Alexander von Humboldt.

The travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt online

. (page 6 of 35)
Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 6 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

they were surprised to find, the thermometer was as
high as 71*2°. The circumstance, that in a warm
country a degree of cold, which would be productive of
no inconvenience to the inhabitant of a temperate cli-
mate, excites a disagreeable feeling, is worthy of the
attention of physiologists. When Bouguer reached the
summit of Pelee, in the island of Martinico, he trembled
with cold, although the heat was above 70*7° ; and in
heavy showers at Cumana, when the thermometer indi-




Salt woi'ks

CHAP \i. cates the same temperature, the inhabitants make bitter

About eight in tlie morning they landed at the point
of Araya, near the new salt-works, which are situated
in a plain destitute of vegetation. From this spot are
seen tlie islet of Cubagua, the lofty hills of JMargarita,
the ruins of the catitle of St Jago, the Cerro de la Vela,
and the limestone ridge of the Bergantin, bounding the
horizon toward the south. Here salt is procured by
digging brine-pits in the clayey soil, which is impreg-
nated with muriate of soda. In 1799 and 1800, the
consumption of this article in the provinces of Cumana
and Barcelona amounted to 9000 or 10,000 fanegas, each
16 arrobas, or 405| 11)S. avoirdupois. Of this quantity
the salt-works of Araya yield only about a third part ;
the rest being obtained from sea- water in the IMorro ot
Barcelona, at Pozuelos, at Piritu, and in the Golfo

In order to understand the geological relations of this
saliferous clay, it is necessary to follow our author in his
exposition of the nature of the neighbouring country.
Three great parallel chains of mountains extend from
east to west. The two most noitherly, which are
primitive, constitute the Cordilleras of the island of
Margarita, as well as of Araya. The most southerly, the
Cordillera of Bergantin and Cocollar, is secondary,
although more elevated than the others. The two
former have been separated by the sea, and the islets of
Coche and Cubagua are supposed to be remnants of the
submersed land. The Gulf of Cariaco divides the chains
of Araya and Cocollar, which are connected, to the east
of the town of Cariaco, between the lakes of Campoma
and PutiUjuao, by a kind of dike. This barrier, which
has the name of Cerro de Meapire, prevented, in remote
times, the waters of the Gulf of Cariaco from uniting
with those of the Gulf of Paria.

The western slope of the peninsula of Araya, and the
jdains on which rises the castle of St Anthony, are
covered with recent deposites of sandstone, clay, and

relations of



gypsum. Near Maniquarez, a conglomerate with cal- CHAP. vr.
careens cement rests on the mica-slate ; while on the upperstrau
opposite side, near Punta Delgada, it is superimposed on
a compact bluish-gray limestone, containing a few organic
remains, traversed by small veins of calcareous spar, and
analogous to that of the Alps.

The saliferous clay is generally of a smoke-gray colour, Appearance
earthy and friable, but encloses masses of a dark -brown of^saiiferous
tint and more solid texture. Selenite and fibrous gypsum
are disseminated in it. Scarcely any shells are to be
seen, although the adjacent rocks contain abundance of
them. The muriate of soda is not discoverable by the
naked eye ; but when a mass is sprinkled with rain-
water, and exposed to the sun, it appears in large crys-
tals. In the marsh to the east of the castle of St Jago, Muriate of
which receives only rain- water, crystallized and very ^^^'^
pure muriate of soda forms, after great droughts, in
masses of large size. The new salt-works of Araya have
five very extensive reservoirs, with a depth of eight
inches, and are supplied partly with sea-water and partly
with rain. The evaporation is so rapid, that salt is col-
lected in eighteen or twenty days after they are filled ;
and it is freer from earthy muriates and sulphates than
that of Europe, although manufactured with less care.

