The valleys of Aragua form a narrow basin between granitic and calcareous mountains of unequal height. On the north, they are separated by the Sierra Mariara from the sea-coast; and towards the south, the chain of Guacimo and Yusma serves them as a rampart against the heated air of the steppes. Groups of hills, high enough to determine the course of the waters, close this basin on the east and west like transverse dykes. We find these hills between the Tuy and La Victoria, as well as on the road from Valencia to Nirgua, and at the mountains of Torito.* From this extraordinary configuration of the land, the little rivers of the valleys of Aragua form a peculiar system, and direct their course towards a basin closed on all sides. These rivers do not bear their waters to the ocean; they are collected in a lake; and subject to the peculiar influence of evaporation, they lose themselves, if we may use the expression, in the atmosphere. On the existence of rivers and lakes, the fertility of the soil and the produce of cultivation in these valleys depend. The aspect of the spot, and the experience of half a century, have proved that the level of the waters is not invariable; the waste by evaporation, and the increase from the waters running into the lake, do not uninterruptedly balance each other. The lake being elevated one thousand feet above the neighbouring steppes of Calabozo, and one thousand three hundred and thirty-two feet above the level of the ocean, it has been suspected that there are subterranean communications and filtrations. The appearance of new islands, and the gradual retreat of the waters, have led to the belief that the lake may perhaps, in time, become entirely dry. An assemblage of physical circumstances so remarkable was well fitted to fix my attention on those valleys where the wild beauty of nature is embellished by agricultural industry, and the arts of rising civilization.
[* The lofty mountains of Los Teques, where the Tuy takes its source, may be looked upon as the eastern boundary of the valleys of Aragua. The level of the ground continues, in fact, to rise from La Victoria to the Hacienda de Tuy; but the river Tuy, turning southward in the direction of the sierras of Guairaima and Tiara has found an issue on the east; and it is more natural to consider as the limits of the basin of Aragua a line drawn through the sources of the streams flowing into the lake of Valencia. The charts and sections I have traced of the road from Caracas to Nueva Valencia, and from Porto Cabello to Villa de Cura, exhibit the whole of these geological relations.]
The lake of Valencia, called Tacarigua by the Indians, exceeds in magnitude the lake of Neufchatel in Switzerland; but its general form has more resemblance to the lake of Geneva, which is nearly at the same height above the level of the sea. As the slope of the ground in the valleys of Aragua tends towards the south and the west, that part of the basin still covered with water is the nearest to the southern chain of the mountains of Guigue, of Yusma, and of Guacimo, which stretch towards the high savannahs of Ocumare. The opposite banks of the lake of Valencia display a singular contrast; those on the south are desert, and almost uninhabited, and a screen of high mountains gives them a gloomy and monotonous aspect. The northern shore on the contrary, is cheerful, pastoral, and decked with the rich cultivation of the sugar-cane, coffee-tree, and cotton. Paths bordered with cestrums, azedaracs, and other shrubs always in flower, cross the plain, and join the scattered farms. Every house is surrounded by clumps of trees. The ceiba with its large yellow flowers* gives a peculiar character to the landscape, mingling its branches with those of the purple erythrina. This mixture of vivid vegetable colours contrasts finely with the uniform tint of an unclouded sky. In the season of drought, where the burning soil is covered with an undulating vapour, artificial irrigations preserve verdure and promote fertility. Here and there the granite rock pierces through the cultivated ground. Enormous stony masses rise abruptly in the midst of the valley. Bare and forked, they nourish a few succulent plants, which prepare mould for future ages. Often on the summit of these lonely hills may be seen a fig-tree or a clusia with fleshy leaves, which has fixed its roots in the rock, and towers over the landscape. With their dead and withered branches, these trees look like signals erected on a steep cliff. The form of these mounts unfolds the secret of their ancient origin; for when the whole of this valley was filled with water, and the waves beat at the foot of the peaks of Mariara (the Devil’s Nook*) and the chain of the coast, these rocky hills were shoals or islets.
[* Carnes tollendas, Bombax hibiscifolius.]
[* El Rincon del Diablo.]
These features of a rich landscape, these contrasts between the two banks of the lake of Valencia, often reminded me of the Pays de Vaud, where the soil, everywhere cultivated, and everywhere fertile, offers the husbandman, the shepherd, and the vine-dresser, the secure fruit of their labours, while, on the opposite side, Chablais presents only a mountainous and half-desert country. In these distant climes surrounded by exotic productions, I loved to recall to mind the enchanting descriptions with which the aspect of the Leman lake and the rocks of La Meillerie inspired a great writer. Now, while in the centre of civilized Europe, I endeavour in my turn to paint the scenes of the New World, I do not imagine I present the reader with clearer images, or more precise ideas, by comparing our landscapes with those of the equinoctial regions. It cannot be too often repeated that nature, in every zone, whether wild or cultivated, smiling or majestic, has an individual character. The impressions which she excites are infinitely varied, like the emotions produced by works of genius, according to the age in which they were conceived, and the diversity of language from which they in part derive their charm. We must limit our comparisons merely to dimensions and external form. We may institute a parallel between the colossal summit of Mont Blanc and the Himalaya Mountains; the cascades of the Pyrenees and those of the Cordilleras: but these comparisons, useful with respect to science, fail to convey an idea of the characteristics of nature in the temperate and torrid zones. On the banks of a lake, in a vast forest, at the foot of summits covered with eternal snow, it is not the mere magnitude of the objects which excites our admiration. That which speaks to the soul, which causes such profound and varied emotions, escapes our measurements as it does the forms of language. Those who feel powerfully the charms of nature cannot venture on comparing one with another, scenes totally different in character.
But it is not alone the picturesque beauties of the lake of Valencia that have given celebrity to its banks. This basin presents several other phenomena, and suggests questions, the solution of which is interesting alike to physical science and to the well-being of the inhabitants. What are the causes of the diminution of the waters of the lake? Is this diminution more rapid now than in former ages? Can we presume that an equilibrium between the waters flowing in and the waters lost will be shortly re-established, or may we apprehend that the lake will entirely disappear?
According to astronomical observations made at La Victoria, Hacienda de Cura, Nueva Valencia, and Guigue, the length of the lake in its present state from Cagua to Guayos, is ten leagues, or twenty-eight thousand eight hundred toises. Its breadth is very unequal. If we judge from the latitudes of the mouth of the Rio Cura and the village of Guigue, it nowhere surpasses 2.3 leagues, or six thousand five hundred toises; most commonly it is but four or five miles. The dimensions, as deduced from my observations are much less than those hitherto adopted by the natives. It might be thought that, to form a precise idea of the progressive diminution of the waters, it would be sufficient to compare the present dimensions of the lake with those attributed to it by ancient chroniclers; by Oviedo for instance, in his History of the Province of Venezuela, published about the year 1723. This writer in his emphatic style, assigns to “this inland sea, this monstruoso cuerpo de la laguna de Valencia”*, fourteen leagues in length and six in breadth. He affirms that at a small distance from the shore the lead finds no bottom; and that large floating islands cover the surface of the waters, which are constantly agitated by the winds. No importance can be attached to estimates which, without being founded on any measurement, are expressed in leagues (leguas) reckoned in the colonies at three thousand, five thousand, and six thousand six hundred and fifty varas.* Oviedo, who must so often have passed over the valleys of Aragua, asserts that the town of Nueva Valencia del Rey was built in 1555, at the distance of half a league from the lake; and that the proportion between the length of the lake and its breadth, is as seven to three. At present, the town of Valencia is separated from the lake by level ground of more than two thousand seven hundred toises (which Oviedo would no doubt have estimated as a space of a league and a half); and the length of the basin of the lake is to its breadth as 10 to 2.3, or as 7 to 1.6. The appearance of the soil between Valencia and Guigue, the little hills rising abruptly in the plain east of the Cano de Cambury, some of which (el Islote and la Isla de la Negra or Caratapona) have even preserved the name of islands, sufficiently prove that the waters have retired considerably since the time of Oviedo. With respect to the change in the general form of the lake, it appears to me improbable that in the seventeenth century its breadth was nearly the half of its length. The situation of the granite mountains of Mariara and of Guigue, the slope of the ground which rises more rapidly towards the north and south than towards the east and west, are alike repugnant to this supposition.
[* “Enormous body of the lake of Valencia.”]
[* Seamen being the first, and for a long time the only, persons who introduced into the Spanish colonies any precise ideas on the astronomical position and distances of places, the legua nautica of 6650 varas, or of 2854 toises (20 in a degree), was originally used in Mexico and throughout South America; but this legua nautica has been gradually reduced to one-half or one-third, on account of the slowness of travelling across steep mountains, or dry and burning plains. The common people measure only time directly; and then, by arbitrary hypotheses, infer from the time the space of ground travelled over. In the course of my geographical researches, I have had frequent opportunities of examining the real value of these leagues, by comparing the itinerary distances between points lying under the same meridian with the difference of latitudes.]
In treating the long-discussed question of the diminution of the waters, I conceive we must distinguish between the different periods at which the sinking of their level has taken place. Wherever we examine the valleys of rivers, or the basins of lakes, we see the ancient shore at great distances. No doubt seems now to be entertained, that our rivers and lakes have undergone immense diminutions; but many geological facts remind us also, that these great changes in the distribution of the waters have preceded all historical times; and that for many thousand years most lakes have attained a permanent equilibrium between the produce of the water flowing in, and that of evaporation and filtration. Whenever we find this equilibrium broken, it will be well rather to examine whether the rupture be not owing to causes merely local, and of very recent date, than to admit an uninterrupted diminution of the water. This reasoning is conformable to the more circumspect method of modern science. At a time when the physical history of the world, traced by the genius of some eloquent writers, borrowed all its charms from the fictions of imagination, the phenomenon of which we are treating would have been adduced as a new proof of the contrast these writers sought to establish between the two continents. To demonstrate that America rose later than Asia and Europe from the bosom of the waters, the lake of Tacarigua would have been described as one of those interior basins which have not yet become dry by the effects of slow and gradual evaporation. I have no doubt that, in very remote times, the whole valley, from the foot of the mountains of Cocuyza to those of Torito and Nirgua, and from La Sierra de Mariara to the chain of Guigue, of Guacimo, and La Palma, was filled with water. Everywhere the form of the promontories, and their steep declivities, seem to indicate the shore of an alpine lake, similar to those of Styria and Tyrol. The same little helicites, the same valvatae, which now live in the lake of Valencia, are found in layers of three or four feet thick as far inland as Turmero and La Concesion near La Victoria. These facts undoubtedly prove a retreat of the waters; but nothing indicates that this retreat has continued from a very remote period to our days. The valleys of Aragua are among the portions of Venezuela most anciently peopled; and yet there is no mention in Oviedo, or any other old chronicler, of a sensible diminution of the lake. Must we suppose, that this phenomenon escaped their observation, at a time when the Indians far exceeded the white population, and when the banks of the lake were less inhabited? Within half a century, and particularly within these thirty years, the natural desiccation of this great basin has excited general attention. We find vast tracts of land which were formerly inundated, now dry, and already cultivated with plantains, sugar-canes, or cotton. Wherever a hut is erected on the bank of the lake, we see the shore receding from year to year. We discover islands, which, in consequence of the retreat of the waters, are just beginning to be joined to the continent, as for instance the rocky island of Culebra, in the direction of Guigue; other islands already form promontories, as the Morro, between Guigue and Nueva Valencia, and La Cabrera, south-east of Mariara; others again are now rising in the islands themselves like scattered hills. Among these last, so easily recognised at a distance, some are only a quarter of a mile, others a league from the present shore. I may cite as the most remarkable three granite islands, thirty or forty toises high, on the road from the Hacienda de Cura to Aguas Calientes; and at the western extremity of the lake, the Serrito de Don Pedro, Islote, and Caratapona. On visiting two islands entirely surrounded by water, we found in the midst of brushwood, on small flats (four, six, and even eight toises height above the surface of the lake,) fine sand mixed with helicites, anciently deposited by the waters. (Isla de Cura and Cabo Blanco. The promontory of Cabrera has been connected with the shore ever since the year 1750 or 1760 by a little valley, which bears the name of Portachuelo.) In each of these islands may be perceived the most certain traces of the gradual sinking of the waters. But still farther (and this accident is regarded by the inhabitants as a marvellous phenomenon) in 1796 three new islands appeared to the east of the island Caiguira, in the same direction as the islands Burro, Otama, and Zorro. These new islands, called by the people Los nuevos Penones, or Los Aparecidos,* form a kind of banks with surfaces quite flat. They rose, in 1800, more than a foot above the mean level of the water.
[* Los Nuevos Penones, the New Rocks. Los Aparecidos, the Unexpectedly-appeared.]
It has already been observed that the lake of Valencia, like the lakes of the valley of Mexico, forms the centre of a little system of rivers, none of which have any communication with the ocean. These rivers, most of which deserve only the name of torrents, or brooks,* are twelve or fourteen in number. The inhabitants, little acquainted with the effects of evaporation, have long imagined that the lake has a subterranean outlet, by which a quantity of water runs out equal to that which flows in by the rivers. Some suppose that this outlet communicates with grottos, supposed to be at great depth; others believe that the water flows through an oblique channel into the basin of the ocean. These bold hypotheses on the communication between two neighbouring basins have presented themselves in every zone to the imagination of the ignorant, as well as to that of the learned; for the latter, without confessing it, sometimes repeat popular opinions in scientific language. We hear of subterranean gulfs and outlets in the New World, as on the shores of the Caspian sea, though the lake of Tacarigua is two hundred and twenty-two toises higher, and the Caspian sea fifty-four toises lower, than the sea; and though it is well known, that fluids find the same level, when they communicate by a lateral channel.
[* The following are their names: Rios de Aragua, Turmero, Maracay, Tapatapa, Agnes Calientes, Mariara, Cura, Guacara, Guataparo, Valencia, Cano Grande de Cambury, etc.]
The changes which the destruction of forests, the clearing of plains, and the cultivation of indigo, have produced within half a century in the quantity of water flowing in on the one hand, and on the other the evaporation of the soil, and the dryness of the atmosphere, present causes sufficiently powerful to explain the progressive diminution of the lake of Valencia. I cannot concur in the opinion of M. Depons* (who visited these countries since I was there) “that to set the mind at rest, and for the honour of science,” a subterranean issue must be admitted. By felling the trees which cover the tops and the sides of mountains, men in every climate prepare at once two calamities for future generations; want of fuel and scarcity of water. Trees, by the nature of their perspiration, and the radiation from their leaves in a sky without clouds, surround themselves with an atmosphere constantly cold and misty. They affect the copiousness of springs, not, as was long believed, by a peculiar attraction for the vapours diffused through the air, but because, by sheltering the soil from the direct action of the sun, they diminish the evaporation of water produced by rain. When forests are destroyed, as they are everywhere in America by the European planters, with imprudent precipitancy, the springs are entirely dried up, or become less abundant. The beds of the rivers, remaining dry during a part of the year, are converted into torrents whenever great rains fall on the heights. As the sward and moss disappear with the brushwood from the sides of the mountains, the waters falling in rain are no longer impeded in their course; and instead of slowly augmenting the level of the rivers by progressive filtrations, they furrow, during heavy showers, the sides of the hills, bearing down the loosened soil, and forming sudden and destructive inundations. Hence it results, that the clearing of forests, the want of permanent springs, and the existence of torrents, are three phenomena closely connected together. Countries situated in opposite hemispheres, as, for example, Lombardy bordered by the Alps, and Lower Peru inclosed between the Pacific and the Cordillera of the Andes, afford striking proofs of the justness of this assertion.
[* In his Voyage a la Terre Ferme M. Depons says, “The small extent of the surface of the lake renders impossible the supposition that evaporation alone, however considerable within the tropics, could remove as much water as the rivers furnish.” In the sequel, the author himself seems to abandon what he terms “this occult case, the hypothesis of an aperture.”]
