Alexander von Humboldt.

The travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt online

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of the natives as a fall of meteoric stones would engage
that of the naturalists of Europe.

Their Indian guide was ignorant of the situation of
the alum, and they wandered lor eight or nine hours
among the rocks, which consisted of mica-slate passing
into clay-slate, traversed by veins of quartz, and con-
taining small beds of graphite. At length, descending
toward the northern coast of tlie peninsula, they found
the substance for which they were searching, in a
ravine of very difficult access. Here the mica-slate
suddenly changed into carburetted and shining clay-
slate, and the springs were impregnated with yellow
oxide of iron. The sides of the neighbouring cliffs were
covered with capillary crystals of sulphate of alumina,
and real beds, two inclies thick, of native alum, extended
in the clay-slate as far as the eye could reach. Tlie
formation appeared to be primitive, as it contained
c^'anite, rutile, and garnets.

Returning to Cumana, they made preparations for
their departure, and availing themselves of an American
vessel, laden at New Barcelona for Cuba, they set out
on the I6th November, and crossed for tlie third time
tlic Gulf of Cariaco. The night was cool and delicious,
and it was not witliout emotion that they saw for the
last time tiic disk of the moon illuminating the summits
of the cocoa-trees along t\i<i banks of the Manzanares.
Tlie lireeze was strong, and in less than six hours they
ancliored near tlie Morro of New Barcelona.

The continental part of the New World is divided
between three nations of European origin, of which one,


the most powerful, is of Germanic race, and the two chap.xx.
others belong to Latin Europe. The latter are more j. "7
numerous than the former ; the inliabitants of Spanish races. ''""
and Portuguese America constituting a population double
that of the regions possessed by the English. The
French, Dutch, and Danish possessions of the New
Continent are of small extent, and the Russian colonies
are as yet of little importance. The free Africans of
Hayti are the only other people possessed of territory Haytians.
excepting the native Indians. The British and Portu-
guese colonists have peopled only the coasts opposite tc
Europe ; but the Spaniards have passed over the Andes,
and made settlements in the most western provinces,
where alone they discovered traces of ancient civilisation.
In the eastern districts, the inhaliitants who fell into
the hands of the two former nations were wandering
tribes or hunters, while in the remoter parts the Spa-
niards found agricultural states and flourishing empires ;
and these circumstances have greatly influenced the
present condition of these countries. Among other
instances may be mentioned the almost total exclusion
of African slaves from the latter colonies, and the com-
fortable condition of the natives of American race, who
live by agriculture, and are governed hy European laws.

But with resjject to the political constitution and re- I'oiitical
lations of the provinces visited by the travellers, it is '-■^'^nges.
not expedient here to enter into the details which they
have given, more especially as those colonies have lately
undergone revolutions that have converted them into
independent states, the history of which would affbrd
materials for many volumes. The very interesting
sketch of the physical constitution of South America pre
sented by Humboldt must also be passed over, because in
the condensed form to which it would necessarily be
reduced, it could not atf'ord an adequate idea of the
subject. We must therefore, with our travellers, take
leave of Terra Firma, and accompany them on their
passage to Havannah.


Passage to Havannah, and Residence in Cuba.

Passage from New Barcelona to Havannah — Description of the
latter — Extent of Cuba— Geological Constitution — Veg-etation —
Climate — Pojjulation — Agriculture — Exports — Preparations for
joining Captain Baudin's Expedition — Journey to Batabano, and
Voyage to Trinidad de Cuba.

CIIAP.5XL Humboldt and his companion sailed from the Road of
Departiiie New Barcelona on the 24th November at nine in the
from Xew evening, and next day at noon reached the island of
Tortuga, remarkable for its lowness and want of vegeta-
tion. On the 2Gth there was a dead calm, and about
nine in the morning a fine halo formed round the sun,
while the temperature of the air fell three degrees.
The circle of this meteor, which was one degree in
breadth, displayed the most beautiful colours of the rain-
bow, while its interior and the whole vault of the sky
was azure without the least haze. The sea was covered
Marine with a Ijluish scum, wliich under the microscope appeared

