A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

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as if they really enjoyed it, and were proud of their
accomplishments. After a time the effect it began to
have on me was curious. I caught myself humming
their lugubrious air under my breath, and I was
seized with an uncontrollable desire to make childish
rhymes. Smith appeared to be similarly afifected, for,
after sitting silent for some time, he suddenly said to
me :

" Ellis, will you pass the brandy ? I see you've
got it handy."

I at once advised him to go to sleep, that being
the only thing I could think of to preserve his brain


from tottering entirely ; and he followed my advice.
He evidently did not possess a sensitive ear, for, a few
minutes after he had rolled himself in a blanket,
althous^h the chorus of o-uides and muleteers was still
in full swing, he was snoring a beautiful, though
somewhat irregular, trombone accompaniment to the
singing. I wanted to go to sleep too, because I knew
we should have to get up very early next morning ;
but it was useless to try while the improvising was
going on, and I was afraid it might offend them if I
asked them to stop. At last, however, the discord
became so unbearable, and the poetry was so rapidly
working me up to a pitch of frenzy, that I ventured to
interfere. I approached the subject with care, saying
that the verses they sang were beautiful, almost too
beautiful for an Englishman, imaccustomed as he was
to such poetical effusions, to listen to and live; yet, I
said, there ran through them a vein of sadness which
made my eyes fill with tears, and recalled to my
mind the sweet little ballads of my innocent child-
hood. Therefore, as it was so unpleasant to feel sad,
I hoped — nay, I implored — that they would stop ;
otherwise, who knows ? Smith had finished the brandy,
and I might lay violent hands upon myself in a
moment of melancholy madness.

They said they would stop at once, so I thanked
them, and going and wrapping myself in a striped


blanket, I lay down with ni}^ feet to the fire, with a
pack-saddle for a pillow ; trying to persuade myself
that it was much nicer to sleep out in the open air,
in a cold wind, on a knobbly couch of angular stones,
than in a comfortable bed ; and that I really liked
the romance of it,, and the change.

It seemed to me that I had only been asleep
about ten minutes when a guide came and kicked
me, and said it was time to get up. I protested,
saying that I did not want to get up, that I did
not care about seeing sunrise from the Peak, and
that I w-as going to sleep for a little longer ; but
he kept on worrying me, and I had at last to get
up. I looked at my watch, and found it was 3 a.m.
Could there be a more improper hour for a respect-
able young man to rise at ?

There is nothing I dislike so much as early
rising. As I have no faith in Mr. Tupper's Pro-
verbial Philosophy, I care nothing for such proverbs
as "Early to bed and early to rise," and I find I
can be quite healthy and wise enough for my ow^n
small wants by getting up at eight in the morning.
AVho is it that has invented all the current rubbish
about it being a kind of moral duty to get up
early ? Why, old fogies who cannot sleep in the
morning themselves. When any of these venerable
impostors remonstrate with me for not being up at


six, and say, with a stern air of duty, tliat tliey
never remain in bed later than that hour, I know
exactly where the shoe pinches, and what is the
cause of their bitterness. They cannot sleep later
than six, and they would give half what they are
worth if they only could.

Following the example of these people, as I had
been roused up myself, I went and shook Smith
till his teeth chattered, called him a sluggard, re-
proached him for his laziness, and instanced myself
as a glorious example of early rising. He got up,
but he was not grateful. It was still moonlight and
bitterly cold, our thermometer, a Fahrenheit, stand-
ing at SS^, and the sudden transition from the
tropical heat of Port Orotava on the previous day
to this temperature, was most trying. By the time
that we had finished a light breakfast of hot coffee
and biscuit, the muleteers had packed the alforjas,
so we mounted our mules and started.

AVe rode up a steep and narrow pathway of
pumice and volcanic ash, on which the mules,
sure-footed as those animals are, frequently slipped
and stumbled. An icy wind rushed past r.s, chill-
ing us to the bone, and it was so cold and unpleasant
that I sighed for my comfortable bed in Orotava.
At one part of the ascent, the path was bordered
by a chasm so deep that even the powerful rays of


the moon failed to illumine its depths ; the track
here was worse than elsewhere, the mules frequently
slid back on the slippery rock, while the wind struck
us in wild and furious gusts, as if some enraged
Titan were blowing at us through a funnel, and try-
ing to carry us over the precipice.

