To the Gold Coast for Gold
By Richard F. Burton
Public Domain Books
THE ROUTINE ASCENT OF MOUNT ATLAS, THE ’PIKE’ OF TENERIFE.
The trip was so far routine that we followed in the steps of all previous travellers, and so far not routine that we made it in March, when, according to all, the Mal Pais is impassable, and when furious winds threaten to sweep away intruders like dry leaves.
[Footnote: The usual months are July and August. Captain Baudin, not favourably mentioned by Humboldt, ascended in December 1797 with M. Le Gros and the naturalists Advenier, Mauger, and Riedlé. He rolled down from half-way on the cone to the bottom of La Rambleta, and was stopped only by a snow-covered lava-heap. Mr. Addison chose February, when he ’suffered more from enormous radiation than from cold.’ He justifies his choice (p. 22) by observing that ’the seasons above are much earlier than they are below, consequently the latter part of the spring is the best season to visit the Peak.’ In October, at an elevation of 10,700 feet, he found the cold greater than it was in February. In July 1863 I rode round the island, to the Cumbre pumice-plains, and by no means enjoyed the southern ride. A place near Guimar showed me thirty-six barrancos (deep ravines) to be crossed within three leagues.]
The good folk of the Villa, indeed, declared that the Ingleza could never reach even the Estancia de los Inglezes.
Our train was modest–a pair of nags with their attendants, and two excellent sumpter-mules carrying provisions and blankets. The guide was Manoel Reyes, who has already appeared in the ’Specialities of a Residence Above the Clouds.’ He is a small, wizen-faced man, quiet, self-contained, and fond–exceedingly fond–of having his own way. By dint of hard work we left the Fonda Gobea at 9 A.M. on March 23, with loud cries of ’Mulo!’ and ’Anda, caballo!’ and ’So-o-o!’ when the bât-beasts indulged in a free fight.
Morning smiled upon our incept. Nothing could be lovelier than the weather as we crossed the deluging Martinianez Fiumara; struck the coast-road westward, and then, bending to the south-west, made for the ’Gate of Taoro,’ a gap in the Cañáda-wall. From the higher level truly charming was the aspect of Orotava: it was Funchal many times improved. Beyond the terraced foreground of rich deep yellow clay, growing potatoes, wheat, and the favourite chochos (lupines), with apple and chestnut trees, the latter of two kinds, and the lower fields marked out by huge agaves, lay the Happy Valley. Its contrast of vivid greens, of white quintas, of the two extinct volcanos overlooking Orotava, and of the picturesque townlets facing the misty blue sea, fringed with a ceaseless silvery surf by the brisa, or north-east trade, the lord of these latitudes, had not a symptom of the Madeiran monotony of verdure. Behind us towered high the snowy Pilon (Sugar-loaf), whose every wave and fold were picked out by golden sunlight, azure half-light, and purple shade.
As we advanced up the Camiño de Chasna, a road only by name, the quintas were succeeded by brown-thatched huts, single or in clumps. On the left, 3,400 feet above sea-level, stood the Pino del Dornajito (’of the Little Trough’), one of the few survivors in this once wealthy pine-ground. The magnificent old tree, which was full grown in the days of the conquest, and which in the seventeenth century was a favourite halting-point, suffered severely from the waterspout of November 7, 1826; but still measured 130 feet long by 29 in girth. The vegetation now changed. We began brushing through the arbutus (callicarpa), the wild olive (Olea excelsa), the Canarian oak, the daphne, the myrtle entwined with indigenous ivy (Hedera canariensis); the cytisus, the bright green hypericum of three species, thyme, gallworts, and arborescent and other ferns in numbers, especially the hare’s-foot and the peculiar Asplenium canariense, the Trichomanes canariensis, and the Davallia canariensis; the brezo (Erica aborea and E. scoparia), a heath whose small white bells scented the air; and the luxuriant blackberry, used to fortify the drystone walls. The dew-cloud now began to float upwards from the sea in scarf-shape, only a few hundred feet thick; it had hangings and fringes where it was caught by the rugged hill-flanks; and above us globular masses, white as cotton bales, rolled over one another. As in the drier regions of Africa the hardly risen sun made itself felt.
