Our first visit to the peninsula of Araya was soon succeeded by an excursion to the mountains of the missions of the Chayma Indians, where a variety of interesting objects claimed our attention. We entered on a country studded with forests, and visited a convent surrounded by palm-trees and arborescent ferns. It was situated in a narrow valley, where we felt the enjoyment of a cool and delicious climate, in the centre of the torrid zone. The surrounding mountains contain caverns haunted by thousands of nocturnal birds; and, what affects the imagination more than all the wonders of the physical world, we find beyond these mountains a people lately nomad, and still nearly in a state of nature, wild without being barbarous. It was in the promontory of Paria that Columbus first descried the continent; there terminate these valleys, laid waste alternately by the warlike anthropophagic Carib and by the commercial and polished nations of Europe. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the ill-fated Indians of the coasts of Carupano, of Macarapan, and of Caracas, were treated in the same manner as the inhabitants of the coast of Guinea in our days. The soil of the islands was cultivated, the vegetable produce of the Old World was transplanted thither, but a regular system of colonization remained long unknown on the New Continent. If the Spaniards visited its shores, it was only to procure, either by violence or exchange, slaves, pearls, grains of gold, and dye-woods; and endeavours were made to ennoble the motives of this insatiable avarice by the pretence of enthusiastic zeal in the cause of religion.
The trade in the copper-coloured Indians was accompanied by the same acts of inhumanity as that which characterizes the traffic in African negroes; it was attended also by the same result, that of rendering both the conquerors and the conquered more ferocious. Thence wars became more frequent among the natives; prisoners were dragged from the inland countries to the coast, to be sold to the whites, who Loaded them with chains in their ships. Yet the Spaniards were at that period, and long after, one of the most polished nations of Europe. The light which art and literature then shed over Italy, was reflected on every nation whose language emanated from the same source as that of Dante and Petrarch. It might have been expected that a general improvement of manners would be the natural consequence of this noble awakening of the mind, this sublime soaring of the imagination. But in distant regions, wherever the thirst of wealth has introduced the abuse of power, the nations of Europe, at every period of their history, have displayed the same character. The illustrious era of Leo X was signalized in the New World by acts of cruelty that seemed to belong to the most barbarous ages. We are less surprised, however, at the horrible picture presented by the conquest of America when we think of the acts that are still perpetrated on the western coast of Africa, notwithstanding the benefits of a more humane legislation.
The principles adopted by Charles V had abolished the slave trade on the New Continent. But the Conquistadores, by the continuation of their incursions, prolonged the system of petty warfare which diminished the American population, perpetuated national animosities, and during a long period crushed the seeds of rising civilization. At length the missionaries, under the protection of the secular arm, spoke words of peace. It was the privilege of religion to console humanity for a part of the evils committed in its name; to plead the cause of the natives before kings, to resist the violence of the commendatories, and to assemble wandering tribes into small communities called Missions.
But these institutions, useful at first in stopping the effusion of blood, and in laying the first basis of society, have become in their result hostile to its progress. The effects of this insulated system have been such that the Indians have remained in a state little different from that in which they existed whilst yet their scattered dwellings were not collected round the habitation of a missionary. Their number has considerably augmented, but the sphere of their ideas is not enlarged. They have progressively lost that vigour of character and that natural vivacity which in every state of society are the noble fruits of independence. By subjecting to invariable rules even the slightest actions of their domestic life, they have been rendered stupid by the effort to render them obedient. Their subsistence is in general more certain, and their habits more pacific, but subject to the constraint and the dull monotony of the government of the Missions, they show by their gloomy and reserved looks that they have not sacrificed their liberty to their repose without regret.
On the 4th of September, at five in the morning, we began our journey to the Missions of the Chayma Indians and the group of lofty mountains which traverse New Andalusia. On account of the extreme difficulties of the road, we had been advised to reduce our baggage to a very small bulk. Two beasts of burden were sufficient to carry our provision, our instruments, and the paper necessary to dry our plants. One chest contained a sextant, a dipping-needle, an apparatus to determine the magnetic variation, a few thermometers, and Saussure’s hygrometer. The greatest changes in the pressure of the air in these climates, on the coasts, amount only to 1 to 1.3 of a line; and if at any given hour or place the height of the mercury be once marked, the variations which that height experiences throughout the whole year, at every hour of the day or night, may with some accuracy be determined.
The morning was deliciously cool. The road, or rather path, which leads to Cumanacoa, runs along the right bank of the Manzanares, passing by the hospital of the Capuchins, situated in a small wood of lignum-vitae and arborescent capparis.* On leaving Cumana we enjoyed during the short duration of the twilight, from the top of the hill of San Francisco, an extensive view over the sea, the plain covered with bera* and its golden flowers, and the mountains of the Brigantine. We were struck by the great proximity in which the Cordillera appeared before the disk of the rising sun had reached the horizon. The tint of the summits is of a deeper blue, their outline is more strongly marked, and their masses are more detached, as long as the transparency of the air is undisturbed by the vapours, which, after accumulating during the night in the valleys, rise in proportion as the atmosphere acquires warmth.
[* These caper-trees are called in the country, by the names pachaca, olivo, and ajito: they are the Capparis tenuisiliqua, Jacq., C. ferruginea, C. emarginata, C. elliptica, C. reticulata, C. racemosa.]
[* Palo sano, Zygophyllum arboreum, Jacq. The flowers have the smell of vanilla. It is cultivated in the gardens of the Havannah under the strange name of the dictanno real (royal dittany).]
At the hospital of the Divina Pastora the path turns to north-east, and stretches for two leagues over a soil without trees, and formerly levelled by the waters. We there found not only cactuses, tufts of cistus-leaved tribulus, and the beautiful purple euphorbia,* but also the avicennia, the allionia, the sesuvium, the thalinum, and most of the portulaceous plants which grow on the banks of the gulf of Cariaco. This geographical distribution of plants appears to designate the limits of the ancient coast, and to prove that the hills along the southern side of which we were passing, formed heretofore a small island, separated from the continent by an arm of the sea.
[* Euphorbia tithymaloides.]
After walking two hours, we arrived at the foot of the high chain of the interior mountains, which stretches from east to west; from the Brigantine to the Cerro de San Lorenzo. There, new rocks appear, and with them another aspect of vegetation. Every object assumes a more majestic and picturesque character; the soil, watered by springs, is furrowed in every direction; trees of gigantic height, covered with lianas, rise from the ravines; their bark, black and burnt by the double action of the light and the oxygen of the atmosphere, contrasts with the fresh verdure of the pothos and dracontium, the tough and shining leaves of which are sometimes several feet long. The parasite monocotyledons take between the tropics the place of the moss and lichens of our northern zone. As we advanced, the forms and grouping of the rocks reminded us of Switzerland and the Tyrol. The heliconia, costus, maranta, and other plants of the family of the balisiers (Canna indica), which near the coasts vegetate only in damp and low places, flourish in the American Alps at considerable height. Thus, by a singular similitude, in the torrid zone, under the influence of an atmosphere continually loaded with vapours the mountain vegetation presents the same features as the vegetation of the marshes in the north of Europe on soil moistened by melting snow.*
[* Wahlenberg, de Vegetatione Helvetiae et summi Septentrionis pages 47, 59.]
Before we leave the plains of Cumana, and the breccia, or calcareous sandstone, which constitutes the soil of the seaside, we will describe the different strata of which this very recent formation is composed, as we observed it on the back of the hills that surround the castle of San Antonio.
This breccia, or calcareous sandstone, is a local and partial formation, peculiar to the peninsula of Araya, the coasts of Cumana, and Caracas. We again found it at Cabo Blanco, to the west of the port of Guayra, where it contains, besides broken shells and madrepores, fragments, often angular, of quartz and gneiss. This circumstance assimilates the breccia to that recent sandstone called by the German mineralogists nagelfluhe, which covers so great a part of Switzerland to the height of a thousand toises, without presenting any trace of marine productions. Near Cumana the formation of the calcareous breccia contains:— first, a compact whitish grey limestone, the strata of which, sometimes horizontal, sometimes irregularly inclined, are from five to six inches thick; some beds are almost unmixed with petrifactions, but in the greatest part the cardites, the turbinites, the ostracites, and shells of small dimension, are found so closely connected, that the calcareous matter forms only a cement, by which the grains of quartz and the organized bodies are united: second, a calcareous sandstone, in which the grains of sand are much more frequent than the petrified shells; other strata form a sandstone entirely free from organic fragments, yielding but a small effervescence with acids, and enclosing not lamellae of mica, but nodules of compact brown iron-ore: third, beds of indurated clay containing selenite and lamellar gypsum.
The breccia, or agglomerate of the sea-coast, just described, has a white tint, and it lies immediately on the calcareous formation of Cumanacoa, which is of a bluish grey. These two rocks form a contrast no less striking than the molasse (bur-stone) of the Pays de Vaud, with the calcareous limestone of the Jura. It must be observed, that, by contact of the two formations lying upon each other, the beds of the limestone of Cumanacoa, which I consider as an Alpine limestone, are always largely mixed with clay and marl. Lying, like the mica-slate of Araya, north-east and south-west, they are inclined, near Punta Delgada, under an angle of 60° to south-east.
We traversed the forest by a narrow path, along a rivulet, which rolls foaming over a bed of rocks. We observed, that the vegetation was more brilliant, wherever the Alpine limestone was covered by a quartzose sandstone without petrifactions, and very different from the breccia of the sea-coast. The cause of this phenomenon depends probably not so much on the nature of the ground, as on the greater humidity of the soil. The quartzose sandstone contains thin strata of a blackish clay-slate,* which might easily be confounded with the secondary thonschiefer; and these strata hinder the water from filtering into the crevices, of which the Alpine limestone is full. This last offers to view here, as in Saltzburg, and on the chain of the Apennines, broken and steep beds. The sandstone, on the contrary, wherever it is seated on the calcareous rock, renders the aspect of the scene less wild. The hills which it forms appear more rounded, and the gentler slopes are covered with a thicker mould.
In humid places, where the sandstone envelopes the Alpine limestone, some trace of cultivation is constantly found. We met with huts inhabited by mestizoes in the ravine of Los Frailes, as well as between the Cuesta de Caneyes, and the Rio Guriental. Each of these huts stands in the centre of an enclosure, containing plantains, papaw-trees, sugar-canes, and maize. We might be surprised at the small extent of these cultivated spots, if we did not recollect that an acre planted with plantains* produces nearly twenty times as much food as the same space sown with corn. In Europe, our wheat, barley, and rye cover vast spaces of ground; and in general the arable lands touch each other, wherever the inhabitants live upon corn. It is different under the torrid zone, where man obtains food from plants which yield more abundant and earlier harvests. In those favoured climes, the fertility of the soil is proportioned to the heat and humidity of the atmosphere. An immense population finds abundant nourishment within a narrow space, covered with plantains, cassava, yams, and maize. The isolated situation of the huts dispersed through the forest indicates to the traveller the fecundity of nature, where a small spot of cultivated land suffices for the wants of several families.
[* Musa paradisiaca.]
These considerations on the agriculture of the torrid zone involuntarily remind us of the intimate connexion existing between the extent of land cleared, and the progress of society. The richness of the soil, and the vigour of organic life, by multiplying the means of subsistence, retard the progress of nations in the paths of civilization. Under so mild and uniform a climate, the only urgent want of man is that of food. This want only, excites him to labour; and we may easily conceive why, in the midst of abundance, beneath the shade of the plantain and bread-fruit tree, the intellectual faculties unfold themselves less rapidly than under a rigorous sky, in the region of corn, where our race is engaged in a perpetual struggle with the elements. In Europe we estimate the number of the inhabitants of a country by the extent of cultivation: within the tropics, on the contrary, in the warmest and most humid parts of South America, very populous provinces appear almost deserted; because man, to find nourishment, cultivates but a small number of acres. These circumstances modify the physical appearance of the country and the character of its inhabitants, giving to both a peculiar physiognomy; the wild and uncultivated stamp which belongs to nature, ere its primitive type has been altered by art. Without neighbours, almost unconnected with the rest of mankind, each family of settlers forms a separate tribe. This insulated state arrests or retards the progress of civilization, which advances only in proportion as society becomes numerous, and its connexions more intimate and multiplied. But, on the other hand, it is solitude that develops and strengthens in man the sentiment of liberty and independence; and gives birth to that noble pride of character which has at all times distinguished the Castilian race.
