Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

the lofty peaks that crown the western Cordillera, with the exception of Ruca Pichincha, appear to be volcanoes extinguished for a long series of ages. The geologist, says M. de Humboldt, is astonished at this, -as there is reason to suppose that the proximity of the ocean contributes to feed the volcanic fire. We always thought so, and considered, with M. de Humboldt, the fact, not merely accidental," that no active volcano has been discovered at a greater distance than 40 or 50 leagues from the ocean. Yet, with apparent inconsistency, he afterwards says, 'very well-founded doubts have been raised respecting these direct and constant communications between the waters of the sea and the focus of the volcanic fire.'--(Per. Nar. vol. i. p. 163.)-Cotopaxi is, perhaps, of all known volcanoes, the most distant from the ocean.

The most remarkable peaks on the western chain are Chimborazo and Carguairazo, Ruca Pichincha, Corazon, and Ilinissa; and on the eastern ridge, Cotapaxi, Tungurahua, and Cayambe, whose summit is traversed by the equator. We may consider,' says M. de Humboldt, this colossal mountain as one of those eternal monuments by which nature has marked the great divisions of the terres trial globe. It so happens in a small part of South America ; but two of the great divisions of the globe the Equator does not cross in any part, and not a foot of that part of Africa over which it does pass is known: but if the imaginary divisions of the “terrestrial globe' into the northern and southern hemispheres be meant, the observation is still more unfortunate, as of the 360 degrees of the equator, 282 (abouts of it) pass over the trackless ocean whose surface nature has not particularly 'marked. We notice this to show what gross errors M. de Humboldt is led into by that thirst after generalization, which he himself so properly condemns in others. He adds, among the mountains of eternal snow, that surround the city of Quito, Cayambe, which is the most beautiful as well as the most majestic, never ceases!to excite admiration at sunset, when the volcano of Guagua Pichincha, situate to the west, or toward the Pacific ocean, throws its shadow over the vast plain which forms the foreground of the landscape.' Cayambe is the loftiest summit of the Cordilleras, except Chimborazo; the first, according to Bou. guer and Condamine, whose measurements are confirmed by Humboldt, being 3208 toises, (5901 metres, or 19,361 feet); and the latter 3640 metres above the plain of Topia, which is itself 2891 metres, that is 6531 metres, or 21,428 feet, of absolute height. Messrs. Humboldt and Bonpland attempted to ascend by a narrow ridge, which rises amidst the snows on the southern declivity, to the summit of Chimborazo; but the thick fog which surrounded them, and the inconvenience which they felt from the tenuity of the air, compelled them to desist; not however before they had reached ari elevation greater than any yet attained by man, it was more than eleven hundred metres (3603 feet) higher than the top of Mount Blanc.' The summit of Chimborazo is circular, Seen from the shores of the South Sea, 'it detaches itself from the neighbouring, summits, and towers over the whole chain of the Andes, like that majestic dome produced by the genius of Michael Angelo, over the antique monuments which surround the Capitol. The flank of this mountain, as viewed from the plain of Topia, is said to present that gradation of vegetable life whích M. de Humboldt has systematized in what he calls his Geography of Plants ;' as it is more general, we hope it is also more correct, than the application of his theory was found to be in his botanical chart of the Peak of Teneriffe.

* It is about 140 English miles from it. VOL. XV, NO. XXX.

* At three thousand five hundred metres absolute height, the ligeneous plants coriaceous and shining leaves nearly disappear. The region of shrubs is separated from that of the grasses by Alpine plants, by tufts of nerteria, valerian, saxifrage, and lobelia, and by small criciferous (cruciform) plants. The grasses form a very broad belt, covered at intervals with snow, which remains but a few days. Above the pajonal (the grass belt) lies the region of cryptogamous plants, which here and there cover the porphyritic rocks destitute of vegetable earth. Farther on, at the limit of the perpetual ice, is the termination of organic life. (vol. ji. p. 12.)

