We landed about eight in the morning at the point of Araya, near the new salt-works. A solitary house, near a battery of three guns, the only defence of this coast, since the destruction of the fort of Santiago, is the abode of the inspector. It is surprising that these salt-works, which formerly excited the jealousy of the English, Dutch, and other maritime powers, have not created a village, or even a farm; a few huts only of poor Indian fishermen are found at the extremity of the point of Araya.
This spot commands a view of the islet of Cubagua, the lofty hills of Margareta, the ruins of the castle of Santiago, the Cerro de la Vela, and the calcareous chain of the Brigantine, which bounds the horizon towards the south. I availed myself of this view to take the angles between these different points, from a basis of four hundred toises, which I measured between the battery and the hill called the Pena. As the Cerro de la Vela, the Brigantine, and the castle of San Antonio at Cumana, are equally visible from the Punta Arenas, situated to the west of the village of Maniquarez, the same objects were available for an approximate determination of the respective positions of several points, which are laid down in the mineralogical chart of the peninsula of Araya.
The abundance of salt contained in the peninsula of Araya was known to Alonzo Nino, when, following the tracks of Columbus, Ojeda, and Amerigo Vespucci, he visited these countries in 1499. Though of all the people on the globe the natives of South America consume the least salt, because they scarcely eat anything but vegetables, it nevertheless appears, that at an early period the Guayquerias dug into the clayey and muriatiferous soil of Punta Arenas. Even the brine-pits, now called new, (la salina nueva,) situated at the extremity of Cape Araya, were worked in very remote times. The Spaniards, who settled at first at Cubagua, and soon after on the coasts of Cumana, worked, from the beginning of the sixteenth century, the salt marshes which stretch away like a lagoon to the north of Cerro de la Vela. As at that period the peninsula of Araya had no settled population, the Dutch availed themselves of the natural riches of a soil which appeared to be property common to all nations. In our days, each colony has its own salt-works, and navigation is so much improved, that the merchants of Cadiz can send, at a small expense, salt from Spain and Portugal to the southern hemisphere, a distance of 1900 leagues, to cure meat at Monte Video and Buenos Ayres. These advantages were unknown at the time of the conquest; colonial industry had then made so little progress, that the salt of Araya was carried, at great expense, to the West India Islands, Carthagena, and Portobello. In 1605, the court of Madrid sent armed ships to Punta Araya, with orders to expel the Dutch by force of arms. The Dutch, however, continued to carry on a contraband trade in salt till, in 1622, there was built near the salt-works a fort, which afterwards became celebrated under the name of the Castillo de Santiago, or the Real Fuerza de Araya. The great salt-marshes are laid down on the oldest Spanish maps, sometimes as a bay, and at other times as a lagoon. Laet, who wrote his Orbis Novus in 1633, and who had some excellent notions respecting these coasts, expressly states, that the lagoon was separated from the sea by an isthmus above the level of high water. In 1726, an impetuous hurricane destroyed the salt-works of Araya, and rendered the fort, the construction of which had cost more than a million of piastres, useless. This hurricane was a very rare phenomenon in these regions, where the sea is in general as calm as the water in our large rivers. The waves overflowed the land to a great extent; and by the effect of this eruption of the ocean the salt lake was converted into a gulf several miles in length. Since that period, artificial reservoirs, or pits, (vasets,) have been formed, to the north of the range of hills which separates the castle from the north coast of the peninsula.
The consumption of salt amounted, in 1799 and 1800, in the two provinces of Cumana* and Barcelona, to nine or ten thousand fanegas, each sixteen arrobas, or four hundredweight. This consumption is very considerable, and gives, if we deduct from the total population fifty thousand Indians, who eat very little salt, sixty pounds for each person. Salt beef, called tasajo, is the most important article of export from Barcelona. Of nine or ten thousand fanegas furnished by the two provinces conjointly, three thousand only are produced by the salt-works of Araya; the rest is extracted from the sea-water at the Morro of Barcelona, at Pozuelos, at Piritu, and in the Golfo Triste. In Mexico, the salt lake of Penon Blanco alone furnishes yearly more than two hundred and fifty thousand fanegas of unpurified salt. (* At the period of my visit to that country the government of Cumana comprehended the two provinces of New Andalusia and New Barcelona. The words province and govierno, or government of Cumana, are consequently not synonymous. A Catalonian, Juan de Urpin, who had been by turns a canon, a doctor of laws, a counsellor in St. Domingo, and a private soldier in the castle of Araya, founded in 1636, the city of New Barcelona, and attempted to give the name of New Catalonia (Nueva Cathaluna) to the province of which this newly constructed city became the capital. This attempt was fruitless; and it is from the capital that the whole province took its name. Since my departure from America, it has been raised to the rank of a Govierno. In New Andalusia, the Indian name of Cumana has superseded the names Nueva Toledo and Nueva Cordoba, which we find on the maps of the seventeenth century.)
The province of Caracas possesses fine salt-works at Los Roques; those which formerly existed at the small island of Tortuga, where the soil is strongly impregnated with muriate of soda, were destroyed by order of the Spanish government. A canal was made by which the sea has free access to the salt-marshes. Foreign nations who have colonies in the West Indies frequented this uninhabited island; and the court of Madrid, from views of suspicious policy, was apprehensive that the salt-works of Tortuga would give rise to settlements, by means of which an illicit trade would be carried on with Terra Firma.
The royal administration of the salt-works of Araya dates only from the year 1792. Before that period they were in the hands of Indian fishermen, who manufactured salt at their pleasure, and sold it, paying the government the moderate sum of three hundred piastres. The price of the fanega was then four reals;* (* In this narrative, as well as in the Political Essay on New Spain, all the prices are reckoned in piastres, and silver reals (reales de plata). Eight of these reals are equivalent to a piastre, or one hundred and five sous, French money (4 shillings 4 1/2 pence English). Nouv. Esp. volume 2 pages 519, 616 and 866.) but the salt was extremely impure, grey, mixed with earthy particles, and surcharged with muriate and sulphate of magnesia. Since the province of Cumana has become dependent on the intendancia of Caracas, the sale of salt is under the control of the excise; and the fanega, which the Guayquerias sold at half a piastre, costs a piastre and a half.* (* The fanega of salt is sold to those Indians and fishermen who do not pay the duties (derechos reales), at Punta Araya for six, at Cumana for eight reals. The prices to the other tribes are, at Araya ten, at Cumana twelve reals.) This augmentation of price is slightly compensated by greater purity of the salt, and by the facility with which the fishermen and farmers can procure it in abundance during the whole year. The salt-works of Araya yielded to the treasury, in 1799, a clear income of eight thousand piastres.
Considered as a branch of industry the salt produced here is not of any great importance, but the nature of the soil which contains the salt-marshes is well worthy of attention. In order to obtain a clear idea of the geological connection existing between this muriatiferous soil and the rocks of more ancient formation, we shall take a general view of the neighbouring mountains of Cumana, and those of the peninsula of Araya, and the island of Margareta.
Three great parallel chains extend from east to west. The two most northerly chains are primitive, and contain the mica-slates of Macanao, and the San Juan Valley, of Maniquarez, and of Chuparipari. These we shall distinguish by the names of Cordillera of the island of Margareta, and Cordillera of Araya. The third chain, the most southerly of the whole, the Cordillera of the Brigantine and of the Cocollar, contains rocks only of secondary formation; and, what is remarkable enough, though analogous to the geological constitution of the Alps westward of St. Gothard, the primitive chain is much less elevated than that which was composed of secondary rocks.* (* In New Andalusia, the Cordillera of the Cocollar nowhere contains primitive rocks. If these rocks form the nucleus of this chain, and rise above the level of the neighbouring plains, which is scarcely probable, we must suppose that they are all covered with limestone and sandstone. In the Swiss Alps, on the contrary, the chain which is designated under the too vague denomination of lateral and calcareous, contains primitive rocks, which, according to the observations of Escher and Leopold von Buch, are often visible to the height of eight hundred or a thousand toises.) The sea has separated the two northern Cordilleras, those of the island of Margareta and the peninsula of Araya; and the small islands of Coche and of Cubagua are remnants of the land that was submerged. Farther to the south, the vast gulf Cariaco stretches away, like a longitudinal valley formed by the irruption of the sea, between the two small chains of Araya and the Cocollar, between the mica-slate and the Alpine limestone. We shall soon see that the direction of the strata, very regular in the first of these rocks, is not quite parallel with the general direction of the gulf. In the high Alps of Europe, the great longitudinal valley of the Rhone also sometimes cuts at an oblique angle the calcareous banks in which it has been excavated.
