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we reflect that at the distance of 350 miles to the south, this
side of the Andes is completely hidden by one impenetrable forest,
the contrast is very remarkable. I took several long walks while
collecting objects of natural history. The country is pleasant for
exercise. There are many very beautiful flowers; and, as in most
other dry climates, the plants and shrubs possess strong and
peculiar odours - even one's clothes by brushing through them became
scented. I did not cease from wonder at finding each succeeding day
as fine as the foregoing. What a difference does climate make in
the enjoyment of life! How opposite are the sensations when viewing
black mountains half-enveloped in clouds, and seeing another range
through the light blue haze of a fine day! The one for a time may
be very sublime; the other is all gaiety and happy life.

AUGUST 14, 1834.

I set out on a riding excursion, for the purpose of geologising the
basal parts of the Andes, which alone at this time of the year are
not shut up by the winter snow. Our first day's ride was northward
along the sea-coast. After dark we reached the Hacienda of
Quintero, the estate which formerly belonged to Lord Cochrane. My
object in coming here was to see the great beds of shells which
stand some yards above the level of the sea, and are burnt for
lime. The proofs of the elevation of this whole line of coast are
unequivocal: at the height of a few hundred feet old-looking shells
are numerous, and I found some at 1300 feet. These shells either
lie loose on the surface, or are embedded in a reddish-black
vegetable mould. I was much surprised to find under the microscope
that this vegetable mould is really marine mud, full of minute
particles of organic bodies.

AUGUST 15, 1834.

We returned towards the valley of Quillota. The country was
exceedingly pleasant; just such as poets would call pastoral: green
open lawns, separated by small valleys with rivulets, and the
cottages, we may suppose of the shepherds, scattered on the
hill-sides. We were obliged to cross the ridge of the Chilicauquen.
At its base there were many fine evergreen forest-trees, but these
flourished only in the ravines, where there was running water. Any
person who had seen only the country near Valparaiso would never
have imagined that there had been such picturesque spots in Chile.
As soon as we reached the brow of the Sierra, the valley of
Quillota was immediately under our feet. The prospect was one of
remarkable artificial luxuriance. The valley is very broad and
quite flat, and is thus easily irrigated in all parts. The little
square gardens are crowded with orange and olive trees and every
sort of vegetable. On each side huge bare mountains rise, and this
from the contrast renders the patchwork valley the more pleasing.
Whoever called "Valparaiso" the "Valley of Paradise," must have
been thinking of Quillota. We crossed over to the Hacienda de San
Isidro, situated at the very foot of the Bell Mountain.


Chile, as may be seen in the maps, is a narrow strip of land
between the Cordillera and the Pacific; and this strip is itself
traversed by several mountain-lines, which in this part run
parallel to the great range. Between these outer lines and the main
Cordillera, a succession of level basins, generally opening into
each other by narrow passages, extend far to the southward: in
these, the principal towns are situated, as San Felipe, Santiago,
San Fernando. These basins or plains, together with the transverse
flat valleys (like that of Quillota) which connect them with the
coast, I have no doubt are the bottoms of ancient inlets and deep
bays, such as at the present day intersect every part of Tierra del
Fuego and the western coast. Chile must formerly have resembled the
latter country in the configuration of its land and water. The
resemblance was occasionally shown strikingly when a level fog-bank
covered, as with a mantle, all the lower parts of the country: the
white vapour curling into the ravines, beautifully represented
little coves and bays; and here and there a solitary hillock
peeping up showed that it had formerly stood there as an islet. The
contrast of these flat valleys and basins with the irregular
mountains gave the scenery a character which to me was new and very

From the natural slope to seaward of these plains, they are very
easily irrigated, and in consequence singularly fertile. Without
this process the land would produce scarcely anything, for during
the whole summer the sky is cloudless. The mountains and hills are
dotted over with bushes and low trees, and excepting these the
vegetation is very scanty. Each landowner in the valley possesses a
certain portion of hill-country, where his half-wild cattle, in
considerable numbers, manage to find sufficient pasture. Once every
year there is a grand "rodeo," when all the cattle are driven down,
counted, and marked, and a certain number separated to be fattened
in the irrigated fields. Wheat is extensively cultivated, and a
good deal of Indian corn: a kind of bean is, however, the staple
article of food for the common labourers. The orchards produce an
overflowing abundance of peaches, figs, and grapes. With all these
advantages the inhabitants of the country ought to be much more
prosperous than they are.

