Alexander von Humboldt.

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being less felt, and the temperature being increased by
the radiant caloric emitted by the rocks after sunset.

The examination of the thermometrical observations, Thermome-
inade at La Guayra during nine months by Don Joseph yation's!''"^''
Herrera, enabled Humboldt to compare the climate of
that port with those of Cumana, Havannah, and Vera
Cruz. The result of this comparison was, that the first
mentioned is one of the hottest places on the globe ;
that the quantity of heat which it receives in the course
of a year is a little greater than that experienced at
Cumana ; but that in November, December, and Jan-
uary, the atmosphere cools to a lower point. The mean
temperature of the year in these several districts is as
follows : — At La Guayra, nearly 82'6° ; at Cumana,
81-8° ; at Vera Cruz, 77-7° ; at Havannah, 78-1° ; while
at Rio Janeiro it is 74'3° ; at Santa Cruz in Teneriffe,
71-4° ; at Cairo, 72-3° ; and at Rome, 60-4°.

At the time of Humboldt's visit to La Guayra, the Yeiiow
yellow fever, or calentura amarilla, had been known fever.
only two years there, and the mortality had not been
very great, as the confluence of strangers was less than
at Havannah and Vera Cruz. Some individuals, even
Creoles and mulattoes, were occasionally taken off by
remittent attacks, complicated with bilious symptoms
and hemorrhages, and their death often alarmed un-
seasoned Europeans ; but the disease was not propagated.
On the coast of Terra Finna this malignant typhus was
known only at Porto Cabello, Carthagena, and Santa
Martha. But since 1797 things have changed. The ^^^ esoftiie
extension of commerce having caused an influx of distemper.
Europeans and seamen from the United States, the
distemper in question soon appeared. It is maintained
by some, that it was introduced by a brig from Phila-
delphia ; while others think it took its birth in the
country itself, and attribute its origin to a change in
the constitution of the atmosphere caused by the over-
flowings of the Rio de la Guayra, which inundated the
town. This fever has since continued its ravages, and


CHAP. XL lias proved fatal not onl}^ to troops newly arrived from
I'ataTeffects. Sp^i"? ''^t also to those raised far from the coast, in the
Llanos, between Calabozo and Uritucu, a region nearly
as hot as La Guayra itself. It scarcely ever passes
beyond the ridge of mountains that separates this pro-
vince from the valley of Caraccas, which has long been
exempted from it. The following are the principal
pathological facts having reference to this fi'ightful pes-
tilence : —
Pathological When a great number of persons, bom in a cold
facts. climate, arrive at a port in the torrid zone, the insalu-

brity of which has not been particularly dreaded by
navigators, the American typhus (black vomiting, or
yellow fever) makes its appearance. These persons, we
may add, are not affected by it dui-ing the passage ; it
manifests itself only on the spot. Has the constitution
of the atmosphere been changed 2 asks Humboldt; or,
has a new form of disease developed itself in individuals
whose excitability is raised to a high pitch I
. , The malady forthwith attacks other Europeans born

:iie disease, in warmer countries. Immediate contact does not
increase the danger, nor does seclusion diminish it.
When the sick are removed to the interior, and espe-
cially to cooler and more elevated places, they do not
communicate the typhus to the inhabitants. Whenever
a considerable diminution of temperature occurs, the
distemper usually ceases ; but it again begins at the
commencement of the hot season, although no ship may
have entered the harbour for several months.
Vt Havan- '^^^^ yellow fever disappears periodically at Ilavannah

uh aiui and at Vera Cruz, when the north winds carry the cold
.'eia Cruz. ^^jj. ^f Canada towards the Mexican Gulf ; but as Porto
Cabello, La Guayra, New Barcelona, and Cumana,
possess an extreme equality of temperature, it is prob-
able that it will become jiermanent there. Happily, the
mortality has diminished since the treatment has been
varied accordijig to the modifications which the disease
assumes. In well managed hospitals, the number of
deaths is often reduced to eighteen or fifteen in a hun-


dred ; but when the sick are crowded togetlier, the loss chat xi.
increases to one-half or even more.