Till the middle of the last century, the mountains round the valleys of Aragua were covered with forests. Great trees of the families of mimosa, ceiba, and the fig-tree, shaded and spread coolness along the banks of the lake. The plain, then thinly inhabited, was filled with brushwood, interspersed with trunks of scattered trees and parasite plants, enveloped with a thick sward, less capable of emitting radiant caloric than the soil that is cultivated and consequently not sheltered from the rays of the sun. With the destruction of the trees, and the increase of the cultivation of sugar, indigo, and cotton, the springs, and all the natural supplies of the lake of Valencia, have diminished from year to year. It is difficult to form a just idea of the enormous quantity of evaporation which takes place under the torrid zone, in a valley surrounded with steep declivities, where a regular breeze and descending currents of air are felt towards evening, and the bottom of which is flat, and looks as if levelled by the waters. It has been remarked, that the heat which prevails throughout the year at Cura, Guacara, Nueva Valencia, and on the borders of the lake, is the same as that felt at midsummer in Naples and Sicily. The mean annual temperature of the valleys of Aragua is nearly 25.5°; my hygrometrical observations of the month of February, taking the mean of day and night, gave 71.4° of the hair hygrometer. As the words great drought and great humidity have no determinate signification, and air that would be called very dry in the lower regions of the tropics would be regarded as humid in Europe, we can judge of these relations between climates only by comparing spots situated in the same zone. Now at Cumana, where it sometimes does not rain during a whole year, and where I had the means of collecting a great number of hygrometric observations made at different hours of the day and night, the mean humidity of the air is 86°; corresponding to the mean temperature of 27.7°. Taking into account the influence of the rainy months, that is to say, estimating the difference observed in other parts of South America between the mean humidity of the dry months and that of the whole year; an annual mean humidity is obtained, for the valleys of Aragua, at farthest of 74°, the temperature being 25.5°. In this air, so hot, and at the same time so little humid, the quantity of water evaporated is enormous. The theory of Dalton estimates, under the conditions just stated, for the thickness of the sheet of water evaporated in an hour’s time, 0.36 mill., or 3.8 lines in twenty-four hours. Assuming for the temperate zone, for instance at Paris, the mean temperature to be 10.6°, and the mean humidity 82°, we find, according to the same formulae, 0.10 mill., an hour, and 1 line for twenty-four hours. If we prefer substituting for the uncertainty of these theoretical deductions the direct results of observation, we may recollect that in Paris, and at Montmorency, the mean annual evaporation was found by Sedileau and Cotte, to be from 32 in. 1 line to 38 in. 4 lines. Two able engineers in the south of France, Messrs. Clausade and Pin, found, that in subtracting the effects of filtrations, the waters of the canal of Languedoc, and the basin of Saint Ferreol lose every year from 0.758 met. to 0.812 met., or from 336 to 360 lines. M. de Prony found nearly similar results in the Pontine marshes. The whole of these experiments, made in the latitudes of 41 and 49°, and at 10.5 and 16° of mean temperature, indicate a mean evaporation of one line, or one and three-tenths a day. In the torrid zone, in the West India Islands for instance, the effect of evaporation is three times as much, according to Le Gaux, and double according to Cassan. At Cumana, in a place where the atmosphere is far more loaded with humidity than in the valley of Aragua, I have often seen evaporate during twelve hours, in the sun, 8.8 mill., in the shade 3.4 mill.; and I believe, that the annual produce of evaporation in the rivers near Cumana is not less than one hundred and thirty inches. Experiments of this kind are extremely delicate, but what I have stated will suffice to demonstrate how great must be the quantity of vapour that rises from the lake of Valencia, and from the surrounding country, the waters of which flow into the lake. I shall have occasion elsewhere to resume this subject; for, in a work which displays the great laws of nature in different zones, we must endeavour to solve the problem of the mean tension of the vapours contained in the atmosphere in different latitudes, and at different heights above the surface of the ocean.
A great number of local circumstances cause the produce of evaporation to vary; it changes in proportion as more or less shade covers the basin of the waters, with their state of motion or repose, with their depth, and the nature and colour of their bottom; but in general evaporation depends only on three circumstances, the temperature, the tension of the vapours contained in the atmosphere, and the resistance which the air, more or less dense, more or less agitated, opposes to the diffusion of vapour. The quantity of water that evaporates in a given spot, everything else being equal, is proportionate to the difference between the quantity of vapour which the ambient air can contain when saturated, and the quantity which it actually contains. Hence it follows that the evaporation is not so great in the torrid zone as might be expected from the enormous augmentation of temperature; because, in those ardent climates, the air is habitually very humid.
Since the increase of agricultural industry in the valleys of Aragua, the little rivers which run into the lake of Valencia can no longer be regarded as positive supplies during the six months succeeding December. They remain dried up in the lower part of their course, because the planters of indigo, coffee, and sugar-canes, have made frequent drainings (azequias), in order to water the ground by trenches. We may observe also, that a pretty considerable river, the Rio Pao, which rises at the entrance of the Llanos, at the foot of the range of hills called La Galera, heretofore mingled its waters with those of the lake, by uniting with the Cano de Cambury, on the road from the town of Nueva Valencia to Guigue. The course of this river was from south to north. At the end of the seventeenth century, the proprietor of a neighbouring plantation dug at the back of the hill a new bed for the Rio Pao. He turned the river; and, after having employed part of the water for the irrigation of his fields, he caused the rest to flow at a venture southward, following the declivity of the Llanos. In this new southern direction the Rio Pao, mingled with three other rivers, the Tinaco, the Guanarito, and the Chilua, falls into the Portuguesa, which is a branch of the Apure. It is a remarkable phenomenon, that by a particular position of the ground, and the lowering of the ridge of division to south-west, the Rio Pao separates itself from the little system of interior rivers to which it originally belonged, and for a century past has communicated, through the channel of the Apure and the Orinoco, with the ocean. What has been here effected on a small scale by the hand of man, nature often performs, either by progressively elevating the level of the soil, or by those falls of the ground occasioned by violent earthquakes. It is probable, that in the lapse of ages, several rivers of Soudan, and of New Holland, which are now lost in the sands, or in inland basins, will open for themselves a course to the shores of the ocean. We cannot at least doubt, that in both continents there are systems of interior rivers, which may be considered as not entirely developed; and which communicate with each other, either in the time of great risings, or by permanent bifurcations.
The Rio Pao has scooped itself out a bed so deep and broad, that in the season of rains, when the Cano Grande de Cambury inundates all the land to the north-west of Guigue, the waters of this Cano, and those of the lake of Valencia, flow back into the Rio Pao itself; so that this river, instead of adding water to the lake, tends rather to carry it away. We see something similar in North America, where geographers have represented on their maps an imaginary chain of mountains, between the great lakes of Canada and the country of the Miamis. At the time of floods, the waters flowing into the lakes communicate with those which run into the Mississippi; and it is practicable to proceed by boats from the sources of the river St. Mary to the Wabash, as well as from the Chicago to the Illinois. These analogous facts appear to me well worthy of the attention of hydrographers.
The land that surrounds the lake of Valencia being entirely flat and even, a diminution of a few inches in the level of the water exposes to view a vast extent of ground covered with fertile mud and organic remains.* In proportion as the lake retires, cultivation advances towards the new shore. These natural desiccations, so important to agriculture, have been considerable during the last ten years, in which America has suffered from great droughts. Instead of marking the sinuosities of the present banks of the lake, I have advised the rich landholders in these countries to fix columns of granite in the basin itself, in order to observe from year to year the mean height of the waters. The Marquis del Toro has undertaken to put this design into execution, employing the fine granite of the Sierra de Mariara, and establishing limnometers, on a bottom of gneiss rock, so common in the lake of Valencia.
[* This I observed daily in the Lake of Mexico.]
It is impossible to anticipate the limits, more or less narrow, to which this basin of water will one day be confined, when an equilibrium between the streams flowing in and the produce of evaporation and filtration, shall be completely established. The idea very generally spread, that the lake will soon entirely disappear, seems to me chimerical. If in consequence of great earthquakes, or other causes equally mysterious, ten very humid years should succeed to long droughts; if the mountains should again become clothed with forests, and great trees overshadow the shore and the plains of Aragua, we should more probably see the volume of the waters augment, and menace that beautiful cultivation which now trenches on the basin of the lake.
While some of the cultivators of the valleys of Aragua fear the total disappearance of the lake, and others its return to the banks it has deserted, we hear the question gravely discussed at Caracas, whether it would not be advisable, in order to give greater extent to agriculture, to conduct the waters of the lake into the Llanos, by digging a canal towards the Rio Pao. The possibility* of this enterprise cannot be denied, particularly by having recourse to tunnels, or subterranean canals. (The dividing ridge, namely, that which divides the waters between the valleys of Aragua and the Llanos, lowers so much towards the west of Guigue, as we have already observed, that there are ravines which conduct the waters of the Cano de Cambury, the Rio Valencia, and the Guataparo, in the time of floods, to the Rio Pao; but it would be easier to open a navigable canal from the lake of Valencia to the Orinoco, by the Pao, the Portuguesa, and the Apure, than to dig a draining canal level with the bottom of the lake. This bottom, according to the sounding, and my barometric measurements, is 40 toises less than 222, or 182 above the surface of the ocean. On the road from Guigue to the Llanos, by the table-land of La Villa de Cura, I found, to the south of the dividing ridge, and on its southern declivity, no point of level corresponding to the 182 toises, except near San Juan. The absolute height of this village is 194 toises. But, I repeat that, farther towards the west, in the country between the Cano de Cambury and the sources of the Rio Pao, which I was not able to visit, the point of level of the bottom of the lake is much further north.) The progressive retreat of the waters has given birth to the beautiful and luxuriant plains of Maracay, Cura, Mocundo, Guigue, and Santa Cruz del Escoval, planted with tobacco, sugar-canes, coffee, indigo, and cacao; but how can it be doubted for a moment that the lake alone spreads fertility over this country? If deprived of the enormous mass of vapour which the surface of the waters sends forth daily into the atmosphere, the valleys of Aragua would become as dry and barren as the surrounding mountains.
The mean depth of the lake is from twelve to fifteen fathoms; the deepest parts are not, as is generally admitted, eighty, but thirty-five or forty deep. Such is the result of soundings made with the greatest care by Don Antonio Manzano. When we reflect on the vast depths of all the lakes of Switzerland, which, notwithstanding their position in high valleys, almost reach the level of the Mediterranean, it appears surprising that greater cavities are not found at the bottom of the lake of Valencia, which is also an Alpine lake. The deepest places are between the rocky island of Burro and the point of Cana Fistula, and opposite the high mountains of Mariara. But in general the southern part of the lake is deeper than the northern: nor must we forget that, if all the shores be now low, the southern part of the basin is the nearest to a chain of mountains with abrupt declivities; and we know that even the sea is generally deepest where the coast is elevated, rocky, or perpendicular.
The temperature of the lake at the surface during my abode in the valleys of Aragua, in the month of February, was constantly from 23 to 23.7°, consequently a little below the mean temperature of the air. This may be from the effect of evaporation, which carries off caloric from the air and the water; or because a great mass of water does not follow with an equal rapidity the changes in the temperature of the atmosphere, and the lake receives streams which rise from several cold springs in the neighbouring mountains. I have to regret that, notwithstanding its small depth, I could not determine the temperature of the water at thirty or forty fathoms. I was not provided with the thermometrical sounding apparatus which I had used in the Alpine lakes of Salzburg, and in the Caribbean Sea. The experiments of Saussure prove that, on both sides of the Alps, the lakes which are from one hundred and ninety to two hundred and seventy-four toises of absolute elevation* have, in the middle of winter, at nine hundred, at six hundred, and sometimes even at one hundred and fifty feet of depth, a uniform temperature from 4.3 to 6°: but these experiments have not yet been repeated in lakes situated under the torrid zone. The strata of cold water in Switzerland are of an enormous thickness. They have been found so near the surface in the lakes of Geneva and Bienne, that the decrement of heat in the water was one centesimal degree for ten or fifteen feet; that is to say, eight times more rapid than in the ocean, and forty-eight times more rapid than in the atmosphere. In the temperate zone, where the heat of the atmosphere sinks to the freezing point, and far lower, the bottom of a lake, even were it not surrounded by glaciers and mountains covered with eternal snow, must contain particles of water which, having during winter acquired at the surface the maximum of their density, between 3.4 and 4.4°, have consequently fallen to the greatest depth. Other particles, the temperature of which is +0.5°, far from placing themselves below the stratum at 4°, can only find their hydrostatic equilibrium above that stratum. They will descend lower only when their temperature is augmented 3 or 4° by the contact of strata less cold. If water in cooling continued to condense uniformly to the freezing point, there would be found, in very deep lakes and basins having no communication with each other (whatever the latitude of the place), a stratum of water, the temperature of which would be nearly equal to the maximum of refrigeration above the freezing point, which the lower regions of the ambient atmosphere annually attain. Hence it is probable, that, in the plains of the torrid zone, or in the valleys but little elevated, the mean heat of which is from 25.5 to 27°, the temperature of the bottom of the lakes can never be below 21 or 22°. If in the same zone the ocean contain at depths of seven or eight hundred fathoms, water the temperature of which is at 7°, that is to say, twelve or thirteen degrees colder than the maximum of the heat* of the equinoctial atmosphere over the sea, I think it must be considered as a direct proof of a submarine current, carrying the waters of the pole towards the equator. We will not here solve the delicate problem, as to the manner in which, within the tropics and in the temperate zone, (for example, in the Caribbean Sea and in the lakes of Switzerland,) these inferior strata of water, cooled to 4 or 7°, act upon the temperature of the stony strata of the globe which they cover; and how these same strata, the primitive temperature of which is, within the tropics, 27°, and at the lake of Geneva 10°, react upon the half-frozen waters at the bottom of the lakes, and of the equinoctial ocean. These questions are of the highest importance, both with regard to the economy of animals that live habitually at the bottom of fresh and salt waters, and to the theory of the distribution of heat in lands surrounded by vast and deep seas.
[* This is the difference between the absolute elevations of the lakes of Geneva and Thun.]
[* It is almost superfluous to observe that I am considering here only that part of the atmosphere lying on the ocean between 10° north and 10° south latitude. Towards the northern limits of the torrid zone, in latitude 23°, whither the north winds bring with an extreme rapidity the cold air of Canada, the thermometer falls at sea as low as 16°, and even lower.]
The lake of Valencia is full of islands, which embellish the scenery by the picturesque form of their rocks, and the beauty of the vegetation with which they are covered: an advantage which this tropical lake possesses over those of the Alps. The islands are fifteen in number, distributed in three groups;* without reckoning Morro and Cabrera, which are already joined to the shore. They are partly cultivated, and extremely fertile on account of the vapours that rise from the lake. Burro, the largest of these islands, is two miles in length, and is inhabited by some families of mestizos, who rear goats. These simple people seldom visit the shore of Mocundo. To them the lake appears of immense extent; they have plantains, cassava, milk, and a little fish. A hut constructed of reeds; hammocks woven from the cotton which the neighbouring fields produce; a large stone on which the fire is made; the ligneous fruit of the tutuma (the calabash) in which they draw water, constitute their domestic establishment. An old mestizo who offered us some goat’s milk had a beautiful daughter. We learned from our guide, that solitude had rendered him as mistrustful as he might perhaps have been made by the society of men. The day before our arrival, some hunters had visited the island. They were overtaken by the shades of night; and preferred sleeping in the open air to returning to Mocundo. This news spread alarm throughout the island. The father obliged the young girl to climb up a very lofty zamang or acacia, which grew in the plain at some distance from the hut, while he stretched himself at the foot of the tree, and did not permit his daughter to descend till the hunters had departed.
[* The position of these islands is as follows: northward, near the shore, the Isla de Cura; on the south-east, Burro, Horno, Otama, Sorro, Caiguira, Nuevos Penones, or the Aparecidos; on the north-west, Cabo Blanco, or Isla de Aves, and Chamberg; on the south-west, Brucha and Culebra. In the centre of the lake rise, like shoals or small detached rocks, Vagre, Fraile, Penasco, and Pan de Azucar.]
