On leaving camp—nearly at noon, after a serious quarrel and fight among my men, which left me worried to death by the petty nonsense and incessant grumbling of my followers—we journeyed at an elevation of 2,300 ft., finding shortly after an almost circular cuvette of deep grey cinders, 100 ft. deep (elevation at the bottom 2,200 ft.).
Twelve kilometres farther on we came upon another great depression extending from east to west, with an enormous belt of grassy land. There was the usual cluster of trees and palms in the centre, but larger than usual. To the south were campos—lovely prairies—with sparse and stunted trees—chiefly Goma arabica or acacias.
The elevation of the upper edge of the cuvette was 2,500 ft., that of the bottom 2,450 ft. We continued our journey on the top of the plateau, with slight undulations varying in height from 50 to 70 ft. Snuff-coloured soil and red sand were invariably noticeable on the higher points, and grey ashes in the lower points, where erosion had caused depressions.
Then, farther on, the plateau, with an elevation of 2,450 ft., was absolutely flat for several kilometres, and showed sparse vegetation and miserable-looking anaemic trees—the thin soil over solid rock affording them inadequate nourishment.
Eighteen kilometres from our last camp we came upon another oval basin (elev. 2,400 ft. above the sea level), extending longitudinally from N.N.E. to S.S.W. On its huge deposits of cinders grew deliciously green, fresh-looking, healthy grass, and a thick clump of burity palms, and birero trees of immense height and thick foliage. Those beautiful trees were called by the people of Goyaz "cutiba" and "pintahyba." They were marvellous in their wonderful alignment among the surrounding circle of gorgeous palms. The latter were in their turn screened in their lower part by a belt of low scrub—so that upon looking at that oasis one could hardly realize that it had not been geometrically laid out by the hands of a skilful gardener.
On the outer rim of the cuvette—away from the moisture—hundreds, in fact, thousands of cones, cylinders and domes, from 4 to 6 ft. high, the work of ants, could be seen, all constructed of bluish grey ashes.
We had here a wonderful example, quite sufficient to persuade the most sceptical, of the influence of agglomerations of trees in the formation of clouds. The sky was perfectly clear everywhere except directly above the extensive cluster of trees in the large cuvette. Quite low down—only a hundred feet or so above the top of the trees—there hung a heavy white cloud. It was a windless day. The cloud ended on all sides exactly where the trees ended, as sharply as if it had been cut with a knife. It looked exactly like a rectangular canopy over the luxuriant vegetation. This appearance was intensified by undulations in the lower part of the cloud, like festoons.
In proceeding across the immense circular cuvette I found that the central line of thick vegetation formed an angle. A streamlet of delicious crystal-like water emerged from among the trees. On its bank lay the skeletons of three mules, suggesting a tragedy.
On leaving the great cuvette we rose again to the top of the plateau, 2,550 ft. above sea level. On descending from a large dome to the west over red volcanic sand and red earth, half consolidated into rock easily friable under slight pressure, we were once more travelling across immense campos in a depression of fine cinders and earth, extending from north to south, at an elevation of 2,400 ft. We further traversed two other less important depressions, the deepest being at an elevation of 2,350 ft.
The jutting headlands of the plateau on which we had travelled were all most precipitous—nearly vertical—and of solid dark red volcanic rock.
A magnificent view next confronted us to the south. A huge black square block with a crater was before us, and there appeared what seemed to me to be the remaining sections of a huge volcanic vent and several smaller funnels. The lower lip of the crater formed a terrace. Then another wider crater could be perceived in a circular hollow of the spur of the plateau on which we had travelled, and which stretched out into the underlying plain. That spur extended from north-east to south-west, and in it two circular hollows of great size could be noticed, the sides of which were deeply fluted.
During the entire march that day we had seen quantities of violet-coloured deposits made up of tiny crystals, carbonized and pulverized rock and ferruginous dust.
On descending from the summit of the plateau, by a very steep slope, we saw many shrubs of sapatinho, a medicinal plant of the genus euphorbiaceae (Euphorbia), growing in the interstices of red igneous rock, and among quantities of debris of marble, crystals, and eruptive pebbles.
During the night we had a magnificent lunar display. There was a good deal of moisture in the air, and mist. First of all a gorgeous lunar halo was observed, which later vanished to leave room for a most extraordinary geometrical design upon the partly moon-illuminated clouds and masses of mist. A most perfect luminous equilateral triangle appeared, with its apex downwards to the west and the half-moon in the central point of the base-line of the triangle above. On either side of the apex of the triangle faint concentric circles blended away into the sky near the horizon. Later in the night that curious effect disappeared and a multiple lunar rainbow of amazing beauty and perfection was to be admired.
In ecstasy at the beautiful sight, and in a moment of forgetfulness, I drew the attention of my men to the wonderful spectacle.
"That's the moon!" they answered, with a snarl. Talking among themselves, they contemptuously added: "He has never seen the moon before!" and they went on with the never-changing, blood-curdling tales of murders which filled them nightly with delight.
The streamlet flowing south, on the bank of which we camped, took its name of Sapatinho from the many sapatinho trees which were in the neighbourhood. It was a curious watercourse, which disappeared into a tunnel in the rock, to reappear only farther off out of a hole in a red lava-flow.
We had marched until late into the night, and it was not until we arrived and made camp that I noticed that Filippe the negro was missing. Several hours elapsed, and as he had not turned up I feared that something had happened to him. Had he been one of the other men I should have thought it a case of desertion; but Filippe was a good fellow, and I had from the beginning felt that he and Alcides would be the two faithful men on that expedition. I went back alone a mile or two in the moonlight to try and find him, but with no success.
At sunrise I ordered two men to go in search of him. The fellows—who had no mercy whatever even for one another—were loth to go back to look for their companion and his mount. When they eventually started they took a pick each to dig his grave in case they found him dead. Fortunately they had only been gone from camp a few minutes when I perceived Filippe riding down the steep incline.
The minimum temperature was only 55 deg. Fahr. during the night, but it was so damp that my men felt the cold intensely, especially as there were gusts of a sharp breeze from the north-east. Moreover, in the deep hollow with thick grass in which we camped (elev. 2,200 ft. above the sea level) we suffered absolute torture from the swarms of carrapatos of all sizes, mosquitoes, and flies. The air and earth were thick with them. The water was dirty and almost undrinkable, as it passed through a lot of decomposing vegetation.
I was glad when Filippe reappeared and we were able to leave that terrible spot. Great undulations were now met with, 300 ft. and more in height.
Only 11/2 kil. farther on we came to the Presidente stream, flowing south (elev. 2,100 ft.) over a bed of ashes, while its banks were formed of thick deposits of finely powdered yellow volcanic sand and dust.
We went over a huge dome covered with a stratum of brown sand, exposing on its western side a large wall of igneous rock with much-fissured strata dipping to the north-west. Immense isolated rocks showed vertical strata, demonstrating plainly that they had been considerably disturbed at some epoch or other.
We were on the bank of another stream (elev. 1,950 ft.) flowing south—the Capim Branco. We were then in another great and deep basin extending from north-west to south-east, in the north-western part of which could be seen on the summit of the rounded hill-tops and spurs an overlapping of rock, evidently produced when in a molten condition. In the south-western part of the slope encircling this great valley there stood another great barrier, formed also by a flow of molten rock curling over itself, as it were, and above this stood angular and pointed shoots of molten stuff of a subsequent origin. Large slabs of the latter could be separated easily from the underlying flow.
From the summit of that rocky prominence was obtained a lovely panorama of a great plateau, a portion of which had been eroded into a wall (E.N.E.) with three buttresses: another portion was gradually assuming a similar shape. The plateau had a great spur projecting westward. A crater had formed with a broken-up side to the west, leaving the conical-shaped remains of its fragmentary mouth. The plateau ended after describing a sweeping curve—almost a semicircle.
In the centre of the immense basin before us were successions of high undulations—like great waves—extending southward in parallel lines (east to west). From the point of vantage on which I stood I could count as many as eight of those huge lines of waves. Evidently at some remote period—it would be difficult to say how many thousands of years ago—that was a gigantic mass of molten stuff in commotion. In many places it was apparent that the great waves of molten rock had flowed over and partly overlapped the lower ones. In its higher north-easterly point the basin was wooded.
The great basin extended southward. In that direction all the lower ridges with their arched backs showed a depression or dip. On the S.S.W. two more great domes of wonderfully perfect curves were to be observed, and on the south-west stood an isolated gigantic quadrangular mountain of solid rock, with the usual buttresses in the lower portion typical of that region.