The two parallel chains of Araya and the Cocollar were connected, to the east of the town of Cariaco, between the lakes of Campoma and Putaquao, by a kind of transverse dyke, which bears the name of Cerro de Meapire, and which in distant times, by resisting the impulse of the waves, has hindered the waters of the gulf of Cariaco from uniting with those of the gulf of Paria. Thus, in Switzerland, the central chain, that which passes by the Col de Ferrex, the Simplon, St. Gothard, and the Splugen, is connected on the north and the south with two lateral chains, by the mountains of Furca and Maloya. It is interesting to recall to mind those striking analogies exhibited in both continents by the external structure of the globe.
The primitive chain of Araya ends abruptly in the meridian of the village of Maniquarez; and the western slope of the peninsula, as well as the plains in the midst of which stands the castle of San Antonio, is covered with very recent formations of sandstone and clay mixed with gypsum. Near Maniquarez, breccia or sandstone with calcareous cement, which might easily be confounded with real limestone, lies immediately over the mica-slate; while on the opposite side, near Punta Delgada, this sandstone covers a compact bluish grey limestone, almost destitute of petrifactions, and traversed by small veins of calcareous spar. This last rock is analogous to the limestone of the high Alps.* (* Alpenkalkstein.)
The very recent sandstone formation of the peninsula of Araya contains:—first, near Punta Arenas, a stratified sandstone, composed of very fine grains, united by a calcareous cement in small quantity;—secondly, at the Cerro de la Vela, a schistose sandstone,* (* Sandsteinschiefer.) without mica, and passing into slate-clay,* (* Thonschiefer.) which accompanies coal;—thirdly, on the western side, between Punta Gorda and the ruins of the castle of Santiago, breccia composed of petrified sea-shells united by a calcareous cement, in which are mingled grains of quartz; —fourthly, near the point of Barigon, whence the stone employed for building at Cumana is obtained, banks of yellowish white shelly limestone, in which are found some scattered grains of quartz; —fifthly, at Penas Negras, at the top of the Cerro de la Vela, a bluish grey compact limestone, very tender, almost without petrifactions, and covering the schistose sandstone. However extraordinary this mixture of sandstone and compact limestone* (* Dichter kalkstein.) may appear, we cannot doubt that these strata belong to one and the same formation. The very recent secondary rocks everywhere present analogous phenomena; the molasse of the Pays de Vaud contains a fetid shelly limestone, and the cerite limestone of the banks of the Seine is sometimes mixed with sandstone.
The strata of calcareous breccia are composed of an infinite number of sea-shells, from four to six inches in diameter, and in part well preserved. We find they contain not ammonites, but ampullaires, solens, and terebratulae. The greater part of these shells are mixed: the oysters and pectinites being sometimes arranged in families. The whole are easily detached, and their interior is filled with fossil madrepores and cellepores. We have now to speak of a fourth formation, which probably rests* on the calcareous sandstone of Araya, I mean the muriatiferous clay. (* It were to be wished that mineralogical travellers would examine more particularly the Cerro de la Vela. The limestone of the Penas Negras rests on a slate-clay, mixed with quartzose sand; but there is no proof of the muriatiferous clay of the salt-works being of more ancient formation than this slate-clay, or of its alternating with banks of sandstone. No well having been dug in these countries, we can have no information respecting the superposition of the strata. The banks of calcareous sandstone, which are found at the mouth of the salt lake, and near the fishermen's huts on the coast opposite Cape Macano, appeared to me to lie beneath the muriatiferous clay.) This clay, hardened, impregnated with petroleum, and mixed with lamellar and lenticular gypsum, is analogous to the salzthon, which in Europe accompanies the sal-gem of Berchtesgaden, and in South America that of Zipaquira. It is generally of a smoke-grey colour, earthy, and friable; but it encloses more solid masses of a blackish brown, of a schistose, and sometimes conchoidal fracture. These fragments, from six to eight inches long, have an angular form. When they are very small, they give the clay a porphyroidal appearance. We find disseminated in it, as we have already observed, either in nests or in small veins, selenite, and sometimes, though seldom, fibrous gypsum. It is remarkable enough, that this stratum of clay, as well as the banks of pure sal-gem and the salzthon in Europe, scarcely ever contains shells, while the rocks adjacent exhibit them in great abundance.
Although the muriate of soda is not found visible to the eye in the clay of Araya, we cannot doubt of its existence. It shows itself in large crystals, if we sprinkle the mass with rain-water and expose it to the sun. The lagoon to the east of the castle of Santiago exhibits all the phenomena which have been observed in the salt lakes of Siberia, described by Lepechin, Gmelin, and Pallas. This lagoon receives, however, only the rain-waters, which filter through the banks of clay, and unite at the lowest point of the peninsula. While the lagoon served as a salt-work to the Spaniards and the Dutch, it did not communicate with the sea; at present this communication has been interrupted anew, by faggots placed at the place where the waters of the ocean made an irruption in 1726. After great droughts, crystallized and very pure muriate of soda, in masses of three or four cubic feet, is still drawn from time to time from the bottom of the lagoon. The salt waters of the lake, exposed to the heat of the sun, evaporate at their surface; crusts of salt, formed in a saturated solution, fall to the bottom; and by the attraction between crystals of a similar nature and form, the crystallized masses daily augment. It is generally observed that the water is brackish wherever lagoons are formed in clayey ground. It is true, that for the new salt-work near the battery of Araya, the seawater is received into pits, as in the salt marshes of the south of France; but in the island of Margareta, near Pampatar, salt is manufactured by employing only fresh water, with which the muriatiferous clay has first been lixiviated.
We must not confound the salt disseminated in these clayey soils with that contained in the sands of the seashore, on the coasts of Normandy. These phenomena, considered in a geognostical point of view, have scarcely any properties in common. I have seen muriatiferous clay at the level of the ocean at Punta Araya, and at two thousand toises' height in the Cordilleras of New Grenada. If in the former of these places it lies on very recent shelly breccia, it forms, on the contrary, in Austria near Ischel, a considerable stratum in the Alpine limestone, which, though equally posterior to the existence of organic life on the globe, is nevertheless of high antiquity, as is proved by the great number of rocks with which it is covered. We shall not question, that sal-gem, either pure or mixed with muriatiferous clay, may have been deposited by an ancient sea; but everything evinces that it was formed during an order of things bearing no resemblance to that in which the sea at present, by a slower operation, deposits a few particles of muriate of soda on the sands of our shores. In the same manner as sulphur and coal belong to periods of formation very remote from each other, the sal-gem is also found sometimes in transition gypsum,* (* Uebergangsgyps, in the transition slate of White Alley (l'Allee Blanche), and between the grauwacke and black transition limestone near Bex, below the Dent de Chamossaire, according to M. von Buch.) sometimes in the Alpine limestone,* (* At Halle in the Tyrol.) sometimes in a muriatiferous clay lying on a very recent sandstone,* (* At Punta Araya.) and lastly, sometimes in a gypsum* posterior to the chalk. (* Gypsum of the third formation among the secondary gypsums. The first formation contains the gypsum in which are found the brine-springs of Thuringia, and which is placed either in the Alpine limestone or zechstein, to which it essentially belongs (Freiesleben Geognost. Arbeiten tome 2 page 131), or between the zechstein and the limestone of the Jura, or between the zechstein and the new sandstone. It is the ancient gypsum of secondary formation of Werner's school (alterer flozgyps), which we almost preferably call muriatiferous gypsum. The second formation is composed of fibrous gypsum, placed either in the molasse or new sandstone, or between this and the upper limestone. It abounds in common clay, which differs essentially from the salzthon or muriatiferous clay. The third formation of gypsum is more recent than chalk. To this belongs the bony gypsum of Paris; and, as appears from the researches of Mr. Steffens (Geogn. Aufsatsze 1810 page 142), the gypsum of Segeberg, in Holstein, in which sal-gem is sometimes disseminated in very small nests (Jenaische Litteratur-Zeitung 1813 page 100). The gypsum of Paris, lying between a cerite limestone, which covers chalk and a sandstone without shells, is distinguished by fossil bones of quadrupeds, while the Segeberg and Lunebourg gypsums, the position of which is more uncertain, are characterized by the boracits which they contain. Two other formations, far anterior to the three we have just mentioned, are the transition gypsum (ubergangsgyps) of Aigle, and the primitive gypsum (urgyps) of the valley of Canaria, near Airolo. I flatter myself that I may render some service to those geologists who prefer the knowledge of positive facts to speculation on the origin of things, by furnishing them with materials from which they may generalize their ideas on the formation of rocks in both hemispheres. The relative antiquity of the formations is the principal object of a science which is to render us acquainted with the structure of the globe; that is to say, the nature of the strata which constitute the crust of our planet.)
The new salt-works of Araya have five reservoirs, or pits, the largest of which have two thousand three hundred square toises surface. Their mean depth is eight inches. Use is made both of the rain-water, which by filtration collects at the lowest part of the plain, and of the water of the sea, which enters by canals, or martellieres, when the flood-tide is favoured by the winds. The situation of these new salt-works is less advantageous than that of the lagoon. The waters which fall into the latter pass over steeper slopes, washing a greater extent of ground.
