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- Equinoctial Regions of America - 100/104 -


Cumbre, at a height of 700 toises.) the Vismia caparosa, and the Clethra fagifolia. Among these plants, peculiar to the fine region of the arborescent ferns,* (* Called by the inhabitants of the country Region de los helechos.) some palm-trees rise in the openings, and some scattered groups of guarumo, or cecropia with silvery leaves. The trunks of the latter are not very thick, and are of a black colour towards the summit, as if burnt by the oxygen of the atmosphere. We are surprised to find so noble a tree, which has the port of the theophrasta and the palm-tree, bearing generally only eight or ten terminal leaves. The ants, which inhabit the trunk of the guarumo, or jarumo, and destroy its interior cells, seem to impede its growth. We had already made one herborization in the temperate mountains of the Higuerote in the month of December, accompanying the capitan-general, Senor de Guevara, in an excursion with the intendant of the province to the Valles de Aragua. M. Bonpland then found in the thickest part of the forest some plants of aguatire, the wood of which, celebrated for its fine red colour, will probably one day become an article of exportation to Europe. It is the Sickingia erythroxylon described by Bredemeyer and Willdenouw.

Descending the woody mountain of the Higuerote to the south-west, we reached the small village of San Pedro, situated in a basin where several valleys meet, and almost three hundred toises lower than the table-land of Buenavista. Plantain-trees, potatoes,* (* Solanum tuberosum.) and coffee are cultivated together on this spot. The village is very small, and the church not yet finished. We met at an inn (pulperia) several European Spaniards employed at the government tobacco farm. Their dissatisfaction formed a strange contrast to our feelings. They were fatigued with their journey, and they vented their displeasure in complaints and maledictions on the wretched country, or to use their own phrase, estas tierras infelices, in which they were doomed to live. We, on the other hand, were enchanted with the wild scenery, the fertility of the soil, and the mildness of the climate. Near San Pedro, the talcose gneiss of Buenavista passes into a mica-slate filled with garnets, and containing subordinate beds of serpentine. Something analogous to this is met with at Zoblitz in Saxony. The serpentine, which is very pure and of a fine green, varied with spots of a lighter tint, often appears only superimposed on the mica-slate. I found in it a few garnets, but no metaloid diallage.

The valley of San Pedro, through which flows the river of the same name, separates two great masses of mountains, the Higuerote and Las Cocuyzas. We ascended westward in the direction of the small farms of Las Lagunetos and Garavatos. These are solitary houses, which serve as inns, and where the mule-drivers obtain their favourite beverage, the guarapo, or fermented juice of the sugar-cane: intoxication is very common among the Indians who frequent this road. Near Garavatos there is a mica-slate rock of singular form; it is a ridge, or steep wall, crowned by a tower. We opened the barometer at the highest point of the mountain Las Cocuyzas,* (* Absolute height 845 toises.) and found ourselves almost at the same elevation as on the table-land of Buenavista, which is scarcely ten toises higher.

The prospect at Las Lagunetas is extensive, but rather uniform. This mountainous and uncultivated tract of ground between the sources of the Guayra and the Tuy is more than twenty-five square leagues in extent. We there found only one miserable village, that of Los Teques, south-east of San Pedro. The soil is as it were furrowed by a multitude of valleys, the smallest of which, parallel with each other, terminate at right angles in the largest valleys. The back of the mountains presents an aspect as monotonous as the ravines; it has no pyramidal forms, no ridges, no steep declivities. I am inclined to think that the undulation of this ground, which is for the most part very gentle, is less owing to the nature of the rocks, (to the decomposition of the gneiss for instance), than to the long presence of the water and the action of currents. The limestone mountains of Cumana present the same phenomenon north of Tumiriquiri.

From Las Lagunetas we descended into the valley of the Rio Tuy. This western slope of the mountains of Los Teques bears the name of Las Cocuyzas, and it is covered with two plants with agave leaves; the maguey of Cocuyza, and the maquey of Cocuy. The latter belongs to the genus Yucca.* (* Yucca acaulis, Humb.) Its sweet and fermented juice yields a spirit by distillation; and I have seen the young leaves of this plant eaten. The fibres of the full-grown leaves furnish cords of extraordinary strength.* (* At the clock of the cathedral of Caracas, a cord of maguey, half an inch in diameter, sustained for fifteen years a weight of 350 pounds.) Leaving the mountains of the Higuerote and Los Teques, we entered a highly cultivated country, covered with hamlets and villages; several of which would in Europe be called towns. From east to west, on a line of twelve leagues in extent, we passed La Victoria, San Mateo, Turmero, and Maracay, containing together more than 28, 000 inhabitants. The plains of the Tuy may be considered as the eastern extremity of the valleys of Aragua, extending from Guigne, on the borders of the lake of Valencia, as far as the foot of Las Cocuyzas. A barometrical measurement gave me 295 toises for the absolute height of the Valle del Tuy, near the farm of Manterola, and 222 toises for that of the surface of the lake. The Rio Tuy, flowing from the mountains of Las Cocuyzas, runs first towards the west, then turning to the south and to the east, it takes its course along the high savannahs of Ocumare, receives the waters of the valley of Caracas, and reaches the sea near cape Codera. It is the small portion of its basin in the westward direction which, geologically speaking, would seem to belong to the valley of Aragua, if the hills of calcareous tufa, breaking the continuity of these valleys between Consejo and La Victoria, did not deserve some consideration. We shall here again remind the reader that the group of the mountains of Los Teques, eight hundred and fifty toises high, separates two longitudinal valleys, formed in gneiss, granite, and mica-slate. The most eastern of these valleys, containing the capital of Caracas, is 200 toises higher than the western valley, which may be considered as the centre of agricultural industry.