To the south-east a lovely square-shaped plateau of marvellously graceful lines stood prominent in the centre of the basin. In the same direction, only a few hundred yards off, was a most peculiar angular rock, which looked exactly like the magnified crest of an immense wave. That was just what it had been formerly—the wave, of course, of a gigantic molten mass of rock, set in violent motion by an immeasurable force. It was the terminal point of the great succession of rocky waves which we had skirted to the north in order to arrive at that point, and which extended from the great semicircle we had passed the previous day.
At the terminal point of those rocky waves—or wherever the rock was exposed—it was evident that all those undulations had received a similar movement and had formed the great backbone range of rock, fully exposed in the last undulation. I had observed the continuation of this great rock crest the previous day in the basin previous to reaching the Capim Branco valley. There it crossed the spur on which I was—"Observation Spur," I shall call it for purposes of identification—almost at right angles. It seemed as if two forces had been acting simultaneously but in different directions, and at various points had come into conflict and eventually had overrun each other.
The last great rocky crest at Capim Branco, when seen in profile, looked like a huge monolith with a slight inclination to the south-east. The formation of the rock itself showed a frothy appearance, such as is common with any liquefied matter while in a state of ebullition.
It is quite possible, too, that the great wave of molten matter travelling from north-east to south-west, upon encountering some obstacle, had its run interrupted and had cooled down, while the upper portion of it, from the impetus received, curled over the summit of the arrested solidified rock below.
In fact, there was plenty of evidence to show that while the lower stratum cooled down other sheets of lava flowed above it, forming many successive layers. In the eastern part, where they were at an angle of 40 deg., these had cracked considerably in cooling. The central part of the great wave was entirely made up of vertically fissured strata. The lower half of the mass of rock showed markedly that it was an anterior wave to the upper.
There was a wide gap formed by the volcanic crack between this and the continuation of the undulations to the south-west, which got lower and lower. Perhaps before the crack occurred that hill was like the others on the east and west of it, padded with red earth. It must have become barren by the great shock which caused the surface of the earth to divide, and which no doubt shook the surface deposits down. In examining its north-eastern neighbour it could be seen that it actually tumbled over when the subsidence occurred, leaving a gap a few hundred metres wide.
A short distance beyond, on the S.S.E., was an interesting table-land sloping to the north-east, on the north side of which could be observed yet one more beautiful semicircular extinct crater. The rim, or lip of lava of this crater, had fissured in such a peculiar way as to give the appearance of a row of rectangular windows. The sections of the crater which remained standing showed two conical buttresses above massive cylindrical bases. From the crater started a huge, deep crack, 30 to 50 ft. deep and 20 to 100 ft. wide, which farther down became the actual bed of the stream. On both sides of this crack was a deep deposit of red earth and sand, the stratum below this being a solid mass of lava. The crater on the north-east side of the mountain had an inclination to the north, but was quite vertical on the south side.
Beautiful crystals were to be found in abundance on this mound, as well as great quantities of marble chips and crystallized rock in various forms.
On the side of this strange mound of rock I found some curious shallow caves, formed by great fissures in the rock. The vertical outer walls of these caves were painted white with lime dissolved in water. There were some puzzling carvings, which interested me greatly. I could not quite make up my mind at first whether those carvings had been made by Indians or whether they were the work of escaped negro slaves who had found shelter in those distant caves. In character they appeared to me Indian. Negroes, as a rule, are not much given to rock-carving in order to record thoughts or events. Moreover, those primitive carvings showed strong characteristics of hunting people, such as the Indians were. There were conventional attempts at designing human figures—both male and female—by mere lines such as a child would draw: one round dot for the head and one line each for the body, arms, and legs. Curiously enough—and this persuaded me that the drawings had been done by Indians—none of the figures possessed more than three fingers or toes to any extremity. As we have seen, the Indians cannot count beyond three—unlike members of most African tribes, who can all count at least up to five. This, nevertheless, did not apply to representations of footmarks, both human and animal—which were reproduced with admirable fidelity, I think because the actual footprints on the rock itself had been used as a guide before the carving had been made. I saw the representation of a human footmark, the left, with five toes, and the shape of the foot correctly drawn. Evidently the artist or a friend had stood on his right foot while applying the left to the side of the rock. When they attempted to draw a human foot on a scale smaller than nature, they limited themselves to carving two lines at a wide angle, to form the heel, and five dots to represent the toes.
The most wonderful of those rock carvings were the footprints of the jaguar (onca), reproduced with such perfection that it seemed almost as if they had been left there by the animal itself. Not so happy were the representations of human heads—one evidently of an Indian chief, with an aureole of feathers, showing a painfully distorted vision on the part of the artist. The eyes were formed by two circles in poor alignment, the nose by a vertical line, and the mouth, not under but by the side of the nose, represented by two concentric curves.
A figure in a sitting posture was interesting enough—like a T upside down, with a globe for a head and a cross-bar for arms. The hands had three fingers each, but there were only two toes to each foot.
It was interesting to note how the sculptors of those images caught, in a rudimentary way, the character of the subjects represented. This was chiefly remarkable in the footprints of birds and other animals, such as deer. They seemed particularly fond of representing deer-horns—sometimes with double lines at an angle. That was possibly to commemorate hunting expeditions. A frequent subject of decoration was a crude representation of the female organ; and one a magnified resemblance, angularly drawn, of an Indian male organ garbed in its typical decoration.
The face of the rock was absolutely covered with drawings, many being mere reproductions of the same design. Some were so rudimentary that they were absolutely impossible to identify. One fact was certain, that those carvings had been made by men who were trackers by nature and who observed chiefly what they noticed on the ground, instead of around and above them. Thus, there were no representations whatever of foliage or trees, no attempts at reproducing birds, or the sun, the moon, the stars.
The most interesting of all, from an ethnological point of view, were the geometrical designs. They closely resembled the incised lines and punch-marks of the Australian aborigines, and the patterns common in Polynesia. Concentric circles—of more or less perfection—were common, some with a central cross of three and four parallel lines. Coils seemed beyond the drawing powers of Indian artists. Ovals, triangles, squares, the Egyptian cross (T-shaped), series of detached circles (these generally enclosed within a triangle, quadrangle or lozenge) were frequent. Even more frequent were the parallel incised lines, generally used as subsidiary filling or shading of other patterns, such as concentric circles, or sections of triangles or squares.
It may be noted that a certain intelligence was displayed by the artist in dividing circles fairly accurately into four and eight sections, the diameters intersecting pretty well in the centre of the circles. One pattern which seemed to take their fancy was that of an oval or a circle with a number of dots inside.
In examining the cave closely, inside and outside, I also found upon the wall, which was simply covered with those images, some curious marks resembling the letters H P, A P, and W [Symbol: pyramid sign; 2 concentric triangles], which seemed of a more recent date—perhaps left there by some missionary Father or native explorer, or by some escaped slave.
Just below the point where the stream Capim Branco entered the S. Lourenco River (elev. 1,800 ft. above the sea level), there was a most beautiful waterfall—the Salto Floriano Peixoto. Two minor falls, some 30 ft. high (Salto Benjamin) were also to be seen under arches of luxuriant vegetation, just above the point of junction of the two streams.
The roaring and foaming volume of water of the greater fall rolled over a vertical volcanic rock, about 60 ft. high and 60 ft. wide, with a small terrace half way up its face. The bed of the river—below the fall—was, like all the torrents of that region, of strangely shaped lava blocks. With the dense foliage, the innumerable caite, a medicinal plant with huge leaves, the festooned liane and creepers—all most verdant in the sombre green light filtering through the foliage and the moisture of the abundant spray from the fall—it was indeed a magnificent sight. In order to see it, however, one had to suffer a great deal, because in forcing one's way through the dense vegetation one got literally covered with carrapatos and carrapatinhos.
Above the falls, for some hundreds of yards, there were terrific rapids in the river, which flowed over a steep bed of yellow lava in terraces, over steps and over a fourth minor fall some distance off.
DISTANCES FROM THE ARAGUAYA TO CAPIM BRANCO
Kil. Metres. Araguaya to Ponte Alto 26 400 Ponte Alto to Fogaca 19 800 Fogaca to Prata 20 Prata to Ponte Queimada 23 700 Ponte Queimada to Bella Vista 19 800 Bella Vista to Agua Quente 26 500 Agua Quente to Barreiros 10 Barreiros to Agua Emeindada 16 500 Agua Emeindada to Tachos 29 700 Tachos to Bugueirao 20 Bugueirao to Paredaozinho 20 Paredaozinho to Paredao Grande 20 Paredao Grande to Cabeca de Boi 33 100 Cabeca de Boi to Sangrador 33 100 Sangrador to Sangradorzinho 20 Sangradorzinho to Varzen Grande 20 Varzen Grande to Lagoa Secca 23 Lagoa Secca to Caxoerinha 26 500 Caxoerinha to Ponte de Pedra 10 Ponte de Pedra to Lagoa Formosa 20 Lagoa Formosa to Xico Nunes 20 Xico Nunes to Sapaturo 16 500 Sapaturo to Presidente 17 Presidente to Capim Branco 14 850 —————- Total 509 450 ===========
In Search of the Highest Point of the Brazilian Plateau—Mutiny—Great Domes—Travelling by Compass—A Gigantic Fissure in the Earth's Crust
I MADE up my mind that I would continue my journey westward no farther, and would now proceed due north in order to explore the most important part of the Central Plateau—the very heart of Brazil—precisely where the great Rivers Xingu and Tapajoz had their birth. I believed that we should there find the highest point of the Central Brazilian Plateau. I expected to find in that region the most interesting portion of my journey—from the geographical, anthropological, and geological points of view. I was greatly disappointed from the anthropological aspect, since I met no one at all; but from the geological and geographical I was certainly well repaid for my trouble, great as the trouble was. We had already ridden to a distance of 1,400 kil. from the nearest railway.
