The days we passed at the Capuchin convent in the mountains of Caripe, glided swiftly away, though our manner of living was simple and uniform. From sunrise to nightfall we traversed the forests and neighbouring mountains, to collect plants. When the winter rains prevented us from undertaking distant excursions, we visited the huts of the Indians, the conuco of the community, or those assemblies in which the alcaldes every evening arrange the labours of the succeeding day. We returned to the monastery only when the sound of the bell called us to the refectory to share the repasts of the missionaries. Sometimes, very early in the morning, we followed them to the church, to attend the doctrina, that is to say, the religious instruction of the Indians. It was rather a difficult task to explain dogmas to the neophytes, especially those who had but a very imperfect knowledge of the Spanish language. On the other hand, the monks are as yet almost totally ignorant of the language of the Chaymas; and the resemblance of sounds confuses the poor Indians and suggests to them the most whimsical ideas. Of this I may cite an example. I saw a missionary labouring earnestly to prove that infierno, hell, and invierno, winter, were not one and the same thing; but as different as heat and cold. The Chaymas are acquainted with no other winter than the season of rains; and consequently they imagined the Hell of the whites to be a place where the wicked are exposed to frequent showers. The missionary harangued to no purpose: it was impossible to efface the first impression produced by the analogy between the two consonants. He could not separate in the minds of the neophytes the ideas of rain and hell; invierno and infierno.
After passing almost the whole day in the open air, we employed our evenings, at the convent, in making notes, drying our plants, and sketching those that appeared to form new genera. Unfortunately the misty atmosphere of a valley, where the surrounding forests fill the air with an enormous quantity of vapour, was unfavourable to astronomical observations. I spent a part of the nights waiting to take advantage of the moment when some star should be visible between the clouds, near its passage over the meridian. I often shivered with cold, though the thermometer only sunk to 16°, which is the temperature of the day in our climates towards the end of September. The instruments remained set up in the court of the convent for several hours, yet I was almost always disappointed in my expectations. Some good observations of Fomalhaut and of Deneb have given 10° 10′ 14″ as the latitude of Caripe; which proves that the position indicated in the maps of Caulin is 18 minutes wrong, and in that of Arrowsmith 14 minutes.
Observations of corresponding altitudes of the sun having given me the true time, within about 2 seconds, I was enabled to determine the magnetic variation with precision, at noon. It was, on the 20th of September, 1799, 3° 15′ 30″ north-east; consequently 0° 58′ 15″ less than at Cumana. If we attend to the influence of the horary variations, which in these countries do not in general exceed 8 minutes, we shall find, that at considerable distances the variation changes less rapidly than is usually supposed. The dip of the needle was 42.75°, centesimal division, and the number of oscillations, expressing the intensity of the magnetic forces, rose to 229 in ten minutes.
The vexation of seeing the stars disappear in a misty sky was the only disappointment we felt in the valley of Caripe. The aspect of this spot presents a character at once wild and tranquil, gloomy and attractive. In the solitude of these mountains we are perhaps less struck by the new impressions we receive at every step, than with the marks of resemblance we trace in climates the most remote from each other. The hills by which the convent is backed, are crowned with palm-trees and arborescent ferns. In the evenings, when the sky denotes rain, the air resounds with the monotonous howling of the alouate apes, which resembles the distant sound of wind when it shakes the forest. Yet amid these strange sounds, these wild forms of plants, and these prodigies of a new world, nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice familiar to him. The turf that overspreads the soil: the old moss and fern that cover the roots of the trees; the torrents that gush down the sloping banks of the calcareous rocks; in fine, the harmonious accordance of tints reflected by the waters, the verdure, and the sky; everything recalls to the traveller, sensations which he has already felt.
The beauties of this mountain scenery so much engaged us, that we were very tardy in observing the embarrassment felt by our kind entertainers the monks. They had but a slender provision of wine and wheaten bread; and although in those high regions both are considered as belonging merely to the luxuries of the table, yet we saw with regret, that our hosts abstained from them on our account. Our portion of bread had already been diminished three-fourths, yet violent rains still obliged us to delay our departure for two days. How long did this delay appear! It made us dread the sound of the bell that summoned us to the refectory.
We departed at length on the 22nd of September, followed by four mules, laden with our instruments and plants. We had to descend the north-east slope of the calcareous Alps of New Andalusia, which we have called the great chain of the Brigantine and the Cocollar. The mean elevation of this chain scarcely exceeds six or seven hundred toises: in respect to height and geological constitution, we may compare it to the chain of the Jura. Notwithstanding the inconsiderable elevation of the mountains of Cumana, the descent is extremely difficult and dangerous in the direction of Cariaco. The Cerro of Santa Maria, which the missionaries ascend in their journey from Cumana to their convent at Caripe, is famous for the difficulties it presents to travellers. On comparing these mountains with the Andes of Peru, the Pyrenees, and the Alps, which we successively visited, it has more than once occurred to us, that the less lofty summits are sometimes the most inaccessible.
