Alexander von Humboldt.

The travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt online

. (page 22 of 35)
Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 22 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

immense height. On the 24tli they entered the kind of

gulf bounded by the shores of Santa Martha and Costa

Rica, which is frequently agitated by heavy gales. As

they advanced toward the coast of Daricn, the north-east

wind increased to a violent degree, and the waves became

very rough at night. At sunrise they perceived part of

the archipelago of St Bernard, and passing the southern

extremity of the Placa de San Bernardo, saw in the

distance the mountains of Tigua. The stormy weather

and contrary winds induced the master of the vessel to

seek shelter in the Rio Sinu, after a passage of sixteen


Landing again on the continent of South America, ViilaRe of
they betook themselves to the village of Zapote, where '■^^vo^^
they found a great number of sailors, all men of colour,
who had descended the Rio Sinu in their barks, carry-
ing maize, bananas, poultry, and other articles, to the
port of Carthagena. The boats are flat-bottomed, and
the wind having blown violently on the coast for ten
days, they were unable to proceed on their voyage.
These people fatigued the travellers with idle questions
about their books and instruments, and tried to frighten
them with stories of boas, vipers, and jaguars. Leaving Forest-trees
the shores, which are covered with Rhizophorce, they
entered a forest remarkable for the great variety of
palm-trees which it presented. One of them, the JEleis
melariococca, is only six feet four inches high, but its
spathie contain more than 200,000 flowers, a single
specimen fuinishing 600,000 at the same time. The
kernels of the fruit are peeled in water, and the layer of
oil that rises from them, after being purified by boiling,
yields the manteca de corozo, which is used for lighting
churches and houses.

After an hour's walk they found several inhabitants nilm-wice
collecting palm-wine. The tree which affords this
liquid is the Palma dolce or Corns hutyracea. The


CHAP.xxii trunk, whicli diminishes but little towards the summit,
ModeTf is first cut down, when an excavation eighteen inches
obtaining it long, eight broad, and six in depth, is made below the
place at which the leaves and spathiE come off. After
throe days the cavity is found filled with a yellowish-
white juice, having a sweet and vinous flavour, which
continues to flow eighteen or twenty days. The last
Degrees of that comes is less sweet, but having a greater quantity
•trengtiL ^^ alcohol, it is moi"e highly esteemed. On their way
back to tile shore they met with Zamboes, carrying on
their shoulders cylinders of palmetto three feet in length,
of which an excellent food is prepared. Night surprised
them ; and, having broken an oar in returning on board,
they found some difficulty in reaching the vessel.
Bie Sinu. Tlie Rio Sinu is of the highest importance for provi-

sioning Carthagena. The gold-washings, which were
formerly of great value, especially between its source
and the village of San Geronimo, have almost entirely
ceased, although the province of Antioquia still furnishes,
in its auriferous veins, a vast field for mining specula-
tions. It would, however, be of more importance to
direct attention to tlie cultivation of colonial produce in
these districts, especially that of cacao, which is of supe-
rior quality. The real febrifuge Cinchona also grows at
tlic source of tlie Rio Sinu, as well as in the mountains
of Abibe and Maria ; and the pi'oximity of the port of
Carthagena would enhance its value in the trade with
Eougli 6cfl. On the 27th March the sloop weighed anclior at sun-
rise. Tlie sea was less agitated, although the wind
blew as before. To the north was seen a succession of
small conical mountains, rising in the midst of savannahs,
where the balsam of Tohi, formerly so celebrated as a
medicament, is still gathered. On leaving the gulf of
IMorosquillo they finind the waves swelling so high,
that tlie captain was glad to seek for shelter, and lay to
on tlie north of the village of Rincon ; but discovering
that they were upon a coral rock, they preferred the
open water, and finally anchored near the isle of Arenas,


on the night of the 28th. Next day the gale hlew witli cnAP.xxii

great violence ; but they again proceeded, hoping to be DangcTat

able to reach the Boca Chica. The sea was so rough as sea.

to break over the deck, and while they were running

short tacks, a false manoeuvre in setting the sails

exposed them for some minutes to imminent danger.

It was Palm Sunday ; and a Zambo, who had followed

them to the Orinoco, and remained in their service until

they returned to France, did not fail to remind them,

that on the same day the preceding year they had

undergone a similar danger near the mission of Uruana.