After examining these works, they departed at the Overtaken
decline of day, and proceeded toward an Indian cabin ^^ "'§'"•
some miles distant. Night overtook them in a narrow
path between a range of perpendicular rocks and the sea.
Arriving at the foot of the old castle of Araya, which
stands on a bare and arid mountain, and is crowned with
agave, columnar cactus, and prickly mimosas, they were
desirous of stopping to admire the majestic spectacle, and
observe the setting of the planet Venus ; but their guide,
who was parched with thirst, earnestly urged them to
return, and hoped to work on their fears by continually
warning them of jaguars and rattlesnakes. They at
length yielded to his solicitations ; but, after proceeding
three quarters of an hour along a shore covered by the
tide, they were joined by the negro that carried their


CHAP. VI. provisions, who led them through a wood of nopals to
IndiaiT" ^^^ '^^^ '^^ ^^ Indian, where they were received with
hospitality, cordial liospitality. The several classes of natives in
this district live by catching fish, part of which they
carry to Curaana. The wealth of the inhabitants consists
chiefly of goats, which are of a very large size, and
brownisli-yellow colour. They are marked like the
mules, and roam at large.
Spanisii Among the muLittoes, whose hovels surrounded the

^"^"^ salt-lake near which they had passed the night, they

found an indigent Spanish cobbler, who received them
with an air of gravity and importance. After amusing
them with a display of his knowledge, he drew from a
leathern bag a few very small pearls, which he forced
them to accept, enjoining them to note on their tablets,
"that a poor shoemaker of Araya, but a white man, and
of noble Castilian descent, was enabled to give them
what, on the other side of the sea, would be sought for
as a tiling of great value."
Pearl-bheU. The pearl-shell (^Avicula Margaritifera) is abundant
on the slioals wliich extend from Cape Paria to the Cape
of Vela. Margarita, Cuhagua, Coche, Punta Araya, and
the mouth of the Rio la Ilacha, were as celebrated in
the sixteenth century for them as the Persian Gulf was
among the ancients. At the beginning of the conquest,
the island of Coche alone furnished 1500 marks (i)25
Produce r,f Troy pounds) monthly. The portion whicli the king's
uie peai ». offi(.(.i.3 drew from the produce of the pearls amounted
to £32G5 ; and it would a])pear, tliat up to 1530 the
value of those sent to Europe amounted, at a yearly
average, to more than £170,000. Towards the end of
the sixteenth century, this fishery diminished rapidly ;
and, according to Laet, had been long given up in 1633.
Tlie artificial imitations, and the great diminution of the
shells, rendered it less lucrative. At present, the Gulf
of Panama and tlie mouth of the Rio de la Hacha are
the only parts of Soutli America in which this branch
of industry is continued.

On the morning of the 20thj a young Indian conducted


the travellers over Barigon and Caney, to the villaffe oi chap. vi.
Maniquarez. The thermometer kept as high as 88-3°, ,, j — 7
and before their guide had travelled a league, he fre-
quently sat down to rest himself, and expressed a desire
to repose under the shade of a tamarind-tree until night
should approach. Humboldt explains the circumstance,
that the natives complain more of lassitude under an in-
tense heat than Europeans not inured to it, by a refer-
ence to their listless disposition, and their not being
excited by the same stimulus.

In crossing the arid hills of Cape Cirial they perceived Petroleum.
a strong smell of petroleum, the wind blowing from the
side where the springs of that substance occur. Near
the village of Maniquarez they found the mica-slate
cropping out from below the secondary rocks. It was
of a silvery white, contained garnets, and was traversed
by small layers of quartz. From a detached block of
this last, found on the shore, they sepai-ated a fragment
of cyanite, the only specimen of that mineral seen by
them in South America.

A rude manufacture of pottery is carried on at that jj^tive
hamlet by the Indian women. The clay is produced by pottery.
the decomposition of mica-slate, and is of a reddish
colour. The natives being unacquainted with the use
of ovens, place twigs around the vessels, and bake them
in the open air.

At the same place they met with some Creoles who cenms
had been hunting small deer in the uninhabited islet of Mesicanna
Cubagua, where they are very abundant. These crea-
tures are of a brownish-red hue, spotted with white, and
of the latter colour beneath. They belong to the species
named by naturalists Cervus Mexicanus.

In the estimation of the natives the most curious pro-
duction of the coast of Araya is what they call the eye- Eyo-stoDc.
stone. They consider it as both a stone and an animal,
and assert, that when it is found in the sand it is
motionless ; whereas on a polished surface, as an earthen
plate, it moves when stimulated by lemon-juice. When
introduced into the eye, it expels every other substance


CHAT. M. that may liave accidentally insinuated itself. The people
offered these stones to the travellers by hundreds, and
wished to put sand into their eyes, that they might try
the power of this wondrous remedy ; which, however,
was nothing else than the operculum of a small shellfish,
srrcam of Near Cape de la Brea, at the distance of eighty feet

"••P ''^ from the shore, is a small stream of naphtha, the produce
of which covers the sea to a great extent. It is a singular
circumstance that this spring issues from mica-slate, all
others that are known belonging to secondary deposites.
After examining the neighbourhood of Maniquarez,
the adventurers embarked at night in a small fishing-
boat, so leaky that a person was constantly employed in
baling out the water with a calabash, and arrived in
safety a*' Cumana.