"■to be formed of filaments, that seemed to be fragments
of fuel. On the 27t]i they passed near the island of
Orchila, composed of gneiss and covered with plants,
and toward sunset discovered the summits of the lloca
de Afuera, over which the clouds were accumulated.
Indications of stormy weather increased, the waves
rose, and waterspouts threatened. On the night of the
2d Deccml)er a curious optical phenomenon presented
itself. The full moon was very high. On its side,


forty-five minutes before its passage over the meridian, ciiap.xxi.
a great arc suddenly appeared, having the prismatic y,,,~]~,
colours, but of a gloomy aspect. It seemed higher than nomonon."''
tlie moon, had a breadth of nearly two degrees, and
remained stationary for several minutes ; after which it
gradually descended, and sank below the horizon. The
sailors were filled with astonishment at this moving
arch, which they supposed to announce wind. Next
night M. Bonpland and several passengers saw, at the
distance of a quarter of a mile, a small Hame, which ran
on the surface of the sea towards the south-west, and
illuminated the atmosphere. On the 4th and 6th they
encountered rough weather, with heavy rain accompanied
by thunder, and were in considerable danger on the bank
of Vibora. At length, on the 19th, they anchored in
the port of Havannah, after a boisterous passage of
twenty -five days.

Cuba is the largest of the West India Islands, and on cnba.
account of its great fertility, its naval establishments,
the nature of its population, — of which three-fifths are
composed of free men, — and its geographical position, is
of great political importance. Of all the Spanish colonies
it is that which has most prospered ; insomuch, that not
only has its revenue sufficed for its own wants, but
during the struggle between the mother-country and her
continental provinces, it furnished considerable sums to
the former.

The appearance which Havannah presents at the Havannah.
entrance of the port is exceedingly beautiful and pic-
turesque. The opening is only about 426 yards wide,
defended by fortifications ; after which a basin, upwards
of two miles in its greatest diameter, and communicating
with three creeks, expands to the view. The city is
built on a promontory, bounded on the north by the fort
of La Punta, and on the south by the arsenals. On the
western side it is protected by two castles, placed at the
distance of 1407 and 2643 yards from, the walls, the in-
termediate space being occupied by the suburbs. The
public edifices are less remarkable for their beauty than




Palma reul.



for the solidity of their construction, and the streets are
in general narrow and unpaved, in consequence of which
they are extremely dirty and disagreeable. But there
are* two fine public walks to which the inhabitants

Although the town of Havannah, properl}^ so called,
is only 1918 yards long and 1060 broad, it contained in
1,S27 a population of 39,980 within the walls, and 54,043
in the suburbs. These were divided as follow : —

Wliitcs,., 46,621

Free Pardos or flliilattoes, ({,215 ) „„ ./.£,

Free Blacks 15.347 j" •■-^'^''-

Pardos or Mulatto Slaves, 1,01(1) o-iuu\

Black Slaves, 22,830 j •■ "'''"•*"

There are two hospitals in the town, the number of
sick admitted into which is considerable. Owing to the
heat of tlie climate, the filth of the town, and the in-
fluence of the shore, there is usually a great accumula-
tion of disease, and the yellow fever or black vomiting
is prevalent. The markets are well supplied.

A peculiar character is given to the landscape in the
vicinity of Havannah by the palma real {Oreodoxa rec/ia),
tlie trunk of which, enlarged a little towards the middle,
attains a height varying from 60 to 85 feet, and is
crowned by pinnated leaves rising perpendicularly, and
curved at the point. Numerous country-houses of light
and elegant construction surround the bay, to which the
proprietors retreat when the yellow fever rages in the

The island of Cuba is nearly as large as Portugal ; its
greatest length being 784 miles, and its mean breadth
61;^ miles. More than four-fifths of its extent is com-
posed of low lands ; but it is traversed in various
directions by ranges of mountains, the highest of which
are said to attain an altitude of 7674 feet. The western
[lart consists of granite, gneiss, and primitive slates ;
which, as well as the central district, contains two
formations of compact limestone, one of argillaceous


sandstone, and another of gypsum. Tlie first of these cilAP.Xxi
presents large caves near Matanzas and Jarucu, and is _ —
filled with numerous species of fossils. The secondary
foiinations to the east of the Ilavannah are pierced by
syenitic and euphotide rocks, accompanied with serpen-
tine. No volcanic eruptions, properly so called, have
hitherto been discovered.