At 10.20 A.M. we had passed out of the cultivated region to the Montijo, or Monte Verde, the laurel-region. The ’wood’ is the remains of a fine forest accidentally fired by charcoal-burners; it is now a copse of arborescent heath-worts, ilex (I. Perado), and Faya (Myrica Faya), called the ’Portugal laurel,’ some growing ten feet high. We then entered upon rough ground, El Juradillo (’the Hollow’); this small edition of the Mal Pais, leading to the Canadas, is a mass of lava-beds and dry barrancos (ravines) grooved and sheeted by rushing torrents. The latter show the anatomy of the land–tufas, lavas, conglomerates, trachytes, trachydolerites, and basalts of various kinds. Most of the rocks are highly magnetic, and are separated by thin layers of humus with carbonised plant-roots. Around El Juradillo rises a scatter of montanetas, shaped like half-buried eggs: originally parasitic cones, they evidently connect with the main vent. About 1 P.M., after four hours’ ride, we dismounted at the Estancia de la Sierra (6,500 feet); it is a pumice-floor a few feet broad, dotted with bush and almost surrounded by rocks that keep off a wind now blowing cold and keen. Consequently, as broken pots and bottles show, it is a favourite resting-place.
After halting an hour we rode up a slope whose obtuser talus showed that we were reaching the far-famed platform, called Las Cañádas del Pico. The word, here meaning level ground, not, as usual, a canefield, applies especially to the narrow outer rim of the hollow plain; a bristling fortification of bluffs, pointing inwards, and often tilted to quoins 300 feet high, with an extreme of 1,000. Trachyte and basalt, with dykes like Cyclopean walls, are cut to jagged needles by the furious north-easter. Around the foot, where it is not encumbered with débris like the base of an iceberg, a broad line of comminuted pumice produces vegetation like a wady-growth in Somali Land. The central bed allows no short cut across: it is a series of rubbish-heaps, parasitic cones, walls, and lumps of red-black lavas, trachytes, and phonolites reposing upon a deluge of frozen volcanic froth ejected by early eruptions. The aspect was rejoicing as the Arabian desert: I would willingly have spent six months in the purest of pure air.
These flats of pumice, ’stones of emptiness,’ loose incoherent matter, are the site of the first great crater. Tenerife is the type of a three-storied volcano, as Stromboli is of one and Vesuvius of two stages. The enormous diameter of this ancient feature is eight by seven miles, with a circumference of twenty-three–greater even than Hawaii–and here one feels that our earth was once a far sublimer scene. Such forms belong to the earlier volcanic world, and astronomers still suspect them in the moon. [Footnote: Las Cañádas was shown to be a volcanic crater in 1803 by Professor Cordier, the first scientific visitor in modern days (Lettre à Devilliers fils), and in 1810 by D. Francisco Escobar (Estadistica). They make the old vent ten leagues round.] The altitude is 6,900 feet, nearly double the height of Vesuvius (3,890 feet); and the lines sweep upwards towards the Pilon, where they reach 8,950 feet.
The tints of Las Cañádas, seen from above, are the tenderest yellow and a brownish red, like the lightest coat of vegetation turning ruddy in the sun. Where level, Las Cañádas is a floor of rapilli and pumice-fragments, none larger than a walnut, but growing bigger as they approach the Pike. The colours are dun (barriga de monja), golden-yellow, and brown burnt red like autumnal leaves. There is marvellous colouring upon the bluffs and ridges of the rim–lamp-black and brown-black, purple (light and dark), vermilion-red, and sombre hues superficially stained ruddy by air-oxygen. The picture is made brighter by the leek-green vegetation and by the overarching vault of glaring blue. Nor are the forms less note-worthy. Long centuries of weathering have worked the material into strange shapes–here a ruined wall, there an old man with a Jesuit’s cap; now a bear, then a giant python. It is the oldest lava we have yet seen, except the bed of the Orotava valley. The submarine origin is denoted by fossils found in the flank; they are of Miocene age, like those common in Madeira, and they were known as early as the days of Clavijo (1772).
Las Canadas is not wholly a ’dead creation;’ the birds were more numerous than on the plains. A powerful raptor, apparently an eagle with black-barred wings, hung high in air amongst the swallows winging their way northwards, and the Madeiran sparrow-hawk was never out of sight; ravens, unscared by stone-throwing boys, flew over us unconcernedly, while the bushes sheltered many blackbirds, the Canary-bird (Fringilla canaria) showed its green belly and grey back and wings, singing a note unknown to us; and an indigenous linnet (F. teydensis), small and green-robed, hopped over the ground tame as a wren. We saw nothing of the red-legged partridge or the Tetraonidae, reported to be common.
