Imatges de pÓgina
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The cabins of the Mestees, in the ravines of Los Frailes, were placed in the midst of an inclosure containing bananas, papayas, sugar-cane and mays. One would be surprized, says M. de Humboldt, at the small extent of these cleared spots, if one did not reflect that an acre, planted with banana-trees, yields nearly twenty times the quantity of aliment which the same space would give if sowu with grain. In Europe, the farinaceous grasses necessary for the food of man cover a vast extent of country, and the cultivators are necessarily brought in contact with each other. In the torrid zone, where man cau avail himself of those vegetables which yield most abundantly and rise most rapidly, it is just the reverse. In those happy climates, (which, however, have their full share of misery in other respects,) the fertility of the soil corresponds with the heat and the humidity of the atmosphere; and a numerous population tiuds abundant subsistence within a narrow space. Hence, in the neighbourhood of the most populous cities of equinoctial America, the surface of the earth is bristled with forests, or covered with a thick sward which the ploughshare bas never divided; plants of spontaneous growth predominate by their luxuriance and their masses over those that are cultivated, and determine the character and the aspect of the country.

Our travellers ascended the group of mountains which separate the coast from the vast plains or savannas bordering on the Oronoco; to one part of which has been given the name of The Impossible,' because it is supposed that this crest would secure the inhabitants of America against the incursion of an enemy who might land at Cumana ; yet the cultivators of the plains transport by this route their provisions, dressed skins, and cattle to that port. On the slope of this mountain grows the Cuspa, a plant still unclassed by the botanists of Europe, though well known of late years by the name of Cascarilla, or the Quinquina of New Andalusia, from the eminent quality of its bark as a febrifuge. M. de Humboldt considers it not a little remarkable, that during their long sojourn on the coasts of Cumana and the Caraccas, their residence on the banks of the Apura, the Oronoco and the Rio Negro, a tract of territory embracing an extent of forty thousand square leagues, they should not have met with a single plant of the numerous species of Chincona or Exostema, which are peculiar to the low and heated regions of the tropics, above all to the archipelago of the Antilles ;-a circumstance, M. de Humboldt observes, which would lead to the belief that the mountainous islands of the Antilles and the Cordilleras of the Andes have their particular Floras, and that they possess groups of vegetables which have not passed either from the islands to the continent, or from South America to the coasts of New Spain.

• When

When a traveller, just arrived from Europe, penetrates, for the first time, into the forests of South America, nature presents herself under an aspect quite unlooked for. The surrounding objects recal but a faint remembrance of the pictures traced by writers of celebrity on the banks of the Mississipi, in Florida, and in the other temperate regions of the New World. He is sensible, at every step, that he is not on the borders, hut in the centre of the torrid zone; not on one of the islands of the Antilles, but on a vast continent, where everything is gigantic,-mountains, rivers, and the whole mass of the vegetable creation. If he takes delight in the beauties of rural scenery, he finds himself at a loss to define the nature of his mingled feelings. He is unable to distinguish that which most excites his wonder,- whether the deep stillness of the wilderness, the individual beauty and contrast of the forms of objects, or that freshness and grandeur of vegetable life, which characterize tropical climates. The plants with which the earth is overburdened may be said to want room for their developement. The trunks of trees are every where concealed under a thick carpet of verdure; and if one could carefully transplant the families of the Orchis, the Piper, and the Pothos, which draw their nourishment from a single Courbaril, or fig-tree of America, (Ficus Gigantea,) one might be able to cover with them a very extensive spot of ground. By this singular grouping, forests and the sides of rocks and mountains enlarge the dominion of organic nature. The same creeping plants which run along the ground climb to the tops of trees, and pass from one to another at the height of more than a hundred feet. It is thus that the continual intertwining of parasitical plants often leads the botanist to confound the flowers, fruits, and foliage belonging to different species.'-p. 370.

