Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

plants recorded are merely said to come from “ Columbia " or "Ecuador," the one larger than Spain, France, and the Low Countries put together, the other equal in extent to the Austrian Empire, and both traversed by mountain ranges varying from fifteen thousand to over eighteen thousand feet in height? I shall have later to make some remarks on the climatal conditions of the coast region extending from Panama to the Bay of Guayaquil, but I may here mention that when I afterwards acquired some slight acquaintance with the flora of Brazil, I was struck with the fact that, although separated by an interval of nearly three thousand miles, and by the great barrier of the Andes, the plants seen in and around the forest at Buenaventura were almost all nearly allied to Brazilian forms.

Further reflection, and such incomplete knowledge as I have been able to acquire as to the flora of intertropical South America, lead me to the conclusion that the present vegetable population of this vast region is, when we exclude from view a certain number of immigrants from other regions, mainly derived from two sources. There is, in the first place, the ancient flora of Guiana and tropical Brazil, which has gradually extended itself through Venezuela and Columbia, and along the Pacific coast as far as Ecuador, and, in an opposite direction, through Southern Brazil, to the upper basins of the Uruguay, the Paranà, and the Paraguay. The long period of time occupied by the gradual diffusion of this flora is shown by the large number of peculiar species, and not a few endemic genera that have been developed

throughout different parts of this vast region, whose nearest allies, however, are to be found in the original home, Guiana or Brazil. Along with this stock, which mainly occupies the lower country, we find, especially in Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador, the modified descendants of vegetable types characteristic of the Andes. Of the Andean flora I shall have something to say in a future page ; but I may express the belief that if we go back to the remote period when most of the characteristic types of the vegetation of South America came into existence, we must seek the ancestors of the Brazilian flora, and to a large extent also those of the Andean flora, in the ancient high mountain ranges of Brazil, where we now see, in the vast extent of arenaceous rocks, and in the surviving pinnacles of granite, the ruins of one of the greatest mountain regions of the earth.

Early on Easter Sunday morning, April 9, we were off Tumaco, a small place on one of a group

of flat islands lying at the northern extremity of the coast of Ecuador.* These islands are of good repute as having the healthiest climate on this coast. Although close to the equator, cattle are said to thrive, and, if one could forget the presence of a fringe of cocos palms along the shore, the island opposite to us, in great part cleared of forest, with spreading lawns of green pasture, might have been taken for a gentleman's park on some flat part of the English coast. We here parted with General Prado, ex

* Much cinchona bark, coming from the interior, was formerly shipped at Tumaco; but between horrible roads and the reckless waste of the forests through mismanagement, but little is now conveyed by

this way.

AN EX-PRESIDENT OF PERU.

37

near the

president of Peru, who has purchased one of the islands, and hopes to end his days peacefully as a cattle-breeder. Nothing in his manner or conversation announced either energy or intelligence, but it is impossible not to recognize some kind of ability in a man who, having held such a post at such a time, not only succeeded in escaping the ordinary fate of a Peruvian president-his two immediate predecessors having been assassinated—but also in snatching from the ruin of his country the means of securing an ample provision for himself at a safe distance from home.

In the almost cloudless weather that has prevailed for some days, the apparent path of the sun could not fail to attract attention. Being still so vernal equinox, this could not be distinguished from a straight line. Rising out of the horizon at six o'clock, the sun passed exactly through the zenith, and went down perpendicularly in the west into the boundless ocean.

Who can wonder that this daily disappearance of the sun has had so large a share in the poetry and the religion of our race? In

In every land, under every climate, it is the one spectacle which is ever new and ever fascinating. Use cannot stale it; and knowledge, which is said to be driving the imagination out of the field of our modern life, has done nothing to weaken the spell.

We awoke next day to find ourselves in the southern hemisphere, having crossed the line about three a.m. As the morning wore on we passed abreast of the Cabo San Lorenzo, and towards evening, keeping nearer to the coast, were within a few miles of

Cabo Santa Elena. This forms the north-western headland of the Gulf of Guayaquil, a wide bay that extends fully a hundred miles eastward from the coastline.

At daybreak, April 11, we were inside the large island of Puna, and soon after entered the mouth of the river Guayas. Although it drains but a small district, this has a deep channel, as wide as the Thames at Gravesend, making the town of Guayaquil, which is about thirty miles from its mouth, the natural port for Western Equatorial America. As we steamed northward up the stream, every eye was turned eastward with the hope of descrying some part of the chain of the Andes. It was, indeed, obvious that a great mountain barrier lay in that direction, and beneath the eastern sun dark masses from time to time stood out to view ; but along the crest of the range heavy banks of cloud constantly rested, and the summits remained concealed. We knew that the peak of Chimborazo is scarcely more than seventy miles distant from Guayaquil, and is easily seen from the town in clear weather ; but we did not know that clear weather is a phenomenon that recurs only on about half a dozen days in the course of the year, and it is needless to say that we did not draw one of these prizes in the lottery. I had been conscious of a distinct change of climate during the preceding night, and this was still more marked after we entered the river. The increase of temperature was but trifling. The thermometer at sea during the two preceding days had ranged from 77° to 79°, and here at nine a.m. it marked only 80°; nor did it ever rise above 84°

[ocr errors]

PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF HOT CLIMATES. 39

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

while we lay opposite Guayaquil. But the sense of oppressive closeness was more or less felt by every one, and, whatever may be the cause, it seems safe to conclude that the notoriety of this city as one of the most unhealthy in South America is intimately connected with it.

There is, no doubt, much yet to be learned as to the effects of climate on the human constitution, but a few points seem to be sufficiently ascertained. To those whose constitution has been hereditarily adapted to a temperate or cold climate, the enfeebling effect of hot countries depends much more on the constant continuance of a high temperature than on its amount. A place with a mean temperature of 80° Fahr., which varies little above or below that point; is far more injurious to a European than one where intervals of great heat alternate with periods of cooler weather. Still more important, perhaps, is the effect of a hot climate in places where the air is habitually nearly saturated with aqueous vapour. When the temperature of the skin is not much greater than that of the surrounding air, if this be near the point of saturation but little evaporation can take place from the surface. The action of the absorbent vessels is thus checked, and the activity of all the functions is consequently lowered. As it usually happens that the two agencies here discussed act together in tropical countries, the places having a uniform temperature being also for the most part those having an atmosphere heavily charged with vapour, it is easy to understand that Europeans whose vitality is already depressed are especially exposed to suffer from whatever causes

« ÎnapoiContinuați »