From these causes, the land in the most populous regions of equinoctial America still retains a wild aspect, which is destroyed in temperate climates by the cultivation of corn. Within the tropics the agricultural nations occupy less ground: man has there less extended his empire; he may be said to appear, not as an absolute master, who changes at will the surface of the soil, but as a transient guest, who quietly enjoys the gifts of nature. There, in the neighbourhood of the most populous cities, the land remains studded with forests, or covered with a thick mould, unfurrowed by the plough. Spontaneous vegetation still predominates over cultivated plants, and determines the aspect of the landscape. It is probable that this state of things will change very slowly. If in our temperate regions the cultivation of corn contributes to throw a dull uniformity upon the land we have cleared, we cannot doubt, that, even with increasing population, the torrid zone will preserve that majesty of vegetable forms, those marks of an unsubdued, virgin nature, which render it so attractive and so picturesque. Thus it is that, by a remarkable concatenation of physical and moral causes, the choice and production of alimentary plants have an influence on three important objects at once; the association or the isolated state of families, the more or less rapid progress of civilization, and the individual character of the landscape.
In proportion as we penetrated into the forest, the barometer indicated the progressive elevation of the land. The trunks of the trees presented here an extraordinary phenomenon; a gramineous plant, with verticillate branches,* climbs, like a liana, eight or ten feet high, and forms festoons, which cross the path, and swing about with the wind. We halted, about three o’clock in the afternoon, on a small flat, known by the name of Quetepe, and situated about one hundred and ninety toises above the level of the sea. A few small houses have been erected near a spring, well known by the natives for its coolness and great salubrity. We found the water delicious. Its temperature was only 22.5° of the centigrade thermometer, while that of the air was 28.7°. The springs which descend from the neighbouring mountains of a greater height often indicate a too rapid decrement of heat. If indeed we suppose the mean temperature of the water on the coast of Cumana equal to 26°, we must conclude, unless other local causes modify the temperature of the springs, that the spring of Quetepe acquires its great coolness at more than 350 toises of absolute elevation. With respect to the springs which gush out in the plains of the torrid zone, or at a small elevation, it may be observed, in general, that it is only in regions where the mean temperature of summer essentially differs from that of the whole year, that the inhabitants have extremely cold spring water during the season of great heat. The Laplanders, near Umea and Soersele, in the 65th degree of latitude, drink spring-water, the temperature of which, in the month of August, is scarcely two or three degrees above freezing point; while during the day the heat of the air rises in the shade, in the same northern regions, to 26 or 27°. In the temperate climates of France and Germany, the difference between the air and the springs never exceeds 16 or 17°; between the tropics it seldom rises to 5 or 6°. It is easy to account for these phenomena, when we recollect that the interior of the globe, and the subterraneous waters, have a temperature almost identical with the annual mean temperature of the air; and that the latter differs from the mean heat of summer, in proportion to the distance from the equator.
[* Carice, analogous to the chusque of Santa Fe, of the group of the Nastusas. This gramineous plant is excellent pasture for mules.]
From the top of a hill of sandstone, which overlooks the spring of Quetepe, we had a magnificent view of the sea, of cape Macanao, and the peninsula of Maniquarez. At our feet an immense forest extended to the edge of the ocean. The tops of the trees, intertwined with lianas, and crowned with long wreaths of flowers, formed a vast carpet of verdure, the dark tint of which augmented the splendour of the aerial light. This picture struck us the more forcibly, as we then first beheld those great masses of tropical vegetation. On the hill of Quetepe, at the foot of the Malpighia cocollobaefolia, the leaves of which are extremely coriaceous, we gathered, among tufts of the Polygala montana, the first melastomas, especially that beautiful species described under the name of the Melastoma rufescens.
As we advanced toward the south-west, the soil became dry and sandy. We climbed a group of mountains, which separate the coast from the vast plains, or savannahs, bordered by the Orinoco. That part of the group, over which passes the road to Cumanacoa, is destitute of vegetation, and has steep declivities both on the north and the south. It has received the name of the Imposible, because it is believed that, in the case of hostile invasion, this ridge of mountains would be inaccessible to the enemy, and would offer an asylum to the inhabitants of Cumana. We reached the top a little before sunset, and I had scarcely time to take a few horary angles, to determine the longitude of the place by means of the chronometer.
The view from the Imposible is finer and more extensive than that from the table-land of Quetepe. We distinguished clearly by the naked eye the flattened top of the Brigantine (the position of which it would be important to fix accurately), the embarcadero or landing-place, and the roadstead of Cumana. The rocky coast of the peninsula of Araya was discernible in its whole length. We were particularly struck with the extraordinary configuration of a port, known by the name of Laguna Grande, or Laguna del Obispo. A vast basin, surrounded by high mountains, communicates with the gulf of Cariaco by a narrow channel which admits only of the passage of one ship at a time. This port is capable of containing several squadrons at once. It is an uninhabited place, but annually frequented by vessels, which carry mules to the West India Islands. There are some pasture grounds at the farther end of the bay. We traced the sinuosities of this arm of the sea, which, like a river, has dug a bed between perpendicular rocks destitute of vegetation. This singular prospect reminded us of the fanciful landscape which Leonardo da Vinci has made the back-ground of his famous portrait of Mona Lisa, the wife of Francisco del Giacondo.
We could observe by the chronometer the moment when the disk of the sun touched the horizon of the sea. The first contact was at 6 hours 8 minutes 13 seconds; the second, at 6 hours 10 minutes 26 seconds; mean time. This observation, which is not unimportant for the theory of terrestrial refractions, was made on the summit of the mountain, at the absolute height of 296 toises. The setting of the sun was attended by a very rapid cooling of the air. Three minutes after the last apparent contact of the disk with the horizon of the sea, the thermometer suddenly fell from 25.2 to 21.3°. Was this extraordinary refrigeration owing to some descending current? The air was however calm, and no horizontal wind was felt.
We passed the night in a house where there was a military post consisting of eight men, under the command of a Spanish serjeant. It was an hospital, built by the side of a powder magazine. When Cumana, after the capture of Trinidad by the English, in 1797, was threatened with an attack, many of the inhabitants fled to Cumanacoa, and deposited whatever articles of value they possessed in sheds hastily constructed on the top of the Imposible. It was then resolved, in case of any unforeseen invasion, to abandon the castle of San Antonio, after a short resistance, and to concentrate the whole force of the province round the mountains, which may be considered as the key of the Llanos.
The top of the Imposible, as nearly as I could perceive, is covered with a quartzose sandstone, free from petrifactions. Here, as on the ridge of the neighbouring mountains, the strata pretty regularly take the direction from north-north-east to south-south-west. This direction is also most common in the primitive formations in the peninsula of Araya, and along the coasts of Venezuela. On the northern declivity of the Imposible, near the Penas Negras, an abundant spring issues from sandstone, which alternates with a schistose clay. We remarked on this point fractured strata, which lie from north-west to south-east, and the dip of which is almost perpendicular.
The Llaneros, or inhabitants of the plains, send their produce, especially maize, leather, and cattle, to the port of Cumana by the road over the Imposible. We continually saw mules arrive, driven by Indians or mulattoes. Several parts of the vast forests which surround the mountain, had taken fire. Reddish flames, half enveloped in clouds of smoke, presented a very grand spectacle. The inhabitants set fire to the forests, to improve the pasturage, and to destroy the shrubs that choke the grass. Enormous conflagrations, too, are often caused by the carelessness of the Indians, who neglect, when they travel, to extinguish the fires by which they have dressed their food. These accidents contribute to diminish the number of old trees in the road from Cumana to Cumanacoa; and the inhabitants observe justly, that, in several parts of their province, the dryness has increased, not only because every year the frequency of earthquakes causes more crevices in the soil; but also because it is now less thickly wooded than it was at the time of the conquest.
I arose during the night to determine the latitude of the place by the passage of Fomalhaut over the meridian; but the observation was lost, owing to the time I employed in taking the level of the artificial horizon. It was midnight, and I was benumbed with cold, as were also our guides: yet the thermometer kept at 19.7°. At Cumana I have never seen it sink below 21°; but then the house in which we dwelt on the Imposible was 258 toises above the level of the sea. At the Casa de la Polvora I determined the dip of the magnetic needle, which was 42.5°.* The number of oscillations correspondent to 10 minutes of time was 233. The intensity of the magnetic forces had consequently augmented from the coast to the mountain, perhaps from the influence of some ferruginous matter, hidden in the strata of sandstone which cover the Alpine limestone.
[* The magnetic dip is always measured in this work, according to the centesimal division, if the contrary be not expressly mentioned.]
We left the Imposible on the 5th of September before sunrise. The descent is very dangerous for beasts of burden; the path being in general but fifteen inches broad, and bordered by precipices. In descending the mountain, we observed the rock of Alpine limestone reappearing under the sandstone. The strata being generally inclined to the south and south-east, a great number of springs gush out on the southern side of the mountain. In the rainy season of the year, these springs form torrents, which descend in cascades, shaded by the hura, the cuspa, and the silver-leaved cecropia or trumpet-tree.
The cuspa, a very common tree in the environs of Cumana and of Bordones, is yet unknown to the botanists of Europe. It was long used only for the building of houses, and has become celebrated since 1797, under the name of the cascarilla or bark-tree (cinchona) of New Andalusia. Its trunk rises scarcely above fifteen or twenty feet. Its alternate leaves are smooth, entire, and oval.* Its bark very thin, and of a pale yellow, is a powerful febrifuge. It is even more bitter than the bark of the real cinchona, but is less disagreeable. The cuspa is administered with the greatest success, in a spirituous tincture, and in aqueous infusion, both in intermittent and in malignant fevers.
[* At the summit of the boughs, the leaves are sometimes opposite to each other, but invariably without stipules.]
On the coasts of New Andalusia, the cuspa is considered as a kind of cinchona; and we were assured, that some Aragonese monks, who had long resided in the kingdom of New Grenada, recognised this tree from the resemblance of its leaves to those of the real Peruvian bark-tree. This, however, is unfounded; since it is precisely by the disposition of the leaves, and the absence of stipules, that the cuspa differs totally from the trees of the rubiaceous family. It may be said to resemble the family of the honeysuckle, or caprifoliaceous plants, one section of which has alternate leaves, and among which we find several cornel-trees, remarkable for their febrifuge properties.*
[* Cornus florida, and C. sericea of the United States. — Walker on the Virtues of the Cornus and the Cinchona compared. Philadelphia 1803.]
The taste, at once bitter and astringent, and the yellow colour of the bark led to the discovery of the febrifugal virtue of the cuspa. As it blossoms at the end of November, we did not see it in flower, and we know not to what genus it belongs; and I have in vain for several years past applied to our friends at Cumana for specimens of the flower and fruit. I hope that the botanical determination of the bark-tree of New Andalusia will one day fix the attention of travellers, who visit this region after us; and that they will not confound, notwithstanding the analogy of the names, the cuspa with the cuspare. The latter not only vegetates in the missions of the Rio Carony, but also to the west of Cumana, in the gulf of Santa Fe. It furnishes the druggists of Europe with the famous Cortex Angosturae, and forms the genus Bonplandia, described by M. Willdenouw in the Memoirs of the Academy of Berlin, from notes communicated to him by us.
It is singular that, during our long abode on the coast of Cumana and the Caracas, on the banks of the Apure, the Orinoco, and the Rio Negro, in an extent of country comprising forty thousand square leagues, we never met with one of those numerous species of cinchona, or exostema, which are peculiar to the low and warm regions of the tropics, especially to the archipelago of the West India Islands. Yet we are far from affirming, that, throughout the whole of the eastern part of South America, from Porto Bello to Cayenne, or from the equator to the 10th degree of north latitude between the meridians of 54 and 71°, the cinchona absolutely does not exist. How can we be expected to know completely the flora of so vast an extent of country? But, when we recollect, that even in Mexico no species of the genera cinchona and exostema has been discovered, either in the central table-land or in the plains, we are led to believe, that the mountainous islands of the West Indies and the Cordillera of the Andes have peculiar floras; and that they possess particular species of vegetation, which have neither passed from the islands to the continent, nor from South America to the coasts of New Spain.
