Alexander von Humboldt.

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flowers in a single thyrsus, reaches the height of fifty
or sixty feet.

At the base of the wooded mountain of Higucrota g^^ p^
they entered the small village of San Pedro, situated in
a basin where several valleys meet. Plantains, potatoes,
and coff"ee, were sedulously cultivated. The rock was


CUAP. XIV. mica-slate, filled with garnets, and coiitainin;^ beds of
serpentine of a fine green, varied with spots of a lighter

A'aiioy of Ascending from the low ground, thej passed by the

the Tuy. favnis of Las La^unctas and Garavatos, near the latter
of which there is a mica-slate rock of a singular form, —
that of a ridge, or wall, crowned by a tower. The
countryismountainous, and almost entirely uninhabited ;
but beyond this they entered a fertile district, covered
with hamlets and small towns. Tliis beautiful region
is the valley of tiie Tuy, where they spent two days at
the plantation of Don Jose de Manterola, on the bank
of the river, the water of which was as clear as crystal.
Here they observed tliree species of sugar-cane, the old
Creole, the Otaheitan, and the Batavian, which are
easily distinguished, and of which the most valuable is
the Otaheitan, as it not only yields a third more of juice
than the Creole cane, but furnishes a anuch greater
quantity of fuel.

As this valley, like most other parts of the Spanish
colonies, has its gold mine, Humboldt was desired to
visit it. In the ravine leading to it an enormous tree
fixed the attention of the travellers. It had grown on
a steep declivity above a house, which it was appre-
hended it might injure in its fiill, should the earth
happen to give way. It had tlierefore been burnt near
the root, and cut so as to sink between some large fig-
trees, which would prevent it from rolling down. It
was eight and a half feet in diameter at the lower end,
four feet five inches at tlie other (the top having been
burnt oif), and one hundred and sixty feet in length.
The rocks were mica-sl.ite passing into talc-slate, and
contained masses of bluisli granular limestone, together

. with graphite. At the i)lace where the gold mine wa3

quartz. said to have ])(.en, they found some vestiges of a vein of

quartz ; Init tiie subsidence of the eartli, in consequence
of the rain, rendered it impossible to make any observa-
tion. The tiavellers, however, found a recompense for
their fatigues in tlic harvest of plants which they


made in the thick forest abounding in cedraelas, brow- cuap. xiv.
neas, and fig-trees. Tliey were struck by the woody po,.pT~
excrescences, which, as far as twenty feet above the plants.
ground, augment the thickness of the latter. Some of
tliese trunks were observed to be twenty-three feet in
diameter near the roots.

At the plantation of Tuy the dip of the needle was ixpcftua
41*6°, and the intensity of the magnetic power was "^'^'^''^*
indicated by 228 oscillations in ten minutes. The vari-
ation of tho former was 4° 30' N. E. The zodiacal
iight appeared almost every night with extraordinary

On the 11th, at sunrise, they left the plantation of Departure
Manterola, and proceeded along the beautiful banks of [erojit*'^""
the river. At a farm by the way they found a ncgress
more than a hundred years old, seated before a small
hut to enjoy the benefit of the sun's rays, the heat of
which, according to her grandson, kept her alive. As
they drew near to Victoria the ground became smoother,
and resembled the bottom of a lake the waters of which
had been drained off. The neighbouring hills were coqj- Varied
posed of calcareous tufa. Fields of corn were mingled cui'i^^ition.
with crops of sugar-canes, coffee, and plantains. The
level of the country above the sea is only from 676 to
640 yards ; and, except in the district of Quatro Villas
in the island of Cuba, wheat is scarcely cultivated in
large quantities in any other part of the equinoctial
regions at so low an elevation. La Victoria and the
neighbouring village of San IMatheo yielded 4000 quin-
tals or 3622 cwt, annually. It is sown in December,
and is fit for being cut in seventy or seventy-five days.
The grain is large and white, and the average produce is
three or four times as much as in Europe. The culture
of the sugar-cane, however, is still more productive.