The scattered growths were composed of the broomy Codeso and Retama. The former (Adenocarpus frankenoides), a leguminous plant, showed only dense light-green leaves without flower, and consequently without their heavy, cloying perfume. The woody stem acts in these regions as the doornboom of South Africa, the wild sage of the western prairies, and the shih (absinthium) of the Arabian desert. The Arabic Retama, or Alpine broom (Cytisus fragrans, Lam.; Cyt. nubigenus, Decan.; Spartium nubigenum, Alton and Von Buch), is said to be peculiar to Tenerife, where it is not found under one vertical mile of height. Some travellers divide it into two species, Spartium monospermum and S. nubigenum. The bush, 9 to 10 feet tall by 7 to 15 inches diameter, is easily distinguished from the Codeso by its denser and deeper green. This pretty rounded growth, with its short brown stem throwing out lateral branches which trail on the ground, flavours meat, and might be naturalised in Europe. From June till August it is covered with a profusion of white blossoms, making Las Canadas a Hymettus, an apiarian heaven. It extends as far as the second cone, but there it shrinks to a foot in height. We did not see the tree growing, but we met a party of Chasna men, [Footnote: A romantic tale is told of the origin of Chasna. In 1496, before the wars ended, one Pedro de Bracamonte, a captain under De Lugo, captured a ’belle sauvage,’ who made her escape after a few days. He went about continually repeating, ’Vi la flor del valle’ (I saw the valley flower), and died after three months. His soldiers buried him and priests said masses for the soul of this ’hot amorist.’] driving asses like onagers, laden with the gummy wood of the Tea or Tiya pine (P. canariensis). The valuable material, which resists damp and decay for centuries, and which Decandolle declares would grow in Scotland, is rapidly disappearing from the Pinals. The travellers carried cochineal-seed, for which their village is famous, and a hive which might have been Abyssinian. It was a hollow cylinder of palm-bole, closed with board at either end; in July and August it is carried up the mountain, where the bees cannot destroy the grapes. We searched in vain for M. Broussonet’s white violet (V. teydensis), [Footnote: Humboldt’s five zones of vegetation on the Pike are vines, laurels, pines, broom, and grasses (p. 116). Mr. Addison modifies this scale to vines, laurels, pines and junipers, mountain-brooms and pumice-plains, I should distribute the heights as growing cochineal, potatoes, and cereals, chestnuts, pines, heaths, grasses, and bare rock.] and for the lilac-coloured Viola cheiranthifolia, akin to V. decumbens.
The average annual temperature of Las Canadas is that of N. latitude 53 degrees, Holland and Hanover; in fact, here it is the Pyrenees, and below it Africa. The sun blazed from a desert of blue, and the waving heat-reek rose trembling and quivering from the tawny sides of the foregrounds. The clouds, whose volumes were disposed like the leaves of a camellia, lay far down to the north-east, as if unable to face the fires of day. And now the great trachytic dome, towering in the translucent air, was the marking feature. Its angle, 35 to 42 degrees, or double that of the lower levels, suggests distant doubts as to its practicability, nor could we believe that it rises 3,243 feet above its western base, Las Cañádas. The summit, not including the terminal Pilon–a comparatively dwarf cone [Footnote: There is a very bad sketch of the Pike in Mr. Scrope’s popular work on Volcanoes (p. 5); the eruptive chimney is far too regularly conical.]–is ribboned with clinker, and streaked at this season with snow-lines radiating, like wheel-spokes from a common centre. Here and there hang, at an impossible angle, black lava-streams which were powerless to reach the plain: they resembled nothing so much as the gutterings of a candle hardening on the outside of its upright shaft. Evidently they had flowed down the slope in a half fluid state, and had been broken by contraction when cooling. In places, too, the surface was streaked with light yellow patches, probably of sun-gilt tosa or pumice.
On our right, or to the north-north-east of the Pike, rose La Fortaleza, alias the Golliada del Cedro. The abrupt wall had salient and re-entering angles, not unlike the Palisades of the Hudson River, with intercalated strata and a smooth glacis at the base, except between the east and north-west, where the periphery has been destroyed. It is apparently basalt, as we may expect in the lower levels before reaching the trachytic region. The other notable features were Monte Tigayga, with its vertical cliff, trending northwards to the sea; the gap through which the Orotava lava-bed burst the crater-margin; the Llano de Maja (’Manja’ in Berthelot), a strip of Las Canadas, and the horizontally striated Peak of Guajara (8,903 feet).