It may be observed farther, that, when we reflect on the numerous analogies which exist between the properties of plants and their external forms, we are surprised to find qualities eminently febrifuge in the bark of trees belonging to different genera, and even different families.* Some of these barks so much resemble each other, that it is not easy to distinguish them at first sight. But before we examine the question, whether we shall one day discover, in the real cinchona, in the cuspa of Cumana, the Cortex Angosturae, the Indian swietenia, the willows of Europe, the berries of the coffee-tree and uvaria, a matter uniformly diffused, and exhibiting (like starch, caoutchouc, and camphor) the same chemical properties in different plants, we may ask whether, in the present state of physiology and medicine, a febrifuge principle ought to be admitted. Is it not probable, that the particular derangement in the organization, known under the vague name of the febrile state, and in which both the vascular and the nervous systems are at the same time attacked, yields to remedies which do not operate by the same principle, by the same mode of action on the same organs, by the same play of chemical and electrical attractions? We shall here confine ourselves to this observation, that, in the species of the genus cinchona, the antifebrile virtues do not appear to belong to the tannin (which is only accidentally mingled in them), or to the cinchonate of lime; but in a resiniform matter, soluble both by alcohol and by water, and which, it is believed, is composed of two principles, the cinchonic bitter and the cinchonic red.* May it then be admitted, that this resiniform matter, which possesses different degrees of energy according to the combinations by which it is modified, is found in all febrifuge substances? Those by which the sulphate of iron is precipitated of a green colour, like the real cinchona, the bark of the white willow, and the horned perisperm of the coffee-tree, do not on this account denote identity of chemical composition;* and that identity might even exist, without our concluding that the medical virtues were analogous. We see that specimens of sugar and tannin extracted from plants, not of the same family, present numerous differences: while the comparative analysis of sugar, gum, and starch; the discovery of the radical of the prussic acid (the effects of which are so powerful on the organization), and many other phenomena of vegetable chemistry, clearly prove that substances composed of identical elements, few in number and proportional in quantity, exhibit the most heterogeneous properties, on account of that particular mode of combination which corpuscular chemistry calls the arrangement of the particles.
[* It may be somewhat interesting to chemistry, physiology, and descriptive botany, to consider under the same point of view the plants which have been employed in intermittent fevers with different degrees of success. We find among rubiaceous plants, besides the cinchonas and exostemas, the Coutarea speciosa or Cayenne bark, the Portlandia grandiflora of the West Indies, another portlandia discovered by M. Sesse at Mexico, the Pinkneia pubescens of the United States, the berry of the coffee-tree, and perhaps the Macrocnemum corymbosum, and the Guettarda coccinea; among magnoliaceous plants, the tulip-tree and the Magnolia glauca; among zanthoxylaceous plants, the Cuspare of Angostura, known in America under the name of Orinoco bark, and the Zanthoxylon caribaeum; among leguminous plants, the geoffraeas, the Swietenia febrifuga, the Aeschynomene grandiflora, the Caesalpina bonducella; among caprifoliaceous plants, the Cornus florida and the Cuspa of Cumana; among rosaceous plants, the Cerasus virginiana and the Geum urbanum; among amentaceous plants, the willows, oaks, and birch-trees, of which the alcoholic tincture is used in Russia by the common people; the Populus tremuloides, etc.; among anonaceous plants, the Uvaria febrifuga, the fruit of which we saw administered with success in the Missions of Spanish Guiana; among simarubaceous plants, the Quassia amara, celebrated in the feverish plains of Surinam; among terebinthaceous plants, the Rhus glabrum; among euphorbiaceous plants, the Croton cascarilla; among composite plants, the Eupatorium perfoliatum, the febrifuge qualities of which are known to the savages of North America. Of the tulip-tree and the quassia, it is the bark of the roots that is used. Eminent febrifuge virtues have also been found in the cortical part of the roots of the Cinchona condaminea at Loxa; but it is fortunate, for the preservation of the species, that the roots of the real cinchona are not employed in pharmacy. Chemical researches are yet wanting upon the very powerful bitters contained in the roots of the Zanthoriza apiifolia, and the Actaea racemosa: the latter have sometimes been employed with success as a remedy against the epidemic yellow fever in New York.]
[* In French, l’amer et le rouge cinchoniques.]
[* The cuspare bark (Cort. Angosturae) yields with iron a yellow precipitate; yet it is employed on the banks of the Orinoco, and particularly at the town of St. Thomas of Angostura, as an excellent cinchona; and on the other hand, the bark of the common cherry tree, which has scarcely any febrifuge quality, yields a green precipitate like the real cinchonas. Notwithstanding the extreme imperfection of vegetable chemistry, the experiments already made on cinchonas sufficiently show, that to judge of the febrifuge virtues of a bark, we must not attach too much importance either to the principle which turns to green the oxides of iron, or to the tannin, or to the matter which precipitates infusions of tan.]
Leaving the ravine which descends from the Imposible, we entered a thick forest traversed by many small rivers, which are easily forded. We observed that the cecropia, which in the disposition of its branches and its slender trunk, resembles the palm-tree, is covered with leaves more or less silvery, in proportion as the soil is dry or moist. We saw some small plants of the cecropia, the leaves of which were on both sides entirely green.* The roots of these trees are hid under tufts of dorstenia, which flourishes only in humid and shady places. In the midst of the forest, on the banks of the Rio Cedeno, as well as on the southern declivity of the Cocollar, we find, in their wild state, papaw and orange-trees, bearing large and sweet fruit. These are probably the remains of some conucos, or Indian plantations; for in those countries the orange-tree cannot be counted among the indigenous plants, any more than the banana-tree, the papaw-tree, maize, cassava, and many other useful plants, with the true country of which we are unacquainted, though they have accompanied man in his migrations from the remotest times.
[* Is not the Cecropia concolor of Willdenouw a variety of the Cecropia peltata?]
When a traveller newly arrived from Europe penetrates for the first time into the forests of South America, he beholds nature under an unexpected aspect. He feels at every step, that he is not on the confines but in the centre of the torrid zone; not in one of the West India Islands, but on a vast continent where everything is gigantic — mountains, rivers, and the mass of vegetation. If he feel strongly the beauty of picturesque scenery he can scarcely define the various emotions which crowd upon his mind; he can scarcely distinguish what most excites his admiration, the deep silence of those solitudes, the individual beauty and contrast of forms, or that vigour and freshness of vegetable life which characterize the climate of the tropics. It might be said that the earth, overloaded with plants, does not allow them space enough to unfold themselves. The trunks of the trees are everywhere concealed under a thick carpet of verdure; and if we carefully transplanted the orchideae, the pipers, and the pothoses, nourished by a single courbaril, or American fig-tree,* we should cover a vast extent of ground. By this singular assemblage, the forests, as well as the flanks of the rocks and mountains, enlarge the domains of organic nature. The same lianas which creep on the ground, reach the tops of the trees, and pass from one to another at the height of more than a hundred feet. Thus, by the continual interlacing of parasite plants, the botanist is often led to confound one with another, the flowers, the fruits, and leaves, which belong to different species.
[* Ficus nymphaeifolia.]
We walked for some hours under the shade of these arcades, which scarcely admit a glimpse of the sky; the latter appeared to me of an indigo blue, the deeper in shade because the green of the equinoctial plants is generally of a stronger hue, with somewhat of a brownish tint. A great fern tree,* very different from the Polypodium arboreum of the West Indies, rose above masses of scattered rocks. In this place we were struck for the first time with the sight of those nests in the shape of bottles, or small bags, which are suspended from the branches of the lowest trees, and which attest the wonderful industry of the orioles, which mingle their warbling with the hoarse cries of the parrots and the macaws. These last, so well known for their vivid colours, fly only in pairs, while the real parrots wander about in flocks of several hundreds. A man must have lived in those regions, particularly in the hot valleys of the Andes, to conceive how these birds sometimes drown with their voices the noise of the torrents, which dash down from rock to rock.
[* Possibly our Aspidium caducum.]
We left the forests, at the distance of somewhat more than a league from the village of San Fernando. A narrow path led, after many windings, into an open but extremely humid country. In such a site in the temperate zone, the cyperaceous and gramineous plants would have formed vast meadows; here the soil abounded in aquatic plants, with sagittate leaves, and especially in basil plants, among which we noticed the fine flowers of the costus, the thalia, and the heliconia. These succulent plants are from eight to ten feet high, and in Europe one of their groups would be considered as a little wood.
Near San Fernando the evaporation caused by the action of the sun was so great that, being very lightly clothed, we felt ourselves as wet as in a vapour bath. The road was bordered with a kind of bamboo,* which the Indians call iagua, or guadua, and which is more than forty feet in height. Nothing can exceed the elegance of this arborescent gramen. The form and disposition of its leaves give it a character of lightness which contrasts agreeably with its height. The smooth and glossy trunk of the iagua generally bends towards the banks of rivulets, and it waves with the slightest breath of air. The highest reeds* in the south of Europe, can give no idea of the aspect of the arborescent gramina. The bamboo and fern-tree are, of all the vegetable forms between the tropics, those which make the most powerful impression on the imagination of the traveller. Bamboos are less common in South America than is usually believed. They are almost wanting in the marshes and in the vast inundated plains of the Lower Orinoco, the Apure, and the Atabapo, while they form thick woods, several leagues in length, in the north-west, in New Grenada, and in the kingdom of Quito. It might be said that the western declivity of the Andes is their true country; and, what is remarkable enough, we found them not only in the low regions at the level of the ocean, but also in the lofty valleys of the Cordilleras, at the height of 860 toises.
[* Bambusa guadua.]
[* Arundo donax.]
The road skirted with the bamboos above mentioned led us to the small village of San Fernando, situated in a narrow plain, surrounded by very steep calcareous rocks. This was the first Mission* we saw in America. The houses, or rather the huts of the Chayma Indians, though separate from each other, are not surrounded by gardens. The streets, which are wide and very straight, cross each other at right angles. The walls of the huts are made of clay, strengthened by lianas. The uniformity of these huts, the grave and taciturn air of their inhabitants, and the extreme neatness of the dwellings, reminded us of the establishments of the Moravian Brethren. Besides their own gardens, every Indian family helps to cultivate the garden of the community, or, as it is called, the conuco de la comunidad, which is situated at some distance from the village. In this conuco the adults of each sex work one hour in the morning and one in the evening. In the missions nearest the coast the garden of the community is generally a sugar or indigo plantation, under the direction of the missionary; and its produce, if the law were strictly observed, could be employed only for the support of the church and the purchase of sacerdotal ornaments. The great square of San Fernando, in the centre of the village, contains the church, the dwelling of the missionary, and a very humble-looking edifice pompously called the king’s house (Casa del Rey). This is a caravanserai, destined for lodging travellers; and, as we often experienced, infinitely valuable in a country where the name of an inn is still unknown. The Casas del Rey are to be found in all the Spanish colonies, and may be deemed an imitation of the tambos of Peru, which were established in conformity with the laws of Manco Capac.
[* A certain number of habitations collected round a church, with a missionary monk performing the ministerial duties, is called in the Spanish colonies Mision, or Pueblo de mision. Indian villages, governed by a priest, are called Pueblos de doctrina. A distinction is made between the Cura doctrinero, who is the priest of an Indian parish, and the Cura rector, priest of a village inhabited by whites and men of mixed race.]
We had been recommended to the friars who govern the Missions of the Chayma Indians, by their syndic, who resides at Cumana. This recommendation was the more useful to us, as the missionaries, either from zeal for the purity of the morals of their parishioners, or to conceal the monastic system from the indiscreet curiosity of strangers, often adhere with rigour to an old regulation, by which a white man of the secular state is not permitted to sojourn more than one night in an Indian village. The Missions form (I will not say according to their primitive and canonical institutions, but in reality) a distinct and nearly independent hierarchy, the views of which seldom accord with those of the secular clergy.
The missionary of San Fernando was a Capuchin, a native of Aragon, far advanced in years, but strong and healthy. His extreme corpulency, his hilarity, the interest he took in battles and sieges, ill accorded with the ideas we form in northern countries of the melancholy reveries and the contemplative life of missionaries. Though extremely busy about a cow which was to be killed next day, the old monk received us with kindness, and permitted us to hang up our hammocks in a gallery of his house. Seated, without doing anything, the greater part of the day, in an armchair of red wood, he bitterly complained of what he called the indolence and ignorance of his countrymen. Our missionary, however, seemed well satisfied with his situation.