Having been for a long time accustomed to a moderate temperature, we found the plains of the Tuy extremely hot, although the thermometer kept, in the day-time, between eleven in the morning and five in the afternoon, at only 23 or 24 degrees. The nights were delightfully cool, the temperature falling as low as 17.5 degrees. As the heat gradually abated, the air became more and more fragrant with the odour of flowers. We remarked above all the delicious perfume of the Lirio hermoso,* (* Pancratium undulatum.) a new species of pancratium, of which the flower, eight or nine inches long, adorns the banks of the Rio Tuy. We spent two very agreeable days at the plantation of Don Jose de Manterola, who in his youth had accompanied the Spanish embassy to Russia. The farm is a fine plantation of sugar-canes; and the ground is as smooth as the bottom of a drained lake. The Rio Tuy winds through districts covered with plantains, and a little wood of Hura crepitans, Erythrina corallodendron, and fig-trees with nymphaea leaves. The bed of the river is formed of pebbles of quartz. I never met with more agreeable bathing than in the Tuy. The water, as clear as crystal, preserves even during the day a temperature of 18.6 degrees; a considerable coolness for these climates, and for a height of three hundred toises; but the sources of the river are in the surrounding mountains. The house of the proprietor, situated on a hillock, of fifteen or twenty toises of elevation, is surrounded by the huts of the negroes. Those who are married provide food for themselves; and here, as everywhere else in the valleys of Aragua, a small spot of ground is allotted to them to cultivate. They labour on that ground on Saturdays and Sundays, the only days in the week on which they are free. They keep poultry, and sometimes even a pig. Their masters boast of their happiness, as in the north of Europe the great landholders love to descant upon the ease enjoyed by peasants who are attached to the glebe. On the day of our arrival we saw three fugitive negroes brought back; they were slaves newly purchased. I dreaded having to witness one of those punishments which, wherever slavery prevails, destroys all the charm of a country life. Happily these blacks were treated with humanity.

In this plantation, as in all those of the province of Venezuela, three species of sugar-cane can be distinguished even at a distance by the colour of their leaves; the old Creole sugar-cane, the Otaheite cane, and the Batavia cane. The first has a deep-green leaf, the stem not very thick, and the knots rather near together. This sugar-cane was the first introduced from India into Sicily, the Canary Islands, and West Indies. The second is of a lighter green; and its stem is higher, thicker, and more succulent. The whole plant exhibits a more luxuriant vegetation. We owe this plant to the voyages of Bougainville, Cook, and Bligh. Bougainville carried it to the Mauritius, whence it passed to Cayenne, Martinique, and, since 1792, to the rest of the West India Islands. The sugar-cane of Otaheite, called by the people of that island To, is one of the most important acquisitions for which colonial agriculture is indebted to the travels of naturalists. It yields not only one-third more juice than the creolian cane on the same space of ground; but from the thickness of its stem, and the tenacity of its ligneous fibres, it furnishes much more fuel. This last advantage is important in the West Indies, where the destruction of the forests has long obliged the planters to use canes deprived of juice, to keep up the fire under the boilers. But for the knowledge of this new plant, together with the progress of agriculture on the continent of Spanish America, and the introduction of the East India and Java sugar, the prices of colonial produce in Europe would have been much more sensibly affected by the revolutions of St. Domingo, and the destruction of the great sugar plantations of that island. The Otaheite sugar-cane was carried from the island of Trinidad to Caracas, under the name of Cana solera, and it passed from Caracas to Cucuta and San Gil in the kingdom of New Grenada. In our days its cultivation during twenty-five years has almost entirely removed the apprehension at first entertained, that being transplanted to America, the cane would by degrees degenerate, and become as slender as the creole cane. The third species, the violet sugar-cane, called Cana de Batavia, or de Guinea, is certainly indigenous in the island of Java, where it is cultivated in preference in the districts of Japara and Pasuruan.* (* Raffles History of Java tome 1 page 124.) Its foliage is purple and very broad; and this cane is preferred in the province of Caracas for rum. The tablones, or grounds planted with sugar-canes, are divided by hedges of a colossal gramen; the lata, or gynerium, with distich leaves. At the Tuy, men were employed in finishing a dyke, to form a canal of irrigation. This enterprise had cost the proprietor seven thousand piastres for the expense of labour, and four thousand piastres for the costs of lawsuits in which he had become engaged with his neighbours. While the lawyers were disputing about a canal of which only one-half was finished, Don Jose de Manterola began to doubt even of the possibility of carrying the plan into execution. I took the level of the ground with a lunette d'epreuve, on an artificial horizon, and found, that the dam had been constructed eight feet too low. What sums of money have I seen expended uselessly in the Spanish colonies, for undertakings founded on erroneous levelling!

The valley of the Tuy has its 'gold mine,' like almost every part


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