To the west of La Guayra there are several indenta- ciiaracter of
tions of the land which furnish excellent anchorage.
The coast is granitic, and a great portion of it extremely
unhealthy. At Cape Blanco the gneiss passes into
mica-slate, containing beds of chlorite-slatc, in which
garnets and magnetic sand occur. On the road to Catia
the chlorite-slate is seen passing into hornblende-slate.
At the foot of the promontory the sea throws on the
beach rolled fragments of a granular mixture of horn-
blende and felspar, in which traces of quartz and pyrites
are recognised. On the western declivity of that hill
the gneiss is covered by a recent sandstone or conglo-
merate, in which are observed angular fragments of
gneiss, quartz, and chlorite, magnetic sand, madrepores,
and bivalve shells. The latitude of the Cape is 10° 36'
45"; that of La Guayra is 10° 36' 19", its longitude
67° 5' 49".

The road from La Guayra to Caraccas resemliles the Road to
passages over the Alps ; but, as it is kept in tolerable Caraceas
repair, it requires only three hours to go with mules
from the port to the capital, and two hours to return.
The ascent commences with a ridge of rocks, and is ex-
tremely laborious. In the steepest parts the path winds
in a zigzag manner. At the Salto, or Leap, there is a
crevice which is passed by a drawbridge, and on tlie
summit of the mountain are fortifications. Half-way is
La Venta (the Lnn) ; beyond which there is a rise of j .; Vcnta.
960 feet to Guayavo, wliich is not far from the highest
part of the route. At the fort of La Cuchilla, Hum-
boldt was nearly made prisoner by some Spanish soldiers,
whom he, however, contrived to pacify. Round the
little inn several travellers were assembled, who were
disputing on the efforts that had been made towards
obtaining independence ; on the hatred of the mulattoes
against the free negroes and whites ; the wealth of the
monks ; and on the difficulty of holding slaves in obe-
dience. From Guayavo the road passes over a smooth


CHAP. XI. table-land covered with Aljiine plants ; and here is seen
for the first time the capital, standing nearly 2000 feet
lower, in a beautiful valley enclosed by lofty mountains.

AviiUu xhe ridges between La &uayra and Caraccas consist

of gneiss. On the south side, the eminence which bears
the name of Avilla is traversed by veins of quartz, con-
taining rutile titanite in prisms of two or three lines in
diameter. The gneiss of the intervening valley contains
red and green garnets, which disappear when the rock
passes into mica-slate. Near the cross of La Guayra,
half a league distant from Caraccas, there were vestiges
of blue copper-ore disseminated in veins of quartz, and
small layers of graphite. Between the former point
and the spring of Sanchorquiz were beds of bluish-gray
primitive limestone, containing mica, and traversed by
veins of white calcareous spar. In this deposite were
found crystals of pyrites and rhomboidal fragments of
sparry iron-ore.



City of Caraccas and surrounding District.

(Jit}' of Caraccas — General View of Venezuela — Population — Cli-
mate — Cliaracter of the Inhabitants of Caraccas — Ascent of tiic
Silla — Geological Nature of tiie District, and the Mines.

Caraccas, the capital of the former captain-generalship chap, ml
of Venezuela, is more known to Europeans on account Q\fy^
of the earthquakes by which it was desolated than from Cmaccas.
its importance in a political or commercial point of view
At the present day it is the chief city of a district of the
same name, forming part of the republic of Columbia ;
though, at the time of Humboldt's visit, it was tlie me-
tropolis of a Spanish colony which contained nearly a
million of inhabitants, and consisted of New Andalusia
or the province of Cumana, Barcelona, Venezuela or
Caraccas, Coro, and Maracaybo, along the coast ; and in
the interior, the provinces of Varinas and Guiana.

In a general point of view Venezuela presents three Venezuela
distinct zones. Along the shore, and near the chain of
mountains which skirts it, we find cultivated land ; be-
hind this, savannahs or pasturages ; and beyond the
Orinoco, a mass of forests, penetrable only by means of
the rivers by which it is traversed. In these three belts,
the three principal stages of civilisation are found more
distinct than in almost any other region. We liave the
life of the wild hunter in the woody district — the pas-
toral life in the savannalis — and the agricultural in the
valleys and plains which descend to various parts of the