Proceeding slowly on their way, the travellers passed indications
through the villages of San Matheo, Turmero, and ofpi«spen:y.
Maracay, where every thing was indicative of prosperity.
*' On leaving the village of Turmero," says Humboldt,




" we discover, at the distance of a league, an object
which appears on the horizon like a round hillock, or u
TUeZamaul tu^^uiug covered with vegetation. It is not a hill,
however, nor a group of very close trees, but a single
tree, the celebrated Zamang of Guayra, known over the
whole province for the enormous extent of its branches,
which form a hemispherical top 614 feet in circumfer-
ence. The zamang is a beautiful species of mimosa,
whose tortuous branches divide by forking. Its slim
and delicate foliage is agreeably detached on the blue of
the sky. We rested a long while beneath this vegetable
arch. The trunk of the Guayra zamang, which grows
on the road from Tumiero to Maracay, is not more than
64 feet high and 9| feet in diameter ; but its real beauty
consists in the general form of its top. The branches
stretch out like the spokes of a great umbrella, and all
incline towards the ground, from which they uniformly
remain twelve or fifteen feet distant. The circumfer-
ence of the branches or foliage is so regular, that I
found the different diameters 205 and 198 feet. One
side of the tree was entirely strij^ped of leaves from the
effect of drought, while on the other both foliage and
flowers remained. The branches were covered with
creeping plants. The inhabitants of these valleys, and
especially the Indians, have a great veneration for the
Guayra zamang, which the first conquerors seem to
have found nearly in tlie same state as that in which
we now see it. Since it has been attentively observed,
no change has been noticed in its size or form. It must
be at least as old as the dragon-tree of Orotava. Near
Turmero and the Hacienda de Cura there are other trees
of the same species, Avith larger trunks ; but their
hemisj)herical tops do not spread so widely."

The valleys of Aragua at this time contained more
than 62,000. inliabitants, on a space thirteen leagues in
Icngtii and two in breadth ; making 2000 to a square
league, which is almost equal to the densest population
of France. The houses were all of masonrj', and every

Effect of



court contained cocoa-trees rising above the habitations. CHAP. XIV.
Besides wheat, sugar, cacao, cotton, and coffee, indigo is
cultivated to a great extent.

In this district the travellers experienced the greatest Reception,
kindness, more especially from the persons with whom
they had associated in Caraccas, and who possessed large
estates in these highly improved and beautiful plains.
At the Hacienda de Cura they spent seven very agree-
able days, in a small habitation surrounded by thickets,
on the lake of Valencia. Their host, Count Tovar, had
begun to let out lands to poor persons, with the view of
rendering slaves less necessary to the landholders ; and
his example was happily followed by other proprietors.
Here they lived after the manner of the rich ; they
bathed twice, slept three times, and made three meals
in twenty-four hours.

The vallej'S of Aragua form a narrow basin between Geological
granitic and calcareous mountains of unequal height, feature.
On the north they are separated from the coast by the
Sierra Mariara, and on the south from the steppes by
the chain of Guacimo and Yusnia. On the east and
west the}^ are bounded by hills of smaller elevation, the
rivers from which unite their streams, and are collected
in an inland lake which has no communication with the
sea. This body of water, named the lake of Valencia, j^^ifg ^f
and by the Indians called Tacarigua, is larger than the Valencia.
Lake of Neufchatel, but in its general form has more
resemblance to that of Geneva. The southern banks are
desert, and backed by a screen of high mountains, while
the northern shores are decked with the rich cultiva-
tion of the sugar-cane, cofFee-tree, and cotton. " Paths
bordered with cestrum, azcdarach, and other shrubs
always in flower, traverse the plain and join the scat-
tered farms. Every house is surrounded by a tuft of trees.
The ceiba, with large yellow flowers, gives a peculiar
character to the landscape, as it unites its branches w'itli
those of the purple erythrina. The mixture and bril-
liancy of the vegetable colours form a contrast to the
unvaried tint of a cloudless sky. In the dry season.





CHAP. XIV. wliin the liurning soil is covered with a wavy vaponr,
artificial irrijjations keep up its verdure and fecundity.
Here and there the granitic rocks piirce the cultivated
land and enormous masses rise ahruptly in the midst of
the plain, tlieir hare and fissured surfaces affording
nourishment to some succulent plants, which prepare a
Soil for future ages. Often on the summit of these
detached hills, a iig-tree or a clusia, with juicy leaves,
liave fixed their roots in the rock, and overlook the
landscape. With their dead and withered hranchcs
they seem like signals erected on a steep hill. The
fonn of tliese eminences reveals the secret of their
oriirin ; for wiien the whole of this valley was filled
with water, and the waves heat against the base of the
jieaks of Mariara, tiie Devil's Wall, and the coast chain,
these rocky hills were shoals or islets."

