To take the shortest road from Caracas to the banks of the Orinoco, we should have crossed the southern chain of mountains between Baruta, Salamanca, and the savannahs of Ocumare, passed over the steppes or llanos of Orituco, and embarked at Cabruta, near the mouth of the Rio Guarico. But this direct route would have deprived us of the opportunity of surveying the valleys of Aragua, which are the finest and most cultivated portion of the province; of taking the level of an important part of the chain of the coast by means of the barometer; and of descending the Rio Apure as far as its junction with the Orinoco. A traveller who has the intention of studying the configuration and natural productions of a country is not guided by distances, but by the peculiar interest attached to the regions he may traverse. This powerful motive led us to the mountains of Los Teques, to the hot springs of Mariara, to the fertile banks of the lake of Valencia, and through the immense savannahs of Calabozo to San Fernando de Apure, in the eastern part of the province of Varinas. Having determined on this route, our first direction was westward, then southward, and finally to east-south-east, so that we might enter the Orinoco by the Apure in latitude 7° 36′ 23″.
On the day on which we quitted the capital of Venezuela, we reached the foot of the woody mountains which close the valley on the south-west. There we halted for the night, and on the following day we proceeded along the right bank of the Rio Guayra as far as the village of Antimano, by a very fine road, partly scooped out of the rock. We passed by La Vega and Carapa. The church of La Vega rises very picturesquely above a range of hills covered with thick vegetation. Scattered houses surrounded with date-trees seem to denote the comfort of their inhabitants. A chain of low mountains separates the little river Guayra from the valley of La Pascua* (so celebrated in the history of the country), and from the ancient gold-mines of Baruta and Oripoto. Ascending in the direction of Carapa, we enjoy once more the sight of the Silla, which appears like an immense dome with a cliff on the side next the sea. This rounded summit, and the ridge of Galipano crenated like a wall, are the only objects which in this basin of gneiss and mica-slate impress a peculiar character on the landscape. The other mountains have a uniform and monotonous aspect.
[* Valley of Cortes, or Easter Valley, so called because Diego de Losada, after having defeated the Teques Indians, and their cacique Guaycaypuro, in the mountains of San Pedro, spent the Easter there in 1567, before entering the valley of San Francisco. In the latter place he founded the city of Caracas.]
A little before reaching the village of Antimano we observed on the right a very curious geological phenomenon. In hollowing the new road out of the rock, two large veins of gneiss were discovered in the mica-slate. They are nearly perpendicular, intersecting all the mica-slate strata, and are from six to eight toises thick. These veins contain not fragments, but balls or spheres of granular diabasis,* formed of concentric layers. These balls are composed of lamellar feldspar and hornblende closely commingled. The feldspar approximates sometimes to vitreous feldspar when disseminated in very thin laminae in a mass of granular diabasis, decomposed, and emitting a strong argillaceous smell. The diameter of the spheres is very unequal, sometimes four or eight inches, sometimes three or four feet; their nucleus, which is more dense, is without concentric layers, and of a very dark green hue, inclining to black. I could not perceive any mica in them; but, what is very remarkable, I found great quantities of disseminated garnets. These garnets are of a very fine red, and are found in the grunstein only. They are neither in the gneiss, which serves as a cement to the balls, nor in the mica-slate, which the veins traverse. The gneiss, the constituent parts of which are in a state of considerable disintegration, contains large crystals of feldspar; and, though it forms the body of the vein in the mica-slate, it is itself traversed by threads of quartz two inches thick, and of very recent formation. The aspect of this phenomenon is very curious: it appears as if cannon-balls were embedded in a wall of rock. I also thought I recognized in these same regions, in the Montana de Avila, and at Cabo Blanco, east of La Guayra, a granular diabasis, mixed with a small quantity of quartz and pyrites, and destitute of garnets, not in veins, but in subordinate strata in the mica-slate. This position is unquestionably to be found in Europe in primitive mountains; but in general the granular diabasis is more frequently connected with the system of transition rocks, especially with a schist (ubergangs-thonschiefer) abounding in beds of Lydian stone strongly carburetted, of schistose jasper,* (Kieselschiefer.) ampelites,* (Alaunschiefer.) and black limestone.
[* Ur-grunstein. I remember having seen similar balls filling a vein in transition-slate, near the castle of Schauenstein in the margravate of Bayreuth. I sent several balls from Antimano to the collection of the king of Spain at Madrid.]
Near Antimano all the orchards were full of peach-trees loaded with blossom. This village, the Valle, and the banks of the Macarao, furnish great abundance of peaches, quinces, and other European fruits for the market of Caracas. Between Antimano and Ajuntas we crossed the Rio Guayra seventeen times. The road is very fatiguing; yet, instead of making a new one, it would perhaps be better to change the bed of the river, which loses a great quantity of water by the combined effects of filtration and evaporation. Each sinuosity forms a marsh more or less extensive. This loss of water is to be regretted in a province, nearly all the cultivated portions of which are extremely dry. The rains are much less frequent and less violent in this place than in the interior of New Andalusia, at Cumanacoa, and on the banks of the Guarapiche. Many of the mountains of Caracas enter the region of the clouds; but the strata of primitive rocks dip at an angle of 70 or 80°, and generally to northwest, so that the waters are either lost in the interior of the earth, or gush out in copious springs not southward but northward of the mountains of the coast of Niguatar, Avila, and Mariara. The rising of the gneiss and mica-slate strata to the south appears to me to explain in a considerable degree the extreme humidity of the coast. In the interior of the province we meet with portions of land, two or three leagues square, in which there are no springs; consequently sugar-cane, indigo, and coffee, grow only in places where running waters can be made to supply artificial irrigation during very dry weather. The early colonists imprudently destroyed the forests. Evaporation is enormous on a stony soil surrounded with rocks, which radiate heat on every side. The mountains of the coast, like a wall, extending east and west from Cape Codera toward Point Tucacas, prevent the humid air of the shore (that is to say, those inferior strata of the atmosphere resting immediately on the sea, and dissolving the largest proportion of water) from penetrating to the islands. There are few openings, few ravines, which, like those of Catia or of Tipe, lead from the coast to the high longitudinal valleys, and there is no bed of a great river, no gulf allowing the sea to flow inland, spreading moisture by abundant evaporation. In the eighth and tenth degrees of latitude, in regions where the clouds do not, as it were, skim the surface of the soil, many trees are stripped of their leaves in the months of January and February; not by the sinking of the temperature as in Europe, but because the air at this period, the most distant from the rainy season, nearly attains its maximum of dryness. Only those plants which have very tough and glossy leaves resist this absence of humidity. Beneath the fine sky of the tropics the traveller is struck with the almost hibernal aspect of the country; but the freshest verdure again appears when he reaches the banks of the Orinoco, where another climate prevails; and the great forests preserve by their shade a certain quantity of moisture in the soil, by sheltering it from the devouring heat of the sun.
Beyond the small village of Antimano the valley becomes much narrower. The river is bordered with Lata, a fine gramineous plant with distich leaves, which sometimes reaches the height of thirty feet.* Every hut is surrounded with enormous trees of persea,* at the foot of which the aristolochiae, paullinia, and other creepers vegetate. The neighbouring mountains, covered with forests, seem to spread humidity over the western extremity of the valley of Caracas. We passed the night before our arrival at Las Ajuntas at a sugar-cane plantation. A square house (the hacienda or farm of Don Fernando Key–Munoz) contained nearly eighty negroes; they were lying on skins of oxen spread upon the ground. In each apartment of the house were four slaves: it looked like a barrack. A dozen fires were burning in the farm-yard, where people were employed in dressing food, and the noisy mirth of the blacks almost prevented us from sleeping. The clouds hindered me from observing the stars; the moon appeared only at intervals. The aspect of the landscape was dull and uniform, and all the surrounding hills were covered with aloes. Workmen were employed at a small canal, intended for conveying the waters of the Rio San Pedro to the farm, at a height of more than seventy feet. According to a barometric calculation, the site of the hacienda is only fifty toises above the bed of the Rio Guayra at La Noria, near Caracas.
