Alexander von Humboldt.

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feet distant from each other. The whole is carefully
weeded, and the principal stalk is several times topped,
until the leaves are mature, when they are gathered.
They are then suspended by threads of the Agave Ame-
ricana, and their ribs taken out ; after which they are
twisted. The cultivation of tobacco was a royal mono-
poly, and employed about loOO persons. Indigo is also
raised in the valley of Cumanacoa.


CHAP. VII. This singular plain appeared to be the bed of an
riaiiTor ancient lake. The surrounding mountains are all preci-
Cumanacoa. pitous, and the soil contains pebbles and bivalve shells.
One of the gaps in the range, they were informed, was
inhabited by jaguar:;;, wliich passed the day in caves,
and roamed about the plantations at night. The pre-
ceding year, one of them had devoured a horse belonging
to a farm in tlie neighbourhood. The groans of the
ilying animal awoke the slaves, who went out armed
with lances and large knives, with which they despatched
the tiger after a vigorous resistance.
Fire caverns. From two caverns in this ravine there at times issue
flames, which illumine the adjacent mountains, and are
seen to a great distance at night. The phenomenon was
accompanied by a long-continued subterraneous noise
at the time of the last earthquake. A first attempt to
penetrate into this pass was rendered unsuccessful by
the strength of the vegetation and the intertwining of
lianas and thorny plants ; but the inhabitants becoming
interested in the researches of the travellers, and being
Search for desirous to know what the German miner thought of
^° ' the gold ore which they imagined to exist in it, cleared

a path through the woods. On entering the ravine they
found traces of jaguars ; and the Indians returned for
some small dogs, upon which they knew these animals
would spring in preference to attacking a man. The
rocks that bound it are perpendicular, and Avliat geolo-
gists term Alpine limestone. The excursion was ren-
dered hazardous by the nature of the ground ; but they
at length reached the pretended gold mine, which was
merely an excavation in a bed of black marl containing
ii'on pyrites, — a sub. - tance which the guides insisted was
no other than the precious metal.
Cavern?. They continued to penetrate into the crevice, and

after undergoing great fatigue, reached a wall of rock,
which, rising perpendicularly to the height of 5116
feet, presented two inaccessible caverns inhal)ited by
nocturnal I)irds. Halting at the foot of one of the caves
from which ilames had been seen to issue, they listened


to the remarks of the natives respecting the probability chap, vil
of an increase in the frequency of the agitations to which
New Andalusia had so often been subjected. The cause
of the luminous exhalations, however, they were unable
to ascertain.

On the 12th they continued their journey to the Convent of
convent of Caripe, tlie principal station of the Chayma *"'"''?'-'■
missions, choosing, instead of the direct road, the line of
the mountains Cocollar and Turimiquiri. At the Hato
de Cocollar, a solitary farm situated on a small elevated
plain, they rested for some days, and liad the good for-
tune to enjoy at once a delightful climate and the
hospitality of the proprietor. From this elevated point,
as far as the eye could reach, they saw only naked
savannahs, although in the neighbouring valleys they
found tufts of scattered trees, and a profusion of beau-
tiful flowers. The upper part of the mountain was
destitute of wood, though covered with gramineous
plants, — a cii'cumstance which Humboldt attributes
more to the custom of burning the forests than to the
elevation of the ground, which is not sufficient to prevent
the growth of trees.

Their host, Don Mathias Yturburi, a native of Biscay, i^o"
had visited the New World with an expedition the YtmbmL
object of whicli was to form establishments for procuring
timber for the Spanish navy. But these natives of a
colder climate were unable to support the fatigue of so
laborious an occupation, the heat, and the effect of
noxious vapours. Destructive fevers carried off most of
the party, when this individual withdrew from the
coast, and settling on the Cocollar, became the undis-
turbed possessor of five leagues of savannahs, among
which he enjoyed independence and health.