But the Lake of Valencia is remarkable for other cir-
cumstances tlian its beauties. From a careful examina-
tion, Humboldt was convinced that, in very remote
times, the whole valley, from the mountains of Cocuyza
to those of Torito and Nirgua, and from the Sierra of
Mariara to that of Guigue, Guacimo, and La Palmn,
had been filled with water. 'J'he form of the promon-
tories and their abrupt slopes indicate the shores of an
Alpine lake. Tiie same little shells (hclicites and val-
vattp), which occur at the present day in the Lake of
Valencia, are found in layers three or four feet thick in
the heart of the country, as far as Turmero and Li\
Concesion near Victoria. These facts prove a retreat
of tlie waters ; but no evidence exists that any consider-
able diminution of them has taken place in recent times,
altlioui:h within the thirty years preceding Humboldt's
visit the gradual desiccation of this great basin had
excitid general attention. This, however, is not depen-
dent upon subterranean channels, as some su])pose, but
upon tile efleits of evaporation, increased by the changes
o|ierated upon the surface of tlie country. Forests, by
siieltering tlie soil from the direct action of the sun,
dimini-h the waste of moisture ; consequently, when

vt water.


they are imprudently destroyed, the S])rings become less cnAP. XIV.
abundant, or are entirely dried uj). 'J'ill the middle of Dcst^ion
the last century, tlie mountains that surround the val- of woods.
leys of Aragua were covered with woods, and the plains
with thickets interspersed with large trees. As culti-
vation increased, the sylvan vegetation suffered ; and as
the evaporation in this district is excessively powerful,
the little rivers were dried up in the lower portion of
their course during a great part of the year. The land
that surrounds the lake being quite flat and even, the
decrease of a few inches in the level of the water ex-
posed a vast extent of ground, and as it retired the
planters took possession of the new land.

The idea that the lake will soon entirely disappear, Balance of
Humboldt treats as chimerical, considering it probable influences,
that a period will shortly arrive when the supply of
water by the rivers and the evaporation will balance
each other. The mean depth is from 77 to 96 feet, and
there are some jiarts not less than 224 or 256 feet. The
length is thirty-four and a half miles, and the breadth
four or five. The temperature at the surface, in Feb-
ruary, was from 73*4° to 74-7'', which was a little lower
than the mean temperature of the air.

The Lake of Valencia is covered with beautiful islands i^]^^^^ qq
to the number of fifteen, some of which are cultivated, the lake.
It is well stocked with fish, although it furnishes only
three kinds, which are soft and insipid. A small croco-
dile, the bava, which generally attains the length of
three or four feet, is very common ; but it is remarkable
that neither the lake nor any of the rivers which flow
into it have any large alligators, though these animals
abound, a few leagues off, in the streams that unite
with the Apure and Orinoco, or pass directly into the
Caribbean Sea. The islands are of gneiss, like the sur-
rounding country. Of the plants which they produce, peculiar
many have been believed to be peculiar to the district, plauts.
such as the papaws of the lake, and the tomatoes of the
island of Cura. The aquatic vegetation along the shores
reminded the travellers of the lakes of Europe, although


CHAP. XIV. the species of ])otamogcton, cliara, and equisctum, were
peculiar to tlie New Continent.

R.rcrs, Some of tlie rivers that flow into this fine sheet of

water owe their origin to hot springs, of which, how-
ever, the travellers wore able to examine only those of
Mariara and Las Trincheras. In going up the Cura
toward its source, the mountains of Mariara are seen
advancing into the plain, in the form of an amphitheatre
composed of steep rocks, crowned by serrated peaks.

Ricoii ad '^^^^ central point is named Rincon del Diablo. These

Diablo. masses are composed of a coarse-grained granite, and are
j)artially covered with vegetation. In the hills toward
the east of the Rincon is a ravine containing several
small basiiLS, the two uppermost of which are only eight
inches in diameter, while the three lower are from two
to three feet. Their depth varies from three to fifteen
inches, and their temperature is from 133^ to 138^.

Hot sprin"-i '^^^^ ^^^^ water from these funnels forms a rill, which
thirty feet lower has a temperature of only 118-4°.
These springs are slightly impregnated with sulphuretted
hydrogen gas, the fluid having a thin pellicle of sulphur ;
while a few plants in the vicinity are crusted with the
same substance. To the south of this ravine, in the
plain extending to the shores of the lake, is another
fountain of the same kind, which issues from a crevice.
The water, which is nnt so hot, collects in a basin fifteen
or eighteen feet in diameter and three feet deep, in
which the slaves of the neighbouring plantations wash
at tlic end of the day. Here the travellers also bathed,
and afterwards found in the surrounding woods a great
variety of beautiful plants.