[* G. saccharoides.]
[* Laurus persea (alligator pear).]
The soil of these countries is found to be but little favourable to the cultivation of the coffee-tree, which in general is less productive in the valley of Caracas than was imagined when the first plantations were made near Chacao. The finest coffee-plantations are now found in the savannah of Ocumare, near Salamanca, and at Rincon, in the mountainous countries of Los Mariches, San Antonio Hatillo, and Los Budares. The coffee of the three last mentioned places, situated eastward of Caracas, is of a superior quality; but the trees bear a smaller quantity, which is attributed to the height of the spot and the coolness of the climate. The greater plantations of the province of Venezuela (as Aguacates, near Valencia and Rincon) yield in good years a produce of three thousand quintals.
The extreme predilection entertained in this province for the culture of the coffee-tree is partly founded on the circumstance that the berry can be preserved during a great number of years; whereas, notwithstanding every possible care, cacao spoils in the warehouses after ten or twelve months. During the long dissensions of the European powers, at a time when Spain was too weak to protect the commerce of her colonies, industry was directed in preference to productions of which the sale was less urgent, and could await the chances of political and commercial events. I remarked that in the coffee-plantations the nurseries are formed not so much by collecting together young plants, accidentally rising under trees which have yielded a crop, as by exposing the seeds of coffee to germination during five days, in heaps, between plantain leaves. These seeds are taken out of the pulp, but yet retaining a part of it adherent to them. When the seed has germinated it is sown, and it produces plants capable of bearing the heat of the sun better than those which spring up in the shade in coffee-plantations. In this country five thousand three hundred coffee-trees are generally planted in a fanega of ground, amounting to five thousand four hundred and seventy-six square toises. This land, if it be capable of artificial irrigation, costs five hundred piastres in the northern part of the province. The coffee-tree flowers only in the second year, and its flowering lasts only twenty-four hours. At this time the shrub has a charming appearance; and, when seen from afar, it appears covered with snow. The produce of the third year becomes very abundant. In plantations well weeded and watered, and recently cultivated, trees will bear sixteen, eighteen, and even twenty pounds of coffee. In general, however, more than a pound and a half or two pounds cannot be expected from each plant; and even this is superior to the mean produce of the West India Islands. The coffee trees suffer much from rain at the time of flowering, as well as from the want of water for artificial irrigation, and also from a parasitic plant, a new species of loranthus, which clings to the branches. When, in plantations of eighty or a hundred thousand shrubs, we consider the immense quantity of organic matter contained in the pulpy berry of the coffee-tree, we may be astonished that no attempts have been made to extract a spirituous liquor from them.*
[* The berries heaped together produce a vinous fermentation, during which a very pleasant alcoholic smell is emitted. Placing, at Caracas, the ripe fruit of the coffee-tree under an inverted jar, quite filled with water, and exposed to the rays of the sun, I remarked that no extrication of gas took place in the first twenty-four hours. After thirty-six hours the berries became brown, and yielded gas. A thermometer, enclosed in the jar in contact with the fruit, kept at night 4 or 5° higher than the external air. In the space of eighty-seven hours, sixty berries, under various jars, yielded me from thirty-eight to forty cubic inches of a gas, which underwent no sensible diminution with nitrous gas. Though a great quantity of carbonic acid had been absorbed by the water as it was produced, I still found 0.78 in the forty inches. The remainder, or 0.22, was nitrogen. The carbonic acid had not been formed by the absorption of the atmospheric oxygen. That which is evolved from the berries of the coffee-tree slightly moistened, and placed in a phial with a glass stopple filled with air, contains alcohol in suspension; like the foul air which is formed in our cellars during the fermentation of must. On agitating the gas in contact with water, the latter acquires a decidedly alcoholic flavour. How many substances are perhaps contained in a state of suspension in those mixtures of carbonic acid and hydrogen, which are called deleterious miasmata, and which rise everywhere within the tropics, in marshy grounds, on the sea-shore, and in forests where the soil is strewed with dead leaves, rotten fruits, and putrefying insects.]
If the troubles of St. Domingo, the temporary rise in the price of colonial produce, and the emigration of French planters, were the first causes of the establishment of coffee plantations on the continent of America, in the island of Cuba, and in Jamaica; their produce has far more than compensated the deficiency of the exportation from the French West India Islands. This produce has augmented in proportion to the population, the change of customs, and the increasing luxury of the nations of Europe. The island of St. Domingo exported, in 1700, at the time of Necker’s administration, nearly seventy-six million pounds of coffee.*
[* French pounds, containing 9216 grains. 112 English pounds = 105 French pounds; and 160 Spanish pounds = 93 French pounds. The island of St. Domingo was at that time, it must be remembered, a French colony.]
Tea could be cultivated as well as coffee in the mountainous parts of the provinces of Caracas and Cumana. Every climate is there found rising in stages one above another; and this new culture would succeed there as well as in the southern hemisphere, where the government of Brazil, protecting at the same time industry and religious toleration, suffered at once the introduction of Chinese tea and of the dogmas of Fo. It is not yet a century since the first coffee-trees were planted at Surinam and in the West India Islands, and already the produce of America amounts to fifteen millions of piastres, reckoning the quintal of coffee at fourteen piastres only.
On the eighth of February we set out at sunrise, to cross the Higuerote, a group of lofty mountains, separating the two longitudinal valleys of Caracas and Aragua. After passing, near Las Ajuntas, the junction of the two small rivers San Pedro and Macarao, which form the Rio Guayra, we ascended a steep hill to the table-land of La Buenavista, where we saw a few lonely houses. The view extends on the north-west to the city of Caracas, and on the south to the village of Los Teques. The country has a very wild aspect, and is thickly wooded. We had now gradually lost the plants of the valley of Caracas.* We were eight hundred and thirty-five toises above the level of the ocean, which is almost the height of Popayan; but the mean temperature of this place is probably only 17 or 18°. The road over these mountains is much frequented; we met continually long files of mules and oxen; it is the great road leading from the capital to La Victoria, and the valleys of Aragua. This road is cut out of a talcose gneiss* in a state of decomposition. A clayey soil mixed with spangles of mica covered the rock, to the depth of three feet. Travellers suffer from the dust in winter, while in the rainy season the place is changed into a slough. On descending the table-land of Buenavista, about fifty toises to the south-east, an abundant spring, gushing from the gneiss, forms several cascades surrounded with thick vegetation. The path leading to the spring is so steep that we could touch with our hands the tops of the arborescent ferns, the trunks of which reach a height of more than twenty-five feet. The surrounding rocks are covered with jungermannias and hypnoid mosses. The torrent, formed by the spring, and shaded with heliconias, uncovers, as it falls, the roots of the plumerias,* cupeys,* browneas, and Ficus gigantea. This humid spot, though infested by serpents, presents a rich harvest to the botanist. The Brownea, which the inhabitants call rosa del monte, or palo de cruz, bears four or five hundred purple flowers together in one thyrsus; each flower has invariably eleven stamina, and this majestic plant, the trunk of which grows to the height of fifty or sixty feet, is becoming rare, because its wood yields a highly valued charcoal. The soil is covered with pines (ananas), hemimeris, polygala, and melastomas. A climbing gramen* with its light festoons unites trees, the presence of which attests the coolness of the climate of these mountains. Such are the Aralia capitata,* the Vismia caparosa, and the Clethra fagifolia. Among these plants, peculiar to the fine region of the arborescent ferns,* some palm-trees rise in the openings, and some scattered groups of guarumo, or cecropia with silvery leaves. The trunks of the latter are not very thick, and are of a black colour towards the summit, as if burnt by the oxygen of the atmosphere. We are surprised to find so noble a tree, which has the port of the theophrasta and the palm-tree, bearing generally only eight or ten terminal leaves. The ants, which inhabit the trunk of the guarumo, or jarumo, and destroy its interior cells, seem to impede its growth. We had already made one herborization in the temperate mountains of the Higuerote in the month of December, accompanying the capitan-general, Senor de Guevara, in an excursion with the intendant of the province to the Valles de Aragua. M. Bonpland then found in the thickest part of the forest some plants of aguatire, the wood of which, celebrated for its fine red colour, will probably one day become an article of exportation to Europe. It is the Sickingia erythroxylon described by Bredemeyer and Willdenouw.