After about an hour of this break-neck path, we
reached the Alta Vista, G80 feet above the halting-
place where we had passed the night ; and here
the guides said we should have to leave the mules,
and make the rest of the ascent on foot. I was
really very glad to hear it, for besides having more
confidence in the sureness of my own footing than
in that of any mule that was ever bred, it is not
cheering to know that the slipping of a girth, or
the breaking of a rotten strap, would precipitate one
into eternity.

The route above Alta Vista was not pleasant.
There was no road and no earth or volcanic debris ;
nothing but a chaotic pile of lava blocks, none of
which were less than three feet broad, and some
fifteen or twenty. These stones were generally flat
on the top, and the heap apparently extended some
distance downwards ; for the masses of rock were not
close to one another, and in some places there were
holes that appeared to have no bottom. Some of the
boulders were so loosely balanced, or placed against


others, that they trembled when touched, and made
our hearts jump into our mouths at the thought that
several tons of lava were about to topple down on our
heads. Yet from such rocks we had to jump to
others, perhaps equally unsafe and certainly slippery,
and we naturally had several falls. In fact Smith
slipped into a crevice up to the waist, and we had
great trouble in getting him out without disturbing
some loose blocks and crushing him. The guides
called this part the Mai Pais, or the " bad country,"
and I had no fault to find with the name. I have
not the least idea how they found their way across
this wilderness of rocks, for there was nothing to
mark the proper track, and every group of boulders
seemed alike. We were now getting up so high that
the air became rarefied, and I experienced a tightness
across my chest, as if my waistcoat had been suddenly

The Mai Pais extended for about half-a-mile, and,
after crossing it, at the expense of no small exertion
and several scrapes and bruises, we reached a small
flat space, covered with ashes and sprinkled with
lava blocks. This was called La Ramhleta, and is
11,680 feet above the sea. From it rose the final
cone of the Peak. The cold here was, considering the
latitude, almost incredible. Our hands and feet were
numbed, breathing became difficult, and a furious and


chilly blast careered over tlie mountain with such
violence as to compel us to hold on to the rocks to
keep ourselves from being blown away.

It was now about 5 a.m., and a faint light began
to appear in the east. Then the light gained strength
moment by moment, and deepened to orange and
crimson, while long fingers of light strayed across the
heavens to draw back the curtains of night. Then,
in an instant, the sun seemed to spring into the
sky, tinging with gold the summit of the Peak, while
we were still in twilioht and the island below in


darkness. Swiftly the light ran down the cone, then
a red glow struck us, and, looking down, we saw the
darkness rollino- back like a shroud as the sun rose
higher and higher, until at last only the deeper
valleys and ravines were left in shadow.

The height of the actual cone of the Peak above
the little shelf of La Eambleta is 512 feet, and
the ascent is only practicable on the south-eastern
side. It is very steep, and the ground being loose,
and giving way under the feet, makes it very
fatiguing work to climb up. AVe went up in single
file, sinking anklc-dcep in ashes and sand at every
step, and making frequent stops to recover breath.
Here and there during the climb I noticed jets of
steam issuing from the ground, and the guides always
gave such spots a wide berth.


On arriving at tlie summit, breathless and ex-
hausted, we found it crowned by a circle of large
rocks, heaped one u]Don another in chaotic confusion,
and forming an apparently impassable barrier. The
guides, however, led us to the south-eastern side, and
showed us a small opening through which we could
pass. Inside this chaplet of rocks we found a slight
depression, which represented the old crater, and was
about 140 yards long and 110 yards broad. From
this hollow, or cauldron, jets of steam issued in all
directions, and the ground was covered with an efflo-
rescence of sulphur, which gave forth a most un-
pleasant perfume. Many of the sulphur crystals were
of the most brilliant hues — scarlet, green, blue, violet,
and yellow — and we tried to carry away with us some
specimens as mementoes of our excursion, but they
were all so brittle that they broke to pieces in our