He treated the Indians with mildness; he beheld his Mission prosper, and he praised with enthusiasm the waters, the bananas, and the dairy-produce of the district. The sight of our instruments, our books, and our dried plants, drew from him a sarcastic smile; and he acknowledged, with the naivete peculiar to the inhabitants of those countries, that of all the enjoyments of life, without excepting sleep, none was comparable to the pleasure of eating good beef (carne de vaca): thus does sensuality obtain an ascendancy, where there is no occupation for the mind.
The mission of San Fernando was founded about the end of the 17th century, near the junction of the small rivers of the Manzanares and Lucasperez. A fire, which consumed the church and the huts of the Indians, induced the Capuchins to build the village in its present fine situation. The number of families is increased to one hundred, and the missionary observed to us, that the custom of marrying at thirteen or fourteen years of age contributes greatly to this rapid increase of population. He denied that old age was so premature among the Chaymas, as is commonly believed in Europe. The government of these Indian parishes is very complicated; they have their governor, their major-alguazils, and their militia-commanders, all copper-coloured natives. The company of archers have their colours, and perform their exercise with the bow and arrow, in shooting at a mark; this is the national guard (militia) of the country. This military establishment, under a purely monastic system, seemed to us very singular.
On the night of the 5th of September, and the following morning, there was a thick fog; yet we were not more than a hundred toises above the level of the sea. I determined geometrically, at the moment of our departure, the height of the great calcareous mountain which rises at 800 toises distance to the south of San Fernando, and forms a perpendicular cliff on the north side. It is only 215 toises higher than the great square; but naked masses of rock, which here exhibit themselves in the midst of a thick vegetation, give it a very majestic aspect.
The road from San Fernando to Cumana passes amidst small plantations, through an open and humid valley. We forded a number of rivulets. In the shade the thermometer did not rise above 30°: but we were exposed to the direct rays of the sun, because the bamboos, which skirted the road, afforded but small shelter, and we suffered greatly from the heat. We passed through the village of Arenas, inhabited by Indians, of the same race as those at San Fernando. But Arenas is no longer a mission; and the natives, governed by a regular priest,* are better clothed, and more civilized. Their church is also distinguished in the country by some rude paintings which adorn its walls. A narrow border encloses figures of armadilloes, caymans, jaguars, and other animals peculiar to the new world.
[* The four villages of Arenas, Macarapana, Mariguitar, and Aricagua, founded by Aragonese Capuchins, are called Doctrinas de Encomienda.]
In this village lives a labourer, Francisco Lozano, who presented a highly curious physiological phenomenon. This man has suckled a child with his own milk. The mother having fallen sick, the father, to quiet the infant, took it into his bed, and pressed it to his bosom. Lozano, then thirty-two years of age, had never before remarked that he had milk: but the irritation of the nipple, sucked by the child, caused the accumulation of that liquid. The milk was thick and very sweet. The father, astonished at the increased size of his breast, suckled his child two or three times a day during five months. He drew on himself the attention of his neighbours, but he never thought, as he probably would have done in Europe, of deriving any advantage from the curiosity he excited. We saw the certificate, which had been drawn up on the spot, to attest this remarkable fact, eye-witnesses of which are still living. They assured us that, during this suckling, the child had no other nourishment than the milk of his father. Lozano, who was not at Arenas during our journey in the missions, came to us at Cumana. He was accompanied by his son, then thirteen or fourteen years of age. M. Bonpland examined with attention the father’s breasts, and found them wrinkled like those of a woman who has given suck. He observed that the left breast in particular was much enlarged; which Lozano explained to us from the circumstance, that the two breasts did not furnish milk in the same abundance. Don Vicente Emparan, governor of the province, sent a circumstantial account of this phenomenon to Cadiz.
It is not a very uncommon circumstance, to find, among animals, males whose breasts contain milk; and climate does not appear to exercise any marked influence on the greater or less abundance of this secretion. The ancients cite the milk of the he-goats of Lemnos and Corsica. In our own time, we have seen in Hanover, a he-goat, which for a great number of years was milked every other day, and yielded more milk than a female goat. Among the signs of the alleged weakness of the Americans, travellers have mentioned the milk contained in the breasts of men. It is, however, improbable, that it has ever been observed in a whole tribe, in some part of America unknown to modern travellers; and I can affirm that at present it is not more common in the new continent, than in the old. The labourer of Arenas, whose case has just been mentioned, was not of the copper-coloured race of Chayma Indians, but was a white man, descended from Europeans. Moreover, the anatomists of St. Petersburgh have observed that, among the lower orders of the people in Russia, milk in the breasts of men is much more frequent than among the more southern nations: yet the Russians have never been deemed weak and effeminate. There is among the varieties of the human species a race of men whose breasts at the age of puberty acquire a considerable bulk. Lozano did not belong to that race; and he often repeated to us his conviction, that it was only the irritation of the nipple, in consequence of the suction, which caused the flow of milk.
When we reflect on the whole of the vital phenomena, we find that no one of them is entirely isolated. In every age examples are cited of very young girls and women in extreme old age, who have suckled children. Among men these examples are more rare; and after numerous researches, I have not found above two or three. One is cited by the anatomist of Verona, Alexander Benedictus, who lived about the end of the fifteenth century. He relates the history of an inhabitant of Syria, who, to calm the fretfulness of his child, after the death of the mother, pressed it to his bosom. The milk soon became so abundant, that the father could take on himself the nourishment of his child without assistance. Other examples are related by Santorellus, Faria, and Robert, bishop of Cork. The greater part of these phenomena having been noticed in times very remote, it is not uninteresting to physiology, that we can confirm them in our own days.
On approaching the town of Cumanacoa we found a more level soil, and a valley enlarging itself progressively. This small town is situated in a naked plain, almost circular, and surrounded by lofty mountains. It was founded in 1717 by Domingo Arias, on the return of an expedition to the mouth of the Guarapiche, undertaken with the view of destroying an establishment which some French freebooters had attempted to found. The new town was first called San Baltazar de las Arias; but the Indian name Cumanacoa prevailed; in like manner the name of Santiago de Leon, still to be found in our maps, is forgotten in that of Caracas.
On opening the barometer we were struck at seeing the column of mercury scarcely 7.3 lines shorter than on the coasts. The plain, or rather the table-land, on which the town of Cumanacoa is situated, is not more than 104 toises above the level of the sea, which is three or four times less than is supposed by the inhabitants of Cumana, on account of their exaggerated ideas of the cold of Cumanacoa. But the difference of climate observable between places so near each other is perhaps less owing to comparative height than to local circumstances. Among these causes we may cite the proximity of the forests; the frequency of descending currents, so common in these valleys, closed on every side; the abundance of rain; and those thick fogs which diminish during a great part of the year the direct action of the solar rays. The decrement of the heat being nearly the same within the tropics, and during the summer under the temperate zone, the small difference of level of one hundred toises should produce only a change in the mean temperature of 1 or 1.5°. But we shall soon find that at Cumanacoa the difference rises to more than four degrees. This coolness of the climate is sometimes the more surprising, as very great heat is felt at Carthago (in the province of Popayan); at Tomependa, on the bank of the river Amazon, and in the valleys of Aragua, to the west of Caracas; though the absolute height of these different places is between 200 and 480 toises. In plains as well as on mountains the isothermal lines (lines of similar heat) are not constantly parallel to the equator, or the surface of the globe. It is the grand problem of meteorology to determine the inflections of these lines, and to discover, amid modifications produced by local causes, the constant laws of the distribution of heat.
The port of Cumana is only seven nautical leagues from Cumanacoa. It scarcely ever rains in the first-mentioned place, while in the latter there are seven months of wintry weather. At Cumanacoa, the dry season begins at the winter solstice, and lasts till the vernal equinox. Light showers are frequent in the months of April, May, and June. The dry weather then returns again, and lasts from the summer solstice to the end of August. Then come the real winter rains, which cease only in the month of November, and during which torrents of water pour down from the skies.
It was during the winter season that we took up our first abode in the Missions. Every night a thick fog covered the sky, and it was only at intervals that I succeeded in taking some observations of the stars. The thermometer kept from 18.5 to 20°, which under this zone, and to the sensations of a traveller coming from the coasts, appears a great degree of coolness. I never perceived the temperature in the night at Cumana below 21°. The greatest heat is felt from noon to 3 o’clock, the thermometer keeping between 26 and 27°. The maximum of the heat, about two hours after the passage of the sun over the meridian, was very regularly marked by a storm which murmured near. Large black and low clouds dissolved in rain, which came down in torrents: these rains lasted two or three hours, and lowered the thermometer five or six degrees. About five o’clock the rain entirely ceased, the sun reappeared a little before it set, and the hygrometer moved towards the point of dryness; but at eight or nine we were again enveloped in a thick stratum of vapour. These different changes follow successively, we were assured, during whole months, and yet not a breath of wind is felt. Comparative experiments led us to believe that in general the nights at Cumanacoa are from two to three, and the days from four to five centesimal degrees cooler than at the port of Cumana. These differences are great; and if, instead of meteorological instruments, we consulted only our own feelings, we should suppose they were still more considerable.
The vegetation of the plain which surrounds the town is monotonous, but, owing to the extreme humidity of the air, remarkable for its freshness. It is chiefly characterized by an arborescent solanum, forty feet in height, the Urtica baccifera, and a new species of the genus Guettarda.* The ground is very fertile, and might be easily watered if trenches were cut from a great number of rivulets, the springs of which never dry up during the whole year. The most valuable production of the district is tobacco. Since the introduction of the farm* in 1779, the cultivation of tobacco in the province of Cumana is nearly confined to the valley of Cumanacoa; as in Mexico it is permitted only in the two districts of Orizaba and Cordova. The farm system is a monopoly odious to the people. All the tobacco that is gathered must be sold to government; and to prevent, or rather to diminish fraud, it has been found most easy to concentrate the cultivation in one point. Guards scour the country, to destroy any plantations without the boundaries of the privileged districts; and to inform against those inhabitants who smoke cigars prepared by their own hands.
[* These trees are surrounded by Galega pilosa, Stellaria rotundifolia, Aegiphila elata of Swartz, Sauvagesia erecta, Martinia perennis, and a great number of Rivinas. We find among the gramineous plants, in the savannah of Cumanacoa, the Paspalus lenticularis, Panicum ascendens, Pennisetum uniflorum, Gynerium saccharoides, Eleusine indica, etc.]
[* Estanco real de tabaco, royal monopoly of tobacco.]
Next to the tobacco of the island of Cuba and of the Rio Negro, that of Cumana is the most aromatic. It excels all the tobacco of New Spain and of the province of Varinas. We shall give some particulars of its culture, which essentially differs from the method practised in Virginia. The prodigious expansion which is remarked in the solaneous plants of the valley of Cumanacoa, especially in the abundant species of the Solanum arborescens, of aquartia, and of cestrum, seems to indicate the favourable nature of this spot for plantations of tobacco. The seed is sown in the open ground, at the beginning of September; though sometimes not till the month of December, which period is however less favourable for the harvest. The cotyledons appear on the eighth day, and the young plants are covered with large leaves of heliconia and plantain, and shelter them from the direct action of the sun. Great care also is taken to destroy weeds, which, between the tropics, spring up with astonishing rapidity. The tobacco is transplanted into a rich and well-prepared soil, a month or two after it has risen from the seed. The plants are disposed in regular rows, three or four feet distant from each other. Care is taken to weed them often, and the principal stalk is several times topped, till greenish blue spots indicate to the cultivator the maturity of the leaves. They begin to gather them in the fourth month, and this first gathering generally terminates in the space of a few days. It would be better if the leaves were plucked only as they dry. In good years the cultivators cut the plant when it is only four feet high; and the shoot which springs from the root, throws out new leaves with such rapidity that they may be gathered on the thirteenth or fourteenth day. These last have the cellular tissue very much extended, and they contain more water, more albumen and less of that acrid, volatile principle, which is but little soluble in water, and in which the stimulant property of tobacco seems to reside.