" Nothing," says Humboldt, " can be compared to the Tmpreesion
impression of the majestic tranquillity left on the mind
by the view of the firmament in this solitary place.
Following with the eye, at evening-tide, those meadows
which stretch along the horizon, and the gently undu-
lated plain covered with plants, we thought we saw in


CHAP. VII the distance, as in the deserts of the Orinoco, the
Vasrpilin. surface of the ocean supporting the starry vault of
heaven. Tlie tree under which we were seated, tlie
luminous insects that vaulted in the air, and the con-
stellations which shone in the south, seemed to i«ll us
that we were far from our native land. In the midst of
this exotic nature, when the bell of a cow or the lowing
of a bull was heard from tlie bottom of a valley, the
remembrance of our country was suddenly awakened by
the sounds. They were like distant voices, that came
from beyond the ocean, and by the magic of which we
were transported from the one hemisphere to the other.
Strange mobility of the human imagination, the never-
failing source of our enjoyments and griefs !"
Accent of In the cool of the morning they commenced the

Turiraiquiri. ^^.^^^^ ^f Turiiniquiri, the summit of the Cocollar,
which with the Brigantine forms a mass of mountains,
formerly named by the natives the Sierra de los Tageres.
They travelled part of the way on horsis, which are
left to roam at large in these wilds, though some of them
have been trained to the saddle. Stopping at a spring
which issued from a bed of quartzy sandstone, they
found its temperature to be 6'J-8°. To the height of
4476 feet, this mountain, like those in its vicinity, was
covered with gramineous plants. The pastures became
less rich in proportion to the elevation, and wherever
the scattered rocks afforded a shade lichens and mosses
Hiciiest occurred. The summit is 4521 feet above the level of
^**"" the sea. The view from it was extensive and highly

picturesque : chains of mountains, running from east
to west, enclosed longitudinal valleys, which were inter-
sected at right angles by numberless ravines. The
distant peninsula of Araya formed a dark streak on a
glittering sea, and the more distant rocks of Cape
Macanao rose amidst the waters like an immense ram-
CocoDar On the 14th of September they descended the Cocol-

lar in the direction of San Antonio, where was also a
mission. After passin/^ over savannahs strewed with


blocks of limestone, succeeded by a dense forest and two chap. vii.
very steep rid<?es, thev came to a beautiful vallev, about „ ": — ,

• * '■., . ^ ', . , . , . 1 "i Mansion of

twenty miles in length, in which are situated the mis- San Antonia

sions of San Antonio and Guanaguana. Stopping at the
former only to open the barometer and take a few
altitudes of the sun, they forded fhe rivers Colorado and
Guarapiche, and proceeding along a level and narrow
road covered with thick mud, amid torrents of rain,
reached in the evening the latter of these stations,
where tliey were cordially received by the missionary.
This village had existed only thirty years on the spot
which it then occupied, having been transferred from a
place more to the south, Humboldt remarks, that the Removal of
facility with which the Indians remove their dwellings "tillages.
is astonishing, there being several small towns in South
America wliich have thrice changed their situation in
less than half a century. These compulsory migrations
are not unfrequently caused by the caprice of an eccle-
siastic ; and as the houses are constructed of clay, reeds,
and palm-leaves, a hamlet shifts its position like a camp.

The mission of San Antonio had a small church with church of
two towers, built of brick, and ornamented Avith Doric San Antonio,
columns, the wonder of the country ; but that of Gua-
naguana possessed as yet no place of worship, although
a spacious house had been built for the padre, the
terraced roof of which was ornamented with numerous
chimneys like turrets, and which, he informed the
travellers, had been erected for no other purpose than
to remind him of his native country. The Indians Cultivation
cultivate cotton. The machines by which they separate °^ '^'J"'^"
the wool from the seeds are of very simple construction,
consisting of wooden cylinders of very small diameter,
made to revolve by a treadle. Maize is the article on
which they principally depend for food ; and when it
happens to be destroyed by a protracted drought, they
betake themselves to the surrounding forests, where they
find subsistence in succulent plants, cabbage-palms, fern-
roots, and the produce of various trees.