AUGUST 16, 1834.

The mayor-domo of the Hacienda was good enough to give me a guide
and fresh horses; and in the morning we set out to ascend the
Campana, or Bell Mountain, which is 6400 feet high. The paths were
very bad, but both the geology and scenery amply repaid the
trouble. We reached, by the evening, a spring called the Agua del
Guanaco, which is situated at a great height. This must be an old
name, for it is very many years since a guanaco drank its waters.
During the ascent I noticed that nothing but bushes grew on the
northern slope, whilst on the southern slope there was a bamboo
about fifteen feet high. In a few places there were palms, and I
was surprised to see one at an elevation of at least 4500 feet.
These palms are, for their family, ugly trees. Their stem is very
large, and of a curious form, being thicker in the middle than at
the base or top. They are excessively numerous in some parts of
Chile, and valuable on account of a sort of treacle made from the
sap. On one estate near Petorca they tried to count them, but
failed, after having numbered several hundred thousand. Every year
in the early spring, in August, very many are cut down, and when
the trunk is lying on the ground, the crown of leaves is lopped
off. The sap then immediately begins to flow from the upper end,
and continues so doing for some months: it is, however, necessary
that a thin slice should be shaved off from that end every morning,
so as to expose a fresh surface. A good tree will give ninety
gallons, and all this must have been contained in the vessels of
the apparently dry trunk. It is said that the sap flows much more
quickly on those days when the sun is powerful; and likewise, that
it is absolutely necessary to take care, in cutting down the tree,
that it should fall with its head upwards on the side of the hill;
for if it falls down the slope, scarcely any sap will flow;
although in that case one would have thought that the action would
have been aided, instead of checked, by the force of gravity. The
sap is concentrated by boiling, and is then called treacle, which
it very much resembles in taste.

We unsaddled our horses near the spring, and prepared to pass the
night. The evening was fine, and the atmosphere so clear that the
masts of the vessels at anchor in the bay of Valparaiso, although
no less than twenty-six geographical miles distant, could be
distinguished clearly as little black streaks. A ship doubling the
point under sail appeared as a bright white speck. Anson expresses
much surprise, in his voyage, at the distance at which his vessels
were discovered from the coast; but he did not sufficiently allow
for the height of the land and the great transparency of the air.

The setting of the sun was glorious; the valleys being black,
whilst the snowy peaks of the Andes yet retained a ruby tint. When
it was dark, we made a fire beneath a little arbour of bamboos,
fried our charqui (or dried slips of beef), took our mate, and were
quite comfortable. There is an inexpressible charm in thus living
in the open air. The evening was calm and still; - the shrill noise
of the mountain bizcacha, and the faint cry of a goatsucker, were
occasionally to be heard. Besides these, few birds, or even
insects, frequent these dry, parched mountains.

AUGUST 17, 1834.

In the morning we climbed up the rough mass of greenstone which
crowns the summit. This rock, as frequently happens, was much
shattered and broken into huge angular fragments. I observed,
however, one remarkable circumstance, namely, that many of the
surfaces presented every degree of freshness - some appearing as if
broken the day before, whilst on others lichens had either just
become, or had long grown, attached. I so fully believed that this
was owing to the frequent earthquakes, that I felt inclined to
hurry from below each loose pile. As one might very easily be
deceived in a fact of this kind, I doubted its accuracy, until
ascending Mount Wellington, in Van Diemen's Land, where earthquakes
do not occur; and there I saw the summit of the mountain similarly
composed and similarly shattered, but all the blocks appeared as if
they had been hurled into their present position thousands of years