Missions of the Chaymas.

Excursion to the Missions of the Ciiayma Indians — Remarks on
Cultivation — The Impossible — Aspect of the Vej^etation — San
Fernando— Account of a Man wlio suckled a Child — Cumanacoa
— Cultivation of Tobacco — Igneous Exhalations — Jaguars —
Mountain of Cocollar — Turimiquiri — Missions of San Antonio
and Guanaguana.

On the 4th of September, at an early hour, our tra- CJIAP. vii.
vellers commenced an excursion to the missionary stations Excursion to
of the Chayma Indians, and to the lofty mountains ">e Chayma
which traverse New Andalusia. Tlie morning was
deliciously cool ; and from the summit of the hill of
San Francisco they enjoyed in the short twilight an ex-
tensive view of the sea, the adjacent plain, and the
distant peaks. After walking two hours they arrived
at the foot of the chain, where they found different
rocks, together with a new and more luxuriant vegeta- Luxnriant
tion. They observed that the latter was more brilliant
wherever the limestone was covered by a quartzy sand-
stone, — a circumstance which probably depends not so
much on the nature of the soil as on its greater humi-
dity ; the thin layers of slate-clay which the latter
contains preventing the water from filtering into the
crevices of the former. In those moist places they
always discovered appearances of cultivation, huts in-
habited by mestizoes, and placed in the centre of small
enclosures, containing papaws, plantains, sugar-canes,
and maize. In Europe, the wheat, barley, and other
kinds' of grain, cover vast spaces of ground, and, in
general, wherever the inhabitants live upon corn, the




CIL\P VII. cultivated lands are not separated from each other by
Fertility of the uitervention of large wastes ; but in the torrid zone,
the sou. where the fertility of the soil is proportionate to the
heat and humidity of the air, and where man has appro-
priated plants that yield earlier and more abundant
crops, an immense population finds ample subsistence on
a narrow space. The scattered disposition of the huts in
the midst of the forest indicates to the traveller the
fecundity of nature.

In so mild and uniform a climate, the only urgent
want of man is that of food ; and in the midst of abun-
dance, his intellectual faculties receive less improvement
than in colder regions, where his necessities are nume-
rous and diversified. While in Europe, w^e judge of tho
inhabitants of a country by the extent of laboured
ground ; in the warmest parts of South America, popu-
lous provinces seem to the traveller almost deserted,
because a very small extent of soil is sufficient for the
maintenance of a family. The insulated state in which
the natives thus live prevents any rapid progress of
civilisation, although it develops the sentiments of inde-
pendence and liberty.

As the travellers penetrated into the forest the baro-
meter indicated the ])rogressive elevation of the land.
About three in the afternoon they halted on a small
flat, where a few houses had been erected near a spring,
the water of which they found delicious. Its ten)pera-
ture was 72-5°, while that of the air was 83-7°. From
the top of a sandstone-hill in the vicinity, they bad a
splendid view of the sea and part of the coast, while in
the intervening space, the tops of the trees, intermixed
with flowery lianas, formed a vast carpet of deep
verdure. As they advanced toward the south-west the
soil became dry and loose. They ascended a group of
rather high mountains, destitute of vegetation, and having
steep declivitiis. This ridge is named the Impossible, it
being imagined tbat, in case of invasion, it might afford a
safe retreat to the inhabitants of Cumana. The prospect
was finer and more extensive than from the fountain
above mentioned.

iiidi cations.