Capac-Urca, or the altar, whose summit has sunk into the crater, is said to have been once higher than Chimborazo; and a great part of Carguerazo fell in on the night of the 19th of July, 1698. Torrents of water and mud then issued from the sides of the mountain and laid waste the neighbouring country, and an earthquake which accompanied, and probably was the cause of, this dreadful catastrophe, swallowed up thousands of the inhabitants of the adjacent towns. The appearance of llinissa, with its two pyramidal points, warrants the supposition of their being the wrecks of a volcano that has fallen in. The height of this majestic and picturesque mountain was determined by the trigonometrical measurement of Bouguer, to be 2717 toises, or 17,374 feet.

Corazon is a mountain covered with perpetual snow, rising out of the western Cordillera between the summits of Pichincha and Ilinissa. It was on this mountain that Messrs. Bouguer and Condamine observed the mercury in the barometer standing so low as fifteen inches and ten lines, from which they concluded that they were then 2470 toises (15,795 feet) above the level of the seama result not strictly exact, as the true application of the corrections for the influence of temperature and the decrement of caloric were not at that time sufficiently known.

[ocr errors]

But Cotopaxi is the loftiest of those volcanoes of the Andes, whose explosions have been most frequent and disastrous, its absolute height being 5754 metres, or 18,879 feet, 800 metres or 2625 feet higher than Vesuvius would be if placed on the peak of Teneriffe. Its form is said to be the most beautiful and regular of the colossal summits of the Andes, being to appearance a perfect cone, which, covered with an enormous layer of snow, shines with dazzling splendour, more particularly when the sun approaches the western horizon, and detaches itself in the most picturesque manner from the azure vault of heaven. Every inequality of soil, every rocky point, and stony mass, are entirely concealed by the thick coating of perpetual snow, whose limit is at 4411 metres (14,472 feet) of absolute height. The cone itself resembles the peak of Teyde, but its height is about six times that of the great volcano of Teneriffe.

The mass of scoriæ, and the huge pieces of rock thrown out of this volcano, which are spread over the neighbouring valleys, covering a surface of several square leagues, would form, were they heaped together, a colossal mountain. In 1738, the flames of Cotopaxi rose 900 metres, 2953 feet, above the brink of the crater. In 1744, the roarings of the volcano were heard as far as Honda, a town on the borders of the Magdalena, and at the distance of 200 common leagues. On the 4th of April, 1768, the quantity of ashes ejected by the mouth of Cotopaxi was so great, that, in the towns of Hambato and Tacunga, day broke only at three in the afternoon, and the inhabitants were obliged to use lanterns in walking the streets. The explosion wbich took place in the month of January, 1803, was preceded by a dreadful phenomenon, the sudden melting of the snows that covered the mountain. For twenty years before no smoke or vapour, that could be perceived, had issued from the crater ; and in a single night the subterraneous fire became so active that, at sunset, the external walls of the cone, heated, no doubt, to a very considerable temperature, appeared naked, and of the dark colour, which is peculiar to vitrified scoriæ. At the port of Guayaquil, fifty-two leagues distant, in a straight line from the crater, we beard, day and night, the noises of the volcano, like continued discharges of a battery ; we distinguished these tremendous sounds, even on the Pacific ocean, to the south-west of the island of Puna.---(vol. i. p. 118.)

Passing to the northward of the equator, which, as we have observed, traverses the colossal summit of Cayambe, the Andes are condensed, as it were, into one great cluster ; but from the parallel of 2° 30' N. to 5° 15' N. they again branch out into three Cordilleras, and are again blended together in the sixth and seventh degrees of northern latitude. In these parallels the highest summits of the eastern chain do not attain the region of perpetual snow; the elevation of the western chain is scarcely fifteen hundred metres; but the central ridge frequently reaches those limits

[ocr errors]