The lake is in general well stocked with fish; though it furnishes only three kinds, the flesh of which is soft and insipid, the guavina, the vagre, and the sardina. The two last descend into the lake with the streams that flow into it. The guavina, of which I made a drawing on the spot, is 20 inches long and 3.5 broad. It is perhaps a new species of the genus erythrina of Gronovius. It has large silvery scales edged with green. This fish is extremely voracious, and destroys other kinds. The fishermen assured us that a small crocodile, the bava,* which often approached us when we were bathing, contributes also to the destruction of the fish. We never could succeed in procuring this reptile so as to examine it closely: it generally attains only three or four feet in length. It is said to be very harmless; its habits however, as well as its form, much resemble those of the alligator (Crocodilus acutus). It swims in such a manner as to show only the point of its snout, and the extremity of its tail; and places itself at mid-day on the bare beach. It is certainly neither a monitor (the real monitors living only in the old continent,) nor the sauvegarde of Seba (Lacerta teguixin,) which dives and does not swim. It is somewhat remarkable that the lake of Valencia, and the whole system of small rivers flowing into it, have no large alligators, though this dangerous animal abounds a few leagues off in the streams which flow either into the Apure or the Orinoco, or immediately into the Caribbean Sea between Porto Cabello and La Guayra.
[* The bava, or bavilla, is very common at Bordones, near Cumana. See volume 1. The name of bava, baveuse, has misled M. Depons; he takes this reptile for a fish of our seas, the Blennius pholis. Voyage a la Terre Ferme. The Blennius pholis, smooth blenny, is called by the French baveuse (slaverer), in Spanish, baba.]
In the islands that rise like bastions in the midst of the waters, and wherever the rocky bottom of the lake is visible, I recognised a uniform direction in the strata of gneiss. This direction is nearly that of the chains of mountains on the north and south of the lake. In the hills of Cabo Blanco there are found among the gneiss, angular masses of opaque quartz, slightly translucid on the edges, and varying from grey to deep black. This quartz passes sometimes into hornstein, and sometimes into kieselschiefer (schistose jasper). I do not think it constitutes a vein. The waters of the lake* decompose the gneiss by erosion in a very extraordinary manner.
[* The water of the lake is not salt, as is asserted at Caracas. It may be drunk without being filtered. On evaporation it leaves a very small residuum of carbonate of lime, and perhaps a little nitrate of potash. It is surprising that an inland lake should not be richer in alkaline and earthy salts, acquired from the neighbouring soils. I have found parts of it porous, almost cellular, and split in the form of cauliflowers, fixed on gneiss perfectly compact. Perhaps the action ceases with the movement of the waves, and the alternate contact of air and water.]
The island of Chamberg is remarkable for its height. It is a rock of gneiss, with two summits in the form of a saddle, and raised two hundred feet above the surface of the water. The slope of this rock is barren, and affords only nourishment for a few plants of clusia with large white flowers. But the view of the lake and of the richly cultivated neighbouring valleys is beautiful, and their aspect is wonderful after sunset, when thousands of aquatic birds, herons, flamingoes, and wild ducks cross the lake to roost in the islands, and the broad zone of mountains which surrounds the horizon is covered with fire. The inhabitants, as we have already mentioned, burn the meadows in order to produce fresher and finer grass. Gramineous plants abound, especially at the summit of the chain; and those vast conflagrations extend sometimes the length of a thousand toises, and appear like streams of lava overflowing the ridge of the mountains. When reposing on the banks of the lake to enjoy the soft freshness of the air in one of those beautiful evenings peculiar to the tropics, it is delightful to contemplate in the waves as they beat the shore, the reflection of the red fires that illumine the horizon.
Among the plants which grow on the rocky islands of the lake of Valencia, many have been believed to be peculiar to those spots, because till now they have not been discovered elsewhere. Such are the papaw-trees of the lake; and the tomato* of the island of Cura. The latter differs from our Solanum lycopersicum; the fruit is round and small, but has a fine flavour; it is now cultivated at La Victoria, at Nueva Valencia, and everywhere in the valleys of Aragua. The papaw-tree of the lake (papaya de la laguna) abounds also in the island of Cura and at Cabo Blanco; its trunk shoots higher than that of the common papaw (Carica papaya), but its fruit is only half as large, perfectly spherical, without projecting ribs, and four or five inches in diameter. When cut open it is found quite filled with seeds, and without those hollow places which occur constantly in the common papaw. The taste of this fruit, of which I have often eaten, is extremely sweet.* I know not whether it be a variety of the Carica microcarpa, described by Jacquin.
[* The tomatoes are cultivated, as well as the papaw-tree of the lake, in the Botanical Garden of Berlin, to which I had sent some seeds.]
[* The people of the country attribute to it an astringent quality, and call it tapaculo.]
The environs of the lake are insalubrious only in times of great drought, when the waters in their retreat leave a muddy sediment exposed to the rays of the sun. The banks, shaded by tufts of Coccoloba barbadensis, and decorated with fine liliaceous plants,* remind us, by the appearance of the aquatic vegetation, of the marshy shores of our lakes in Europe. We find there, pondweed (potamogeton), chara, and cats’-tail three feet high, which it is difficult not to confound with the Typha angustifolia of our marshes. It is only after a careful examination, that we recognise each of these plants for distinct species,* peculiar to the new continent. How many plants of the straits of Magellan, of Chile, and the Cordilleras of Quito have formerly been confounded with the productions of the northern temperate zone, owing to their analogy in form and appearance.
[* Pancratium undulatum, Amaryllis nervosa.]
[* Potamogeton tenuifolium, Chara compressa, Typha tenuifolia.]
The inhabitants of the valleys of Aragua often inquire why the southern shore of the lake, particularly the south-west part towards los Aguacotis, is generally more shaded, and exhibits fresher verdure than the northern side. We saw, in the month of February, many trees stripped of their foliage, near the Hacienda de Cura, at Mocundo, and at Guacara; while to the south-east of Valencia everything presaged the approach of the rains. I believe that in the early part of the year, when the sun has southern declination, the hills around Valencia, Guacara, and Cura are scorched by the heat of the solar rays, while the southern shore receives, along with the breeze when it enters the valley by the Abra de Porto Cabello, an atmosphere which has crossed the lake, and is loaded with aqueous vapour. On this southern shore, near Guaruto, are situated the finest plantations of tobacco in the whole province.
Among the rivers flowing into the lake of Valencia some owe their origin to thermal springs, and deserve particular attention. These springs gush out at three points of the granitic Cordillera of the coast; near Onoto, between Turmero and Maracay; near Mariara, north-east of the Hacienda de Cura; and near Las Trincheras, on the road from Nueva Valencia to Porto Cabello. I could examine with care only the physical and geological relations of the thermal waters of Mariara and Las Trincheras. In going up the small river Cura towards its source, the mountains of Mariara are seen advancing into the plain in the form of a vast amphitheatre, composed of perpendicular rocks, crowned by peaks with rugged summits. The central point of the amphitheatre bears the strange name of the Devil’s Nook (Rincon del Diablo). The range stretching to the east is called El Chaparro; that to the west, Las Viruelas. These ruin-like rocks command the plain; they are composed of a coarse-grained granite, nearly porphyritic, the yellowish white feldspar crystals of which are more than an inch and a half long. Mica is rare in them, and is of a fine silvery lustre. Nothing can be more picturesque and solemn than the aspect of this group of mountains, half covered with vegetation. The Peak of Calavera, which unites the Rincon del Diablo to the Chaparro, is visible from afar. In it the granite is separated by perpendicular fissures into prismatic masses. It would seem as if the primitive rock were crowned with columns of basalt. In the rainy season, a considerable sheet of water rushes down like a cascade from these cliffs. The mountains connected on the east with the Rincon del Diablo, are much less lofty, and contain, like the promontory of La Cabrera, and the little detached hills in the plain, gneiss and mica-slate, including garnets.
In these lower mountains, two or three miles north-east of Mariara, we find the ravine of hot waters called Quebrada de Aguas Calientes. This ravine, running north-west 75°, contains several small basins. Of these the two uppermost, which have no communication with each other, are only eight inches in diameter; the three lower, from two to three feet. Their depth varies from three to fifteen inches. The temperature of these different funnels (pozos) is from 56 to 59°; and what is remarkable, the lower funnels are hotter than the upper, though the difference of the level is only seven or eight inches. The hot waters, collected together, form a little rivulet, called the Rio de Aguas Calientes, which, thirty feet lower, has a temperature of only 48°. In seasons of great drought, the time at which we visited the ravine, the whole body of the thermal waters forms a section of only twenty-six square inches. This is considerably augmented in the rainy season; the rivulet is then transformed into a torrent, and its heat diminishes for it appears that the hot springs themselves are subject only to imperceptible variations. All these springs are slightly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen gas. The fetid smell, peculiar to this gas, can be perceived only by approaching very near the springs. In one of these wells only, the temperature of which is 56.2°, bubbles of air are evolved at nearly regular intervals of two or three minutes. I observed that these bubbles constantly rose from the same points, which are four in number; and that it was not possible to change the places from which the gas is emitted, by stirring the bottom of the basin with a stick. These places correspond no doubt to holes or fissures on the gneiss; and indeed when the bubbles rise from one of the apertures, the emission of gas follows instantly from the other three. I could not succeed in inflaming the small quantities of gas that rise above the thermal waters, or those I collected in a glass phial held over the springs, an operation that excited in me a nausea, caused less by the smell of the gas, than by the excessive heat prevailing in this ravine. Is this sulphuretted hydrogen mixed with a great proportion of carbonic acid or atmospheric air? I am doubtful of the first of these mixtures, though so common in thermal waters; for example at Aix la Chapelle, Enghien, and Bareges. The gas collected in the tube of Fontana’s eudiometer had been shaken for a long time with water. The small basins are covered with a light film of sulphur, deposited by the sulphuretted hydrogen in its slow combustion in contact with the atmospheric oxygen. A few plants near the springs were encrusted with sulphur. This deposit is scarcely visible when the water of Mariara is suffered to cool in an open vessel; no doubt because the quantity of disengaged gas is very small, and is not renewed. The water, when cold, gives no precipitate with a solution of nitrate of copper; it is destitute of flavour, and very drinkable. If it contain any saline substances, for example, the sulphates of soda or magnesia, their quantities must be very insignificant. Being almost destitute of chemical tests,* we contented ourselves with filling at the spring two bottles, which were sent, along with the nourishing milk of the tree called palo de vaca, to MM. Fourcroy and Vauquelin, by the way of Porto Cabello and the Havannah. This purity in hot waters issuing immediately from granite mountains is in Europe, as well as in the New Continent, a most curious phenomenon.* How can we explain the origin of the sulphuretted hydrogen? It cannot proceed from the decomposition of sulphurets of iron, or pyritic strata. Is it owing to sulphurets of calcium, of magnesium, or other earthy metalloids, contained in the interior of our planet, under its rocky and oxidated crust?
[* A small case, containing acetate of lead, nitrate of silver, alcohol, prussiate of potash, etc., had been left by mistake at Cumana. I evaporated some of the water of Mariara, and it yielded only a very small residuum, which, digested with nitric acid, appeared to contain only a little silica and extractive vegetable matter.]
[* Warm springs equally pure are found issuing from the granites of Portugal, and those of Cantal. In Italy, the Pisciarelli of the lake Agnano have a temperature equal to 93°. Are these pure waters produced by condensed vapours?]
In the ravine of the hot waters of Mariara, amidst little funnels, the temperature of which rises from 56 to 59°, two species of aquatic plants vegetate; the one is membranaceous, and contains bubbles of air; the other has parallel fibres. The first much resembles the Ulva labyrinthiformis of Vandelli, which the thermal waters of Europe furnish. At the island of Amsterdam, tufts of lycopodium and marchantia have been seen in places where the heat of the soil was far greater: such is the effect of an habitual stimulus on the organs of plants. The waters of Mariara contain no aquatic insects. Frogs are found in them, which, being probably chased by serpents, have leaped into the funnels, and there perished.
South of the ravine, in the plain extending towards the shore of the lake, another sulphureous spring gushes out, less hot and less impregnated with gas. The crevice whence this water issues is six toises higher than the funnel just described. The thermometer did not rise in the crevice above 42°. The water is collected in a basin surrounded by large trees; it is nearly circular, from fifteen to eighteen feet diameter, and three feet deep. The slaves throw themselves into this bath at the end of the day, when covered with dust, after having worked in the neighbouring fields of indigo and sugar-cane. Though the water of this bath (bano) is habitually from 12 to 14° hotter than the air, the negroes call it refreshing; because in the torrid zone this term is used for whatever restores strength, calms the irritation of the nerves, or causes a feeling of comfort. We ourselves experienced the salutary effects of the bath. Having slung our hammocks on the trees round the basin, we passed a whole day in this charming spot, which abounds in plants. We found near the bano of Mariara the volador, or gyrocarpus. The winged fruits of this large tree turn like a fly-wheel, when they fall from the stalk. On shaking the branches of the volador, we saw the air filled with its fruits, the simultaneous fall of which presents the most singular spectacle. The two membranaceous and striated wings are turned so as to meet the air, in falling, at an angle of 45°. Fortunately the fruits we gathered were at their maturity. We sent some to Europe, and they have germinated in the gardens of Berlin, Paris, and Malmaison. The numerous plants of the volador, now seen in hot-houses, owe their origin to the only tree of the kind found near Mariara. The geographical distribution of the different species of gyrocarpus, which Mr. Brown considers as one of the laurineae, is very singular. Jacquin saw one species near Carthagena in America.* This is the same which we met with again in Mexico, near Zumpango, on the road from Acapulco to the capital.* Another species, which grows on the mountains of Coromandel,* has been described by Roxburgh; the third and fourth* grow in the southern hemisphere, on the coasts of Australia.
[* The Gyrocarpus Jacquini of Gartner, or Gyrocarpus americanus of Willdenouw.]
[* The natives of Mexico called it quitlacoctli. I saw some of its young leaves with three and five lobes; the full-grown leaves are in the form of a heart, and always with three lobes. We never met with the volador in flower.]
[* This is the Gyrocarpus asiaticus of Willdenouw.]
[* Gyrocarpus sphenopterus, and G. rugosus.]
After getting out of the bath, while, half-wrapped in a sheet, we were drying ourselves in the sun, according to the custom of the country, a little man of the mulatto race approached us. After bowing gravely, he made us a long speech on the virtues of the waters of Mariara, adverting to the numbers of invalids by whom they have been visited for some years past, and to the favourable situation of the springs, between the two towns Valencia and Caracas. He showed us his house, a little hut covered with palm-leaves, situated in an enclosure at a small distance, on the bank of a rivulet, communicating with the bath. He assured us that we should there find all the conveniences of life; nails to suspend our hammocks, ox-leather to stretch over benches made of reeds, earthern vases always filled with cool water, and what, after the bath, would be most salutary of all, those great lizards (iguanas), the flesh of which is known to be a refreshing aliment. We judged from his harangue, that this good man took us for invalids, who had come to stay near the spring. His counsels and offers of hospitality were not altogether disinterested. He styled himself the inspector of the waters, and the pulpero* of the place. Accordingly all his obliging attentions to us ceased as soon as he heard that we had come merely to satisfy our curiosity; or as they express it in the Spanish colonies, those lands of idleness, para ver, no mas, to see, and nothing more. The waters of Mariara are used with success in rheumatic swellings, and affections of the skin. As the waters are but very feebly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen, it is necessary to bathe at the spot where the springs issue. Farther on, these same waters are employed for the irrigation of fields of indigo. A wealthy landed proprietor of Mariara, Don Domingo Tovar, had formed the project of erecting a bathing-house, and an establishment which would furnish visitors with better resources than lizard’s flesh for food, and leather stretched on a bench for their repose.
[* Proprietor of a pulperia, or little shop where refreshments are sold.]
On the 21st of February, in the evening, we set out from the beautiful Hacienda de Cura for Guacara and Nueva Valencia. We preferred travelling by night, on account of the excessive heat of the day. We passed by the hamlet of Punta Zamuro, at the foot of the high mountains of Las Viruelas. The road is bordered with large zamang-trees, or mimosas, the trunks of which rise to sixty feet high. Their branches, nearly horizontal, meet at more than one hundred and fifty feet distance. I have nowhere seen a vault of verdure more beautiful and luxuriant. The night was gloomy: the Rincon del Diablo with its denticulated rocks appeared from time to time at a distance, illumined by the burning of the savannahs, or wrapped in ruddy smoke. At the spot where the bushes were thickest, our horses were frightened by the yell of an animal that seemed to follow us closely. It was a large jaguar, which had roamed for three years among these mountains. He had constantly escaped the pursuits of the boldest hunters, and had carried off horses and mules from the midst of enclosures; but, having no want of food, had not yet attacked men. The negro who conducted us uttered wild cries, expecting by these means to frighten the tiger; but his efforts were ineffectual. The jaguar, like the wolf of Europe, follows travellers even when he will not attack them; the wolf in the open fields and in unsheltered places, the jaguar skirting the road and appearing only at intervals between the bushes.