The road from hence to San Fernando was bordered by a species of bamboo (Bambusa Guadua) growing to the height of more than forty feet. Nothing can be compared with the elegance of this arborescent gramineous plant. The form and disposition of its leaves give to it a character of lightness which contrasts agreeably with its vast height; and our author thinks, that of all the vegetable forms of the tropical regions, that of the bamboo and of the fern-tree are those which strike most forcibly the imagination of the traveller. This arundinaceous genus affords an anomaly of which many examples, we suspect, will be found in the new theory of the geography of plants. One would say,' observes our author,

that the western slope of the Andes was their true country; yet, wbat is sufficiently remarkable, we have found them not only in the low regions on a level with the ocean, but also in the bigh vallies of the Cordilleras, even at an elevation of 860 toises.'

The Mission of San Fernando, by the regularity of the town, the uniformity of the buildings, the sober and silent air of the inhabitants, and the extreme neatness of the houses, recalled to the recollection of our travellers the establishments of the Moravian brethren; and tbis is saying not a little in their favour. Every Indian family, besides its proper garden, assists in the cultivation of the common garden, Conuco de la communidad; every adult of both sexes working therein one hour in the morning and one in the evening. The great square in the centre of the village contains the church, the dwelling of the missionary, and an humble edifice on which is bestowed the pompous appellation of Casa del Rey, the house of the king; a sort of caravansera intended to give shelter to travellers, and of iufuite service in a country where the hotel or inn is utterly unknown. The following is the portrait of the good father of San Fernando.

“The missionary of San Fernando was a Capuchin, a native of Arragon, very far advanced in years, but still vigorous and cheerful. His great corpulency, bis sprightly disposition, and the interest which he took in battles and sieges, but ill accorded with the notion formed, in northern countries, of the melancholic abstraction and contemplative life of a missionary. Though closely busied with a cow which was to be slaughtered the next morning, the old monk yet received us with good humour; and gave us leave to sling our hammocks in a gallery of his house. Seated, without employment, during the chief part of the day, in a great arm-chair of red wood, he complained bitterly of what he termed the idleness and ignorance of his countrymen. He asked us a thousand questions concerning the real motive of our travels which to him seemed hazardous, and, at best, useless. Here, as on the Oronoco, we were harassed by that eager curiosity which, in the midst of the forests of America, Europeans retain respecting the wars and political storms of the Old World.

• In other respects, our missionary appeared to be satisfied with his situation. He treated the Indians mildly; he saw his mission prosper; and he extolled with enthusiasm the water, the bananas, and the milk diet of the district. He smiled contemptuously at the sight of our instruments, books, and dried plants; and acknowledged, with a frankness peculiar to these climates, that, of all the enjoyments of life, not even excepting sleep, none was to be compared with the pleasure of eating good beef, carne de vacca : so true is it, that sensuality springs from the absence of mental occupation. Our host persuaded us repeatedly to visit the cow which he had just purchased; and the next day, at sun-rise, he insisted on our going to see the animal killed according to the custom of the country, namely, by cutting the hamstring, and then plunging a large knife between the vertebræ of the neck. Disgusting as the operation was, we learnt from it the expertness of the Chaymas Indians, who, eight in number, cut the beast into small joints in less than twenty minutes. The cow had cost but seven piastres, yet this seemed to be considered a very high price. The same day the missionary paid eighteen piastres to a soldier of Cumana, for bleeding him in the foot. This fact, of little apparent importance, strikingly proves how much, in wild, uncultivated countries, the value of commodities differs from that of labour.'--p. 374. From San Fernando they passed through the village of Arenas,

famous

famous for baving produced a labouring man, who, during the illness of his wife, brought up a child by giving it suck at his own breasts two or three times a day for five months, during which time it received no other food. Our travellers saw both the father and the son (the latter being at this time thirteen or fourteen years old) at Cumana, and also an authenticated account of the fact drawn up on the spot.

