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and another, a male, was more than 23. This species is
not a cayman or alligator, but a real crocodile, with feet
dentated on the outer edge like that of the Nile. The
Indians informed them, that scarcely a year passes at sinfrniar
San Fernando without two or three persons being escape from
drowned by them, and related the history of a young
girl of Urituco, who, by singular presence of mind,
made her escape from one. Finding herself seized and
carried into the water, she felt for the eyes of the ani-
mal, and thrust her fingers into them ; when the
crocodile let her loose, after biting off^ the lower part of
her left arm. Notwithstanding the quantity of blood
which she lost, she was still able to reach the shore by
swimming with the right hand. Mungo Park's guide,
Isaaco, effected his preservation from a crocodile by em-
ploying the same means. The motions of these animals
are abrupt and rapid when they attack an oljject,
although they move very slowly when not excited. In
running they make a rustling noise, which seems to



Cano dc h

CHAP. XYI. proceed from their scales, and appear higher on their
— legs than when at rest, at the same time bending the

the crocoiiue, back. They generally advance in a straight line, but
can easily turn when they please. They swim with
great facility, even against the most rapid current. On
the Apurc they seemed to live chiefly on the chiguires
(Cavia capyhara), which feed in herds on the banks, and
are of the size of our pigs. These creatures have no
weapons for defence, and are alternately the prey of the
jaguars on land and of the crocodiles in the water.

Stopping below the mouth of the Cano de la Tigrera,
m a sinuosity called La Vuelta del Joval, they measured
the velocity of the current at its surface, which was
only 3*4 feet in a second. Here they were surrounded
by chiguires, swimming like dogs, with the head and
neck out of the water. A large crocodile, which was
sleeping on the shore in the midst of a troop of these
animals, awoke at the approach of the canoe, and moved
slowly into the stream without frightening the others.
Near the Joval every thing assumed a wild and awful
aspect. Here they saw an enormous jaguar stretched
beneath the shade of a large zamang or mimosa. It had
just killed a chiguire, which it held with one of its paws,
while the zamuro-vultures were assembled in flocks
around it. It was curious to observe the mixture of
boldness and timidity which these birds exhibited, for
although they advanced within two feet of the tiger,
they instantly shrunk back at the least motion which
he made. In order to examine more nearly their man-
ners, the travellers went into the little boat ; when the
tyrant of tlie ibrest withdrev/ behind the saus^o-hushes,
leaving his victim, which the vultures in the mean time
attempted to devour, but were soon put to flight by his
rushing into the midst of them.*



* In tlie province of Tnciiman the common mode of killinj^ the
jajjiiar is to trace liini to liis lair, by tlie wool left on the bushes, if
he has carried ofi' a sheeii, or by means of a doj;- trained for the pur-
pose. On findinj; the eniMiiy the i;aucho puts himself into a position
lor recciviii)^ him on the pomt of a bayonet or spear, at the first


Continuing to descend the river, they met with a CHAP. xvr.
great herd of chiguires that the tiger had dispersed, and Herdo7
from which he had selected his prey. These animals chigmres.
seemed not to be afraid of men, for they saw the travel-
lers land without agitation, but the sight of a dog put
them to flight. They ran so slowly that the people
succeeded in catching two of them. It is the largest ot
the Glires or gnawing animals. Its flesh has a disagree-
able smell of musk, although hams are made of it in the
country, which are eaten during Lent ; as this quadru-
ped, according to ecclesiastical zoology, is esteemed a

The travellers passed the night as usual in the open jaguar-
air, although in a plantation, the proprietor of which, a ''"^'ter.
jaguar-hunter, half-naked and as brown as a Zambo,
prided himself on being of the European race, and called
his wife and daughter, who were as slightly clothed as
himself. Donna Isabella and Donna Manuela. Hum-
boldt had brought a chiguire ; but his host assured him
such food was not fit for white gentlemen like them, at Hospitality.
the same time offering him venison. As this aspiring
personage had neither house nor hut, he invited the
strangers to sling their hammocks near his own, between
two trees ; which they accordingly did. They soon