We passed the day on the 23rd in the house of the Marquis de Toro, at the village of Guacara, a very considerable Indian community. An avenue of carolineas leads from Guacara to Mocundo. It was the first time I had seen in the open air this majestic plant, which forms one of the principal ornaments of the extensive conservatories of Schonbrunn.* Mocundo is a rich plantation of sugar-canes, belonging to the family of Toro. We there find, what is so rare in that country, a garden, artificial clumps of trees, and on the border of the water, upon a rock of gneiss, a pavilion with a mirador, or belvidere. The view is delightful over the western part of the lake, the surrounding mountains, and a forest of palm-trees that separates Guacara from the city of Nueva Valencia. The fields of sugar-cane, from the soft verdure of the young reeds, resemble a vast meadow. Everything denotes abundance; but it is at the price of the liberty of the cultivators. At Mocundo, with two hundred and thirty negroes, seventy-seven tablones, or cane-fields, are cultivated, each of which, ten thousand varas square,* yields a net profit of two hundred or two hundred and forty piastres a-year. The creole cane and the cane of Otaheite* are planted in the month of April, the first at four, the second at five feet distance. The cane ripens in fourteen months. It flowers in the month of October, if the plant be sufficiently vigorous; but the top is cut off before the panicle unfolds. In all the monocotyledonous plants (for example, the maguey cultivated at Mexico for extracting pulque, the wine-yielding palm-tree, and the sugar-cane), the flowering alters the quality of the juices. The preparation of sugar, the boiling, and the claying, are very imperfect in Terra Firma, because it is made only for home consumption; and for wholesale, papelon is preferred to sugar, either refined or raw. This papelon is an impure sugar, in the form of little loaves, of a yellow-brown colour. It contains a mixture of molasses and mucilaginous matter. The poorest man eats papelon, as in Europe he eats cheese. It is believed to have nutritive qualities. Fermented with water it yields the guarapo, the favourite beverage of the people. In the province of Caracas subcarbonate of potash is used, instead of lime, to purify the juice of the sugar-cane. The ashes of the bucare, which is the Erythrina corallodendrum, are preferred.
[* Every tree of the Carolinea princeps at Schonbrunn has sprung from seeds collected from one single tree of enormous size, near Chacao, east of Caracas.]
[* A tablon, equal to 1849 square toises, contains nearly an acre and one-fifth: a legal acre has 1344 square toises, and 1.95 legal acre is equal to one hectare.]
[* In the island of Palma, where in the latitude of 29° the sugar-cane is said to be cultivated as high as 140 toises above the level of the Atlantic, the Otaheite cane requires more heat than the Creole cane.]
The sugar-cane was introduced very late, probably towards the end of the sixteenth century, from the West India Islands, into the valleys of Aragua. It was known in India, in China, and in all the islands of the Pacific, from the most remote antiquity; and it was planted at Khorassan, in Persia, as early as the fifth century of our era, in order to obtain from it solid sugar.* The Arabs carried this reed, so useful to the inhabitants of hot and temperate countries, to the shores of the Mediterranean. In 1306, its cultivation was yet unknown in Sicily; but was already common in the island of Cyprus, at Rhodes, and in the Morea. A hundred years after it enriched Calabria, Sicily, and the coasts of Spain. From Sicily the Infante Don Henry transported the cane to Madeira: from Madeira it passed to the Canary Islands, where it was entirely unknown; for the ferulae of Juba, quae expressae liquorem fundunt potui ucundum, are euphorbias (the Tabayba dulce), and not, as has been recently asserted,* sugar-canes. Twelve sugar-manufactories (ingenios de azucar) were soon established in the island of Great Canary, in that of Palma, and between Adexe, Icod, and Guarachico, in the island of Teneriffe. Negroes were employed in this cultivation, and their descendants still inhabit the grottos of Tiraxana, in the Great Canary. Since the sugar-cane has been transplanted to the West Indies, and the New World has given maize to the Canaries, the cultivation of the latter has taken the place of the cane at Teneriffe and the Great Canary. The cane is now found only in the island of Palma, near Argual and Tazacorte,* where it yields scarcely one thousand quintals of sugar a year. The sugar-cane of the Canaries, which Aiguilon transported to St. Domingo, was there cultivated extensively as early as 1513, or during the six or seven following years, under the auspices of the monks of St. Jerome. Negroes were employed in this cultivation from its commencement; and in 1519 representations were made to government, as in our own time, that the West India Islands would be ruined and made desert, if slaves were not conveyed thither annually from the coast of Guinea.
[* The Indian name for the sugar-cane is sharkara. Thence the word sugar.]
[* On the origin of cane-sugar, in the Journal de Pharmacie 1816 page 387. The Tabayba dulce is, according to Von Buch, the Euphorbia balsamifera, the juice of which is neither corrosive nor bitter like that of the cardon, or Euphorbia canariensis.]
[* “Notice sur la Culture du Sucre dans les Isles Canariennes” by Leopold von Buch.]
For some years past the culture and preparation of sugar has been much improved in Terra Firma; and, as the process of refining is prohibited by the laws at Jamaica, they reckon on the fraudulent exportation of refined sugar to the English colonies. But the consumption of the provinces of Venezuela, in papelon, and in raw sugar employed in making chocolate and sweetmeats (dulces) is so enormous, that the exportation has been hitherto entirely null. The finest plantations of sugar are in the valleys of Aragua and of the Tuy, near Pao de Zarate, between La Victoria and San Sebastian, near Guatire, Guarenas, and Caurimare. The first canes arrived in the New World from the Canary Islands; and even now Canarians, or Islenos, are placed at the head of most of the great plantations, and superintend the labours of cultivation and refining.
It is this connexion between the Canarians and the inhabitants of Venezuela, that has given rise to the introduction of camels into those provinces. The Marquis del Toro caused three to be brought from Lancerote. The expense of conveyance was very considerable, owing to the space which these animals occupy on board merchant-vessels, and the great quantity of water they require during a long sea-voyage. A camel, bought for thirty piastres, costs between eight and nine hundred before it reaches the coast of Caracas. We saw four of these animals at Mocundo; three of which had been bred in America. Two others had died of the bite of the coral, a venomous serpent very common on the banks of the lake. These camels have hitherto been employed only in the conveyance of the sugarcanes to the mill. The males, stronger than the females, carry from forty to fifty arrobas. A wealthy landholder in the province of Varinas, encouraged by the example of the Marquis del Toro, has allotted a sum of 15,000 piastres for the purpose of bringing fourteen or fifteen camels at once from the Canary Islands. It is presumed these beasts of burden may be employed in the conveyance of merchandise across the burning plains of Casanare, from the Apure and Calabozo, which in the season of drought resemble the deserts of Africa. How advantageous it would have been had the Conquistadores, from the beginning of the sixteenth century, peopled America with camels, as they have peopled it with horned cattle, horses, and mules. Wherever there are immense distances to cross in uninhabited lands; wherever the construction of canals becomes difficult (as in the isthmus of Panama, on the table-land of Mexico, and in the deserts that separate the kingdom of Quito from Peru, and Peru from Chile), camels would be of the highest importance, to facilitate inland commerce. It seems the more surprising, that their introduction was not encouraged by the government at the beginning of the conquest, as, long after the taking of Grenada, camels, for which the Moors had a great predilection, were still very common in the south of Spain. A Biscayan, Juan de Reinaga, carried some of these animals at his own expense to Peru. Father Acosta saw them at the foot of the Andes, about the end of the sixteenth century; but little care being taken of them, they scarcely ever bred, and the race soon became extinct. In those times of oppression and cruelty, which have been described as the era of Spanish glory, the commendatories (encomenderos) let out the Indians to travellers like beasts of burden. They were assembled by hundreds, either to carry merchandise across the Cordilleras, or to follow the armies in their expeditions of discovery and pillage. The Indians endured this service more patiently, because, owing to the almost total want of domestic animals, they had long been constrained to perform it, though in a less inhuman manner, under the government of their own chiefs. The introduction of camels attempted by Juan de Reinaga spread an alarm among the encomenderos, who were, not by law, but in fact, lords of the Indian villages. The court listened to the complaints of the encomenderos; and in consequence America was deprived of one of the means which would have most facilitated inland communication, and the exchange of productions. Now, however, there is no reason why the introduction of camels should not be attempted as a general measure. Some hundreds of these useful animals, spread over the vast surface of America, in hot and barren places, would in a few years have a powerful influence on the public prosperity. Provinces separated by steppes would then appear to be brought nearer to each other; several kinds of inland merchandize would diminish in price on the coast; and by increasing the number of camels, above all the species called hedjin, or the ship of the desert, a new life would be given to the industry and commerce of the New World.
On the evening of the 22nd we continued our journey from Mocundo by Los Guayos to the city of Nueva Valencia. We passed a little forest of palm-trees, which resembled, by their appearance, and their leaves spread like a fan, the Chamaerops humilis of the coast of Barbary. The trunk, however, rises to twenty-four and sometimes thirty feet high. It is probably a new species of the genus corypha; and is called in the country palma de sombrero, the footstalks of the leaves being employed in weaving hats resembling our straw hats. This grove of palm-trees, the withered foliage of which rustles at the least breath of air — the camels feeding in the plain — the undulating motion of the vapours on a soil scorched by the ardour of the sun, give the landscape an African aspect. The aridity of the land augments as the traveller approaches the town, after passing the western extremity of the lake. It is a clayey soil, which has been levelled and abandoned by the waters. The neighbouring hills, called Los Morros de Valencia, are composed of white tufa, a very recent limestone formation, immediately covering the gneiss. It is again found at Victoria, and on several other points along the chain of the coast. The whiteness of this tufa, which reflects the rays of the sun, contributes greatly to the excessive heat felt in this place. Everything seems smitten with sterility; scarcely are a few plants of cacao found on the banks of the Rio de Valencia; the rest of the plain is bare, and destitute of vegetation. This appearance of sterility is here attributed, as it is everywhere in the valleys of Aragua, to the cultivation of indigo; which, according to the planters, is, of all plants, that which most exhausts (cansa) the ground. The real physical causes of this phenomenon would be an interesting inquiry, since, like the effects of fallowing land, and of a rotation of crops, it is far from being sufficiently understood. I shall only observe in general, that the complaints of the increasing sterility of cultivated land become more frequent between the tropics, in proportion as they are near the period of their first breaking-up. In a region almost destitute of herbs, where every plant has a ligneous stem, and tends to raise itself as a shrub, the virgin soil remains shaded either by great trees, or by bushes; and under this tufted shade it preserves everywhere coolness and humidity. However active the vegetation of the tropics may appear, the number of roots that penetrate into the earth, is not so great in an uncultivated soil; while the plants are nearer to each other in lands subjected to cultivation, and covered with indigo, sugar-canes, or cassava. The trees and shrubs, loaded with branches and leaves, draw a great part of their nourishment from the ambient air; and the virgin soil augments its fertility by the decomposition of the vegetable substances which progressively accumulate. It is not so in the fields covered with indigo, or other herbaceous plants; where the rays of the sun penetrate freely into the earth, and by the accelerated combustion of the hydrurets of carbon and other acidifiable principles, destroy the germs of fecundity. These effects strike the imagination of the planters the more forcibly, as in lands newly inhabited they compare the fertility of a soil which has been abandoned to itself during thousands of years, with the produce of ploughed fields. The Spanish colonies on the continent, and the great islands of Porto–Rico and Cuba, possess remarkable advantages with respect to the produce of agriculture over the lesser West India islands. The former, from their extent, the variety of their scenery, and their small relative population, still bear all the characters of a new soil; while at Barbadoes, Tobago, St. Lucia, the Virgin Islands, and the French part of St. Domingo, it may be perceived that long cultivation has begun to exhaust the soil. If in the valleys of Aragua, instead of abandoning the indigo grounds, and leaving them fallow, they were covered during several years, not with corn, but with other alimentary plants and forage; if among these plants such as belong to different families were preferred, and which shade the soil by their large leaves, the amelioration of the fields would be gradually accomplished, and they would be restored to a part of their former fertility.
The city of Nueva Valencia occupies a considerable extent of ground, but its population scarcely amounts to six or seven thousand souls. The streets are very broad, the market place, (plaza mayor,) is of vast dimensions; and, the houses being low, the disproportion between the population of the town, and the space that it occupies, is still greater than at Caracas. Many of the whites, (especially the poorest,) forsake their houses, and live the greater part of the year in their little plantations of indigo and cotton, where they can venture to work with their own hands; which, according to the inveterate prejudices of that country, would be a disgrace to them in the town.
Nueva Valencia, founded in 1555 under the government of Villacinda, by Alonzo Diaz Moreno, is twelve years older than Caracas. Valencia was at first only a dependency of Burburata; but this latter town is nothing now but a place of embarkation for mules. It is regretted, and perhaps justly, that Valencia has not become the capital of the country. Its situation in a plain, on the banks of a lake, recalls to mind the position of Mexico. When we reflect on the easy communication afforded by the valleys of Aragua with the Llanos and the rivers that flow into the Orinoco; when we recognize the possibility of opening an inland navigation, by the Rio Pao and the Portuguesa, as far as the mouths of the Orinoco, the Cassiquiare, and the Amazon, it may be conceived that the capital of the vast provinces of Venezuela would have been better placed near the fine harbour of Porto Cabello, beneath a pure and serene sky, than near the unsheltered road of La Guayra, in a temperate but constantly foggy valley. Near the kingdom of New Grenada, and situate between the fertile corn-lands of La Victoria and Barquesimeto, the city of Valencia ought to have prospered; but, notwithstanding these advantages, it has been unable to maintain the contest with Caracas.
Only those who have seen the myriads of ants, that infest the countries within the torrid zone, can form an idea of the destruction and the sinking of the ground occasioned by these insects. They abound to such a degree on the site of Valencia, that their excavations resemble subterranean canals, which are filled with water in the time of the rains, and become very dangerous to the buildings. Here recourse has not been had to the extraordinary means employed at the beginning of the sixteenth century in the island of St. Domingo, when troops of ants ravaged the fine plains of La Vega, and the rich possessions of the order of St. Francis. The monks, after having in vain burnt the larvae of the ants, and had recourse to fumigations, advised the inhabitants to choose by lot a saint, who would act as a mediator against the plague of the ants.* The honour of the choice fell on St. Saturnin; and the ants disappeared as soon as the first festival of this saint was celebrated. Incredulity has made great progress since the time of the conquest; and it was only on the back of the Cordilleras that I found a small chapel, destined, according to its inscription, for prayers to be addressed to Heaven for the destruction of the termites.
[* Un abogado contra los harmigos.]
Valencia affords some historical remembrances; but these, like everything connected with the colonies, have no remote date, and recall to mind either civil discords or sanguinary conflicts with the savages. Lopez de Aguirre, whose crimes and adventures form some of the most dramatic episodes of the history of the conquest, proceeded in 1561, from Peru, by the river Amazon to the island of Margareta; and thence, by the port of Burburata, into the valleys of Aragua. On his entrance into Valencia, which proudly entitles itself the City of the King, he proclaimed the independence of country, and the deposition of Philip II. The inhabitants withdrew to the islands of the lake of Tacarigua, taking with them all the boats from the shore, to be more secure in their retreat. In consequence of this stratagem, Aguirre could exercise his cruelties only on his own people. From Valencia he addressed to the king of Spain, a remarkable letter, in which he boasts alternately of his crimes and his piety; at the same time giving advice to the king on the government of the colonies, and the system of missions. Surrounded by savage Indians, navigating on a great sea of fresh water, as he calls the Amazon, he is alarmed at the heresies of Martin Luther, and the increasing influence of schismatics in Europe.*
[* The following are some remarkable passages in the letter from Aguirre to the king of Spain.
