- - nec herba, nec latens in asperis
Radix fefellit me locis.
In the month of April 1812 I left the town of Stabroek to travel through the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo, a part of ci-devant Dutch Guiana, in South America.
The chief objects in view were to collect a quantity of the strongest wourali poison and to reach the inland frontier-fort of Portuguese Guiana.
It would be a tedious journey for him who wishes to travel through these wilds to set out from Stabroek on foot. The sun would exhaust him in his attempts to wade through the swamps, and the mosquitos at night would deprive him of every hour of sleep.
The road for horses runs parallel to the river, but it extends a very little way, and even ends before the cultivation of the plantations ceases.
The only mode then that remains is to proceed by water; and when you come to the high-lands, you may make your way through the forest on foot or continue your route on the river.
After passing the third island in the River Demerara there are few plantations to be seen, and those not joining on to one another, but separated by large tracts of wood.
The Loo is the last where the sugar-cane is growing. The greater part of its negroes have just been ordered to another estate, and ere a few months shall have elapsed all signs of cultivation will be lost in underwood.
Higher up stand the sugar-works of Amelia's Waard, solitary and abandoned; and after passing these there is not a ruin to inform the traveller that either coffee or sugar have ever been cultivated.
From Amelia's Waard an unbroken range of forest covers each bank of the river, saving here and there where a hut discovers itself, inhabited by free people of colour, with a rood or two of bared ground about it; or where the wood-cutter has erected himself a dwelling and cleared a few acres for pasturage. Sometimes you see level ground on each side of you for two or three hours at a stretch; at other times a gently sloping hill presents itself; and often, on turning a point, the eye is pleased with the contrast of an almost perpendicular height jutting into the water. The trees put you in mind of an eternal spring, with summer and autumn kindly blended into it.
Here you may see a sloping extent of noble trees whose foliage displays a charming variety of every shade, from the lightest to the darkest green and purple. The tops of some are crowned with bloom of the loveliest hue, while the boughs of others bend with a profusion of seeds and fruits.
Those whose heads have been bared by time or blasted by the thunderstorm strike the eye, as a mournful sound does the ear in music, and seem to beckon to the sentimental traveller to stop a moment or two and see that the forests which surround him, like men and kingdoms, have their periods of misfortune and decay.
The first rocks of any considerable size that are observed on the side of the river are at a place called Saba, from the Indian word which means a stone. They appear sloping down to the water's edge, not shelvy, but smooth, and their exuberances rounded off and, in some places, deeply furrowed, as though they had been worn with continual floods of water.
There are patches of soil up and down, and the huge stones amongst them produce a pleasing and novel effect. You see a few coffee-trees of a fine luxuriant growth, and nearly on the top of Saba stands the house of the post-holder.
He is appointed by Government to give in his report to the protector of the Indians of what is going on amongst them and to prevent suspicious people from passing up the river.
When the Indians assemble here, the stranger may have an opportunity of seeing the aborigines dancing to the sound of their country music and painted in their native style. They will shoot their arrows for him with an unerring aim and send the poisoned dart, from the blow-pipe, true to its destination: and here he may often view all the different shades, from the red savage to the white man; and from the white man to the sootiest son of Africa.
Beyond this post there are no more habitations of white men or free people of colour.
In a country so extensively covered with wood as this is, having every advantage that a tropical sun and the richest mould, in many places, can give to vegetation, it is natural to look for trees of very large dimensions. But it is rare to meet with them above six yards in circumference. If larger have ever existed they have fallen a sacrifice either to the axe or to fire.
If, however, they disappoint you in size, they make ample amends in height. Heedless, and bankrupt in all curiosity, must he be who can journey on without stopping to take a view of the towering mora. Its topmost branch, when naked with age or dried by accident, is the favourite resort of the toucan. Many a time has this singular bird felt the shot faintly strike him from the gun of the fowler beneath, and owed his life to the distance betwixt them.
The trees which form these far-extending wilds are as useful as they are ornamental. It would take a volume of itself to describe them.
The green-heart, famous for its hardness and durability; the hackea for its toughness; the ducalabali surpassing mahogany; the ebony and letter-wood vying with the choicest woods of the old world; the locust-tree yielding copal; and the hayawa-and olou-trees furnishing a sweet-smelling resin, are all to be met with in the forest betwixt the plantations and the rock Saba.