CHAP. XII coast. Missionaries and a few soldiers occupy advanced
Missinnavy posts on the southern frontiers. In this section are felt
buiiuns. the preponderance of force and the abuse of power. The
native tribes are engaged in perpetual hostilities ; the
monks endeavour to augment the little villages of their
missions by availing themselves of the dissensions of the
Indians ; and the soldiers live in a state of war with
the clergy. In the second division, that of the plains
and prairies, where food is extremely abundant, little
advance has been made in civilisation, and the inhabi-
tants live in huts partly covered with skins. It is in
the third district alone, where agriculture and commerce
are pursued, that society has made any progress.
Constitution In following our travellers through tliese interesting
01 tiie states countries, it is necessary tliat we lose sight in some
measure of the present constitution of the South Ame-
rican states, and view them simply as Spanish provinces.
When we seek, says Humboldt, to form a precise idea
of those vast regions, which for ages have been governed
by viceroys and captains-general, we must fix our atten-
tion on several points. We must distinguish the parts
of Spanish America that are opposite to Asia, and those
that are washed by the Atlantic, — we must observe
where the greatest part of the population is placed,
whether near the coast or in the interior, or on the
table-lands of the Cordilleras, — we must determine the
numerical proportions between the natives and other
inhabitants, and examine to what race, in each part of
the colonies, the greater number of whites belong. The
inhabitants of the different districts of the mother-
country preserve in some measure their moral pecu-
liarities in the New World, altliough they have undergone
various modifications depending upon the physical con-
stitution of their new abode.
Venezuela. ^^^ Venezuela, whatever is connected with an advanced

state of civilisation is found along the coiist, which has
an extent of more than seven hundred miles. It is
washed by tiie Caribbean Sea, a kind of Mediterranean,
on tile shores of which almost all the European nations


have founded colonies, and which communicates at chap. xn.
several points with the Atlantic Ocean. Possessing
much facility of intercourse with the inhabitants of
other parts of America, and with those of Europe, the
natives have acquired a great degree of knowledge and

The Indians constitute a large proportion of the Indian i^csi-
agricultural residents in those places only where the*^''"''*-
conquerors found regular and long established govern-
ments, as in New Spain and Peru. In the province of
CaraccaSjfor example, the native population is inconsidei'-
able, having been in 1800 not more than one-ninth of
the whole, while in Mexico it formed nearly one-half.
The black slaves do not exceed one-fifteenth of thegjaves.
general mass, whereas in Cuba they were in 1811 as one
to three, and in other West India islands still more
numerous. In the Seven United Provinces of Venezuela,
there were 60,000 slaves ; while Cul^a, which has but
one-eighth of the extent, had 212,000. The blacks of
these countries are so unequally distributed, that in the
district of Caraccas alone there were nearly 40,000, of
which one-fifth were mulattoes. Humboldt estimates
the Creoles, or Hispano-Americans, at 210,000 in a
population of 900,000, and the Europeans, not including
troops, at 12,000 or 15,000.

Caraccas was then the seat of an audiencia, or high ,^ , ^.

J t> Population.

court of justice, and one of the eight archbishoprics into
which Spanish America was divided. Its population in
1800 was about 40,000. In 1766 great devastation was
made by the small-pox, from 6000 to 8000 individuals
having perished ; but since that period inoculation has
become general. In 1812 the inhabitants amounted to
60,000, of which 12,000 were destroyed by the earth-
quakes ; while the political events which succeeded that
catastrophe reduced their number to less than twenty

The town is situated at the entrance of the valley ofvaiieyof
Chacao, which is ten miles in length, eight and a half Cl'acio
miles in breadth, and about 2650 feet above the level of




uf Caraccas.


the sea. The ground occupied by it is a steep uneven
slope. It was founded by Diego de Losada in 1507.
Three small rivers descending from the mountains
traverse the line of its direction ; it contained eight
churches, five convents, and a tlieatre capable of holding
1500 or 1800 persons. The streets were wide, and
crossed each other at right angles ; the houses spacious
and loi'ty.

The small extent of the valley, and the proximity of
the mountains of Avila and the Silla, give a stern and
gloomy character to the scenery, particularly in Novem-
ber and December, when the vapours accumulate towards
evening along the liigh grounds ; in June and July,
however, the atmosphere is clear, and the air pure and
delicious. Tlie two rounded summits of the latter are
seen from Caraccas, nearly under the same angle of ele-
vation as the Peak of TenerifFe is observed from Orotava.
The first half of the ascent is covered with grass ; then
succeeds a zone of evergreen trees ; while above this the
rocky masses rise in the form of domes destitute of
vegetation. The cultivated region below forms an
agreeable contrast to the sombre aspect of the towering
ridges which overhang the town, as well as of the liills
to the north.