“King Philip, native of Spain, son of Charles the Invincible! I, Lopez de Aguirre, thy vassal, an old Christian, of poor but noble parents, and a native of the town of Onate in Biscay, passed over young to Peru, to labour lance in hand. I rendered thee great services in the conquest of India. I fought for thy glory, without demanding pay of thy officers, as is proved by the books of thy treasury. I firmly believe, Christian King and Lord, that, very ungrateful to me and my companions, all those who write to thee from this land [America], deceive thee much, because thou seest things from too far off. I recommend to thee to be more just toward the good vassals whom thou hast in this country: for I and mine, weary of the cruelties and injustice which thy viceroys, thy governors, and thy judges, exercise in thy name, are resolved to obey thee no more. We regard ourselves no longer as Spaniards. We wage a cruel war against thee, because we will not endure the oppression of thy ministers; who, to give places to their nephews and their children, dispose of our lives, our reputation, and our fortune. I am lame in the left foot from two shots of an arquebuss, which I received in the valley of Coquimbo, fighting under the orders of thy marshal, Alonzo de Alvarado, against Francis Hernandez Giron, then a rebel, as I am at present, and shall be always; for since thy viceroy, the Marquis de Canete, a cowardly, ambitious, and effeminate man, has hanged our most valiant warriors, I care no more for thy pardon than for the books of Martin Luther. It is not well in thee, King of Spain, to be ungrateful toward thy vassals; for it was whilst thy father, the emperor Charles, remained quietly in Castile, that they procured for thee so many kingdoms and vast countries. Remember, King Philip, that thou hast no right to draw revenues from these provinces, the conquest of which has been without danger to thee, but inasmuch as thou recompensest those who have rendered thee such great services. I am certain that few kings go to heaven. Therefore we regard ourselves as very happy to be here in the Indies, preserving in all their purity the commandments of God, and of the Roman Church; and we intend, though sinners during life, to become one day martyrs to the glory of God. On going out of the river Amazon, we landed in an island called La Margareta. We there received news from Spain of the great faction and machination (maquina) of the Lutherans. This news alarmed us extremely; we found among us one of that faction; his name was Monteverde. I had him cut to pieces, as was just: for, believe me, Senor, wherever I am, people live according to the law. But the corruption of morals among the monks is so great in this land that it is necessary to chastise it severely. There is not an ecclesiastic here who does not think himself higher than the governor of a province. I beg of thee, great King, not to believe what the monks tell thee down yonder in Spain. They are always talking of the sacrifices they make, as well as of the hard and bitter life they are forced to lead in America: while they occupy the richest lands, and the Indians hunt and fish for them every day. If they shed tears before thy throne, it is that thou mayest send them hither to govern provinces. Dost thou know what sort of life they lead here? Given up to luxury, acquiring possessions, selling the sacraments, being at once ambitious, violent, and gluttonous; such is the life they lead in America. The faith of the Indians suffer by such bad examples. If thou dost not change all this, O King of Spain, thy government will not be stable.
“What a misfortune that the Emperor, thy father, should have conquered Germany at such a price, and spent, on that conquest, the money we procured for him in these very Indies! In the year 1559 the Marquis de Canete sent to the Amazon, Pedro de Ursua, a Navarrese, or rather a Frenchman: we sailed on the largest rivers of Peru till we came to a gulf of fresh water. We had already gone three hundred leagues when we killed that bad and ambitious captain. We chose a caballero of Seville, Fernando de Guzman, for king: and we swore fealty to him, as is done to thyself. I was named quarter-master-general: and because I did not consent to all he willed, he wanted to kill me. But I killed this new king, the captain of his guards, his lieutenant-general, his chaplain, a woman, a knight of the order of Rhodes, two ensigns, and five or six domestics of the pretended king. I then resolved to punish thy ministers and thy auditors (counsellors of the audiencia). I named captains and sergeants: these again wanted to kill me, but I had them all hanged. In the midst of these adventures we navigated for eleven months, till we reached the mouth of the river. We sailed more than fifteen hundred leagues. God knows how we got through that great mass of water. I advise thee, O great King, never to send Spanish fleets into that accursed river. God preserve thee in his holy keeping.”
This letter was given by Aguirre to the vicar of the island of Margareta, Pedro de Contreras, in order to be transmitted to King Philip II. Fray Pedro Simon, Provincial of the Franciscans in New Grenada, saw several manuscript copies of it both in America and in Spain. It was printed, for the first time, in 1723, in the History of the Province of Venezuela, by Oviedo, volume 1 page 206. Complaints no less violent, on the conduct of the monks of the 16th century, were addressed directly to the pope by the Milanese traveller, Girolamo Benzoni.]
Lopez de Aguirre, or as he is still called by the common people, the Tyrant, was killed at Barquesimeto, after having been abandoned by his own men. At the moment when he fell, he plunged a dagger into the bosom of his only daughter, “that she might not have to blush before the Spaniards at the name of the daughter of a traitor.” The soul of the tyrant (such is the belief of the natives) wanders in the savannahs, like a flame that flies the approach of men.*
[* See volume 1 chapter 1.4.]
The second historical event connected with the name of Valencia is the great incursion made by the Caribs of the Orinoco in 1578 and 1580. That cannibal horde went up the banks of the Guarico, crossing the plains or llanos. They were happily repulsed by the valour of Garcia Gonzales, one of the captains whose names are still most revered in those provinces. It is gratifying to recollect, that the descendants of those very Caribs now live in the missions as peaceable husbandmen, and that no savage nation of Guiana dares to cross the plains which separate the region of the forests from that of cultivated land. The Cordillera of the coast is intersected by several ravines, very uniformly directed from south-east to north-west. This phenomenon is general from the Quebrada of Tocume, between Petares and Caracas, as far as Porto Cabello. It would seem as if the impulsion had everywhere come from the south-east; and this fact is the more striking, as the strata of gneiss and mica-slate in the Cordillera of the coast are generally directed from the south-west to the north-east. Most of these ravines penetrate into the mountains at their southern declivity, without crossing them entirely. But there is an opening (abra) on the meridian of Nueva Valencia, which leads towards the coast, and by which a cooling sea-breeze penetrates every evening into the valleys of Aragua. This breeze rises regularly two or three hours after sunset.
By this abra, the farm of Barbula, and an eastern branch of the ravine, a new road is being constructed from Valencia to Porto Cabello. It will be so short, that it will require only four hours to reach the port; and the traveller will be able to go and return in the same day from the coast to the valleys of Aragua. In order to examine this road, we set out on the 26th of February in the evening for the farm of Barbula.
On the morning of the 27th we visited the hot springs of La Trinchera, three leagues from Valencia. The ravine is very large, and the descent almost continual from the banks of the lake to the sea-coast. La Trinchera takes its name from some fortifications of earth, thrown up in 1677 by the French buccaneers, who sacked the town of Valencia. The hot springs (and this is a remarkable geological fact,) do not issue on the south side of the mountains, like those of Mariara, Onoto, and the Brigantine; but they issue from the chain itself almost at its northern declivity. They are much more abundant than any we had till then seen, forming a rivulet which, in times of the greatest drought, is two feet deep and eighteen wide. The temperature of the water, measured with great care, was 90.3° of the centigrade thermometer. Next to the springs of Urijino, in Japan, which are asserted to be pure water at 100° of temperature, the waters of the Trinchera of Porto Cabello appear to be the hottest in the world. We breakfasted near the spring; eggs plunged into the water were boiled in less than four minutes. These waters, strongly charged with sulphuretted hydrogen, gush out from the back of a hill rising one hundred and fifty feet above the bottom of the ravine, and tending from south-south-east to north-north-west. The rock from which the springs gush, is a real coarse-grained granite, resembling that of the Rincon del Diablo, in the mountains of Mariara. Wherever the waters evaporate in the air, they form sediments and incrustations of carbonate of lime; possibly they traverse strata of primitive limestone, so common in the mica-slate and gneiss of the coasts of Caracas. We were surprised at the luxuriant vegetation that surrounds the basin; mimosas with slender pinnate leaves, clusias, and fig-trees, have pushed their roots into the bottom of a pool, the temperature of which is 85°; and the branches of these trees extended over the surface of the water, at two or three inches distance. The foliage of the mimosas, though constantly enveloped in the hot vapours, displayed the most beautiful verdure. An arum, with a woody stem, and with large sagittate leaves, rose in the very middle of a pool the temperature of which was 70°. Plants of the same species vegetate in other parts of those mountains at the brink of torrents, the temperature of which is not 18°. What is still more singular, forty feet distant from the point whence the springs gush out at a temperature of 90°, other springs are found perfectly cold. They all follow for some time a parallel direction; and the natives showed us that, by digging a hole between the two rivulets, they could procure a bath of any given temperature they pleased. It seems remarkable, that in the hottest as well as the coldest climates, people display the same predilection for heat. On the introduction of Christianity into Iceland, the inhabitants would be baptized only in the hot springs of Hecla: and in the torrid zone, in the plains, as well as on the Cordilleras, the natives flock from all parts to the thermal waters. The sick, who come to La Trinchera to use vapour-baths, form a sort of frame-work over the spring with branches of trees and very slender reeds. They stretch themselves naked on this frame, which appeared to me to possess little strength, and to be dangerous of access. The Rio de Aguas Calientes runs towards the north-east, and becomes, near the coast, a considerable river, swarming with great crocodiles, and contributing, by its inundations, to the insalubrity of the shore.
We descended towards Porto Cabello, having constantly the river of hot water on our right. The road is extremely picturesque, and the waters roll down on the shelves of rock. We might have fancied we were gazing on the cascades of the Reuss, that flows down Mount St. Gothard; but what a contrast in the vigour and richness of the vegetation! The white trunks of the cecropia rise majestically amid bignonias and melastomas. They do not disappear till we are within a hundred toises above the level of the ocean. A small thorny palm-tree extends also to this limit; the slender pinnate leaves of which look as if they had been curled toward the edges. This tree is very common in these mountains; but not having seen either its fruit or its flowers, we are ignorant whether it be the piritu palm-tree of the Caribbees, or the Cocos aculeata of Jacquin.
The rock on this road presents a geological phenomenon, the more remarkable as the existence of real stratified granite has long been disputed. Between La Trinchera and the Hato de Cambury a coarse-grained granite appears, which, from the disposition of the spangles of mica, collected in small groups, scarcely admits of confounding with gneiss, or with rocks of a schistose texture. This granite, divided into ledges of two or three feet thick, is directed 52° north-east, and slopes to the north-west regularly at an angle of from 30 or 40°. The feldspar, crystallized in prisms with four unequal sides, about an inch long, passes through every variety of tint from a flesh-red to yellowish white. The mica, united in hexagonal plates, is black, and sometimes green. The quartz predominates in the mass; and is generally of a milky white. I observed neither hornblende, black schorl, nor rutile titanite, in this granite. In some ledges we recognised round masses, of a blackish gray, very quartzose, and almost destitute of mica. They are from one to two inches diameter; and are found in every zone, in all granite mountains. These are not imbedded fragments, as at Greiffenstein in Saxony, but aggregations of particles which seem to have been subjected to partial attractions. I could not follow the line of junction of the gneiss and granitic formations. According to angles taken in the valleys of Aragua, the gneiss appears to descend below the granite, which must consequently be of a more recent formation. The appearance of a stratified granite excited my attention the more, because, having had the direction of the mines of Fichtelberg in Franconia for several years, I was accustomed to see granites divided into ledges of three or four feet thick, but little inclined, and forming masses like towers, or old ruins, at the summit of the highest mountains.*
[* At Ochsenkopf, at Rudolphstein, at Epprechtstein, at Luxburg, and at Schneeberg. The dip of the strata of these granites of Fichtelberg is generally only from 6 to 10°, rarely (at Schneeberg) 18°. According to the dips I observed in the neighbouring strata of gneiss and mica-slate, I should think that the granite of Fichtelberg is very ancient, and serves as a basis for other formations; but the strata of grunstein, and the disseminated tin-ore which it contains, may lead us to doubt its great antiquity, from the analogy of the granites of Saxony containing tin.]
The heat became stifling as we approached the coast. A reddish vapour veiled the horizon. It was near sunset, and the breeze was not yet stirring. We rested in the lonely farms known under the names of the Hato de Cambury and the house of the Canarian (Casa del Isleno). The river of hot water, along the banks of which we passed, became deeper. A crocodile, more than nine feet long, lay dead on the strand. We wished to examine its teeth, and the inside of its mouth; but having been exposed to the sun for several weeks, it exhaled a smell so fetid that we were obliged to relinquish our design and remount our horses. When we arrived at the level of the sea, the road turned eastward, and crossed a barren shore a league and a half broad, resembling that of Cumana. We there found some scattered cactuses, a sesuvium, a few plants of Coccoloba uvifera, and along the coast some avicennias and mangroves. We forded the Guayguaza and the Rio Estevan, which, by their frequent overflowing, form great pools of stagnant water. Small rocks of meandrites, madrepores, and other corals, either ramified or with a rounded surface, rise in this vast plain, and seem to attest the recent retreat of the sea. But these masses, which are the habitations of polypi, are only fragments imbedded in a breccia with a calcareous cement. I say a breccia, because we must not confound the fresh and white corallites of this very recent littoral formation, with the corallites blended in the mass of transition-rocks, grauwacke, and black limestone. We were astonished to find in this uninhabited spot a large Parkinsonia aculeata loaded with flowers. Our botanical works indicate this tree as peculiar to the New World; but during five years we saw it only twice in a wild state, once in the plains of the Rio Guayguaza, and once in the llanos of Cumana, thirty leagues from the coast, near la Villa del Pao, but there was reason to believe that this latter place had once been a conuco, or cultivated enclosure. Everywhere else on the continent of America we saw the Parkinsonia, like the Plumeria, only in the gardens of the Indians.
At Porto Cabello, as at La Guayra, it is disputed whether the port lies east or west of the town, with which the communications are the most frequent. The inhabitants believe that Porto Cabello is north-north-west of Nueva Valencia; and my observations give a longitude of three or four minutes more towards the west.
We were received with the utmost kindness in the house of a French physician, M. Juliac, who had studied medicine at Montpelier. His small house contained a collection of things the most various, but which were all calculated to interest travellers. We found works of literature and natural history; notes on meteorology; skins of the jaguar and of large aquatic serpents; live animals, monkeys, armadilloes, and birds. Our host was principal surgeon to the royal hospital of Porto Cabello, and was celebrated in the country for his skilful treatment of the yellow fever. During a period of seven years he had seen six or eight thousand persons enter the hospitals, attacked by this cruel malady. He had observed the ravages that the epidemic caused in Admiral Ariztizabal’s fleet, in 1793. That fleet lost nearly a third of its men; for the sailors were almost all unseasoned Europeans, and held unrestrained intercourse with the shore. M. Juliac had heretofore treated the sick as was commonly practised in Terra Firma, and in the island, by bleeding, aperient medicines, and acid drinks. In this treatment no attempt was made to raise the vital powers by the action of stimulants, so that, in attempting to allay the fever, the languor and debility were augmented. In the hospitals, where the sick were crowded, the mortality was often thirty-three per cent among the white Creoles; and sixty-five in a hundred among the Europeans recently disembarked. Since a stimulant treatment, the use of opium, of benzoin, and of alcoholic draughts, has been substituted for the old debilitating method, the mortality has considerably diminished. It was believed to be reduced to twenty in a hundred among Europeans, and ten among Creoles;* even when black vomiting, and haemorrhage from the nose, ears, and gums, indicated a high degree of exacerbation in the malady. I relate faithfully what was then given as the general result of observation: but I think, in these numerical comparisons, it must not be forgotten, that, notwithstanding appearances, the epidemics of several successive years do not resemble each other; and that, in order to decide on the use of fortifying or debilitating remedies, (if indeed this difference exist in an absolute sense,) we must distinguish between the various periods of the malady.
[* I have treated in another work of the proportions of mortality in the yellow fever. (Nouvelle Espagne volume 2 pages 777, 785, and 867.) At Cadiz the average mortality was, in 1800, twenty per cent; at Seville, in 1801, it amounted to sixty per cent. At Vera Cruz the mortality does not exceed twelve or fifteen per cent, when the sick can be properly attended. In the civil hospitals of Paris the number of deaths, one year with another, is from fourteen to eighteen per cent; but it is asserted that a great number of patients enter the hospitals almost dying, or at very advanced time of life.]