The earth already lixiviated is never carried away here, as it is from time to time in the island of Margareta; nor have wells been dug in the muriatiferous clay, with the view of finding strata richer in muriate of soda. The salineros, or salt-workers generally complain of want of rain; and in the new salt-works, it appears to me difficult to determine what quantity of salt is derived solely from the waters of the sea. The natives estimate it at a sixth of the total produce. The evaporation is extremely strong, and favoured by the constant motion of the air; so that the salt is collected in eighteen or twenty days after the pits are filled.
Though the muriate of soda is manufactured with less care in the peninsula of Araya than at the salt-works of Europe, it is nevertheless purer, and contains less of earthy muriates and sulphates. We know not whether this purity may be attributed to that portion of the salt which is furnished by the sea; for though it is extremely probable, that the quantity of salt dissolved in the waters of the ocean is nearly the same under every zone, it is not less uncertain whether the proportion between the muriate of soda, the muriate and sulphate of magnesia, and the sulphate and carbonate of lime, be equally invariable.
Having examined the salt-works, and terminated our geodesical operations, we departed at the decline of day to sleep at an Indian hut, some miles distant, near the ruins of the castle of Araya. Directing our course southward, we traversed first the plain covered with muriatiferous clay, and stripped of vegetation; then two chains of hills of sandstone, between which the lagoon is situated. Night overtook us while we were in a narrow path, bordered on one side by the sea, and on the other by a range of perpendicular rocks. The tide was rising rapidly, and narrowed the road at every step. We at length arrived at the foot of the old castle of Araya, where we enjoyed a prospect that had in it something lugubrious and romantic. The ruins stand on a bare and arid mountain, crowned with agave, columnar cactus, and thorny mimosas: they bear less resemblance to the works of man, than to those masses of rock which were ruptured at the early revolutions of the globe.
We were desirous of stopping to admire this majestic spectacle, and to observe the setting of Venus, whose disk appeared at intervals between the yawning crannies of the castle; but the muleteer, who served as our guide, was parched with thirst, and pressed us earnestly to return. He had long perceived that we had lost our way; and as he hoped to work on our fears he continually warned us of the danger of tigers and rattlesnakes. Venomous reptiles are, indeed, very common near the castle of Araya; and two jaguars had been lately killed at the entrance of the village of Maniquarez. If we might judge from their skins, which were preserved, their size was not less than that of the Indian tiger. We vainly represented to our guide that those animals did not attack men where the goats furnished them with abundant prey; we were obliged to yield, and return. After having proceeded three quarters of an hour along a shore covered by the tide we were joined by the negro, who carried our provision. Uneasy at not seeing us arrive, he had come to meet us, and he led us through a wood of nopals to a hut inhabited by an Indian family. We were received with the cordial hospitality observed in this country among people of every tribe. The hut in which we slung our hammocks was very clean; and there we found fish, plantains, and what in the torrid zone is preferable to the most sumptuous food, excellent water.
The next day at sunrise we found that the hut in which we had passed the night formed part of a group of small dwellings on the borders of the salt lake, the remains of a considerable village which had formerly stood near the castle. The ruins of a church were seen partly buried in the sand, and covered with brushwood. When, in 1762, to save the expense of the garrison, the castle of Araya was totally dismantled, the Indians and Mulattoes who were settled in the neighbourhood emigrated by degrees to Maniquarez, to Cariaco, and in the suburb of the Guayquerias at Cumana. A small number, bound from affection to their native soil, remained in this wild and barren spot. These poor people live by catching fish, which are extremely abundant on the coast and the neighbouring shoals. They appear satisfied with their condition, and think it strange when they are asked why they have no gardens or culinary vegetables. Our gardens, they reply, are beyond the gulf; when we carry our fish to Cumana, we bring back plantains, cocoa-nuts, and cassava. This system of economy, which favours idleness, is followed at Maniquarez, and throughout the whole peninsula of Araya. The chief wealth of the inhabitants consists in goats, which are of a very large and very fine breed, and rove in the fields like those at the Peak of Teneriffe. They have become entirely wild, and are marked like the mules, because it would be difficult to recognize them from their colour or the arrangement of their spots. These wild goats are of a brownish yellow, and are not varied in colour like domestic animals. If in hunting, a colonist kills a goat which he does not consider as his own property, he carries it immediately to the neighbour to whom it belongs. During two days we heard it everywhere spoken of as a very extraordinary circumstance, that an inhabitant of Maniquarez had lost a goat, on which it was probable that a neighbouring family had regaled themselves.
Among the Mulattoes, whose huts surround the salt lake, we found it shoemaker of Castilian descent. He received us with the air of gravity and self-sufficiency which in those countries characterize almost all persons who are conscious of possessing some peculiar talent. He was employed in stretching the string of his bow, and sharpening his arrows to shoot birds. His trade of a shoemaker could not be very lucrative in a country where the greater part of the inhabitants go barefooted; and he only complained that, on account of the dearness of European gunpowder, a man of his quality was reduced to employ the same weapons as the Indians. He was the sage of the plain; he understood the formation of the salt by the influence of the sun and full moon, the symptoms of earthquakes, the marks by which mines of gold and silver are discovered, and the medicinal plants, which, like all the other colonists from Chile to California, he classified into hot and cold.* (* Exciting or debilitating, the sthenic and asthenic, of Brown's system.) Having collected the traditions of the country, he gave us some curious accounts of the pearls of Cubagua, objects of luxury, which he treated with the utmost contempt. To show us how familiar to him were the sacred writings he took a pride in reminding us that Job preferred wisdom to all the pearls of the Indies. His philosophy was circumscribed to the narrow circle of the wants of life. The possession of a very strong ass, able to carry a heavy load of plantains to the embarcadero, was the consummation of all his wishes.
After a long discourse on the emptiness of human greatness, he drew from a leathern pouch a few very small opaque pearls, which he forced us to accept, enjoining us at the same time to note on our tablets that a poor shoemaker of Araya, but a white man, and of noble Castilian race, had been enabled to give us something which, on the other side of the sea,* was sought for as very precious. (* 'Por alla,' or, 'del otro lado del charco,' (properly 'beyond,' or 'on the other side of the great lake'), a figurative expression, by which the people in the Spanish colonies denote Europe.) I here acquit myself of the promise I made to this worthy man, who disinterestedly refused to accept of the slightest retribution. The Pearl Coast presents the same aspect of misery as the countries of gold and diamonds, Choco and Brazil; but misery is not there attended with that immoderate desire of gain which is excited by mineral wealth.
The pearl-breeding oyster (Avicula margaritifera, Cuvier) abounds on the shoals which extend from Cape Paria to Cape la Vela. The islands of Margareta, Cubagua, Coche, Punta Araya, and the mouth of the Rio la Hacha, were, in the sixteenth century, as celebrated as were the Persian Gulf and the island of Taprobana among the ancients. It is incorrectly alleged by some historians that the natives of America were unacquainted with the luxury of pearls. The first Spaniards who landed in Terra Firma found the savages decked with pearl necklaces and bracelets; and among the civilized people of Mexico and Peru, pearls of a beautiful form were extremely sought after. I have published a dissertation on the statue of a Mexican priestess in basalt, whose head-dress, resembling the calantica of the heads of Isis, is ornamented with pearls. Las Casas and Benzoni have described, but not without some exaggeration, the cruelties which were exercised on the unhappy Indian slaves and negroes employed in the pearl fishery. At the beginning of the conquest the island of Coche alone furnished pearls amounting in value to fifteen hundred marks per month.
The quint which the king's officers drew from the produce of pearls, amounted to fifteen thousand ducats; which, according to the value of the precious metals in those times, and the extensiveness of contraband trade, may be regarded as a very considerable sum. It appears that till 1530 the value of the pearls sent to Europe amounted yearly on an average to more than eight hundred thousand piastres. In order to judge of the importance of this branch of commerce to Seville, Toledo, Antwerp, and Genoa, we should recollect that at the same period the whole of the mines of America did not furnish two millions of piastres; and that the fleet of Ovando was thought to contain immense wealth, because it had on board nearly two thousand six hundred marks of silver. Pearls were the more sought after, as the luxury of Asia had been introduced into Europe by two ways diametrically opposite: that of Constantinople, where the Palaeologi wore garments covered with strings of pearls; and that of Grenada, the residence of the Moorish kings, who displayed at their court all the luxury of the East. The pearls of the East were preferred to those of the West; but the number of the latter which circulated in commerce was nevertheless considerable at the period immediately following the discovery of America. In Italy as well as in Spain, the islet of Cubagua became the object of numerous mercantile speculations.