On leaving the valley of Caripe, we first crossed a ridge of hills north-east of the convent. The road led us along a continual ascent through a vast savannah, as far as the table-land of Guardia de San Augustin. We there halted to wait for the Indian who carried the barometer. We found ourselves to be at 533 toises of absolute elevation, or a little higher than the bottom of the cavern of Guacharo. The savannahs or natural meadows, which yield excellent pasture for the cows of the convent, are totally devoid of trees or shrubs. It is the domain of the monocotyledonous plants; for amidst the gramina only a few Maguey* plants rise here and there; their flowery stalks being more than twenty-six feet high. Having reached the table-land of Guardia, we appeared to be transported to the bed of an old lake, levelled by the long-continued abode of the waters. We seemed to trace the sinuosities of the ancient shore in the tongues of land which jut out from the craggy rock, and even in the distribution of the vegetation. The bottom of the basin is a savannah, while its banks are covered with trees of full growth. This is probably the most elevated valley in the provinces of Venezuela and Cumana. One cannot but regret, that a spot favoured by so temperate a climate, and which without doubt would be fit for the culture of corn, is totally uninhabited.
[* Agave Americana.]
From the table-land of Guardia we continued to descend, till we reached the Indian village of Santa Cruz. We passed at first along a slope extremely slippery and steep, to which the missionaries had given the name of Baxada del Purgatorio, or Descent of Purgatory. It is a rock of schistose sandstone, decomposed, covered with clay, the talus of which appears frightfully steep, from the effect of a very common optical illusion. When we look down from the top to the bottom of the hill the road seems inclined more than 60°. The mules in going down draw their hind legs near to their fore legs, and lowering their cruppers, let themselves slide at a venture. The rider runs no risk, provided he slacken the bridle, thereby leaving the animal quite free in his movements. From this point we perceived towards the left the great pyramid of Guacharo. The appearance of this calcareous peak is very picturesque, but we soon lost sight of it, on entering the thick forest, known by the name of the Montana de Santa Maria. We descended without intermission for seven hours. It is difficult to conceive a more tremendous descent; it is absolutely a road of steps, a kind of ravine, in which, during the rainy season, impetuous torrents dash from rock to rock. The steps are from two to three feet high, and the beasts of burden, after measuring with their eyes the space necessary to let their load pass between the trunks of the trees, leap from one rock to another. Afraid of missing their mark, we saw them stop a few minutes to scan the ground, and bring together their four feet like wild goats. If the animal does not reach the nearest block of stone, he sinks half his depth into the soft ochreous clay, that fills up the interstices of the rock. When the blocks are wanting, enormous roots serve as supports for the feet of men and beasts. Some of these roots are twenty inches thick, and they often branch out from the trunks of the trees much above the level of the soil. The Creoles have sufficient confidence in the address and instinct of the mules, to remain in their saddles during this long and dangerous descent. Fearing fatigue less than they did, and being accustomed to travel slowly for the purpose of gathering plants and examining the nature of the rocks, we preferred going down on foot; and, indeed, the care which our chronometers demanded, left us no liberty of choice.
The forest that covers the steep flank of the mountain of Santa Maria, is one of the thickest I ever saw. The trees are of stupendous height and size. Under their bushy, deep green foliage, there reigns continually a kind of dim daylight, a peculiar sort of obscurity, of which our forests of pines, oaks, and beech-trees, convey no idea. Notwithstanding its elevated temperature, it is difficult to believe that the air can dissolve the quantity of water exhaled from the surface of the soil, the foliage of the trees, and their trunks: the latter are covered with a drapery of orchideae, peperomia, and other succulent plants. With the aromatic odour of the flowers, the fruit, and even the wood, is mingled that which we perceive in autumn in misty weather. Here, as in the forests of the Orinoco, fixing our eyes on the top of the trees, we discerned streams of vapour, whenever a solar ray penetrated, and traversed the dense atmosphere. Our guides pointed out to us among those majestic trees, the height of which exceeded 120 or 130 feet, the curucay of Terecen. It yields a whitish liquid, and very odoriferous resin, which was formerly employed by the Cumanagoto and Tagiri Indians, to perfume their idols. The young branches have an agreeable taste, though somewhat astringent. Next to the curucay and enormous trunks of hymenaea, (the diameter of which was more than nine or ten feet), the trees which most excited our attention were the dragon’s blood (Croton sanguifluum), the purple-brown juice of which flows down a whitish bark; the calahuala fern, different from that of Peru, but almost equally medicinal;* and the palm-trees, irasse, macanilla, corozo, and praga.* The last yields a very savoury palm-cabbage, which we had sometimes eaten at the convent of Caripe. These palms with pinnated and thorny leaves formed a pleasing contrast to the fern-trees. One of the latter, the Cyathea speciosa,* grows to the height of more than thirty-five feet, a prodigious size for plants of this family. We discovered here, and in the valley of Caripe, five new kinds of arborescent ferns.* In the time of Linnaeus, botanists knew no more than four on both continents.
[* The calahuala of Caripe is the Polypodium crassifolium; that of Peru, the use of which has been so much extended by Messrs. Ruiz and Pavon, comes from the Aspidium coriaceum, Willd. (Tectaria calahuala, Cav.) In commerce the diaphoretic roots of the Polypodium crassifolium, and of the Acrostichum huascaro, are mixed with those of the calahuala or Aspidium coriaceum.]
[* Aiphanes praga.]
