and the Cross of La Guayra, as well as still higher up, the gneiss contains considerable beds of saccharoidal bluish-grey primitive limestone, coarse-grained, containing mica, and traversed by veins of white calcareous spar. The mica, with large folia, lies in the direction of the dip of the strata. I found in the primitive limestone a great many crystallized pyrites, and rhomboidal fragments of sparry iron-ore of Isabella yellow. I endeavoured, but without success, to find tremolite (Grammatite of Hauy. The primitive limestone above the spring of Sanchorquiz, is directed, as the gneiss in that place, hor. 5.2, and dips 45° north; but the general direction of the gneiss is, in the Cerro de Avila, hor. 3.4 with 60° of dip north-west. Exceptions merely local are observed in a small space of ground near the Cross of La Guayra (hor. 6.2, dip 8° north); and higher up, opposite the Quebrada of Tipe (hor. 12, dip 50° west).), which in the Fichtelberg, in Franconia, is common in the primitive limestone without dolomite. In Europe beds of primitive limestone are generally observed in the mica-slates; but we find also saccharoidal limestone in gneiss of the most ancient formation, in Sweden near Upsala, in Saxony near Burkersdorf, and in the Alps in the road over the Simplon. These situations are analogous to that of Caracas. The phenomena of geognosy, particularly those which are connected with the stratification of rocks, and their grouping, are never solitary; but are found the same in both hemispheres. I was the more struck with these relations, and this identity of formations, as, at the time of my journey in these countries, mineralogists were unacquainted with the name of a single rock of Venezuela, New Grenada, and the Cordilleras of Quito.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10