Proceeding towards the valley of Caripe, the travellers



CUAP. vii. passed a limestone ridge which separates it from that of
ViiieTof Guanaguaiia, — an undertaking which they found rather
Ciuip'e. difficult, the path being in several parts only fourteen
or fifteen inches broad, and the slopes being covered
with very slippery turf. When they had readied the
summit, an interesting spectacle presented itself to their
view, consisting of the vast savannahs of Maturin and
Rio Tigre, the Peak of Turimiquiri, and a multitude of
parallel hills resembling the waves of a troubled ocean.
Woody Descending the height by a winding path, they en-

tered a woody country, where the ground was covered
by moss and a species of Drosera. As they approached
the convent of Caripe, the forests grew more dense, and
the power of vegetation increased. The calcareous
strata became thinner, forming graduated terraces, while
the stone itself assumed a white colour, with a smooth
or imperfectly conchoidal fracture. This rock Hum-
boldt considers as analogous to the Jura dcposites. He
found the level of the valley of Caripe 127t) feet higher
than that of Guanaguana. Although the former is only
separated from tlie latter by a narrow ridge, it affords a
complete contrast to it, being deliciously cool and salu-
brious, while the other is remarkable for its gre<\t ht;at.


Excursion continued, and Return to Cumana.

Convent of Caripe — Cave of Guacharo, inhabited by Nocturnal
Birds— Purgatory — Forest Scenery — Howling Monkeys — Vera
Cruz — Cariaco — Intermittent Fevers — Cocoa-trees — Passage
across the Gulf of Cariaco to Cumana.

Arriving at the hospital of the Arragonese Capuchins, chap. vm.
which was backed by an enormous wall of rocks of cg^v^of
resplendent whiteness, covered with a luxuriant vegeta- Caripe.
tion, our travellers were hospitably received by the
monks. The superior was absent ; but having heard of
their intention to visit the place, he had provided
for them whatever could serve to render their abode
agreeable. The inner court, surrounded l^y a portico,
they found highly convenient for setting up their in-
struments and making observations. In the convent Convent
tliey found a numerous society, consisting of old and '*°'^"-^"
infirm missionaries, who souglit for iicalth in the salu-
brious air of the mountains of Caripe, and younger ones
newly arrived from Spain. Although the inmates of
this establishment knew that Humboldt was a Pro-
testant, they manifested no mark of distrust, nor pro-
posed any indiscreet question, to diminish the value of Liberality.
the benevolence which they exercised witli so much
liberality. Even the light of science had in some
degree extended to this obscure place ; for, in the
library of the superior, tliey found among other books
the Traite d'Electricite, by the Abbe Nollet, and one
of the monks had brought with him a Spanish translation
of Chaptal's Treatise on Chemistry.



Elevation of
the bite.

ciiAP. viir. The height of this monastery above the sea is nearly
the same as that of Caraccas and the inhabited parts of
the Blue ]\Iountains of Jamaica. The thermometer was
between 60-8° and 63-5° at midnight, between 66-2° and
68° in the morning, and only G9*8° or 72'5° about one
o'clock. The mean temperature, inferred from that of
the month of September, appears to be 05-3°. This
degree of heat is sufficient to develop the productions of
the toi'rid zone, although much inferior to that of the
plains of Cumana. Water exposed in ve.ssels of porous
clay cools during the night as low as 55 4°. The mild
climate and rarified air of this place have been found
highly favourable to the cultivation of coffee, which was
introduced into the province by the prefect of the Capu-
chins, an active and enlightened man. In the garden of
the community were many culinary vegetables, maize,
the sugar-cane, and five thousand coffee-trees.

The greatest curiosity in this beautiful and salubrious
district is a cavern inhabited by nocturnal birds, the fat
of which is em2)loyed in the missions for dressing food.
It is named the Cave of Guacharo, and is situated in a
valley three leagues distant from the convent.

On the 18th of September our travellers, accompanied
by most of the monks and some of the Indians, set out
for this aviary, following for an hour and a half a narrow
path, leading across a fine plain covered with beautiful
turf; then, turning westward along a small river which
issues from the cave, they proceeded, during three
quarters of an hour, sometimes walking in the water,
sometimes on a slippery and miry soil between the tor-
rent and a wall of rocks, until they arrived at the foot of
the lofty mountain of Guacharo. Here the torrent ran
in a decj) ravine, and they went on under a projecting
cliff which prevented them from seeing the sky, until
at the last turning they came suddenly upon the
immense opening of the recess, which rs eighty-five feet
broad and seventy-seven feet high. The entrance is
toward tiie south, and is formed in the vertical face of a
rock, covered with trees of gigantic height, intermixed

of coffee.