and towers far above them in the colossal summits of Guanacas, Baragan, and Quindiu. This last mountain, situated in latitude 4° 36' N. is considered as the most difficult of all the passes in the Cordilleras of the Andes. It presents a thick uninhabited forest, in which not a hut is to be seen, nor any means of subsistence found, and occupies from ten to twelve days in traversing at the most favourable season of the year. It is usual therefore for travellers at all times to take with them a month's provisions, at it often happens, from the melting of the snows ard the sudden swell of the torrents, that they can neither proceed nor descend on either side of the elevated path, the highest point of which, the Garito del Paramo, is 3505 metres, or 11,500 feet, above the level of the ocean. The pathway is only from twelve to sixteen inches in width, and in several places has the appearance of a deep gallery dug in the rock, and left open to the sky. Along these crevices, which are full of mud, the traveller is frequently obliged to grope his passage in the dark, the shrubbery overgrowing the narrow opening above. The oxen, the common beasts of burden, can with difficulty force their way through these gullies, some of which are six or seven thousand feet in length; and if by chance a traveller meets them in the passage, he must either turn back, or scramble up the steep sides of the crevices, and suspend himself by the roots of the superincumbent trees or shrubs: how the opposing oxen contrive to pass each other, or to squeeze through a space of 16 inches, we are left to conjecture. Messrs. Humboldt and Bonpland traversed this mountain, and the account here given is so curious that we shall make no apology for extracting the whole of it.

"We traversed the mountain of Quindiu in the month of October, 1801, on foot, followed by twelve oxen, which carried our collections and instruments, amidst a deluge of rain, to which we were exposed during the last three or four days, in our descent on the western side of the Cordilleras. The road passes through a country full of bogs, and covered with bamboos. Our shoes were so torn by the prickles, which shoot out from the roots of these gigantic gramina, that we were forced, like all other travellers who dislike being carried on men's backs, to go barefooted. This circumstance, the continual humidity, the length of the passage, the muscular force required to tread in a thick and muddy clay, the necessity of fording deep torrents of icy svater, render this journey extremely fatiguing: but, however painful, it is accompanied by none of those dangers, with which the credulity of the people alarm travellers. The road is narrow, but the places where it skirts precipices are very rare. As the oxen are accustomed to put their feet in the same tracks, they form small furrows across the road, separated from each other by narrow ridges of earth. In very rainy seasons, these ridges are covered by water which renders the traveller's step doubly uncertain, since he knows not whether he places his foot on the ridge or in the furrow. As few persons in easy circumstances travel on foot in these climates, through roads so difficult during fifteen or twenty days together, they are carried by men in a chair, tied on their backs ; for in the present state of the passage of Quindiu, it would be impossible to go on mules. They talk in this country of going on a man's back (andar en carguero), as we mention going on horseback; no humiliating idea is annexed to the trade of cargueroes ; and the men who follow this occupation are not Indians, but Mulattoes, and sometimes even whites. It is often curious to hear these men, with scarcely any covering, and following a profession which we should consider so dis. graceful, quarrelling in the midst of a forest, because one has refused the other, who pretends to have a whiter skin, the pompous title of don, or of su merced. The usual load of a carguero is six or seven arrobas (165 to 195 pounds English): those who are very strong carry as much as nine arrobas. When we reflect on the enormous fatigue, to which these miserable men are exposed, journeying eight or pine hours a day over a mountainous country; when we know that their backs are sometimes as raw as those of beasts of burden, and that travellers have often the cruelty to leave them in the forests, when they fall sick; that they earn by a journey from Ibague to Carthago only twelve or fourteen piastres, (from 50s. to 60s.) in the space of fifteen and sometimes even twenty-five or thirty days, we are at a loss to conceive how this employment of a carguero, one of the most painful that can be undertaken by man, is eagerly embraced by all the robust young men, who live at the foot of the mountain. The taste for a wandering and vagabond life, the idea of a certain independence amidst forests, leads them to prefer this employment to the sedentary and monotonous labour of cities.'-(vol. i. p. 65.)

Nor is this mountain the only part of South America which is traversed on the backs of men. Those that surround the province of Antioquia are all crossed in the same way; and M. de Humboldt tells us that he knew a man of this province so bulky that he had not met with more than two mulattoes capable of carrying him; and that if either of these had died while he was on the banks of the Magdalena, he never could have reached his home! yet so considerable is the number of young men who undertake the employment, that our travellers sometimes met a file of fifty or sixty of them together.- When the government, a few years ago, formed the project of making the passage from Nares to Antioquia passable for mules, the Cargueros remonstrated against mending the road, and it was thought expedient to yield to their clamours, all this is very natural, however we may affect to wonder at it, on the part of the Cargueros; and the same thing would happen, without doubt, if some of our tender-hearted reformers were to bring a bill into Parliament for the abolition of chair-men in the cities of London and Westminster,

« AnteriorContinuar »