The climate of Porto Cabello is less ardent than that of La Guayra. The breeze there is stronger, more frequent, and more regular. The houses do not lean against rocks that absorb the rays of the sun during the day, and emit caloric at night, and the air can circulate more freely between the coast and the mountains of Ilaria. The causes of the insalubrity of the atmosphere must be sought in the shores that extend to the east, as far as the eye can reach, towards the Punta de Tucasos, near the fine port of Chichiribiche. There are situated the salt-works; and there, at the beginning of the rainy season, tertian fevers prevail, and easily degenerate into asthenic fevers. It is affirmed that the mestizoes who are employed in the salt-works are more tawny, and have a yellower skin, when they have suffered several successive years from those fevers, which are called the malady of the coast. The poor fishermen, who dwell on this shore, are of opinion that it is not the inundations of the sea, and the retreat of the salt-water, which render the lands covered with mangroves so unhealthful;* they believe that the insalubrity of the air is owing to the fresh water, that is, to the overflowings of the Guayguaza and Estevan, the swell of which is so great and sudden in the months of October and November. The banks of the Rio Estevan have been less insalubrious since little plantations of maize and plantains have been established; and, by raising and hardening the ground, the river has been confined within narrower limits. A plan is formed of giving another issue to the Rio San Estevan, and thus to render the environs of Porto Cabello more wholesome. A canal is to lead the waters toward that part of the coast which is opposite the island of Guayguaza.
[* In the West India Islands all the dreadful maladies which prevail during the wintry season, have been for a long time attributed to the south winds. These winds convey the emanations of the mouths of the Orinoco and of the small rivers of Terra Firma toward the high latitudes.]
The salt-works of Porto Cabello somewhat resemble those of the peninsula of Araya, near Cumana. The earth, however, which they lixivate by collecting the rain-water into small basins, contains less salt. It is questioned here, as at Cumana, whether the ground be impregnated with saline particles because it has been for ages covered at intervals with sea-water evaporated by the heat of the sun, or whether the soil be muriatiferous, as in a mine very poor in native salt. I had not leisure to examine this plain with the same attention as the peninsula of Araya. Besides, does not this problem reduce itself to the simple question, whether the salt be owing to new or very ancient inundations? The labouring at the salt-works of Porto Cabello being extremely unhealthy, the poorest men alone engage in it. They collect the salt in little stores, and afterwards sell it to the shopkeepers in the town.
During our abode at Porto Cabello, the current on the coast, generally directed towards the west,* ran from west to east. This upward current (corriente por arriba), is very frequent during two or three months of the year, from September to November. It is believed to be owing to some north-west winds that have blown between Jamaica and Cape St. Antony in the island of Cuba.
[* The wrecks of the Spanish ships, burnt at the island of Trinidad, at the time of its occupation by the English in 1797, were carried by the general or rotary current to Punta Brava, near Porto Cabello. This general current toward the east, from the coasts of Paria to the isthmus of Panama and the western extremity of the island of Cuba, was the subject of a violent dispute between Don Diego Columbus, Oviedo, and the pilot Andres, in the sixteenth century.]
The military defence of the coasts of Terra Firma rests on six points: the castle of San Antonio at Cumana; the Morro of Nueva Barcelona; the fortifications of La Guayra, (mounting one hundred and thirty-four guns); Porto Cabello; fort San Carlos, (at the mouth of the lake of Maracaybo); and Carthagena. Porto Cabello is, next to Carthagena, the most important fortified place. The town of Porto Cabello is quite modern, and the port is one of the finest in the world. Art has had scarcely anything to add to the advantages which the nature of the spot presents. A neck of land stretches first towards the north, and then towards the west. Its western extremity is opposite to a range of islands connected by bridges, and so close together that they might be taken for another neck of land. These islands are all composed of a calcareous breccia of extremely recent formation, and analagous to that on the coast of Cumana, and near the castle of Araya. It is a conglomerate, containing fragments of madrepores and other corals cemented by a limestone basis and grains of sand. We had already seen this conglomerate near the Rio Guayguaza. By a singular disposition of the ground the port resembles a basin or a little inland lake, the southern extremity of which is filled with little islands covered with mangroves. The opening of the port towards the west contributes much to the smoothness of the water.* One vessel only can enter at a time; but the largest ships of the line can anchor very near land to take in water. There is no other danger in entering the harbour than the reefs of Punta Brava, opposite which a battery of eight guns has been erected. Towards the west and south-west we see the fort, which is a regular pentagon with five bastions, the battery of the reef, and the fortifications that surround the ancient town, founded on an island of a trapezoidal form. A bridge and the fortified gate of the Staccado join the old to the new town; the latter is already larger than the former, though considered only as its suburb. The bottom of the basin or lake which forms the harbour of Porto Cabello, turns behind this suburb to the south-west. It is a marshy ground filled with noisome and stagnant water. The town, which has at present nearly nine thousand inhabitants, owes its origin to an illicit commerce, attracted to these shores by the proximity of the town of Burburata, which was founded in 1549. It is only since the administration of the Biscayans, and of the company of Guipuzcoa, that Porto Cabello, which was but a hamlet, has been converted into a well-fortified town. The vessels of La Guayra, which is less a port than a bad open roadstead, come to Porto Cabello to be caulked and repaired.
[* It is disputed at Porto Cabello whether the port takes its name from the tranquillity of its waters, “which would not move a hair (cabello),” or (which is more probable) derived from Antonio Cabello, one of the fishermen with whom the smugglers of Curacoa had formed a connexion at the period when the first hamlet was constructed on this half-desert coast.]
The real defence of the harbour consists in the low batteries on the neck of land at Punta Brava, and on the reef; but from ignorance of this principle, a new fort, the Mirador of Solano* has been constructed at a great expense, on the mountains commanding the suburb towards the south. More than ten thousand mules are annually exported from Porto Cabello. It is curious enough to see these animals embarked; they are thrown down with ropes, and then hoisted on board the vessels by means of a machine resembling a crane. Ranged in two files, the mules with difficulty keep their footing during the rolling and pitching of the ship; and in order to frighten and render them more docile, a drum is beaten during a great part of the day and night. We may guess what quiet a passenger enjoys, who has the courage to embark for Jamaica in a schooner laden with mules.
[* The Mirador is situate eastward of the Vigia Alta, and south-east of the battery of the salt-works and the powder-mill.]
We left Porto Cabello on the first of March, at sunrise. We saw with surprise the great number of boats that were laden with fruit to be sold at the market. It reminded me of a fine morning at Venice. The town presents in general, on the side towards the sea, a cheerful and agreeable aspect. Mountains covered with vegetation, and crowned with peaks called Las Tetas de Ilaria, which, from their outline would be taken for rocks of a trap-formation, form the background of the landscape. Near the coast all is bare, white, and strongly illumined, while the screen of mountains is clothed with trees of thick foliage that project their vast shadows upon the brown and rocky ground. On going out of the town we visited an aqueduct that had been just finished. It is five thousand varas long, and conveys the waters of the Rio Estevan by a trench to the town. This work has cost more than thirty thousand piastres; but its waters gush out in every street.
We returned from Porto Cabello to the valleys of Aragua, and stopped at the Farm of Barbula, near which, a new road to Valencia is in the course of construction. We had heard, several weeks before, of a tree, the sap of which is a nourishing milk. It is called the cow-tree; and we were assured that the negroes of the farm, who drink plentifully of this vegetable milk, consider it a wholesome aliment. All the milky juices of plants being acrid, bitter, and more or less poisonous, this account appeared to us very extraordinary; but we found by experience during our stay at Barbula, that the virtues of this tree had not been exaggerated. This fine tree rises like the broad-leaved star-apple.* Its oblong and pointed leaves, rough and alternate, are marked by lateral ribs, prominent at the lower surface, and parallel. Some of them are ten inches long. We did not see the flower: the fruit is somewhat fleshy, and contains one and sometimes two nuts. When incisions are made in the trunk of this tree, it yields abundance of a glutinous milk, tolerably thick, devoid of all acridity, and of an agreeable and balmy smell. It was offered to us in the shell of a calabash. We drank considerable quantities of it in the evening before we went to bed, and very early in the morning, without feeling the least injurious effect. The viscosity of this milk alone renders it a little disagreeable. The negroes and the free people who work in the plantations drink it, dipping into it their bread of maize or cassava. The overseer of the farm told us that the negroes grow sensibly fatter during the season when the palo de vaca furnishes them with most milk. This juice, exposed to the air, presents at its surface (perhaps in consequence of the absorption of the atmospheric oxygen) membranes of a strongly animalized substance, yellowish, stringy, and resembling cheese. These membranes, separated from the rest of the more aqueous liquid, are elastic, almost like caoutchouc; but they undergo, in time, the same phenomena of putrefaction as gelatine. The people call the coagulum that separates by the contact of the air, cheese. This coagulum grows sour in the space of five or six days, as I observed in the small portions which I carried to Nueva Valencia. The milk contained in a stopped phial, had deposited a little coagulum; and, far from becoming fetid, it exhaled constantly a balsamic odour. The fresh juice mixed with cold water was scarcely coagulated at all; but on the contact of nitric acid the separation of the viscous membranes took place. We sent two bottles of this milk to M. Fourcroy at Paris: in one it was in its natural state, and in the other, mixed with a certain quantity of carbonate of soda. The French consul residing in the island of St. Thomas, undertook to convey them to him.
[* Chrysophyllum cainito.]
The extraordinary tree of which we have been speaking appears to be peculiar to the Cordillera of the coast, particularly from Barbula to the lake of Maracaybo. Some stocks of it exist near the village of San Mateo; and, according to M. Bredemeyer, whose travels have so much enriched the fine conservatories of Schonbrunn and Vienna, in the valley of Caucagua, three days journey east of Caracas. This naturalist found, like us, that the vegetable milk of the palo de vaco had an agreeable taste and an aromatic smell. At Caucagua, the natives call the tree that furnishes this nourishing juice, the milk-tree (arbol del leche). They profess to recognize, from the thickness and colour of the foliage, the trunks that yield the most juice; as the herdsman distinguishes, from external signs, a good milch-cow. No botanist has hitherto known the existence of this plant. It seems, according to M. Kunth, to belong to the sapota family. Long after my return to Europe, I found in the Description of the East Indies by Laet, a Dutch traveller, a passage that seems to have some relation to the cow-tree. “There exist trees,” says Laet,* “in the province of Cumana, the sap of which much resembles curdled milk, and affords a salubrious nourishment.”
[* “Inter arbores quae sponte hic passim nascuntur, memorantur a scriptoribus Hispanis quaedam quae lacteum quemdam liquorem fundunt, qui durus admodum evadit instar gummi, et suavem odorem de se fundit; aliae quae liquorem quemdam edunt, instar lactis coagulati, qui in cibis ab ipsis usurpatur sine noxa.” (Among the trees growing here, it is remarked by Spanish writers that there are some which pour out a milky juice which soon grows solid, like gum, affording a pleasant odour; and also others that give out a liquid which coagulates like cheese, and which they eat at meals without any ill effects). Descriptio Indiarum Occidentalium, lib. 18.]
Amidst the great number of curious phenomena which I have observed in the course of my travels, I confess there are few that have made so powerful an impression on me as the aspect of the cow-tree. Whatever relates to milk or to corn, inspires an interest which is not merely that of the physical knowledge of things, but is connected with another order of ideas and sentiments. We can scarcely conceive how the human race could exist without farinaceous substances, and without that nourishing juice which the breast of the mother contains, and which is appropriated to the long feebleness of the infant. The amylaceous matter of corn, the object of religious veneration among so many nations, ancient and modern, is diffused in the seeds, and deposited in the roots of vegetables; milk, which serves as an aliment, appears to us exclusively the produce of animal organization. Such are the impressions we have received in our earliest infancy: such is also the source of that astonishment created by the aspect of the tree just described. It is not here the solemn shades of forests, the majestic course of rivers, the mountains wrapped in eternal snow, that excite our emotion. A few drops of vegetable juice recall to our minds all the powerfulness and the fecundity of nature. On the barren flank of a rock grows a tree with coriaceous and dry leaves. Its large woody roots can scarcely penetrate into the stone. For several months of the year not a single shower moistens its foliage. Its branches appear dead and dried; but when the trunk is pierced there flows from it a sweet and nourishing milk. It is at the rising of the sun that this vegetable fountain is most abundant. The negroes and natives are then seen hastening from all quarters, furnished with large bowls to receive the milk, which grows yellow, and thickens at its surface. Some empty their bowls under the tree itself; others carry the juice home to their children.
In examining the physical properties of animal and vegetable products, science displays them as closely linked together; but it strips them of what is marvellous, and perhaps, therefore, of a part of their charms. Nothing appears isolated; the chemical principles that were believed to be peculiar to animals are found in plants; a common chain links together all organic nature.
Long before chemists had recognized small portions of wax in the pollen of flowers, the varnish of leaves, and the whitish dust of our plums and grapes, the inhabitants of the Andes of Quindiu made tapers with the thick layer of wax that covers the trunk of a palm-tree.* It is but a few years since we discovered, in Europe, caseum, the basis of cheese, in the emulsion of almonds; yet for ages past, in the mountains of the coast of Venezuela, the milk of a tree, and the cheese separated from that vegetable milk, have been considered as a salutary aliment. How are we to account for this singular course in the development of knowledge? How have the unlearned inhabitants of one hemisphere become cognizant of a fact which, in the other, so long escaped the sagacity of the scientific? It is because a small number of elements and principles differently combined are spread through several families of plants; it is because the genera and species of these natural families are not equally distributed in the torrid, the frigid, and the temperate zones; it is that tribes, excited by want, and deriving almost all their subsistence from the vegetable kingdom, discover nutritive principles, farinaceous and alimentary substances, wherever nature has deposited them in the sap, the bark, the roots, or the fruits of vegetables. That amylaceous fecula which the seeds of the cereal plants furnish in all its purity, is found united with an acrid and sometimes even poisonous juice, in the roots of the arums, the Tacca pinnatifida, and the Jatropha manihot. The savage of America, like the savage of the South Sea islands, has learned to dulcify the fecula, by pressing and separating it from its juice. In the milk of plants, and in the milky emulsions, matter extremely nourishing, albumen, caseum, and sugar, are found mixed with caoutchouc and with deleterious and caustic principles, such as morphine and hydrocyanic acid.* These mixtures vary not only in the different families, but also in the species which belong to the same genus. Sometimes it is morphine or the narcotic principle, that characterises the vegetable milk, as in some papaverous plants; sometimes it is caoutchouc, as in the hevea and the castilloa; sometimes albumen and caseum, as in the cow-tree.
[* Coroxylon andicola.]
[* Opium contains morphine, caoutchouc, etc.]
The lactescent plants belong chiefly to the three families of the euphorbiaceae, the urticeae, and the apocineae.* Since, on examining the distribution of vegetable forms over the globe, we find that those three families are more numerous in species in the low regions of the tropics, we must thence conclude, that a very elevated temperature contributes to the elaboration of the milky juices, to the formation of caoutchouc, albumen, and caseous matter. The sap of the palo de vaca furnishes unquestionably the most striking example of a vegetable milk in which the acrid and deleterious principle is not united with albumen, caseum, and caoutchouc: the genera euphorbia and asclepias, however, though generally known for their caustic properties, already present us with a few species, the juice of which is sweet and harmless. Such are the Tabayba dulce of the Canary Islands, which we have already mentioned,* and the Asclepias lactifera of Ceylon. Burman relates that, in the latter country, when cow’s milk is wanting, the milk of this asclepias is used; and that the ailments commonly prepared with animal milk are boiled with its leaves. It may be possible, as Decandolle has well observed, that the natives employ only the juice that flows from the young plant, at a period when the acrid principle is not yet developed. In fact, the first shoots of the apocyneous plants are eaten in several countries.
[* After these three great families follow the papaveraceae, the chicoraceae, the lobeliaceae, the campanulaceae, the sapoteae, and the cucurbitaceae. The hydrocyanic acid is peculiar to the group of rosaceo-amygdalaceae. In the monocotyledonous plants there is no milky juice; but the perisperm of the palms, which yields such sweet and agreeable milky emulsions, contains, no doubt, caseum. Of what nature is the milk of mushrooms?]