spring which he makes, and thus waits until the dog's drive him out ;
an exploit which he performs with such coolness and dexterity that
there is scarcely an instance of failure. '• In a recent instance, re-
lated hy our capitaz, the business was not so quickly completed.
The animal lay stretched at full length on the ground, like a gorged
cat. Instead of showing anger and attacking his enemies with fury,
he was playful, and disposed rather to parley with the dogs with
g-ood humour than to take their attack in sober earnestness. He
was now fired upon, and a ball lodged in his shoulder; on which he
sprung so quickly on his watching assailant, that he not only buried
the baj'onet in his body, but tumbled over the capitaz who held it.
and thev floundered on the ground together, t!ie man being com-
pletely in his clutches. ' I thought,' said the brave fellow, ' I was
no longer a capitaz, while I held my arm up to protect my throat,
which the animal seemed in the act of seizing; but when I expected
to feel his fangs in my flesh, the green fire of his eyes, which blazed
upon me, flashed out in a moment. He fell on me, and expired at
the very instant I thought myself lost for ever.'" — Captain Ah-
lirews^ 'I ravels in South America, vol. L p. 219.





Scenery of
the Ap'iire.

CHAP. XVI. found reason, however, to regret that they had not ob-
tained better shelter ; for after midnight a thunder-storm
came on, which wetted tliem to the skin. Donna Isa-
bella's cat had perched on one of the trees, and fell into
a cot, tlie inmate of which imagined he was attacked by
some wild beast, and could hardly be quieted.

At sunrise the lodgers took leave of Don Ignacio and
his lady, and proceeded on their voyage. The weather
was a little cooler, tlie thermometer having fallen from
86° to 75*^ ; but the temperature of the river continued
at 79° or 80°. One might imagine that on smooth
ground, where no eminence can be distinguished, the
stream would have hollowed out an even bed for itself ;
but this is by no means the case ; the two banks not
opposing equal resistance to the water. Below the
Joval the mass of the current is a little wider, and
forms a perfectly straight channel, margined on either
side by lofty trees. It was here about 290 yards broad.
They passed a low island densely covered by flamingoes,
roseate spoonbills, herons, and water-hens, which pre-
sented a most divei-sified mixture of colours. On the
right bank they found a little Indian mission, consisting
of sixteen huts constructed of palm-leaves, and inhabited
by a tribe of the Guamoes. These Christians were
unable to furnish them with the provisions which they
wanted, Imt hospitably offered them dried fish and
water. The night was spent on a bare and very exten-
sive beach. The forest being impenetrable, they had
great difficulty in obtaining dry wood to light fires for
the purpose of keeping off the wild beasts. But the
night was calm, witli beautiful moonlight. Finding no
tree on the banks, they stuck their oars in the sand,
and suspended their hammocks upon them. About
eleven there arose in the wood so terrific a noise that it
was imjjossible to sleep. The Indians distinguished the
cries of sapajous, alouates, jaguars, cougars, pecaris,
Bloths, curassows, parraquas, and other gallinaceous
birds. When the tigers approached the edge of the
forest, a dog which the travellers had, began to howl

Bivouac on
the shore.


and seek refuge under their cots. Sometimes, after chap, xvl
a long silence, the cry of the ferocious animals came —
from the tops of the trees, when it was followed by the
sharp and long whistling of the monkeys. Humboldt
supposes the noise thus made by the inhabitants of the
thicket, at certain hours of the niglit, to be the effect of
some contest that has arisen among tliem.

On the 2d April they set sail Ijefore sunrise. The porpobci.
river was ploughed by porpoises, and the shore crowded
with aquatic birds ; while some of the latter, perched
on the floating timber, were endeavourmg to surprise
the fish that preferred the middle of the stream. The
navigation is rather dangerous, on account of the large
trees which remain obliquely fixed in the mud, and the
canoe touched several times. Near the island of Cari-
zales they saw enormous trunks covered with plotuses
or darters, and below it observed a diminution of the
waters of the river, owing to infiltration and evaporation.
Ts^ear the Vuelta de Basilio, where they landed to gather Black
plants, they saw on a tree two beautiful jet-black mon- nioni^es.
keys of an unknown species, and also a nest of iguanas,
which was pointed out by the Indians. The flesh of
this lizard is very white, and, next to that of the arma-
dillo, is the best food to be found in the huts of tJie
natives. Towards evening it rained, and swallows were
seen skimming along the water. They also saw a flock
of parrots pursued by hawks. The night was passed on
the beach.