[* Possibly a hemitelia of Robert Brown. The trunk alone is from 22 to 24 feet long. This and the Cyathea excelsa of the Mauritius, are the most majestic of all the fern-trees described by botanists. The total number of these gigantic cryptogamous plants amounts at present to 25 species, that of the palm-trees to 80. With the cyathea grow, on the mountain of Santa Maria, Rhexia juniperina, Chiococca racemosa, and Commelina spicata.]
[* Meniscium arborescens, Aspidium caducum, A. rostratum, Cyathea villosa, and C. speciosa.]
We observed that the fern-trees are in general much more rare than the palm-trees. Nature has confined them to temperate, moist, and shady places. They shun the direct rays of the sun, and while the pumos, the corypha of the steppes and other palms of America, flourish on the barren and burning plains, these ferns with arborescent trunks, which at a distance look like palm-trees, preserve the character and habits of cryptogamous plants. They love solitary places, little light, moist, temperate and stagnant air. If they sometimes descend towards the sea-coast, it is only under cover of a thick shade. The old trunks of the cyathea and the meniscium are covered with a carbonaceous powder, which, probably being deprived of hydrogen, has a metallic lustre like plumbago. No other plant presents this phenomenon; for the trunks of the dicotyledons, in spite of the heat of the climate, and the intensity of the light, are less burnt within the tropics than in the temperate zone. It may be said that the trunks of the ferns, which, like the monocotyledons, are enlarged by the remains of the petioles, decay from the circumference to the centre; and that, deprived of the cortical organs through which the elaborated juices descend to the roots, they are burnt more easily by the action of the oxygen of the atmosphere. I brought to Europe some powders with metallic lustre, taken from very old trunks of Meniscium and Aspidium.
In proportion as we descended the mountain of Santa Maria, we saw the arborescent ferns diminish, and the number of palm-trees increase. The beautiful large-winged butterflies (nymphales), which fly at a prodigious height, became more common. Everything denoted our approach to the coast, and to a zone in which the mean temperature of the day is from 28 to 30°.
The weather was cloudy, and led us to fear one of those heavy rains, during which from 1 to 1.3 inches of water sometimes falls in a day. The sun at times illumined the tops of the trees; and, though sheltered from its rays, we felt an oppressive heat. Thunder rolled at a distance; the clouds seemed suspended on the top of the lofty mountains of the Guacharo; and the plaintive howling of the araguatoes, which we had so often heard at Caripe, denoted the proximity of the storm. We now for the first time had a near view of these howling apes. They are of the family of the alouates,* the different species of which have long been confounded one with another. The small sapajous of America, which imitate in whistling the tones of the passeres, have the bone of the tongue thin and simple, but the apes of large size, as the alouates and marimondes,* have the tongue placed on a large bony drum. Their superior larynx has six pouches, in which the voice loses itself; and two of which, shaped like pigeons’ nests, resemble the inferior larynx of birds. The air driven with force into the bony drum produces that mournful sound which characterises the araguatoes. I sketched on the spot these organs, which are imperfectly known to anatomists, and published the description of them on my return to Europe.
[* Stentor, Geoffroy.]
[* Ateles, Geoffroy.]
The araguato, which the Tamanac Indians call aravata,* and the Maypures marave, resembles a young bear.* It is three feet long, reckoning from the top of the head (which is small and very pyramidal) to the beginning of the prehensile tail. Its fur is bushy, and of a reddish brown; the breast and belly are covered with fine hair, and not bare as in the mono colorado, or alouate roux of Buffon, which we carefully examined in going from Carthagena to Santa Fe de Bogota. The face of the araguato is of a blackish blue, and is covered with a fine and wrinkled skin: its beard is pretty long; and, notwithstanding the direction of the facial line, the angle of which is only thirty degrees, the araguato has, in the expression of the countenance, as much resemblance to man as the marimonde (S. belzebuth, Bresson) and the capuchin of the Orinoco (S. chiropotes). Among thousands of araguatoes which we observed in the provinces of Cumana, Caracas, and Guiana, we never saw any change in the reddish brown fur of the back and shoulders, whether we examined individuals or whole troops. It appeared to me in general, that variety of colour is less frequent among monkeys than naturalists suppose.
[* In the writings of the early Spanish missionaries, this monkey is described by the names of aranata and araguato. In both names we easily discover the same root. The v has been transformed into g and n. The name of arabata, which Gumilla gives to the howling apes of the Lower Orinoco, and which Geoffroy thinks belongs to the S. straminea of Great Paria, is the same Tamanac word aravata. This identity of names need not surprise us. The language of the Chayma Indians of Cumana is one of the numerous branches of the Tamanac language, and the latter is connected with the Caribbee language of the Lower Orinoco.]
[* Alouate ourse (Simia ursina).]
The araguato of Caripe is a new species of the genus Stentor, which I have above described. It differs equally from the ouarine (S. guariba) and the alouate roux (S. seniculus, old man of the woods). Its eye, voice, and gait, denote melancholy. I have seen young araguatoes brought up in Indian huts. They never play like the little sagoins, and their gravity was described with much simplicity by Lopez de Gomara, in the beginning of the sixteenth century. “The Aranata de los Cumaneses,” says this author, “has the face of a man, the beard of a goat, and a grave demeanour (honrado gesto.)” Monkeys are more melancholy in proportion as they have more resemblance to man. Their sprightliness diminishes, as their intellectual faculties appear to increase.