Cave of



with numerous species of singular and beautiful plants, ciiAr. viiL
some of which hang in festoons over the vault. This luxurious
luxuriant vegetation is not confined to the exterior of vegetation.
the cave, but appears even in the vestibule, where the
travellers were astonished to see heliconias nineteen feet
in height, palms, and arborescent arums. They had
advanced about four hundred and sixty feet before it
became necessary to light their torches, when they
heard from afar the hoarse screams of the birds.

The guacharo is the size of a domestic fowl, and has The gaa-
somewhat the appearance of a vulture, with a mouth chaio.
like that of a goatsucker. It forms a distinct genus in
the order Passeres, differing from that just named in
having a stronger beak, furnished with two denticula-
tions, though in its manners it bears an affinity to it as
well as to the Alpine crow. Its plumage is dark bluish-
gray, minutely streaked and sjjotted with black, the
head, wings, and tail, being marked with white spots
bordered with black. The extent of the wings is three
feet and a half. It lives on fruits, but quits the cave
only in the evening. The shrill and piercing cries of
these birds, assembled in multitudes, are said to form a
harsh and disagreeable noise, somewhat resembling that
of a rookery. The nests, which the guides showed by
means of torches fastened to a long pole, were placed in
funnel-shaped holes in the roof. The noise increased as
they advanced, the animals being frightened by the
numerous lights.

About midsummer every year, the Indians armed Destnictioa
with poles enter the cave, and destroy the greater part of y^^ng"^
the nests. Several thousands of young birds are thus
killed, and the old ones hover around, uttering frightful
cries. Those which are secured in this manner are
opened on the spot, to obtain the fat which exists
abundantly in their abdomen, and which is subsequently
melted in clay vessels over fires of brushwood. This
substance is semifluid, transparent, destitute of smell,
and keeps above a vear without becoming ranciil. At




Extent of
Uie cave.

CHAP. VIII. t|i(. convent of Caripe it was used in tlie kitchen of the
monks, and our travi'Uers never found that it communi-
cated any disagreeable smell or taste to the food.

The fjuacharoes would have been Ion;:,' ago destroyed,
had not the superstitious dread of the Indians prevented
them from penetrating far into the cavern. It also
appears that birds of the same species dwell in other in-
accessible places in the neighbourhood, and that the
great cave is repeopled by colonies from them. The
hard and dry fruits which are found in the crops and
gizzards of the young ones are consi<iered as an excellent
remedy against intermittent fevers, and regularly sent
to Cariaco and other parts of the lower districts where
such diseases prevail.

The travellers followed the banks of the small river
which issues from the cavern as far as the mounds of
calcareous incrustations permitted them, and afterwards
descended into its bed. The cave preserved the same
direction, breadth, and height, as at its entrance, to the
distance of 1548 feet. The natives having a belief that
the souls of their ancestors inhabit its deep recesses, the
Indians who accompanied our travellers could hardly
be persuaded to venture into it. Shooting at random in
the dark, they obtained two specimens of the guacharo.
Having proceeded to a certain distance, they came to a
mass of stalactite, beyond which the cave became
narrower, although it retained its original direction.
Here the rivulet had deposited a blackish mould resem-
bling that observed at Mugendorf in Frauconia. The
seeds, which the birds carry to their young, spring up
wherever they are dropped into it ; and M. Humboldt
and his friend were astonished to find blanched stalks
that had attained a height of two feet.

As the missionaries were unable to persuade the
Indians to advance farther, the party returned. The
river, sparkling amid the foliage of the trees, seemed
like a distant picture, to which the mouth of the cave
formed a frame, llavinff sat down at the entrance to



i;l".uit, of

Uie party.


enjoy a little needful repose, tliey partook of a repast chap, viii
which the missionaries had prepared, and in due tiint,
returned to the convent.

