Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

mountains varying from four to six hundred miles in width, and can carry no moisture available to produce rain on the western seaboard. In Ecuador the two principal ranges-the Cordillera and the Andesare much nearer together than they usually are in Peru, and no parallel ranges flank them on the east. The numerous tributaries of the Maranon flow in a tolerably direct course cast or south-east, many of them rising within a hundred and fifty miles of the Pacific coast. It follows that the atmospheric currents meeting less preliminary obstruction reach the eastern slopes of the main range still very heavily charged with vapour. In crossing the barrier a large portion of the burthen must be deposited; but it is probable that a large amount is nevertheless carried to the western side of the range.

It may be said that this explanation, whatever it may be worth, cannot apply to the territory of Colombia, where the Andes are broken up into at least three lofty ranges, and the mountains cover as wide a space as they do in Peru. My impression is that the abundant supply of moisture on the west coast of Colombia arises from a different source. The effects of the Isthmus of Panama as a barrier against atmospheric currents must be absolutely insignificant, and I have no doubt that those which flow eastward along the coast of the Caribbean Sea are in part diverted south-east and south along the west coast of Colombia.

There can, however, be little doubt that in determining the climate of the west coast the influence of the Humboldt current, and of the cool southerly

INFLUENCE OF THE HUMBOLDT CURRENT. 51

breezes that accompany it, is far greater than that of the disposition of the mountain ranges. A glance at the map shows that about the fifth and sixth degrees of south latitude the direction of the coast undergoes a considerable change. On the voyage from Panama, we had hitherto steered somewhat west of south; henceforward our course lay between south-south-east and south-east. All the currents of the ocean and atmosphere, whose existence arises from the unequal distribution of heat on the earth's surface, vary somewhat in their course throughout the year with the changes of season, and this doubtless holds good on the American coast. I believe, however, that both the sea and air currents from the south are normally deflected away from the coast at the promontory of Ajulla (sometimes written “Ahuja"), a short distance south of Payta. A further portion is again deflected westward at Cape Parinas, north of which headland they seem not to be ordinarily met. I infer, however, from the testimony of seamen, that at some seasons they are felt near the coast as far north as the equator, and even beyond it. This inference was confirmed by observing the parched appearance of the seaward slope of Cabo Sta. Elena, north of the Gulf of Guayaquil, which apparently does not fully share in the frequent rains that elsewhere visit the coast of Ecuador.

Whatever force there may be in the above suggestions, I confess that they do not seem to me adequate to account for the extraordinary difference of climate between places so near as Payta and Tumbez—not quite a hundred miles apart—and I trust that further

light may be thrown upon the matter by a scientific traveller able to spare the necessary time. So far as I know, no such abrupt and complete a change is known elsewhere in the world. I was unable to obtain any information as to a range of hills or mountains, marked in Arrowsmith's map “Sa. Amatapi," which appears to extend east or east-north-east from Cape Parinas. Its height can scarcely be considerable, as it does not appear to have attracted the attention of the seamen who are familiar with this coast; but, on the other hand, there is some reason to think that the southerly breezes prevailing on the coast do not extend to any great height above the sea-level. It would be interesting if we should find on the opposite sides of a range of unimportant hills the same contrasts of climate and vegetation that are known to prevail between the eastern and western slopes of the Peruvian Andes. *

Along the coast of Northern Peru are numerous small islets, evidently at some period detached from

*

* The abrupt change in the vegetation on this part of the American coast has been noticed by Humboldt, Weddell, and other scientific travellers. In a note to the French edition of Grisebach (“ Vegetation du Globe,” traduit par P. de Tchihatcheff, ii. p. 615), M. André expresses the opinion that this, as well as some other cases of abrupt change in the vegetation observed by him in Colombia, are to be explained by the nature of the soil, which in the arid tracts is sandy or stony, and fails to retain moisture. Admitting that in certain cases this may afford a partial explanation of the facts, it is scarcely conceivable that the limit of the zone wherein little or no rain falls should exactly coincide with a change in the constitution of the soil, and I should be more disposed to admit a reversed order of causation, the porous and mobile superficial crust remaining in those tracts where, owing to deficient rainfall, there is no formation of vegetable mould, and no accumulation of the finer sediment forming a retentive clay.

GUANO ISLANDS.

53

the continent either by subsidence or by marine erosion. Here, in the almost complete absence of rain, were formed those secular accumulations deposited by sea-birds, which, when known in Europe under the name of guano, suddenly rivalled the mines of the precious metals as sources of easily acquired wealth. The two most considerable groups are respectively named Lobos de tierra and Lobos de afuera; a smaller group near to Payta is also called Lobos. At the western end of the largest of the latter group the waves have excavated a natural arch, which, after a sufficient period of further excavation, will fall and give rise to a new detached islet. A brisk southerly breeze made the air feel cooler than it had done since we entered the tropics, as we ran about due south until sunset, when, after passing abreast of the promontory of Ajulla, our course was altered to nearly due south-east. I was assured by a native passenger that the promontory of Ajulla, for a distance of thirty or forty miles, is an absolute desert, without a drop of water or the slightest trace of vegetation. Experience has made me somewhat sceptical as to statements of this nature made by non-scientific observers. During the day we frequently observed a fish which appears distinct from the flying-fish of the Atlantic. The pectoral fins appear to be less developed, and in consequence the fight is shorter, and the animal seems to have less command over its movements.

Our course on April 14 lay rather far from land. It was known that yellow fever had broken out at Truxillo, and it was decided that we should run direct

to Callao, without touching at that or any of the smaller places on the coast sometimes visited by the steamers. Although the air appeared to be somewhat hazy, the range of the Cordillera, more than a hundred miles distant, was distinctly seen in the afternoon. Very soon after we ran into a dense bank of fog, in which we were immersed for several hours, our cautious captain remaining meanwhile on the bridge, and the frequent cry of the steam-whistle ceased only when we steamed out of the fog into a brilliant star-lit night.

These fogs, which are frequent along the Peruvian coast, are the chief, if not the only, difficulty with which the navigator has to contend. When they rest over the land it becomes extremely difficult to make the ports, and at sea they involve the possible risk of collision. If this risk is at present but slight, it must become more serious when intercourse increases, as it must inevitably do if the Ship Canal should ever be completed ; and for the general safety it may be expedient to prescribe special rules as to the course to be taken by vessels proceeding north or south along the coast. The origin of the fogs must be obvious to any one who considers the physical conditions of this region, to which I have already referred. The air must be very frequently near the point of saturation, and a slight fall of temperature, or the local intermixture of a body of moister air, must suffice to produce fog. The remarkable thing is that this should so very rarely undergo the further change requisite to cause rain. To some young Englishmen on board, the remarkable coolness of the air along

« ÎnapoiContinuați »