Owing to the cavernous structure of tlie limestone Limestone,
deposites, the great inclination of their strata, the small
breadth of the island, and the frequency and nakedness
of the plains, there are very few rivers of any magnitude,
and a large portion of the territory is subject to severe
droughts. Yet the undulating surface of the country,
the continually renewed verdure, and the distribution of
vegetable forms, give rise to the most varied and beautiful
landscapes. The hills and savannahs are decorated by
palms of several species, trees of other families, and
shrubs constantly covered with flowers. Wild orange-
trees ten or fifteen feet in height, and bearing a small
fruit, are common, and probably existed before the in-
troduction of the cultivated variety by Europeans. A
species of pine (^Piniis occidentalis) occurs here and in
San Domingo, but has not been seen in any of the other
West India Islands.

The climate of Havannah, although tropical, is marked Climate,
by an unequal distribution of heat at different jjcriods
of the year, indicating a transition to the climates of the
temperate zone. The mean temperature is 78'3°, but in
tlie interior only 73'4°. The hottest months, July and
August, do not give a greater average than 83-8°, and
the coldest, December and January, present the mean
of 69'8°. In summer the thermometer does not rise
above 82° or 86°, and its depression in winter so low as
50° or 53'5° is rare. When the north wind blows several
weeks, ice is sometimes formed at night at a little dis-
tance from the coast, at an inconsiderable elevation above
the sea. Yet the great lowerings of temperature which
occasionally take place are of so short duration, that
the palm-trees, bananas, or the sugar-cane, do not suffer




CHAP. XXL from them. Snow never falls, and hail so rarely that
it is only ohscrvcd during thunder-storms, and with
blasts from the S.S.W. once in fifteen or twenty years.
The changes however are very rapid, and the inhabitants
complain of cold when the thermometer falls quickly to
70^. Hurricanes are of much less frequent occurrence
in Cuba than in the other West India Islands.

According to the census of 1827 the population of the
whole island amounted to 704,487, or, adding the
military and seamen (26,075), to 730,562. Of these
311,051 were whites, 106,494 free coloured men, and
286,942 slaves. The original inhabitants have entirely
disappeared, as in all the other West India Islands.
Intellectual cultivation is almost entirely restricted to
the whites ; and although in Havannah the first society
is not perceptibly inferior to that of the richest commer-
cial cities in Europe, a rudeness of manners prevails in
tlie small towns and plantations.

The common cereal grasses are cultivated in Cuba,
together with the tropical productions peculiar to these
countries ; but the principal exports consist of tobacco,
coffee, sugar, and wax. The sugar-cane is planted in
the rainy season, from July to October, and cut from
February to May. The rapid diminution of wood in
the island has caused the want of fuel to be felt in the
manufacture of sugar, and Humboldt, during his stay,
attempted several new constructions, with the view of
diminisliing the expenditure of it.*

Tlie tobacco of Cuba is celebrated in every part of
Europe. The districts which produce the most aro-
matic kind are situated to the west of the Havannah, in
the Vuelta de Abajo ; but that grown to the east of the


• By the Custom-lionse returns, 1 5fi, 1 r)fi,924 lbs. of sug^r were
exported from Cuba in lii27; and if the cjiiantity smuggled be
estiiii;ited at one-fourth more, the total amount would be nearly
2U().()0U,0U0 lbs. In the .'iame year the exportation of coffee
amounted to upwards of 50,000,000 Ihs., but it has since fallen off
considerably — See MaccuUoclis Diet, of Commerce, art. Ha-



capital on the banks of the Mayari, in the province of chap, \\ i
Santiago, at Himias, and in other places, is also of p ,~7~
excellent quality. In 1827 the produce was ahout
113,212 cwts., of which 17,888 were exported. The
value of this commodity shipped in 1828 was £145,045,
and in 1829, £195,588. Cotton and indigo, althougli
cultivated, are not to any extent made articles of