The climate of Caraccas is a perpetual spring, the
temperature by day being between 68° and 79°, and by
night between G0° and 04°. It is, however, liable to
great variations, and the inhabitants complain of having
several seasons in twenty-four hours, as well as a too
rapid transition from one to another. In January, for
example, a night of which the mean heat does not ex-
ceed 60" is followed by a day in which the thermometer
rises above 71° in the shade. Although in our mild
climates oscillations of this kind produce no disagreeable
effects, yet in the torrid zone Europeans themselves are
so accustomed to uniformity in the temperature, that a
difference of a few degrees is productive of unpleasant
sensations. This inconvenience is aggravated here by
the nosition of the town in a narrow valley, which is at


one time swept by a wind from the coast, loaded with chap. xii.
humidity, and depositing its moisture in the higher incoiiveiii-
regions as the warmth increases ; and at another by a ^'l^c "f the
dry breeze from the interior, wliich dissipates the vapours
and unveils the mountain-summits. This inconstancy
of climate, however, is not peculiar to Caraccas, but is
common to the whole temperate regions near the tropics,
to all places elevated from 2500 to 6000 feet above the
sea. Uninterrupted serenity during a great part of the
year prevails only in the low districts adjoining the sea,
or on the elevated table-lands of the interior. The
intermediate zone is misty and variable.

In this province the sky is generally less blue than at Tempera-
Cumana. The intensity of colour measured by Saus-
sure's cyanometer was commonly 18% and never above
20', from November to January, while on the coasts it
was from 22° to 26°. The mean temperature is
estimated by Humboldt at 70° or 72°. The heat very
seldom rises to 84°, and in winter it has been observed
to fall as low as 62°. The cold at night is more felt on
account of its being usually accompanied by a misty sky.
Rains are very frequent in April, May, and June. No
hail falls in the low regions of the tropics, but it is seen
here every fourth or fifth year.

The coffee- tree is much cultivated in the valley, and Coftee-tree.
the sugar-cane thrives even at. a still greater height.
The banana, the pine-apple, the vine, the strawberry,
the quince, the apple, the peach, together with maize,
pulse, and corn, grow in great perfection. But
although the atmospheric constitution of this Alpine
vale be favourable to diversified culture, it is not equally
so to the health of the inhabitants, as the inconstancy of
the weather, and the frequent suppression of cutaneous
perspiration, give rise to catarrhal affections ; and a
European, once accustomed to the violent heat, enjoys
better health in the low country, where the air is not
very humid, than in the elevated and cooler districts.

The travellers remained two months at Caraccas, Residence at
where they lived in a large house in the upper part of


CHAP, xii the town, from which they had an extensive view of
— the mountain-plain, the ridge of the Gallipano, and the
summit of tlie Silla. It was the season of drought, and
the conflagrations intended to improve the pasturage
produced tlie most singular effects when seen at night.
Uospitality. They experienced the greatest kindness from all
classes of the inhabitants, and more especially from the
captain-general of the province, M. de Guevara Vascon-
zelos. Caraccas being situated on the continent, and its
population less mutable than that of the islands, the
national manners had not undergone so material a
change. Notwithstanding the increase of the blacks,
says Humboldt, at Caraccas and the Havannah, we seem
to be nearer Cadiz and the United States than in any
other part of the New World. There was notliing to
be seen of the cold and assuming air so common in
Europe ; on the contrary, conviviality, candour, uniform
cheerfulness, and politeness of address, characterized the
natives of Spanish origin. The travellers found in
several families a taste for instruction, some knowledge
of French and Italian literature, and a particular
predilection for music. But there was a total deficiency
of scientific attainments ; nor had the simplest of all the
physical sciences, botanyj a single cultivator. Previous
to 1806 there were no printing-offices in Caraccas.
Irifiiffcr- Believing that in a country which presents such en-

ence of the chanting views, and exhibits such a profusion of natural
productions, he should find many persons well ac-
quainted with the surrounding mountains, Humboldt
yet failed to discover one individual who had visited the
summit of tlie Silla. Bat the governor having ordered
the proprietor of a plantation to furnish the philosophers
with negro guides who knew something of the way,
they prepared for the ascent.
Ascent of tlie As in the whole month of December the mountain
Silla. jj^^j appeared only five times without clouds, and as at