Benzoni* relates the adventure of one Luigi Lampagnano, to whom Charles the Fifth granted the privilege of proceeding with five caravels to the coasts of Cumana to fish for pearls. (* La Hist. del Mondo Nuovo page 34. Luigi Lampagnano, a relation of the assassin of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, could not pay the merchants of Seville who had advanced the money for his voyage; he remained five years at Cubagua, and died in a fit of insanity.) The colonists sent him back with this bold message: "That the emperor was too liberal of what was not his own, and that he had no right to dispose of the oysters which live at the bottom of the sea."
The pearl fishery diminished rapidly about the end of the sixteenth century; and, according to Laet, it had long ceased in 1633.* (* "Insularum Cubaguae et Coches quondam magna fuit dignitas, quum Unionum captura floreret: nunc, illa deficiente, obscura admodum fama." Laet Nova Orbis page 669. This accurate compiler, speaking of Punta Araya, adds, this country is so forgotten, "ut vix ulla Americae meridionalis pars hodie obscurior sit.") The industry of the Venetians, who imitated fine pearls with great exactness, and the frequent use of cut diamonds,* rendered the fisheries of Cubagua less lucrative. (* The cutting of diamonds was invented by Lewis de Berquen, in 1456, but the art became common only in the following century.) At the same time, the oysters which yielded the pearls became scarcer, not, because, according to a popular tradition, they were frightened by the sound of the oars, and removed elsewhere; but because their propagation had been impeded by the imprudent destruction of the shells by thousands. The pearl-bearing oyster is of a more delicate nature than most of the other acephalous mollusca. At the island of Ceylon, where, in the bay of Condeatchy, the fishery employs six hundred divers, and where the annual produce is more than half a million of piastres, it has vainly been attempted to transplant the oysters to other parts of the coast. The government permits fishing there only during a single month; while at Cubagua the bank of shells was fished at all seasons. To form an idea of the destruction of the species caused by the divers, we must remember that a boat sometimes collects, in two or three weeks, more than thirty-five thousand oysters. The animal lives but nine or ten years; and it is only in its fourth year that the pearls begin to show themselves. In ten thousand shells there is often not a single pearl of value. Tradition records that on the bank of Margareta the fishermen opened the shells one by one: in the island of Ceylon the animals are thrown into heaps to rot in the air; and to separate the pearls which are not attached to the shell, the animal pulp is washed, as miners wash the sand which contains grains of gold, tin, or diamonds.
At present Spanish America furnishes no other pearls for trade than those of the gulf of Panama, and the mouth of the Rio de la Hacha. On the shoals which surround Cubagua, Coche, and the island of Margareta, the fishery is as much neglected as on the coasts of California.* (* I am astonished at never having heard, in the course of my travels, of pearls found in the fresh-water shells of South America, though several species of the Unio genus abound in the rivers of Peru.) It is believed at Cumana, that the pearl-oyster has greatly multiplied after two centuries of repose; and in 1812, some new attempts were made at Margareta for the fishing of pearls. It has been asked, why the pearls found at present in shells which become entangled in the fishermen's nets are so small, and have so little brilliancy,* whilst, on the Spaniards' arrival, they were extremely beautiful, though the Indians doubtless had not taken the trouble of diving to collect them. (* The inhabitants of Araya sometimes sell these small pearls to the retail dealers of Cumana. The ordinary price is one piastre per dozen.) The problem is so much the more difficult to solve, as we know not whether earthquakes may have altered the nature of the bottom of the sea, or whether the changes of the submarine currents may have had an influence either on the temperature of the water, or on the abundance of certain mollusca on which the Aronde feeds.
On the morning of the 20th our host's son, a young and very robust Indian, conducted us by the way of Barigon and Caney to the village of Maniquarez, which was four hours' walk. From the effect of the reverberation of the sands, the thermometer kept up to 31.3 degrees. The cylindric cactus, which bordered the road, gave the landscape an appearance of verdure, without affording either coolness or shade. Before our guide had walked a league, he began to sit down every moment, and at length he wished to repose under the shade of a fine tamarind tree near Casas de la Vela, to await the approach of night. This characteristic trait, which we observed every time we travelled with Indians, has given rise to very erroneous ideas of the physical constitutions of the different races of men. The copper-coloured native, more accustomed to the burning heat of the climate, than the European traveller, complains more, because he is stimulated by no interest. Money is without attraction for him; and if he permits himself to be tempted by gain for a moment, he repents of his resolution as soon as he is on the road. The same Indian, who would complain, when in herborizing we loaded him with a box filled with plants, would row his canoe fourteen or fifteen hours together, against the strongest current, because he wished to return to his family. In order to form a true judgment of the muscular strength of the people, we should observe them in circumstances where their actions are determined by a necessity and a will equally energetic.
We examined the ruins of Santiago,* the structure of which is remarkable for its extreme solidity. (* On the map accompanying Robertson's History of America, we find the name of this castle confounded with that of Nueva Cordoba. This latter denomination was formerly synonymous with Cumana.—Herrera, page 14.) The walls of freestone, five feet thick, have been blown up by mines; but we still found masses of seven or eight hundred feet square, which have scarcely a crack in them. Our guide showed us a cistern (aljibe) thirty feet deep, which, though much damaged, furnishes water to the inhabitants of the peninsula of Araya. This cistern was finished in 1681, by the governor Don Juan de Padilla Guardiola, the same who built at Cumana the small fort of Santa Maria. As the basin is covered with an arched vault, the water, which is of excellent quality, keeps very cool: the confervae, while they decompose the carburetted hydrogen, also shelter worms which hinder the propagation of small insects. It had been believed for ages, that the peninsula of Araya was entirely destitute of springs of fresh water; but in 1797, after many useless researches, the inhabitants of Maniquarez succeeded in discovering some.
In crossing the arid hills of Cape Cirial, we perceived a strong smell of petroleum. The wind blew from the direction in which the springs of this substance are found, and which were mentioned by the first historians of these countries.* (* Oviedo terms it "A resinous, aromatic, and medicinal liquor.") Near the village of Maniquarez, the mica-slate* (* The Piedra pelada of the Creoles.) comes out from below the secondary rock, forming a chain of mountains from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty toises in height. The direction of the primitive rock near Cape Sotto is from north-east to south-west; its strata incline fifty degrees to the north-west. The mica-slate is silvery white, of lamellar and undulated texture, and contains garnets. Strata of quartz, the thickness of which varies from three to four toises, traverse the mica-slate, as we may observe in several ravines hollowed out by the waters. We detached with difficulty a fragment of cyanite from a block of splintered and milky quartz, which was isolated on the shore. This was the only time we found this substance in South America.* (* In New Spain, the cyanite has been discovered only in the province of Guatimala, at Estancia Grande, —Del Rio Tablas Min. 1804 page 27.)
The potteries of Maniquarez, celebrated from time immemorial, form a branch of industry which is exclusively in the hands of the Indian women. The manufacture is still carried on according to the method used before the conquest. It indicates both the infancy of the art, and that unchangeability of manners which is characteristic of all the natives of America. Three centuries have been insufficient to introduce the potter's-wheel, on a coast which is not above thirty or forty days' sail from Spain. The natives have some confused notions with respect to the existence of this machine, and they would no doubt make use of it if it were introduced among them. The quarries whence they obtain the clay are half a league to the east of Maniquarez. This clay is produced by natural decomposition of a mica-slate reddened by oxide of iron. The Indian women prefer the part most abounding in mica; and with great skill fashion vessels two or three feet in diameter, giving them a very regular curve. As they are not acquainted with the use of ovens, they place twigs of desmanthus, cassia, and the arborescent capparis, around the pots, and bake them in the open air. To the east of the quarry which furnishes the clay is the ravine of La Mina. It is asserted that, a short time after the conquest, some Venetians extracted gold from the mica-slate. It appears that this metal was not collected in veins of quartz, but was found disseminated in the rock, as it is sometimes in granite and gneiss.
At Maniquarez we met with some creoles, who had been hunting at Cubagua. Deer of a small breed are so common in this uninhabited islet, that a single individual may kill three or four in a day. I know not by what accident these animals have got thither, for Laet and other chroniclers of these countries, speaking of the foundation of New Cadiz, mention only the great abundance of rabbits. The venado of Cubagua belongs to one of those numerous species of small American deer, which zoologists have long confounded under the vague name of Cervus mexicanus. It does not appear to be the same as the hind of the savannahs of Cayenne, or the guazuti of Paraguay, which live also in herds. Its colour is a brownish red on the back, and white under the belly; and it is spotted like the axis. In the plains of Cari we were shown, as a thing very rare in these hot climates, a variety quite white. It was a female of the size of the roebuck of Europe, and of a very elegant shape. White varieties are found in the New Continent even among the tigers. Azara saw a jaguar, the skin of which was wholly white, with merely the shadow, as it might be termed, of a few circular spots.