Riding over the ’pumice-beach of a once fiery sea,’ whose glare and other accidents suggested the desert between Cairo and Suez, we made our way towards the Rastrojito. This ’Little Stubble’ is a rounded heap of pumice, a southern offset of the main mountain. On the left rose the Montana Negra (Black Mountain) and the Lomo de la Nieve (’Snow Ridge),’ a dark mass of ribbed and broken lavas (8,970 feet), in which summer-snow is stored. A little black kid, half wild, was skipping over the rocks. Our men pursued it with the garrotes (alpenstocks), loudly shouting,’ Tio Jose!’: ’Uncle Joseph,’ however, escaped, running like a Guanche. Here it is allowed to shoot the animals on condition of leaving a shilling with the skin. The latter is used in preparing the national gofio, the Guanche ahoren, the kuskusu of north-western Africa, the polenta, or daily bread, of the Neo-Latins.
Climbing the Rastrojito slopes, we sighted the Pedras Negras: these are huge travelled rocks of basalt, jet-black, breaking with a conchoidal fracture, and showing debris like onion-coats about their base. The aspect was fantastic, resembling nothing so much as skulls 10 to 15 feet high. They are doubtless the produce of the upper slopes, which by slow degrees gravitated to the present pumice-beds.
The first step of the Pike is Las Canadas, whose glacis forms the Cumbre, or pumice-plains (6,500 feet), the long dorsum, which shows far out at sea. Bending abruptly to the east, we began to breast the red pumice-bed leading to the Estancia de Abajo or de los Inglezes. ’El es Inglez porque subio al Pico’ (’he is English, because he climbed the Pike’), say the people. This ramp, whose extreme angle is 26 degrees, bordered by thick bands of detached lava-rocks, is doubtless the foundation-matter of the Pike. Hence the latter is picturesquely termed ’Hijo de las Canadas.’ [Footnote: Especially by D. Benigno Carballo Wanguement in his work, Las Afortunadas (Madrid, 1862), a happy title borrowed from D. Francisco Escobar. Heyley (Cosmography), quoted by Glas and Mrs. Murray, tells us of an English ambassador who, deeming his own land the ’Fortunate Islands,’ protested against Pope Clement VI. so entitling the Canaries in a deed of gift to D. Luis de la Cerda, the ’Disinherited’ Conde de Claramonte. The latter was deprived of the Crown of Castile by his uncle, Sancho IV., and became the founder of the Medina Celi house.]
After a total climb and ride of six hours, we reached the ’English station.’ M. Eden (Aug. 13, 1715) [Footnote: Trans. Royal Soc. of London, 1714-16.] calls it simply Stancha, and M. Borda ’Station des Rochers.’ Pere Feutree, a Frenchman who ascended in 1524, and wrote the earliest scientific account, had baptised it Station de St. Francois de Paul, and set up a cross. It is a shelf in the pumice-slope, 9,930 feet high, and protected against the cold night-winds of the north-north-east, the lower or polar current, by huge boulders of obsidian, like gigantic sodawater-bottles. The routine traveller sleeps upon this level a few hundred yards square, because the guides store their fuel in an adjacent bed of black rocks. Humboldt miscalls the station ’a kind of cavern;’ and a little above it he nearly fell on the slippery surface of the ’compact short-swarded turf’ which he had left 4,000 feet below him.
The bât-mules were unpacked and fed; and a rough bed was made up under the lea of the tallest rock, where a small curral of dry stone kept off the snow. This, as we noticed in Madeira, is not in flakes, nor in hail-like globes: it consists of angular frozen lumps, and the selvage becomes the hardest ice. Some have compared it with the Swiss ’firn,’ snow stripped of fine crystals and granulated by time and exposure. In March the greatest depth we saw in the gullies radiating from the mountain-top was about three feet. But in the cold season all must be white as a bride-cake; and fatal accidents occur in the Canada drifts. Professor Piazzi Smyth characterises the elevated region as cold enough at night, and stormy beyond measure in winter, when the south-wester, or equatorial upper current, produces a fearful climate. Yet the Pike summit lies some 300 feet below the snow-line (12,500 feet).
The view was remarkable: we were in sight of eighty craters. At sunset the haze cleared away from the horizon, which showed a straight grey-blue line against a blushing sky of orange, carmine, pale pink, and tender lilac, passing through faint green into the deep dark blue of the zenith. In this cumbre, or upper region, the stars did not surprise us by their brightness. At 6 P.M. the thermometer showed 32 degrees F.; the air was delightfully still and pure, [Footnote: We had no opportunity of noticing what Mr. Addison remarks, the air becoming sonorous and the sound of the sea changing from grave to acute after sunset and during the night. He attributes this increased intensity to additional moisture and an equability of temperature in the atmospheric strata. Perhaps the silence of night may tend to exaggerate the impression.] and Death mummifies, but does not decay.