that season two clear days seldom succeed each other,
they were advised to choose for their excur.'»iuu an inter-
val when, the clouds being low, they might hope, by


passing through them, to enter into a transparent atmo- chap. xii.
sphere. They sjKjnt tlie night of the 2d January at a
coffee-plantation near a ravine, in wlii-ch the little river
Chacaito formed some fine cascades. At five in the JJepartme.
morning they set out, accompanied hy slaves carrying
their instruments, and about seven reached a promon-
tory of the Silla, connected with the body of the
mountain by a 'narrow dike. The weather was fine
and cool. They proceeded along this ridge of rocks,
between two deep valleys covered with vegetation ; the
large, shining, and coriaceous leaves, illumined by the
sun, presenting a very picturesque appearance. Beyond
this point the ascent became very steep, the acclivity
being often 82° to 33°. The surface was covered with
short grass, which afforded no support when laid hold of,
and it was impossible to imprint steps in the gneiss.
The persons who had accompanied them from the town
were discouraged, and at length retired.

Slender streaks of mist began to issue from the woods, Creoles and
and afforded indications of a dense fog. The familiar I°<l"»"s-
loquacity of the ncgix) Creoles formed a striking contrast
to the gravity of the Indians who had attended the tra-
vellers in the missions of Caripe. They amused
themselves at the expense of the deserters, among whom
was a young Capuchin monk, a professor of mathema-
tics, who had promised to fire oft' rockets from the top
of the mountain, to announce to the inhabitants of
Caraccas the success of the expedition.

The eastern peak being the most elevated, they di- Kame of
rected their course to it. The depression between the ^'"'^
two summits has given rise to the name Silla, which
signifies a saddle. From this hollow a ravine descends
towards the valley of Caraccas. This narrow opening
originates near the western dome, and the eastei'n sum-
mit is accessible only by going first to the westward of
it, straight over the promontory of the Puerta.

From the foot of the cascade of Chacaito to an eleva- Cascades of
tion of ti395 feet they found only savannahs or pastures, Chacaito.



Difficulties of
tlic route.

Forest and

CHAP. XII among which were observed two small liliaceous plants
Pinnt7~ v-'ith yellow flowers, and some brambles. Mixed with
the latter they expected to find a wild rose, but were
disappointed ; nor did they subsequently meet -with a
smgle species of that genus in any part of South

Sometimes lost in the mist, they made their -way with
difficulty, and there being no path, they were obliged to
use their hands in climbing the steep and slippery ascent.
A vein of procelain-clay, the remains of decomposed fel-
spar, attracted their attention. WJienever the clouds
surrounded them the thermometer fell to 53-6° ; but
when the sky was clear it rose to 69"8°. At the height
of 0011 feet they saw in a ravine a wood of palms,
wliich formed a striking contrast Avith the willows scat-
tered at the bottom of the valley.

After proceeding four hours across the pastures they
entered a small forest. The acclivity became less steep,
and they observed a profusion of rare and beautiful
plants. At the height of 6395 feet the savannahs ter-
minate, and are succeeded by a zone of shrubs, with
tortuous branches, rigid leaves, and large jnirple flowers,
consisting of rliododendra, thibaudia;, andromeda?, vac-
cinia, and befaria;.

Leaving this little group of Alpine plants they again
found themselves in a savannah, and climbed over part
of the western dome, to descend into the hollow which
separates the two summits. Here the vegetation was so
strong and dense, that they were obliged to cut their
way through it. On a sudden the}' were enveloped in
a thick mist, and being in danger of coming inadvert-
ently upon the brink of an enormous wall of rocks,
Avhich on the north side descends perpendicularly to the
depth of more than 6000 feet, were obliged to stop. At
this point, however, the negroes who carried their pro-
visions, and who had been detained by the recreant
philosopher already mentioned, overtook them, when
they made a poor repast, tlie negroes or the padre hiv-


ing left nothing but a few olives and a little bread. The chap. xil.
guides were discouraged, and were with difficulty pre-
vented from returning;.

In the midst of the fog the electrometer of Volta, Atmospiicric
armed with a smoking match, gave very sensible signs «'ectncity.
of atmospheric electricity, varying frequently from
positive to negative, and. this, together \\ith the conflict
of small currents of air, appeared to indicate a change of

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 10 of 35)