Of all the productions on the coasts of Araya, that which the people consider as the most extraordinary, or we may say the most marvellous, is 'the stone of the eyes,' (piedra de los ojos.) This calcareous substance is a frequent subject of conversation: being, according to the natural philosophy of the natives, both a stone and an animal. It is found in the sand, where it is motionless; but if placed on a polished surface, for instance on a pewter or earthen plate, it moves when excited by lemon juice. If placed in the eye, the supposed animal turns on itself, and expels every other foreign substance that has been accidentally introduced. At the new salt-works, and at the village of Maniquarez, these stones of the eyes* were offered to us by hundreds, and the natives were anxious to show us the experiment of the lemon juice. (* They are found in the greatest abundance near the battery at the point of Cape Araya.) They even wished to put sand into our eyes, in order that we might ourselves try the efficacy of the remedy. It was easy to see that the stones are thin and porous opercula, which have formed part of small univalve shells. Their diameter varies from one to four lines. One of their two surfaces is plane, and the other convex. These calcareous opercula effervesce with lemon juice, and put themselves in motion in proportion as the carbonic acid is disengaged. By the effect of a similar reaction, loaves placed in an oven move sometimes on a horizontal plane; a phenomenon that has given occasion, in Europe, to the popular prejudice of enchanted ovens. The piedras de los ojos, introduced into the eye, act like the small pearls, and different round grains employed by the American savages to increase the flowing of tears. These explanations were little to the taste of the inhabitants of Araya. Nature has the appearance of greatness to man in proportion as she is veiled in mystery; and the ignorant are prone to put faith in everything that borders on the marvellous.
Proceeding along the southern coast, to the east of Maniquarez, we find running out into the sea very near each other, three strips of land, bearing the names of Punta de Soto, Punta de la Brea, and Punta Guaratarito. In these parts the bottom of the sea is evidently formed of mica-slate, and from it near Cape de la Brea, but at eighty feet distant from the shore, there issues a spring of naphtha, the smell of which penetrates into the interior of the peninsula. It is necessary to wade into the sea up to the waist, to examine this interesting phenomenon. The waters are covered with zostera; and in the midst of a very extensive bank of weeds, we distinguish a free and circular spot of three feet in diameter, on which float a few scattered masses of Ulva lactuca. Here the springs are found. The bottom of the gulf is covered with sand; and the petroleum, which, from its transparency and its yellow colour, resembles naphtha, rises in jets, accompanied by air bubbles. On treading down the bottom with the foot, we perceive that these little springs change their place. The naphtha covers the surface of the sea to more than a thousand feet distant. If we suppose the dip of the strata to be regular, the mica-slate must be but a few toises below the sand.
We have already observed, that the muriatiferous clay of Araya contains solid and friable petroleum. This geological connection between the muriate of soda and the bitumens is evident wherever there are mines of sal-gem or salt springs: but a very remarkable fact is the existence of a fountain of naphtha in a primitive formation. All those hitherto known belong to secondary mountains;* (* As at Pietra Mala; Fanano; Mont Zibio; and Amiano (in these places are found the springs that furnish the naphtha burned in lamps in Genoa) and also at Baikal.) a circumstance which has been supposed to favour the idea that all mineral bitumens are owing to the destruction of vegetables and animals, or to the burning of coal. In the peninsula of Araya, the naphtha flows from the primitive rock itself; and this phenomenon acquires new importance, when we recollect that the same primitive rocks contain the subterranean fires, that on the brink of burning craters the smell of petroleum is perceived from time to time, and that the greater part of the hot springs of America rise from gneiss and micaceous schist.
After having examined the environs of Maniquarez, we embarked at night in a fishing-boat for Cumana. The small crazy boats employed by the natives here, bear testimony to the extreme calmness of the sea in these regions. Our boat, though the best we could procure, was so leaky, that the pilot's son was constantly employed in baling out the water with a tutuma, or shell of the Crescentia cujete (calabash). It often happens in the gulf of Cariaco, and especially to the north of the peninsula of Araya, that canoes laden with cocoa-nuts are upset in sailing too near the wind, and against the tide.
The inhabitants of Araya, whom we visited a second time on returning from the Orinoco, have not forgotten that their peninsula was one of the points first peopled by the Spaniards. They love to talk of the pearl fishery; of the ruins of the castle of Santiago, which they hope to see some day rebuilt; and of everything that recalls to mind the ancient splendour of those countries. In China and Japan those inventions are considered as recent, which have not been known above two thousand years; in the European colonies an event appears extremely old, if it dates back three centuries, or about the period of the discovery of America.
MOUNTAINS OF NEW ANDALUCIA. VALLEY OF THE CUMANACOA. SUMMIT OF THE COCOLLAR. MISSIONS OF THE CHAYMA INDIANS.
Our first visit to the peninsula of Araya was soon succeeded by an excursion to the mountains of the missions of the Chayma Indians, where a variety of interesting objects claimed our attention. We entered on a country studded with forests, and visited a convent surrounded by palm-trees and arborescent ferns. It was situated in a narrow valley, where we felt the enjoyment of a cool and delicious climate, in the centre of the torrid zone. The surrounding mountains contain caverns haunted by thousands of nocturnal birds; and, what affects the imagination more than all the wonders of the physical world, we find beyond these mountains a people lately nomad, and still nearly in a state of nature, wild without being barbarous. It was in the promontory of Paria that Columbus first descried the continent; there terminate these valleys, laid waste alternately by the warlike anthropophagic Carib and by the commercial and polished nations of Europe. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the ill-fated Indians of the coasts of Carupano, of Macarapan, and of Caracas, were treated in the same manner as the inhabitants of the coast of Guinea in our days. The soil of the islands was cultivated, the vegetable produce of the Old World was transplanted thither, but a regular system of colonization remained long unknown on the New Continent. If the Spaniards visited its shores, it was only to procure, either by violence or exchange, slaves, pearls, grains of gold, and dye-woods; and endeavours were made to ennoble the motives of this insatiable avarice by the pretence of enthusiastic zeal in the cause of religion.
The trade in the copper-coloured Indians was accompanied by the same acts of inhumanity as that which characterizes the traffic in African negroes; it was attended also by the same result, that of rendering both the conquerors and the conquered more ferocious. Thence wars became more frequent among the natives; prisoners were dragged from the inland countries to the coast, to be sold to the whites, who Loaded them with chains in their ships. Yet the Spaniards were at that period, and long after, one of the most polished nations of Europe. The light which art and literature then shed over Italy, was reflected on every nation whose language emanated from the same source as that of Dante and Petrarch. It might have been expected that a general improvement of manners would be the natural consequence of this noble awakening of the mind, this sublime soaring of the imagination. But in distant regions, wherever the thirst of wealth has introduced the abuse of power, the nations of Europe, at every period of their history, have displayed the same character. The illustrious era of Leo X was signalized in the New World by acts of cruelty that seemed to belong to the most barbarous ages. We are less surprised, however, at the horrible picture presented by the conquest of America when we think of the acts that are still perpetrated on the western coast of Africa, notwithstanding the benefits of a more humane legislation.
The principles adopted by Charles V had abolished the slave trade on the New Continent. But the Conquistadores, by the continuation of their incursions, prolonged the system of petty warfare which diminished the American population, perpetuated national animosities, and during a long period crushed the seeds of rising civilization. At length the missionaries, under the protection of the secular arm, spoke words of peace. It was the privilege of religion to console humanity for a part of the evils committed in its name; to plead the cause of the natives before kings, to resist the violence of the commendatories, and to assemble wandering tribes into small communities called Missions.
But these institutions, useful at first in stopping the effusion of blood, and in laying the first basis of society, have become in their result hostile to its progress. The effects of this insulated system have been such that the Indians have remained in a state little different from that in which they existed whilst yet their scattered dwellings were not collected round the habitation of a missionary. Their number has considerably augmented, but the sphere of their ideas is not enlarged. They have progressively lost that vigour of character and that natural vivacity which in every state of society are the noble fruits of independence. By subjecting to invariable rules even the slightest actions of their domestic life, they have been rendered stupid by the effort to render them obedient. Their subsistence is in general more certain, and their habits more pacific, but subject to the constraint and the dull monotony of the government of the Missions, they show by their gloomy and reserved looks that they have not sacrificed their liberty to their repose without regret.
On the 4th of September, at five in the morning, we began our journey to the Missions of the Chayma Indians and the group of lofty mountains which traverse New Andalusia. On account of the extreme difficulties of the road, we had been advised to reduce our baggage to a very small bulk. Two beasts of burden were sufficient to carry our provision, our instruments, and the paper necessary to dry our plants. One chest contained a sextant, a dipping-needle, an apparatus to determine the magnetic variation, a few thermometers, and Saussure's hygrometer. The greatest changes in the pressure of the air in these climates, on the coasts, amount only to 1 to 1.3 of a line; and if at any given hour or place the height of the mercury be once marked, the variations which that height experiences throughout the whole year, at every hour of the day or night, may with some accuracy be determined.