They arrived on the summit only a little before dusk. chap. VIL

The setting of the sun was accompanied by a very rapid „

T • ,• /• , , 11 111 Summit of

dimmution or temperature, the thermometer suddenly ihemoun-

falling from 77'4° to 70-8°, although the air was calm. ^"'^ '^""^^
They passed the night in a house at which there was a
military post of eight men, commanded by a Spanish
sergeant. When, after the capture of Trinidad by the
English in 1797, Cumana was threatened, many of the
people fled to Cumanacoa, leaving the more valuable of
their property in sheds constructed on this ridge. The
solitude of the place reminded Humboldt of the nights
which he had passed on the top of St Gothard. Several
parts of the surrounding forests were burning, and the Burning
reddish flames arising amidst clouds of smoke, presented forests.
a most impressive spectacle. The shepherds set fire to
the woods for the purpose of improving the pasturage,
though conflagrations are often caused by the negligence
of the wandering Indians. The number of old trees on
the road from Cumana to Cumanacoa has been greatly
reduced by these accidents ; and in several parts of the
province the dryness has increased, owing both to the
diminution of the forests, and the frequency of earth-
quakes, which produce crevices in the soil.

Leaving the Impossible on the 6th before sunrise, Descent
they descended by a very narrow path borderinsr on f'''^™ '*>«

•• mi ■ r 1 -1 n mOUHtaillS.

precipices, ihe summit of the ridge was of quartzy
sandstone, beneath which the Alpine limestone reap-
peared. The strata being generally inclined to the
south, numerous springs gush out on that side, and in
the rainy season form torrents, which fall in cascades,
shaded by the hura, the cuspa, and the trumpet-tree.
The cuspa, which is common in the neighbourhood of
Cumana, had long been used for carpenter-work, but
has of late attracted notice as a powerful tonic or febri-

Emerging from the ravine which opens at the foot of forest
the mountain, they entered a dense forest, traversed by
numerous small rivers, which were easily forded. They
observed that the leaves of the cecropia were more or



lupect of

CHAP. VII. less silvery according as the soil was dry or marshy, and
Cecroj^ specimens occurred in which they were entirely green
on both sides. The roots of these shrubs were concealed
beneath tufts of dcrstenia, a plant which thrives only in
shady and moist places. In the midst of the forest they
found i)Hpaws and orange-trees bearing excellent fruit,
which they conjectured to be the remains of some
Indian plantations ; as in these countries they are no
more indigenous than the banana, the maize, the
manioc, and the many other useful plants whose native
country is unknown, although they have accompanied
man in his migrations from the most remote periods.

" When a traveller newly arrived from Europe,"
says Humboldt, " penetrates for the first time into the
forests of South America, Nature presents herself to his
view in an unexpected aspect ; the objects by which he is
surrounded bear but a faint resemblance to the pictures
drawn by celebrated writers on the banks of the Missis-
sippi, in Florida, and in other temperate regions of the
New World. He perceives at every step, that he is not
upon the verge, but in the centre of the torrid zone, —
not in one of the West India islands, but upon a vast
continent, where the mountains, the rivers, the mass of
vegetation, and every thing else, are gigantic. If he be
sensible to the beauties of rural scenery, he finds it
difficult to account to himself for the diversified feelings
which he experiences: lie is unable to determine what
most excites his admiration ; whether the solemn silence
of the wilderness, or the individual ])eauty and contrajst
of the forms, or the vigour and freshness of vegetable
life that characterize the climate of the tropics. It
might be said that the earth, overloaded with plants,
does not leave them room enough for growth. The
trunks of tlie trees are every where covered with a
tliick carpet of verdure ; and were the orchides and the
plants of the genera Piper and Pothos, which grow
uptin a single courbarij or American fig-tree, transferred
to tlie ground, tliey would cover a large space. By
thia singular dcnseriess of vegetation, the forests, like

.Vnnce of
ulini ration.


the rocks and mountains, enlarge the domain of organic CHAP. viL
nature. The same lianas, which creep along the ground, Denseoess of
rise to the tops of the trees, and pass from the one to vegetation,
the other at a height of more than a hundred feet. In
consequence of this intermixture of parasitic plants, the
botanist is often led to confound the flowers, fruits, and
foliage, which belong to different species."