I do not know what the temperature of the rocks
that fringe the crater may be, I only know that it is
sufficiently high to render sitting down upon a block
a painful practice, as I found to my cost. In the
crater itself the heat is in some places so great as to
burn one's feet through the soles of the boots ; and
sticks that are thrust down into the softer parts are
reduced to charcoal in a very few minutes. In fact
the volcano of the Peak is not extinct, but, rather,


dormant ; and is now in tlic state of a solfatara, that
is a volcanic vent from which sulphur, sulphurous
vapours and gases are emitted, but no lava or solid
matter. It may, perhaps, break out into full activity
at any moment, and the spectacle of such a lofty
mountain in full eruption would be magnificent. It
was belchinor forth volumes of flame and smoke when


Columbus put into the island of Gomera to repair
the Pinto on his voyage to the discovery of America;
and it had such an effect upon the frightened sailors,
that they clamoured to return to Spain, saying that
no voyage could prosper which commenced with such
omens of disastrous portent.

The rocks which form the ring at the summit
are all so loose and so delicately balanced, that to
endeavour to step on them will sometimes bring them
down with startling suddenness. In climbing up
over some on the north-eastern side, which is the
highest point of the Peak, I accidentally detached
one, weighing about half a ton, and it toppled down
the face of the cone, almost perpendicular on this
side, nearly carrying me with it. When it was going
at full speed down the slope, it struck against some
lava blocks ; and, leaping high in the air, went
thundering on, accompanied by a cloud of dust and
two new satellites.

I do not care much for views from tlietops of


high mountains, they are too comprehensive and you
do not get enough detail ; but, for any one who likes
bird's-eye scenery, the Peak possesses great natural
advantages. The island of Gomera, eighteen miles
distant, seemed to be only a peninsula belonging to
Teneriffe ; Palma appeared to be separated from us
by a mere ditch, and the town of Ycod, engulfed
in its dark forests of pine, seemed to lie so directly
underneath that one would almost think a stone
could be dropped on it. Turning to the southern
side, Orotava lay at our feet ; and out in the ocean
was Grand Canary, over whose ranges of mountains,
nearly 7,000 feet high, the sea could be seen
beyond. More to the east lay Fuerteventura, a mere
blur on the pale blue of the waters ; and, still further
off, the guides said they could see Lanzacote ; but
I could not, although my eyesight is unusually good.
It was, however, only 153 miles away, and that
distance is not much for an imao^inative guide.

Although I do not believe any one can see
Lanzarote from the Peak, because the former is not
sufficiently lofty, yet I must believe that people can
see the Peak from Lanzarote, because Humboldt says
so. That distinguished traveller has divided the
Peak into five zones, called the region of vines, the
region of laurels, the region of firs, the region of the
spartium or bloom, and the region of grasses. The


first extends from the sea level to a height of
about 1,500 feet, and in it, besides vines, grow the
cuphorbiae, dragon's-blood trees, mesembryanthema,
and other tropical species. The second zone includes
the forest trees which crown the hills, and an
indif^enous olive. The reoion of firs commences
at a height of 5,400 feet, and terminates at
about 7,200 feet. Above this are the regions
of broom and grass, and above these again grow
lichens. He says that twelve minutes and fifty-
five seconds elapse between the time of the sun
being first visible on the Peak and on the plain,
[t did not appear to me so long, but then we
were not at the summit of the Peak at sunrise, and
we had no means of takinc^ accurate observations.

The Peak itself, by-the-way, is locally termed
Teyde, that being its old Guanche name, which the
Spaniards have adopted in the form of EI Pico de
Teyde. The name of Teneriffe itself is derived from
two words in the ancient dialect of Palina — thener
(mountain) and ife (white) — and which was given to
the island by the Palmaus on account of the white
appearance of the Peak when covered with suow.
The inhabitants of Teneriffe called the island
Chineche, and themselves Vincheni, which latter
name the Spaniards corrupted into Guanche.