At Cumanacoa the tobacco, after being gathered, undergoes a preparation which the Spaniards call cura seca. The leaves are suspended by threads of cocuiza;* their ribs are taken out, and they are twisted into cords. The prepared tobacco should be carried to the king’s warehouses in the month of June; but the indolence of the inhabitants, and the preference they give to the cultivation of maize and cassava, usually prevent them from finishing the preparation before the month of August. It is easy to conceive that the leaves, so long exposed to very moist air, must lose some of their flavour. The administrator of the farm keeps the tobacco deposited in the king’s warehouses sixty days without touching it. When this time is expired, the manoques are opened to examine the quality. If the administrator find the tobacco well prepared, he pays the cultivator three piastres for the aroba of twenty-five pounds weight. The same quantity is resold for the king’s profit at twelve piastres and a half. The tobacco that is rotten (podrido), that is, again gone into a state of fermentation, is publicly burnt; and the cultivator, who has received money in advance from the royal farm, loses irrevocably the fruits of his long labour. We saw heaps, amounting to five hundred arobas, burnt in the great square, which in Europe might have served for making snuff.
[* Agave Americana.]
The soil of Cumanacoa is so favourable to this branch of culture, that tobacco grows wild, wherever the seed finds any moisture. It grows thus spontaneously at Cerro del Cuchivano, and around the cavern of Caripe. The only kind of tobacco cultivated at Cumanacoa, as well as in the neighbouring districts of Aricagua and San Lorenzo, is that with large sessile leaves,* called Virginia tobacco. The tobacco with petiolate leaves,* which is the yetl of the ancient Mexicans, is unknown.
[* Nicotiana tabacum.]
[* Nicotiana rustica.]
In studying the history of our cultivated plants, we are surprised to find that, before the conquest, the use of tobacco was spread through the greater part of America, while the potato was unknown both in Mexico and the West India Islands, where it grows well in the mountainous regions. Tobacco has also been cultivated in Portugal since the year 1559, though the potato did not become an object of European agriculture till the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century. This latter plant, which has had so powerful an influence on the well-being of society, has spread in both continents more slowly than tobacco, which can be considered only as an article of luxury.
Next to tobacco, the most important culture of the valley of Cumanacoa is that of indigo. The manufacturers of Cumanacoa, of San Fernando, and of Arenas, produce indigo of greater commercial value than that of Caracas; and often nearly equalling in splendour and richness of colour the indigo of Guatimala. It was from that province that the coasts of Cumana received the first seeds of the Indigofera anil,* which is cultivated jointly with the Indigofera tinctoria. The rains being very frequent in the valley of Cumanacoa, a plant of four feet high yields no more colouring matter than one of a third part that size in the arid valleys of Aragua, to the west of the town of Caracas.
[* The indigo known in commerce is produced by four species of plants; the Indigofera tinctoria, I. anil, I. argentea, and I. disperma. At the Rio Negro, near the frontiers of Brazil, we found the I. argentea growing wild, but only in places anciently inhabited by Indians.]
The manufactories we examined are all built on uniform principles. Two steeping vessels, or vats, which receive the plants intended to be brought into a state of fermentation, are joined together. Each vat is fifteen feet square, and two and a half deep. From these upper vats the liquor runs into beaters, between which is placed the water-mill. The axletree of the great wheel crosses the two beaters. It is furnished with ladles, fixed to long handles, adapted for the beating. From a spacious settling-vat, the colouring fecula is carried to the drying place, and spread on planks of brasiletto, which, having small wheels, can be sheltered under a roof in case of sudden rains. Sloping and very low roofs give the drying place the appearance of hot-houses at some distance. In the valley of Cumanacoa, the fermentation of the plant is produced with astonishing rapidity. It lasts in general but four or five hours. This short duration can be attributed only to the humidity of the climate, and the absence of the sun during the development of the plant. I think I have observed, in the course of my travels, that the drier the climate, the slower the vat works, and the greater the quantity of indigo, at the minimum of oxidation, contained in the stalks. In the province of Caracas, where 562 cubic feet of the plant slightly piled up yield thirty-five or forty pounds of dry indigo, the liquid does not pass into the beater till after twenty, thirty, or thirty-five hours. It is probable that the inhabitants of Cumanacoa would extract more colouring matter if they left the plants longer steeping in the first vat.* During my abode at Cumana I made solutions of the indigo of Cumanacoa, which is somewhat heavy and coppery, and that of Caracas, in sulphuric acid, in order to compare them, and the solution of the former appeared to me to be of a much more intense blue.
[* The planters are pretty generally of opinion, that the fermentation should never continue less than ten hours. Beauvais–Raseau, Art de l’Indigotier page 81.]
The plain of Cumanacoa, spotted with farms and small plantations of indigo and tobacco, is surrounded with mountains, which towards the south rise to considerable height. Everything indicates that the valley is the bottom of an ancient lake. The mountains, which in ancient times formed its shores, all rise perpendicularly in the direction of the plain. The only outlet for the waters of the lake was on the side of Arenas. In digging foundations, beds of round pebbles, mixed with small bivalve shells, are found; and according to the report of persons worthy of credit, there were discovered, thirty years ago, at the bottom of the ravine of San Juanillo, two enormous femoral bones, four feet long, and weighing more than thirty pounds. The Indians imagined that these were giants’ bones; whilst the half-learned sages of the country, who assume the right of explaining everything, gravely asserted that they were mere sports of nature, and little worthy of attention; an opinion founded on the circumstance that human bones decay rapidly in the soil of Cumanacoa. In order to decorate their churches on the festival of the dead, they take skulls from the cemeteries on the coast, where the earth is impregnated with saline substances. These pretended thigh-bones of giants were carried to the port of Cumana, where I sought for them in vain; but from the analogy of some fossil bones which I brought from other parts of South America, and which have been carefully examined by M. Cuvier, it is probable that the gigantic femoral bones of Cumanacoa belonged to elephants of a species now extinct. It may appear surprising that they were found in a place so little elevated above the present level of the waters; since it is a remarkable fact, that the fragments of the mastodons and fossil elephants which I brought from the equinoctial regions of Mexico, New Grenada, Quito, and Peru, were not found in low regions (as were the megatherium of Rio Luxan* and Virginia,* the great mastodons of the Ohio, and the fossil elephants of the Susquehanna, in the temperate zone), but on table-lands having from six to fourteen hundred toises of elevation.
[* One league south-east from the town of Buenos Ayres.]
[* The megatherium of Virginia is the megalonyx of Mr. Jefferson. All the enormous remains found in the plains of the new continent, either north or south of the equator, belong, not to the torrid, but to the temperate zone. On the other hand, Pallas observes that in Siberia, consequently also northward of the tropics, fossil bones are never found in mountainous parts. These facts, intimately connected together, seem calculated to lead to the discovery of a great geological law.]
As we approached the southern bank of the basin of Cumanacoa, we enjoyed the view of the Turimiquiri.* An enormous wall of rocks, the remains of an ancient cliff, rises in the midst of the forests. Farther to the west, at Cerro del Cuchivano, the chain of mountains seems as if broken by the effects of an earthquake. The crevice is more than a hundred and fifty toises wide, is surrounded by perpendicular rocks, and is filled with trees, the interwoven branches of which find no room to spread. This cleft appears like a mine opened by the falling in of the earth. It is intersected by a torrent, the Rio Juagua, and its appearance is highly picturesque. It is called Risco del Cuchivano. The river rises at the distance of seven leagues south-west, at the foot of the mountain of the Brigantine, and it forms some beautiful cascades before it spreads through the plain of Cumanacoa.
[* Some of the inhabitants pronounce this name Tumuriquiri, others Turumiquiri, or Tumiriquiri. During the whole time of our stay at Cumanacoa, the summit of this mountain was covered with clouds. It appeared uncovered on the evening of the 11th of September, but only for a few minutes. The angle of elevation, taken from the great square of Cumanacoa, was 8° 2′. This determination, and the barometrical measurement which I made on the 13th, may enable us to fix, within a certain approximation, the distance of the mountain at six miles and a third, or 6050 toises; admitting that the part uncovered by clouds was 850 toises above the plain of Cumanacoa.]
We visited several times a small farm, the Conuco of Bermudez, opposite the Risco del Cuchivano, where tobacco, plantains, and several species of cotton-trees,* are cultivated in the moist soil; especially that tree, the cotton of which is of a nankeen colour, and which is so common in the island of Margareta.* The proprietor of the farm told us that the Risco or crevice was inhabited by jaguar tigers. These animals pass the day in caverns, and roam around human habitations at night. Being well fed, they grow to the length of six feet. One of them had devoured, in the preceding year, a horse belonging to the farm. He dragged his prey on a fine moonlight night, across the savannah, to the foot of a ceiba* of an enormous size. The groans of the dying horse awoke the slaves of the farm, who went out armed with lances and machetes.* The tiger, crouching over his prey, awaited their approach with tranquillity, and fell only after a long and obstinate resistance. This fact, and many others verified on the spot, prove that the great jaguar* of Terra Firma, like the jaguarete of Paraguay, and the real tiger of Asia, does not flee from man when it is dared to close combat, and when not intimidated by the number of its assailants. Naturalists at present admit that Buffon was entirely mistaken with respect to the greatest of the feline race of America. What Buffon says of the cowardice of tigers of the new continent, relates to the small ocelots.* At the Orinoco, the real jaguar of America sometimes leaps into the water, to attack the Indians in their canoes.
[* Gossypium uniglandulosum, improperly called herbaceum, and G. barbadense.]
[* G. religiosum.]
[* Bombax ceiba: five-leaved silk-cotton tree.]
[* Great knives, with very long blades, like a couteau de chasse. No one enters the woods in the torrid zone without being armed with a machete, not only to cut his way through the woods, but as a defence against wild beasts.]
[* Felis onca, Linn., which Buffon called panthere oillee, and which he believed came from Africa.]
[* Felis pardalis, Linn., or the chibiguazu of Azara, different from the Tlateo–Ocelotl, or tiger-cat of the Aztecs.]
Opposite the farm of Bermudez, two spacious caverns open into the crevice of Cuchivano, whence at times there issue flames, which may be seen at a great distance in the night; and, judging by the elevation of the rocks, above which these fiery exhalations ascend, we should be led to think that they rise several hundred feet. This phenomenon was accompanied by a subterranean, dull, and long continued noise, at the time of the last great earthquake of Cumana. It is observed chiefly during the rainy season; and the owners of the farms opposite the mountain of Cuchivano allege that the flames have become more frequent since December 1797.
In a herborizing excursion we made at Rinconada we attempted to penetrate into the crevice, wishing to examine the rocks which seemed to contain in their bosom the cause of these extraordinary conflagrations; but the strength of the vegetation, the interweaving of the lianas, and thorny plants, hindered our progress. Happily the inhabitants of the valley themselves felt a warm interest in our researches, less from the fear of a volcanic explosion, than because their minds were impressed with the idea that the Risco del Cuchivano contained a gold mine; and although we expressed our doubts of the existence of gold in a secondary limestone, they insisted on knowing “what the German miner thought of the richness of the vein.” Ever since the time of Charles V and the government of the Welsers, the Alfingers, and the Sailers, at Coro and Caracas, the people of Terra Firma have entertained a great confidence in the Germans with respect to all that relates to the working of mines. Wherever I went in South America, when the place of my birth was known, I was shown samples of ore. In these colonies every Frenchman is supposed to be a physician, and every German a miner.