After this they took refuge in a creek of the isle of


As there was to be an eclipse of the moon that night, Lnnar
and next day an occultation of a Virginis, Humboldt ecUpsc.
insisted that the captain should allow one of the sailors
to accompany him by land to the Boca Chica, the
distance being only six miles ; but the latter refused, on
account of the savage state of the country, in which there
was neither path nor habitation ; and an incident which
occurred justified his prudence. The travellers were
going ashore to gather plants by moonlight, when there
issued from the thicket a young negro loaded with Rnnaivay
fetters and armed with a cutlass. He urged them to °'^8ro.
disembark on a beach covered with large lihizophorce,
among which the sea did not break, and offered to
conduct them to the interior of the island of Baru it
they would give him some clothes ; but his cunning
and savage air, his repeated inquiries as to their being
Spaniards, and the unintelligible words addressed to his
companions who were concealed among the trees, excited
their suspicions, and induced them to return on board.
These blacks were probably Maroon negroes, who had
escaped from prison. The appearance of a naked man, PainM
wandering on an uninhabited shore, and unable to rid '■'^^^
himself of the chains fastened round his neck and arm,
left a painful impression on the travellers ; but the
sailors felt so little sympathy with these miserable


Chap.xxii. creatures, that they wislied to return and seize the
fuifitives, in order to sell them at Carthagcna.

Pnnta Next morning they doubled the Punta Gigantes, and

GlRantes. made sail towards the Boca Chica, the entrance to the
port of Curtliagena, which is eight or ten miles farther
up. On landing, Humboldt learned that the expedition
appointed to make a survey of the coast, under the
commami of M. Fidalgo, had not yet put to sea, and
this circumstance enabled him to ascertain the astrono-
mical position of several places which it was of impor-
tance to determine.

Eaiirsion at During the six days of their stay at Carthagcna, they

Cariiiagena. ^y^.^^^. excursions in the neighbourhood, more especially
in the direction of the Boca Grande, and the hill of
Popa, ^^■hich commands the town. The port or bay is
nearly eleven miles long. The small island of Tierra
Bomba, at its two extremities, which approach, the one
to a neck of land from the continent, the other to a
cape of the isle of Bani, forms the only entrances to the

BocsQvandc harbour. One of these, named Boca Grande, has been
artificially closed for the defence of the town, in conse-
quence of an attack attended with partial success made
by Admiral Vernon in 1741. The extent of the work
was 2640 varas, or 2345 yards, and as the water was
from 14 to 20 feet deep, a wall or dike of stone, from 16
to 21 feet high, was raised on piles. The other opening,
the Boca Chica, is about 550 yards broad, but is daily
becoming narrower, while the currents acting upon the
Boca Grande have opened a breach in it, which they
are continually extending.

Climate. The insalul)rity of Carthagcna, which has been ex-

aggerated, varies with the state of the great marshes
tluit surround it. The Cienega de Tesca, which is
upwards of eigliteen miles in length, communicates with
the ocean ; and, when in dry years the salt water does
not cover tlie wiiole plain, the exhalations that rise
from it during the heat of the day become extremely
pernicious. The iiillv ground in the neighbourhood of


the town is of limestone, containing petiifactions, and is CHARXXII.

covered by a gloomy vegetatioii of cactus, Jutropha veget«tioa

yossypifolia, croton, and mimosa. While the ti-avellers

were searching for plants, their guides showed them a

thick bush of acacia cornigera, which had acquired

celebrity from the following occurrence : A woman,

wearied of the well-founded jealousy of her husband,

bound him at night with the assistance of her paramour,

and threw him into it. The thorns of this species of

acacia are exceedingly sharp, and of great length, and

the shrub is infested by ants. The more the unfortunate

man struggled, the more severely was he lacerated by

the prickles, and when his cries at length attracted

some persons who were passing, he was found covered

with blood, and cruelly tormented by the ants.

At Carthagena the travellers met with several persons Agreeable
whose society was not less agreeable than instructive ; ^''"^'y-
and in the house of an officer of artillery, Don Domingo
Esquiaqui, found a very curious collection of paintings,
models of machinery, and minerals. They had also an
opportunity of witnessing the pageant of the Pascua.
Nothing, says Humboldt, could rival the oddness of the Pageant of
dresses of the principal personages in these processions. ^^^ ^^'^^"*'
Beggars, carrying a crown of thorns on their heads,
asked alms, with crucifixes in their hands, and habited
in black robes. Pilate was arrayed in a garb of striped
silk, and the apostles, seated round a large table covered
with sweetmeats, were carried on the shoulders of Zam-
b'oes. At sunset, effigies of Jews in French vestments,
and formed of straw and other combustibles, were burnt
in the principal streets.