The descent of the cone was a much easier matter


than the ascent. The guides simply sat down, and
then slipped downwards by slides of seven or eight
yards at a time. That was all very well for people
who wore leathern continuations, but when Smith
tried it the result was such that I had to blush ; and
I thanked heaven that we should get back to Orotava
so late, that it was not probable there would be any
ladies about. This accident warned me against
attempting this sliding descent, so I went down
with cautious strides, sinking up to the ankle at
every step, and then bringing heaps of ashes and
clouds of dust down with me. We should have
liked to breakfast at La Rambleta, but the men
had left the alforjas with the mules at Alta Vista,
and we were obliged to postpone our appetites.
In any case they would not have allowed us to
stop, for they hurried us along at an unconscion-
able pace, saying that they did not like the appear-
ance of the Aveather. Knowing nothing of the
locality and local signs, we were unable to detect
any trace of threatening disturbance, and the clouds
below us, spread out like a vast sea of cotton-wool,
seemed quite unbroken by any storm. However, we
hurried on, and commenced the passage of the
Mai Pais.

The descent of this heap of masses of lava, which
were doubtless thrown out of the crater of the Peak


during some great convulsion, was rather ^Yorse than
the ascent ; but we got over it in safety, and, even
when half-way down, turned aside for ten minutes
to look at a cavern which the guides called the " Ice
Cave." This cave was in a mass of gray basalt which
cropped up from among the black lava of the Mai
Pais. Its entrance was about eighteen feet broad,
and ten feet high ; while the surface of the water,
which was frozen round the edges, was about ten
feet below where we stood. A ladder led down to a
ledge close to the surface of the water, for many
muleteers make a livino; durino- the summer months
by coming up to this cave and filling their panniers
with ice to sell in the towns below. From the
foot of this ladder we could see that the cavern
extended inwards for some distance ; but, as the only
light we had was that of a match, we could not
see far. The roof of the cave formed a natural
arch, and from it depended a forest of icicles and
stalactites, which made it look like the upper jaw
of some gigantic animal. The water near to where
we stood was about eight feet deep ; but a guide
said that a few yards from the mouth no bottom
could be reached, and that hundreds of fathoms of
lead-line had been let out without touching anything.
I accepted that statement at a considerable discount,,
because I did not believe that anv one ever dras^tred


hundreds of fatlioms of line over the Mai Pais
merely to try and find the depth of the pit ; and
also because it was not clear to me how, without a
boat, any one could reach that otherwise inaccessible
spot concisely described as " a few yards inside."
Of course in the autumn and winter the water would
be a sheet of ice, but then at those seasons the ascent
of the Peak is impracticable. Another guide, who
did not seem to know that water was a fluid and
usually found its own level, said it was well known
that the cave was filled from the sea, and that the
w\ater in it rose and fell with the tide.

No sooner had we reached Alta Vista and lighted
a fire to warm ourselves, than the guides were proved
to be good prognosticators of weather ; for a dense
cloud swept across us and enveloped us in a darkness
as complete as that of a London fog of the worst
description. In a very short time we were wetted
to the skin, and our fire was spluttering in the last
agonies of dissolution. As we could not see more
than a few yards in any direction, to attempt to
continue the descent was out of the question ; and
we had to sit still, wet and shiverino;, and wonderino*
if our detention on this bleak spot would be a matter
of hours or days. However, we had many things to
be thankful for. We were in a comparatively safe
part, and had our supplies at hand, so that, even if


we were compelled to pass a day or two on the
mountain, we should have nothing worse than dis-
comfort and exposure to undergo ; whereas it would
have been a very different matter if we had been
overtaken by darkness above or on the Mai Pais.

Fortunately, about noon, after two hours of cold
and suspense, the cloud began to grow less and less
dense, then it thinned away into a silvery mist, and
finally rolled away altogether. We at once started
for the Estancia de los Ingleses, and, walking down
the steep and rugged path, for the rocks were so
slippery with moisture that we did not consider it
advisable to trust ourselves to our mules, reached it
in about half-an-hour, by which time our clothes were
quite dried by the warm rays of the sun. After a
very short halt we mounted our animals, and, descend-
ing much more rapidly than we had come, reached
Port Orotava about 10 p.m., without suffering any
ill effects from our trip other than a slight attack of
African fever on my part, the result of the cold and
wet to which we had been exposed.