[* The Flora of Caracas is characterized chiefly by the following plants, which grow between the heights of four hundred and six hundred toises. Cipura martinicensis, Panicum mieranthum, Parthenium hysterophorus, Vernonia odoratissima, (Pevetera, with flowers having a delicious odour of heliotropium), Tagetes caracasana, T. scoparia of Lagasca (introduced by M. Bonpland into the gardens of Spain), Croton hispidus, Smilax scabriusculus, Limnocharis Humboldti, Rich., Equisetum ramosissimum, Heteranthera alismoides, Glycine punctata, Hyptis Plumeri, Pavonia cancellata, Cav., Spermacoce rigida, Crotalaria acutifolia, Polygala nemorosa, Stachytarpheta mutabilis, Cardiospermum ulmaceum, Amaranthus caracasanus, Elephantopus strigosus, Hydrolea mollis, Alternanthera caracasana, Eupatorium amydalinum, Elytraria fasciculata, Salvia fimbriata, Angelonia salicaria, Heliotropium strictum, Convolvulus batarilla, Rubus jamaicensis, Datura arborea, Dalea enneaphylla, Buchnera rosea, Salix Humboldtiana, Willd., Theophrasta longifolia, Tournefortia caracasana, Inga cinerea, I. ligustrina, I. sapindioides, I. fastuosa, Schwenkia patens, Erythrina mitis. The most agreeable places for herborizing near Caracas are the ravines of Tacagua, Tipe, Cotecita, Catoche, Anauco, and Chacaito.]
[* The direction of the strata of gneiss varies; it is either hor. 3.4, dipping to the north-west or hor. 8.2, dipping to the south-east.]
[* The red jasmine-tree, frangipanier of the French West India Islands. The plumeria, so common in the gardens of the Indians, has been very seldom found in a wild state. It is mixed here with the Piper flagellare, the spadix of which sometimes reaches three feet long. With the new kind of fig-tree (which we have called Ficus gigantea, because it frequently attains the height of a hundred feet), we find in the mountains of Buenavista and of Los Teques, the Ficus nymphaeifolia of the garden of Schonbrunn, introduced into our hot-houses by M. Bredemeyer. I am certain of the identity of the species found in the same places; but I doubt really whether it be really the F. nymphaeifolia of Linnaeus, which is supposed to be a native of the East Indies.]
[* In the experiments I made at Caracas, on the air which circulates in plants, I was struck with the fine appearance presented by the petioles and leaves of the Clusia rosea, when cut open under water, and exposed to the rays of the sun. Each trachea gives out a current of gas, purer by 0.08 than atmospheric air. The phenomenon ceases the moment the apparatus is placed in the shade. There is only a very slight disengagement of air at the two surfaces of the leaves of the clusia exposed to the sun without being cut open. The gas enclosed in the capsules of the Cardiospermum vesicarium appeared to me to contain the same proportion of oxygen as the atmosphere, while that contained between the knots, in the hollow of the stalk, is generally less pure, containing only from 0.12 to 0.15 of oxygen. It is necessary to distinguish between the air circulating in the tracheae, and that which is stagnant in the great cavities of the stems and pericarps.]
[* Carice. See Chapter 6.]
[* Candelero. We found it also at La Cumbre, at a height of 700 toises.]
[* Called by the inhabitants of the country Region de los helechos.]
Descending the woody mountain of the Higuerote to the south-west, we reached the small village of San Pedro, situated in a basin where several valleys meet, and almost three hundred toises lower than the table-land of Buenavista. Plantain-trees, potatoes,* and coffee are cultivated together on this spot. The village is very small, and the church not yet finished. We met at an inn (pulperia) several European Spaniards employed at the government tobacco farm. Their dissatisfaction formed a strange contrast to our feelings. They were fatigued with their journey, and they vented their displeasure in complaints and maledictions on the wretched country, or to use their own phrase, estas tierras infelices, in which they were doomed to live. We, on the other hand, were enchanted with the wild scenery, the fertility of the soil, and the mildness of the climate. Near San Pedro, the talcose gneiss of Buenavista passes into a mica-slate filled with garnets, and containing subordinate beds of serpentine. Something analogous to this is met with at Zoblitz in Saxony. The serpentine, which is very pure and of a fine green, varied with spots of a lighter tint, often appears only superimposed on the mica-slate. I found in it a few garnets, but no metaloid diallage.
[* Solanum tuberosum.]
The valley of San Pedro, through which flows the river of the same name, separates two great masses of mountains, the Higuerote and Las Cocuyzas. We ascended westward in the direction of the small farms of Las Lagunetos and Garavatos. These are solitary houses, which serve as inns, and where the mule-drivers obtain their favourite beverage, the guarapo, or fermented juice of the sugar-cane: intoxication is very common among the Indians who frequent this road. Near Garavatos there is a mica-slate rock of singular form; it is a ridge, or steep wall, crowned by a tower. We opened the barometer at the highest point of the mountain Las Cocuyzas,* and found ourselves almost at the same elevation as on the table-land of Buenavista, which is scarcely ten toises higher.
[* Absolute height 845 toises.]
The prospect at Las Lagunetas is extensive, but rather uniform. This mountainous and uncultivated tract of ground between the sources of the Guayra and the Tuy is more than twenty-five square leagues in extent. We there found only one miserable village, that of Los Teques, south-east of San Pedro. The soil is as it were furrowed by a multitude of valleys, the smallest of which, parallel with each other, terminate at right angles in the largest valleys. The back of the mountains presents an aspect as monotonous as the ravines; it has no pyramidal forms, no ridges, no steep declivities. I am inclined to think that the undulation of this ground, which is for the most part very gentle, is less owing to the nature of the rocks, (to the decomposition of the gneiss for instance), than to the long presence of the water and the action of currents. The limestone mountains of Cumana present the same phenomenon north of Tumiriquiri.
From Las Lagunetas we descended into the valley of the Rio Tuy. This western slope of the mountains of Los Teques bears the name of Las Cocuyzas, and it is covered with two plants with agave leaves; the maguey of Cocuyza, and the maquey of Cocuy. The latter belongs to the genus Yucca.* Its sweet and fermented juice yields a spirit by distillation; and I have seen the young leaves of this plant eaten. The fibres of the full-grown leaves furnish cords of extraordinary strength.* Leaving the mountains of the Higuerote and Los Teques, we entered a highly cultivated country, covered with hamlets and villages; several of which would in Europe be called towns. From east to west, on a line of twelve leagues in extent, we passed La Victoria, San Mateo, Turmero, and Maracay, containing together more than 28, 000 inhabitants. The plains of the Tuy may be considered as the eastern extremity of the valleys of Aragua, extending from Guigne, on the borders of the lake of Valencia, as far as the foot of Las Cocuyzas. A barometrical measurement gave me 295 toises for the absolute height of the Valle del Tuy, near the farm of Manterola, and 222 toises for that of the surface of the lake. The Rio Tuy, flowing from the mountains of Las Cocuyzas, runs first towards the west, then turning to the south and to the east, it takes its course along the high savannahs of Ocumare, receives the waters of the valley of Caracas, and reaches the sea near cape Codera. It is the small portion of its basin in the westward direction which, geologically speaking, would seem to belong to the valley of Aragua, if the hills of calcareous tufa, breaking the continuity of these valleys between Consejo and La Victoria, did not deserve some consideration. We shall here again remind the reader that the group of the mountains of Los Teques, eight hundred and fifty toises high, separates two longitudinal valleys, formed in gneiss, granite, and mica-slate. The most eastern of these valleys, containing the capital of Caracas, is 200 toises higher than the western valley, which may be considered as the centre of agricultural industry.
