The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Central Chile
Valparaiso -- Excursion to the Foot of the Andes -- Structure of the Land -- Ascend the
Bell of Quillota -- Shattered Masses of Greenstone -- Immense Valleys -- Mines -- State
of Miners -- Santiago -- Hot-baths of Cauquenes -- Gold-mines -- Grinding-mills --
Perforated Stones -- Habits of the Puma -- El Turco and Tapacolo -- Hummingbirds.
JULY 23rd. -- The Beagle anchored late at night in the bay of Valparaiso, the chief
seaport of Chile. When morning came, everything appeared delightful. After Tierra del
Fuego, the climate felt quite delicious -- the atmosphere so dry, and the heavens so clear
and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all nature seemed sparkling with life. The
view from the anchorage is very pretty. The town is built at the very foot of a range of
hills, about 1600 feet high, and rather steep. From its position, it consists of one long,
straggling street, which runs parallel to the beach, and wherever a ravine comes down,
the houses are piled up on each side of it. The rounded hills, being only partially
protected by a very scanty vegetation, are worn into numberless little gullies, which
expose a singularly bright red soil. From this cause, and from the low whitewashed
houses with tile roofs, the view reminded me of St. Cruz in Teneriffe. In a north- westerly
direction there are some fine glimpses of the Andes: but these mountains appear much
grander when viewed from the neighbouring hills: the great distance at which they are
situated can then more readily be perceived. The volcano of Aconcagua is particularly
magnificent. This huge and irregularly conical mass has an elevation greater than that of
Chimborazo; for, from measurements made by the officers in the Beagle, its height is no
less than 23,000 feet. The Cordillera, however, viewed from this point, owe the greater
part of their beauty to the atmosphere through which they are seen. When the sun was
setting in the Pacific, it was admirable to watch how clearly their rugged outlines could
be distinguished, yet how varied and how delicate were the shades of their colour.
I had the good fortune to find living here Mr. Richard Corfield, an old schoolfellow and
friend, to whose hospitality and kindness I was greatly indebted, in having afforded me a
most pleasant residence during the Beagle's stay in Chile. The immediate neighbourhood
of Valparaiso is not very productive to the naturalist. During the long summer the wind
blows steadily from the southward, and a little off shore, so that rain never falls; during
the three winter months, however, it is sufficiently abundant. The vegetation in
consequence is very scanty: except in some deep valleys, there are no trees, and only a
little grass and a few low bushes are scattered over the less steep parts of the hills. When
we reflect, that at the distance of 350 miles to the south, this side of the Andes is
completely hidden by one impenetrable forest, the contrast is very remarkable. I took
several long walks while collecting objects of natural history. The country is pleasant for
exercise. There are many very beautiful flowers; and, as in most other dry climates, the
plants and shrubs possess strong and peculiar odours -- even one's clothes by brushing
through them became scented. I did not cease from wonder at finding each succeeding
day as fine as the foregoing. What a difference does climate make in the enjoyment of
life! How opposite are the sensations when viewing black mountains half enveloped in