The morning was deliciously cool. The road, or rather path, which leads to Cumanacoa, runs along the right bank of the Manzanares, passing by the hospital of the Capuchins, situated in a small wood of lignum-vitae and arborescent capparis.* (* These caper-trees are called in the country, by the names pachaca, olivo, and ajito: they are the Capparis tenuisiliqua, Jacq., C. ferruginea, C. emarginata, C. elliptica, C. reticulata, C. racemosa.) On leaving Cumana we enjoyed during the short duration of the twilight, from the top of the hill of San Francisco, an extensive view over the sea, the plain covered with bera* and its golden flowers (* Palo sano, Zygophyllum arboreum, Jacq. The flowers have the smell of vanilla. It is cultivated in the gardens of the Havannah under the strange name of the dictanno real (royal dittany).), and the mountains of the Brigantine. We were struck by the great proximity in which the Cordillera appeared before the disk of the rising sun had reached the horizon. The tint of the summits is of a deeper blue, their outline is more strongly marked, and their masses are more detached, as long as the transparency of the air is undisturbed by the vapours, which, after accumulating during the night in the valleys, rise in proportion as the atmosphere acquires warmth.
At the hospital of the Divina Pastora the path turns to north-east, and stretches for two leagues over a soil without trees, and formerly levelled by the waters. We there found not only cactuses, tufts of cistus-leaved tribulus, and the beautiful purple euphorbia,* (* Euphorbia tithymaloides.) but also the avicennia, the allionia, the sesuvium, the thalinum, and most of the portulaceous plants which grow on the banks of the gulf of Cariaco. This geographical distribution of plants appears to designate the limits of the ancient coast, and to prove that the hills along the southern side of which we were passing, formed heretofore a small island, separated from the continent by an arm of the sea.
After walking two hours, we arrived at the foot of the high chain of the interior mountains, which stretches from east to west; from the Brigantine to the Cerro de San Lorenzo. There, new rocks appear, and with them another aspect of vegetation. Every object assumes a more majestic and picturesque character; the soil, watered by springs, is furrowed in every direction; trees of gigantic height, covered with lianas, rise from the ravines; their bark, black and burnt by the double action of the light and the oxygen of the atmosphere, contrasts with the fresh verdure of the pothos and dracontium, the tough and shining leaves of which are sometimes several feet long. The parasite monocotyledons take between the tropics the place of the moss and lichens of our northern zone. As we advanced, the forms and grouping of the rocks reminded us of Switzerland and the Tyrol. The heliconia, costus, maranta, and other plants of the family of the balisiers (Canna indica), which near the coasts vegetate only in damp and low places, flourish in the American Alps at considerable height. Thus, by a singular similitude, in the torrid zone, under the influence of an atmosphere continually loaded with vapours the mountain vegetation presents the same features as the vegetation of the marshes in the north of Europe on soil moistened by melting snow.* (* Wahlenberg, de Vegetatione Helvetiae et summi Septentrionis pages 47, 59.)
Before we leave the plains of Cumana, and the breccia, or calcareous sandstone, which constitutes the soil of the seaside, we will describe the different strata of which this very recent formation is composed, as we observed it on the back of the hills that surround the castle of San Antonio.
This breccia, or calcareous sandstone, is a local and partial formation, peculiar to the peninsula of Araya, the coasts of Cumana, and Caracas. We again found it at Cabo Blanco, to the west of the port of Guayra, where it contains, besides broken shells and madrepores, fragments, often angular, of quartz and gneiss. This circumstance assimilates the breccia to that recent sandstone called by the German mineralogists nagelfluhe, which covers so great a part of Switzerland to the height of a thousand toises, without presenting any trace of marine productions. Near Cumana the formation of the calcareous breccia contains:—first, a compact whitish grey limestone, the strata of which, sometimes horizontal, sometimes irregularly inclined, are from five to six inches thick; some beds are almost unmixed with petrifactions, but in the greatest part the cardites, the turbinites, the ostracites, and shells of small dimension, are found so closely connected, that the calcareous matter forms only a cement, by which the grains of quartz and the organized bodies are united: second, a calcareous sandstone, in which the grains of sand are much more frequent than the petrified shells; other strata form a sandstone entirely free from organic fragments, yielding but a small effervescence with acids, and enclosing not lamellae of mica, but nodules of compact brown iron-ore: third, beds of indurated clay containing selenite and lamellar gypsum.
The breccia, or agglomerate of the sea-coast, just described, has a white tint, and it lies immediately on the calcareous formation of Cumanacoa, which is of a bluish grey. These two rocks form a contrast no less striking than the molasse (bur-stone) of the Pays de Vaud, with the calcareous limestone of the Jura. It must be observed, that, by contact of the two formations lying upon each other, the beds of the limestone of Cumanacoa, which I consider as an Alpine limestone, are always largely mixed with clay and marl. Lying, like the mica-slate of Araya, north-east and south-west, they are inclined, near Punta Delgada, under an angle of 60 degrees to south-east.
We traversed the forest by a narrow path, along a rivulet, which rolls foaming over a bed of rocks. We observed, that the vegetation was more brilliant, wherever the Alpine limestone was covered by a quartzose sandstone without petrifactions, and very different from the breccia of the sea-coast. The cause of this phenomenon depends probably not so much on the nature of the ground, as on the greater humidity of the soil. The quartzose sandstone contains thin strata of a blackish clay-slate,* (* Schieferthon.) which might easily be confounded with the secondary thonschiefer; and these strata hinder the water from filtering into the crevices, of which the Alpine limestone is full. This last offers to view here, as in Saltzburg, and on the chain of the Apennines, broken and steep beds. The sandstone, on the contrary, wherever it is seated on the calcareous rock, renders the aspect of the scene less wild. The hills which it forms appear more rounded, and the gentler slopes are covered with a thicker mould.
In humid places, where the sandstone envelopes the Alpine limestone, some trace of cultivation is constantly found. We met with huts inhabited by mestizoes in the ravine of Los Frailes, as well as between the Cuesta de Caneyes, and the Rio Guriental. Each of these huts stands in the centre of an enclosure, containing plantains, papaw-trees, sugar-canes, and maize. We might be surprised at the small extent of these cultivated spots, if we did not recollect that an acre planted with plantains* (* Musa paradisiaca.) produces nearly twenty times as much food as the same space sown with corn. In Europe, our wheat, barley, and rye cover vast spaces of ground; and in general the arable lands touch each other, wherever the inhabitants live upon corn. It is different under the torrid zone, where man obtains food from plants which yield more abundant and earlier harvests. In those favoured climes, the fertility of the soil is proportioned to the heat and humidity of the atmosphere. An immense population finds abundant nourishment within a narrow space, covered with plantains, cassava, yams, and maize. The isolated situation of the huts dispersed through the forest indicates to the traveller the fecundity of nature, where a small spot of cultivated land suffices for the wants of several families.
These considerations on the agriculture of the torrid zone involuntarily remind us of the intimate connexion existing between the extent of land cleared, and the progress of society. The richness of the soil, and the vigour of organic life, by multiplying the means of subsistence, retard the progress of nations in the paths of civilization. Under so mild and uniform a climate, the only urgent want of man is that of food. This want only, excites him to labour; and we may easily conceive why, in the midst of abundance, beneath the shade of the plantain and bread-fruit tree, the intellectual faculties unfold themselves less rapidly than under a rigorous sky, in the region of corn, where our race is engaged in a perpetual struggle with the elements. In Europe we estimate the number of the inhabitants of a country by the extent of cultivation: within the tropics, on the contrary, in the warmest and most humid parts of South America, very populous provinces appear almost deserted; because man, to find nourishment, cultivates but a small number of acres. These circumstances modify the physical appearance of the country and the character of its inhabitants, giving to both a peculiar physiognomy; the wild and uncultivated stamp which belongs to nature, ere its primitive type has been altered by art. Without neighbours, almost unconnected with the rest of mankind, each family of settlers forms a separate tribe. This insulated state arrests or retards the progress of civilization, which advances only in proportion as society becomes numerous, and its connexions more intimate and multiplied. But, on the other hand, it is solitude that develops and strengthens in man the sentiment of liberty and independence; and gives birth to that noble pride of character which has at all times distinguished the Castilian race.