[* Yucca acaulis, Humb.]
[* At the clock of the cathedral of Caracas, a cord of maguey, half an inch in diameter, sustained for fifteen years a weight of 350 pounds.]
Having been for a long time accustomed to a moderate temperature, we found the plains of the Tuy extremely hot, although the thermometer kept, in the day-time, between eleven in the morning and five in the afternoon, at only 23 or 24°. The nights were delightfully cool, the temperature falling as low as 17.5°. As the heat gradually abated, the air became more and more fragrant with the odour of flowers. We remarked above all the delicious perfume of the Lirio hermoso,* a new species of pancratium, of which the flower, eight or nine inches long, adorns the banks of the Rio Tuy. We spent two very agreeable days at the plantation of Don Jose de Manterola, who in his youth had accompanied the Spanish embassy to Russia. The farm is a fine plantation of sugar-canes; and the ground is as smooth as the bottom of a drained lake. The Rio Tuy winds through districts covered with plantains, and a little wood of Hura crepitans, Erythrina corallodendron, and fig-trees with nymphaea leaves. The bed of the river is formed of pebbles of quartz. I never met with more agreeable bathing than in the Tuy. The water, as clear as crystal, preserves even during the day a temperature of 18.6°; a considerable coolness for these climates, and for a height of three hundred toises; but the sources of the river are in the surrounding mountains. The house of the proprietor, situated on a hillock, of fifteen or twenty toises of elevation, is surrounded by the huts of the negroes. Those who are married provide food for themselves; and here, as everywhere else in the valleys of Aragua, a small spot of ground is allotted to them to cultivate. They labour on that ground on Saturdays and Sundays, the only days in the week on which they are free. They keep poultry, and sometimes even a pig. Their masters boast of their happiness, as in the north of Europe the great landholders love to descant upon the ease enjoyed by peasants who are attached to the glebe. On the day of our arrival we saw three fugitive negroes brought back; they were slaves newly purchased. I dreaded having to witness one of those punishments which, wherever slavery prevails, destroys all the charm of a country life. Happily these blacks were treated with humanity.
[* Pancratium undulatum.]
In this plantation, as in all those of the province of Venezuela, three species of sugar-cane can be distinguished even at a distance by the colour of their leaves; the old Creole sugar-cane, the Otaheite cane, and the Batavia cane. The first has a deep-green leaf, the stem not very thick, and the knots rather near together. This sugar-cane was the first introduced from India into Sicily, the Canary Islands, and West Indies. The second is of a lighter green; and its stem is higher, thicker, and more succulent. The whole plant exhibits a more luxuriant vegetation. We owe this plant to the voyages of Bougainville, Cook, and Bligh. Bougainville carried it to the Mauritius, whence it passed to Cayenne, Martinique, and, since 1792, to the rest of the West India Islands. The sugar-cane of Otaheite, called by the people of that island To, is one of the most important acquisitions for which colonial agriculture is indebted to the travels of naturalists. It yields not only one-third more juice than the creolian cane on the same space of ground; but from the thickness of its stem, and the tenacity of its ligneous fibres, it furnishes much more fuel. This last advantage is important in the West Indies, where the destruction of the forests has long obliged the planters to use canes deprived of juice, to keep up the fire under the boilers. But for the knowledge of this new plant, together with the progress of agriculture on the continent of Spanish America, and the introduction of the East India and Java sugar, the prices of colonial produce in Europe would have been much more sensibly affected by the revolutions of St. Domingo, and the destruction of the great sugar plantations of that island. The Otaheite sugar-cane was carried from the island of Trinidad to Caracas, under the name of Cana solera, and it passed from Caracas to Cucuta and San Gil in the kingdom of New Grenada. In our days its cultivation during twenty-five years has almost entirely removed the apprehension at first entertained, that being transplanted to America, the cane would by degrees degenerate, and become as slender as the creole cane. The third species, the violet sugar-cane, called Cana de Batavia, or de Guinea, is certainly indigenous in the island of Java, where it is cultivated in preference in the districts of Japara and Pasuruan.* Its foliage is purple and very broad; and this cane is preferred in the province of Caracas for rum. The tablones, or grounds planted with sugar-canes, are divided by hedges of a colossal gramen; the lata, or gynerium, with distich leaves. At the Tuy, men were employed in finishing a dyke, to form a canal of irrigation. This enterprise had cost the proprietor seven thousand piastres for the expense of labour, and four thousand piastres for the costs of lawsuits in which he had become engaged with his neighbours. While the lawyers were disputing about a canal of which only one-half was finished, Don Jose de Manterola began to doubt even of the possibility of carrying the plan into execution. I took the level of the ground with a lunette d’epreuve, on an artificial horizon, and found, that the dam had been constructed eight feet too low. What sums of money have I seen expended uselessly in the Spanish colonies, for undertakings founded on erroneous levelling!
[* Raffles History of Java tome 1 page 124.]
The valley of the Tuy has its ‘gold mine,’ like almost every part of America inhabited by whites, and backed by primitive mountains. I was assured, that in 1780, foreign gold-gatherers had been engaged in picking up grains of that metal, and had established a place for washing the sand in the Quebrada del Oro. An overseer of a neighbouring plantation had followed these indications; and after his death, a waistcoat with gold buttons being found among his clothes, this gold, according to the logic of the people here, could only have proceeded from a vein, which the falling in of the earth had rendered invisible. In vain I objected, that I could not, by the mere view of the soil, without digging a large trench in the direction of the vein, judge of the existence of the mine; I was compelled to yield to the desire of my hosts. For twenty years past the overseer’s waistcoat had been the subject of conversation in the country. Gold extracted from the bosom of the earth is far more alluring in the eyes of the vulgar, than that which is the produce of agricultural industry, favoured by the fertility of the soil, and the mildness of the climate.
North-west of the Hacienda del Tuy, in the northern range of the chain of the coast, we find a deep ravine, called the Quebrada Seca, because the torrent, by which it was formed, loses its waters through the crevices of the rock, before it reaches the extremity of the ravine. The whole of this mountainous country is covered with thick vegetation. We there found the same verdure as had charmed us by its freshness in the mountains of Buenavista and Las Lagunetas, wherever the ground rises as high as the region of the clouds, and where the vapours of the sea have free access. In the plains, on the contrary, many trees are stripped of a part of their leaves during the winter; and when we descend into the valley of the Tuy, we are struck with the almost hibernal aspect of the country. The dryness of the air is such that the hygrometer of Deluc keeps day and night between 36 and 40°. At a distance from the river scarcely any huras or piper-trees extend their foliage over thickets destitute of verdure. This seems owing to the dryness of the air, which attains its maximum in the month of February; and not, as the European planters assert, “to the seasons of Spain, of which the empire extends as far as the torrid zone.” It is only plants transported from one hemisphere to the other, which, in their organic functions, in the development of their leaves and flowers, still retain their affinity to a distant climate: faithful to their habits, they follow for a long time the periodical changes of their native hemisphere. In the province of Venezuela the trees stripped of their foliage begin to renew their leaves nearly a month before the rainy season. It is probable, that at this period the electrical equilibrium of the air is already disturbed, and the atmosphere, although not yet clouded, becomes gradually more humid. The azure of the sky is paler, and the elevated regions are loaded with light vapours, uniformly diffused. This season may be considered as the awakening of nature; it is a spring which, according to the received language of the Spanish colonies, proclaims the beginning of winter, and succeeds to the heats of summer.*
[* That part of the year most abundant in rain is called winter; so that in Terra Firma, the season which begins by the winter solstice, is designated by the name of summer; and it is usual to hear, that it is winter on the mountains, at the time when summer prevails in the neighbouring plains.]