We spent the day on the summit, and I never enjoyed one more
thoroughly. Chile, bounded by the Andes and the Pacific, was seen
as in a map. The pleasure from the scenery, in itself beautiful,
was heightened by the many reflections which arose from the mere
view of the Campana range with its lesser parallel ones, and of the
broad valley of Quillota directly intersecting them. Who can avoid
wondering at the force which has upheaved these mountains, and even
more so at the countless ages which it must have required to have
broken through, removed, and levelled whole masses of them? It is
well in this case to call to mind the vast shingle and sedimentary
beds of Patagonia, which, if heaped on the Cordillera, would
increase its height by so many thousand feet. When in that country,
I wondered how any mountain-chain could have supplied such masses,
and not have been utterly obliterated. We must not now reverse the
wonder, and doubt whether all-powerful time can grind down
mountains - even the gigantic Cordillera - into gravel and mud.

The appearance of the Andes was different from that which I had
expected. The lower line of the snow was of course horizontal, and
to this line the even summits of the range seemed quite parallel.
Only at long intervals a group of points or a single cone showed
where a volcano had existed, or does now exist. Hence the range
resembled a great solid wall, surmounted here and there by a tower,
and making a most perfect barrier to the country.

Almost every part of the hill had been drilled by attempts to open
gold-mines: the rage for mining has left scarcely a spot in Chile
unexamined. I spent the evening as before, talking round the fire
with my two companions. The Guasos of Chile, who correspond to the
Gauchos of the Pampas, are, however, a very different set of
beings. Chile is the more civilised of the two countries, and the
inhabitants, in consequence, have lost much individual character.
Gradations in rank are much more strongly marked: the Guaso does
not by any means consider every man his equal; and I was quite
surprised to find that my companions did not like to eat at the
same time with myself. This feeling of inequality is a necessary
consequence of the existence of an aristocracy of wealth. It is
said that some few of the greater landowners possess from five to
ten thousand pounds sterling per annum: an inequality of riches
which I believe is not met with in any of the cattle-breeding
countries eastward of the Andes. A traveller does not here meet
that unbounded hospitality which refuses all payment, but yet is so
kindly offered that no scruples can be raised in accepting it.
Almost every house in Chile will receive you for the night, but a
trifle is expected to be given in the morning; even a rich man will
accept two or three shillings. The Gaucho, although he may be a
cutthroat, is a gentleman; the Guaso is in few respects better, but
at the same time a vulgar, ordinary fellow. The two men, although
employed much in the same manner, are different in their habits and
attire; and the peculiarities of each are universal in their
respective countries. The Gaucho seems part of his horse, and
scorns to exert himself excepting when on its back; the Guaso may
be hired to work as a labourer in the fields. The former lives
entirely on animal food; the latter almost wholly on vegetable. We
do not here see the white boots, the broad drawers, and scarlet
chilipa; the picturesque costume of the Pampas. Here, common
trousers are protected by black and green worsted leggings. The
poncho, however, is common to both. The chief pride of the Guaso
lies in his spurs, which are absurdly large. I measured one which
was six inches in the DIAMETER of the rowel, and the rowel itself
contained upwards of thirty points. The stirrups are on the same
scale, each consisting of a square, carved block of wood, hollowed
out, yet weighing three or four pounds. The Guaso is perhaps more
expert with the lazo than the Gaucho; but, from the nature of the
country, he does not know the use of the bolas.

AUGUST 18, 1834.

We descended the mountain, and passed some beautiful little spots,
with rivulets and fine trees. Having slept at the same hacienda as
before, we rode during the two succeeding days up the valley, and
passed through Quillota, which is more like a collection of
nursery-gardens than a town. The orchards were beautiful,
presenting one mass of peach-blossoms. I saw, also, in one or two
places the date-palm; it is a most stately tree; and I should think
a group of them in their native Asiatic or African deserts must be
superb. We passed likewise San Felipe, a pretty straggling town
like Quillota. The valley in this part expands into one of those
great bays or plains, reaching to the foot of the Cordillera, which
have been mentioned as forming so curious a part of the scenery of
Chile. In the evening we reached the mines of Jajuel, situated in a
ravine at the flank of the great chain. I stayed here five days. My
host, the superintendent of the mine, was a shrewd but rather
ignorant Cornish miner. He had married a Spanish woman, and did not
mean to return home; but his admiration for the mines of Cornwall
remained unbounded. Amongst many other questions, he asked me, "Now
that George Rex is dead, how many more of the family of Rexes are
yet alive?" This Rex certainly must be a relation of the great
author Finis, who wrote all books!