On the 3d they proceeded down the river in their caribefish
solitary course. The sailors caught the fish known in
the country by the name of caribe ; which, although
only four or five inches in length, attacks persons who
go into the water, and with its sharp triangular teeth
often tears considerable portions of flesh from their legs.
When pieces of meat are cast into the river, clouds ot
these little fishes appear in a few minutes. There are
three varieties in the Orinoco ; one of which seems to
be the Salnia rhombeus of Linnajus. At noon they
stopped in a desert spot called Algodonal, when Hum-



Group of

Escape fiom
a jagiur.

CHAP XVI. hoklt left his companions and went along the beach to
observe a group of crocodiles sleeping in the sun. Some
little herons of a white colour were walking along iJieir
backs, and even on their heads. As lie was proceeding,
his eyes directed towards the river, he discovered recent
footmarks of a beast of prey, and turning toward the
forest, found himself within eighty steps of an enor-
mously large jaguar. Although extremely frightened,
he vet retained sufficient command of himself to follow
the advice which the Indians had so often given, and
continued to walk without moving his arms, making a
large circuit toward the edge of the water. As the
distance increased he accelerated his pace, and at length,
judging it safe to look about, did so, and saw the tiger
in the same spot. Arriving at the boat out of breath,
he related his adventure to the natives, who seemed to
think it nothing extraordinary. In the evening they
passed the mouth of the Cano del Manati, so named on
account of the vast numljer of manatees caught there.
This aquatic hcrluvorous animal generally attains the
length of ten or twelve feet, and abounds in the Orinoco
below the cataracts, the Rio Meta, and the Apure. The
flesh, although very savoury and resembling pork, is
considered unwholesome ; but it is in request during
Lent, being classed by the monks among fishes. The
fat is used for lamps in the churches, as well as for
cooking ; while the hide is cut into slips to supply the
place of cordage. Whips are also made of it in the
Spanish colonies for the castigation of negroes and other
slaves. The fires lighted by the boatmen on the shore
attracted the crocodiles and dolphins. Two persons
kept watch during the night. A jaguar with her cub
approached the encampment, but was driven away by
the attendants ; and soon after the dog was bitten in
the nose by a large bat or vampire.

On the 4th they intended to pass the night at Vuelta
del Palmito ; liut as the Indians were going to sling the
hammocks, they found two tigers concealed behind a
tree, and it was judged safer to re-embark and sleep on




the island of Apurito. Multitudes of gnats made their ciiAi'
appearance regularly at sunset, and covered their faces onatl"
and hands. On the 5tli they were much struck by the
diminution the waters of the Apure had undergone,
which they attributed chiefly to al)sorption by the sand
and evaporation. It was only from 128 to 170 yards
broad, and about twenty feet deep. Humboldt estiriiates
the mean fall of this river at 14 inches in a mile. The
canoe touched several times on shoals as they approached
the point of junction, and it became necessary to tow it
by means of a line.


Voyage up the Orinoco.

Ascent of the Orinoco — Port of Encaramada — Traditions of a Uni-
versal Deluge — Gatherint^ of Turtles' Eg^s — Two Species de-
scribed — Mode of collectinff the Eg-gs and of manufacturing the
Oil — Probable Number of these Animals on the Orinoco — Deco-
rations of the Indians — Encampment of Pararuma — Height of
the Inundations of the Orinoco — Rapids of Tabage.

c^APJC^^I. Leaving the Rio Apure the travellers entered the
Tiie Orinoco. Orinoco, and presently found themselves in a country
of an entirely different aspect. As far as the eye could
reach there lay hefore them a sheet of water, the waves
of which, from the conflict of the breeze and the current,
rose to the height of several feet. The long files of
herons, flamingoes, and spoonbills, which were observed
on the Apure, had disappeared ; and all that supplied
the place of those multitudes of animated beings by
whom they had been lately accompanied, was here and
there a crocodile swimming in the agitated stream. The
horizon was bounded by a girdle of forests, separated
from the river by a broad beach, the bare and parched
surface of which refracted the solar rays into the sem-
blance of pools,
Pnnta The wind was favourable for sailing up the Orinoco ;

