A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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in honour of the saint, by more earnest Christians,
and salvoes of cheap rockets shoot up into the mid-
night air. The inevitable monte table is of course
not wanting, but the peasantry do not seem to
care so much for gambling as the townspeople, and
the banker usually only reaps a small harvest of
copper coins.

The costumes of some of the peasants are pic-
turesque, but, as a rule, the peasants themselves are
neither clean nor handsome. In pictures, the
Spanish peasant girl is always depicted as a sylpli-
like creature, in short petticoats, with wonderfully
small feet, slim ankles, ravishing black eyes and hair,
and a face of wondrous beauty. As far as these
islands are concerned, the only portion of the picture


which is true to nature is the short petticoat, usually
of a brilliant red; for these peasant girls have bulbous
ankles and feet like giantesses', and which are more
frequently covered with red mud and dust than with
shoes and stockings. In place of the face of surpassing-
loveliness one sees countenances absolutely expression-
less, and suggestive of nothing but coarse animalism.
One does see sometimes the sparkling black eyes and
the raven hair, but the former of a grayish blue and
the latter of the colour of the reddish dust of the
island are just as common. I wonder if the travellers
who have described all these thino:s as beino; beauti-
ful really thought so, or only said so to make their
readers envious. It is true that in the Canary
Islands this falling off from the accepted standard
may be due to the large admixture of Guanche blood ;
but then Edris described the women of that race as
possessing great personal attractions, and a Moslem is
usually a good judge of such things. The men, when
young, are far better-looking than the women ; but in
old age, on the other hand, their faces become still
more satanic than those of the fairer sex, and both
are repulsive enough to frighten an English child into
a fit.

There are a few English residents in Orotava, and
there is also an Enoflish boardino^-house for the accom-
modation of visitors who may not care for the cuisine

T 2


of a Spanish hotel, which usually consists of soup
made of vegetables, pork, goat and garlic, and the olio,,
that is, the ingredients of which the soup is made,
served up as a second course. But Orotava has not
been popular since the murder, in January, 1879, of
Mr. Morris, although that crime had theft for its
object, and was not in any way indicative of hostility
to Eno-lishmen. The murderers of this unfortunate
gentleman were discovered, strange to say, through
a swarm of flies. Mr. Morris was employed in a
mercantile house in Port Orotava, and two Spaniards,
intimate friends of his, knowing that he always
carried with him the key of the safe in which the
money was kept, induced him to go out for a walk one
evening to an unfrequented spot near the cemetery.
There they stabbed him to death, and carrying the body
into the cemetery, opened a tomb and threw it in.
Unfortunately for them, in replacing the slab of stone
which covered the vault, they broke a small piece off
one corner ; and, four days after the murder, the
attention of some peoj^le who were attending a
funeral was called to a swarm of flies that was
passing through the aperture thus left. The authori-
ties caused the stone to be raised, and the body was
found. Suspicion at once fell upon the two Spaniards,
who had in the meanwhile robbed the safe ; and they
were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.


The delay which then ensued is a good instance
of how slow-moving is the legal machinery of Spain.
For two years and a half these men remained in
prison^ awaiting confirmation of their sentence from
Madrid. Several petitions were presented to the
Government, praying for the remission of the sen-
tence, on the ground that it was only a heretic w^ho
had been killed ; and, had it not been for the in-
cessant efforts of the British Consul at Santa Cruz,
they would probably have got off. The confirmation
at length arrived, however, and they were put to death
by the antique process of garroting, at the spot
where the murder was committed, on the 2nd of
July, 1881. On the eve of the execution, the
TOLurderers confessed that, among other minor pecca-
dilloes, they had committed seventeen robberies,
assassinated one of their fellow countrymen, and
twice set fire to the house of an unfriendly judge.
The mountains which enclose the valley of
Orotava are honeycombed with the caves in which
the Guanches used to live. Many of them are very
spacious, particularly the one on the crest of the
hill over which the road to Santa Cruz passes, and
which is pointed out as being the state residence of
the warrior king Ventomo. Several of them are still
inhabited by the poorer peasantry, and I have no doubt
they are nice and cool habitations for a hot climate.


