CHAPTER IV. RIO DE JANEIRO.
The pace of the mules, up the steep incline, under a broiling sun, was really wonderful. Half-way up we stopped to change, at a buvette, where we procured some excellent Brazilia coffee, of fine but exceedingly bitter flavour. Our next halt, midway between the buvette and the top of the hill, was at a spring of clear sparkling water, where we had an opportunity of collecting some ferns and flowers; and on reaching the summit we stopped once more, to enjoy the fine view over the Pass and the bay of Nictheroy. The descent towards Petropolis then commenced; it lies in the hollow of the hills, with a river flowing through the centre of its broad streets, on either side of which are villas and avenues of noble trees. Altogether it reminded me of Bagneres-de-Luchon, in the Pyrenees, though the general effect is unfortunately marred by the gay and rather too fantastic painting of some of the houses.
Tuesday, August 22nd. - We were called at half-past five, and, after a hasty breakfast, started on horseback by seven o'clock for the Virgin Forest, about six miles from Petropolis. After leaving the town and its suburbs, we pursued our way by rough winding paths, across which huge moths and butterflies flitted, and humming-birds buzzed in the almond-trees. After a ride of an hour and a half, we entered the silence and gloom of a vast forest. On every side extended a tangled mass of wild, luxuriant vegetation: giant-palms, and tree-ferns, and parasites are to be seen in all directions, growing wherever they can find root-hold. Sometimes they kill the tree which they favour with their attentions - one creeper, in particular, being called 'Mata-pao' or 'Kill-tree;' but, as a rule, they seem to get on very well together, and to depend mutually upon one another for nourishment and support. The most striking of these creepers is, perhaps, the liane, whose tendrils grow straight downwards to the ground, twisting themselves together in knots and bundles. Occasionally one sees, suspended from a tree, at a height of some fifty feet, a large lump of moss, from which scarlet orchids are growing; looking like an enormous hanging flower-basket. All colours in Brazil, whether of birds, insects, or flowers, are brilliant in the extreme. Blue, violet, orange, scarlet, and yellow are found in the richest profusion, and no pale or faint tints are to be seen. Even white seems purer, clearer, and deeper than the white of other countries.
We had a long wet walk in the forest; the mosses and ferns being kept moist and green by the innumerable little streams of water which abound everywhere. Owing to the thickness of the surrounding jungle, it was impossible to stray from our very narrow path, notwithstanding the attractions of humming-birds, butterflies, and flowers. At last we came to an opening in the wood, whence we had a splendid view seawards, and where it was decided to turn round and retrace our steps through the forest. After walking some distance we found our horses waiting, and after a hot but pleasant ride reached Petropolis by twelve o'clock, in time for breakfast. Letter-writing and butterfly-catching occupied the afternoon until four o'clock, when I was taken out for a drive in a comfortable little phaeton, with a pretty pair of horses, while the rest of the party walked out to see a little more of Petropolis and its environs. We drove past the Emperor's palace - an Italian villa, standing in the middle of a large garden - the new church, and the houses of the principal inhabitants, most of which are shut up just now, as everybody is out of town, but it all looked very green and pleasant. It was interesting to see a curious breed of dogs, descended from the bloodhounds formerly used in hunting the poor Indians.
Wednesday, August 23rd. - At six o'clock we assembled all on the balcony of the hotel to wait for the coach, which arrived shortly afterwards. There was some little delay and squabbling before we all found ourselves safely established on the coach, but starting was quite another matter, for the four white mules resolutely refused to move, without a vast amount of screaming and shouting and plunging. We had to pull up once or twice before we got clear of the town, to allow more passengers to be somehow or other squeezed in, and at each fresh start similar objections on the part of the mules had to be overcome.
The air felt fresh when we started, but before we had proceeded far we came into a thick, cold, wet fog, which, after the heat of the last few weeks, seemed to pierce us to the very marrow. Eight miles farther on the four frisky white mules were exchanged for five steady dun-coloured ones, which were in their turn replaced after a seven-mile stage by four nice bays, who took us along at a tremendous pace. The sun began by this time to penetrate the mist, and the surrounding country became visible. We found that we were following the course of the river, passing through an avenue of coral-trees, loaded with the most brilliant flowers and fruit imaginable, and full of parroquets and fluttering birds of many hues.
We stopped at several small villages, and at about 11 a.m. reached Entre Rios, having changed mules seven times, and done the 59-1/2 miles in four hours and fifty minutes, including stoppages - pretty good work, especially as the heat during the latter portion of the journey had been as great as the cold was at the commencement. The term 'cold' must here be taken only in a relative sense, for the thermometer was never lower than 48 deg., though, having been accustomed for a long while to 85 deg., we felt the change severely.