Towards the end of February the travellers, having Proposed
finished the observations which they had proposed to 'i''P'""ture.
make, were on the point of sailing to Vera Cruz ; but
intelligence, communicated by means of the pu])lic
papers, respecting Captain Baudin's expedition, led them
to relinquish the project of crossing Mexico in order to
proceed to the Philippine Islands. It had been an- Captain
nounced that two French vessels, the Geographe and the exneui'tjon
Naturaliste, had sailed for Cape Horn, and that they
were to go along the coast of Chili and Peru, and from
thence to New Holland. Humboldt had promised to
join them wherever he could reach the sliips, and !M,
Bonpland resolved to divide their plants into three
portions, one of which was sent to Germany by way of
England, another to France by Cadiz, and the third left
in Cuba. Their friend Fray Juan Gonzales, an estim-
able young man, who had followed them to the Ha-
vannah, on his way to Spain, carried part of their
collections with him, including the insects found on
the Orinoco and Rio Negro ; but the vessel in which
he embarked foundered in a storm on the coast of
Africa. General Don Gonzalo O'Farrill being then in Pecuniaiy
Prussia as minister of the Spanish court, Humboldt was ^upi'i-es.
enabled, through the agency of Don Ygnacio, the gene-
ral's brother, to procure a supply of money ; and having
made all the necessary preparations for the new enter-
prise, freighted a Catalonian sloop for Porto Dello, or
Carthagena, according as the weather should perniil.

On tlie 6th March the travellers, finding tliat tiie
vessel was ready to receive them, set out for Batabano,
where they arrived on the 8th. This is a poor village




l':i.>sof Don
L listoval.

CHAP. XXI. surrounded by marshes, covered with rushes and plants
idCikiiTo. ^^' the Iris family, among which appear here and there
a few stunted palms. The marslies are infested by two
species of crocodile, one of which has an elongated snout,
and is very ferocious. The hack is dark-green, the
belly white, and the flanks are covered with yellow

On the 0th of March our travellers again set sail in a
small sloop, and proceeded through the gulf of Bata-
bano, which is bounded by a low and swampy coast.
Humboldt employed himself in examining the influence
which the bottom of the sea produces on the temperature
of its surface, and in determining the position of some
remarkable islands. The water of the gulf was so
shallow, that the sloop often struck ; but the ground
being soft and the weather calm, no damage was sus-
tained. At sunset they anchored near the pass of Don
Cristoval, which was entirely desei-tod, although in the
time of Columbus it was possessed by fishermen. The
inliabitants of Cuba then employed a singular method
for procuring turtles ; they fastened a long cord to the
tail of a species of ecJiineis or sticking-fish, which has a
flat disk with a sucking apparatus on its head. By
means of this it stuck to the turtle, and was pulled
ashore carrying the latter with it. Tlie same artifice is
resorted to by the natives of certain parts of the African

They were three days on tlieir passage through the
Archipelago of the Jardincs and Jardinillos, small
islands and shoals partly covered with vegetation ;
remaining at anchor during the night, and in the day
visiting those which wore of most easy access. The
rocks were found to be fragmentary, consisting of jiieces
of coral, cemented by carbonate of lime, and interspersed
with quaitzy sand. On the Cayo Bonito, where they
first landed, they o])servcd a layer of sand and broken
gjiells five or six inches thick, covering a formation of
madrepore. It was shaded by a forest of rhizophorae,
intermiyed with euphorbiie, grasses, and other plants,

of the Jar-


together with the magnificent Tournf/ortiagnnphaHoi(li;s, CHAP. XXI.
with silvery leiives and odoriferous flowers. The sailors j,^.,; ~~
had been searching for langoustes ; but not fmdin;,' anv,
avenged themselves on the young pelicans perched on
the trees. The old birds hovered around, uttering
hoarse and plaintive cries, and the young defended
themselves with vigour, although in vain ; for the
sailors, armed with sticks and cutlasses, made cruel
havoc among them. " On our arrival," says Humboldt,
" a profound calm prevailed on this little spot of earth ;
but now every thing seemed to say, — Man has passed

On the morning of the 11th they visited the Cayo Cayo
Flamenco, the centre of which is depressed, and only 15 ^'^'"6"<^°-
inches above the surface of the sea. The water was
brackish, while in other cayos it is quite fresh, — a
circumstance difficult to be accounted for in small
islands scarcely elevated above tlie ocean, unless the
springs be supposed to come from the neighbouring
coast by means of hydrostatic pressure. Humboldt was
informed by Don Francisco le Maur, that in the bay of
Xagua, to the oast of the Jardinillos, fresh water gushes
up in several places from the bottom with t>uch force as
to prove dangerous for small canoes. Vessels sometimes
take in supplies from them ; and the lamantins, or
fresh-water cetacea, abound in the neighbourhood.

