31st August 2009

The appearance of the Andes was different from that which I had expected. The lower line of the snow was of course horizontal, and to this line the even summits of the range seemed quite parallel. Only at long intervals, a group of points or a single cone showed where a volcano had existed, or does now exist. Hence the range resembled a great solid wall, surmounted here and there by a tower, and making a most perfect barrier to the country.

From “The Voyage of the Beagle”

28th August 1834

I staid a week in St Jago & enjoyed myself very much: in the mornings I rode to various places in the plain, & in the evenings dined with different merchants. A never failing source of delight was to mount the little pap of rock (Fort of St Lucia) which stands in the middle of the city; the scenery certainly is very striking, & as I have said, very peculiar. I am informed that this same character is common to some of the Mexican cities. Of the town itself there is nothing to be said; generally it is not so fine or so large as B. Ayres, but built on same model.

27th August 1834

[Modern Santiago]

After crossing many low hills we descended into the small land-locked plain of Guitròn. In these basins which are elevated from 1000 to 2000 feet above the sea, two species of Acacia, which are stunted in their forms, and stand wide apart from each other, grow in great numbers. I do not know the cause, but they never seem to live near the sea, & this gives another characteristic mark to the scenery of these basins. We crossed a low ridge which separates Guitron from the plain on which St Jago stands: the view was here preeminently striking, the dead level surface, covered in parts by woods of Acacia, & with the city in the distance, abutted horizontally against the base of the Andes, their snowy peaks bright with the evening sun. This was one of those views, where immediate inspection convinced me that a plain now represents the extent of a former inland sea. There was equally little doubt, how much more beautiful a foreground a plain makes, where distances can be measured, than an expanse of water. We pushed our horses into a gallop & reached the city before it was dark.

26th August 1834


We left Jajuel & again crossed the basin of S. Felipe. The day was truly Chilian, glaringly bright & the atmosphere quite clear. The thick & uniform covering of newly fallen snow rendered the view of the Volcano of Aconcagua & the main chain quite glorious. We were now on the road to St Jago, the capital of Chili. We crossed the Cerro del Talguen, & slept at a little Rancho. The host, talking about the state of Chili as compared to other countries, was very humble; "Some see with two eyes & some with one, but for his part he did not think that Chili saw with any".

24th August 1834

Two days before I left there was a heavy fall of snow in the mountains, which prevented me from taking some interesting excursions. I attempted to reach a lake, which the inhabitants for some unaccountable reason believe to be an arm of the sea. During a very dry season, it was proposed to attempt cutting a channel for the sake of the water, but the Padre after consultation declared it was too dangerous as all Chili would be inundated, if as generally supposed, the lake really was connected with the Pacific. We ascended to a great height, but becoming involved in the snow drifts, failed in reaching this wonderful lake & had some difficulty in returning. I thought we should have lost the horses; for there was no means of guessing how deep the drifts were & the animals when led could only move by jumping. The black sky showed that a fresh snow storm was gathering, & we therefore were not a little glad when we escaped. By the time we reached the base, the storm commenced; & it was lucky for us that this did not happen three hours earlier in the day.

21st to 23rd August 1834

These copper mines are superintended by a shrewd but ignorant Cornish miner; he has married a Spanish woman & does not mean to return, yet his admiration for Cornwall was unbounded; he never ceased to descant upon the wonders of the mines. Amongst other questions, he asked me, now that George Rex was dead, how many of the family of Rex's were yet alive. This Rex certainly is a relation of Finis who wrote all the books.