My men mutinied on hearing of my plan, which I had kept concealed from them. They acted in a most abject manner. They tried to compel me to return the way we had come instead of going forward. As I flatly refused, they claimed their pay and wished to leave me there and then. Without an instant's hesitation they were handed their pay up to date and told they could go. The men had not quite realized that they would have to walk back some 858 kil. to Goyaz, without food and without animals. Alcides and Filippe the negro had remained faithful, and on that occasion stood by my side. Unfortunately, Alcides, who had a most violent temper, quarrelled with Filippe over some paltry matter and drove him over to the inimical camp.
So that there I was—with only one man left. I am not much given to losing heart over anything. Alcides showed a strong heart on that occasion. He and I proceeded for three days to rearrange the baggage and mend the saddles, etc., in order that we two alone might take along the entire caravan of animals. I did not at all look forward to the extra work of packing all the animals twice a day, and twice a day unpacking them. The loads weighed about fifty pounds each, and there were some thirty of them. Then we should have to hunt for the animals in the morning—a job which meant that one had to ride sometimes for miles to track them and bring them all back to camp. This prospect, on top of the work I had already in hand of writing, taking astronomical and meteorological observations, photography, developing negatives, drawing, collecting and classifying botanical and geological specimens, which occupied all day and the greater part of the night, was a little too much for me. But such was my joy at having got rid of my unpleasant companions that I would have put up with any additional discomfort and inconvenience in order to get on. Alcides behaved splendidly on that occasion.
June 8th and 9th were absolutely wasted. The relief from the mental strain of constantly looking after—and being on my guard against—my companions was great. They were days of great happiness to me.
On June 10th Alcides and I were making ready to depart, with all the animals and baggage, when the four mutinous followers and Filippe the negro—most penitent—begged to be re-employed. Under ordinary circumstances I should certainly never have taken them back; but when one was hundreds of miles from everywhere, and had no possible way of finding a man, one had to be patient and make the best of what one could get. I gave them another chance—principally in order to save what I could of my baggage, most of which I was certain I should have had to abandon had I proceeded alone with Alcides.
The Capim Branco river was situated between two undulating ridges of lava.
I steered a course of 300 deg. bearings magnetic (N.W.), beginning a steep climb at once through the thin forest of the plateau to the north. In many places the mules slid and rolled down the precipitous slope of igneous rock and marble debris, scattering the packs in every direction. It was a wonder they were not killed. We urged the animals on, we pushed and pulled them, we held them with all our might by the bridles when they began to slide. After many narrow escapes we reached the summit—an immense flat stretch of campos with stunted trees and delicious crisp air—quite delightful after the stifling atmosphere of the Capim Branco basin. The elevation above the sea level was 2,300 ft. On the summit of the plateau was a deep stratum of red soil. Having marched across the entire width of the plateau, we found, on descending on the opposite side, another series of dome-like mounds of crimson volcanic rock, with hardly any vegetation on them—joined together, and forming many headlands, as it were. Beyond an empty space—an opening in the landscape—a great barrier crossed the range of domes almost at right angles.
We descended through thick undergrowth, under big jatoba do matto (Hymencaea Courbaril L.) trees. The jatoba or jatahy wood has a high specific gravity, and is considered one of the woods with the highest resistance to disintegration in Brazil—as high as 1 kg. 315 gr. per square centimetre.
At 2,050 ft. we found a streamlet flowing southward. We were then in a grassy basin—another cuvette with two central tufts of thickly packed trees. We were lucky enough to see some coco babento palms, from which we shook down dates which were excellent, although somewhat troublesome to eat, owing to the innumerable filaments protecting the central large stone. These filaments stuck between one's teeth, and were most difficult to remove. The dates were the size and shape of an ordinary English walnut and extremely oily.
It was a real joy to see fine healthy trees again, after the miserable specimens we had seen of late. Even there, too, the powerful trees which emerged from the lower entangled scrub and dense foliage were greatly contorted, as if they had gone through a terrific effort in order to push their way through to reach the light and air. Liane innumerable and of all sizes hung straight or festooned from the highest trees or coiled in a deadly embrace round their branches like snakes. Nor were they the only enemies of trees. Large swellings could be noticed around most of the trees, caused by the terrible cupim (termes album) or white ants, carrying out their destructive work just under the bark. Many indeed were the trees absolutely killed by those industrious little devils.
As we marched through the matto, using the large knives freely to open our way, we had to make great deviations in our course—now because of a giant jatoba lying dead upon the ground, then to give a wide berth to a group of graceful akuri palms, with their huge spiky leaves. Those palms had great bunches of fruit. We were beginning now to find trees with fan-like extensions at the roots and base, such as I had frequently met with in the forests of Mindanao Island (Philippine Archipelago), where they were called caripapa and nonoko trees. The vines or liane were getting interesting, some being of great length and of colossal size, twisted round like a ship's cable.
We rose again to an elevation of 2,600 ft. On emerging from the cool dark forest and its refreshing green light, we found ourselves on another plateau with a slightly arched summit, of beautiful campos. From that height we looked over the immense undulating plain to the south. To the south-east we gazed upon a lower flat-topped plateau bounding the valley which, in great sweeping undulations from south-east to north-west, resembled an ocean with waves of colossal magnitude. We travelled across the slightly domed grassy plateau, and found on it a cuvette—only slightly depressed this time, but with the usual central line of tall trees with luxuriant foliage, burity palms and pintahyba trees. There, too, we had a surface stratum of red earth and fine brown dust, with an under stratum of grey ashes. Soon after we came to a second cuvette, and farther north a third could be perceived. In fact, the summit of that particular table-land was made up of subsidiary domes dividing cuvette from cuvette in succession.
In going down to 2,550 ft. we found a streamlet flowing northwest into the Rio das Mortes—or "River of Death." We were there on the great divide between the waters flowing south into the S. Lourenco and eventually into the Parana, and those flowing north—after thousands of kilometres—into the Amazon. This little rivulet was therefore interesting to me, for it was the first one I had met flowing north since leaving the Araguaya—although not the first whose waters eventually flowed in a circuitous way into the Amazon.
That was a day of great domes—all of them with perfect curves. On them the grazing was magnificent. To the north a wonderful green dome, larger than the others (elev. 2,650 ft.), would have been splendid for cattle raising. Not a sign of life could be seen anywhere. Seldom have I seen nature so still and devoid of animal life. What immensity of rich land wasted! It made one's heart bleed to see it. There was everything there to make the fortunes of a hundred thousand farmers—yet there was not a soul! There was good grazing, plenty of water. There were no roads, no trails, it is true, but with a little enterprise it would be easy to make them. With a railway passing through, that now wasted land should become the richest on earth.
In a depression (elev. 2,450 ft.) we came to a streamlet also flowing north, which had made the soil extremely swampy. We had endless trouble in getting across, the animals sinking and sticking in the black mud up to their necks. One of the mules—more reckless than the others—actually disappeared, baggage and all, while madly struggling to extricate itself from the sucking slush and mud. It took all our efforts combined to save that animal. By the time we had all got across, men, animals, and baggage were a sight worth looking at—all filthy, absolutely smothered in black mud.
We rose upon yet another dome, and then descended to the Rio Manso or Rio das Mortes, the head-waters of which were not far from there, to the south-west, in the Serra da Chapada. The river was there only 15 metres wide, but too deep and rapid for the animals to ford, so we had to follow its bank in order to find a suitable spot. The River das Mortes flowed, roughly, first in an easterly then in a north-easterly direction, and soon, swollen by innumerable streams, became the most powerful tributary of the Araguaya River, which it met almost opposite the centre of the great island of Bananal. In fact, one might almost consider the head-waters of the Rio das Mortes as the secondary sources of the great Araguaya. The Rio das Mortes flowed, at the particular spot where we met it, due north, along the edge of the great dome. The elevation of the top edge was 2,470 ft.