From these causes, the land in the most populous regions of equinoctial America still retains a wild aspect, which is destroyed in temperate climates by the cultivation of corn. Within the tropics the agricultural nations occupy less ground: man has there less extended his empire; he may be said to appear, not as an absolute master, who changes at will the surface of the soil, but as a transient guest, who quietly enjoys the gifts of nature. There, in the neighbourhood of the most populous cities, the land remains studded with forests, or covered with a thick mould, unfurrowed by the plough. Spontaneous vegetation still predominates over cultivated plants, and determines the aspect of the landscape. It is probable that this state of things will change very slowly. If in our temperate regions the cultivation of corn contributes to throw a dull uniformity upon the land we have cleared, we cannot doubt, that, even with increasing population, the torrid zone will preserve that majesty of vegetable forms, those marks of an unsubdued, virgin nature, which render it so attractive and so picturesque. Thus it is that, by a remarkable concatenation of physical and moral causes, the choice and production of alimentary plants have an influence on three important objects at once; the association or the isolated state of families, the more or less rapid progress of civilization, and the individual character of the landscape.
In proportion as we penetrated into the forest, the barometer indicated the progressive elevation of the land. The trunks of the trees presented here an extraordinary phenomenon; a gramineous plant, with verticillate branches,* climbs, like a liana, eight or ten feet high, and forms festoons, which cross the path, and swing about with the wind. (* Carice, analogous to the chusque of Santa Fe, of the group of the Nastusas. This gramineous plant is excellent pasture for mules.) We halted, about three o'clock in the afternoon, on a small flat, known by the name of Quetepe, and situated about one hundred and ninety toises above the level of the sea. A few small houses have been erected near a spring, well known by the natives for its coolness and great salubrity. We found the water delicious. Its temperature was only 22.5 degrees of the centigrade thermometer, while that of the air was 28.7 degrees. The springs which descend from the neighbouring mountains of a greater height often indicate a too rapid decrement of heat. If indeed we suppose the mean temperature of the water on the coast of Cumana equal to 26 degrees, we must conclude, unless other local causes modify the temperature of the springs, that the spring of Quetepe acquires its great coolness at more than 350 toises of absolute elevation. With respect to the springs which gush out in the plains of the torrid zone, or at a small elevation, it may be observed, in general, that it is only in regions where the mean temperature of summer essentially differs from that of the whole year, that the inhabitants have extremely cold spring water during the season of great heat. The Laplanders, near Umea and Soersele, in the 65th degree of latitude, drink spring-water, the temperature of which, in the month of August, is scarcely two or three degrees above freezing point; while during the day the heat of the air rises in the shade, in the same northern regions, to 26 or 27 degrees. In the temperate climates of France and Germany, the difference between the air and the springs never exceeds 16 or 17 degrees; between the tropics it seldom rises to 5 or 6 degrees. It is easy to account for these phenomena, when we recollect that the interior of the globe, and the subterraneous waters, have a temperature almost identical with the annual mean temperature of the air; and that the latter differs from the mean heat of summer, in proportion to the distance from the equator.
From the top of a hill of sandstone, which overlooks the spring of Quetepe, we had a magnificent view of the sea, of cape Macanao, and the peninsula of Maniquarez. At our feet an immense forest extended to the edge of the ocean. The tops of the trees, intertwined with lianas, and crowned with long wreaths of flowers, formed a vast carpet of verdure, the dark tint of which augmented the splendour of the aerial light. This picture struck us the more forcibly, as we then first beheld those great masses of tropical vegetation. On the hill of Quetepe, at the foot of the Malpighia cocollobaefolia, the leaves of which are extremely coriaceous, we gathered, among tufts of the Polygala montana, the first melastomas, especially that beautiful species described under the name of the Melastoma rufescens.
As we advanced toward the south-west, the soil became dry and sandy. We climbed a group of mountains, which separate the coast from the vast plains, or savannahs, bordered by the Orinoco. That part of the group, over which passes the road to Cumanacoa, is destitute of vegetation, and has steep declivities both on the north and the south. It has received the name of the Imposible, because it is believed that, in the case of hostile invasion, this ridge of mountains would be inaccessible to the enemy, and would offer an asylum to the inhabitants of Cumana. We reached the top a little before sunset, and I had scarcely time to take a few horary angles, to determine the longitude of the place by means of the chronometer.
The view from the Imposible is finer and more extensive than that from the table-land of Quetepe. We distinguished clearly by the naked eye the flattened top of the Brigantine (the position of which it would be important to fix accurately), the embarcadero or landing-place, and the roadstead of Cumana. The rocky coast of the peninsula of Araya was discernible in its whole length. We were particularly struck with the extraordinary configuration of a port, known by the name of Laguna Grande, or Laguna del Obispo. A vast basin, surrounded by high mountains, communicates with the gulf of Cariaco by a narrow channel which admits only of the passage of one ship at a time. This port is capable of containing several squadrons at once. It is an uninhabited place, but annually frequented by vessels, which carry mules to the West India Islands. There are some pasture grounds at the farther end of the bay. We traced the sinuosities of this arm of the sea, which, like a river, has dug a bed between perpendicular rocks destitute of vegetation. This singular prospect reminded us of the fanciful landscape which Leonardo da Vinci has made the back-ground of his famous portrait of Mona Lisa, the wife of Francisco del Giacondo.
We could observe by the chronometer the moment when the disk of the sun touched the horizon of the sea. The first contact was at 6 hours 8 minutes 13 seconds; the second, at 6 hours 10 minutes 26 seconds; mean time. This observation, which is not unimportant for the theory of terrestrial refractions, was made on the summit of the mountain, at the absolute height of 296 toises. The setting of the sun was attended by a very rapid cooling of the air. Three minutes after the last apparent contact of the disk with the horizon of the sea, the thermometer suddenly fell from 25.2 to 21.3 degrees. Was this extraordinary refrigeration owing to some descending current? The air was however calm, and no horizontal wind was felt.
We passed the night in a house where there was a military post consisting of eight men, under the command of a Spanish serjeant. It was an hospital, built by the side of a powder magazine. When Cumana, after the capture of Trinidad by the English, in 1797, was threatened with an attack, many of the inhabitants fled to Cumanacoa, and deposited whatever articles of value they possessed in sheds hastily constructed on the top of the Imposible. It was then resolved, in case of any unforeseen invasion, to abandon the castle of San Antonio, after a short resistance, and to concentrate the whole force of the province round the mountains, which may be considered as the key of the Llanos.
The top of the Imposible, as nearly as I could perceive, is covered with a quartzose sandstone, free from petrifactions. Here, as on the ridge of the neighbouring mountains, the strata pretty regularly take the direction from north-north-east to south-south-west. This direction is also most common in the primitive formations in the peninsula of Araya, and along the coasts of Venezuela. On the northern declivity of the Imposible, near the Penas Negras, an abundant spring issues from sandstone, which alternates with a schistose clay. We remarked on this point fractured strata, which lie from north-west to south-east, and the dip of which is almost perpendicular.
The Llaneros, or inhabitants of the plains, send their produce, especially maize, leather, and cattle, to the port of Cumana by the road over the Imposible. We continually saw mules arrive, driven by Indians or mulattoes. Several parts of the vast forests which surround the mountain, had taken fire. Reddish flames, half enveloped in clouds of smoke, presented a very grand spectacle. The inhabitants set fire to the forests, to improve the pasturage, and to destroy the shrubs that choke the grass. Enormous conflagrations, too, are often caused by the carelessness of the Indians, who neglect, when they travel, to extinguish the fires by which they have dressed their food. These accidents contribute to diminish the number of old trees in the road from Cumana to Cumanacoa; and the inhabitants observe justly, that, in several parts of their province, the dryness has increased, not only because every year the frequency of earthquakes causes more crevices in the soil; but also because it is now less thickly wooded than it was at the time of the conquest.
I arose during the night to determine the latitude of the place by the passage of Fomalhaut over the meridian; but the observation was lost, owing to the time I employed in taking the level of the artificial horizon. It was midnight, and I was benumbed with cold, as were also our guides: yet the thermometer kept at 19.7 degrees. At Cumana I have never seen it sink below 21 degrees; but then the house in which we dwelt on the Imposible was 258 toises above the level of the sea. At the Casa de la Polvora I determined the dip of the magnetic needle, which was 42.5 degrees.* (* The magnetic dip is always measured in this work, according to the centesimal division, if the contrary be not expressly mentioned.) The number of oscillations correspondent to 10 minutes of time was 233. The intensity of the magnetic forces had consequently augmented from the coast to the mountain, perhaps from the influence of some ferruginous matter, hidden in the strata of sandstone which cover the Alpine limestone.
We left the Imposible on the 5th of September before sunrise. The descent is very dangerous for beasts of burden; the path being in general but fifteen inches broad, and bordered by precipices. In descending the mountain, we observed the rock of Alpine limestone reappearing under the sandstone. The strata being generally inclined to the south and south-east, a great number of springs gush out on the southern side of the mountain. In the rainy season of the year, these springs form torrents, which descend in cascades, shaded by the hura, the cuspa, and the silver-leaved cecropia or trumpet-tree.