Bntliing. While drying themselves in the sun, after coming out

of the pool, a little mulatto approached them, bowing
gravely, and making a long speech on the virtues of the
water. Siiowing tiiem his hut, he assured them they
should find in it all the conveniences of life ; but his
attentions ceased the moment he heard they had come
merely to satisfy their curiosity, and had no intention
to try tlie cHicacy of the baths. They are said to be


used with success in rheumatic swellings, old ulcers, and CHAP. xiv.
the dreadful affections of the skin called bubas.

On the 21st February the travellers set out from the Nicl't tra-
Hacienda de Cura for Guacara and New Valencia. As ^"^ '"^'
the heat was excessive, they preferred travelling by
night. Near the hamlet of Punta Zaniuro, at the foot
of the lofty mountains of Las Viruelas, the road was
bordered by large mimosas sixty feet in height, and
with horizontal branches meeting at a distance of more
than fifty yards, so as to form a most beautiful canopy
of verdure. The night was gloomy, and the Rincon del
Diablo with its serrated cliffs appeared from time to
time illuminated by the burning of the savannahs. At
a place where the wood was thickest their horses were
frightened by the yelling of a large jaguar, which
seemed to follow them closely, and which they were
informed had roamed among these mountains for three
years, having escaped the pursuit of the most intrepid

They spent the 22d in the house of the Marquis de ^(y^^e of
Toro, at the village of Guacara, a large Indian commu- the Marquis
nity ; and in the evening, after visiting Mocundo, an ® ^^°'
extensive sugar-plantation near it, they continued their
journey to New Valencia. They passed a little wood of
palms of the genus Corypha, the withered foliage of
which, together with the camels feeding in the plain,
and the undulating motion of the vapours on the arid
soil, gave the landscape quite an African character. The sterility of
sterility of the land increased as they advanced towards tiie land.
the city, which is said to have been founded in 1655 by
Alonzo Diaz Moreno, and contains a population of six
or seven thousand individuals. The streets are broad ;
and as the houses are low, they occupied a large extent
of ground. Here the termites or white ants were so
numerous that their excavations resembled subterranean
canals, which, being filled with water in rainy weather,
became extremely dangerous to the buildings.

On the 26th they set out for the farm of Barbula, to j^-^^ ^^^^^
examine a new road that was making from the city to

154 nor spuings of la trinchera.

CHAP. XIV Porto Cabcllo ; and on the 27tli visited the hot springs
~~ of La Trincliera, ten miles from Valencia. These foun-
tains were so copious as to form a rivulet, which, during
the greatest droughts, was two feet deep and eighteen
wide. The temperature of the water was 194-5°.
Ef^gs immersed in them were boiled in less than four
minutes. They issued from granite, and were strongly
impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen. A sediment
of carbonate of lime was deposited, and the most luxu-
riant vegetation surrounded the basin, — mimosas, clu-
sias, and fig-trees, pushing their roots into the water,
and extending their branches over it. Forty feet
distant from these remarkable sources there rose others
Pi'^'iiicction which were of the ordinary temperature. Humboldt
lur litat. remarks, that in all climates people show the same pre-
dilection for heat. In Iceland the first Christian con-
verts would be baptized only in the tepid streams of
Ilecla ; and in the torrid zone, the natives flock
from all parts to the thermal waters. The river which
is formed by the fountains of La Trincliera runs toward
the north-cast, and near the coast expands to a consider-
able size.
Potto Descending towai'd Porto Cabello, the travellers

CabtUo. passed tlirough a very picturesque district, beautified by
a most luxuriant vegetation and numerous cascades. A
stratified coarse-grained granite occurred near the road.
The heat became suffocating as they approached the
coast, and a reddish vapour veiled the horizon. In the
evening they reached the town, where they were
V, Ju;i.ic l^''"^b' received by a Frencli physician, M. Juliac,
whose house contained an interesting collection of zoolo-
gical subjects. This gentleman was principal surgeon
to the royal hospital, and was celebrated for his profound
ocfpiaintance witli the yellow fever. He stated, that
wlien he had treated his patients by bleeding, aperients,
and acid drinks, in hospitals wliere the sick were
crowded, the mortality was 33 in 100 among the white
Creoles, and 05 in 100 among recently-disembarked
Eun.])eans ; but that since a stimulating treatment, and


the use of opium, benzoin, and alcoholic draughts liad CHAP. xiv.

been sul)stitutcd for the old del)ilitating method, the

mortality had been reduced to 20 in 100 among Euro-
peans, and 10 among natives.