The days which our travellers passed at this religious Oceupntion
house glided hastily and pleasantly away. From morn- ° ^""'^'
ing to night tliey traversed the forests and mountains
collecting plants ; and when the rains prevented them
from making distant excursions, they visited the huts
of the Indians ; returning to the good monks only when
the sound of the hell called them to the solace of the
refectory. Sometimes also they followed them to the
church, to witness the religious instruction given to the
Indians ; which was found a difficult task, owing to the
imperftct knowledge of the Spanish language possessed
by the latter. The evenings were employed in taking
notes, drying plants, and sketching those that ajjpeared

The natural beauties of this interesting valley engaged Embarrass-
them so much, that they were long in perceiving the {116?/ hosts
embarrassment felt by their kind entertainers, who had
now but a very slender store of wine and bread. At
length, on the 22d September, they departed, followed
by four mules carrying their instruments and plants.
The descent of the rugged chain of the Brigantine and
Cocollar, which is about 4400 feet in height, is exceed-
ingly difficult. The missionaries have given the name
of Purgatory to an extremely steep and slippery decli- Pnrgatoiy.
vity at the base of a sandstone rock, in passing which the
mules, drawing their hind legs under their bodies, slide
down at a venture. From this point they saw toward the
left the great peak of Guacharo, which presented a very
picturesque appearance ; and soon after entered a dense
forest, through which they descended for seven hours
in a kind of ravine, the path being formed of steps from
two to three feet high, over which the mules leaped
like wild goats. The Creoles have sufficient confidence
in these animals to remain in their saddles during this
dangerous passage ; but our travellers preferred walking.

The forest was exceedingly dense, and consisted of




CHAP. VIII. trees of stupendous size. The guides pointed out some
ln,n,~ whose height exceeded 130 feet, while the diameter of
trees. many of the curucays and hymeneas was more than

three yards. Next to these, the plants which most
attracted their notice were the dragon's-blood {Crotov
sanguifluurn), the purple juice of which flowed along the
whitish bark, various species of palms, and arborescent
ferns of large size. The old trunks of some of the latter
were covered with a cai-bonaceous powder, having a
metallic lustre like graphite.

As they descended the mountain the tree-ferns dimi-
nished, while the number of palms increased. Large-
winged butterflies (riymphales) became more common^
and every thing showed that they were approaching the
coast. The weather was cloudy, the heat oppressive,
and the howling of the monkeys gave indication of a
coming thunder-stonn. These creatures, the arguatoes,
resemble a young bear, and are about three feet long
from the top of the head to the root of the tail. The
fur is bushy and reddish-brown, the face blackish-blue,
with a bare and wrinkled skin, and the tail long and

While engaged in observing a troop of them cross the
road upon the horizontal branches of the trees, the
travellers met a company of naked Indians proceeding
towards the mountains of Caripe. The men were
armed with bows and arrows, and the women, heavily
laden, brought up the rear. They marched in silence,
with their eyes fixed on the ground. Our philosophers,
oppressed with the increasing heat and faint with fatigue,
endeavoured to learn from them the distance of the
missionary convent of Vera Cruz, where they intended
to pass the night ; but little information could be ob-
tained on account of their imperfect knowledge of the
Spanish language.

Continuing to descend amid scattered blocks, they
unexpectedly found themselves at the end of the forest,
wlien tliey entered a savannah, the verdure of which
hud been renewed by the winter rains. Here they had





a splendid view of the Sierra del Guacharo, the northern chap, viii
declivity of which presented an almost perpendicular sien^T^,
wall, exceeding 3200 feet in height, and scantily covered Guacharo.
with vegetation. The ground before them consisted of
several level spaces, lying above each other like vast
steps. Tlie mission of Vera Cruz, which is situated in
the middle of it, they reached in tlie evening, and next
day continued their journey toward the Gulf of Cariaco.

Proceeding on their way they entered another forest, Catuaio
and reached the station of Catuaro, situated in a very
wild spot, where they lodged at the house of the priest.
Their host was a doctor of divinity, a thin little man, of
petulant vivacity, who talked continually of a lawsuit
in which he was engaged with the superior of his con-
vent, and wished to know what Humboldt thought of
free-will and the souls of animals. At this place they
met with the corregidor of the district, an amiable per-
son, who gave them three Indians to assist in cutting ,u
way through the forest, the lianas and intertwining
l)i-anches having obstructed the narrow lanes. The
little missionary, however, insisted on accompanying
them to Cariaco, and contrived to render the road
extremely tedious by his observations on the necessity
of the slave-trade, the innate wickedness of blacks, and
the benefit which they derived from being reduced to
bondage by Christians.

The road which they followed through the forest of Road
Catuaro resembled that of the preceding day. The |}Je°forest.

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