Dreading the insalubrity of the town, the travellers vuiage of
retired on the 6th April to the Indian village of Turbaco, '^f''**
situated in a beautiful district, at the entrance of a large
forest, about l7j miles to tlie south-'eest of the Popa,
one of the most remarkable summits l"a the neighbour-
hood of Carthagena. Here they rem<;iued until they
made the necessary preparations for their voyage on the
Rio ]\Iagdalena, and for the long journey which they



Number of


CHAP.XXir. intended to make to Bogota, Popayan, and Quito. The
village is about 1151 feet above the level of the sea.
Snakes were so numerous that they chased the rats even
in the houses, and pursued the bats on the roofs. From
the terrace surrounding their habitation tlicy had a
view of the colossal mountains of the Sierra Nevada de
Siuita Marta, part of which was covered with perennial
snow. The intervening space, consisting of hills and
plains, was adorned with a luxuriant vegetation, resem-
bling that of the Orinoco. There they found gigantic
trees, not previously known, such as the lihinocarpits
excelsa, with spirally-curved fruit, the Ocotea turbacen-
m, and the Cavanillesia platanifoUa ; the large five-
svinged fruit of which is suspended from the tips of the
oranches like paper-lanterns. They botanized every
day in the woods from five in the morning till night,
though they were excessively annoyed by mosquitoes,
zancudocs, xegens, and other tipulary insects. In the
midst of these magnificent forests they frequently savsr
plantations of bananas and maize, to which the Indians
are fond of retiring at the end of the rainy season.

The persons who accompanied the travellers on these
expeditions often spoke of a marshy ground situated in
the midst of a thicket of palms, and which they desig-
nated by the name of Los Volcancitos. They said that,
according to a tradition preserved in the village, the
ground had formerly been ignited, but that a monk had
extinguished it by frequent aspersions of holy water, and
converted the fire-volcano into a water- volcano. With-
out attaching much credit to this tradition, the philoso-
phers desired their guides to lead them to the spot.
After traversing a space of about 5300 yai-ds, covered
with trunks of Cavanillesia, Piragra superba, and Gyro-
carjius, and in wliich there appeared here and there
projections of a limestone rock containing petrified corals,
tliey reached an open place of about 060 feet square,
entirely destitute of vegetation, but margined with tufts
of Bromelia karatas. The surface was composed of
layers of day of a dark -gray colour cracked by desiccation

Los Volcaxi'


Air bubbles.


into pentagonal and lieptagonal prfsms. Tlie volcancitos CHAP.xxil
consist of fifteen or t^venty small truncated cones rising j^y^"^
in the middle of this area, and having a height of from canoes.
19 to 25 feet. The most elevated were on the southern
side, and their circumference at the base was from 78 to
85 yards. On climbing to the top of these mud-
volcanoes, they found them to be terminated by an
aperture from IG to 30 inches in diameter, filled with
water, through which air-bubbles obtained a passage ;
about five explosions usually taking place in two mi-
nutes. The force with which the air rises would lead
to the supposition of its being subjected to considerable
pressure, and a rather loud noise was heard at intervals,
preceding the disengagement of it fifteen or eighteen
seconds. Each of the bubbles contained from 12 to 14^
cubic inches of elastic fluid, and their power of expan-
sion was often so great that the water was projected
beyond the crater, or flowed over its brim. Some of
the openings by which air escaped were situated in the
plain without being surrounded by any prominence of
the ground. It was observed that when the apertures,
which are not placed at the summit of the cones, and
are enclosed by a little mud- wall from 10 to 15 inches
high, are nearly contiguous, the explosions did not take
place at the same time. It would appear that each neception
crater receives the gas by distinct canals, or that these, °^s^^
terminating in the same reservoir of compressed air,
oppose greater or less impediments to the passage of the
aeriform fluids. The cones have no doubt been raised
by these fluids, and the dull sound that precedes the
disengagement of them indicates that the ground is
hollow. The natives asserted that there had been no
observable change in the form and number of the cones
for twenty years, and that the little cavities are filled with
water even in the driest seasons. The temperature of
this liquid was not higher than that of the atmosphere ;
the latter having been 81*5°, and the former 80"6'^ or
81°, at the time of Humboldt's visit. A stick could
easily be pushed into the apertures to the depth of six





uu combus-



Ijfe at


for turtlicr

or seven feet, and the dark-coloured clay or mud was
exceedingly soft. An ignited l)ody was immediately
extinguished on heing immersed in the gas collected
from the hubhles, which was found to be pure azote.