We camped that night on the Riberao do Boi, a swift torrent tributary of the Rio das Mortes (elev. 2,250 ft.), having marched 30 kil. that day. The cold was relatively severe during the night—the thermometer registering a minimum of 48 deg. Fahr.
We were travelling entirely by prismatic compass. My men—who had no faith whatever in what they called the agulha (compass)—swore that we were going to sure perdition.
"How can that agulha," said they, "possibly tell you where we can find beans (feijao), lard (toucinho), and sugar bricks (rapadura)?" "It is the invention of some madman!" said one. "It will bring us to our death," sadly reflected another. "If I had only known that we should be entrusting our lives all the time to that agulha," murmured a third, pointing contemptuously to the compass, "I should have never come. Oh, my poor mother and wife! And my dear little daughter six months old! Oh, shall I ever see them again ... shall I ever see them again?" Here followed a stream of bitter tears, wiped with the ragged sleeve of his shirt.
I thought that a cold bath would do them all good. I ordered them to take all the animals and baggage across the stream. It was a job of some difficulty, owing to the very swift current. A rough bridge had to be constructed over the most dangerous part. The water was freezingly cold.
On leaving the river we at once rose again over another great dome (elev. 2,350 ft.), from which we obtained a most glorious view of other grassy domes, smooth-looking and well-rounded, with a fringe of forest in the depressions between. Down below we could see the Rio das Mortes we had left behind. It came at that spot from the south-east, and after describing an angle turned to the north-east. From the north-west, at an elevation of 2,300 ft., descended the Taperinho, a small tributary which entered the Rio das Mortes.
We went over another domed mount, where I found a spring of most delicious water emerging in a gurgle from the very summit of the dome, at an elevation of 2,400 ft. On all sides we had beautiful domed prominences with wonderful grazing land.
Alcides—careless, like all the others, with his rifle—was nearly killed that day. His rifle went off accidentally, and the bullet went right through the brim of his hat, just grazing his forehead. But we were accustomed to this sort of thing—it had happened so often—and I began to wonder when bullets would really wound or kill somebody. Indeed, we had a guardian angel over us.
We had descended into the belt of forest in the depression (elev. 2,270 ft.), where a streamlet flowed to the north-east into the Rio das Mortes. We were travelling in a north-easterly direction, owing to the formation of the country; but finding that it would take me too much away from my intended course I again altered our direction to a course due north. At an elevation of 2,480 ft. we went over an extraordinary natural bridge of solidified ashes and earth—a regular tunnel—under which passed a streamlet of delicious water—the Pulado Stream. The river emerged some distance off from under the tunnel. Curiously enough, while the vegetation was quite dense both above and below the natural bridge, there was no vegetation at all along the hundred metres forming the width of the bridge. Perhaps that was due to the lack of evaporation in that section, which supplied the trees elsewhere with moisture.
We rode over many domes of an elevation of 2,550 ft., and then over some that were smaller in diameter but of greater height. In the depressions between we invariably found rows of burity palms amidst other vegetation, and the characteristic heavily foliaged trees.
We encamped near a delicious spring of water on the very summit of a dome. The water emerged from a circular hole and was warm—so much so that the next morning, when my Fahrenheit thermometer registered an atmospheric temperature of 50 deg., steam rose from the water of the spring. Around the spring a curious conical mound of white finely powdered matter resembling kaolin had formed. This appeared to me to have formerly been a small geyser. The cone was broken on one side and the water did not come out with great force. A few yards down the slope of the dome another similar white cone was to be seen, with a great mass of granular ash-pellets and tufa, such as are commonly found near geysers or thermal springs. We called that camp Cayambola.
On the night of June 12th the minimum temperature was 50 deg. Fahr., the elevation 2,430 ft. The sky was somewhat clouded, the clouds occupying four-tenths of the heavens. At sunrise we observed radiations in the sky—this time, curiously enough, from north-east to south-west, instead of from east to west. The longest and highest semicircle above us was in double filaments, and resembled an immense fish-bone.
We were supposed to be then in a country infested by cannibal Indians—swarms of them. My men were quite amusing in their fears. Four of them were troublesome and insisted on the whole expedition turning back in order to see them safely out of danger. I remembered on those occasions an old Italian proverb which said that to "women, lunatics, and children" the wisest thing is always to say "Yes."
So when they threatened all kinds of things if we did not return I generally answered that we would continue a little farther, then we would see; and from day to day this went on, making forced marches forward all the time—generally of from 30 to 42 kil. daily. The dissatisfaction among my men grew, nevertheless, considerable, and a constant watch had to be kept over them. Alcides and Filippe the negro showed great courage, and, whatever other failings they may have had, they invariably displayed extraordinary bravery from beginning to end.
Alcides' principal faults were his great wastefulness and violent temper and pride, which made it most difficult to deal with him. He had been entrusted with the commissariat, as with all my other occupations I could not be bothered to sort out and weigh the food for each man at each meal. Alcides would not understand that it was unwise, in a country where absolutely nothing was procurable, to throw away daily little mountains of rice and beans and preserved meat, after the men and our dogs had gorged themselves; and that perhaps it would lead some day to our dying of starvation. In confidence I had told him that we might be several months—perhaps a year—before we should be able to get fresh supplies. A little economy would perhaps save us all from disaster. I wanted everybody to have ample food, but I did not see the use of throwing away daily a larger quantity than the men actually ate. It was true that we still had ample provisions of all kinds for some eight months, but we must be prepared for all emergencies.
Alcides, who was extremely obstinate, would not hear of this. My remarks only made things worse. The waste from that day doubled, and looking ahead into the future it really broke my heart, as I well saw that we should have hard times in front of us—all because of the lack of common-sense on the part of my followers.
On leaving camp we climbed to the summit of another gigantic dome of green pasture land (elev. 2,500 ft.). We filled our lungs with the delicious air, slightly stirred by a fresh northerly breeze. Geographically, we were at a most important site, for it was from that point that the division of waters took place between those flowing eastward into the Araguaya and those flowing westward into the Cuyaba River. So that within a distance of a few kilometres we had visited the region—the very heart of Brazil—from which the waters parted to flow toward three different points of the compass.
From that point we rose still higher to the summit of a great table-land, absolutely flat and waterless for over 30 kil. The soil was red in colour, with slippery dried grass upon it and sparse, stunted vegetation. The trees seldom reached a height of 5 ft. They were mostly gomarabia or goma arabica—a sickly-looking acacia; passanto with its huge leaves, piqui or pequia (Aspidosperma sessiliflorum and eburneum Fr. All.), the fibrous piteira or poteira (Fourcroya gigantea Vent.), and short tocun or tucum palms (Astrocaryum tucuma M.). Occasionally one saw a passanto tree slightly taller—perhaps some 10 to 12 ft. high—most anaemic-looking.
After having travelled some 24 kil. from our last camp we came to a great expanse of taquary, a kind of shrub 3 ft. high with spiky leaves of a wonderful green colour.
We gazed upon the superb view of an enormous plateau to the west with deep indentations in its vertical sides. Huge spurs or rams of rock stretched out across the deep depression, separating the plateau to the west from the one on which we were standing. Both plateaux were of equal height, and had evidently at one time formed one immense flat surface. On our side the plateau showed a huge slip of red volcanic earth, with a lower stratum parallel to it of baked brown rock. Under it were white lime and ashes, in sections or drifts. In the centre of the valley formed by the separation of the two sections there remained a formidable crater—extinct, of course—with an arc-shaped wall standing erect in its centre, and other lower walls forming an elongated quadrangular channel from south-east to north-west in the bottom of the crater. Two conspicuous monoliths stood up behind the huge lip of the crater to the south-west at the bottom of the valley, and also other remnants of the great convulsion of nature which had once taken place there.
Notwithstanding the constant annoyance of my followers, I really enjoyed my journey over the central plateau. The air was fresh and deliciously crisp and clear. One could see for miles and miles and distinguish the smallest detail in the far-away mountain sides, so pure was the atmosphere. This scene was unlike any in other countries. One could describe an entire circle around oneself, and nowhere did the eye meet a column of smoke rising above ground to indicate the presence of man. Not a bird was to be seen or heard, not a footprint upon the ground of any beast or creature of any kind. The silence of that land was most impressive. Our voices—as we spoke—sounded astonishingly and abnormally sonorous, in that region which for thousands of years had not been contaminated by sound. It seemed as if the sound-waves, undisturbed by the myriads of sounds which—as is well known—remain floating in the atmosphere in inhabited countries, were heard there in all their full and absolute purity. So much were we all impressed by this fact—my men unconsciously—that all the men began to sing, so pleased they seemed with the powerful vibration of their own voices.
To the north-west another lovely sight was before us—another huge plateau in dim greyish blue—barring the horizon. In front of it was one more table-land, more broken up, and sloping on the south side.