The farmers, with the aid of their slaves, opened a path across the woods to the first fall of the Rio Juagua; and on the 10th of September we made our excursion to the Cuchivano. On entering the crevice we recognised the proximity of tigers by a porcupine recently emboweled. For greater security the Indians returned to the farm, and brought back some dogs of a very small breed. We were assured that in the event of our meeting a jaguar in a narrow path he would spring on the dog rather than on a man. We did not proceed along the brink of the torrent, but on the slope of the rocks which overhung the water. We walked on the side of a precipice from two to three hundred feet deep, on a kind of very narrow cornice, like the road which leads from the Grindelwald along the Mettenberg to the great glacier. When the cornice was so narrow that we could find no place for our feet, we descended into the torrent, crossed it by fording, and then climbed the opposite wall. These descents are very fatiguing, and it is not safe to trust to the lianas, which hang like great cords from the tops of the trees. The creeping and parasite plants cling but feebly to the branches which they embrace; the united weight of their stalks is considerable, and you run the risk of pulling down a whole mass of verdure, if, in walking on a sloping ground, you support your weight by the lianas. The farther we advanced the thicker the vegetation became. In several places the roots of the trees had burst the calcareous rock, by inserting themselves into the clefts that separate the beds. We had some trouble to carry the plants which we gathered at every step. The cannas, the heliconias with fine purple flowers, the costuses, and other plants of the amomum family, here attain eight or ten feet in height, and their fresh tender verdure, their silky gloss, and the extraordinary development of the parenchyma, form a striking contrast with the brown colour of the arborescent ferns, the foliage of which is delicately shaped. The Indians made incisions with their large knives in the trunks of the trees, and fixed our attention on those beautiful red and gold-coloured woods, which will one day be sought for by our turners and cabinet-makers. They showed us a plant of the compositae order, twenty feet high (the Eupatorium laevigatum of Lamarck), the rose of Belveria,* celebrated for the brilliancy of its purple flowers, and the dragon’s-blood of this country, which is a kind of croton not yet described.* The red and astringent juice of this plant is employed to strengthen the gums. The Indians recognize the species by the smell, and more particularly by chewing the woody fibres. Two natives, to whom the same wood was given to chew, pronounced without hesitation the same name. We could avail ourselves but little of the sagacity of our guides, for how could we procure leaves, flowers, and fruits growing on trunks, the branches of which commence at fifty or sixty feet high? We were struck at finding in this hollow the bark of trees, and even the soil, covered with moss* and lichens. The cryptogamous plants are here as common as in northern countries. Their growth is favoured by the moisture of the air, and the absence of the direct rays of the sun. Nevertheless the temperature is generally at 25° in the day, and 19° at night.
[* Brownea racemosa.]
[* Plants of families entirely different are called in the Spanish colonies of both continents, sangre de draco; they are dracaenas, pterocarpi, and crotons. Father Caulin Descrip. Corografica page 25, in speaking of resins found in the forests of Cumana, makes a just distinction between the Draco de la Sierra de Unare, which has pinnate leaves (Pterocarpus Draco), and the Draco de la Sierra de Paria, with entire and hairy leaves. The latter is the Croton sanguifluum of Cumanacoa, Caripe, and Cariaco. ]
[* Real musci frondosi. We also found, besides a small Boletus stipitatus, of a snow-white colour, the Boletus igniarius, and the Lycoperdon stellatum of Europe. I had found this last only in very dry places in Germany and Poland.]
The rocks which bound the crevice of Cuchivano are perpendicular like walls, and are of the same calcareous formation which we observed the whole way from Punta Delgada. It is here a blackish grey, of compact fracture, tending sometimes towards the sandy fracture, and crossed by small veins of white carbonated lime. In these characteristic marks we thought we discovered the alpine limestone of Switzerland and the Tyrol, of which the colour is always deep, though in a less degree than that of the transition limestone.* The first of these formations constitutes the Cuchivano, the nucleus of the Imposible, and in general the whole group of the mountains of New Andalusia. I saw no petrifactions in it; but the inhabitants assert that considerable masses of shells are found at great heights. The same phenomenon occurs in the country about Salzburg.* At the Cuchivano the alpine limestone contains beds of marly clay,* three or four toises thick; and this geological fact proves on the one hand the identity of the alpenkalkstein with the zechstein of Thuringia, and on the other the affinity of formation existing between the alpine limestone and that of the Jura.* The strata of marl effervesce with acids, though silex and alumina predominate in them: they are strongly impregnated with carbon, and sometimes blacken the hands, like a real vitriolic schistus. The supposed gold mine of Cuchivano, which was the object of our examination, is nothing but an excavation cut into one of those black strata of marl, which contain pyrites in abundance. The excavation is on the right bank of the river Juagua, and must be approached with caution, because the torrent there is more than eight feet deep. The sulphurous pyrites are found, some massive, and others crystallized and disseminated in the rock; their colour, of a very clear golden yellow, does not indicate that they contain copper. They are mixed with fibrous sulphuret of iron,* and nodules of swinestone, or fetid carbonate of lime. The marly stratum crosses the torrent; and, as the water washes out metallic grains, the people imagine, on account of the brilliancy of the pyrites, that the torrent bears down gold. It is reported that, after the great earthquake which took place in 1766, the waters of the Juagua were so charged with gold that “men who came from a great distance, and whose country was unknown,” established washing-places on the spot. They disappeared during the night, after having collected a great quantity of gold. It would be needless to show that this is a fable. Pyrites dispersed in quartzose veins, crossing the mica-slate, are often auriferous, no doubt; but no analogous fact leads to the supposition that the sulphuretted iron which is found in the schistose marls of the alpine limestone, contains gold. Some direct experiments, made with acids, during my abode at Caracas, showed that the pyrites of Cuchivano are not auriferous. Our guides were amazed at my incredulity. In vain I repeated that alum and sulphate of iron only could be obtained from this supposed gold mine; they continued picking up secretly every bit of pyrites they saw sparkling in the water. In countries possessing few mines, the inhabitants entertain exaggerated ideas respecting the facility with which riches are drawn from the bowels of the earth. How much time did we not lose during five years’ travels, in visiting, on the pressing invitations of our hosts, ravines, of which the pyritous strata have borne for ages the imposing names of ‘Minas de oro!’ How often have we been grieved to see men of all classes, magistrates, pastors of villages, grave missionaries, grinding, with inexhaustible patience, amphibole, or yellow mica, in the hope of extracting gold from it by means of mercury! This rage for the search of mines strikes us the more in a climate where the ground needs only to be slightly raked to produce abundant harvests.
[* Escher, in the Alpina volume 4 page 340.]
[* In Switzerland, the solitary beds of shells, at the height of from 1300 to 2000 toises (in the Jungfrauhorn, the Dent de Morcle, and the Dent du Midi), belong to transition limestone.]
[* The Jura and the Alpine limestone are kindred formations, and they are sometimes difficult to be distinguished, where they lie immediately one upon another, as in the Apennines. The alpine limestone and the zechstein, famous among the geologists of Freyberg, are identical formations. This identity, which I noticed in the year 1793 (Uber die Grubenwetter), is a geological fact the more interesting, as it seems to unite the northern European formations to those of the central chain. It is known that the zechstein is situated between the muriatiferous gypsum and the conglomerate (ancient sandstone); or where there is no muriatiferous gypsum, between the slaty sandstone with roestones (buntesandstein, Wern.), and the conglomerate or ancient sandstone. It contains strata of schistous and coppery marl (bituminoce mergel and kupferschiefer) which form an important object in the working of mines at Mansfeld in Saxony, near Riegelsdorf in Hesse, and at Hasel and Prausnitz, in Silesia. In the southern part of Bavaria (Oberbaiern), I saw the alpine limestone, containing these same strata of schistous clay and marl, which, though thinner, whiter, and especially more frequent, characterize the limestone of Jura. Respecting the slates of Blattenberg, in the canton of Glaris which some mineralogists, because of their numerous impressions of fish, have long mistaken for the cupreous slates of Mansfeld, they belong, according to M. von Buch, to a real transition formation. All these geological data tend to prove that strata of marl, more or less mixed with carbon, are to be found in the limestone of Jura, in the alpine limestone, and in the transition schists. The mixture of carbon, sulphuretted iron, and copper, appears to me to augment with the relative antiquity of the formations.]
After visiting the pyritous marls of the Rio Juagua, we continued following the course of the crevice, which stretches along like a narrow canal overshadowed by very lofty trees. We observed strata on the left bank, opposite Cerro del Cuchivano, singularly crooked and twisted. This phenomenon I had often admired at the Ochsenberg, * in passing the lake of Lucerne. The calcareous beds of the Cuchivano and the neighbouring mountains keep pretty regularly the direction of north-north-east and south-south-west. Their inclination is sometimes north and sometimes south; most commonly they seem to take a direction towards the valley of Cumanacoa; and it cannot be doubted that the valley has an influence* on the inclination of the strata.
[* This mountain of Switzerland is composed of transition limestone. We find these same inflexions in the strata near Bonneville, at Nante d’Arpenas in Savoy, and in the valley of Estaubee in the Pyrenees. Another transition rock, the grauwakke of the Germans (very near the English killas), exhibits the same phenomenon in Scotland.]
[* The same observation may apply to the lake of Gemunden in Styria, which I visited with M. von Buch, and which is one of the most picturesque situations in Europe.]
We had suffered great fatigue, and were quite drenched by frequently crossing the torrent, when we reached the caverns of the Cuchivano. A wall of rock there rises perpendicularly to the height of eight hundred toises. It is seldom that in a zone where the force of vegetation everywhere conceals the soil and the rocks, we behold a great mountain presenting naked strata in a perpendicular section. In the middle of this section, and in a position unfortunately inaccessible to man, two caverns open in the form of crevices. We were assured that they are inhabited by nocturnal birds, the same as those we were soon to become acquainted with in the Cueva del Guacharo of Caripe. Near these caverns we saw strata of schistose marl, and found, with great astonishment, rock-crystals encased in beds of alpine limestone. They were hexahedral prisms, terminated with pyramids, fourteen lines long and eight thick. The crystals, perfectly transparent, were solitary, and often three or four toises distant from each other. They were enclosed in the calcareous mass, as the quartz crystals of Burgtonna,* and the boracite of Lunebourg, are contained in gypsum. There was no crevice near, or any vestige of calcareous spar.*
[* In the duchy of Gotha.]
[* This phenomenon reminds us of another equally rare, the quartz crystals found by M. Freiesleben in Saxony, near Burgorner, in the county of Mansfeld, in the middle of a rock of porous limestone (rauchwakke), lying immediately on the alpine limestone. The rock crystals, which are pretty common in the primitive limestone of Carrara, line the insides of cavities in the rocks, without being enveloped by the rock itself.]
We reposed at the foot of the cavern whence those flames were seen to issue, which of late years have become more frequent. Our guides and the farmer, an intelligent man, equally acquainted with the localities of the province, discussed, in the manner of the Creoles, the dangers to which the town of Cumanacoa would be exposed if the Cuchivano became an active volcano, or, as they expressed it, “se veniesse a reventar.” It appeared to them evident, that since the great earthquakes of Quito and Cumana in 1797, New Andalusia was every day more and more undermined by subterranean fires. They cited the flames which had been seen to issue from the earth at Cumana; and the shocks felt in places where heretofore the ground had never been shaken. They recollected that at Macarapan, sulphurous emanations had been frequently perceived for some months past. We were struck with these facts, upon which were founded predictions that have since been almost all realized. Enormous convulsions of the earth took place at Caracas in 1812, and proved how tumultuously nature is agitated in the north-east part of Terra Firma.
But what is the cause of the luminous phenomena which are observed in the Cuchivano? The column of air which rises from the mouth of a burning volcano* is sometimes observed to shine with a splendid light. This light, which is believed to be owing to the hydrogen gas, was observed from Chillo, on the summit of the Cotopaxi, at a time when the mountain seemed in the greatest repose. According to the statements of the ancients, the Mons Albanus, near Rome, known at present under the name of Monte Cavo, appeared at times on fire during the night; but the Mons Albanus is a volcano recently extinguished, which, in the time of Cato, threw out rapilli;* while the Cuchivano is a calcareous mountain, remote from any trap formation. Can these flames be attributed to the decomposition of water, entering into contact with the pyrites dispersed through the schistose marl? or is it inflamed hydrogen that issues from the cavern of Cuchivano? The marls, as the smell indicates, are pyritous and bituminous at the same time; and the petroleum springs at the Buen Pastor, and in the island of Trinidad, proceed probably from these same beds of alpine limestone. It would be easy to suppose some connexion between the waters filtering through this calcareous stone, and decomposed by pyrites and the earthquakes of Cumana, the springs of sulphuretted hydrogen in New Barcelona, the beds of native sulphur at Carupano, and the emanations of sulphurous acid which are perceived at times in the savannahs. It cannot be doubted also, that the decomposition of water by the pyrites at an elevated temperature, favoured by the affinity of oxidated iron for earthy substances, may have caused that disengagement of hydrogen gas, to the action of which several modern geologists have attributed so much importance. But in general, sulphurous acid is perceived more commonly than hydrogen in the eruption of volcanoes, and the odour of that acid principally prevails while the earth is agitated by violent shocks. When we take a general view of the phenomena of volcanoes and earthquakes, when we recollect the enormous distance at which the commotion is propagated below the basin of the sea, we readily discard explanations founded on small strata of pyrites and bituminous marls. I am of opinion that the shocks so frequently felt in the province of Cumana are as little to be attributed to the rocks above the surface of the earth, as those which agitate the Apennines are assignable to asphaltic veins or springs of burning petroleum. The whole of these phenomena depend on more general, I would almost say on deeper, causes; and it is not in the secondary strata which form the exterior crust of our globe, but in the primitive rocks, at an enormous distance from the soil, that we should seek the focus of volcanic action. The greater progress we make in geology, the more we feel the insufficiency of theories founded on observations merely local.