The little town of Cumanacoa, which they next reached, is situated on a plateau, whose elevation is about one hundred toises above the level of the sea, and at the distance of seven leagues from the port of Cumana; yet it seldom or never rains at the latter, while at the former there is a regular rainy season of seven months duration. The difference in the temperature both of day and night between the two places is very considerable. The plain of Cumanacoa is famous for its tobacco-a plant, as M. de Humboldt observes, whose use was spread over the greater part of America, whilst the potatoe was unknown, both in Mexico and the Antilles. He might have added, that the tobacco plant had made the circuit of the globe before the potatoe in its slow progress had travelled eastward beyond Ireland, and before it had even crossed the Irish Channel. It is a singular fact, that in all the extent of territory traversed by Messrs. Humboldt and Bonpland, they neither met with, nor could hear of, the potatoe growing in its native wildness; nor had it been discovered in any part of America till very recently, when the authors of the · Flora Peruviana' are said to have found the common species (Solanum tuberosum) growing in a wild state in the mountains of Chili, together with a new and edible species larger than the common one.

The two travellers visited next the caverns of Cucbivano, out of which jets of flame are said, of late years, to have issued more frequently than usual. The inhabitants were disposed to predict the same fatal consequences from these increasing flames, which followed a similar kind that burst from the ground near Cumana. M. de Humboldt mentions the shining light which had been observed from Chillo upon the summit of Cotopaxi, at a time when the mountain was in a state of perfect repose, and which he ascribes to the inflammation of hydrogen gas; he also notices the account given by the ancients of Mount Albanus near Rome, known at present by the name of Monte Caro, which is said to have thrown out a flame during the night; but Albanus is a volcano burnt out, and became extinct at no very remote period of time. Nothing volcanic however appears in the vicinity of Cuchivano. We shall not attempt to follow M. de Humboldt in his conjectures and reasoning respecting the cause; but content ourselves with the mention of an instance which appears to afford an exact parallel with that of Cu

chivano,

chivano, but which M. de Humboldt, in all probability, could not bave heard of, as still existing in modern times. On the eastern coast of Lycia, and the western shore of the gulf of Adalia, a flame called yanar is seen to issue from an opening about three feet in diameter, in the side of a mountain, and in shape resembling the mouth of an oven. Captain Beaufort of the royal navy, when surveying this part of the coast of Karamania, visited the spot. The mountain, like that of Cuchivano, was calcareous, being composed of a crumbling serpentine rock, with loose blocks of limestone; there was not the least appearance of volcanic production; no tremor of the earth, no noises; neither stones, nor smoke, nor noxious vapours were emitted from the cavity, but a brilliant and perpetual flame issued forth, of an intense heat, and said to be inextinguishable by water : the remains of the walls which had formerly been built near the spot were scarcely discoloured; and trees, brushwood, and weeds grew close to this little crater, if so it might be called thus, for the first time, we believe, has the Chimera of the ancients been discovered, after a lapse of more than two thousand years, on the very spot where they invariably placed it; and after the very name had for ages become a sort of byword in all the languages of modern Europe, implying, according to Johnson, ' a vain and wild fancy, as remote from reality as the existence of the poetical chimera.'

On the plateau of Cocollar, which our travellers crossed on their way to the mission of Guanaguana, they remained three days at the solitary habitation of a Spaniard, (who had accompanied them from Cumana,) no less delighted with the climate than the magnificent scenery around them.

Nothing can be compared (they say) with the sense of that majestic stillness produced by the appearance of the sky in this solitary spor. At night-fall, while our eye was ranging over those meadows which bound the horizon, over that gently undulated table-land covered with grass and herbs, we fancied we saw at a distance, as in the steppes of the Oronoco, the surface of the ocean supporting the starry canopy of heaven. The tree under which we sat, the luminous insects fluttering in ihe air, the constellations glittering in the south, every thing seemed to say that we were far from our native land. If, in the midst of this exotic nature, our ear caught, from the bottom of a valley, the tinkling of a cowbell, or the roaring of a bull, the remembrance of our own country was forthwith awakened. It was like the echo of distant sounds from beyond the seas, transporting us by its magic power from one hemisphere to the other. Strange wandering of the human imagination ! Endless source of enjoyment and of pain !-398.

At Guanaguana they were received with the greatest civility by the old missionary. The village had not been established at this place more than thirty years, and as yet had no church. The good fa

ther,

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