When we reached the north-east edge of the plateau we were travelling upon, we were treated to a fresh marvellous scene. Straight in front of us, on the opposite side of a deep depression—at 30 deg. bearings magnetic—there stood one of the characteristic two-tiered table-lands stretching from east to west. Below us in the depression was an undulating line from north to south of great bosses or domes of exquisite grassy land, resting upon a kind of spur or peninsula jutting out from our plateau—but at a lower elevation—of which it formed part.
A formidable crack in the earth's surface extended from north to south on the east of the chain of domes, whereas to the east again of the giant crack was another row of domed hills, forming—when taken as a mass—an undulating terrace; then a vertical wall, above which rested the sloping side of the plateau on which we stood. It may be observed that the strata in the split vertical wall on our side was absolutely horizontal. On the summit of this rocky stratum lay a deposit, 30 ft. thick, composed of red earth and sand over yellow sandstone and ashes, and, lower, grey ashes compressed and consolidated. The lowest stratum visible on the face of the wall was of bright red-baked rock.
The great depression, taken in its entirety, extended from south-east to north-west. The huge crater was to the south-east. To the south-west there was an immense basin.
The Jangada River—Demented Descendants of Slaves—Appalling Degeneration—Giant Monoliths—The River Roncador—Gigantic Natural Gateways—The Discovery of Fossils
WE had reached the end of the comparatively flat plateau, which varied in elevation on its summit from 2,530 ft. to 2,570 ft. above the sea level. We were next faced by a most precipitous descent in order to go down to the Jangada River—which eventually flowed into the distant Rio Cuyaba. There was, of course, no trail of any kind, and the course of the descent before us was not unlike trying to take our animals down the almost vertical wall of a fortress. With picks and spades we cut a narrow path for a short distance in order to start the reluctant beasts down. I recommended the greatest care to my men, but instead of following my instructions they drove the rebellious quadrupeds with their whips in a heap along the path—only a few inches wide—which we had cut. Result: Collisions among the animals and against the wall, and, next, five mules and baggage rolled down the mountain-side at a vertiginous speed until they had reached the bottom, some hundreds of feet below. Antonio, the strong man of the party, who tried to go to the rescue of one of the animals, was also dragged down, and came within an ace of losing his life. He was able to embrace a shrub with all his might just before rolling over the precipice, and we rescued him. We had to waste a great deal of time cutting an improvised way in the mountain side. Then we had to unload all the animals and convey the loads down on men's heads. Each animal was then with great difficulty and danger led by hand down to the stream.
Great quantities of beautiful marble and crystals were met with, and masses of lava pellets and ferruginous rock. In the Jangada valley we found two hot springs emerging from the side of the plateau from which we had descended. I discovered there two miserable tiny sheds belonging to a family of escaped negro slaves. They had lived seventeen years in that secluded spot. They grew enough Indian corn to support them. All the members of the family were pitifully deformed and demented. Seldom have I seen such miserable-looking specimens of humanity. One was demented to such an extent that it was impossible to get out of him more than a few disconnected groans. He spent most of his time crouched like an animal, and hardly seemed conscious of what took place round him. Another was a deaf and dumb cretin; a third possessed a monstrous hare-lip and a deformed jaw; while two women, dried up and skinny, and a child were badly affected by goitre. For a single family that seemed a melancholy spectacle.
It was really pitiable—everywhere in the interior of Brazil—wherever you came across a family, to find that all its members were cretins, and deformed to such an extent as to make them absolutely repulsive. Frequently I had noticed among the common abnormalities supernumerary fingers and toes. One child at this place, in fact, had six toes to each foot, besides being an idiot, deaf and dumb, and affected by goitre. The only one of the family who was able to realize what took place was terrified at our approach, and never got over his terror as long as we remained. He suffered from the illusion that everybody wished to murder him. For some reason or other he believed that I had come specially, all the way from my own country, in order to search for him and kill him. All the most considerate words on my part, the showering of presents, had no effect upon him. He sat some way off, watching me attentively all the time, and whenever I moved my hands in any direction he dashed away shrieking, thinking that I should attempt to strangle him—for his mania was death by strangulation. After a while he returned, and in his broken, almost unintelligible language—his tongue was nearly paralyzed and he had difficulty in articulating properly—begged to be spared.
Those people lived worse than animals—in an appallingly filthy condition, in two miserable, tumble-down sheds, open on all sides, and not more than 8 ft. high. They were reduced to that condition by intermarriage among themselves; brothers with sisters—a most frequent occurrence among the "civilized" of Central Brazil—and even fathers with daughters and sons with their mothers: a disgusting state of affairs which could not very well be helped in a race and in a climate where the animal qualities were extraordinarily developed while the mental were almost entirely deficient. Worse still, I had several cases under observation in which the animal passions had not been limited to closely related human beings, but extended also to animals, principally dogs. The degeneration of those people was indeed beyond all conception. It was caused, first of all, by the effects of the most terrible corruption of their blood, their subsequent impoverishment of blood through intermarriage, the miserable isolated existence which they led on scarce and bad food, the exposure to all kinds of weather, and the absolute lack of thought—almost paralyzing the brain power. It was heart-rending to think that human beings could possibly degenerate to so low a level, and—what was worse—that beings of that kind were extraordinarily prolific; so that, instead of being exterminated—which would be a mercy for the country—they were in a small way on the increase.
I camped near the sheds of that "happy family," having gone 42 kil. from the Rio das Mortes. I felt sad the whole night, watching them unperceived. It upset me so that I was ill for several days.
The Rio Jangada, at an altitude of 1,550 ft., was 1,000 ft. lower than the top of the plateau. The river flowed west into the Cuyaba River. We crossed the stream, a rapid and foaming torrent. We soon began to climb again on the opposite side over sweeping undulations. We waded through two more streamlets flowing west—the second at an elevation of 1,650 ft. We were travelling partly among campos on the summit of cones and domes, partly through brush or scrub in the depressions. We struggled on, urging the tired animals, rising gradually to 2,150 ft., then to 2,200 ft., over soil strewn with volcanic pebbles and scoriae. During the night the minimum temperature had been 53 deg. Fahr., but during the day the sun was extremely hot and powerful, and animals and men were sweating freely. We marched northward, then slightly to the north-west, leaving behind, to the south-west of us, two quadrangular table-lands, rising above the undulating line of a depression.
Shortly after, to the E.N.E., we perceived the section of an extinct crater—the easterly point of its summit being in itself a semicircular subsidiary crater. On one side of the greater crater was a conical depression, at the bottom of which (elev. 2,400 ft.) was an extensive bed of lava blocks of great size—hundreds of monolithic rocks standing up like pillars. In fact, they stood all along the side of the crater as well as inside it. Surrounding a pyramidal hill a group of those huge pillars looked—to a casual observer—just like the ruins of a tumble-down abbey.
Three hours' journey from our camp we reached the summit of a dome (elev. 2,500 ft.). Beyond it was a cuvette with its typical central line of burity palms.
To the west we perceived a marvellous view of three immense dykes of red rock—like walls—stretching from south-west to north-east; then two more great perpendicular dykes of granite were disclosed close by.
Going over domes 2,550 ft. and 2,450 ft. above the sea level, we obtained a vast and immense view of the serradao—wild country—before us, a regular ocean of deep green undulations rising quite high to the south; whereas to the north there extended a long plateau with a deep ravine on its southern aspect.
We descended through scrub (elev. 2,400 ft.)—what the Brazilians call serradao—and through a growth of stunted trees (elev. 2,450 ft.) to so low an altitude as 2,300 ft. Going along a rocky cliff, we passed a strange volcanic vent-hole with a pyramid of granite of large proportions on each side of its aperture.
We arrived at the Roncador, a picturesque torrent flowing over a bed of lava moulded in the strangest possible shapes, hollows, terraces and grottoes. Most peculiar were the great concave hollows, circular, oval, and of irregular form, which were innumerable and of all sizes along that extensive flow of lava.
We had travelled 30 kil. that day. That was such a picturesque spot that I made camp on the right bank of the torrent. We were all amazed to find an immense block of rock—resembling in size and form the Sphinx of Egypt—balanced to a nicety over the edge of a conical rocky hill. It was, of course, the work of nature. Why that rock remained there at all and did not tumble down, was more than we could understand. There was also a giant monolith and other strange-looking rocks of great size standing up at all angles close by. On climbing the hill where the Sphinx-like rock stood, I discovered a circular crater of great beauty, 300 metres in diameter. The western wall of the crater had been knocked down, but on the eastern inner side, in the central part 150 ft. high, there was a precipitous fall, then a huge smooth inclined plane of lava at an angle of 15 deg. overlapping the top, where it had subsequently been subjected either to violent earthquake shocks or other disturbing influences, as it was badly seamed and fissured. Many segments had crumbled down, leaving the remaining portion of a most extraordinary shape. In the centre of the crater there stood a huge mass of rock 150 ft. high, which looked like an inclined table—a giant slab cleanly cut at its angles, which protruded at great length outside the base formed by broken-up blocks. On looking west from the summit of the extinct volcano one obtained a marvellous view of the vertical cliffs between which the Roncador River flowed.