Indigo was formerly cultivated in the Quebrada Seca; but as the soil covered with vegetation cannot there concentrate so much heat as the plains and the bottom of the Tuy valley receive and radiate, the cultivation of coffee has been substituted in its stead. As we advanced in the ravine we found the moisture increase. Near the Hato, at the northern extremity of the Quebrada, a torrent rolls down over sloping beds of gneiss. An aqueduct was being formed there to convey the water to the plain. Without irrigation, agriculture makes no progress in these climates. A tree of monstrous size fixed our attention.* It lay on the slope of the mountain, above the house of the Hato. On the least dislodgment of the earth, its fall would have crushed the habitation which it shaded: it had therefore been burnt near its foot, and cut down in such a manner, that it fell between some enormous fig-trees, which prevented it from rolling into the ravine. We measured the fallen tree; and though its summit had been burnt, the length of its trunk was still one hundred and fifty-four feet.* It was eight feet in diameter near the roots, and four feet two inches at the upper extremity.
[* Hura crepitans.]
[* French measure, nearly fifty metres.]
Our guides, less anxious than ourselves to measure the bulk of trees, continually pressed us to proceed onward and seek the ‘gold mine.’ This part of the ravine is little frequented, and is not uninteresting. We made the following observations on the geological constitution of the soil. At the entrance of the Quebrada Seca we remarked great masses of primitive saccharoidal limestone, tolerably fine grained, of a bluish tint, and traversed by veins of calcareous spar of dazzling whiteness. These calcareous masses must not be confounded with the very recent depositions of tufa, or carbonate of lime, which fill the plains of the Tuy; they form beds of mica-slate, passing into talc-slate.* The primitive limestone often simply covers this latter rock in concordant stratification. Very near the Hato the talcose slate becomes entirely white, and contains small layers of soft and unctuous graphic ampelite.* Some pieces, destitute of veins of quartz, are real granular plumbago, which might be of use in the arts. The aspect of the rock is very singular in those places where thin plates of black ampelite alternate with thin, sinuous, and satiny plates of a talcose slate as white as snow. It would seem as if the carbon and iron, which in other places colour the primitive rocks, are here concentrated in the subordinate strata.
[* Talkschiefer of Werner, without garnets or serpentine; not eurite or weisstein. It is in the mountains of Buenavista that the gneiss manifests a tendency to pass into eurite.]
Turning westward we reached at length the ravine of gold (Quebrada del Oro). On examining the slope of a hill, we could hardly recognize the vestige of a vein of quartz. The falling of the earth caused by the rains had changed the surface of the ground, and rendered it impossible to make any observation. Great trees were growing in the places where the gold-washers had worked twenty years before. It is probable that the mica-slate contains here, as near Goldcronach in Franconia, and in Salzburgh, auriferous veins; but how is it possible to judge whether they be worth the expense of being wrought, or whether the ore is only in nodules, and in the less abundance in proportion as it is rich? We made a long herborization in a thick forest, extending beyond the Hato, and abounding in cedrelas, browneas, and fig-trees with nymphaea leaves. The trunks of these last are covered with very odoriferous plants of vanilla, which in general flower only in the month of April. We were here again struck with those ligneous excrescences, which in the form of ridges, or ribs, augment to the height of twenty feet above the ground, the thickness of the trunk of the fig-trees of America. I found trees twenty-two feet and a half in diameter near the roots. These ligneous ridges sometimes separate from the trunk at a height of eight feet, and are transformed into cylindrical roots two feet thick. The tree looks as if it were supported by buttresses. This scaffolding however does not penetrate very deep into the earth. The lateral roots wind at the surface of the ground, and if at twenty feet distance from the trunk they are cut with a hatchet, we see gushing out the milky juice of the fig-tree, which, when deprived of the vital influence of the organs of the tree, is altered and coagulates. What a wonderful combination of cells and vessels exist in these vegetable masses, in these gigantic trees of the torrid zone, which without interruption, perhaps during the space of a thousand years, prepare nutritious fluids, raise them to the height of one hundred and eighty feet, convey them down again to the ground, and conceal, beneath a rough and hard bark, under inanimate layers of ligneous matter, all the movements of organic life!
I availed myself of the clearness of the nights, to observe at the plantation of Tuy two emersions of the first and third satellites of Jupiter. These two observations gave, according to the tables of Delambre, longitude 4 hours 39 minutes 14 seconds; and by the chronometer I found 4 hours 39 minutes 10 seconds. During my stay in the valleys of the Tuy and Aragua the zodiacal light appeared almost every night with extraordinary brilliancy. I had perceived it for the first time between the tropics at Caracas, on the 18th of January, after seven in the evening. The point of the pyramid was at the height of 53°. The light totally disappeared at 9 hours 35 minutes (apparent time), nearly 3 hours 50 minutes after sunset, without any diminution in the serenity of the sky. La Caille, in his voyage to Rio Janeiro and the Cape, was struck with the beautiful appearance displayed by the zodiacal light within the tropics, not so much on account of its less inclined position, as of the greater transparency of the air.* It may appear singular, that Childrey and Dominic Cassini, navigators who were well acquainted with the seas of the two Indies, did not at a much earlier period direct the attention of scientific Europe to this light, and its regular form and progress. Until the middle of the eighteenth century mariners were little interested by anything not having immediate relation to the course of a ship, and the demands of navigation.
[* The great serenity of the air caused this phenomenon to be remarked, in 1668, in the arid plains of Persia.]
However brilliant the zodiacal light in the dry valley of Tuy, I have observed it more beautiful still at the back of the Cordilleras of Mexico, on the banks of the lake of Tezcuco, eleven hundred and sixty toises above the surface of the ocean. In the month of January, 1804, the light rose sometimes to more than 60° above the horizon. The Milky Way appeared to grow pale compared with the brilliancy of the zodiacal light; and if small, bluish, scattered clouds were accumulated toward the west, it seemed as if the moon were about to rise.
I must here relate another very singular fact. On the 18th of January, and the 15th of February, 1800, the intensity of the zodiacal light changed in a very perceptible manner, at intervals of two or three minutes. Sometimes it was very faint, at others it surpassed the brilliancy of the Milky Way in Sagittarius. The changes took place in the whole pyramid, especially toward the interior, far from the edges. During these variations of the zodiacal light, the hygrometer indicated considerable dryness. The stars of the fourth and fifth magnitude appeared constantly to the naked eye with the same degree of light. No stream of vapour was visible: nothing seemed to alter the transparency of the atmosphere. In other years I saw the zodiacal light augment in the southern hemisphere half an hour before its disappearance. Cassini admitted “that the zodiacal light was feebler in certain years, and then returned to its former brilliancy.” He thought that these slow changes were connected with “the same emanations which render the appearance of spots and faculae periodical on the solar disk.” But this excellent observer does not mention those changes of intensity in the zodiacal light which I have several times remarked within the tropics, in the space of a few minutes. Mairan asserts, that in France it is common enough to see the zodiacal light, in the months of February and March, mingling with a kind of Aurora Borealis, which he calls ‘undecided,’ and the nebulous matter of which spreads itself all around the horizon, or appears toward the west. I very much doubt, whether, in the observations I have been describing, there was any mixture of these two species of light. The variations in intensity took place at considerable altitudes; the light was white, and not coloured; steady, and not undulating. Besides, the Aurora Borealis is so seldom visible within the tropics, that during five years, though almost constantly sleeping in the open air, and observing the heavens with unremitting attention, I never perceived the least traces of that phenomenon.