About six miles to the ^ycst of Port Orotava is
the town of Garachica, which possessed formerly the
best harbour in the island, until, during the great
lateral eruj^tion of the Peak in 1704, it was filled up
by streams of molten lava. It is an ill wind that
blows nobody any good, a.nd the trade that was thus
driven away from Garachica sought refuge in Port
Orotava, which then first commenced to be of im-
portance. The former place, however, is now looking
lip again, for it is still a town of m.oderate propor-
tions, with the usual large number of churches and
conventual establishments, and the district has now
so far recovered from the devastating lava floods,
that, although houses now stand where vessels for-
merly anchored, a few ships have of late come into
the remnant of the harbour, and loaded with the wine
and brandy that the place produces.

The eruption of 1704: commenced on the 24tli of
December with an earthquake. The first shocks were
moderate, and although twenty-nine were felt within
the space of three hours not much damage was done ;
but as the day w^ore on they increased in violence,
until the inhabitants were compelled to abandon their
tottering habitations, and seek safety in the open
country. The earthquakes continued till the 31st,
Avhen the terrified people observed a dull red glow on
that spur of the Peak which is called the White


Mountains. The light rapidly grew brighter and
brighter, until they could see that two new conical
hills had been thrown up, which belched forth fire,
stones, and lava, and soon covered the whole
mountain- side with flames. The terror-stricken and
superstitious inhabitants imagined that the end of the
world was at hand, brought out all their saints in
processions of great pomp, promising them all kinds
of possible and impossible things if they would only
avert the calamity ; and endeavoured to atone for the
past by fasting and continual prayer.

After the formation of the two vents for the pent-
up subterranean fire a lull took place, and the people
were beginning to think that their saints had pre-
vailed and that the danger was past, when, on the
5 til of January, such a tremendous eruption took
place that the sun was totally obscured by the clouds
of flame and smoke ; and darkness, broken only by
the fitful gleams from the volcanoes, fell upon the
island. Before niojhtfall another volcano burst out
to the west of the town, and from thirty difi'erent
craters, within a circumference of half-a mile, vomited
forth streams of liquid fire, which rushed burning and
roaring down the Iiill slopes with the rapidity of
mountain torrents, and covered the country for miles
around. It is difficult to picture the awfulness of
that night. As far as the eye could reach, in every


direction were fiery floods, pouring down tlie ravines
and valleys, and completely surrounding the devoted
town ; the mountains, the sea, and the clouds above
glowed red in the lurid glare of the fires ; while the
volcanoes, amid the roar of explosions which rever-
berated from cliff to cliff and ridge to ridge, and were
distinctly heard more than twenty miles off at sea,
threw up unceasing showers of red-hot stones, ashes,
and lava, and tall columns of flame and smoke that
seemed to scorch the heavens. To add to the horrors
of the situation, several violent shocks of earthquake
supervened, throwing down numbers of houses in the
town, and driving out the miserable inhabitants into
the vineyards, where they were menaced by falling
stones and rocks, and knew not but what at any
moment some new crater might open under their
very feet.

From the third volcano that had burst forth, a
torrent of lava rushed towards the town of Guimar, all
the houses in which had been thrown down by the
earthquakes, aud the violence of the eruption then
commenced to moderate. On tlie 2nd of February,
however, a crater opened in the town of Guimar
itself, entirely swallowing up the ruins of a church
which had been thrown down by the earthquake
shocks ; and it was not until the 23rd of that month
that the convulsion was at an end. The loss of life


was not so great as might have been supposed ; but
thousands of people were rendered homeless and
reduced to the most abject state of misery, and nine
miles of smiling mountain slope, which had been
covered with vineyards and corn-fields, were turned
into a scorched and cindery waste.