[* We must not confound this very rare phenomenon with the glimmering commonly observed a few toises above the brink of a crater, and which (as I remarked at Mount Vesuvius in 1805) is only the reflection of great masses of inflamed scoria, thrown up without sufficient force to pass the mouth of the volcano.]
[* “Albano monte biduum continenter lapidibus pluit.”— Livy lib. 25 cap. 7. (Heyne, Opuscula Acad. tome 3 page 261.)]
On the 12th of September we continued our journey to the convent of Caripe, the principal settlement of the Chayma missions. We chose, instead of the direct road, that by the mountains of the Cocollar* and the Turimiquiri, the height of which little exceeds that of Jura. The road first runs eastward, crossing over the length of three leagues the table-land of Cumanacoa, in a soil formerly levelled by the waters: it then turns to the south. We passed the little Indian village of Aricagua surrounded by woody hills. Thence we began to ascend, and the ascent lasted more than four hours. We crossed two-and-twenty times the river of Pututucuar, a rapid torrent, full of blocks of calcareous rock. When, on the Cuesta del Cocollar, we reached an elevation two thousand feet above the level of the sea, we were surprised to find scarcely any forests or great trees. We passed over an immense plain covered with gramineous plants. Mimosas with hemispheric tops, and stems only four or five feet high, alone vary the dull uniformity of the savannahs. Their branches are bent towards the ground or spread out like umbrellas. Wherever there are deep declivities, or masses of rocks half covered with mould, the clusia or cupey, with great nymphaea flowers, displays its beautiful verdure. The roots of this tree are eight inches in diameter, and they sometimes shoot out from the trunk at the height of fifteen feet above the soil.
[* Is this name of Indian origin? At Cumana I heard it derived in a manner somewhat far-fetched from the Spanish word cogollo, signifying the heart of oleraceous plants. The Cocollar forms the centre of the whole group of the mountains of New Andalusia.]
After having climbed the mountain for a considerable time, we reached a small plain at the Hato del Cocollar. This is a solitary farm, situated on a table-land 408 toises high. We rested three days in this retreat, where we were treated with great kindness by the proprietor, Don Mathias Yturburi, a native of Biscay, who had accompanied us from the port of Cumana. We there found milk, excellent meat from the richness of the pasture, and above all, a delightful climate. During the day the centigrade thermometer did not rise above 22 or 23°; a little before sunset it fell to 19, and at night it scarcely kept up to 14°.* The nightly temperature was consequently seven degrees colder than that of the coasts, which is a fresh proof of an extremely rapid decrement of heat, the table-land of Cocollar being less elevated than the site of the town of Caracas.
[* 11.2° Reaum.]
As far as the eye could reach, we perceived, from this elevated point, only naked savannahs. Small tufts of scattered trees rise in the ravines; and notwithstanding the apparent uniformity of vegetation, great numbers of curious plants* are found here. We shall only speak of a superb lobelia* with purple flowers; the Brownea coccinea, which is upwards of a hundred feet high; and above all; the pejoa, celebrated in the country on account of the delightful and aromatic perfume emitted by its leaves when rubbed between the fingers.* But the great charms of this solitary place were the beauty and serenity of the nights. The proprietor of the farm, who spent his evenings with us, seemed to enjoy the astonishment produced on Europeans newly transplanted to the tropics, by that vernal freshness of the air which is felt on the mountains after sunset. In those distant regions, where men yet feel the full value of the gifts of nature, a land-holder boasts of the water of his spring, the absence of noxious insects, the salutary breeze that blows round his hill, as we in Europe descant on the conveniences of our dwellings, and the picturesque effect of our plantations.
[* Cassia acuta, Andromeda rigida, Casearia hypericifolia, Myrtus longifolia, Buettneria salicifolia, Glycine picta, G. pratensis, G. gibba, Oxalis umbrosa, Malpighia caripensis, Cephaelis salicifolia, Stylosanthes angustifolia, Salvia pseudococcinea, Eryngium foetidum. We found a second time this last plant, but at a considerable height, in the great forests of bark trees surrounding the town of Loxa, in the centre of the Cordilleras.]
[* Lobelia spectabilis.]
[* It is the Gualtheria odorata. The pejoa is found round the lake of Cocollar, which gives birth to the great river Guarapiche. We met with the same shrub at the Cuchilla de Guanaguana. It is a subalpine plant, which forms at the Silla de Caracas a zone much higher than in the province of Cumana. The leaves of the pejoa have even a more agreeable smell than those of the Myrtus pimenta, but they yield no perfume when rubbed a few hours after their separation from the tree.]
Our host had visited the new world with an expedition which was to form establishments for felling wood for the Spanish navy on the shores of the gulf of Paria. In the vast forests of mahogany, cedar, and brazil-wood, which border the Caribbean Sea, it was proposed to select the trunks of the largest trees, giving them in a rough way the shape adapted to the building of ships, and sending them every year to the dockyard near Cadiz. White men, unaccustomed to the climate, could not support the fatigue of labour, the heat, and the effect of the noxious air exhaled by the forests. The same winds which are loaded with the perfume of flowers, leaves, and woods, infuse also, as we may say, the germs of dissolution into the vital organs. Destructive fevers carried off not only the ship-carpenters, but the persons who had the management of the establishment; and this bay, which the early Spaniards named Golfo Triste (Melancholy Bay), on account of the gloomy and wild aspect of its coasts, became the grave of European seamen. Our host had the rare good fortune to escape these dangers. After having witnessed the death of a great number of his friends, he withdrew from the coast to the mountains of Cocollar.
Nothing can be compared to the majestic tranquillity which the aspect of the firmament presents in this solitary region. When tracing with the eye, at night-fall, the meadows which bounded the horizon — the plain covered with verdure and gently undulated, we thought we beheld from afar, as in the deserts of the Orinoco, the surface of the ocean supporting the starry vault of Heaven. The tree under which we were seated, the luminous insects flying in the air, the constellations which shone in the south; every object seemed to tell us how far we were from our native land. If amidst this exotic nature we heard from the depth of the valley the tinkling of a bell, or the lowing of herds, the remembrance of our country was awakened suddenly. The sounds were like distant voices resounding from beyond the ocean, and with magical power transporting us from one hemisphere to the other. Strange mobility of the imagination of man, eternal source of our enjoyments and our pains!
We began in the cool of the morning to climb the Turimiquiri. This is the name given to the summit of the Cocollar, which, with the Brigantine, forms one single mass of mountain, formerly called by the natives the Sierra de los Tageres. We travelled along a part of the road on horses, which roam about these savannahs; but some of them are used to the saddle. Though their appearance is very heavy, they pass lightly over the most slippery turf. We first stopped at a spring issuing, not from the calcareous rock, but from a layer of quartzose sandstone. The temperature was 21°, consequently 1.5° less than the spring of Quetepe; and the difference of the level is nearly 220 toises. Wherever the sandstone appears above ground the soil is level, and constitutes as it were small platforms, succeeding each other like steps. To the height of 700 toises, and even beyond, this mountain, like those in its vicinity, is covered only with gramineous plants.* The absence of trees is attributed at Cumana to the great elevation of the ground; but a slight reflection on the distribution of plants in the Cordilleras of the torrid zone will lead us to conceive that the summits of New Andalusia are very far from reaching the superior limit of the trees, which in this latitude is at least 1800 toises of absolute height. The smooth turf of the Cocollar begins to appear at 350 toises above the level of the sea, and the traveller may contrive to walk upon this turf till he reaches a thousand toises in height. Farther on, beyond this band covered with gramineous plants, we found, amidst peaks almost inaccessible to man, a small forest of cedrela, javillo,* and mahogany. These local circumstances induce me to think that the mountainous savannahs of the Cocollar and Turimiquiri owe their existence only to the destructive custom practised by the natives of setting fire to the woods when they want to convert the soil into pasturage. Where, during the lapse of three centuries, grasses and alpine plants have covered the soil with a thick carpet, the seeds of trees can no longer germinate and fix themselves in the earth, though birds and winds convey them continually from the distant forests into the savannahs.
[* The most abundant species are the paspalus; the Andropogon fastigiatum, which forms the genus Diectomis of M. Palissot de Beauvais; and the Panicum olyroides.]
[* Huras crepitans, of the family of the euphorbias. The growth of its trunk is so enormous, that M. Bonpland measured vats of javillo wood, 14 feet long and 8 wide. These vats, made from one log of wood, are employed to keep the guarapo, or juice of the sugar-cane, and the molasses. The seeds of javillo are a very active poison, and the milk that issues from the petioles, when broken, frequently produced inflammation in our eyes, if by chance the least quantity penetrated under the eyelids.]
The climate of these mountains is so mild that at the farm of the Cocollar the cotton and coffee tree, and even the sugar cane, are cultivated with success. Whatever the inhabitants of the coasts may allege, hoar-frost has never been found in the latitude of 10°, on heights scarcely exceeding those of the Mont d’Or, or the Puy-deDome. The pastures of Turimiquiri become less rich in proportion to the elevation. Wherever scattered rocks afford shade, lichens and some European mosses are found. The Melastoma guacito,* and a shrub, the large and tough leaves of which rustle like parchment* when shaken by the winds, rise here and there in the savannah. But the principal ornament of the turf of these mountains is a liliaceous plant with golden flowers, the Marica martinicensis. It is generally observed in the province of Cumana and Caracas only at 400 or 500 toises of elevation.* The whole rocky mass of the Turimiquiri is composed of an alpine limestone, like that of Cumanacoa, and a pretty thin strata of marl and quartzose sandstone. The limestone contains masses of brown oxidated iron and carbonate of iron. I have observed in several places, and very distinctly, that the sandstone not only reposes on the limestone, but that this last rock frequently includes and alternates with the sandstone.
[* Melastoma xanthostachys, called guacito at Caracas.]
[* Palicourea rigida, chaparro bovo. In the savannahs, or llanos, the same Castilian name is given to a tree of the family of the proteaceae.]
[* For example, in the Montana de Avila, on the road from Caracas to La Guayra, and in the Silla de Caracas. The seeds of the marica are ripe at the end of December.]
We distinguished clearly the round summit of the Turimiquiri and the lofty peaks or, as they are called, the Cucuruchos, covered with thick vegetation, and infested by tigers which are hunted for the beauty of their skin. This round summit, which is covered with turf, is 707 toises above the level of the ocean. A ridge of steep rocks stretches out westward, and is broken at the distance of a mile by an enormous crevice that descends toward the gulf of Cariaco. At the point which might be supposed to be the continuation of the ridge, two calcareous paps or peaks arise, the most northern of which is the loftiest. It is this last which is more particularly called the Cucurucho de Turimiquiri, and which is considered to be higher than the mountain of the Brigantine, so well known by the sailors who frequent the coasts of Cumana. We measured, by angles of elevation, and a basis, rather short, traced on the round summit, the peak of Cucurucho, which was about 350 toises higher than our station, so that its absolute height exceeded 1050 toises.
The view we enjoyed on the Turimiquiri is of vast extent, and highly picturesque. From the summer to the ocean we perceived chains of mountains extended in parallel lines from east to west, and bounding longitudinal valleys. These valleys are intersected at right angles by an infinite number of small ravines, scooped out by the torrents: the consequence is, that the lateral ranges are transformed into so many rows of paps, some round and others pyramidal. The ground in general is a gentle slope as far as the Imposible; Farther on the precipices become bold, and continue so to the shore of the gulf of Cariaco. The form of this mass of mountains reminded us of the chain of the Jura; and the only plain that presents itself is the valley of Cumanacoa. We seemed to look down into the bottom of a funnel, in which we could distinguish, amidst tufts of scattered trees, the Indian village of Aricagua. Towards the north, a narrow slip of land, the peninsula of Araya, formed a dark stripe on the sea, which, being illumined by the rays of the sun, reflected a strong light. Beyond the peninsula the horizon was bounded by Cape Macanao, the black rocks of which rise amid the waters like an immense bastion.
