CHAPTER II. MADEIRA, TENERIFFE, AND CAPE DE VERDE ISLANDS.
Long before this, the 'Sunbeam' had been inundated with visitors from the shore. We had given a general invitation to the friends of the Vice-Consul to come and see the yacht; and they accordingly arrived in due course, accompanied in many cases by a large circle of acquaintances. Those who came first were conducted below and all over the vessel, but the number ultimately became so great that, in self-defence, we were obliged to limit their wanderings to the deck, opening the skylights wide, however, to enable them to see as much as possible of the saloon and cabins.
From breakfast-time until prayers, at three o'clock, when the yacht was closed for an hour, there was a constant stream of visitors from the shore. It was a great nuisance; but still it seemed unkind to refuse to allow them to see what they had never seen before, and might possibly never have an opportunity of seeing again. All steamers and sailing-ships, as a rule, go to Santa Cruz; and the fame of our vessel having been spread abroad by our visitors of Friday, many of the poor people had come from villages far away over the mountains. We could not help feeling a certain respect for the determined way in which physical infirmity was mastered by curiosity for, though many experienced very serious inconvenience from the motion of the vessel, they still persevered in their examination.
About five o'clock we went ashore ourselves, and drove up to Villa Orotava. The wide road is macadamised and marked with kilometre stones, and is planted on either side with pepper-trees, plane-trees, and the Eucalyptus globulus, which has grown 35 metres, or 115 feet, in seven years. The hedges are formed of blue plumbago, scarlet geranium, yellow acacia, lavender-coloured heliotrope, white jasmine, and pink and white roses.
After driving a few miles, we turned down an old paved road towards the sea, and, by dint of a considerable amount of shaking, arrived at the celebrated Botanical Gardens, mentioned by Humboldt and others. We passed through a small house, with a fine dragon-tree on either side, and entered the gardens, where we found a valuable collection of trees and shrubs of almost every known species. The kind and courteous Curator, Don Hermann Wildgaret, accompanied us, and explained the peculiarities of the many interesting plants, from Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Australia, New Zealand, and the various islands of the North and South Pacific and Indian Oceans. The climate of Teneriffe is so equable, that the island forms a true garden of acclimatisation for the vegetable productions of the various countries of the world; by the judicious expenditure of a little more money, this establishment might be made an important means of introducing to Europe many new and valuable plants. At present the annual income is 5,000 francs, the salary of the Curator being 1,000 francs.
A rough drive over paved roads, commanding extensive views of sea and rocks, and of some palm-trees on a promontory in the distance, brought us, at about seven o'clock, to the boat, which was waiting our return. We arrived in due course on board the 'Sunbeam,' laden with bouquets of the choicest flowers, and soon after dinner we all retired to bed, not having yet recovered from the fatigues of yesterday.
Monday, July 24th. - What one gains in the beauty and abundance of vegetable life here, one loses in its rapid and premature decay. Fruit gathered in the morning is scarcely fit to eat at night, and the flowers brought on board yesterday evening were dead to-day at 4.30 a.m.; whilst some of the roses we brought from Cowes lasted until we reached Madeira, though it must be owned so many fell to pieces that my cabin used to be daily swept with rose-leaves instead of tea-leaves.
We went ashore soon after six, and drove straight to the garden of the Marquis de Sonzal, where there is a beautiful palm-tree, 101 feet high, the remains of an enormous dragon-tree, old even in the fifteenth century, besides hedges of myrtle, jasmine, and clematis, and flowers of every description in full bloom. The dragon-tree is a species of dracaena, and looks rather like a gigantic candelabra, composed of a number of yuccas, perched on the top of a gnarled and somewhat deformed stem, half palm half cactus. Another beautiful garden was next visited, belonging to the Marquis de la Candia, who received us and showed us his coffee and plantains in full growth, as well as a magnificent Spanish chestnut-tree, coeval with the dragon-tree. Out of one of its almost decayed branches a so-called young tree was growing, but it would have been thought very respectable and middle-aged in any other locality.
Every one here, as in Madeira, has been more or less ruined by the failure of the vines. Most of the large landed proprietors have left their estates to take care of themselves; and the peasants, for the last few years, have been emigrating by hundreds to Caraccas, in Venezuela. Things are, however, beginning to look up a little now. The cultivation of cochineal appears to succeed, though the price is low; coffee answers well; and permission has been obtained from the Spanish Government to grow tobacco, accompanied by a promise to purchase, at a certain fixed rate, all that can be produced. Still, people talk of the Island of Teneriffe as something very different now from what it was twenty-five or thirty years ago, both as regards the number of its inhabitants and the activity of its commerce, and mourn over 'the good old times;' - a custom I have remarked in many other places!