According to a tradition of the island, the ruin
which thus overtook Garachica was the result of the
imprecation of a priest. The story runs thus : the
priest in question was a family or domestic priest,
domiciled in the house of a wealthy Garachican, and
the latter, discovering that the reverend father was
too familiar with his wife, summarily ejected him
from the house. The priest, finding himself thus
suddenly found out, and deprived of a comfortable
home, was naturally annoyed, and before leaving the
town he solemnly cursed it in the following terms :
" Garachica pueblo rico, mal cascajo te esconda,"
which, being interpreted, means : "Rich town of
Garachica, may a bad stone bury you.'' A very few
days after this dreadful curse the eruption com-
menced, and, as a large number of the houses were
buried in the lava streams, the people considered that
the imprecation had borne fruit. From this it hap-
pened that the religious order to which the priest
belonged (he w^as, I believe, a Franciscan) became
highly honoured in Teneriflfe; and all the islanders


outvied each other in donations and votive oflferings
to propitiate all Franciscan friars, and were ex-
tremely careful never to give any one of tliem any
cause to be ofiended.

These islands are subject to strong gales in the
winter months, which do a great deal of damage, and
are dangerous for shipping, the bay of Santa Cruz
being much exposed to easterly winds, and that of
Orotava to north-westerly. On the 24th of November,
1879, when I arrived at Tcneriffe for the sixth time,
so heavy a sea was running that it was impossible to
communicate with the shore ; and by about 4 j^-i^^-
the gale had increased in violence to such an extent,
that the master of the steamer considered it advisable
to steam off and lie under the shelter of the land
about two miles round Point Anao-ra. There the sea


was comparatively calm; but tremendous gusts of
wind swept down the ravines, gathering strength as
they came, and struck the vessel so violently as to
cause her to heel over, and render standing on the
deck impossible. The storm continued increasing all
the evening, and about 9 p.m. we could see the lights
of another steamer which had also sought this shelter,
and which proved to be the Waldensian, belonging to
the Allan Line. Next morning at day-break we made
an attempt to go round to Santa Cruz ; but, before
A.nao^ra Point was well opened, such heavy seas swej^t


the ship from stem to stern, that the captain put back
aojain. Even under the land there was a hiMi sea
running, and the spray drifted past in thick clouds, in
which numerous small but completely circular rain-
bows were formed by the rays of the sun. After noon
the gale moderated, and we succeeded in reaching the
roadstead of Santa Cruz. The appearance of that
port was quite changed. The little kiosquc-like
lighthouse that, two days before, had stood at the
extremity of the mole, had now disappeared, and with
it some thirty or forty feet of the solid masonry of
the mole itself. The latter, though more than sixty
feet broad at the bend of the curve, and standinof
from twelve to fifteen feet out of the water, had two
clean breaches made in it, where the waves still broke
over a shapeless mass of blocks of concrete, and the
stores, sheds, and warehouses at the landing-place were
unroofed. Next morning we were able to land, and
learned that three vessels which had been lying under
the shelter of the mole, had, on the night of the 24th,
dragged their anchors and been driven ashore and
splintered to pieces on the steep, stony beach near the
Paso Alto. Great damage was done in the interior
of the island, and the road to Orotava was rendered
impassable for some days.



Ascent of the Peak — El Pino del Dornajito — A Useful Shrub — •
La Estancia de los Ingleses — Improvisatori — Early Rising —
The ]\Ial Pais— La Ptambleta— The Cone— The Crater— Bird's-
eye Scenery — The Descent — The Ice Cave.

During one of my visits to Teneriffe, I determined,
in company with a fellow passenger, whom I will
call Smith, to attemjDt the ascent of the Peak. It
was the lieio^ht of the summer, the best season for
the climb, and the weather was propitious ; so,
landing our efifects from the steamer, we decided to
stay for a week in the island, and proceed by a vessel
belonging to the same company, which would be
due in seven days' time. The same morning we
proceeded to Port Orotava and commenced our