The stay which our travellers made at Turbaco was
uncommonly agreeable, and added greatly to their col-
lection of plants. " Eve n now," says Humboldt, writing
in 1881, " after so long a lapse of time, and after returning
from the banks of the Obi and the confines of Chinese
Zungaria, these bamboo-thickets, that wild luxuriance
of vegetation, those orchidea? covering the old trunks of
the ocotea and Indian fig, that majestic view of the
snowy mountains, that light mist filling the bottom of
the valleys at sunrise, those tufts of gigantic trees rising
like verdant islets from a sea of vapours, incessantly
present themselves to my imagination. At Turbaco wo
lived a simple and laborious life. We were young ;
possessed a similarity of taste and disposition ; looked
forward to the future with hope ; were on the eve of a
journey which was to lead us to the highest summits of
the Andes, and bring us to volcanoes in action in a
country continually agitated by earthquakes ; and we
felt ourselves more happy than at any other period of
our distant expedition. The j'cars which have since
passed, not all exempt from griefs and pains, have added
to the charn^s cf these impressions ; and I love to think
that, in the midit of his exile in the southern hemisphere,
in the solitudes of Paraguay, my unfortunate friend, M.
iJonpland, sometimes remembers witli delight our bo-
tanical excursions at Turbaco, the little spring of Tore-
cillu, the first sight of a gus-tavia in flower, or of the
cavaniJlcsia loaded with fruits having membranous and
transparent edges."

M. BonpL'jic "s health having suffered severely during
the navigation of the Orinoco and Casiquiare, they re-
solved to jjrovide themselves with all the convenier.ces
necessary to secure their comfort during the ascent of
the Rio Magdalena. They were accompanied on this
voyage by an old French physician 51. de Rieux, ard


two Spaniards. Leaving Turbaco, in a cool and very chap.XXIL
(lark night they passed through a wood of bamboos rising .\rri^^at
fl-om forty to fifty feet. At daj'brcak they reached Jiahatcsi
Arjona on the borders of the forest, crossed an arm of
the Rio Magdalcna in a canoe, and arrived at Mahatcs,
where they had to w^iit nearly all day for the mules
which were to convey their baggage to the place of
embarkation. It Avas excessively hot, without a breath
of wind, and, to add to their vexation, their only re-
maining barometer had been broken in passing the canal ;
but they consoled themselves l)y examining some beau-
tiful species of parrots •which they obtained from the

On the 20th April, at three in the morning, the air Forest
feeling deliciously cool, although the thermometer was ^ "^"^^^
at 71*6°, they were on their journey to the village of
Barancas Nuevas, amid a forest of lofty trees. Half-
way lietween Mahates and that hamlet they found a
group of huts elegantly constructed of bamboos, and
inhabited by Zamboes. Humboldt remarks, that the
intermixture of Indians and negroes is very common in
those countries, and that the women of the American
Tribes have a great liking to the men of the African race.
To the east of Mahates the limestone formation, con-
taining corals, ceases to appear ; the predominant rocks
being siliceous with argillaceous cement, formmg al-
ternating beds of small-grained quartzose and slaty
sandstone, or conglomerates containing angular fragments
of lydian-stone, clay-slate, gneiss,and quartz, and varying
in colour from yellowish-gray to brownish-red.

Hitherto the narrative of the important journey per- Narrative
formed by Humboldt and Bonpland, through those j'oniTiey.
little known but highly interesting regions of South
America which were visited by them, has been given as
much in detail as is consistent with the nature of a work
like the present ; but here, as no minute account of their
further progress has yet been laid before the public, we
must cease to follow them step by step, and content
ourselves with a brief narrative of their proceedings.



Brief Account of the Journey from Carthagena to Quito
and 3Iexico.