A bright fire secured us against the piercing dry night-cold; and the arrieros began to sing like capirotes [Footnote: The Capirote or Tinto Negro, a grey bird with black head (Sylvia atricapilla), is also found in Madeira, and much resembles the Eastern bulbul or Persian nightingale. It must be caged when young, otherwise it refuses to sing, and fed upon potatos and bread with milk, not grain. An enthusiast, following Humboldt (p. 87), describes the ’joyous and melodious notes’ of the bird as ’the purest incense that can ascend to heaven.’] (bulbuls), sundry seguidillas, and El Tajaraste. The music may be heard everywhere between Morocco and Sind. It starts with the highest possible falsetto and gradually falls like a wail, all in the minor clef.
We rose next morning with nipped feet and hands, which a cup of hot coffee, ’with,’ speedily corrected, and were en route at 4.30 A.M. Formerly animals were left at the lower estancia; now they are readily taken on to Alta Vista. My wife rode a sure-footed black nag, I a mule which was perfect whilst the foot-long lever acting curb lay loose on its neck. Returning, we were amazed at the places they had passed during the moonless night.
Our path skirted the Estancia de los Alemanos, about 300 yards higher than the English, and zig-zagged sharply up the pumice-slope. The talus now narrowed; the side-walls of dark trachytic blocks pinching it in. At this grisly hour they showed the quaintest figures–towers and pinnacles, needles and tree-trunks, veiled nuns and monstrous beasts. Amongst them were huge bombs of obsidian, and masses with translucent, vitreous edges that cut like glass. Most of them contained crystals of felspar and pyroxene.
After half an hour we reached the dwarf platform of Alta Vista, 700 feet above the Estancia and 10,730, in round numbers, above sea-level. The little shelf, measuring about 100 to 300 yards, at the head of the fork where the north-eastern and the south-western lava-streams part, is divided by a medial ledge. Here we saw the parent rock of the pumice fragments, an outcrop of yellowish brown stone, like fractured and hardened clay. The four-footed animals were sent back: one rides up but not down such places.
Passing in the lower section the shell of a house where the Astronomer’s
[Footnote: The author came out in 1856 to make experiments in astronomical observations. Scientific men have usually a contempt for language: we find the same in Our Inheritanse, &c. (Dalby & Co., London, 1877), where the poor modern hierogrammats are not highly appreciated. But it is a serious blemish to find ’Montana Blanco,’ ’Malpays,’ ’Chahzorra’ (for Chajorra), and ’Tiro del Guanches.’ The author also is wholly in error about Guanche mummification. He derides (p. 329) the shivering and shaking of his Canarian guide under a cloudy sky of 40°F., when the sailor enjoyed it in their ’glorious strength of Saxon (?) constitution.’ But when the latter were oppressed and discouraged by dry heat and vivid radiation, Manoel was active as a chamois. Why should enduring cold and not heat be held as a test of manliness?]
experiment had been tried, Guide Manoel pointed out the place where stood the tormentos, as he called the instruments. Thence we toiled afoot up the Mal Pais. This ’bad country’ is contradictorily described by travellers. Glas (A.D. 1761) makes it a sheet of rock cracked cross-wise into cubes. Humboldt (1799) says, ’The lava, broken into sharp pieces, leaves hollows in which we risked falling up to our waists.’ Von Buch (1815) mentions ’the sharp edges of glassy obsidian, as dangerous as the blades of knives.’ Wilde (1857) tamely paints the scene as a ’magnified rough-cast.’ Prof. Piazzi Smyth is, as usual, exact, but he suggests more difficulty than the traveller finds. I saw nothing beyond a succession of ridge-backs and shrinkage-crevasses, disposed upon an acute angle. These ragged, angular, and mostly cuboidal blocks, resembling the ice-pack of St. Lawrence River, have apparently been borne down by subsequent lava-currents, which, however, lacked impetus to reach the lower levels of Las Cañádas.
Springing from boulder to boulder, an exhilarating exercise for a time, over a ’surface of horrible roughness,’ as Prof. Dana says of Hawaii, we halted to examine the Cueva de Hielo, whose cross has long succumbed to the wintry winds. The ’ice-house’ in a region of fire occupies a little platform like the ruined base of a Pompey’s Pillar. This is the table upon which the neveros pack their stores of snow. The cave, a mere hole in the trachytic lava, opens to the east with an entrance some four feet wide. The general appearance was that of a large bubble in a baked loaf. Inside we saw a low ceiling spiky with stalactites, possibly icicles, and a coating of greenish ice upon the floor. A gutter leads from the mouth, showing signs of water-wear, and the blocks of trachyte are so loaded with glossy white felspar that I attempted to dust them before sitting down.