Firstly, we learned that we should Lave to delay
the attempt for two days, when the moon would
be at the full, that being the only period at which
the ascent was ever undertaken ; and, secondly, that


everything depended upon the weather. According
to our informants, in cloudy weather the undertaking-
would be impossible, and, if the weather appeared
unsettled or the barometer commenced falling, no
guide or mountaineer would venture to attempt it ;
as, if the party were caught in a storm or squall,
it might be belated for days on the mountains, and,
in the more exposed situations, perhaps blown by
the gusts of wind over a precipice. Without any
diffi'^ulty we succeeded in engaging the services of
three mountaineers as guides ; and the head man
of these hired for us, at a rate probably not much
more than double that usually paid by the islanders
themselves, two muleteers and five mules. Of these
latter, two were saddle mules, two sumpter, and one
for the conveyance of water. On the eve of the
day fixed for the start, we laid in a supply of tinned
meats, eggs, bread, coffee, and various drinkables,
sufficient, in case of accident, for ourselves for four or
five days ; and, our men having, according to agree-
ment, made their own arrangements for their own
food, our departure was fixed for five in the morning.
At the appointed hour next morning we rode
through the silent streets of the sleeping town of
Port Orotava, and, taking the road to the village of
Orotava proper, we passed through that wilderness
of flowers and decaying houses, traversed the splendid


wood of chestnut-trees wliicli crowns tlie hill behind
it, and then commenced ascending. About seven
o'clock we arrived at a lonely house, built upon the
brink of the precipitous descent of a wild ravine.
This spot, at which we breakfasted, and where the
mules were indulo;ed with a last drink of water,
was called JEl Pino del Dornajito. I thought, at
first, that it was so termed because there was no
pine-tree there, on the same principle that new villas
in the suburbs of London, which rejoice in the pos-
session of a few scrubby evergreens in their front
gardens, are denominated " The Firs," " The Elms,"
or " The Beeches ; " but the guides said there used
to be an unusually fine tree there, which had been
blown down long since. Near the watering place
was a large wooden cross, and the guides and mule-
teers here made their peace with heaven before finally
cuttinsr themselves loose from civilisation.


Leaving El Pino we rode on alomj; a shadowed
path through a magnificent wood till about midday,
when we found ourselves at the entrance of a rocky
ravine. The track here was much impeded by masses
of rock, and stunted laurels and heaths fringed the
sides so thickly as to brush our knees as we passed.
Here and there we saw a wooden cross, which, the
guides told us, marked the spots where the bodies
of persons, who had been frozen to death in the


winter snowdrifts, had been found. Our pious men
invariably added each a stone to the little heap which
lay at the foot of every rude cross, and which denoted
the number of prayers said for the repose of the
soul of the deceased ; but though they thus increased
the jDiles, I did not observe that they w^ent to the
trouble of saying any prayers.

We next crossed a sandy plain, scattered with
white pumice like shingle, and called the "Retama,"
from the number of j)lants of that name which there
flourished. This shrub, like the " rhinoster " bush
of South Africa, possesses the peculiar property of
burning with a bright flame when quite green and
freshly torn up by the roots, and it is with it that
the mountain peasantry ordinarily build their fires.
It grows to the height of about six feet, and, during
summer, is covered with white flowers which are
rather pretty.

About three in the afternoon we lunched under a
pile of rocks, called the Estancia de la Sierra, from
which place we had our first view of the base of the
mountain we were about to assault, rising from the
arid desert of las Canadas, or the glens, which, like a
gigantic moat, some fourteen miles in circumference,
entirely encircle the Peak. As it was getting rather
late, and we had not much time to spare if we wanted
to reach our quarters for the night before dark, we


made but a short halt, and again proceeded. The
ashy bed of las Canadas was covered with large
blocks of obsidian, which had evidently been thrown
out from the crater of the Peak ; everywhere were
traces of comparatively recent volcanic action, and,
on the further side of the glens, old streams of lava,
which had cooled on their Avay down the steep slope,
could be distinguished.

About five o'clock we arrived at the foot of the
mountain, and commenced the ascent at a point
called the "Wheat Heaps," from a large mound of
pieces of white pumice which is there found. The
path was sandy and very steep, winding backwards
and forwards like a corkscrew ; while to the left of it
was a deep chasm, down which an old lava flood had
poured on to the desert we had just traversed.

Continuing the ascent, we encamped shortly
before sunset on a small level shoulder which stood
out from the mountain, and which was the usual
halting-place for parties making the ascent. A few
large black boulders were scattered over it, and under
one of them was a kind of corral built of loose stones,
for the accommodation of the animals. This spot,
which is nearly 10,000 feet above the sea-level, is
called the Estancia de los Ingleses, or " Englishman's
camping-ground," a name which proves that the
ubiquitous and enterprising Anglo-Saxon more frc-


qucntly makes the ascent of the Peak than do
individuals of other nationalities.