un'iujin ijy^ ^]^p siiQ^t broken waves at the junction of the two
rivers were exceedingly disagreeable. They passed the
Punta Curiquima, a granitic promontory, between which
and the mouth of the Apure the breadtli of the stream
was ascertained to bo 4063 yards, and in the rainy
season it extendB to 11,7U0. The temperature of the
water was ia the middle of the cuiTent 82-9% and near


the shores, 84-6°. They first went up toward the south- cuap.xvil

west as far as the shore of the Guaricoto Indians on the t- — ,

left bank, and then toward the south. The mountains

of Encaramada, forming a continued chain from west to

east, seemed to rise from the water as distant land rises

on the horizon at sea. The beach was composed of clay

intermixed with scales of mica, deposited in very thin

strata. At tlie j^ort of Encaramada, where they stopped

for some time, they met with a Carib cacique going up

the river in his canoe to gather turtles' eggs. He was q^^^

armed with a bow and arrows, as were his attendants, intiiana.

and, like them, he Avas naked and painted red. These

Indians were tall and athletic, and, with their hair cut

straight across the forehead, their eyebrows painted

black, and their gloomy hut animated countenances, had

a singular appearance. The travellers were surprised to

find that the anterior portion of the cranium is not so

depressed as those of the Caribs are usually represented

to be. The women carried their infants on their backs.

The shore is here formed by a rock forty or fifty feet

high, composed of blocks of granite piled upon each

other ; the surface of which was of a dark-gray colour,

although the mterior was reddish-white. The night

was passed in a creek opposite the mouth of the Rio

Cabullare. The evening was beautiful, with moonlight ;

but towards twelve the north-east wind blew so violently

that they became apprehensive for the safety of their


On the 6th, continuing to ascend, they saw the,
southern side of the mountains of Encaramada, which tradiuona
stretch along the right bank of the river, and are inha-
bited by Indians of a gentle character, and addicted to
agriculture. There is a tradition here, and elsewhere
on the Orinoco, among the natives, " That at the time
of the Great Waters, when their fathers were obliged to
betake themselves to their canoes in order to escape the
general mundation, the waves of the sea beat upon the
rocks of Encaramada." When the Tamanacs are asked
how the human race survived this great deluge, they




T!ie deluge.


til clii<«ic

Interest of
f.ich ti'adi-

Their uiii-

say, " That a man and a woman saved themselves upon
a high mountain called Tamanacu, situated on the bank
of the Aseveru, and that, throwing behind them, over
their heads, the fruits of the ]\Iauritia palm, they saw
arising from the nuts of these fruits the men and women
who repeopled the earth." Thus among the natives of
America, a fable similar to that of Pyrrha and Deucalion
commemorates the grand catastrophe of a general inun-
dation. IIuml)oldt, in reference to the same event,
mentions that hieroglyphic figures are often found along
the Orinoco sculptured on rocks now inaccessible but by
scaffolding, and that the natives, when asked how these
fii,'ures could have been made, answer with a smile, as
relating a fact of which a stranger only could be ignorant,
" That at the period of the Great Waters their fathers
went to that height in boats."

" These ancient traditions of the human race," says
Huml)oldt, " which we find dispersed over the surface
of the globe, like the fragments of a vast shipwreck, are
of the greatest interest in the philosophical study of our
species. Like certain families of plants, which, not-
withstanding the diversity of climates and the influence
of heights, retain the impress of a common type, the
traditions respecting the primitive state of the globe
present amcna; all nations a resemblance that fills us
with astonishment ; so many different languages, be-
longing to branches which aj^pear to have no connexion
with each other, transmit the same facts to us. The
substance of the traditions respecting the destroyed races
and the renovation of nature is every where almost the
same, although each nation gives it a local colouring. In
the great continents, as in the smallest islands of the Pa-
cific Ocean, it is always on the highest and nearest moun-
tain that the remains of the human race were saved ; and
this event appears so much the more recent the more un-
cultivated tlie nations are, and the shorter the period since
they liave begun to acquire a knowledge of themselves.
When we attentively examine the Mexican monuments
anterior to the discovery of America, — penetrate into


the forests of the Orinoco, and hecome aware of the CUAP.XVll.

smallness of the European establishments, their solitude, c.,. .TT'„

r 1 -1 1-1 -1 Slicht influ-

and the state ot the tribes which retain their iiulepen- enceoftiie
dence, — we cannot allow ourselves to attribute the ""^^'lonancs.
agreement of these accounts to the influence of mission-
aries and to that of Christianity ujjon national traditions.
Nor is it more probable that the sight of marine bodies,
found on the summits of mountains, presented to the
tribes of the Orinoco the idea of those great inundations
which for some time extinguished the germs of organic
life upon the globe. — The country which extends I'rom
the right bank of the Orinoco to tlie Casiquiare and the
Rio Negro consists of primitive rocks. I saw there a
small dcposite of sandstone or conglomerate, but no
secondary limestone, and no trace of petrifactions."