The copper ore is shipped to Swansea to be smelted, hence the mines have a singularly quiet aspect to those in England, here there is no smoke or furnaces or great steam-engines to disturb the quiet of the surrounding mountains. — The government encourages the searching for mines by every method, the discoverer may work a mine in any ground by paying 5 shillings, & before paying this he may try for 20 days, although it might be in the very garden of another man. It is now well known that the Chilian method is the cheapest of working the mines; my host here says that only two great improvements have been introduced by the foreigners; the one is reducing, by previous roasting, the white copper ores, which being some of the best in Cornwall, the miners were here astonished to find thrown away; the other is stamping the scoriæ which comes from the furnaces, by which process small particles of copper are recovered in abundance. Improvements likewise have been introduced into some of the simple machinery; but even to this day, in some mines the water is removed by men carrying it up the shaft in skins on their backs! — The labouring men work very hard; they have little time allowed for their meals, & during summer & winter they begin when it is light & leave off at dark. — They are paid one pound sterling a month & their food given them: consists for breakfast of sixteen Figs & two small loaves of bread; for dinner boiled beans, for supper broken roasted wheat grains. They scarcely ever taste meat; as with the twelve pound per annum they have to clothe themselves & support their families. — The miners who work in the mine itself have twenty-five shillings per month, & are allowed a little Charqui. — But these men only come down from their bleak habitation once every fortnight or three weeks.

I staid here 5 days & throughily enjoyed scrambling in all parts of these huge mountains; the geology was, as might be expected, very interesting; the shattered & baked rocks traversed by dykes of formerly melted greenstone showed what commotion has taken place during 478 the formation of these mountains. — The appearance of the mountains is the same as has been described; dry, barren mountains dotted over with bushes. — The Cacti were very numerous; I measured one of a depressed globular figure; including the dense spines, it was 6 feet 4 inches in circumference, height 1ft..9 ins. The height of the ordinary cylindrical branching kind is from 12 to 15 feet, circumference of a limb (with spines) 3ft: 7 inches.

19th & 20th August 1834

Passed the town of Quillota, which is more like a collection of nursery gardens than a town, & followed up the valley. — The orchards were beautiful, presenting one mass of peach-blossoms. I saw in one or two places the Date-Palm; it is a most stately tree. I should think a group of them in their native deserts must be superb. — We also passed S. Felipe, a large pretty straggling town like Quillota. The valley has here expanded into one of the basins or plains already mentioned as so curious a part of the scenery of Chili. We crossed it & proceeded to the mines of Jajuel, situated in a ravine in the very Andes.

18th August 1834

Descended the mountain by rather a better track & passed some beautiful little spots, with rivulets & fine trees; & arrived early at the same Hacienda.

17th August 1834

We climbed up to the highest ridge of the rough mass of greenstone. The rock as is so generally the case was much shattered & broken into angular fragments. I observed, however, here one remarkable difference, that the surfaces of many enormous fragments presented every degree of freshness, from what appeared quite fresh, to the state when Lichens can adhere. I felt so forcibly that this was owing to the constant earthquakes that I was inclined to hurry from beneath every pile of the loose masses.

We spent the whole day on the summit, & I never enjoyed one more throughily. Chili & its boundaries the Andes & the Pacifick were seen as in a Map. The pleasure from the scenery, in itself beautiful was heightened by the many reflections which arose from the mere view of the grand range, its lesser parallel ones and of the broard valley of Quillota which directly cuts these in two. Who can avoid admiring the wonderful force which has upheaved these mountains, & even more so the countless ages which it must have required to have broken through, removed & levelled whole masses of them?

The appearance of the Andes was different from what I expected; the lower line of the snow was of course horizontal, & to this line the even summits of the range appeared quite parallel. At long intervals, a mass of points or a single cone showed where a Volcano had or does now exist. — It hence looked more like a wall, than a range of separate mountains, & made a most complete barrier to the country.

Almost every part of this mountain has been drilled by attempts to open Gold mines. I was surprised to see on the actual summit, a small pit where some yellow crystals had induced some people thus to throw away their labor; & this on a point which can only be reached by climbing. The rage for mining has left scarcely a spot in Chili unexamined, even to the regions of eternal snow.