The farm of the Cocollar, situated at the foot of the Turimiquiri, is in latitude 19° 9′ 32″. I found the dip of the needle 42.1°. The needle oscillates 229 times in ten minutes. Possibly masses of brown iron-ore, included in the calcareous rock, caused a slight augmentation in the intensity of the magnetic forces.
On the 14th of September we descended the Cocollar, toward the Mission of San Antonio. After crossing several savannahs strewed with large blocks of calcareous stone, we entered a thick forest. Having passed two ridges of extremely steep mountains,* we discovered a fine valley five or six leagues in length, pretty uniformly following the direction of east and west. In this valley are situated the Missions of San Antonio and Guanaguana; the first is famous on account of a small church with two towers, built of brick, in pretty good style, and ornamented with columns of the Doric order. It is the wonder of the country. The prefect of the Capuchins completed the building of this church in less than two summers, though he employed only the Indians of his village. The mouldings of the capitals, the cornices, and a frieze decorated with suns and arabesques, are executed in clay mixed with pounded brick. If we are surprised to find churches in the purest Grecian style on the confines of Lapland,* we are still more struck with these first essays of art, in a region where everything indicates the wild state of man, and where the basis of civilization has not been laid by Europeans more than forty years.
[* These ridges, which are rather difficult to climb towards the end of the rainy season, are distinguished by the names of Los Yepes and Fantasma.]
[* At Skelefter, near Torneo. — Buch, Voyage en Norwege.]
I stopped at the Mission of San Antonio only to open the barometer, and to take a few altitudes of the sun. The elevation of the great square above Cumana is 216 toises. After having crossed the village, we forded the rivers Colorado and Guarapiche, both of which rise in the mountains of the Cocollar, and blend their waters lower down towards the east. The Colorado has a very rapid current, and becomes at its mouth broader than the Rhine. The Guarapiche, at its junction with the Rio Areo, is more than twenty-five fathoms deep. Its banks are ornamented by a superb gramen, of which I made a drawing two years afterward on ascending the river Magdalena. The distich-leaved stalk of this gramen often reaches the height of fifteen or twenty feet.*
[* Lata, or cana brava. It is a new genus, between aira and arundo. This colossal gramen looks like the donax of Italy. This, the arundinaria of the Mississippi, (ludolfia, Willd., miegia of Persoon,) and the bamboos, are the highest gramens of the New Continent. Its seed has been carried to St. Domingo, where its stalk is employed to thatch the negroes’ huts.]
Towards evening we reached the Mission of Guanaguana, the site of which is almost on a level with the village of San Antonio. The missionary received us cordially; he was an old man, and he seemed to govern his Indians with great intelligence. The village has existed only thirty years on the spot it now occupies. Before that time it was more to the south, and was backed by a hill. It is astonishing with what facility the Indians are induced to remove their dwellings. There are villages in South America which in less than half a century have thrice changed their situation. The native finds himself attached by ties so feeble to the soil he inhabits, that he receives with indifference the order to take down his house and to rebuild it elsewhere. A village changes its situation like a camp. Wherever clay, reeds, and the leaves of the palm or heliconia are found, a house is built in a few days. These compulsory changes have often no other motive than the caprice of a missionary, who, having recently arrived from Spain, fancies that the situation of the Mission is feverish, or that it is not sufficiently exposed to the winds. Whole villages have been transported several leagues, merely because the monk did not find the prospect from his house sufficiently beautiful or extensive.
Guanaguana has as yet no church. The old monk, who during thirty years had lived in the forests of America, observed to us that the money of the community, or the produce of the labour of the Indians, was employed first in the construction of the missionary’s house, next in that of the church, and lastly in the clothing of the Indians. He gravely assured us that this order of things could not be changed on any pretence, and that the Indians, who prefer a state of nudity to the slightest clothing, are in no hurry for their turn in the destination of the funds. The spacious abode of the padre had just been finished, and we had remarked with surprise, that the house, the roof of which formed a terrace, was furnished with a great number of chimneys that looked like turrets. This, our host told us, was done to remind him of a country dear to his recollection, and to picture to his mind the winters of Aragon amid the heat of the torrid zone. The Indians of Guanaguana cultivate cotton for their own benefit as well as for that of the church and the missionary. The natives have machines of a very simple construction to separate the cotton from the seeds. These are wooden cylinders of extremely small diameter, within which the cotton passes, and which are made to turn by a treadle. These machines, however imperfect, are very useful, and they begin to be imitated in other Missions. The soil of Guanaguana is not less fertile than that of Aricagua, a small neighbouring village, which has also preserved its ancient Indian name. An almuda of land, 1850 square toises, produces in abundant years from 25 to 30 fanegas of maize, each fanega weighing 100 pounds. But here, as in other places, where the bounty of nature retards industry, a very small number of acres are cleared, and the culture of alimentary plants is neglected. Scarcity of subsistence is felt, whenever the harvest is lost by a protracted drought. The Indians of Guanaguana related to us as a fact not uncommon, that in the preceding year they, their wives, and their children, had been for three months al monte; by which they meant, wandering in the neighbouring forests, to live on succulent plants, palm-cabbages, fern roots, and fruits of wild trees. They did not speak of this nomad life as of a state of privation.
The beautiful valley of Guanaguana stretches towards the east, opening into the plains of Punzera and Terecen. We wished to visit those plains, and examine the springs of petroleum, lying between the river Guarapiche and the Rio Areo; but the rainy season had already arrived, and we were in daily perplexity how to dry and preserve the plants we had collected. The road from Guanaguana to the village of Punzera runs either by San Felix or by Caycara and Guayuta, which is a farm for cattle (hato) of the missionaries. In this last place, according to the report of the Indians, great masses of sulphur are found, not in a gypseous or calcareous rock, but at a small depth below the soil, in a bed of clay. This singular phenomenon appears to me peculiar to America; we found it also in the kingdom of Quito, and in New Spain. On approaching Punzera, we saw in the savannahs small bags, formed of a silky tissue suspended from the branches of the lowest trees. It is the seda silvestre, or wild silk of the country, which has a beautiful lustre, but is very rough to the touch. The phalaena which produces it is probably analogous with that of the provinces of Gua[?]uato and Antioquia, which also furnish wild silk. We found in the beautiful forest of Punzera two trees known by the names of curucay and canela; the former, of which we shall speak hereafter, yields a resin very much sought after by the Piaches, or Indian sorcerers; the leaves of the latter have the smell of the real cinnamon of Ceylon.* From Punzera the road leads by Terecin and Nueva Palencia, (a new colony of Canarians,) to the port of San Juan, situated on the right bank of the river Areo; and it is only by crossing this river in a canoe, that the traveller can arrive at the famous petroleum springs (or mineral tar) of the Buen Pastor. They were described to us as small wells or funnels, hollowed out by nature in a marshy soil. This phenomenon reminded us of the lake of asphaltum, or of chopapote, in the island of Trinidad,* which is distant from the Buen Pastor, in a straight line, only thirty-five sea leagues.
[* Is this the Laurus cinnamomoides of Mutis? What is that other cinnamon tree which the Indians call tuorco, common in the mountains of Tocayo, and at the sources of the Rio Uchere, the bark of which is mixed with chocolate? Father Caulin gives the name of curucay to the Copaifera officinalis, which yields the Balsam of Capivi. — Hist. Corograf., pages 24 and 34.]
[* Laguna de la Brea, south-east of the port of Naparima. There is another spring of asphaltum on the eastern coast of the island, in the bay of Mayaro.]
Having long struggled to overcome the desire we felt to descend the Guarapiche to the Golfo Triste, we took the direct road to the mountains. The valleys of Guanaguana and Caripe are separated by a kind of dyke, or calcareous ridge, well known by the name of the Cuchilla* de Guanaguana. We found this passage difficult, because at that time we had not climbed the Cordilleras; but it is by no means so dangerous as the people at Cumana love to represent it. The path is indeed in several parts only fourteen or fifteen inches broad; and the ridge of the mountain, along which the road runs, is covered with a short slippery turf. The slopes on each side are steep, and the traveller, should he stumble, might slide down to the depth of seven or eight hundred feet. Nevertheless, the flanks of the mountain are steep declivities rather than precipices; and the mules of this country are so sure-footed that they inspire the greatest confidence. Their habits are identical with those of the beasts of burden in Switzerland and the Pyrenees. In proportion as a country is wild, the instinct of domestic animals improves in address and sagacity. When the mules feel themselves in danger, they stop, turning their heads to the right and to the left; and the motion of their ears seems to indicate that they reflect on the decision they ought to take. Their resolution is slow, but always just, if it be spontaneous; that is to say, if it be not thwarted or hastened by the imprudence of the traveller. On the frightful roads of the Andes, during journeys of six or seven months across mountains furrowed by torrents, the intelligence of horses and beasts of burden is manifested in an astonishing manner. Thus the mountaineers are heard to say, “I will not give you the mule whose step is the easiest, but the one which is most intelligent (la mas racional).” This popular expression, dictated by long experience, bears stronger evidence against the theory of animated machines, than all the arguments of speculative philosophy.
[* Literally “blade of a knife”. Throughout all Spanish America the name of “cuchilla” is given to the ridge of a mountain terminated on each side by very steep declivities.]
When we had reached the highest point of the ridge or cuchilla of Guanaguana, an interesting spectacle unfolded itself before us. We saw comprehended in one view the vast savannahs or meadows of Maturin and of the Rio Tigre;* the peak of the Turimiquiri;* and an infinite number of parallel ridges, which, seen at a distance, looked like the waves of the sea. On the north-east opens the valley in which is situated the convent of Caripe. The aspect of this valley is peculiarly attractive, for being shaded by forests, it forms a strong contrast with the nudity of the neighbouring mountains, which are bare of trees, and covered with gramineous plants. We found the absolute height of the Cuchilla to be 548 toises.
[* These natural meadows are part of the llanos or immense steppes bordered by the Orinoco.]
[* El Cucurucho.]
Descending from the ridge by a winding path, we entered into a completely woody country. The soil is covered with moss, and a new species of drosera,* which by its form reminded us of the drosera of the Alps. The thickness of the forests, and the force of vegetation, augmented as we approached the convent of Caripe. Everything here changes its aspect, even to the rock that accompanied us from Punta Delgada. The calcareous strata becomes thinner, forming graduated steps, which stretch out like walls, cornices, and turrets, as in the mountains of Jura, those of Pappenheim in Germany, and near Oizow in Galicia. The colour of the stone is no longer of a smoky or bluish grey; it becomes white; its fracture is smooth, and sometimes even imperfectly conchoidal. It is no longer the calcareous formation of the Higher Alps, but a formation to which this serves as a basis, and which is analogous to the Jura limestone. In the chain of the Apennines, between Rome and Nocera, I observed this same immediate superposition.* It indicates, not the transition from one rock to another, but the geological affinity existing between two formations. According to the general type of the secondary strata, recognised in a great part of Europe, the Alpine limestone is separated from the Jura limestone by the muriatiferous gypsum; but often this latter is entirely wanting, or is contained as a subordinate layer in the Alpine limestone. In this case the two great calcareous formations succeed each other immediately, or are confounded in one mass.
[* Drosera tenella.]
[* In like manner, near Geneva, the rock of the Mole, belonging to the Alpine limestone, lies under the Jura limestone which forms Mount Saleve.]
The descent from the Cuchilla is far shorter than the ascent. We found the level of the valley of Caripe 200 toises higher than that of the valley of Guanaguana.* A group of mountains of little breadth separates two valleys, one of which is of delicious coolness, while the other is famed for the heat of its climate. These contrasts, so common in Mexico, New Grenada, and Peru, are very rare in the north-east part of South America. Thus Caripe is the only one of the high valleys of New Andalusia which is much inhabited.
[* Absolute height of the convent above the level of the sea, 412 toises.]
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