Local tradition connects this ice-cave with the famous burial-cavern near Ycod, on the northern coast; this would give a tunnel 8 miles long and 11,040 feet high. Many declare that the meltings ebb and flow with the sea-tide, and others recount that lead and lines of many fathoms failed to touch bottom. We are told about the normal dog which fell in and found its way to the shore through the cave of Ycod de los Vinos. In the latter a M. Auber spent four hours without making much way; in parts he came upon scatters of Guanche bones. Mr. Robert Edwards, of Santa Cruz, recounted another native tradition–that before the eruption of A.D. 1705 there was a run of water but no cave. Mr. Addison was let down into it, and found three branches or lanes, the longest measuring 60-70 feet. What the neveros call el hombre de nieve (the snow-man) proved to be a honeycombed mass of lava revetted with ice-drippings. He judged the cave to be a crater of emission; and did not see the smoke or steam issuing from it as reported by the ice-collectors.
Professor P. Smyth goes, I think, a little too far in making this contemptible feature compose such a quarrel as that between the English eruptionist and the Continental upheavalist. Deciding a disputed point, that elevation is a force and a method in nature, he explains the cave by the explosion of gases, which blew off the surface of the dome, ’when the heavy sections of the lava-roof, unsupported from below, fell downward again, wedging into and against each other, so as nearly to reform their previous figure.’ But the unshattered state of the stones and the rounded surfaces of the sides show no sign of explosion. The upper Piton is unfitted for retaining water, which must percolate through its cinders, pumices, and loose matter into many a reservoir formed by blowing-holes. Snow must also be drifted in and retain, the cold. Moisture would be kept in the cavern by the low conducting power of its walls; so Lyell found, on Etna, a bed of solid ice under a lava-current. Possibly also this cave has a frozen substratum, like many of the ice-pools in North America.
We then toiled up to another little estancia, a sheltered, rock-girt hollow. The floor of snow, or rather frozen rain, was sprinkled with red dust, and fronts the wind, with sharp icy points rising at an angle of 45°. Here, despite the penetrating cold, we gravely seated ourselves to enjoy at ease the hardly won pleasures of the sunrise. The pallid white gleam of dawn had grown redder, brighter and richer. An orange flush, the first breaking of the beams faintly reflected from above, made the sky, before a deep and velvety black-blue, look like a gilt canopy based upon a rim of azure mist. The brilliancy waxed golden and more golden still; the blending of the colours became indescribably beautiful; and, lastly, the sun’s upper limb rose in brightest saffron above the dimmed and spurious horizon of north-east cloud. The panorama below us emerged dimly and darkly from a torrent of haze, whose waving convex lines, moving with a majestic calm, wore the aspect of a deluge whelming the visible world. Martin the Great might have borrowed an idea from this waste of waters, as it seemed to be, heaving and breaking, surging and sweeping over the highest mountain-tops. We saw nothing of the immense triangular gnomon projected by the Pilon as far as Gomera Island, [Footnote: At sunset of July 10, 1863, I could trace it extending to Grand Canary, darkening the southern half and leaving the northern in bright sunshine: the right limb was better defined than the left.] and gradually contracting as the lamp of day rises. Item, we saw nothing of the archipelago like a map in relief; the latter, however, is rarely visible in its entirety. Disappointment!
During the descent we had a fair prospect of the Canarian Triquetra. Somewhat like Madeira, it has a longitudinal spine of mountains, generically called Las Cañádas; but, whilst the volcanic ridge of the Isle of Wood runs in a latitudinal line, the Junonian Cordillera has a whorl, the ancient as well as the modern seat of eruption. Around the island appeared to be a rim, as if the sea-horizon formed a raised saucer–a common optical delusion at these altitudes.
As we advanced the Mal Pais became more broken: the ’bad step’ was ugly climbing, and we often envied our men, who wore heelless shoes of soft untanned leather with soles almost as broad as they were long. The roughness of the trachytic blocks, however, rendered a slip impossible. At 6.45 we reached the second floor of this three-storied volcano, here 11,721 feet high. The guides call it the Pico del Pilon, because it is the ancient Peak-Crater, and strangers the Rambleta (not Rembleta) Volcano, which strewed Las Cañádas with fiery pumice, and which shot up the terminal head ’conical as a cylinder.’ It has now become an irregular and slightly convex plain a mile in diameter, whose centre is the terminal chimney. Its main peculiarity is in the fumaroles, or escapes of steam, and mofetti, mephitic emanations of limpid water and sulphur-vapour. Of these we counted five narices within as many hundred yards. Their temperature greatly varies, 109° and 158° Fahr. being, perhaps, the extremes; my thermometer showed 130°. These soupiraux or respiradouros are easily explained. The percolations from above are heated to steam by stones rich in ’grough brimstone.’ Here it was that Humboldt saw apparent lateral shiftings and perpendicular oscillations of fixed stars; and our Admiralty, not wishing to be behind him, directed Professor P. Smyth’s attention to ’scintillations in general.’ Only the youngest of travellers would use such a place as an observatory; and only the youngest of observers would have considered this libration of the stars an extraordinary phenomenon.