I spent the evening, as before, talking round our fire with my two companions. — The Guassos of Chili, which correspond to the Gauchos of the Pampas, are however a very different set of beings. Chili is the more civilized of the two countries; & the inhabitants in consequence have lost much individual character. Gradations in rank are much more strongly marked; the Huasso does not by any means consider every man his equal; I was quite surprised to find my companions did not like to eat at the same time with myself. This is a necessary consequence of the existence of an aristocracy of wealth; it is said that some few of the greater land owners possess from five to ten thousand pounds sterling per annum. — This is an inequality of riches which I believe is not met with in any of the cattle-breeding countries to the eastward of the Andes. — A traveller by no means here meets that unbounded hospitality which refuses all payment, but yet is so kindly offered, that no scruples can be raised in accepting it. Almost every house in Chili will receive you for the night, but then a trifle is expected to be given in the morning: even a rich man will accept of two or three shillings. — The Gaucho, although he may be a cut-throat, is a gentleman; the Huasso is in few respects better, but at the same time is a vulgar, ordinary fellow. — The two men although employed much in the same manner are different in their habits & clothes; and the peculiarities of each are universal in their respective countries. The Gaucho seems part of his horse & scorns to exert himself excepting when on its back. 475 The Huasso can be hired to work as a labourer in the fields. — The former lives entirely on animal food, the latter nearly as much on vegetable. — We do not here see the white boots, the broad drawers & scarlet Chilipa, the picturesque costume of the Pampas; here common trowsers are protected by black & green worsted leggings: — the poncho however is common to both. — The chief pride of the Huasso lies in his spurs, these are absurdly large; — I measured one that was six inches in the diameter of the rowel, & the rowel itself contained upwards of thirty points: the stirrups are on the same scale, each one consisting of a square carved block of wood, hollowed out, yet weighing three or four pounds. — The huasso is perhaps more expert with the lazo than the gaucho, but from the nature of the country, does not know the use of the bolas.

16th August 1834

The Major Domo of the Hacienda was good enough to give me a guide & fresh horses; in the morning we set out to ascend the Campana or Bell, a mountain which is 6400 feet high.* The paths were very bad, but both the geology & scenery amply rapaid the trouble. We reached, by the evening, a spring called the Agua del Guanaco, which is situated at a great height. This must be an old name, for it is very many years since a guanaco has drunk its waters. During the ascent I noticed that on the Northern slope nothing but bushes grew, whilst on the Southern a sort of bamboo about fifteen feet high. In a few places there were palms, & I was surprised to see one at an elevation of at least 4500 feet. This palm is for its family an ugly tree: its stem is very large & of a curious form, being thicker in the middle than at the base or top. They are excessively numerous in some parts of Chili & valuable on account of a sort of honey made from the sap. — On one estate near Petorca they counted many hundred thousand trees; each year in August or September many are cut down, when lying on the ground (& it is necessary, I am told, that the trees should fall up the hill) the crown of leaves is cut off, & the sap begins to flow this continues for many months, but it is necessary every morning that a thin slice should be cut off, so as to expose a fresh surface. A good tree will give 90 gallons of Sap, which must all have been contained in the apparently dry trunk; it is said to flow much more quickly on those days when the sun is powerful. — The sap is concentrated by boiling, & is called honey, which in its taste it resembles. — We unsaddled our horses near the spring & prepared to pass the night. — The setting of the sun was glorious, the valleys being black whilst the snowy peaks of the Andes yet retained a ruby tint.

When it was dark, we made a fire beneath a little arbor of bamboos, fried our charqui (or dried strips of beef), took our matte & were quite comfortable. There is an inexpressible charm in thus living in the open air. — The evening was so calm & still; the shrill noise of the mountain bizcacha & the faint cry of the goatsucker were only occasionally to be heard. Besides these, few birds or even insects frequent these dry parched up mountains.

* A plaque on the summit now commemorates this ascent.

15th August 1834 (continued)