Ascent of the Rio Magdalena — Santa Fe de Bogota — Cataract of
Tequendama — Natural Bridges of Icononzo — Passage of Quin-
diu — Cargueros — Popayan — Quito — Cotopaxi and Cliiniborazo —
Route from Quito to Lima — Guayaquil — Mexico — Guanaxuato —
Volcano of Jorullo — Pyramid of Clioluia.

CiiAP.XXiIl. It has been already stated that Humboldt, previously to
Proposed leaving Paris, had promised Baudin, that should his
junction with projected expedition to the southern hemisphere ever
^^ ^^' take place, he would endeavour to join it ; and also that
information received by him at Cuba had induced him
to relinquish plans subsequently formed, and re-embark
for the continent of South America, with the view of
proceeding to Guayaquil or Lima, where he expected to
. meet the navigators. Accordingly he went to Cartha-

gena, where he learned that the season was too far
advanced for sailing from Panama to Guayaquil. Giving
up, therefore, his intention of crossing the isthmus of
Panama, he passed some days in the forests of Turbaco,
and afterwards made preparations for ascending the Rio
Kio Magda- This river, from its sources near the equator, flows
"""■ almost directly north. " Nature," says a travelitr who

sailed up it in 1823, "seems to have designedly dug the
])cd of tiic Magdalena in the midst of the cordilleras of
Colombia, to form a canal of communication between




the mountains and the sea ; yet it would have made ciIAP.xxin
nothing but an unnavigable torrent, had not its course ^ —
been stopped in many parts by masses of rock disposed ttmperatUro
in such a manner as to break its violence. Its waters
thus arrested flow gently into the plains of the provinces
of Santa Martha and Carthagena, Avhich they fertilize
' and refresh by their evaporation. Three very distinct
temperatures reign on the Magdalena. The sea-breezes
blow from its mouth as far as Monpox ; from this town
to Morales not a breath of air tempers the heat of the
atmosphere, and man would become a victim to its
power but for the abundant dews which fall during the
night ; from Morales as far as the sources of the Mag-
dalena, the south wind moderates the heat of the day,
and forms the third temperature. These land-breezes
cause the navigation of the Magdalena to be rarely fatal
to Europeans."* But, according to the same author,
multitudes of animals of various species continually
harass the traveller. He cannot bathe on account of the
caymans, and if he venture on shore he is in danger of
being bitten by serpents.

The voyage up this river, which lasted iifty-five days,
was not performed without hazai-d and inconvenience.
Humboldt sketched a chart of it, while his fiiend was
busily occupied in examining the rich and beautiful
vegetation of its banks. Disembarking at Honda, they
proceeded on mules by dangerous paths, through forests
of oaks, melastomoe, and cinchonse, to Santa Fe de
Bogota, the capital of New Grenada. This city stands Bogota.
in a beautiful valley surrounded by lofty mountains, and
which would appear to have been at a former period the
bed of a great lake. Here the travellers spent several
months in exploring the mineralogical and botanical
treasures of the country, the magnilicent cataract of Te
quendama, and the extensive collections of the celebrated

The elevated plain on which this metropolis is built


Santa Fe dt

* IMoUiep's Travels in Colombia.




CHAr.xxIIL is 8727 foot above the level of the sea, and is conse-
Eiev^site. quently higher than the summit of St Bernard, The
river of Funza, usually called Rio de Bogota, which
drains the valley, has forced its way through the
mountains to the south-west of Santa Fe, and near the
farm of Tequendama rushes from the plain Iw a narrow
outlet into a crevice, which descends towards the bed of »
the Rio Magdalena. Respecting this ravine, Gonzalo
Ximenes de Quesada, the conqueror of the country,
found the following tradition disseminated among the
people : — In remote times the inhabitants of Bogota
were barbarians, living without religion, laws, or arts.
An old man on a certain occasion suddenly appeared
among them, of a race unlike that of the natives, and
having a long bushy beard. He instructed them in the
arts ; but he brought with him a very malignant,
although very beautiful woman, who thwarted all his
benevolent enterprises. By her magical power she
swelled the current of the Funza, and inundated the
valley ; so that most of the inhabitants perished, a few
only having found refuge in the neighbouring mountains.
The aged visiter then drove his consort from the earth,
and she became the moon. He next broke the rocks
that enclosed the valley on the Tequendama side, and
by this means drained off the waters ; then he intro-
duced the worship of the sun, appointed two chiefs, and

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 22 of 35)