[* Euphorbia balsamifera. The milky juice of the Cactus mamillaris is equally sweet.]
I have endeavoured by these comparisons to bring into consideration, under a more general point of view, the milky juices that circulate in vegetables; and the milky emulsions that the fruits of the amygdalaceous plants and palms yield. I may be permitted to add the result of some experiments which I attempted to make on the juice of the Carica papaya during my stay in the valleys of Aragua, though I was then almost destitute of chemical tests. The juice has been since examined by Vauquelin, and this celebrated chemist has very clearly recognized the albumen and caseous matter; he compares the milky sap to a substance strongly animalized — to the blood of animals; but his researches were confined to a fermented juice and a coagulum of a fetid smell, formed during the passage from the Mauritius to France. He has expressed a wish that some traveller would examine the milk of the papaw-tree just as it flows from the stem or the fruit.
The younger the fruit of the carica, the more milk it yields: it is even found in the germen scarcely fecundated. In proportion as the fruit ripens, the milk becomes less abundant, and more aqueous. Less of that animal matter which is coagulable by acids and by the absorption of atmospheric oxygen, is found in it. As the whole fruit is viscous,* it might be supposed that, as it grows larger, the coagulable matter is deposed in the organs, and forms a part of the pulp, or the fleshy substance. When nitric acid, diluted with four parts of water, is added drop by drop to the milk expressed from a very young fruit, a very extraordinary phenomenon appears. At the centre of each drop a gelatinous pellicle is formed, divided by greyish streaks. These streaks are simply the juice rendered more aqueous, owing to the contact of the acid having deprived it of the albumen. At the same time, the centre of the pellicles becomes opaque, and of the colour of the yolk of an egg; they enlarge as if by the prolongation of divergent fibres. The whole liquid assumes at first the appearance of an agate with milky clouds; and it seems as if organic membranes were forming under the eye of the observer. When the coagulum extends to the whole mass, the yellow spots again disappear. By agitation it becomes granulous like soft cheese.* The yellow colour reappears on adding a few more drops of nitric acid. The acid acts in this instance as the oxygen of the atmosphere at a temperature from 27 to 35°; for the white coagulum grows yellow in two or three minutes, when exposed to the sun. After a few hours the yellow colour turns to brown, no doubt because the carbon is set more free progressively as the hydrogen, with which it was combined, is burnt. The coagulum formed by the acid becomes viscous, and acquires that smell of wax which I have observed in treating muscular flesh and mushrooms (morels) with nitric acid. According to the fine experiments of Mr. Hatchett, the albumen may be supposed to pass partly to the state of gelatine. The coagulum of the papaw-tree, when newly prepared, being thrown into water, softens, dissolves in part, and gives a yellowish tint to the fluid. The milk, placed in contact with water only, forms also membranes. In an instant a tremulous jelly is precipitated, resembling starch. This phenomenon is particularly striking if the water employed be heated to 40 or 60°. The jelly condenses in proportion as more water is poured upon it. It preserves a long time its whiteness, only growing yellow by the contact of a few drops of nitric acid. Guided by the experiments of Fourcroy and Vauquelin on the juice of the hevea, I mixed a solution of carbonate of soda with the milk of the papaw. No clot is formed, even when pure water is poured on a mixture of the milk with the alkaline solution. The membranes appear only when, by adding an acid, the soda is neutralized, and the acid is in excess. I made the coagulum formed by nitric acid, the juice of lemons, or hot water, likewise disappear by mixing it with carbonate of soda. The sap again becomes milky and liquid, as in its primitive state; but this experiment succeeds only when the coagulum has been recently formed.
[* The same viscosity is also remarked in the fresh milk of the palo de vaca. It is no doubt occasioned by the caoutchouc, which is not yet separated, and which forms one mass with the albumen and the caseum, as the butter and the caseum in animal milk. The juice of a euphorbiaceous plant (Sapium aucuparium), which also yields caoutchouc, is so glutinous that it is used to catch parrots.]
[* The substance which falls down in grumous and filamentous clots is not pure caoutchouc, but perhaps a mixture of this substance with caseum and albumen. Acids precipitate the caoutchouc from the milky juice of the euphorbiums, fig-trees, and hevea; they precipitate the caseum from the milk of animals. A white coagulum was formed in phials closely stopped, containing the milk of the hevea, and preserved among our collections, during our journey to the Orinoco. It is perhaps the development of a vegetable acid which then furnishes oxygen to the albumen. The formation of the coagulum of the hevea, or of real caoutchouc, is nevertheless much more rapid in contact with the air. The absorption of atmospheric oxygen is not in the least necessary to the production of butter which exists already formed in the milk of animals; but I believe it cannot be doubted that, in the milk of plants, this absorption produces the pellicles of caoutchouc, of coagulated albumen, and of caseum, which are successively formed in vessels exposed to the open air.]
On comparing the milky juices of the papaw, the cow-tree, and the hevea, there appears a striking analogy between the juices which abound in caseous matter, and those in which caoutchouc prevails. All the white and newly prepared caoutchouc, as well as the waterproof cloaks, manufactured in Spanish America by placing a layer of milk of hevea between two pieces of cloth, exhale an animal and nauseating smell. This seems to indicate that the caoutchouc, in coagulating, carries with it the caseum, which is perhaps only an altered albumen.
The produce of the bread-fruit tree can no more be considered as bread than plantains before the state of maturity, or the tuberous and amylaceous roots of the cassava, the dioscorea, the Convolvulus batatas, and the potato. The milk of the cow-tree contains, on the contrary, a caseous matter, like the milk of mammiferous animals. Advancing to more general considerations, we may regard, with M. Gay–Lussac, the caoutchouc as the oily part — the butter of vegetable milk. We find in the milk of plants caseum and caoutchouc; in the milk of animals, caseum and butter. The proportions of the two albuminous and oily principles differ in the various species of animals and of lactescent plants. In these last they are most frequently mixed with other substances hurtful as food; but of which the separation might perhaps be obtained by chemical processes. A vegetable milk becomes nourishing when it is destitute of acrid and narcotic principles; and abounds less in caoutchouc than in caseous matter.*
[* The milk of the lactescent agarics has not been separately analysed; it contains an acrid principle in the Agaricus piperatus, and in other species it is sweet and harmless. The experiments of MM. Braconnot, Bouillon–Lagrange, and Vauquelin (Annales de Chimie, volume 46, volume 51, volume 79, volume 80, volume 85, have pointed out a great quantity of albumen in the substance of the Agaricus deliciosus, an edible mushroom. It is this albumen contained in their juice which renders them so hard when boiled. It has been proved that morels (Morchella esculenta) can be converted into sebaceous and adipocerous matter, capable of being used in the fabrication of soap. (De Candolle, sur les Proprietes medicinales des Plantes.) Saccharine matter has also been found in mushrooms by Gunther. It is in the family of the fungi, more especially in the clavariae, phalli, helvetiae, the merulii, and the small gymnopae which display themselves in a few hours after a storm of rain, that organic nature produces with most rapidity the greatest variety of chemical principles — sugar, albumen, adipocire, acetate of potash, fat, ozmazome, the aromatic principles, etc. It would be interesting to examine, besides the milk of the lactescent fungi, those species which, when cut in pieces, change their colour on the contact of atmospheric air.
Though we have referred the palo de vaca to the family of the sapotas, we have nevertheless found in it a great resemblance to some plants of the urticeous kind, especially to the fig-tree, because of its terminal stipulae in the shape of a horn; and to the brosimum, on account of the structure of its fruit. M. Kunth would even have preferred this last classification; if the description of the fruit, made on the spot, and the nature of the milk, which is acrid in the urticeae, and sweet in the sapotas, did not seem to confirm our conjecture. Bredemeyer saw, like us, the fruit, and not the flower of the cow tree. He asserts that he observed [sometimes?] two seeds, lying one against the other, as in the alligator pear-tree (Laurus persea). Perhaps this botanist had the intention of expressing the same conformation of the nucleus that Swartz indicates in the description of the brosimum —“nucleus bilobus aut bipartibilis.” We have mentioned the places where this remarkable tree grows: it will be easy for botanical travellers to procure the flower of the palo de vaca and to remove the doubts which still remain, of the family to which it belongs.]
Whilst the palo de vaca manifests the immense fecundity and the bounty of nature in the torrid zone, it also reminds us of the numerous causes which favour in those fine climates the careless indolence of man. Mungo Park has made known the butter-tree of Bambarra, which M. De Candolle suspects to be of the family of sapotas, as well as our milk-tree. The plantain, the sago-tree, and the mauritia of the Orinoco, are as much bread-trees as the rema of the South Sea. The fruits of the crescentia and the lecythis serve as vessels for containing food, while the spathes of the palms, and the bark of trees, furnish caps and garments without a seam. The knots, or rather the interior cells of the trunks of bamboos, supply ladders, and facilitate in a thousand ways the construction of a hut, and the fabrication of chairs, beds, and other articles of furniture that compose the wealth of a savage household. In the midst of this lavish vegetation, so varied in its productions, it requires very powerful motives to excite man to labour, to rouse him from his lethargy, and to unfold his intellectual faculties.
Cacao and cotton are cultivated at Barbula. We there found, what is very rare in that country, two large cylindrical machines for separating the cotton from its seed; one put in motion by an hydraulic wheel, and the other by a wheel turned by mules. The overseer of the farm, who had constructed these machines, was a native of Merida. He was acquainted with the road that leads from Nueva Valencia, by the way of Guanare and Misagual, to Varinas; and thence by the ravine of Collejones, to the Paramo de Mucuchies and the mountains of Merida covered with eternal snows. The notions he gave us of the time requisite for going from Valencia by Varinas to the Sierra Nevada, and thence by the port of Torunos, and the Rio Santo Domingo, to San Fernando de Apure, were of infinite value to us. It can scarcely be imagined in Europe, how difficult it is to obtain accurate information in a country where the communications are so rare; and where distances are diminished or exaggerated according to the desire that may be felt to encourage the traveller, or to deter him from his purpose. I had resolved to visit the eastern extremity of the Cordilleras of New Grenada, where they lose themselves in the paramos of Timotes and Niquitao. I learned at Barbula, that this excursion would retard our arrival at the Orinoco thirty-five days. This delay appeared to us so much the longer, as the rains were expected to begin sooner than usual. We had the hope of examining afterwards a great number of mountains covered with perpetual snow, at Quito, Peru, and Mexico; and it appeared to me still more prudent to relinquish our project of visiting the mountains of Merida, since by so doing we might miss the real object of our journey, that of ascertaining by astronomical observations the point of communication between the Orinoco, the Rio Negro, and the river Amazon. We returned in consequence from Barbula to Guacara, to take leave of the family of the Marquis del Toro, and pass three days more on the borders of the lake.
It was the carnival season, and all was gaiety. The sports in which the people indulge, and which are called carnes tollendas,* assume occasionally somewhat of a savage character. Some led an ass loaded with water, and, where-ever they found a window open, inundated the apartment within by means of a pump. Others carried bags filled with hairs of picapica;* and blew the hair, which causes a great irritation of the skin, into the faces of those who passed by.
[* Or “farewell to flesh.” The word carnival has the same meaning, these sports being always held just before the commencement of Lent.]
[* Dolichos pruriens (cowage).]
From Guacara we returned to Nueva Valencia. We found there a few French emigrants, the only ones we saw during five years passed in the Spanish colonies. Notwithstanding the ties of blood which unite the royal families of France and Spain, even French priests were not permitted to take refuge in that part of the New World, where man with such facility finds food and shelter. Beyond the Atlantic, the United States of America afford the only asylum to misfortune. A government, strong because it is free, confiding because it is just, has nothing to fear in giving refuge to the proscribed.
We have endeavoured above to give some notions of the state of the cultivation of indigo, cotton, and sugar, in the province of Caracas. Before we quit the valley of Aragua and its neighbouring coast, it remains for us to speak of the cacao-plantations, which have at all times been considered as the principal source of the prosperity of those countries. The province of Caracas,* at the end of the eighteenth century, produced annually a hundred and fifty thousand fanegas, of which a hundred thousand were consumed in Spain, and thirty thousand in the province. Estimating a fanega of cacao at only twenty-five piastres for the price given at Cadiz, we find that the total value of the exportation of cacao, by the six ports of the Capitania General of Caracas, amounts to four million eight hundred thousand piastres. So important an object of commerce merits a careful discussion; and I flatter myself, that, from the great number of materials I have collected on all the branches of colonial agriculture, I shall be able to add something to the information published by M. Depons, in his valuable work on the provinces of Venezuela.
[* The province, not the capitania-general, consequently not including the cacao plantations of Cumana, the province of Barcelona, of Maracaybo, of Varinas, and of Spanish Guiana.]
The tree which produces the cacao is not at present found wild in the forests of Terra Firma to the north of the Orinoco; we began to find it only beyond the cataracts of Ature and Maypure. It abounds particularly near the banks of the Ventuari, and on the Upper Orinoco, between the Padamo and the Gehette. This scarcity of wild cacao-trees in South America, north of the latitude of 6°, is a very curious phenomenon of botanical geography, and yet little known. This phenomenon appears the more surprising, as, according to the annual produce of the harvest, the number of trees in full bearing in the cacao-plantations of Caracas, Nueva Barcelona, Venezuela, Varinas, and Maracaybo, is estimated at more than sixteen millions. The wild cacao-tree has many branches, and is covered with a tufted and dark foliage. It bears a very small fruit, like that variety which the ancient Mexicans called tlalcacahuatl. Transplanted into the conucos of the Indians of Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro, the wild tree preserves for several generations that force of vegetable life, which makes it bear fruit in the fourth year; while, in the province of Caracas, the harvest begins only the sixth, seventh, or eighth year. It is later in the inland parts than on the coasts and in the valley of Guapo. We met with no tribe on the Orinoco that prepared a beverage with the seeds of the cacao-tree. The savages suck the pulp of the pod, and throw away the seeds, which are often found in heaps where they have passed the night. Though chorote, which is a very weak infusion of cacao, is considered on the coast to be a very ancient beverage, no historical fact proves that chocolate, or any preparation whatever of cacao, was known to the natives of Venezuela before the arrival of the Spaniards. It appears to me more probable that the cacao-plantations of Caracas were suggested by those of Mexico and Guatimala; and that the Spaniards inhabiting Terra Firma learned the cultivation of the cacao-tree, sheltered in its youth by the foliage of the erythrina and plantain;* (This process of the Mexican cultivators, practised on the coast of Caracas, is described in the memoirs known under the title of “Relazione di certo Gentiluomo del Signor Cortez, Conquistadore del Messico.” (Ramusio, tome 2 page 134).) the fabrication of cakes of chocolatl, and the use of the liquid of the same name, in course of their communications with Mexico, Guatimala, and Nicaragua.
Down to the sixteenth century travellers differed in opinion respecting the chocolatl. Benzoni plainly says that it is a drink “fitter for hogs than men.”* The Jesuit Acosta asserts, that “the Spaniards who inhabit America are fond of chocolate to excess; but that it requires to be accustomed to that black beverage not to be disgusted at the mere sight of its froth, which swims on it like yeast on a fermented liquor.” He adds, “the cacao is a prejudice (una supersticion) of the Mexicans, as the coca is a prejudice of the Peruvians.” These opinions remind us of Madame de Sevigne’s prediction respecting the use of coffee. Fernando Cortez and his page, the gentilhombre del gran Conquistador, whose memoirs were published by Ramusio, on the contrary, highly praise chocolate, not only as an agreeable drink, though prepared cold,* but in particular as a nutritious substance. “He who has drunk one cup,” says the page of Fernando Cortez, “can travel a whole day without any other food, especially in very hot climates; for chocolate is by its nature cold and refreshing.” We shall not subscribe to the latter part of this assertion; but we shall soon have occasion, in our voyage on the Orinoco, and our excursions towards the summit of the Cordilleras, to celebrate the salutary properties of chocolate. It is easily conveyed and readily employed: as an aliment it contains a large quantity of nutritive and stimulating particles in a small compass. It has been said with truth, that in the East, rice, gum, and ghee (clarified butter), assist man in crossing the deserts; and so, in the New World, chocolate and the flour of maize, have rendered accessible to the traveller the table-lands of the Andes, and vast uninhabited forests.