Chili as may be seen in the maps is a narrow strip between the Cordilleras & the Pacific; & this strip is itself traversed by several lines of high hills parallel to the great range. — At the foot of the Andes there is a succession of level basins, generally connected together & extending chiefly to the South; in these the principal towns are situated, S. Felipe, St Jago, S. Fernando &c. — These basins or plains, together with the flat valleys which connect them with the coast, are the bottoms of ancient inlets & great bays such as the present intersect every part of Tierra del Fuego & the West coast of Patagonia &c. Chili, at one time, must have in the configuration of its land & water exactly resembled these latter countries. This resemblance was occasionally seen with great force when a fog bank extended over the whole of the lower parts; the white vapor curling into all the ravines, beautifully represented the little coves & bays. Here & there a solitary hillock peeping up through the mist showed that it formerly had stood as an islet. — The scenery from the above causes must be I should think nearly unique; anyhow to me it was quite new & very interesting. From the natural slope to seaward of these plains they are, as I have said, very easily irrigated & singularly fertile; without this process, the ground will produce scarcely anything, as the sky during the whole summer is cloudless. — The mountains & hills are dotted over with bushes & low trees, with the exception of this the vegetation is very scanty. Nevertheless many half wild cattle find sufficient pasture. The owners of lands in the plains possess each so much hill country where their cattle feed, & once a year there is a grand "Rodeo" when the cattle are all driven down, marked & counted & a certain number separated for fattening in the artificial fields in the valleys. —

Wheat is extensively cultivated & a good deal of Indian corn; a sort of bean is however the main article of food for the Common Labourers. — The orchards produce an enormous abundance of Peaches, Figs & Grapes. With all these advantages the inhabitants of the country ought to be much more prosperous than they are.

15th August 1834

On the next day I returned to wards the valley of Quillota. The country was exceedingly pleasant, just what I fancy Poets mean by Pastoral, green open lawns separated by small valleys & rivulets; the cottages of the shepherds being scattered on the hill sides. At the base of the Sierra de Chilicauquen, which we were obliged to pass, there were many fine evergreen forest trees, which however only flourish in the ravines where there is running water. A person who had only seen the country near Valparaiso would never dream there were such picturesque spots in Chili.

As soon as we reached the brow of the Sierra, the valley of Quillota was immediately under our feet. The prospect was one of remarkable artificial luxuriance. The valley is very broad & quite flat, & is thus easily irrigated in all parts; the little square gardens are crowded with orange & olive trees & every sort of vegetable. On each side huge bare mountains arise & this contrast renders the patch-work valley the more pleasing. — Whoever called Valparaiso the "valley of Paradise" must have been thinking of Quillota. — We crossed over to the Hacienda de San Isidro, situated at the very foot of the Bell mountain.

14th August 1834

I managed to set out on a geological excursion to the base of the Andes. Our first day's ride was along the Northern shore; we passed over a pleasant undulating country & after dark arrived at the Hacienda of Quintero; the estate which formerly belonged to Lord Cochrane. My object in coming here was to see the great beds of recent shells which are dug out of the ground to make lime.

Valparaiso 1834

Nothing from Darwin until the 14th... so in the meantime another of Conrad Marten's wonderful paintings. This one is entitled 'Valparaiso 1834' and is in the collection of the National Library of Australia. With many of Marten's works resident there, it must be a wonderful place to visit.

5th August 1834

I have taken several long walks in the country. The vegetation here has a peculiar aspect; this is owing to the number & variety of bushes which seem to supply the place of plants; many of them bear very pretty flowers & very commonly the whole shrub has a strong resinous or aromatic smell. In climbing amongst the hills ones hands & even clothes become strongly scented. With this sort of vegetation I am surprised to find that insects are far from common; indeed this scarcity holds good to some of the higher orders of animals; there are very few quadrupeds, & birds are not very plentiful. I have already found beds of recent shells, yet retaining their colors at an elevation of 1300 feet; & beneath this level the country is strewed with them. It seems not a very improbable conjecture that the want of animals may be owing to none having been created since this country was raised from the sea.

2nd August 1834

[Conrad Martens' Sketchbooks : Eglise de San Francisco, Valparaiso ~ A hillside landscape with settlements, showing buildings in detail, especially a church in the foreground]
Took up my residence with Mr Corfield, who has taken the most obliging pains to render me all assistance in my pursuits. His house is situated in the Almendral, which is an extensive suburb built on [a] small sand-plain, which very recently has been a sea-beach. The house is a very pleasant one; one story high, with all the rooms opening into a quadrangle, there is a small garden attached to it, which receives a small stream of water 6 hours in the week. Another gentleman lives with Mr Corfield; the expences of the house, table, wine, 2 men servants, 3 or 4 horses, is about 400 pounds sterling per-annum. I should think this same establishment in England would at least cost double this sum.