I am rather inclined to think that the variations of the zodiacal light are not all appearances dependent on certain modifications in the state of our atmosphere. Sometimes, during nights equally clear, I sought in vain for the zodiacal light, when, on the previous night, it had appeared with the greatest brilliancy. Must we admit that emanations which reflect white light, and seem to have some analogy with the tails of comets, are less abundant at certain periods? Researches on the zodiacal light have acquired a new degree of interest since geometricians have taught us that we are ignorant of the real causes of this phenomenon. The illustrious author of “La Mecanique Celeste” has shown that the solar atmosphere cannot reach even the planet Mercury; and that it could not in any case display the lenticular form which has been attributed to the zodiacal light. We may also entertain the same doubts respecting the nature of this light, as with regard to that of the tails of comets. Is it in fact a reflected or a direct light?
We left the plantation of Manterola on the 11th of February, at sunrise. The road runs along the smiling banks of the Tuy; the morning was cool and humid, and the air seemed embalmed by the delicious odour of the Pancratium undulatum, and other large liliaceous plants. In our way to La Victoria, we passed the pretty village of Mamon or of Consejo, celebrated in the country for a miraculous image of the Virgin. A little before we reached Mamon, we stopped at a farm belonging to the family of Monteras. A negress more than a hundred years old was seated before a small hut built of earth and reeds. Her age was known because she was a creole slave. She seemed still to enjoy very good health. “I keep her in the sun” (la tengo al sol), said her grandson; “the heat keeps her alive.” This appeared to us not a very agreeable mode of prolonging life, for the sun was darting his rays almost perpendicularly. The brown-skinned nations, blacks well seasoned, and Indians, frequently attain a very advanced age in the torrid zone. A native of Peru named Hilario Pari died at the extraordinary age of one hundred and forty-three years, after having been ninety years married.
Don Francisco Montera and his brother, a well-informed young priest, accompanied us with the view of conducting us to their house at La Victoria. Almost all the families with whom we had lived in friendship at Caracas were assembled in the fine valleys of Aragua, and they vied with each other in their efforts to render our stay agreeable. Before we plunged into the forests of the Orinoco, we enjoyed once more all the advantages which advanced civilization affords.
The road from Mamon to La Victoria runs south and south-west. We soon lost sight of the river Tuy, which, turning eastward, forms an elbow at the foot of the high mountains of Guayraima. As we drew nearer to Victoria the ground became smoother; it seemed like the bottom of a lake, the waters of which had been drained off. We might have fancied ourselves in the valley of Hasli, in the canton of Berne. The neighbouring hills, only one hundred and forty toises in height, are composed of calcareous tufa; but their abrupt declivities project like promontories on the plain. Their form indicates the ancient shore of the lake. The eastern extremity of this valley is parched and uncultivated. No advantage has been derived from the ravines which water the neighbouring mountains; but fine cultivation is commencing in the proximity of the town. I say of the town, though in my time Victoria was considered only as a village (pueblo).
The environs of La Victoria present a very remarkable agricultural aspect. The height of the cultivated ground is from two hundred and seventy to three hundred toises above the level of the ocean, and yet we there find fields of corn mingled with plantations of sugar-cane, coffee, and plantains. Excepting the interior of the island of Cuba,* we scarcely find elsewhere in the equinoctial regions European corn cultivated in large quantities in so low a region. The fine fields of wheat in Mexico are between six hundred and twelve hundred toises of absolute elevation; and it is rare to see them descend to four hundred toises. We shall soon perceive that the produce of grain augments sensibly, from high latitudes towards the equator, with the mean temperature of the climate, in comparing spots of different elevations. The success of agriculture depends on the dryness of the air; on the rains distributed through different seasons, or accumulated in one season; on winds blowing constantly from the east; or bringing the cold air of the north into very low latitudes, as in the gulf of Mexico; on mists, which for whole months diminish the intensity of the solar rays; in short, on a thousand local circumstances which have less influence on the mean temperature of the whole year than on the distribution of the same quantity of heat through the different parts of the year. It is a striking spectacle to see the grain of Europe cultivated from the equator as far as Lapland in the latitude of 69°, in regions where the mean heat is from 22 to -2°, in every place where the temperature of summer is above 9 or 10°. We know the minimum of heat requisite to ripen wheat, barley, and oats; but we are less certain in respect to the maximum which these species of grain, accommodating as they are, can support. We are even ignorant of all the circumstances which favour the culture of corn within the tropics at very small heights. La Victoria and the neighbouring village of San Mateo yield an annual produce of four thousand quintals of wheat. It is sown in the month of December, and the harvest is reaped on the seventieth or seventy-fifth day. The grain is large, white, and abounding in gluten; its pellicle is thinner and not so hard as that of the wheat of the very cold table-lands of Mexico. An acre* near Victoria generally yields from three thousand to three thousand two hundred pounds weight of wheat. The average produce is consequently here, as at Buenos Ayres, three or four times as much as that of northern countries. Nearly sixteenfold of the quantity of seed is reaped; while, according to Lavoisier, the surface of France yields on an average only five or six for one, or from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds per acre. Notwithstanding this fecundity of the soil, and this happy influence of the climate, the culture of the sugar-cane is more productive in the valleys of Aragua than that of corn.
[* The district of Quatro Villas.]
[* An arpent des eaux et forets, or legal acre of France, of which 1.95 = 1 hectare. It is about 1 1/4 acre English.]
La Victoria is traversed by the little river Calanchas, running, not into the Tuy, but into the Rio Aragua: it thence results that this fine country, producing at once sugar and corn, belongs to the basin of the lake of Valencia, to a system of interior rivers not communicating with the sea. The quarter of the town west of the Rio Calanchas is called la otra banda; it is the most commercial part; merchandize is everywhere exhibited, and ranges of shops form the streets. Two commercial roads pass through La Victoria, that of Valencia, or of Porto Cabello, and the road of Villa de Cura, or of the plains, called camino de los Llanos. We here find more whites in proportion than at Caracas. We visited at sunset the little hill of Calvary, where the view is extremely fine and extensive. We discover on the west the lovely valleys of Aragua, a vast space covered with gardens, cultivated fields, clumps of wild trees, farms, and hamlets. Turning south and south-east, we see, extending as far as the eye can reach, the lofty mountains of La Palma, Guayraima, Tiara, and Guiripa, which conceal the immense plains or steppes of Calabozo. This interior chain stretches westward along the lake of Valencia, towards the Villa de Cura, the Cuesta de Yusma, and the denticulated mountains of Guigne. It is very steep, and constantly covered with that light vapour which in hot climates gives a vivid blue tint to distant objects, and, far from concealing their outlines, marks them the more strongly. It is believed that among the mountains of the interior chain, that of Guayraima reaches an elevation of twelve hundred toises. I found in the night of the eleventh of February the latitude of La Victoria 10° 13′ 35″, the magnetic dip 40.8°, the intensity of the forces equal to 236 oscillations in ten minutes of time, and the variation of the needle 4.4° north-east.
We proceeded slowly on our way by the villages of San Mateo, Turmero, and Maracay, to the Hacienda de Cura, a fine plantation belonging to Count Tovar, where we arrived on the evening of the fourteenth of February. The valley, which gradually widens, is bordered with hills of calcareous tufa, called here tierra blanca. The scientific men of the country have made several attempts to calcine this earth, mistaking it for the porcelain earth proceeding from decomposed strata of feldspar. We stayed some hours with a very intelligent family, named Ustariz, at Concesion. Their house, which contains a collection of choice books, stands on an eminence, and is surrounded by plantations of coffee and sugar-cane. A grove of balsam-trees (balsamo*) gives coolness and shade to this spot. It was gratifying to observe the great number of scattered houses in the valley inhabited by freedmen. In the Spanish colonies, the laws, the institutions, and the manners, are more favourable to the liberty of the negroes than in other European settlements.