We stopped to observe some howling monkeys, which, to the number of thirty or forty, crossed the road, passing in a file from one tree to another over the horizontal and intersecting branches. While we were observing their movements, we saw a troop of Indians going towards the mountains of Caripe. They were without clothing, as the natives of this country generally are. The women, laden with rather heavy burdens, closed the march. The men were all armed; and even the youngest boys had bows and arrows. They moved on in silence, with their eyes fixed on the ground. We endeavoured to learn from them whether we were yet far from the Mission of Santa Cruz, where we intended passing the night. We were overcome with fatigue, and suffered from thirst. The heat increased as the storm drew near, and we had not met with a single spring on the way. The words si, patre; no, patre; which the Indians continually repeated, led us to think they understood a little Spanish. In the eyes of a native every white man is a monk, a padre; for in the Missions the colour of the skin characterizes the monk, more than the colour of the garment. In vain we questioned them respecting the length of the way: they answered, as if by chance, si and no, without our being able to attach any precise sense to their replies. This made us the more impatient, as their smiles and gestures indicated their wish to direct us; and the forest seemed at every step to become thicker and thicker. At length we separated from the Indians; our guides were able to follow us only at a distance, because the beasts of burden fell at every step in the ravines.
After journeying for several hours, continually descending on blocks of scattered rock, we found ourselves unexpectedly at the outlet of the forest of Santa Maria. A savannah, the verdure of which had been renewed by the winter rains, stretched before us farther than the eye could reach. On the left we discovered a narrow valley, extending as far as the mountains of the Guacharo, and covered with a thick forest. Looking downward, the eye rested on the tops of the trees, which, at eight hundred feet below the road, formed a carpet of verdure of a dark and uniform tint. The openings in the forest appeared like vast funnels, in which we could distinguish by their elegant forms and pinnated leaves, the Praga and Irasse palms. But what renders this spot eminently picturesque, is the aspect of the Sierra del Guacharo. Its northern slope, in the direction of the gulf of Cariaco, is abrupt. It presents a wall of rock, an almost vertical profile, exceeding 3000 feet in height. The vegetation which covers this wall is so scanty, that the eye can follow the lines of the calcareous strata. The summit of the Sierra is flat, and it is only at its eastern extremity, that the majestic peak of the Guacharo rises like an inclined pyramid, its form resembles that of the needles and horns* of the Alps.
[* The Shreckhorner, the Finsteraarhorn, etc.]
The savannah we crossed to the Indian village of Santa Cruz is composed of several smooth plateaux, lying above each other like terraces. This geological phenomenon, which is repeated in every climate, seems to indicate a long abode of the waters in basins that have poured them from one to the other. The calcareous rock is no longer visible, but is covered with a thick layer of mould. The last time we saw it in the forest of Santa Maria it was slightly porous, and looked more like the limestone of Cumanacoa than that of Caripe. We there found brown iron-ore disseminated in patches, and if we were not deceived in our observation, a Cornu-ammonis, which we could not succeed in our attempt to detach. It was seven inches in diameter. This fact is the more important, as in this part of America we have never seen ammonites. The Mission of Santa Cruz is situated in the midst of the plain. We reached it towards the evening, suffering much from thirst, having travelled nearly eight hours without finding water. The thermometer kept at 26°; accordingly we were not more than 190 toises above the level of the sea.
We passed the night in one of those ajupas called King’s houses, which, as I have already said, serve as tambos or caravanserais to travellers. The rains prevented any observations of the stars; and the next day, the 23rd of September, we continued our descent towards the gulf of Cariaco. Beyond Santa Cruz a thick forest again appears; and in it we found, under tufts of melastomas, a beautiful fern, with osmundia leaves, which forms a new genus of the order of polypodiaceous plants.*
Having reached the mission of Catuaro, we were desirous of continuing our journey eastward by Santa Rosalia, Casanay, San Josef, Carupano, Rio Carives, and the Montana of Paria; but we learnt with great regret, that torrents of rain had rendered the roads impassable, and that we should run the risk of losing the plants we had already gathered. A rich planter of cacao-trees was to accompany us from Santa Rosalia to the port of Carupano; but when the time of departure approached, we were informed that his affairs had called him to Cumana. We resolved in consequence to embark at Cariaco, and to return directly by the gulf, instead of passing between the island of Margareta and the isthmus of Araya. The Mission of Catuaro is situated on a very wild spot. Trees of full growth still surround the church, and the tigers come by night to devour the poultry and swine belonging to the Indians. We lodged at the dwelling of the priest, a monk of the congregation of the Observance, to whom the Capuchins had confided the Mission, because priests of their own community were wanting.