Then there was a great table-land extending from north to south, composed of red volcanic rock and white limestone. A separate red quadrangular castle-like structure of immense proportions rose in the middle foreground in the north-west upon a conical green grassy base.
Add to this wonderful work of Nature a magnificent sky of gold and brilliant vermilion, as limpid as limpid could be, and you will perhaps imagine why I could not move from the rock on which I sat gazing at that magnificent, almost awe-inspiring, spectacle. Night came on swiftly, as it always does in those latitudes, and I scrambled down the hill, among the sharp, cutting, slippery, shiny rocks, arriving in camp minus a good many patches of skin upon my shins and knuckles.
At the point where I crossed the Roncador River there were three handsome waterfalls in succession, the central one in two terraces, some 90 ft. high. At the foot of the two-tiered waterfall was a great circular basin which had all the appearance of having been formerly a volcanic vent. The flowing water, which tumbled down with terrific force, had further washed its periphery smooth. The centre of the basin was of immense depth. Directly under the fall a spacious grotto was to be seen under a huge projecting rock.
The elevation of the stream above the falls was 2,150 ft., below the falls 2,060 ft. The temperature of the atmosphere was 72 deg. Fahr., and the minimum temperature during the night 58 deg. Fahr.
The Roncador flowed from north-east to south-west as far as the foot of the great plateau we had observed during our march. There, on meeting the great vertical wall, its course was diverted in a northerly direction and then again to the north-west, where the stream eventually fell into the Cuyaba River. The Rio Jangada, on which we had camped the previous day, was a tributary of the Roncador, and so was the streamlet called Pedra Grande, which entered the Roncador on its right side. The Pedra Grande took its name from an immense monolith, worn quite smooth, near its bank.
From the Roncador we continued on our northerly course. The western view of the "balanced Sphinx boulder" was indeed remarkable. It seemed to stand up on a small pivot despite all the laws of gravitation, the heaviest side of the upper rock projecting far out on one side with nothing to balance it on the other.
Cutting our way easily in the scrub, we rose to 2,300 ft. over a flow of red lava (it had flowed in an easterly direction) in several successive strata. The upper stratum was grooved into geometrical patterns, such as we had met before, wherever it showed through the thin layer of red volcanic sand which covered most of it. We were there in a zone of immense natural pillars of rock, some of such great height that they were visible miles off along the range—which extended from south to north, parallel, in fact, to the course we were following.
Still proceeding due north, we arrived on the summit of a great dome, 2,500 ft., from which point we had to alter our course to the north-west, owing to an isolated impassable barrier which we left on our right (north). It had steep slopes but well-rounded terminal points. It extended from N.N.E. to S.S.W., and had a height of some 150 ft. above the flat serradao, on which my skeleton-like mules wended their way among the stunted trees, the bells dangling from their necks monotonously tinkling—not the gay, brisk tinkling of animals full of life, as when we had left Goyaz, but the weak, mournful sound—ding ... ding ... ding—of tired, worn-out beasts, stumbling along anyhow. Occasionally one heard the crashing of broken branches or of trees collapsing at the collision with the packs, or the violent braying of the animals when stung in sensitive parts by an extra-violent fly; otherwise there was silence, the silence of death, all round us.
The poor brutes tore mouthfuls of grass, now on one side then on the other, as they went along; but the grazing was poor in the serradao, and the animals found only enough to subsist upon. Two of them were absolutely disabled, owing to accidents we had had; and, with the animals I had lost, this involved loading extra heavily those still able to carry. The constant collisions against the stunted trees in that trail-less region injured the animals considerably and caused nasty sores and swellings all over their bodies. I saw well that the poor beasts would not last much longer. It was impossible to halt a sufficient time to let them recover in that particular region, with food so scarce—it would have taken them months. In the meantime our provisions were being fast consumed—or rather wasted—and we had thousands of kilometres to go yet. My men never suspected this, or they would have never come on; but I knew only too well.
They still insisted on marching with their loaded rifles, fully cocked, resting horizontally upon their shoulders; and as we marched naturally in single file, and as we used cordite cartridges with bullets of high penetration, there was still a prospect of a bullet going through one or more of us. Once or twice again a rifle went off unexpectedly by accident. It would have been terrible for any one of a nervous temperament to be travelling with such companions. On previous expeditions I had generally trusted in myself, but on this particular one I was so disgusted that I had made up my mind to trust in Providence alone. I did well, for had I done otherwise I might have fared much worse than I did.
We went over a pass (elev. 2,400 ft.) between two small domes, quite barren but for a scanty growth of short dried grass. We were marching over masses of lava and conglomerate with innumerable marble pellets. We found ourselves within a regular circle of low hills enclosing a shallow depression. Subsequently we came to a second and then to a third similar depression.
Continuing in a north-westerly direction we again obtained a gorgeous view of the treble portal—by which word the Brazilians describe a monumental entrance of any kind. That is just what those three immense gaps in the plateau looked like: an immense wall of rock forming a high barrier, with three gigantic natural gateways.
After finding a stream of good water on the west side of the plateau we rose again higher, obtaining a splendid bird's-eye view of the picturesque depression we had just crossed. The effects of erosion following those of volcanic activity were evident enough upon the entire landscape. On the west side we had a horseshoe-shaped vertical wall—seemingly containing an extinct crater—and yet another on the north side of the western end of the elongated ellipse which was there formed.
With some difficulty we managed to get the animals up to the summit of the plateau (elev. 2,580 ft.). From there we obtained a sumptuous view beyond. An immense dyke of brilliant red rock, flat-topped, lay majestically to the west. At its foot the Rio Pedra Grande had its birth, and then flowed westward into the Rio Roncador. Four gigantic flat table-lands stood impressively in a line. Three more, equally impressive, loomed in the south-west. Other minor ones, quite wall-like—rectangular in vertical section—appeared in the blue distance, while the horizon was barred by a long flat plateau.
Looking north as we descended from the table-land, we found on our left another extinct crater—semicircular in shape, with several superimposed strata of lava, each about one foot thick, capping its lip, which was broken up into three sections. The valley below that crater formed a cuvette, the bottom of which (elev. 2,200 ft.) showed deep erosion by water in one or two places. Sand covered the lava-flow which had travelled northward. Quantities of heavy, spherical, bullet-like blocks of hard-baked rock were scattered all about—evidently shot out of the crater when active.
We had travelled 80 kil. from Cayambola in three days, and we had reached a spot of slight, well-rounded undulations where grazing was fair. I decided to halt early in the afternoon—more particularly as this spot appeared to me to have been at one time or other submerged—probably it had been a lake bottom. I had, since the beginning of my journey, been searching everywhere for fossils—but in vain. I had not seen the vestiges of a single one. Personally, I was persuaded that Central Brazil could well be geologically classified in the archaic group—the most ancient of the terrestrial crust, and consisting (in Brazil) chiefly of gneiss, mica schists and granite, solidified into their present form by intense eruptive phenomena and dissolved—not by immersion in ocean waters, as some suppose, but by deluges of such potentiality as the human mind can hardly conceive.
It was quite enough to visit the central plateau of Brazil to be persuaded that that continent had never been submerged under a sea; on the contrary, it must have been the oven of the world. The volcanic activity which must have taken place in that part of the world—it was not a separate continent in those days—was quite, as I have said, beyond human conception. This does not mean that at later periods there may not have been temporary lakes—as, for instance, in the spot where we encamped that night—or portions of country which had become flooded, upon the cooling of the earth, and subsequently became drained and dry again.
A wonderful surprise awaited me that day. To the north of my camp was a peculiar round mound. I climbed it, and what was my astonishment in the short ascent to find near the summit, among a lot of lava pellets, marble fragments, crystals, and great lumps of iron ore, a number of vertebrae from the tail and spine of a giant reptile! The vertebrae had been disjointed and scattered somewhat about by wind and water—but there they were; the smaller ones on the side of the hill, the larger on the summit—which led me to believe that the animal had crouched on the top of the hill when dying. Some of the fossil vertebrae were so large and heavy that I hardly had the strength to lift them up. The bones—petrified—were of a beautiful white. Many of them had, unfortunately, become so fractured as to make identification difficult. On following the line of the dorsal vertebrae—somewhat scattered about—I came upon some vertebrae which appeared to me to be cervical vertebrae; and then, behold my joy! in searching around the summit of the mound I perceived the skull. The skull was so big and heavy that I could not carry it away, but I took several photographs and careful drawings of it from all sides.