The heat of Porto Cahello is not so intense as that of ir,.at of
La Guayra, the breeze being stronger and more regular, i'"'''o

. o ' Cubtrllo*

and the air having more room to circulate between the
coast and the mountains. The cause of the insalubrity
of the atmosphere is therefore to be sought for in the
exhalations that arise from the shore to the eastward,
where at the beginning of the rainy season tertian fevers
prevail, which easily degenerate into the continued
typhoid. It has been observed that the mestizoes
employed in the salt-works have a yellower skin when
they have suffered several successive years from these
fevei's. The fishermen assert, that the unwholesomencss
of the air is owing to the overflowings of the rivers, and
not to inundations of the sea ; and it has been found
that the extended cultivation along the banks of the Kio
Estevan has rendered them less pestilential.

The salt-works are similar to those of Araya, near
Cumana ; but the earth at Porto Cabello contains less
muriate of soda. As the employment is Tery unhealthy,
the poorest persons alone engage in it. The defence of
the coasts of Terra Fir ma was maintained at six points,
the castle of San Antonio at Cumana, the Morro de
Nueva Barcelona, the fortifications of La Guayra, Porto
Cabello, Fort St Charles, and Carthagena. Next to
Carthagena the most important place is Porto Cabello.
The harbour is one of the finest in the world, resembling
a basin or little inland lake, opening to the westward by
a passage so narrow that only one vessel can anchor at a
time, and is defended by batteries. The upper part of
it is marshy ground filled with stagnant and putrid
water. At the time of Humboldt's visit the number of
inhabitants was 9000.

Leaving Porto Cabello on the 1st March at sunrise,
our travellers were astonished at the number of boats boats
which they saw laden with fruit for the market. They

|j("; C(nv-TriEE.

CHAP. XIV. returned to tlie valleys of Aragua, and again stopped at
— ^ the fann of Barbula. Having heard of a tree the juice
of wliich resembles milk and is used as an article of
food, tliey visited it, and to their surprise found that the
statements which had been made to them with respect
to it were correct. It is named the palo de vaca or cow-
tree, and has oblong pointed leaves, with a somewliat
fleshv fruit containing one or sometimes two nuts.
When an incision is made in the trunk, there issues
abundantly a tliiek glutinous milky fluid, perfectly free
from acrimony, and having an agreeable smell. It is

Juice. drunk by the negroes and free people who work in the

plantations, and the travellers took a considerable quan-
tity of it without the least injurious effect. When
exposed to the air, this juice presents on its surface a
yellowish cheesy substance, in membranous layers,
which are elastic, and in live or six days become sour,
and afterwards putrefy.

The cow-tree appears to be peculiar to the littoral
Cordillera, and occurs most plentifully between Barbula
and tlie Lake of Maracaybo.

obsen-atinns " ■'^"^ong the many curious phenomena," says Hum-

ol Humboldt boldt, " which presented themselves to me in the course
of my travels, I confess there were few by which my
imagination was so powerfully affected as the cow-tree.
All that relates to milk and to the cereal plants inspires
us with an interest, which is not merely that of the
physical knowledge of things, but which connects itself
with another order of ideas and feelings. We can hardly
imagine how the human species could exist without fari-
naceous substances, and without the nutritious fluid
which the breast of the mother contains, and which is
ajipropriated to the condition of the feeble infant. The
amylaceous matter of the cereal plants — the object of
religious veneration among so many ancient and modern
nations — is distril)uted in the seeds, and deposited in
the roots of vegetables ; while the milk which we use as ■
food appears exclusively the product of animal organi-
zation. Such are the impressions which we receive in


early childhood, and such is the source of the astonish- chap. XIV.

uicnt with which w-e are seized on first seeing the cow- c ~ —
TLr , p ~ . " surprise

tree. Magnificent forests, majestic nvers, and lofty excited by
mountains clad in perennial snows, are not the ohjects trc& °^"
which we here admire, A few drops of a vegetable
fluid impress us with an idea of the power and fecundity

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