At this Mission we met Don Alexandro Mexia, the corregidor of the district, an amiable and well-educated man. He gave us three Indians, who, armed with their machetes, were to precede us, and cut our way through the forest. In this country, so little frequented, the power of vegetation is such at the period of the great rains, that a man on horseback can with difficulty make his way through narrow paths, covered with lianas and intertwining branches. To our great annoyance, the missionary of Catuaro insisted on conducting us to Cariaco; and we could not decline the proposal. The movement for independence, which had nearly broken out at Caracas in 1798, had been preceded and followed by great agitation among the slaves at Coro, Maracaybo, and Cariaco. At the last of these places an unfortunate negro had been condemned to die, and our host, the vicar of Catuaro, was going thither to offer him spiritual comfort. During our journey we could not escape conversations, in which the missionary pertinaciously insisted on the necessity of the slave-trade, on the innate wickedness of the blacks, and the benefit they derived from their state of slavery among the Christians! The mildness of Spanish legislation, compared with the Black Code of most other nations that have possessions in either of the Indies, cannot be denied. But such is the state of the negroes, that justice, far from efficaciously protecting them during their lives, cannot even punish acts of barbarity which cause their death.
The road we took across the forest of Catuaro resembled the descent of the mountain Santa Maria; here also, the most difficult and dangerous places have fanciful names. We walked as in a narrow furrow, scooped out by torrents, and filled with fine tenacious clay. The mules lowered their cruppers and slid down the steepest slopes. This descent is called Saca Manteca.* There is no danger in the descent, owing to the great address of the mules of this country. The clay, which renders the soil so slippery, is produced by the numerous layers of sandstone and schistose clay crossing the bluish grey alpine limestone. This last disappears as we draw nearer to Cariaco. When we reached the mountain of Meapira, we found it formed in great part of a white limestone, filled with fossil remains, and from the grains of quartz agglutinated in the mass, it appeared to belong to the great formation of the sea-coast breccias. We descended this mountain on the strata of the rock, the section of which forms steps of unequal height. Farther on, going out of the forest, we reached the hill of Buenavista,* well deserving the name it bears; since it commands a view of the town of Cariaco, situated in the midst of a vast plain filled with plantations, huts, and scattered groups of cocoa-palms. To the west of Cariaco extends the wide gulf; which a wall of rock separates from the ocean: and towards the east are seen, like bluish clouds, the high mountains of Paria and Areo. This is one of the most extensive and magnificent prospects that can be enjoyed on the coast of New Andalusia. In the town of Cariaco we found a great part of the inhabitants suffering from intermittent fever; a disease which in autumn assumes a formidable character. When we consider the extreme fertility of the surrounding plains, their moisture, and the mass of vegetation with which they are covered, we may easily conceive why, amidst so much decomposition of organic matter, the inhabitants do not enjoy that salubrity of air which characterizes the climate of Cumana.
[* Or the Butter–Slope. Manteca in Spanish signifies butter.]
[* Mountain of the Fine Prospect.]
The chain of calcareous mountains of the Brigantine and the Cocollar sends off a considerable branch to the north, which joins the primitive mountains of the coast. This branch bears the name of Sierra de Meapire; but towards the town of Cariaco it is called Cerro Grande de Curiaco. Its mean height did not appear to be more than 150 or 200 toises. It was composed, where I could examine it, of the calcareous breccias of the sea-coast. Marly and calcareous beds alternate with other beds containing grains of quartz. It is a very striking phenomenon for those who study the physical aspect of a country, to see a transverse ridge connect at right angles two parallel ridges, of which one, the more southern, is composed of secondary rocks, and the other, the more northern, of primitive rocks. The latter presents, nearly as far as the meridian of Carupano, only mica-slate; but to the east of this point, where it communicates by a transverse ridge (the Sierra de Meapire) with the limestone range, it contains lamellar gypsum, compact limestone, and other rocks of secondary formation. It might be supposed that the southern ridge has transferred these rocks to the northern chain.
When standing on the summit of the Cerro del Meapire, we see the mountain currents flow on one side to the gulf of Paria, and on the other to the gulf of Cariaco. East and west of the ridge there are low and marshy grounds, spreading out without interruption; and if it be admitted that both gulfs owe their origin to the sinking of the earth, and to rents caused by earthquakes, we must suppose that the Cerro de Meapire has resisted the convulsive movements of the globe, and hindered the waters of the gulf of Paria from uniting with those of the gulf of Cariaco. But for this rocky dyke, the isthmus itself in all probability would have had no existence; and from the castle of Araya as far as Cape Paria, the whole mass of the mountains of the coast would have formed a narrow island, parallel to the island of Santa Margareta, and four times as long. Not only do the inspection of the ground, and considerations deduced from its relievo, confirm these opinions; but a mere glance of the configuration of the coasts, and a geological map of the country, would suggest the same ideas. It would appear that the island of Margareta has been heretofore attached to the coast-chain of Araya by the peninsula of Chacopata and the Caribbee islands, Lobo and Coche, in the same manner as this chain is still connected with that of the Cocollar and Caripe by the ridge of Meapire.
