CHAPTER IV. RIO DE JANEIRO.
The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon's transparent light.
Friday, August 18th. - The clouds still hung heavy on the hills, or rather mountains, which surround the bay, occasionally descending in the form of torrents of rain, and hiding everything from our view.
Early in the morning we weighed anchor and steamed up the bay to the man-of-war anchorage, a much pleasanter situation than the quarantine harbour, where we had brought up last night. About 9.30 a.m. the health officers came on board, and half an hour later we had a visit from the custom-house official, who required Tom to sign and seal a declaration upon oath that he had no cargo on board, and not more coal than we absolutely required for our own consumption.
About eleven o'clock we put on our mackintoshes and thick boots, and, accompanied by an interpreter, who (together with several washerwomen) had suddenly made his appearance on board, rowed ashore, pushing our way through crowds of boats laden with fruit and vegetables. The landing-place was close to the market, at some broken-down steps, and was crowded with chattering negroes, of every shade of colour. The quays seemed covered with piles of fruit and vegetables, discharged from the boats, the principal produce being sugar-cane, bananas, and oranges. Each side street that we came to was a little river, which had to be crossed, or rather forded, after paddling through the mud in the main thoroughfare.
Our first visit was to the post-office - 'no letters' - then to the British Consulate - 'no letters' - and finally to the Legation, but there was nobody at home there; so we set off for the Hotel des Etrangers, to breakfast. Our way lay through the straggling suburbs of the city for about two miles, and as we drove along we could see and admire, despite the heavy rain, the magnificent groves of palm-trees, and the brilliancy and beauty of the tropical vegetation in the various private and public gardens that we passed.
After breakfast we returned to the Legation, where we were most kindly received, but, much to our regret, no letters were forthcoming. We next paid a visit to some of the shops in the Rua do Ouvidor, for the sale of imitations of flowers, made from the undyed feathers of birds, and a large number of the more expensive varieties of ordinary artificial flowers, each petal consisting of the entire throat or breast of a humming-bird, and the leaves are made from the wings of beetles. They are very rare and beautiful, their manufacture being quite a specialite of this city. The prices asked astonished us greatly; the cost of five sprays, which I had been commissioned to buy, was 29_l., and the price of all the others was proportionately high. But then they wear for ever. I have had some for nine years, and they are as good now as when they were bought.
Saturday, August 19th. - Though far from brilliant, the weather improved, and we were able to enjoy occasional glimpses of the beautiful scenery around us.
Mr. Gough and Mr. O'Conor breakfasted with us on board, and we afterwards proceeded in a 'bond' to the Botanical Gardens, about seven miles out of the city. These 'bonds,' which are a great institution here, are large carriages, either open or closed, drawn sometimes by one, sometimes by two, sometimes by three mules. They go at a great pace, and run very smoothly. Ordinary carriages are dear; and as tramways have been laid down in almost every street and road, driving is a rather difficult affair. On our road we passed several delightful-looking private gardens. The railings were completely covered, some with white stephanotis and scarlet lapageria, others with a beautiful orange-coloured creeper and lilac bougainvillaea, or passion-flowers of many colours and variety. Inside we could see large trees with green and yellow stripes, croton-oil plants, spotted and veined caladiums, and dracaenas, the whole being shaded by orange-trees.
Along the edge of Botafogo Bay there is a delightful drive, beneath a splendid avenue of imperial palms, extending to the gates of the Botanical Gardens. Each specimen rises straight up like the column of an Egyptian temple, and is crowned with a feathery tuft of large shiny dark green leaves, some thirty feet in length. The clumps of bamboos, too, were very fine, and nearly all the trees seemed to be full of curious orchids and parasites of every sort and kind.
We had an agreeable drive back in the cool evening to dinner at the Hotel de l'Europe. The food was excellent, and included some delicious tiny queer-shaped oysters, which are found on the mangrove-trees, overhanging the water higher up the bay. We afterwards went to a pleasant little reception, where we enjoyed the splendid singing of some young Brazilian ladies, and the subsequent row off to the yacht, in the moonlight, was not the least delightful part of the programme.