The cuspa, a very common tree in the environs of Cumana and of Bordones, is yet unknown to the botanists of Europe. It was long used only for the building of houses, and has become celebrated since 1797, under the name of the cascarilla or bark-tree (cinchona) of New Andalusia. Its trunk rises scarcely above fifteen or twenty feet. Its alternate leaves are smooth, entire, and oval.* (* At the summit of the boughs, the leaves are sometimes opposite to each other, but invariably without stipules.) Its bark very thin, and of a pale yellow, is a powerful febrifuge. It is even more bitter than the bark of the real cinchona, but is less disagreeable. The cuspa is administered with the greatest success, in a spirituous tincture, and in aqueous infusion, both in intermittent and in malignant fevers.
On the coasts of New Andalusia, the cuspa is considered as a kind of cinchona; and we were assured, that some Aragonese monks, who had long resided in the kingdom of New Grenada, recognised this tree from the resemblance of its leaves to those of the real Peruvian bark-tree. This, however, is unfounded; since it is precisely by the disposition of the leaves, and the absence of stipules, that the cuspa differs totally from the trees of the rubiaceous family. It may be said to resemble the family of the honeysuckle, or caprifoliaceous plants, one section of which has alternate leaves, and among which we find several cornel-trees, remarkable for their febrifuge properties.* (* Cornus florida, and C. sericea of the United States.—Walker on the Virtues of the Cornus and the Cinchona compared. Philadelphia 1803.)
The taste, at once bitter and astringent, and the yellow colour of the bark led to the discovery of the febrifugal virtue of the cuspa. As it blossoms at the end of November, we did not see it in flower, and we know not to what genus it belongs; and I have in vain for several years past applied to our friends at Cumana for specimens of the flower and fruit. I hope that the botanical determination of the bark-tree of New Andalusia will one day fix the attention of travellers, who visit this region after us; and that they will not confound, notwithstanding the analogy of the names, the cuspa with the cuspare. The latter not only vegetates in the missions of the Rio Carony, but also to the west of Cumana, in the gulf of Santa Fe. It furnishes the druggists of Europe with the famous Cortex Angosturae, and forms the genus Bonplandia, described by M. Willdenouw in the Memoirs of the Academy of Berlin, from notes communicated to him by us.
It is singular that, during our long abode on the coast of Cumana and the Caracas, on the banks of the Apure, the Orinoco, and the Rio Negro, in an extent of country comprising forty thousand square leagues, we never met with one of those numerous species of cinchona, or exostema, which are peculiar to the low and warm regions of the tropics, especially to the archipelago of the West India Islands. Yet we are far from affirming, that, throughout the whole of the eastern part of South America, from Porto Bello to Cayenne, or from the equator to the 10th degree of north latitude between the meridians of 54 and 71 degrees, the cinchona absolutely does not exist. How can we be expected to know completely the flora of so vast an extent of country? But, when we recollect, that even in Mexico no species of the genera cinchona and exostema has been discovered, either in the central table-land or in the plains, we are led to believe, that the mountainous islands of the West Indies and the Cordillera of the Andes have peculiar floras; and that they possess particular species of vegetation, which have neither passed from the islands to the continent, nor from South America to the coasts of New Spain.
It may be observed farther, that, when we reflect on the numerous analogies which exist between the properties of plants and their external forms, we are surprised to find qualities eminently febrifuge in the bark of trees belonging to different genera, and even different families.* (* It may be somewhat interesting to chemistry, physiology, and descriptive botany, to consider under the same point of view the plants which have been employed in intermittent fevers with different degrees of success. We find among rubiaceous plants, besides the cinchonas and exostemas, the Coutarea speciosa or Cayenne bark, the Portlandia grandiflora of the West Indies, another portlandia discovered by M. Sesse at Mexico, the Pinkneia pubescens of the United States, the berry of the coffee-tree, and perhaps the Macrocnemum corymbosum, and the Guettarda coccinea; among magnoliaceous plants, the tulip-tree and the Magnolia glauca; among zanthoxylaceous plants, the Cuspare of Angostura, known in America under the name of Orinoco bark, and the Zanthoxylon caribaeum; among leguminous plants, the geoffraeas, the Swietenia febrifuga, the Aeschynomene grandiflora, the Caesalpina bonducella; among caprifoliaceous plants, the Cornus florida and the Cuspa of Cumana; among rosaceous plants, the Cerasus virginiana and the Geum urbanum; among amentaceous plants, the willows, oaks, and birch-trees, of which the alcoholic tincture is used in Russia by the common people; the Populus tremuloides, etc.; among anonaceous plants, the Uvaria febrifuga, the fruit of which we saw administered with success in the Missions of Spanish Guiana; among simarubaceous plants, the Quassia amara, celebrated in the feverish plains of Surinam; among terebinthaceous plants, the Rhus glabrum; among euphorbiaceous plants, the Croton cascarilla; among composite plants, the Eupatorium perfoliatum, the febrifuge qualities of which are known to the savages of North America. Of the tulip-tree and the quassia, it is the bark of the roots that is used. Eminent febrifuge virtues have also been found in the cortical part of the roots of the Cinchona condaminea at Loxa; but it is fortunate, for the preservation of the species, that the roots of the real cinchona are not employed in pharmacy. Chemical researches are yet wanting upon the very powerful bitters contained in the roots of the Zanthoriza apiifolia, and the Actaea racemosa: the latter have sometimes been employed with success as a remedy against the epidemic yellow fever in New York.) Some of these barks so much resemble each other, that it is not easy to distinguish them at first sight. But before we examine the question, whether we shall one day discover, in the real cinchona, in the cuspa of Cumana, the Cortex Angosturae, the Indian swietenia, the willows of Europe, the berries of the coffee-tree and uvaria, a matter uniformly diffused, and exhibiting (like starch, caoutchouc, and camphor) the same chemical properties in different plants, we may ask whether, in the present state of physiology and medicine, a febrifuge principle ought to be admitted. Is it not probable, that the particular derangement in the organization, known under the vague name of the febrile state, and in which both the vascular and the nervous systems are at the same time attacked, yields to remedies which do not operate by the same principle, by the same mode of action on the same organs, by the same play of chemical and electrical attractions? We shall here confine ourselves to this observation, that, in the species of the genus cinchona, the antifebrile virtues do not appear to belong to the tannin (which is only accidentally mingled in them), or to the cinchonate of lime; but in a resiniform matter, soluble both by alcohol and by water, and which, it is believed, is composed of two principles, the cinchonic bitter and the cinchonic red.* (* In French, l'amer et le rouge cinchoniques.) May it then be admitted, that this resiniform matter, which possesses different degrees of energy according to the combinations by which it is modified, is found in all febrifuge substances? Those by which the sulphate of iron is precipitated of a green colour, like the real cinchona, the bark of the white willow, and the horned perisperm of the coffee-tree, do not on this account denote identity of chemical composition;* and that identity might even exist, without our concluding that the medical virtues were analogous. (* The cuspare bark (Cort. Angosturae) yields with iron a yellow precipitate; yet it is employed on the banks of the Orinoco, and particularly at the town of St. Thomas of Angostura, as an excellent cinchona; and on the other hand, the bark of the common cherry tree, which has scarcely any febrifuge quality, yields a green precipitate like the real cinchonas. Notwithstanding the extreme imperfection of vegetable chemistry, the experiments already made on cinchonas sufficiently show, that to judge of the febrifuge virtues of a bark, we must not attach too much importance either to the principle which turns to green the oxides of iron, or to the tannin, or to the matter which precipitates infusions of tan.) We see that specimens of sugar and tannin extracted from plants, not of the same family, present numerous differences: while the comparative analysis of sugar, gum, and starch; the discovery of the radical of the prussic acid (the effects of which are so powerful on the organization), and many other phenomena of vegetable chemistry, clearly prove that substances composed of identical elements, few in number and proportional in quantity, exhibit the most heterogeneous properties, on account of that particular mode of combination which corpuscular chemistry calls the arrangement of the particles.
Leaving the ravine which descends from the Imposible, we entered a thick forest traversed by many small rivers, which are easily forded. We observed that the cecropia, which in the disposition of its branches and its slender trunk, resembles the palm-tree, is covered with leaves more or less silvery, in proportion as the soil is dry or moist. We saw some small plants of the cecropia, the leaves of which were on both sides entirely green.* (* Is not the Cecropia concolor of Willdenouw a variety of the Cecropia peltata?) The roots of these trees are hid under tufts of dorstenia, which flourishes only in humid and shady places. In the midst of the forest, on the banks of the Rio Cedeno, as well as on the southern declivity of the Cocollar, we find, in their wild state, papaw and orange-trees, bearing large and sweet fruit. These are probably the remains of some conucos, or Indian plantations; for in those countries the orange-tree cannot be counted among the indigenous plants, any more than the banana-tree, the papaw-tree, maize, cassava, and many other useful plants, with the true country of which we are unacquainted, though they have accompanied man in his migrations from the remotest times.