Directed by a regular line of steam-puffs, we attacked El Pilon, the third story, the most modern cone of eruption, the dwarf chimney which looks like a thimble from the sea. The lower third was of loose crumbling pumice, more finely comminuted than we had yet seen; this is what Humboldt calls ’ash-cones.’ There was also a strew of porphyritic lava-chips covered with a red (ochreous?) crust. Presently we reached a radiating rib of lately ejected lava, possibly the ridge of a dyke, brown below and gradually whitening with sulphuric acid as it rose towards the crater-walls. The resting took longer than the walking up the steep talus; and at 7.45: after a total of nine hours and a morning’s work of two hours and a half, which occupied two in descending, we stood upon the corona or lip of ’Teyde.’
The height of the Tenerife Pike, once held the loftiest in the world, is 12,198 feet, in round numbers 12,200. Thus it stands nearly at the altitude of Mont Blanc (15,784 feet) above the Chamounix valley, a figure of 12,284 feet. The slope from the base is 1 in 4.6. The direct distance from Orotava on the map measures 10.5 miles; along the road 18, according to the guides. The terminal chimney and outlet for vapours which would erupt elsewhere, rises 520 feet from its pedestal, the central Rambleta, and its ascent generally occupies an hour. One visitor has reduced this montagne pelée to 60-70 feet, and compares it with the dome of a glass-house. From below it resembles nothing so much as a cone of dirty brown cassonade, and travellers are justified in calling it a sugarloaf. I can hardly rest satisfied with Von Buch’s description. ’Teyde is a pointed tower surrounded by a ditch and a circular chain of bastions.’
The word Teyde is supposed to be a corruption of Echeyde, meaning Hades: hence the title Isla Infierno, found in a map of A.D. 1367. The Guanches also called it Ayadyrma, and here placed their pandemonium, under Guayota, the head-fiend. The country-folk still term the crater-ring ’la caldera de los diablos en que se cuecen todas las provisiones del Infierno’ (the Devil’s caldron, wherein are cooked all the rations of the infernals). Seen by moonlight, or on a star-lit night, the scenery would be weird and ghostly enough to suggest such fancies, which remind us of Etna and Lipari.
I had been prepared by descriptions for a huge chasm-like crater or craters like those on Theon Ochéma, Camerones Peak. I found a spoon-shaped hollow, with a gradual slope to the centre, 100 × 150 feet deep, the greater length of the oval running north-east, where the side is higher, to south-west, where there is also a tilt of the cup. The floor was a surface of burning marl and whitish earthy dough-like paste, the effect of sulphurous acid vapours upon the argile of the lava. This stratum was in places more than 80 feet thick; and fumes rose fetid with sulphuric acid, and sulphates of soda, alumina, and ammonia from the dead white, purple red, vivid green, and brilliant yellow surface of the solfatara. Hence the puffs of vapour seen from below against the sparkling blue sky, and disappearing like huge birds upon the wings of the wind: hence, too, the tradition of the mast and the lateen sail. A dig with the Guanche magada or lanza, the island alpen-stock, either outside or inside the crater, will turn up, under the moist white clay, lovely trimetric crystals of sulphur, with the palest straw tint, deepening to orange, and beautifully disposed in acicular shapes. The acid eats paper, and the colours fade before they leave the cone.
[Footnote: Dr. Wilde (1837) analysed the sulphur as follows: Silica, 81·13; water, 8·87; and a trace of lime. Others have obtained from the mineral, when condensed upon a cold surface, minute crystals of alum. Mr. Addison found in the ’splendid crystals of octahedral sulphur’ a glistening white substance of crystalline structure, yet somewhat like opal. When analysed it proved to contain 91 per cent. silex and the rest water.]
When sitting down it is advisable to choose a block upon which dew-drops pearl. A few minutes of rest upon a certain block of marl, whose genial warmth is most grateful, squatting in the sharp cold air, neatly removes all cloth in contact with the surface. More than one excursionist has shown himself in that Humphrey Clinker condition which excited the wrath of Count Tabitha. It is evident that Teyde is by no means exhausted, and possibly it may return to the state of persistent eruption described by the eye-witness Ca da Mosto, who landed on the Canaries in A.D. 1505.