At eleven in the morning the travellers landed on an Turtle egcv.
island celebrated for the turtle-fisliery, or the " harvest
of eggs," which takes place annually. Here tliey found
encamped more than 300 Indians of different races, each
tribe, distinguished by its peculiar mode of painting,
keeping separate from the rest, together witli a few
white men who had come to purchase egg-oil from them.
The missionary of Uruaiia, whose presence was neces- xjruana
sary to procure a supply for the lamp of the church and missionaiies.
keep the natives in order, received the strangers with
kindness, and made the tour of the island with them ;
showing them, by means of a pole which he thrust into
tlie sand, tlie extent of the stratum of eggs that had
been deposited wherever there were no eminences. The
Indians asserted, that in coming up the Orinoco, from
its mouth to tlie junction of the Apure, there is no place
where eggs can be collected in abundance ; and the only
three spots where the turtles assemble annually in great
numbers are situated between the mouth of the Apure
and the great cataracts. These animals do not seem to
pass beyond the falls, the species found above Ature*
and Maypures being different.

The arrau or tortuga, which deposites the eggs that are Fresh-water
so much valued on the Lower Orinoco, is a large fresh- tortoise.


ciiAPXViL water tortoise, •with webbed feet, a very flat licad, &
deep groove between the e^es, and an upper shell com-
posed of five central, eight lateral, and twenty-four
marginal scutella or plates. The colour is dark-gray
above and orange beneath. When of full size it weighs
from forty to fifty pounds. The eggs are much larger
than those of a pigeon, and are covered with a calcareous
nic terckav '^^^^ terekay, the species which occurs above the
cataracts, is much smaller. It has the same number of
dorsal plates, but the colour is olive-green, with two
spots of red mixed with yellow on the toj) of the head,
and a prickly appendage under the chin. The eggs
have an agreeable taste, and are much sought after, but
are not deposited in masses like those of the tortuga.
This variety is found below the cataracts as well as in
the Aj)ure, the Urituco, the Guarico, and the small
rivers of the Llanos of Caraccas.
PcposiUon of The period at which the arrau deposites its eggs is when
egss- the river is lowest. About the beginning of February

these creatures issue from the water and warm them-
selves on the beach, remaining there a great part of the
day. Early in the month of Marcli they assemble on
the islands where they breed, when thousands are to b*
seen ranged in files along the shores. Tlie Indians place
Season of sentinels at certain distances, to prevent them from being
incubation, disturbed, and tlie people who pass in boats are told to
keep in the middle of the river. The laying of tlie eggs
begins soon after sunset, and is continued throughout the
niglit. The animal digs a hole three feet in diameter
and two in depth, with its hind feet, which are very
long and furnislied with crooked claws. So pressing is
the desire whicli it feels to get rid of its burden, that
great confusion prevails, and an immense number of
eggs is broken. Some of tlie tortoises are surprised by
day before tiiey have finished the operation, and, be-
coming insensible to danger, continue to work with the
greatest diliirencc even in the presence of the fishers.
TJie Indians assemble about the beginning of April,


and commence operations under the direction of tlie CHAP.xvir.
missionaries, who divide tlie egg-ground into portions. narv~T
The leading person among them first examines, by eggs.
means of a long pole or cane, how far the bed extends
and then allots the shares. The natives remove the
earth with their hands, gather up the eggs, and carry
them in baskets to the camp, where they throw them
into long wooden troughs filled with water. They are
next broken and stirred, and remain exposed to tlie sun,
until the yoke, which swims at the surface, has time to
inspissate, when it is taken off and boiled. The oil thus Mode of
obtained is limpid and destitute of smell, and is used for w-ikingoii.
lamps as well as for cooking. Tlie shores of the missions
of Uruana furnish 1000 botijas or jars annually, and

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 15 of 35)