[* Amyris elata.]
San Mateo, Turmero, and Maracay, are charming villages, where everything denotes the comfort of the inhabitants. We seemed to be transported to the most industrious districts of Catalonia. Near San Mateo we find the last fields of wheat, and the last mills with horizontal hydraulic wheels. A harvest of twenty for one was expected; and, as if that produce were but moderate, I was asked whether corn yielded more in Prussia and in Poland. By an error generally prevalent under the tropics, the produce of grain is supposed to degenerate in advancing towards the equator, and harvests are believed to be more abundant in northern climates. Since calculations have been made on the progress of agriculture in the different zones, and on the temperatures under the influence of which corn will flourish, it has been found that, beyond the latitude of 45°, the produce of wheat is nowhere so considerable as on the northern coasts of Africa, and on the table-lands of New Grenada, Peru, and Mexico. Without comparing the mean temperature of the whole year, but only the mean temperature of the season which embraces the corn cycle of vegetation, we find for three months of summer,* in the north of Europe, from 15 to 19°; in Barbary and in Egypt, from 27 to 29°; within the tropics, between fourteen and three hundred toises of height, from 14 to 25.5° of the centigrade thermometer.
[* The mean heat of the summers of Scotland in the environs of Edinburgh, (latitude 56°), is found again on the table-lands of New Grenada, so rich in wheat, at 1400 toises of elevation, and at 4° north latitude. On the other hand, we find the mean temperature of the valleys of Aragua, latitude 10° 13′, and of all the plains which are not very elevated in the torrid zone, in the summer temperature of Naples and Sicily, latitude 39 to 40°. These figures indicate the situation of the isotheric lines (lines of the same summer heat), and not that of the isothermal lines (those of equal annual temperature). Considering the quantity of heat received on the same spot of the globe during a whole year, the mean temperatures of the valleys of Aragua, and the table-lands of New Grenada, at 300 and 1400 toises of elevation, correspond to the mean temperatures of the coasts at 23 and 45° of latitude.]
The fine harvests of Egypt and of Algiers, as well as those of the valleys of Aragua and the interior of the island of Cuba, sufficiently prove that the augmentation of heat is not prejudicial to the harvest of wheat and other alimentary grain, unless it be attended with an excess of drought or moisture. To this circumstance no doubt we must attribute the apparent anomalies sometimes observed within the tropics, in the lower limit of corn. We are astonished to see, eastward of the Havannah, in the famous district of Quatro Villas, that this limit descends almost to the level of the ocean; whilst west of the Havannah, on the slope of the mountains of Mexico and Xalapa, at six hundred and seventy-seven toises of height, the luxuriance of vegetation is such, that wheat does not form ears. At the beginning of the Spanish conquest, the corn of Europe was cultivated with success in several regions now supposed to be too hot, or too damp, for this branch of agriculture. The Spaniards on their first removal to America were little accustomed to live on maize. They still adhered to their European habits. They did not calculate whether corn would be less profitable than coffee or cotton. They tried seeds of every kind, making experiments the more boldly because their reasonings were less founded on false theories. The province of Carthagena, crossed by the chain of the mountains Maria and Guamoco, produced wheat till the sixteenth century. In the province of Caracas, this culture is of very ancient date in the mountainous lands of Tocuyo, Quibor, and Barquisimeto, which connect the littoral chain with the Sierra Nevada of Merida. Wheat is still successfully cultivated there, and the environs of the town of Tocuyo alone export annually more than eight thousand quintals of excellent flour. But, though the province of Caracas, in its vast extent, includes several spots very favourable to the cultivation of European corn, I believe that in general this branch of agriculture will never acquire any great importance there. The most temperate valleys are not sufficiently wide; they are not real table-lands; and their mean elevation above the level of the sea is not so considerable but that the inhabitants cannot fail to perceive that it is more their interest to establish plantations of coffee, than to cultivate corn. Flour now comes to Caracas either from Spain or from the United States.
The village of Turmero is four leagues distant from San Mateo. The road leads through plantations of sugar, indigo, cotton, and coffee. The regularity observable in the construction of the villages, reminded us that they all owe their origin to monks and missions. The streets are straight and parallel, crossing each other at right angles; and the church is invariably erected in the great square, situated in the centre of the village. The church of Turmero is a fine edifice, but overloaded with architectural ornaments. Since the missionaries have been replaced by vicars, the whites have mingled their habitations with those of the Indians. The latter are gradually disappearing as a separate race; that is to say, they are represented in the general statement of the population by the Mestizoes and the Zamboes, whose numbers daily increase. I still found, however, four thousand tributary Indians in the valleys of Aragua. Those of Turmero and Guacara are the most numerous. They are of small stature, but less squat than the Chaymas; their eyes denote more vivacity and intelligence, owing less perhaps to a diversity in the race, than to a superior state of civilization. They work like freemen by the day. Though active and laborious during the short time they allot to labour, yet what they earn in two months is spent in one week, in the purchase of strong liquors at the small inns, of which unhappily the numbers daily increase.
We saw at Turmero the remains of the assembled militia of the country, and their appearance alone sufficiently indicated that these valleys had enjoyed for ages undisturbed peace. The capitan-general, in order to give a new impulse to the military service, had ordered a grand review; and the battalion of Turmero, in a mock fight, had fired on that of La Victoria. Our host, a lieutenant of the militia, was never weary of describing to us the danger of these manoeuvres, which seemed more burlesque than imposing. With what rapidity do nations, apparently the most pacific, acquire military habits! Twelve years afterwards, those valleys of Aragua, those peaceful plains of La Victoria and Turmero, the defile of Cabrera, and the fertile banks of the lake of Valencia, became the scenes of obstinate and sanguinary conflicts between the natives and the troops of the mother-country.
South of Turmero, a mass of limestone mountains advances into the plain, separating two fine sugar-plantations, Guayavita and Paja. The latter belongs to the family of Count Tovar, who have property in every part of the province. Near Guayavita, brown iron-ore has been discovered. To the north of Turmero, a granitic summit (the Chuao) rises in the Cordillera of the coast, from the top of which we discern at once the sea and the lake of Valencia. Crossing this rocky ridge, which runs towards the west farther than the eye can reach, paths somewhat difficult lead to the rich plantations of cacao on the coast, to Choroni, Turiamo, and Ocumare, noted alike for the fertility of the soil and the insalubrity of their climate. Turmero, Maracay, Cura, Guacara, every point of the valley of Aragua, has its mountain-road, which terminates at one of the small ports on the coast.
On quitting the village of Turmero, we discover, at a league distant, an object, which appears at the horizon like a round hillock, or tumulus, covered with vegetation. It is neither a hill, nor a group of trees close to each other, but one single tree, the famous zamang del Guayre, known throughout the province for the enormous extent of its branches, which form a hemispheric head five hundred and seventy-six feet in circumference. The zamang is a fine species of mimosa, and its tortuous branches are divided by bifurcation. Its delicate and tender foliage was agreeably relieved on the azure of the sky. We stopped a long time under this vegetable roof. The trunk of the zamang del Guayre,* which is found on the road from Turmero to Maracay, is only sixty feet high, and nine thick; but its real beauty consists in the form of its head. The branches extend like an immense umbrella, and bend toward the ground, from which they remain at a uniform distance of twelve or fifteen feet. The circumference of this head is so regular, that, having traced different diameters, I found them one hundred and ninety-two and one hundred and eighty-six feet. One side of the tree was entirely stripped of its foliage, owing to the drought; but on the other side there remained both leaves and flowers. Tillandsias, lorantheae, Cactus Pitahaya, and other parasite plants, cover its branches, and crack the bark. The inhabitants of these villages, but particularly the Indians, hold in veneration the zamang del Guayre, which the first conquerors found almost in the same state in which it now remains. Since it has been observed with attention, no change has appeared in its thickness or height. This zamang must be at least as old as the Orotava dragon-tree. There is something solemn and majestic in the aspect of aged trees; and the violation of these monuments of nature is severely punished in countries destitute of monuments of art. We heard with satisfaction that the present proprietor of the zamang had brought an action against a cultivator who had been guilty of cutting off a branch. The cause was tried, and the tribunal condemned the offender. We find near Turmero and the Hacienda de Cura other zamangs, having trunks larger than that of Guayre, but their hemispherical heads are not of equal extent.