[* Benzoni, Istoria del Mondo Nuovo, 1572 page 104.]
[* Father Gili has very clearly shown, from two passages in Torquemada (Monarquia Indiana, lib. 14) that the Mexicans prepared the infusion cold, and that the Spaniards introduced the custom of preparing chocolate by boiling water with the paste of cacao.]
The cacao harvest is extremely variable. The tree vegetates with such vigour that flowers spring out even from the roots, wherever the earth leaves them uncovered. It suffers from the north-east winds, even when they lower the temperature only a few degrees. The heavy showers that fall irregularly after the rainy season, during the winter months, from December to March, are also very hurtful to the cacao-tree. The proprietor of a plantation of fifty thousand trees often loses the value of more than four or five thousand piastres in cacao in one hour. Great humidity is favourable to the tree only when it augments progressively, and is for a long time uninterrupted. If, in the season of drought, the leaves and the young fruit be wetted by a violent shower, the fruit falls from the stem; for it appears that the vessels which absorb water break from being rendered turgid. Besides, the cacao-harvest is one of the most uncertain, on account of the fatal effects of inclement seasons, and the great number of worms, insects, birds, and quadrupeds,* which devour the pod of the cacao-tree; and this branch of agriculture has the disadvantage of obliging the new planter to wait eight or ten years for the fruit of his labours, and of yielding after all an article of very difficult preservation.
[* Parrots, monkeys, agoutis, squirrels, and stags.]
The finest plantations of cacao are found in the province of Caracas, along the coast, between Caravalleda and the mouth of the Rio Tocuyo, in the valleys of Caucagua, Capaya, Curiepe, and Guapo; and in those of Cupira, between cape Conare and cape Unare, near Aroa, Barquesimeto, Guigue, and Uritucu. The cacao that grows on the banks of the Uritucu, at the entrance of the llanos, in the jurisdiction of San Sebastian de las Reyes, is considered to be of the finest quality. Next to the cacao of Uritucu comes that of Guigue, of Caucagua, of Capaya, and of Cupira. The merchants of Cadiz assign the first rank to the cacao of Caracas, immediately after that of Socomusco; and its price is generally from thirty to forty per cent higher than that of Guayaquil.
It is only since the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch, tranquil possessors of the island of Curacoa, awakened, by their smuggling, the agricultural industry of the inhabitants of the neighbouring coasts, that cacao has become an object of exportation in the province of Caracas. We are ignorant of everything that passed in those countries before the establishment of the Biscay Company of Guipuzcoa, in 1728. No precise statistical data have reached us: we only know that the exportation of cacao from Caracas scarcely amounted, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, to thirty thousand fanegas a-year. From 1730 to 1748, the company sent to Spain eight hundred and fifty-eight thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight fanegas, which make, on an average, forty-seven thousand seven hundred fanegas a-year; the price of the fanega fell, in 1732, to forty-five piastres, when it had before kept at eighty piastres. In 1763 the cultivation had so much augmented, that the exportation rose to eighty thousand six hundred and fifty-nine fanegas.
In an official document, taken from the papers of the minister of finance, the annual produce (la cosecha) of the province of Caracas is estimated at a hundred and thirty-five thousand fanegas of cacao; thirty-three thousand of which are for home consumption, ten thousand for other Spanish colonies, seventy-seven thousand for the mother-country, fifteen thousand for the illicit commerce with the French, English, Dutch, and Danish colonies. From 1789 to 1793, the importation of cacao from Caracas into Spain was, on an average, seventy-seven thousand seven hundred and nineteen fanegas a-year, of which sixty-five thousand seven hundred and sixty-six were consumed in the country, and eleven thousand nine hundred and fifty-three exported to France, Italy, and Germany.
The late wars have had much more fatal effects on the cacao trade of Caracas than on that of Guayaquil. On account of the increase of price, less cacao of the first quality has been consumed in Europe. Instead of mixing, as was done formerly for common chocolate, one quarter of the cacao of Caracas, with three-quarters of that of Guayaquil, the latter has been employed pure in Spain. We must here remark, that a great deal of cacao of an inferior quality, such as that of Maranon, the Rio Negro, Honduras, and the island of St. Lucia, bears the name, in commerce, of Guayaquil cacao. The exportation from that port amounts only to sixty thousand fanegas; consequently it is two-thirds less than that of the ports of the Capitania–General of Caracas.
Though the plantations of cacao have augmented in the provinces of Cumana, Barcelona, and Maracaybo, in proportion as they have diminished in the province of Caracas, it is still believed that, in general, this ancient branch of agricultural industry gradually declines. In many parts coffee and cotton-trees progressively take place of the cacao, of which the lingering harvests weary the patience of the cultivator. It is also asserted, that the new plantations of cacao are less productive than the old; the trees do not acquire the same vigour, and yield later and less abundant fruit. The soil is still said to be exhausted; but probably it is rather the atmosphere that is changed by the progress of clearing and cultivation. The air that reposes on a virgin soil covered with forests is loaded with humidity and those gaseous mixtures that serve for the nutriment of plants, and arise from the decomposition of organic substances. When a country has been long subjected to cultivation, it is not the proportions between the azote and oxygen that vary. The constituent bases of the atmosphere remain unaltered; but it no longer contains, in a state of suspension, those binary and ternary mixtures of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, which a virgin soil exhales, and which are regarded as a source of fecundity. The air, purer and less charged with miasmata and heterogeneous emanations, becomes at the same time drier. The elasticity of the vapours undergoes a sensible diminution. On land long cleared, and consequently little favourable to the cultivation of the cacao-tree (as, for instance, in the West India Islands), the fruit is almost as small as that of the wild cacao-tree. It is on the banks of the Upper Orinoco, after having crossed the Llanos, that we find the true country of the cacao-tree; thick forests, in which, on a virgin soil, and surrounded by an atmosphere continually humid, the trees furnish, from the fourth year, abundant crops. Wherever the soil is not exhausted, the fruit has become by cultivation larger and bitter, but also later.
On seeing the produce of cacao gradually diminish in Terra Firma, it may be inquired, whether the consumption will diminish in the same proportion in Spain, Italy, and the rest of Europe; or whether it be not probable, that by the destruction of the cacao plantations, the price will augment sufficiently to rouse anew the industry of the cultivator. This latter opinion is generally admitted by those who deplore, at Caracas, the diminution of so ancient and profitable a branch of commerce. In proportion as civilization extends towards the humid forests of the interior, the banks of the Orinoco and the Amazon, or towards the valleys that furrow the eastern declivity of the Andes, the new planters will find lands and an atmosphere equally favourable to the culture of the cacao-tree.
The Spaniards, in general, dislike a mixture of vanilla with the cacao, as irritating the nervous system; the fruit, therefore, of that orchideous plant is entirely neglected in the province of Caracas, though abundant crops of it might be gathered on the moist and feverish coast between Porto Cabello and Ocumare; especially at Turiamo, where the fruits of the Epidendrum vanilla attain the length of eleven or twelve inches. The English and the Anglo–Americans often seek to make purchases of vanilla at the port of La Guayra, but the merchants procure with difficulty a very small quantity. In the valleys that descend from the chain of the coast towards the Caribbean Sea, in the province of Truxillo, as well as in the Missions of Guiana, near the cataracts of the Orinoco, a great quantity of vanilla might be collected; the produce of which would be still more abundant, if, according to the practice of the Mexicans, the plant were disengaged, from time to time, from the creeping plants by which it is entwined and stifled.
The hot and fertile valleys of the Cordillera of the coast of Venezuela occupy a tract of land which, on the west, towards the lake of Maracaybo, displays a remarkable variety of scenery. I shall exhibit in one view, to close this chapter, the facts I have been able to collect respecting the quality of the soil and the metallic riches of the districts of Aroa, of Barquesimeto, and of Carora.
From the Sierra Nevada of Merida, and the paramos of Niquitao, Bocono, and Las Rosas,* (Many travellers, who were monks, have asserted that the little Paramo de Las Rosas, the height of which appears to be more than 1,600 toises, is covered with rosemary, and the red and white roses of Europe grow wild there. These roses are gathered to decorate the altars in the neighbouring villages on the festivals of the church. By what accident has our Rosa centifolia become wild in this country, while we nowhere found it in the Andes of Quito and Peru? Can it really be the rose-tree of our garden?) which contain the valuable bark-tree, the eastern Cordillera of New Granada* decreases in height so rapidly, that, between the ninth and tenth degrees of latitude, it forms only a chain of little mountains, which, stretching to the north-east by the Altar and Torito, separates the rivers that join the Apure and the Orinoco from those numerous rivers that flow either into the Caribbean Sea or the lake of Maracaybo. On this dividing ridge are built the towns of Nirgua, San Felipe el Fuerte, Barquesimeto, and Tocuyo. The first three are in a very hot climate; but Tocuyo enjoys great coolness, and we heard with surprise, that, beneath so fine a sky, the inhabitants have a strong propensity to suicide. The ground rises towards the south; for Truxillo, the lake of Urao, from which carbonate of soda is extracted, and La Grita, all to the east of the Cordillera, though no farther distant, are four or five hundred toises high.
[* The bark exported from the port of Maracaybo does not come from the territory of Venezuela, but from the mountains of Pamplona in New Grenada, being brought down the Rio de San Faustino, that flows into the lake of Maracaybo. (Pombo, Noticias sobre las Quinas, 1814 page 65.) Some is collected near Merida, in the ravine of Viscucucuy.]
On examining the law which the primitive strata of the Cordillera of the coast follow in their dip, we believe we recognize one of the causes of the extreme humidity of the land bounded by this Cordillera and the ocean. The dip of the strata is most frequently to the north-west; so that the waters flow in that direction on the ledges of rock; and form, as we have stated above, that multitude of torrents and rivers, the inundations of which become so fatal to the health of the inhabitants, from cape Codera as far as the lake of Maracaybo.
Among the rivers which descend north-east toward the coast of Porto Cabello, and La Punta de Hicacos, the most remarkable are those of Tocuyo, Aroa, and Yaracuy. Were it not for the miasmata which infect the atmosphere, the valleys of Aroa and of Yaracuy would perhaps be more populous than those of Aragua. Navigable rivers would even give the former the advantage of facilitating the exportation of their own crops of sugar and cacao, and that of the productions of the neighbouring lands; as the wheat of Quibor, the cattle of Monai, and the copper of Aroa. The mines from which this copper is extracted, are in a lateral valley, opening into that of Aroa; and which is less hot, and less unhealthy, than the ravines nearer the sea. In the latter the Indians have their gold-washings, and the soil conceals rich copper-ores, which no one has yet attempted to extract. The ancient mines of Aroa, after having been long neglected, have been wrought anew by the care of Don Antonio Henriquez, whom we met at San Fernando on the borders of the Apure. The total produce of metallic copper is twelve or fifteen hundred quintals a year. This copper, known at Cadiz by the name of Caracas copper, is of excellent quality. It is even preferred to that of Sweden, and of Coquimbo in Chile. Part of the copper of Aroa is employed for making bells, which are cast on the spot. Some ores of silver have been recently discovered between Aroa and Nirgua, near Guanita, in the mountain of San Pablo. Grains of gold are found in all the mountainous lands between the Rio Yaracuy, the town of San Felipe, Nirgua, and Barquesimeto; particularly in the Rio de Santa Cruz, in which the Indian gold-gatherers have sometimes found lumps of the value of four or five piastres. Do the neighbouring rocks of mica-slate and gneiss contain veins? or is the gold disseminated here, as in the granites of Guadarama in Spain, and of the Fichtelberg in Franconia, throughout the whole mass of the rock? Possibly the waters, in filtering through it, bring together the disseminated grains of gold; in which case every attempt to work the rock would be useless. In the Savana de la Miel, near the town of Barquesimeto, a shaft has been sunk in a black shining slate resembling ampelite. The minerals extracted from this shaft, which were sent to me at Caracas, were quartz, non-auriferous pyrites, and carbonated lead, crystallized in needles of a silky lustre.
In the early times of the conquest the working of the mines of Nirgua and of Buria* was begun, notwithstanding the incursions of the warlike nation of the Giraharas. In this very district the accumulation of negro slaves in 1553 gave rise to an event bearing some analogy to the insurrection in St. Domingo. A negro slave excited an insurrection among the miners of the Real de San Felipe de Buria. He retired into the woods, and founded, with two hundred of his companions, a town, where he was proclaimed king. Miguel, this new king, was a friend to pomp and parade. He caused his wife Guiomar, to assume the title of queen; and, according to Oviedo, he appointed ministers and counsellors of state, officers of the royal household, and even a negro bishop. He soon after ventured to attack the neighbouring town of Nueva Segovia de Barquesimeto; but, being repulsed by Diego de Losada, he perished in the conflict. This African monarchy was succeeded at Nirgua by a republic of Zamboes, the descendants of negroes and Indians. The whole municipality (cabildo) is composed of men of colour to whom the king of Spain has given the title of “his faithful and loyal subjects, the Zamboes of Nirgua.” Few families of Whites will inhabit a country where the system of government is so adverse to their pretensions; and the little town is called in derision La republica de Zambos y Mulatos.
[* The valley of Buria, and the little river of the same name, communicate with the valley of the Rio Coxede, or the Rio de Barquesimeto.]
If the hot valleys of Aroa, of Yaracuy, and of the Rio Tocuyo, celebrated for their excellent timber, be rendered feverish by luxuriance of vegetation, and extreme atmospheric humidity, it is different in the savannahs of Monai and Carora. These Llanos are separated by the mountainous tract of Tocuyo and Nirgua from the great plains of La Portuguesa and Calabozo. It is very extraordinary to see barren savannahs loaded with miasmata. No marshy ground is found there, but several phenomena indicate a disengagement of hydrogen.* When travellers, who are not acquainted with natural inflammable gases, are shown the Cueva del Serrito de Monai, the people of the country love to frighten them by setting fire to the gaseous combination which is constantly accumulated in the upper part of the cavern. May we attribute the insalubrity of the atmosphere to the same causes as those which operate in the plains between Tivoli and Rome, namely, disengagements of sulphuretted hydrogen?* Possibly, also, the mountainous lands, near the llanos of Monai, may have a baneful influence on the surrounding plains. The south-easterly winds may convey to them the putrid exhalations that rise from the ravine of Villegas, and from La Sienega de Cabra, between Carora and Carache. I am desirous of collecting every circumstance having a relation to the salubrity of the air; for, in a matter so obscure, it is only by the comparison of a great number of phenomena, that we can hope to discover the truth.
[* What is that luminous phenomenon known under the name of the Lantern (farol) of Maracaybo, which is perceived every night toward the seaside as well as in the inland parts, at Merida for example, where M. Palacios observed it during two years? The distance, greater than 40 leagues, at which the light is observed, has led to the supposition that it might be owing to the effects of a thunderstorm, or of electrical explosions which might daily take place in a pass in the mountains. It is asserted that, on approaching the farol, the rolling of thunder is heard. Others vaguely allege that it is an air-volcano, and that asphaltic soils, like those of Mena, cause these inflammable exhalations which are so constant in their appearance. The phenomenon is observed on a mountainous and uninhabited spot, on the borders of the Rio Catatumbo, near the junction with the Rio Sulia. The situation of the farol is such that, being nearly in the meridian of the opening (boca) of the lake of Maracaybo, navigators are guided by it as by a lighthouse.]
[* Don Carlos del Pozo has discovered in this district, at the bottom of the Quebrada de Moroturo, a stratum of clayey earth, black, strongly soiling the fingers, emitting a powerful smell of sulphur, and inflaming spontaneously when slightly moistened and exposed for a long time to the rays of the tropical sun. The detonation of this muddy substance is very violent.]
The barren yet feverish savannahs, extending from Barquesimeto to the eastern shore of the lake of Maracaybo, are partly covered with cactus; but the good silvester-cochineal, known by the vague name of grana de Carora, comes from a more temperate region, between Carora and Truxillo, and particularly from the valley of the Rio Mucuju,* to the east of Merida. The inhabitants altogether neglect this production, so much sought for in commerce.
[* This little river descends from the Paramo de los Conejos, and flows into the Rio Albarregas.]
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