To tlie east of Cape Flamenco they passed close to the Cayo de
Piedras de Diego Perez, and in the evening landed at '^ ^^
Cayo de Piedras, two rocks forming the eastern extre-
mity of the Jardinillos, on which many vessels are lost.
They are nearly destitute of shrubs, the shipwrecked
crews having cut them down to make signals. Next
day, turning round the passage between tlie northern
cape of the cayo and the island of Cuba, they entered a
sea free from breakers, and of a dark-blue colour ;
the increase of temperature in which indicated a great
augmentation of depth. The thermometer was at
79-2° ; whereas in the shoal- water of the Jardinillos it
had been sctm as low as 72-7°, the f'i'- beinir from 77° to


CHAP. XXI. 80-6° (luring the day. Passing in succession the marshy
Kio Guaiir ^^^^ ^^ Camarcos, the entrance of the Bahia de Xagua,
•bo. and the mouth of the Rio San Juan, along a naked and

desert coast, they entered on the 14th the Rio Guaurabo
to land their pilot. Disembarking in the evening, they
made preparations for observing the passage of certain
stars over the meridian, but were interrupted by some
merchants that had dined on board a foreign ship newly
arrived, and who invited the strangers to accompany
them to the town ; which they did, mounted two and
two on the same horse. The road to Trinidad is nearly
five miles in length, over a level plain covered with a
beautiful vegetation, to which the Miraguama palm, a
species of corypha, gave a peculiar character. The
houses are situated on a steep declivity, about 746 feet
above the level of the sea, and command a magnificent
view of the ocean, the two ports, a forest of palms, and
Keception hy the mountains of San Juan. The travellers were
received with the kindest hospitality by the administrator
of the Real Hacienda, M. Munoz, The Teniente
Governador, wlio was nephew to the celebrated astro-
nomer Don Antonio Ulloa, gave them a grand entertain-
ment, at which they met with some French emigrants
of San Domingo, The evening was passed very agree-
ably in the house of one of the richest inhabitants, Don
Antonio Padron, where they found assembled all the
select company of the place. Their departure was very
unlike their entrance ; for the municipality caused them
to be conducted to the mouth of the Rio Guaurabo in a
splendid carriage, and an ecclesiastic dressed in velvet
celebrated in a sonnet their voyage up the Orinoco.
Population of The population of Trinidad, with the surrounding
Trinidad farms, was stated to be 19,000. It has two ports at the
distance of about ^.our miles, Puerto Casilda and Puerto
Guaurabo. On their return to the latter of these the
travellers were much struck by the prodigious number
of phosphorescent insects which illuminated the grass
rnd foliage. Tlicse insects {Elate)' noctilucus) are
occasionally used for a lamp being placed in a calabash


perforated with holes ; and a young woman at Trinidad chap. xxi.
informed them that, during a long passage from tliCsing^^^
mainland, she always had recourse to this light when 'amp-
she gave her child the breast at night, the captain not
allowing any other on board for fear of pirates.




trom Trini

Voyage from Cuba to Carthagena.

Passage from Trinidad of Cuba to Carthagena— Description of the
latter — Village of Turbaco — Air-volcanoes— Preparations for
ascending the Rio Magdalena.

CHAP.xxii. Leaving the island of Cuba the travellers proceeded in
a S.S.E. direction, and on the morning of the 17th
approached the group of the Little Caymans, in the
neighbourhood of which they saw numerous turtles of
extraordinary size, accompanied by multitudes of sharks.
Passing a second time over the great bank of Vibora,
they remarked that the colour of the troubled waters
upon it was of a dirty gray, and made observations on
the changes of temperature at the surface, produced by
the varying depth of the sea. On quitting this shoal
they sailed between the Baxo Nueva and the lighthouse
of Camboy. The weather was n markably fine, and the
surface of the bay was of an indigo-blue or violet tint,
on account of the medusa; which covered it. Haloes of
small dimensions appeared round the moon. The dis-
appearance of one of them was followed by the forma-
tion of a great black cloud, which emitted some drops of
rain ; but the sky soon resumed its serenity, and a long
series of falling-stars and fire-balls were seen moving in
a direction contrary to the wind in the lower regions of
the atmosphere, which blew from the north. During
tlie whole of the 23d March not a single cloud was seen
In the firmament, although the air and the horizon were



tinged with a fine red colour; hut towards evening CHAP.XXli.

large bluish clouds formed, and when they disappeared, Atmosplievic

converging bands of fleecy vapours were seen at an aUangea.

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