[* The mimos of La Guayre; zamang being the Indian name for the genera mimosa, desmanthus, and acacia. The place where the tree is found is called El Guayre.]
The culture and population of the plains augment in the direction of Cura and Guacara, on the northern side of the lake. The valleys of Aragua contain more than 52,000 inhabitants, on a space thirteen leagues in length, and two in width. This is a relative population of two thousand souls on a square league. The village or rather the small town of Maracay was heretofore the centre of the indigo plantations, when this branch of colonial industry was in its greatest prosperity. The houses are all of masonry, and every court contains cocoa-trees, which rise above the habitations. The aspect of general wealth is still more striking at Maracay, than at Turmero. The anil, or indigo, of these provinces has always been considered in commerce as equal and sometimes superior to that of Guatemala. The indigo plant impoverishes the soil, where it is cultivated during a long series of years, more than any other. The lands of Maracay, Tapatapa, and Turmero, are looked upon as exhausted; and indeed the produce of indigo has been constantly decreasing. But in proportion as it has diminished in the valleys of Aragua, it has increased in the province of Varinas, and in the burning plains of Cucuta, where, on the banks of the Rio Tachira, virgin land yields an abundant produce, of the richest colour.
We arrived very late at Maracay, and the persons to whom we were recommended were absent. The inhabitants perceiving our embarrassment, contended with each other in offering to lodge us, to place our instruments, and take care of our mules. It has been said a thousand times, but the traveller always feels desirous of repeating it again, that the Spanish colonies are the land of hospitality; they are so even in those places where industry and commerce have diffused wealth and improvement. A family of Canarians received us with the most amiable cordiality; an excellent repast was prepared, and everything was carefully avoided that might act as any restraint on us. The master of the house, Don Alexandro Gonzales, was travelling on commercial business, and his young wife had lately had the happiness of becoming a mother. She was transported with joy when she heard that on our return from the Rio Negro we should proceed by the banks of the Orinoco to Angostura, where her husband was. We were to bear to him the tidings of the birth of his first child. In those countries, as among the ancients, travellers are regarded as the safest means of communication. There are indeed posts established, but they make such great circuits that private persons seldom entrust them with letters for the llanos or savannahs of the interior. The child was brought to us at the moment of our departure: we had seen him asleep at night, but it was deemed indispensable that we should see him awake in the morning. We promised to describe his features exactly to his father, but the sight of our books and instruments somewhat chilled the mother’s confidence. She said “that in a long journey, amidst so many cares of another kind, we might well forget the colour of her child’s eyes.”
On the road from Maracay to the Hacienda de Cura we enjoyed from time to time the view of the lake of Valencia. An arm of the granitic chain of the coast stretches southward into the plain. It is the promontory of Portachuelo which would almost close the valley, were it not separated by a narrow defile from the rock of La Cabrera. This place has acquired a sad celebrity in the late revolutionary wars of Caracas; each party having obstinately disputed its possession, as opening the way to Valencia, and to the Llanos. La Cabrera now forms a peninsula: not sixty years ago it was a rocky island in the lake, the waters of which gradually diminish. We spent seven very agreeable days at the Hacienda da Cura, in a small habitation surrounded by thickets.
We lived after the manner of the rich in this country; we bathed twice, slept three times, and made three meals in the twenty-four hours. The temperature of the water of the lake is rather warm, being from twenty-four to twenty-five degrees; but there is another cool and delicious bathing-place at Toma, under the shade of ceibas and large zamangs, in a torrent gushing from the granitic mountains of the Rincon del Diablo. In entering this bath, we had not to fear the sting of insects, but to guard against the little brown hairs which cover the pods of the Dolichos pruriens. When these small hairs, well characterised by the name of picapica, stick to the body, they excite a violent irritation on the skin; the dart is felt, but the cause is unperceived.
Near Cura we found all the people occupied in clearing the ground covered with mimosa, sterculia, and Coccoloba excoriata, for the purpose of extending the cultivation of cotton. This product, which partly supplies the place of indigo, has succeeded so well during some years, that the cotton-tree now grows wild on the borders of the lake of Valencia. We have found shrubs of eight or ten feet high entwined with bignonia and other ligneous creepers. The exportation of cotton from Caracas, however, is yet of small importance. It amounted at an average at La Guayra scarcely to three or four hundred thousand pounds in a year; but including all the ports of the Capitania-general, it arose, on account of the flourishing culture of Cariaco, Nueva Barcelona, and Maracaybo, to more than 22,000 quintals. The cotton of the valleys of Aragua is of fine quality, being inferior only to that of Brazil; for it is preferred to that of Carthagena, St. Domingo, and the Caribbee Islands. The cultivation of cotton extends on one side of the lake from Maracay to Valencia; and on the other from Guayca to Guigue. The large plantations yield from sixty to seventy thousand pounds a year.
During our stay at Cura we made numerous excursions to the rocky islands (which rise in the midst of the lake of Valencia,) to the warm springs of Mariara, and to the lofty granitic mountain called El Cucurucho de Coco. A dangerous and narrow path leads to the port of Turiamo and the celebrated cacao-plantations of the coast. In all these excursions we were agreeably surprised, not only at the progress of agriculture, but at the increase of a free laborious population, accustomed to toil, and too poor to rely on the assistance of slaves. White and mulatto farmers had everywhere small separate establishments. Our host, whose father had a revenue of 40,000 piastres, possessed more lands than he could clear; he distributed them in the valleys of Aragua among poor families who chose to apply themselves to the cultivation of cotton. He endeavoured to surround his ample plantations with freemen, who, working as they chose, either in their own land or in the neighbouring plantations, supplied him with day-labourers at the time of harvest. Nobly occupied on the means best adapted gradually to extinguish the slavery of the blacks in these provinces, Count Tovar flattered himself with the double hope of rendering slaves less necessary to the landholders, and furnishing the freedmen with opportunities of becoming farmers. On departing for Europe he had parcelled out and let a part of the lands of Cura, which extend towards the west at the foot of the rock of Las Viruelas. Four years after, at his return to America, he found on this spot, finely cultivated in cotton, a little hamlet of thirty or forty houses, which is called Punta Zamuro, and which we visited with him. The inhabitants of this hamlet are almost all mulattos, Zamboes, or free blacks. This example of letting out land has been happily followed by several other great proprietors. The rent is ten piastres for a fanega of ground, and is paid in money or in cotton. As the small farmers are often in want, they sell their cotton at a very moderate price. They dispose of it even before the harvest: and the advances, made by rich neighbours, place the debtor in a situation of dependence, which frequently obliges him to offer his services as a labourer. The price of labour is cheaper here than in France. A freeman, working as a day-labourer (peon), is paid in the valleys of Aragua and in the llanos four or five piastres per month, not including food, which is very cheap on account of the abundance of meat and vegetables. I love to dwell on these details of colonial industry, because they serve to prove to the inhabitants of Europe, a fact which to the enlightened inhabitants of the colonies has long ceased to be doubtful, namely, that the continent of Spanish America can produce sugar, cotton, and indigo by free hands, and that the unhappy slaves are capable of becoming peasants, farmers, and landholders.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10