At present we perceive that the humid plains which stretch east and west of the ridge, and which are improperly called the valleys San Bonifacio and Cariaco, are enlarging by gaining on the sea. The waters are receding, and these changes of the shore are very remarkable, more particularly on the coast of Cumana. If the level of the soil seem to indicate that the two gulfs of Cariaco and Paria formerly occupied a much more considerable space, we cannot doubt that at present the land is progressively extending. Near Cumana, a battery, called La Boca, was built in 1791 on the very margin of the sea; in 1799 we saw it very far inland. At the mouth of the Rio Neveri, near the Morro of Nueva Barcelona, the retreat of the waters is still more rapid. This local phenomenon is probably assignable to accumulations of sand, the progress of which has not yet been sufficiently examined. Descending the Sierra de Meapire, which forms the isthmus between the plains of San Bonifacio and Cariaco, we find towards the east the great lake of Putacuao, which communicates with the river Areo, and is four or five leagues in diameter. The mountainous lands that surround this basin are known only to the natives. There are found those great boa serpents known to the Chayma Indians by the name of guainas, and to which they fabulously attribute a sting under the tail. Descending the Sierra de Meapire to the west, we find at first a hollow ground (tierra hueca) which, during the great earthquakes of 1766, threw out asphaltum enveloped in viscous petroleum. Farther on, a numberless quantity of sulphureous thermal springs* are seen issuing from the soil; and at length we reach the borders of the lake of Campoma, the exhalations from which contribute to the insalubrity of the climate of Cariaco. The natives believe that the hollow is formed by the engulfing of the hot springs; and, judging from the sound heard under the hoofs of the horses, we must conclude that the subterranean cavities are continued from west to east nearly as far as Casanay, a length of three or four thousand toises. A little river, the Rio Azul, runs through these plains which are rent into crevices by earthquakes. These earthquakes have a particular centre of action, and seldom extend as far as Cumana. The waters of the Rio Azul are cold and limpid; they rise on the western declivity of the mountain of Meapire, and it is believed that they are augmented by infiltrations from the lake Putacuao, situated on the other side of the chain. The little river, together with the sulphureous hot springs, fall into the Laguna de Campoma. This is a name given to a great lagoon, which is divided in dry weather into three basins situated north-west of the town of Cariaco, near the extremity of the gulf. Fetid exhalations arise continually from the stagnant water of this lagoon. The smell of sulphuretted hydrogen is mingled with that of putrid fishes and rotting plants.
[* El Llano de Aguas calientes, east-north-east of Cariaco, at the distance of two leagues.]
Miasms are formed in the valley of Cariaco, as in the Campagna of Rome; but the hot climate of the tropics increases their deleterious energy. These miasms are probably ternary or quaternary combinations of azote, phosphorus, hydrogen, carbon, and sulphur.
The situation of the lagoon of Campoma renders the north-west wind, which blows frequently after sunset, very pernicious to the inhabitants of the little town of Cariaco. Its influence can be the less doubted, as intermitting fevers are observed to degenerate into typhoid fevers, in proportion as we approach the lagoon, which is the principal focus of putrid miasms. Whole families of free negroes, who have small plantations on the northern coast of the gulf of Cariaco, languish in their hammocks from the beginning of the rainy season. These intermittent fevers assume a dangerous character, when persons, debilitated by long labour and copious perspiration, expose themselves to the fine rains, which frequently fall as evening advances. Nevertheless, the men of colour, and particularly the Creole negroes, resist much better than any other race, the influence of the climate. Lemonade and infusions of Scoparia dulcis are given to the sick; but the cuspare, which is the cinchona of Angostura, is seldom used.
It is generally observed, that in these epidemics of the town of Cariaco the mortality is less considerable than might be supposed. Intermitting fevers, when they attack the same individual during several successive years, enfeeble the constitution; but this state of debility, so common on the unhealthy coasts, does not cause death. What is remarkable enough, is the belief which prevails here as in the Campagna of Rome, that the air has become progressively more vitiated in proportion as a greater number of acres have been cultivated. The miasms exhaled from these plains have, however, nothing in common with those which arise from a forest when the trees are cut down, and the sun heats a thick layer of dead leaves. Near Cariaco the country is but thinly wooded. Can it be supposed that the mould, fresh stirred and moistened by rains, alters and vitiates the atmosphere more than the thick wood of plants which covers an uncultivated soil? To local causes are joined other causes less problematic. The neighbouring shores of the sea are covered with mangroves, avicennias, and other shrubs with astringent bark. All the inhabitants of the tropics are aware of the noxious exhalations of these plants; and they dread them the more, as their roots and stocks are not always under water, but alternately wetted and exposed to the heat of the sun.* The mangroves produce miasms, because they contain vegeto-animal matter combined with tannin.
[* The following is a list of the social plants that cover those sandy plains on the sea-side, and characterize the vegetation of Cumana and the gulf of Cariaco. Rhizophora mangle, Avicennia nitida, Gomphrena flava, G. brachiata, Sesuvium portulacastrum (vidrio), Talinum cuspidatum (vicho), T. cumanense, Portulacca pilosa (zargasso), P. lanuginosa, Illecebrum maritimum, Atriplex cristata, Heliotropium viride, H. latifolium, Verbena cuneata, Mollugo verticillata, Euphorbia maritima, Convolvulus cumanensis.]
The town of Cariaco has been repeatedly sacked in former times by the Caribs. Its population has augmented rapidly since the provincial authorities, in spite of prohibitory orders from the court of Madrid have often favoured the trade with foreign colonies. The population amounted, in 1800, to more than 6000 souls. The inhabitants are active in the cultivation of cotton, which is of a very fine quality. The capsules of the cotton-tree, when separated from the woolly substance, are carefully burnt; as those husks if thrown into the river, and exposed to putrefaction, yield noxious exhalations. The culture of the cacao-tree has of late considerably diminished. This valuable tree bears only after eight or ten years. Its fruit keeps very badly in the warehouses, and becomes mouldy at the expiration of a year, notwithstanding all the precautions employed for drying it.
