The Voyage of the Beagle HTML version

Passage Of The Cordillera
Valparaiso -- Portillo Pass -- Sagacity of Mules -- Mountain- torrents -- Mines, how
discovered -- Proofs of the gradual Elevation of the Cordillera -- Effect of Snow on
Rocks -- Geological Structure of the two main Ranges, their distinct Origin and Upheaval
-- Great Subsidence -- Red Snow -- Winds -- Pinnacles of Snow -- Dry and clear
Atmosphere -- Electricity -- Pampas -- Zoology of the opposite Side of the Andes --
Locusts -- Great Bugs -- Mendoza -- Uspallata Pass -- Silicified Trees buried as they
grew -- Incas Bridge -- Badness of the Passes exaggerated -- Cumbre -- Casuchas --
MARCH 7th, 1835. -- We stayed three days at Concepcion, and then sailed for
Valparaiso. The wind being northerly, we only reached the mouth of the harbour of
Concepcion before it was dark. Being very near the land, and a fog coming on, the anchor
was dropped. Presently a large American whaler appeared alongside of us; and we heard
the Yankee swearing at his men to keep quiet, whilst he listened for the breakers. Captain
Fitz Roy hailed him, in a loud clear voice, to anchor where he then was. The poor man
must have thought the voice came from the shore: such a Babel of cries issued at once
from the ship -- every one hallooing out, "Let go the anchor! veer cable! shorten sail!" It
was the most laughable thing I ever heard. If the ship's crew had been all captains, and no
men, there could not have been a greater uproar of orders. We afterwards found that the
mate stuttered: I suppose all hands were assisting him in giving his orders.
On the 11th we anchored at Valparaiso, and two days afterwards I set out to cross the
Cordillera. I proceeded to Santiago, where Mr. Caldcleugh most kindly assisted me in
every possible way in making the little preparations which were necessary. In this part of
Chile there are two passes across the Andes to Mendoza: the one most commonly used,
namely, that of Aconcagua or Uspallata -- is situated some way to the north; the other,
called the Portillo, is to the south, and nearer, but more lofty and dangerous.
March 18th. -- We set out for the Portillo pass. Leaving Santiago we crossed the wide
burnt-up plain on which that city stands, and in the afternoon arrived at the Maypu, one
of the principal rivers in Chile. The valley, at the point where it enters the first Cordillera,
is bounded on each side by lofty barren mountains; and although not broad, it is very
fertile. Numerous cottages were surrounded by vines, and by orchards of apple, nectarine,
and peach-trees -- their boughs breaking with the weight of the beautiful ripe fruit. In the
evening we passed the custom-house, where our luggage was examined. The frontier of
Chile is better guarded by the Cordillera, than by the waters of the sea. There are very
few valleys which lead to the central ranges, and the mountains are quite impassable in
other parts by beasts of burden. The custom-house officers were very civil, which was
perhaps partly owing to the passport which the President of the Republic had given me;
but I must express my admiration at the natural politeness of almost every Chileno. In
this instance, the contrast with the same class of men in most other countries was strongly
marked. I may mention an anecdote with which I was at the time much pleased: we met
near Mendoza a little and very fat negress, riding astride on a mule. She had a _goitre_ so