These mines are of copper, and the ore is all shipped to Swansea,
to be smelted. Hence the mines have an aspect singularly quiet, as
compared to those in England: here no smoke, furnaces, or great
steam-engines, disturb the solitude of the surrounding mountains.

The Chilian government, or rather the old Spanish law, encourages
by every method the searching for mines. The discoverer may work a
mine on any ground, by paying five shillings; and before paying
this he may try, even in the garden of another man, for twenty

It is now well known that the Chilian method of mining is the
cheapest. My host says that the two principal improvements
introduced by foreigners have been, first, reducing by previous
roasting the copper pyrites - which, being the common ore in
Cornwall, the English miners were astounded on their arrival to
find thrown away as useless: secondly, stamping and washing the
scoriae from the old furnaces - by which process particles of metal
are recovered in abundance. I have actually seen mules carrying to
the coast, for transportation to England, a cargo of such cinders.
But the first case is much the most curious. The Chilian miners
were so convinced that copper pyrites contained not a particle of
copper, that they laughed at the Englishmen for their ignorance,
who laughed in turn, and bought their richest veins for a few
dollars. It is very odd that, in a country where mining had been
extensively carried on for many years, so simple a process as
gently roasting the ore to expel the sulphur previous to smelting
it, had never been discovered. A few improvements have likewise
been introduced in some of the simple machinery; but even to the
present day, water is removed from some mines by men carrying it up
the shaft in leathern bags!


The labouring men work very hard. They have little time allowed for
their meals, and during summer and winter they begin when it is
light, and leave off at dark. They are paid one pound sterling a
month, and their food is given them: this for breakfast consists of
sixteen figs and two small loaves of bread; for dinner, boiled
beans; for supper, broken roasted wheat grain. They scarcely ever
taste meat; as, with the twelve pounds per annum, they have to
clothe themselves and support their families. The miners who work
in the mine itself have twenty-five shillings per month, and are
allowed a little charqui. But these men come down from their bleak
habitations only once in every fortnight or three weeks.

(PLATE 63. CACTUS (Cereus Peruviana).)

During my stay here I thoroughly enjoyed scrambling about these
huge mountains. The geology, as might have been expected, was very
interesting. The shattered and baked rocks, traversed by
innumerable dikes of greenstone, showed what commotions had
formerly taken place. The scenery was much the same as that near
the Bell of Quillota - dry barren mountains, dotted at intervals by
bushes with a scanty foliage. The cactuses, or rather opuntias,
were here very numerous. I measured one of a spherical figure,
which, including the spines, was six feet and four inches in
circumference. The height of the common cylindrical, branching
kind, is from twelve to fifteen feet, and the girth (with spines)
of the branches between three and four feet.

A heavy fall of snow on the mountains prevented me, during the last
two days, from making some interesting excursions. I attempted to
reach a lake which the inhabitants, from some unaccountable reason,
believe to be an arm of the sea. During a very dry season, it was
proposed to attempt cutting a channel from it for the sake of the
water, but the padre, after a consultation, declared it was too
dangerous, as all Chile would be inundated, if, as generally
supposed, the lake was connected with the Pacific. We ascended to a
great height, but becoming involved in the snow-drifts failed in
reaching this wonderful lake, and had some difficulty in returning.
I thought we should have lost our horses; for there was no means of
guessing how deep the drifts were, and the animals, when led, could
only move by jumping. The black sky showed that a fresh snowstorm
was gathering, and we therefore were not a little glad when we
escaped. By the time we reached the base the storm commenced, and
it was lucky for us that this did not happen three hours earlier in
the day.

AUGUST 26, 1834.

We left Jajuel and again crossed the basin of San Felipe. The day
was truly Chilian: glaringly bright, and the atmosphere quite
clear. The thick and uniform covering of newly-fallen snow rendered
the view of the volcano of Aconcagua and the main chain quite
glorious. We were now on the road to Santiago, the capital of
Chile. We crossed the Cerro del Talguen, and slept at a little
rancho. The host, talking about the state of Chile as compared to
other countries, was very humble: "Some see with two eyes, and some
with one, but for my part I do not think that Chile sees with any."