The strange absence of tourists from the Canary
Islands is a wonderful instance of how gregarious
is the ]>riton. Hundreds of English people visit
Madeira every year, and though Tcncriffe is, so to
speak, only next door, hardly one of them out of
every hundred ever cares to go on to it. Yet for


chest diseases the climate is just as beneficial as is
that of Madeira ; it is easy of access from that island,
one steamer, and sometimes two, making the passage
every week ; and in the Calle de la Marina, at Santa
Cruz, there is even an English hoteL In Teneriffe
one can ride and drive, two modes of locomotion
which are next to impossible at Madeira ; and the
scenery is almost unequalled for majesty and grandeur;
while, for those who like such things, there is a
theatre in Santa Cruz, bull-fights take place occa-
sionally, and fiestas and balls frequently. It is,
besides, not an expensive place ; the highest charge
for board and lodging at the English hotel was, at
my last visit, only two dollars a day ; and if any
one chose to take a house and provide for himself he
could live for half that sum.

X 2



Coast Scenery — Birds of Prey — Funchal — Fire-eaters — A Night's
Eomance — Nossa Senliora do Monte — A Xovel Slide — Fruits
and Flowers — Festivals — Wines — "Wine-growers — The Grand
Corral — Mountain Eoads — S. Vincente — Santa Anna.

There are few prettier sights displayed to the lands-
man weary of salt water than the island of Madeira.
Many years ago, when it first gladdened my eyes, it
seemed to me to be a terrestrial paradise ; and though I
now regard it with somethinsj of that indifference born
of the frequent renewal of my acquaintance with it, I
know no island, except perhaps Fernando Po, that looks
so w^ell from the sea. Indeed the panorama, as Cape
Lourenco, with the white lighthouse on the detached
rock Ilheo de Fora, is rounded, and the south-eastern
coast comes into view, is quite enough to recompense
one for a bad passage through the Bay of Biscay,
even in a AVest African steamer. In the foreo^round
is a chaotic pile of purple rocks, or the frowning bluff


of a dark-red cliff ; and beyond lies the slope of the
mountains, marked with bands of varied hues —
vineyards, orange-groves, olives, and plantations of
sugar-cane. Here and there are houses, whose gleam-
ing white walls glisten amidst the surrounding foliage,
and higher up the heather and the pine throw a
dark mantle over the peaks ; until, some 5,000 feet
above the sea, the mountains join hands with the
white canopy of clouds which crowns them. As the
steamer ploughs along, a ravine, with precipitous and
rugged sides that yawn far back into the bosom of
the hills until they are veiled in misty distance, is
opened up ; or a hamlet of toy houses, with white
walls, green shutters, and scarlet roofs, nestling down
in an emerald valley, comes into view ; till at last the
Bay of Funchal, with the smokeless town lying back
in the amphitheatre of the mountains, lies before you,
and you have eyes for nothing else.

After having thrown all your small change into
the sea, to be dived for by the yellow-skinned boys
who clamorously surround the steamer in their little
boats, you descend into a boat with a prow like the
beak of a Roman galley, with a few vigorous strokes
are run up high on the steep beach of black pebbles,
and are ashore at Funchal. You step up upon the
low sea-wall of the public promenade, called the
Praca da Rainha, and are at once surrounded by a


score of unkempt and unwashed would-be guides,
wlio suggest all kinds of proper and improper amuse-
ments to you with great eagerness in broken English.
You reject their proposal with scorn, and walk on,
hoping to escape from them. As you go along
the procession moves with you ; a part of it strides
beside you and gesticulates violently ; another portion
leads the way, turning from time to time to address
incomprehensible remarks to you ; and a third section
straggles along behind and treads on your heels.
Minute by minute the cavalcade gains strength : boys,
with the inevitable cigarette in their mouths, and
who have apparently no school to go to, come and give
you the benefit of their company ; hurroqueros, or
horse-boys, come and lead their weedy steeds in front
of you, so as to tread on your toes ; cripples and
beggars, covered with sores, hop alongside, thrusting
maimed hands and distorted limbs into your face ;
and if you turn to go along any particular street the
entire crowd vociferate a thousand reasons for going
another way. Then, if you happen to be acquainted
with any Portuguese expletives you discharge them
into the mob, tentatively and single-barrelled at first,
to see how they are received ; then you deliver whole
broadsides of abuse ; and, finding that the multitude
only regard you with a pitying expression, as if you


were an escaped lunatic, you abandon the field and
take refuge in the English hotel.

After waiting in your sanctuary what you consider

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Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisWest African islands → online text (page 17 of 22)