It was curiously shaped—quite unlike any other fossil skull I have seen. The cranial region proper was extremely short, with smallish round orbits rather low down on the side of the head. The skull had an elongated shape: 35 cm. was its total length; 10 cm. its maximum transverse breadth, and 5 cm. at the central and widest part of palate. The skull itself, with an elongated nasal bone, had a flattened point almost like a beak, or more probably like the base of a proboscis. The front part of the nose had unfortunately become fractured and ended with a flattened segment. A marked arch or hump stood prominent upon the nasal bone. The temporal arcades were quite developed, with prominent supra-orbital bosses. The orbital hollows were 51/2 cm. in diameter, whereas the external nares were 91/2 cm., the protrusion in front of the nostrils being 10 cm. long. The palate, of great length, had a peculiar complex shape, like a much-elongated U with another smaller U attached to it in the centre of its curve, [Symbol].
The skull had been worn down by age and weathering. Moreover, one side of the upper part of the cranium had been entirely destroyed—seemingly by having rested on red-hot lava. Many of the vertebrae were equally injured. By even a superficial examination it was easy to reconstruct the tragedy which had taken place on that hillock thousands upon thousands of years ago.
Searching about, I came upon another skull of a huge reptile, and a number of smaller vertebrae than those belonging to the animal above described. The second skull was much flattened, of an elongated shape, very broad, the orbital cavity being high up on the skull—in fact, not unlike the skull of a great serpent. It possessed a long occipital spur, extraordinarily prominent, and fairly well-defined zygomatic arches—but not quite so prominent as in the skull previously discovered. Seen from underneath, there seemed to be a circular cavity on the left front, as if it had contained a large fang. This skull, too, was also much damaged on one side, where it had rested on some burning matter—evidently lava or lapilli. The skull measured longitudinally 48 cm. and was 23 cm. broad. Seen from underneath it resembled a much elongated lozenge.
Although I searched a great deal I could not find the lower mandibles of these two skulls, nor loose teeth—but many indeed were the fossilized fragments of bones of other animals strewn all over the hill-top. I found up there quite a sufficient quantity to make the summit of that hill look of a whitish colour. That was why I had been attracted to it at first sight, and had climbed it in order to discover why it was so white. One immense bone—fractured—was the pelvis of the larger animal. Nearly all those fossils were in terrible preservation, much damaged by fire and water. Some were so eroded as to be quite unidentifiable.
Most interesting of all to me were two smaller skulls—one of a mammal not unlike a leopard or jaguar, the other of an ape or perhaps a primitive human being. The latter cranium, like all the others, had one side completely destroyed by hot lava, which in this instance had also filled up a considerable portion of the brain-case. The human skull was small and under-developed, no sutures showing; the forehead extremely low and slanting, almost flattened, with the superciliary region and glabella very prominent. One of the orbits (the right) was badly damaged. The left, in perfect preservation, was oval, very deep. The form of the palate was of a broad U-shape—abnormally broad for the size of the head. The upper jaw was fairly high and prominent, whereas the zygomatic arch on the left (the right was destroyed) was not unduly prominent—in fact, rather small and less projecting than the supra-orbital region. Of the nasal bone only just a fragment remained. The brain-case was small but well-rounded at the back, where it had comparatively a fairly good breadth behind the auditory meatus.
In my anxiety and enthusiasm, I used up, in photographing the first skull I found, the only two photographic plates which remained that day in the camera I had brought with me up there. In order to obtain a fuller view of the skull on the negatives I placed it on a rudimentary stand I constructed with broken branches of a tree. The sun had already set when I discovered the two smaller skulls, and in any case I should not have been able to photograph them that day. Well recognizing their immense value, I enveloped them in my coat, which I turned into a kind of sack by tying the sleeves together, and, with a number of vertebrae and a knee-joint I had collected, proceeded to carry the entire load, weighing some sixty pounds, back to camp, a mile away.
On my arrival there I met with a good deal of derision from my ignorant men. I was faced with a problem. Had I told the men the immense value of those fossils, I feared they might be tempted to steal them and sell them whenever we first reached a civilized spot—which, true enough, might not be for many months; a fact my men did not know and never for one moment realized. If I did not tell them, I should have to stand their silly derision as long as the journey should last—for they openly and loudly argued among themselves the view that I had gone mad, and what better proof could they have than my carrying a heavy load of "ugly stones" as my personal baggage?
Of the two I came to the conclusion that derision was better than being robbed. So I took no one into my confidence. I merely stored the fossils carefully away in a large leather case, meaning to take them out some day to photograph them as a precaution in case of loss. Unfortunately the opportunity never offered itself, for we made forced marches every day, from early morning until dark, and unpacking and repacking were very inconvenient—each package having loops of rope fastened round, in order to be readily attached to the saddles, which took much time and trouble to undo. Then the ridicule of my men each time the "ugly stones" were referred to also kept me at first from unduly attracting their attention to them. With the many things I had to occupy my time day and night I ended by forgetting to take the photographs—greatly owing to being almost certain that I should bring the skulls themselves safely back to Europe. But the unexpected always happens. We shall see later on how—after having carried those fossils safely for several months—they were, unknown to me, wilfully flung, together with a quantity of provisions, into a deep part of the Arinos River by my companions, and they were beyond recovery.
Greatly to my regret, we left that interesting spot the next morning. A drenching rain prevented my paying a second visit to the two hillocks where the fossil fragments were to be found, but I took the exact position of them, so that any further expedition could locate the spot with great ease.
It was interesting to note that a Brazilian expedition had discovered some fossil bones of a gigantic animal some 200 kil. south-west of that place, and other remains of a giant animal had been found by another Brazilian expedition on the banks of the Paranatinga River, some 400 or 500 kil. north-east of our position.
We were encamped on the bank of the Rio Pedra Grande—the stream of that name which we had passed that day being merely a tributary. During the night we had observed a double-ringed lunar halo. The moon was almost full. From the horizon directly under the moon were innumerable radiations, not converging toward the moon but, curiously enough, the first two at a tangent to the larger halo, the others at equal intervals on each side.
At sunrise, before the rain-storm began, we were treated to wonderful cloud and light effects. The lower portion of the sky, of brilliant yellow and vivid green, was surmounted by golden and red streaks of wonderful vividness. Later, over the great natural gateways, the sky formed itself into concentric arches of blazing yellow and red, rendered intensely luminous by contrast with the heavy black clouds which were fast collecting overhead. No sooner was the sun well above the horizon than we came in for a heavy downpour.
The temperature had been higher (minimum 60 deg. Fahr.) than usual during the night, and heavy. The elevation of our camp was 2,030 ft. above the sea level.
A Swampy Valley—Impressive Scenery—"Church Rock"—Escaping before a Forest Fire—The Rio Manso—Difficulties of marching across Virgin Country—Beautiful Rapids
ON leaving camp (June 15th) I noticed that the hills on which I had found the fossils formed a semicircle to the west. Rising quickly to an elevation of 2,070 ft., we were in sight of two great table-lands which stood to the west. In crossing the river I found a number of other fossils, among which was one that appeared to be the petrified foot of an animal of enormous proportions.
We soon crossed the little stream Lazinha, which flowed into the Pedra Grande. As we travelled over two ridges (altitude 2,100 ft. and 2,130 ft.) separating deep basins, and the weather cleared a little, the view before us of the entire line of natural gateways, with two additional pyramidal and prismatic peaks to the south, became more and more beautiful. There was a strong breeze blowing from the north-east. At an elevation of 2,150 ft. we found quantities of marble chips and blocks and great masses of ferruginous, froth-like rock.
As we went along we obtained an imposing view to the north of an immense plateau in three terraces, the lower one appearing like the sea—it was so blue—with the brilliant red upper portion rising out of it like a great island. The foreground of dark green, in great undulations, stood out in contrast to the light green of the slopes of the plateau on the top of which we were marching.
Central Brazil was certainly a country of flat sky-lines—so flat that often when the distance became of a pure cobalt blue one had the impression of overlooking an immense ocean, to which the green undulations in sweeping lines in the nearer foreground added the impression of great waves.
It was indeed difficult to realize the stupendous magnitude of the scenes we constantly had before us. That day, for instance, the plateau to the north of us stretched across towards the east for 70 deg. of the compass from bearings magnetic 320 deg. (N.N.W.) to 30 deg. (N.N.E.). Above the plateau was a strange effect of clouds—a succession of arrow-shaped, nebulous masses.
We still came upon basins of grey ashes—cuvettes—but in that region these were deeper than those we had observed so far, had luxuriant grass, and in the moist centre the invariable line of burity palm and heavily foliaged trees.