It is only in the interior of the province, to the east of the Sierra de Meapire, that new plantations of the cacao-tree are seen. They become there the more productive, as the lands, newly cleared and surrounded by forests, are in contact with an atmosphere damp, stagnant, and loaded with mephitic exhalations. We there see fathers of families, attached to the old habits of the colonists, slowly amass a little fortune for themselves and their children. Thirty thousand cacao-trees will secure competence to a family for a generation and a half. If the culture of cotton and coffee have led to the diminution of cacao in the province of Caracas and in the small valley of Cariaco, it must be admitted that this last branch of colonial industry has in general increased in the interior of the provinces of New Barcelona and Cumana. The causes of the progressive movement of the cacao-tree from west to east may be easily conceived. The province of Caracas has been from a remote period cultivated: and, in the torrid zone, in proportion as a country has been cleared, it becomes drier and more exposed to the winds. These physical changes have been adverse to the propagation of cacao-trees, the plantations of which, diminishing in the province of Caracas, have accumulated eastward on a newly-cleared and virgin soil. The cacao of Cumana is infinitely superior to that of Guayaquil. The best is produced in the valley of San Bonifacio; as the best cacao of New Barcelona, Caracas, and Guatimala, is that of Capiriqual, Uritucu, and Soconusco. Since the island of Trinidad has become an English colony, the whole of the eastern extremity of the province of Cumana, especially the coast of Paria, and the gulf of the same name, have changed their appearance. Foreigners have settled there, and have introduced the cultivation of the coffee-tree, the cotton-tree, and the sugar-cane of Otaheite. The population has greatly increased at Carupano, in the beautiful valley of Rio Caribe, at Guira, and at the new town of Punta di Piedra, built opposite Spanish Harbour, in the island of Trinidad. The soil is so fertile in the Golfo Triste, that maize yields two harvests in the year, and produces three hundred and eighty fold the quantity sown.
Early in the morning we embarked in a sort of narrow canoe, called a lancha, in hopes of crossing the gulf of Cariaco during the day. The motion of the waters resembles that of our great lakes, when they are agitated by the winds. From the embarcadero to Cumana the distance is only twelve nautical leagues. On quitting the little town of Cariaco, we proceeded westward along the river of Carenicuar, which, in a straight line like an artificial canal, runs through gardens and plantations of cotton-trees. On the banks of the river of Cariaco we saw the Indian women washing their linen with the fruit of the parapara (Sapindus saponaria, or soap-berry), an operation said to be very injurious to the linen. The bark of the fruit produces a strong lather; and the fruit is so elastic that if thrown on a stone it rebounds three or four times to the height of seven or eight feet. Being a spherical form, it is employed in making rosaries.
After we embarked we had to contend against contrary winds. The rain fell in torrents, and the thunder rolled very near. Swarms of flamingoes, egrets, and cormorants filled the air, seeking the shore, whilst the alcatras, a large species of pelican, alone continued peaceably to fish in the middle of the gulf. The gulf of Cariaco is almost everywhere forty-five or fifty fathoms deep; but at its eastern extremity, near Curaguaca, along an extent of five leagues, the lead does not indicate more than three or four fathoms. Here is found the Baxo de la Cotua, a sand-bank, which at low-water appears like a small island. The canoes which carry provisions to Cumana sometimes ground on this bank; but always without danger, because the sea is never rough or heavy. We crossed that part of the gulf where hot springs gush from the bottom of the sea. It was flood-tide, so that the change of temperature was not very perceptible: besides, our canoe drove too much towards the southern shore. It may be supposed that strata of water must be found of different temperatures, according to the greater or less depth, and according as the mingling of the hot waters with those of the gulf is accelerated by the winds and currents. The existence of these hot springs, which we were assured raise the temperature of the sea through an extent of ten or twelve thousand square toises, is a very remarkable phenomenon. Proceeding from the promontory of Paria westward, by Irapa, Aguas Calientes, the gulf of Cariaco, the Brigantine, and the valley of Aragua, as far as the snowy mountains of Merida, a continued band of thermal waters is found in an extent of 150 leagues.
[* In the island of Guadaloupe, there is a fountain of boiling water, which rushes out on the beach. Hot-water springs rise from the bottom of the sea in the gulf of Naples, and near the island of Palma, in the archipelago of the Canary Islands.]
Adverse winds and rainy weather forced us to go on shore at Pericantral, a small farm on the south side of the gulf. The whole of this coast, though covered with beautiful vegetation, is almost wholly uncultivated. There are scarcely seven hundred inhabitants: and, excepting in the village of Mariguitar, we saw only plantations of cocoa-trees, which are the olives of the country. This palm occupies on both continents a zone, of which the mean temperature of the year is not below 20°.* It is, like the chamaerops of the basin of the Mediterranean, a true palm-tree of the coast. It prefers salt to fresh water; and flourishes less inland, where the air is not loaded with saline particles, than on the shore. When cocoa-trees are planted in Terra Firma, or in the Missions of the Orinoco, at a distance from the sea, a considerable quantity of salt, sometimes as much as half a bushel, is thrown into the hole which receives the nut. Among the plants cultivated by man, the sugar-cane, the plantain, the mammee-apple, and alligator-pear (Laurus persea), alone have the property of the cocoa-tree; that of being watered equally well with fresh and salt water. This circumstance is favourable to their migrations; and if the sugarcane of the sea-shore yield a syrup that is a little brackish, it is believed at the same time to be better fitted for the distillation of spirit than the juice produced from the canes in inland situations.