Not at all impressed with the grandeur of the Inferno, we walked round the narrow rim of the crater-cirque, and were shown a small breach in the wall of porphyritic lava facing west. Mrs. Murray’s authorities describe the Caldera as being ’without any opening:’ if this be the case the gap has lately formed. The cold had driven away the lively little colony of bees, birds, and butterflies which have been seen disporting themselves about the bright white cauldron. There was not a breath of the threatened wind. Manoel pointed out Mount Bermeja as the source of the lateral lava-stream whose ’infernal avalanche,’ on May 5, 1706, [Footnote: Preceding Ca da Mosto’s day another eruption (1492) was noted by Columbus, shortly before his discovery of the Antilles. Garachico was the only port in Tenerife, with a breakwater of rocky isle and water so deep that the yardarms of men-of-war could almost touch the vineyards. Its quays were bordered by large provision-stores, it had five convents, and its slopes were dotted with villas. After an earthquake during the night a lava-stream from several cones destroyed the village Del Tanque at 3:30 A.M., and at 9 P.M. another flood entered Garachico at seven points, drove off the sea, ruined the mole, and filled the port. It was followed by a cascade of fire at 8 A.M. on the 13th of the same month, and the lava remained incandescent for forty days.] overwhelmed ’Grarachico, pueblo rico,’
[Footnote: Alluding to the curse of the Franciscan Friar, who devoted the town to destruction in these words:–
’Garachico, pueblo rico, Gastadero de dinero, Mal risco te caiga encima!’]
and spared Guimar, which it enclosed between two fiery streams. Despite the white and woolly mists, the panorama of elevations, craters and castellated eminences, separated by deep gashes and by currals like those of Madeira, but verdure-bare, was stupendous. I have preserved, however, little beyond names and heights. We did not suffer from puna, or mountain sickness, which Bishop Sprat, of Rochester, mentions in 1650, and which Mr. Darwin–alas that we must write the late!–cured by botanising. I believe that it mostly results from disordered liver, and, not unfrequently, in young Alpinists, from indigestion.
The descent of the Teyde Piton, in Vesuvian fashion, occupied ten minutes. Our guides now whistled to their comrades below, who had remained in charge of the animals. Old authors tell us that the Guanche whistle could be heard for two leagues, and an English traveller declares that after an experiment close to his ear he did not quite recover its use for a fortnight. The return home was wholly without interest, except the prospects of cloud-land, grander than those of Folkestone, which seemed to open another world beneath our feet. Near the Santa Clara village all turned out to prospect two faces which must have suggested only raw beef-steaks. It was Sunday, and
(Garachico, wealthy town; wasteful of thy wealth, may an ill rock fall upon thy head!)
both sexes were in their ’braws.’ The men wore clean blanket-mantles, the women coloured corsets laced in front, gowns of black serge or cotton, dark blue shawls hardly reaching to their waist, and the usual white kerchief, the Arab kufiyah, under the broad-brimmed straw or felt hat, whose crown was decorated with the broadest and gayest ribbons. But even this unpicturesque coiffure, almost worthy of Sierra Leone, failed to conceal the nobility of face and figure, the well-turned limbs, the fine hands and feet, and the meneo, or swimming walk, of this Guanchinesque race, which everywhere forced itself upon the sight. The proverb says–
De Tenerife los hombres; Las mugeres de Canária.
It is curious to compare the realistic accounts of the nineteenth century with those of the vulcanio two centuries ago. Ogilby (1670) tells us that the Moors called it El-Bard (Cold), and we the ’Pike of Teneriff, thought not to have its equal in the world for height, because it spires with its top so high into the clouds that in clear weather it may be seen sixty Dutch miles off at sea.’ His illustration of the ’Piek-Bergh op het Eilant Teneriffe’ shows an almost perpendicular tower of natural masonry rising from a low sow-back whose end is the ’Punt Tenago’ (Anaga Point). The ’considerable merchants and persons of credit,’ whose ascent furnished material for the Royal Society, set out from Orotava. ’In the ascent of one mile some of our Company grew very faint and sick, disorder’d by Fluxes, Vomitings, and Aguish Distempers; our Horses’ Hair standing upright like Bristles.’ Higher up ’their Strong waters had lost their Virtue, and were almost insipid, while their Wine was more spirituous and brisk than before.’ In those days also iron and copper, silver and gold, were found in the calcined rocks of the Katakaumenon. It is strange to note how much more was seen by ancient travellers than by us moderns.