Travelling on a northerly course, and then to the north-west, we descended, after having marched 20 kil., into a basin (elev. 1,950 ft.) where a thick and wide deposit of fine white sand and minute crystals covered the deeper part of the depression. Then, farther on, the sand was replaced by the usual deposits of grey ashes which filled the remainder of the basin. A streamlet which had its birth in the centre of the basin flowed north into the Rio Manso, along one of the many cracks which were to be seen in that region and in the depressions we had previously crossed. We came upon a mighty flow of red and black lava with a somewhat frothy surface. It was in superposed layers from one to six inches deep, with an inclination to the east of 15 deg.. The flow itself had a direction from west to east.
As we were marching by compass, with no trail whatever, we found ourselves entangled in a swampy valley with tall reeds, from which we had some difficulty in extricating ourselves. We eventually had to retrace our steps for six kilometres in order to find an easier way for our animals. After an examination of the country with my telescope from a high spot, I decided to go westward across a flat swampy plain of ashes, sand and water—most troublesome for the mules and horses. They sank deep into the soft ground and frequently rolled over, damaging saddles and baggage. One or two of my men had involuntary baths when the animals' knees gave way under them.
As soon as we had emerged from that wearisome marsh the animals and men were so tired—although we had only gone 22 kil. from our last camp, without counting the deviation (28 kil. with deviation)—that I had to encamp on the bank of the streamlet Fascina, coming from the west. There we had the laborious task of spreading to dry all the articles that had got wet—including my bedding, tent, and a quantity of my clothing, which was not packed like all the rest in air- and water-tight cases.
The stream Fascina flowed into the Rio Furnas and eventually into the Rio Manso to the north—the latter a tributary of the Cuyaba River. That region had been rich in Mangabeira (the Hancornia speciosa M.)—a wild lactiferous plant of much value, producing a fruit called the mangaba.
June 16th. Minimum temperature 54 deg. Fahr.; elevation 1,940 ft. On leaving camp, after a good deal of trouble in recovering our animals in the morning, as they had strayed in all directions, we found ourselves travelling along the edge of a large grassy basin (elev. 2,000 ft.) extending from south-east to north-west, with a wonderful growth of burity palms; then upon a second basin (elev. 2,100 ft.) with deep deposits of ashes. We climbed higher, to 2,150 ft., where we found a third oval cuvette with a surface layer of ashes—merely a continuation of the preceding cuvette. We here resumed our northerly course, going through what the Brazilians call chapada, or high land scantily wooded.
To the south-west we had a high plateau with round natural towers of red rock, resembling the walls of a fortress. Those red cylindrical towers stood all along the summit of the range—with immense square blocks of grey rock above them in horizontal strata. In the centre of that long range could be perceived a double-tiered crater and several grottoes. In its northern section the range was vertical, with red and yellow rocky walls over 300 ft. high. On the summit of that rocky stratum were other strata with a dip to the south. Half way up could be observed a red ledge about 10 ft. thick (also with a dip to the south) all along the entire length of the range. Colossal blocks and flows of lava were to be seen 300 yards east of this range. In one place was an immense natural arch—like the work of a skilful mason. At the northern end of the range stood a castle—the work of nature—with three square towers, and between them numerous monoliths or pillars standing on walls of columnar formation.
Evidently there was a crater in that northern part, the castle-like structure being merely formed by many superposed layers of yellow lava. Near the throat of the crater the lava was hard baked and of a bluish red colour. In the lower section the strata were each 6 ft. thick, under a smooth band, absolutely horizontal, 100 ft. in thickness. There were then two top layers, each 20 ft. thick, and four more layers each 4 ft. thick, and slightly wavy. The last ones were somewhat shattered, and displayed large blocks moved out of position—apparently by a volcanic explosion.
In going round the northern corner of the range more similar buttresses, like towers, were disclosed—I could count as many as eight—projecting out of the immense vertical block of rock. Those buttresses were of brown and bright yellow rock. The range had a general direction from south-east to north-west.
Great deposits of white sand and ashes were noticeable on the surface. In cuts and in the bed of a streamlet were strata of consolidated ashes in distinct layers one inch thick. The foot of the gigantic rocky mass was at an elevation of 1,700 ft. We were on a slanting plane forming a conical basin in continuation of the crater. To the north, where the basin opened, was a great stretch of cobalt blue in the distance, which looked just like a glimpse of the ocean. But it was not; it was the far-away plateau we had seen for some days.
We were now entering a region of the most impressive and weird scenery I had ever seen, except, indeed, in the Himalaya Mountains. Directly in front of us towered the Morro Plumao, a most striking giant block of rock several hundred feet high, standing quite alone, and resembling a church surmounting a mediaeval castle—not unlike St. Michael's Mount, only with land around instead of water. Even quite close to it the illusion was perfect. This wonderful natural structure of dark red rock was in perfectly horizontal strata, each 10 ft. thick, separated and clearly defined by whitish lines, which aided to give the illusion of a wonderful work of masonry.
"Church-rock," as I called it—or "Spray-rock" (Plumao), as my men named it—stood majestically in solitary grandeur in the middle of a great subsidence of the soil. That great subsidence was in turn bordered by immense vertical cliffs of the same rock of which "Church-rock" was formed. Indeed, it was clear that the soil had given way, leaving only that great rock standing. Even my men—for the first time since they had been with me—were deeply impressed by that wonderful spectacle; so much so that they all took off their hats, as Brazilians always do in passing churches.
We traversed the great depression, which gave us irrefutable evidence of what had taken place in that zone. The great rocky, plateau-like mountain to our left had split and fallen over on the north side, describing an arc of a circle of 90 deg.. In fact, as we went along, in places where the rock under foot was exposed, we were treading over laminated rock, the stratification of which was vertical, and corresponded exactly to that of the upstanding wall where the stratification was horizontal.
Behind "Church-rock" to the north-west was a massive plateau, beyond which stretched an immense undulating depression with two outstretching spurs from south-west to north-east upon it. "Church-rock" was 26 kil. from our last camp.
On the north side of "Church-rock," close to the conical hill upon which the giant quadrangle of rock rested, was a hump formed by huge blocks, the top one—a colossal one—just balanced, as if it might tumble over at any moment. Then on the side could be seen a lava-flow and huge masses of lava which had been shot up with great force and curled over, retaining the frothy appearance of its former state of ebullition.
Strangely enough, even when seen from the side and from behind (N.N.W. view), "Church-rock" retained all the semblance of a castle and church perched up on that high pinnacle. From the N.N.W., besides the castellated towers which surmounted all, there appeared a perfect representation of a gabled roof over the body of the church, as well as the flying buttresses of the walls. Behind was a great cylindrical annexe with a semi-spherical superstructure, such as is often to be seen behind Roman Catholic churches. The illusion was really wonderful.
Owing to the pools of water not far from "Church-rock" we called that spot Caponga de la Lagoa.
A few hundred yards beyond "Church-rock" we came upon another extraordinary sight: a quadrangular rocky castle—a perfect cube of rock—which stood at a considerable elevation upon a conical base, some distance off the wall-like sides of the plateau. Strangely enough, a thin wall of rock, only a few feet thick, quite vertical, of great height and of great length, joined this quadrangular castle to the plateau. That wall had evidently remained standing when the plateau had subsided. The larger plateau along the foot of which we travelled ended in two great domes, one at each angle of its eastern terminus wall. The eastern part of that plateau was flat-topped, whereas the central portion rose into a double pyramid and looked not unlike a giant tent with a porch attachment. It was of a bright yellow colour—apparently sandstone and ashes. The work of erosion had been greater on the eastern face—owing, I think, to the prevalent wind on that side.
On looking back upon the great range of rock which ended abruptly near "Church-rock" (which, as we have seen, once formed part of it), a great semicircular cavity was disclosed on its western face. The summit of the wall around the cavity rested on an inclined plane, which in its turn rested above a vertical concave wall. The latter wall of rock had conical buttresses at the terminal points.
West-north-west of the great wall was an immense depression. Only a conical hill rose above its last undulations. The upper edge of that depression was at an altitude of 1,550 ft. above the sea level, whereas the top of "Church-rock" was fully a thousand feet higher—viz. 2,550 ft.
At the terminus of the first section of the cliff range, interrupted by a great fissure from the second section, another structure in course of formation not unlike "Church-rock" could be observed. It had a quadrangular tower surmounting it. There was in the second section of the range a regular quadrangle of rock, with a high tower upon a conical hill, and another castle-like structure surmounting a conical base. The two were most impressive as they stood in their sombre red against the brilliantly blue sky.
Next to the second section of the range, to the north, was a high mountain of two twin-pointed peaks, shaped like a badly-pitched tent. Then came another plateau, much eroded on its south side. Beyond was an immense black plateau on three successive tiers—and this one, unlike the others of which it was merely a continuation, had sloping instead of vertical sides.