The muleteers unloaded the animals, and, cor-
ralling them inside the wall of stones, made fires of
retama behind two immense rocks, where they were
sheltered from the wind, which now blew strongly.
The plain below us was dark with the shadow of the
mountain and the gathering shades of night, while
we were still in sunlight ; but in a few minutes the
last gleams of gold died away from the summit of the
mountain, and the waning daylight faded slowly until
it imperceptibly blended with and finally disappeared
in the light of the moon. The air was very cold, so
we sat down close to one of the fires, and discussed
our evening meal by the light of some pitch-pine
torches which we had brought with us, while the
guides and arrieros squatted round the other, eating
their salt-fish and gojio. It was quite chilly enough
to render hot grog acceptable ; and, as we had brought
some aguardiente with us for the men, we brewed
them a jorum of punch in the kettle, and so intro-
duced to their palates a beverage of a kind hitherto
unknown to them. They seemed to take to it very
kindly. Only one guide had any scruples about
drinking it, but he remarked that there were only
two occasions upon which a man might be permitted
to drink spirits, namely, when he had eaten salt-fish



for dinner and when lie had not; 'and that as this was
one of those too rare occasions, he might allow him-
self to taste it. After this grave Spanish jest, he
poured himself out a tumblerful of steaming fluid,
and seemed to enjoy it as much as the others did.

We were soon punished for our wickedness in
making these unsophisticated Spaniards drink such
potent liquor, for they began singing the most lugu-
brious ditties and making the most horrible discord.
It was a species of part singing, in which it seemed
to be the duty of each performer to sing in a different
key, utterly regardless of harmony ; and the noise was
frightful. Having once commenced, they went on
and on until it became quite unbearable ; but
presently there was a pause in the singing, and
Smith whispered to me excitedly :

" By Jove, they're going to begin improvising
now !

A vision at once swept across my mind's eye of
gallant young men in tight-fitting continuations,
wearing little caps adorned with tall feathers, and
posing in graceful attitudes while they strummed
upon mandolins. According to the dcscrijitions of
travellers, these romantic youths, when they once
opened the flood-gates of their poetical souls,
launched forth streams of soul-stirring poesy of
such beauty, that could a shorthand writer be only


on the spot, take them down at once and translate
them afterwards into English verse as his own com-
position, he would be placed in the first rank of
poets, living or dead ; and I therefore expected to
hear something good. A piratical-looking muleteer,
with a face of the colour of untanned leather, and
a head covered with long and tangled black hair,
hemmed twice to clear his throat, and then gave
birth to a verse which may be rendered in English
as follows :

Ob, my pretty little mule is the nicest little mule ;
Should any one not think so, then he must be a fule.

And the rest of the party sang " fule, fule, fule," each
in any key that seemed good unto him, as a chorus.
The improvisatore smiled upon us with a smile of
sweet satisfaction, and reclined gracefully against a
rock; while another laureate was seized with the
divine afflatus, and broke forth with :

Thanks to the English senors, we have plenty
Of a-a-a-a-g-u-a-r-d-i-e-n-t-e.

This gigantic effort was greeted with rapturous
applause, and the first poet was obhged to invigorate
himself with some refreshment. Then, returnino- to
his original subject, he shrieked :

Oh ! my pretty little mule is of all the mules the best ;
Should any of you question that — well — may you be blest.


And at the concluding word he soared up into a shrill
falsetto, like a boats^Yain's whistle. He did not say
" blest," though, really ; he said something quite
different ; but I would rather run the risk of spoiling
the sentiment of the poem, than shock any of my
chaste readers.

Heavens ! and was this rubbish the kind of stuff
over which travellers have gone into rhapsodies, and
led us to believe it to be full of beauty of more than
mortal kind ? Was this the wonderful performance
of the impromsatori, in which one knew not whether
most to admire the extraordinary fertility of rhyme,
or the simple and yet touching pathos of the narra-
tive ? Alas ! here was another illusion exploded.

The men went on with their wretched performance

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 16 of 22)