[* The cocoa-tree grows in the northern hemisphere from the equator to latitude 28°. Near the equator we find it from the plains to the height of 700 toises above the level of the sea.]
The cocoa-tree, in the other parts of America, is in general cultivated around farm-houses, and the fruit is eaten; in the gulf of Cariaco, it forms extensive plantations. In a fertile and moist ground, the tree begins to bear fruit abundantly in the fourth year; but in dry soils it bears only at the expiration of ten years. The duration of the tree does not in general exceed eighty or a hundred years; and its mean height at that age is from seventy to eighty feet. This rapid growth is so much the more remarkable, as other palm-trees, for instance, the moriche,* and the palm of Sombrero,* the longevity of which is very great, frequently do not attain a greater height than fourteen or eighteen feet in the space of sixty years. In the first thirty or forty years, a cocoa-tree of the gulf of Cariaco bears every lunation a cluster of ten or fourteen nuts, all of which, however, do not ripen. It may be reckoned that, on an average, a tree produces annually a hundred nuts, which yield eight flascos* of oil. (One flasco contains 70 or 80 cubic inches, Paris measure.) In Provence, an olive-tree thirty years old yields twenty pounds, or seven flascos of oil, so that it produces something less than a cocoa-tree. There are in the gulf of Cariaco plantations (haciendas) of eight or nine thousand cocoa-trees. They resemble, in their picturesque appearance, those fine plantations of date-trees near Elche, in Murcia, where, over the superficies of one square league, there may be found upwards of 70,000 palms. The cocoa-tree bears fruit in abundance till it is thirty or forty years old; after that age the produce diminishes, and a trunk a hundred years old, without being altogether barren, yields very little. In the town of Cumana there is prepared a great quantity of cocoa-nut oil, which is limpid, without smell, and very fit for burning. The trade in this oil is not less active than that on the coast of Africa for palm-oil, which is obtained from the Elais guineensis, and is used as food. I have often seen canoes arrive at Cumana laden with 3000 cocoa-nuts.
[* Mauritia flexuosa.]
[* Corypha tectorum.]
We did not quit the farm of Pericantral till after sunset. The south coast of the gulf presents a most fertile aspect, while the northern coast is naked, dry, and rocky. In spite of this aridity, and the scarcity of rain, of which sometimes none falls for the space of fifteen months,* the peninsula of Araya, like the desert of Canound in India, produces patillas, or water-melons, weighing from fifty to seventy pounds. In the torrid zone, the vapours contained by the air form about nine-tenths of the quantity necessary to its saturation: and vegetation is maintained by the property which the leaves possess of attracting the water dissolved in the atmosphere.
[* The rains appear to have been more frequent at the beginning of the 16th century. At any rate, the canon of Granada (Peter Martyr d’Anghiera), speaking in the year 1574, of the salt-works of Araya, or of Haraia, described in the fifth chapter of this work, mentions showers (cadentes imbres) as a very common phenomenon. The same author, who died in 1526, affirms that the Indians wrought the salt-works before the arrival of the Spaniards. They dried the salt in the form of bricks; and our writer even then discussed the geological question, whether the clayey soil of Haraia contained salt-springs, or whether it had been impregnated with salt by the periodical inundations of the ocean for ages.]
At sunrise, we saw the Zamuro vultures,* in flocks of forty or fifty, perched on the cocoa-trees. These birds range themselves in files to roost together like fowls. They go to roost long before sunset, and do not awake till after the sun is above the horizon. This sluggishness seems as if it were shared in those climates by the trees with pinnate leaves. The mimosas and the tamarinds close their leaves, in a clear and serene sky, twenty-five or thirty-five minutes before sunset, and unfold them in the morning when the solar disk has been visible for an equal space of time. As I noticed pretty regularly the rising and setting of the sun, for the purpose of observing the effect of the mirage, or of the terrestrial refractions, I was enabled to give continued attention to the phenomena of the sleep of plants. I found them the same in the steppes, where no irregularity of the ground interrupted the view of the horizon. It appears, that, accustomed during the day to an extreme brilliancy of light, the sensitive and other leguminous plants with thin and delicate leaves are affected in the evening by the smallest decline in the intensity of the sun’s rays; so that for vegetation, night begins there, as with us, before the total disappearance of the solar disk. But why, in a zone where there is scarcely any twilight, do not the first rays of the sun stimulate the leaves with the more strength, as the absence of light must have rendered them more susceptible? Does the humidity deposited on the parenchyma by the cooling of the leaves, which is the effect of the nocturnal radiation, prevent the action of the first rays of the sun? In our climates, the leguminous plants with irritable leaves awake during the twilight of the morning, before the sun appears.
[* Vultur aura.]
Last updated Saturday, October 24, 2015 at 23:03