THE TWO AMERICAS
Leaving Tarqui, five leagues from Cuenca, on the 11th May, 1743, Condamine passed Zaruma, a town once famous for its gold-mines, and having crossed several rivers on the hanging bridges, which look like huge hammocks slung from one side to the other, reached Loxa, four degrees from the line, and 400 fathoms lower than Quito. Here he noticed a remarkable difference of temperature, and found the mountains to be mere hills compared with those of Quito.
Between Loxa and Jaen de Bracamoros the last buttresses of the Andes are crossed. In this district rain falls every day throughout the year, so that a long stay cannot be made there. The whole country has declined greatly from its former prosperity. Loyola, Valladolid, Jaen, and the greater number of the Peruvian towns at a distance from the sea, and the main road between Carthagena and Lima, were in Condamine's time little more than hamlets. Yet forests of cocoa-nut trees grow all around Jaen, the natives thinking no more of them than they do of the gold dust brought down by their rivers.
Condamine embarked on the Chincipe, wider here than the Seine at Paris, and went down it as far as its junction with the Marañon, beyond which the latter river becomes navigable, although its course is broken by a number of falls and rapids, and in many places narrows till it is but twenty fathoms wide. The most celebrated of these narrows is the pongo, or gate, of Manseriche, in the heart of the Cordillera, where the Amazon has hewn for itself a bed only fifty-five fathoms wide, with all but perpendicular sides. Condamine, attended only by a single negro, met with an almost unparalleled adventure on a raft in this pongo.
"The stream," he says, "the height of which had diminished twenty-five feet in thirty-six hours, continued to decrease in volume. In the middle of the night, part of a large branch of a tree caught between the woodwork of my boat, penetrating further and further as the latter sunk with the water, so that if I had not been awake and on guard at the time, I should have found myself hanging from a tree, on my raft. The least of the evils threatening me would have been the loss of my journals and note-books, the fruit of eight years of work. Fortunately, I eventually found means to free my raft, and float it again."
|Celebrated Narrows of Manseriche.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
In the midst of the woods near the ruined town of Santiago, where Condamine arrived on the 10th July, lived the Xibaro Indians, who had been for a century in revolt against the Spaniards, who tried to force them to labour in the gold-mines.
Beyond the pongo of Manseriche a new world was entered, a perfect ocean of fresh water—a labyrinth of lakes, rivers, and channels, set in an impenetrable forest. Although he had lived in the open air for more than seven years, Condamine was struck dumb by this novel spectacle of water and trees only, with nothing else besides. Leaving Borja on the 14th July, the traveller soon passed the mouth of the Morona, which comes down from the volcano of Sangay, the ashes from which are sometimes flung beyond Guayaquil. He next passed the three mouths of the Pastaca, a river at this time so much swollen that the width of no one of its mouths could be estimated.
On the 19th of the same month Condamine reached Laguna, where Pedro Maldonado, governor of the province of Esmeraldas, who had come down the Pastaca, had been waiting for him for six weeks. At this time Laguna was a large community, of some thousand Indians capable of bearing arms, who recognized the authority of the missionaries of the different tribes.
"In making a map of the course of the Amazon," says Condamine, "I provided myself with a resource against the ennui of a quiet voyage with nothing to break the monotony of the scenery, though that scenery was new to me. My attention was continually on the strain as, compass and watch in hand, I noted the deflexions in the course of the river, the time occupied in passing from one bend to another, the variations in the breadth of its bed and in that of the mouths of its tributaries, the angle formed by the latter at the confluence, the position and size of the islands, and above all the rate of the current and that of the canoe. Now on land and now in the canoe, employing various modes of measurement, which it would be superfluous to explain here, every instant was occupied. I often sounded, and measured geometrically the breadth of the river and that of its tributaries. I took the height of the sun at the meridian every day, and I noted its amplitude at its rising and setting, wherever I went."
On the 25th July, after having passed the Tigre River, Condamine came to a new mission station, that of a tribe called Yameos, recently rescued from the woods by the Fathers. Their language is difficult to learn, and their mode of pronouncing it extraordinary. Some of their words are nine or ten syllables long, and yet they can only count up to three. They use a kind of pea-shooter with great skill, firing from it small arrows tipped with a poison which causes instantaneous death.
The following day the explorer passed the mouth of the Ucayale, one of the most important of the tributaries of the Marañon, and which might even be its source. Beyond it the main stream widens sensibly.