The philosophers walked for some hours under the Nests of tiie
shade of these arches, which scarcely admitted an '"'"'^"^^
occasional glimpse of the clear blue sky, and for the first
time admired the pendulous nests of the orioles, which
mingled their warblings with the cries of the parrots
and macaws. The latter fly only in pairs, while the
former are seen in flocks of several huudrt'ds. At the
distance of about a league from the village of San
Fernando they issued from the woods, and entered an
open country covered with aquatic plants from eight to
ten feet high ; there being no meadows or pastures in
the lower parts of the torrid zone as in Europe. The
road was bordered with a kind of bamboo rising more
than forty feet. These plants, according to Humboldt,
are less common in America than is usually supposed,
although they form dense woods in New Grenada and
Quito, and occur abundantly on the western slope of the

They now entered San Fernando, which is situated San Fer-
in a narrow plain, and bounded by limestone rocks, "undo.
This was the first missionary station they saw in Amer-
ica. The houses of the Chayma Indians were built of
clay, strengthened by lianas, and the streets were
straight, and intersected each other at right angles.
The great square in the centre of the village contains
the church, the house of the missionary, and another
destined for the accommodation of travellers, which
bears the pompous name of the king's house (Casa del
Rey). These royal residences occur in all the Spanish
settlements, and are of the greatest benefit in countries
where there are no inns.

They had been recommended to the friars, who




Reception by
the mission-

Founding of
tlie mis-siuii.




superintend the missions of the Chaymas, by their
syndic at Cumana, and the superior, a corpulent and
jolly old capuchin, received them with kindness. This
respectable ])ersonage, seated the greater part of the day
in an arni-cliair, complained bitterly of the indolence of
his countrj-men. lie considered the pursuits of the
travellers as useless, smiled at the sight of their instru-
ments and dried plants, and maintained that of all the
enjoyments of life, without excepting sleep, none could
be compared with the pleasure of eating good beef.

This mission was founded about the end of the seven-
teenth century, near tlie junction of the Manzanares and
Lucasperez ; but, in consequence of a fire, was removed
to its present situation. The number of families now
amounted to a hundred, and, as the head of the estab-
lishment observed, the custom of marrying at a very
early age contributes greatly to tlie rapid increase of

In the village of Arenas, which is inhabited by Indians
of tlie same race as those of San Fernando, there lived a
labourer, Francisco Lozano, who had suckled a child.
Its mother happening to be sick, he took it, and in
order to quiet it, pressed it to his breast, when the
stimulus imparted by the sucking of the child caused a
flow of milk. The travellers saw the certificate drawn
up on the spot to attest this remarkable fact, of which
several eyewitnesses were still living. The man was
not at Arenas during their stay at the mission, but
afterwards visited them at Cumana, accompanied by his
son, when j\I. Bonpland examined his breasts, and found
them wrinkled, like those of women who have nursed.
lie was not an Indian, but a white descended from
European parents. Alexander Benedictus relates a si-
milar case of an inhal)itant of Syria, and other authors
have given examjjles of the same nature.

Returning towards Cumana, they entered the small
town of Cumanacoa, situated in a naked and almost
circular plain, surroundid by lofty mountains, and con-
taining about two thousand three hundred inhabitants.


The houses were low and slight, and with very few chap. vil.
exceptions huilt of wood. The travellers were surprised narometrical
to find the column of mercury in the harometer scarcely observations.
•3 lines shorter than on the coast. The hollow on which
the town is erected is not more than 6C5 feet above the
level of the sea, and only twenty-four miles from Cu-
mana ; but the climate is much colder than in the latter
place, where it scarcely ever rains ; whereas at Cuma-
nacoa there are seven months of severe weather. It
was during the winter season that our travellers visited
the missions. A dense fog covered the sky every night ;
the thermometer varied from 65^ to 68° ; and Deluc's
hygrometer indicated 85°. At ten in the morning the
thermometer did not rise above 69"8°, but from noon to
three o'clock attained the height of from 78-8° to 80-6°.
About two, large black clouds regularly formed, and Rain and
poured down torrents of rain accompanied by thunder, "^"""i^''
At five the rain ceased, and the sun reappeared ; but at
eight or nine the fog again commenced. In consequence
of the humidity, the vegetation, although not very di-
versified, is remarkable for its freshness. The soil is
highly fertile ; but the most valuable production of the
district is tobacco, the cultivation of which in the pro-
vince of Cumana is nearly confined to this valley.

Next to tlie tobacco of Cuba and the Rio Negro, that Tobacco
grown here is the most aromatic. The seed is sown in *^ "'^''*
the beginning of September, and the cotyledons appear
on the eighth day. The young plants are then covered
with large leaves to protect them from the sun. A
month or two after, they are transferred to a rich and
well-prepared soil, and disposed in rows, three or four

Online LibraryAlexander von HumboldtThe travels and researches of Alexander von Humboldt → online text (page 6 of 35)