AUGUST 27, 1834.

After crossing many low hills we descended into the small
land-locked plain of Guitron. In the basins, such as this one,
which are elevated from one thousand to two thousand feet above the
sea, two species of acacia, which are stunted in their forms, and
stand wide apart from each other, grow in large numbers. These
trees are never found near the sea-coast; and this gives another
characteristic feature to the scenery of these basins. We crossed a
low ridge which separates Guitron from the great plain on which
Santiago stands. The view was here pre-eminently striking: the dead
level surface, covered in parts by woods of acacia, and with the
city in the distance, abutting horizontally against the base of the
Andes, whose snowy peaks were bright with the evening sun. At the
first glance of this view, it was quite evident that the plain
represented the extent of a former inland sea. As soon as we gained
the level road we pushed our horses into a gallop, and reached the
city before it was dark.

I stayed a week in Santiago and enjoyed myself very much. In the
morning I rode to various places on the plain, and in the evening
dined with several of the English merchants, whose hospitality at
this place is well known. A never-failing source of pleasure was to
ascend the little hillock of rock (St. Lucia) which projects in the
middle of the city. The scenery certainly is most striking, and, as
I have said, very peculiar. I am informed that this same character
is common to the cities on the great Mexican platform. Of the town
I have nothing to say in detail: it is not so fine or so large as
Buenos Ayres, but is built after the same model. I arrived here by
a circuit to the north; so I resolved to return to Valparaiso by a
rather longer excursion to the south of the direct road.

SEPTEMBER 5, 1834.

By the middle of the day we arrived at one of the suspension
bridges made of hide, which cross the Maypu, a large turbulent
river a few leagues southward of Santiago. These bridges are very
poor affairs. The road, following the curvature of the suspending
ropes, is made of bundles of sticks placed close together. It was
full of holes, and oscillated rather fearfully, even with the
weight of a man leading his horse. In the evening we reached a
comfortable farm-house, where there were several very pretty
senoritas. They were much horrified at my having entered one of
their churches out of mere curiosity. They asked me, "Why do you
not become a Christian - for our religion is certain?" I assured
them I was a sort of Christian; but they would not hear of
it - appealing to my own words, "Do not your padres, your very
bishops, marry?" The absurdity of a bishop having a wife
particularly struck them: they scarcely knew whether to be most
amused or horror-struck at such an enormity.

SEPTEMBER 6, 1834.

We proceeded due south, and slept at Rancagua. The road passed over
the level but narrow plain, bounded on one side by lofty hills, and
on the other by the Cordillera. The next day we turned up the
valley of the Rio Cachapual, in which the hot-baths of Cauquenes,
long celebrated for their medicinal properties, are situated. The
suspension bridges, in the less frequented parts, are generally
taken down during the winter when the rivers are low. Such was the
case in this valley, and we were therefore obliged to cross the
stream on horseback. This is rather disagreeable, for the foaming
water, though not deep, rushes so quickly over the bed of large
rounded stones, that one's head becomes quite confused, and it is
difficult even to perceive whether the horse is moving onward or
standing still. In summer, when the snow melts, the torrents are
quite impassable; their strength and fury are then extremely great,
as might be plainly seen by the marks which they had left. We
reached the baths in the evening, and stayed there five days, being
confined the two last by heavy rain. The buildings consist of a
square of miserable little hovels, each with a single table and
bench. They are situated in a narrow deep valley just without the
central Cordillera. It is a quiet, solitary spot, with a good deal
of wild beauty.

The mineral springs of Cauquenes burst forth on a line of
dislocation, crossing a mass of stratified rock, the whole of which
betrays the action of heat. A considerable quantity of gas is
continually escaping from the same orifices with the water. Though
the springs are only a few yards apart, they have very different
temperatures; and this appears to be the result of an unequal
mixture of cold water: for those with the lowest temperature have

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 26 of 51)