« ForrigeFortsett »
THE TROPICAL WORLD.
PART 1.—THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE.
The tropical regions, more than any other part of the world, are suggestive of magnificence-of luxuriant vegetation and diversified animal life; yet they embrace but a small portion comparatively of the land of the globe. While the greater part of the North Temperate Zone is occupied by land, the floods of ocean roll over much the larger portion of the equatorial regions; for both torrid America and Africa appear as mere islands in a vast expanse of sea. This 'superabundance of water is one of the great provisions which Nature has made for .mitigating the heat of the vertical sun. To this cause the Tropics are indebted for those copious rains and periodic winds and constant ocean currents, which endow them with such an amazing variety of climate. The Indian Archipelago, the Peninsula of Malacca, the Antilles, and Central America, are all •undoubtedly indebted to the waters which bathe their coasts for a more temperate climate than they would have had if they had been grouped together in one vast continent.
Another cause of the varieties of tropical climate is to be found in varied 'elevation of surface. Thus the high situation of many tropical lands moderates the effects of equatorial heat, and endows them with a climate similar to that of the temperate, or even of the cold regions of the globe. The Andes and the Himalaya, the most 'stupendous mountain-chains of the world, raise their snow-clad summits either within the tropics or immediately beyond their verge, and must be considered as ordained by Providence to counteract the effects of the vertical sunbeams over a vast extent of land. In Western Tropical America, in Asia, and in Africa, there are immense countries rising like terraces thousands of feet above the level of the ocean, and reminding the European traveller of his distant northern home by their productions and their cool temperature. Thus, by means of a few simple physical and geological causes acting and reacting upon each other on a •magnificent scale, Nature has bestowed a wonderful variety of climate upon the tropical regions, producing a no less wonderful diversity of plants and of animals.
Embracing the broad base of South America, the tropical regions bring before us the wide-spreading llanos of Venezue'la and New Grana'da ;* the majestic Andes, rising through every
* See lessor, on The Llanos of South America, p. 219.
zone of vegetation to an Arctic region of perpetual snow; and the high table-lands of Peru and Bolivia, where the llama, the alpaca, and the vicuña have their home. The frosts of winter and an eternal spring are nowhere found in closer 'proximity than in the Peruvian highlands : for deep valleys cleave the windy Puna, as these lofty table-lands are called ; and when the traveller, benumbed by the cold blasts of the mountain-plains, descends into the sheltered gorges, he almost suddenly finds himself transported from a northern climate to a terrestrial paradise.
Situated at a height where the 'enervating power of the tropical sun is not felt, and where at the same time the air is not too rarefied, these pleasant mountain vales, protected by their rocky walls against the gusts of the puna, enjoy all the advantages of a genial sky. Here the 'astonished European sees himself surrounded by the rich corn-fields, the green lucern-meadows, and the well-known fruit trees of his distant home; so that he might almost fancy that some friendly enchanter had transported him to his native country, but for the cactuses 2 and the agaves 3 on the mountain-slopes by day, and the constellations of another hemisphere in the heavens by night.
There are regions in this remarkable country where the traveller may leave the snow-roofed puna hut in the morning, and before sunset pluck pine-apples and bananas on the cultivated margin of the primeval forest; where in the morning the stunted grasses and arid lichens of the naked plain remind him of the Arctic regions, and where he may repose at night under the fronds of gigantic palms.
Descending to the Pacific sea-bord, we come upon the desolate Peruvian sand-coast, where the eye seldom sees anything but fine drift-sand and sterile heaps of stone; and where for miles and miles the traveller meets no traces of vegetation, nor finds one drop of water. But when we pass to the other side of the Andes, how .marvellous the contrast !4 On the one side, an arid, waterless, treeless waste; on the other, the luxuriant valley of the Amazon, the giant of rivers, which has made a broad course for itself through vast •savannas and stupendous forests !
The Amazon has its cradle high up among the peaks of the Andes, where the condor, the vulture of America, builds its nest. So vast is the basin of that great river, that all Western Europe could be placed in it without touching its boundaries! It is entirely situated in the Tropics, on both sides of the Equator, and receives over its whole extent the most abundant rains.
The swelling of the river, after the rainy season, is ·gigantic as
itself. In some parts the water rises above forty feet; and travellers have even seen trees whose trunks bore marks of tho previous 'inundation fifty feet above the height of the stream during the dry season. Then for miles and miles the swelling giant inundates his low banks, and, 'majestic at all times, becomes tèrrible in his grandeur when rolling his angry torrents through the wilderness. The largest forest-trees tremble under the pressure of the waters. Huge trunks, uprooted and carried away by the stream, bear witness to its power. Fishes and alligators now swim where a short while ago the jaguar lay in wait for its prey; and only a few birds, perching on the highest tree-tops, remain to witness the tumult which disturbs the silence of the woods.
When at length the river retires within its usual limits, new islands have been formed in its bed, while others have been swept away; and in many places the banks, undermined by the floods, threaten to crush the passing boat by their fall,-a 'misfortune which not seldom happens, particularly when, along with the loosened banks, high trees fall headlong into the river.
The magical beauty of tropical vegetation reveals itself in all its glory to the traveller who steers his boat through the •solitary mazes of the Amazon. Here the forest forms a canopy over his head; there it opens, allowing the sunshine to disclose the secrets of the wilderness; while on either side the eye penetrates through beautiful vistas into the depths of the woods. Sometimes, on a higher spot of ground, a clump of trees forms an island worthy of Eden. A chaos of bush-ropeso and creepers flings its garlands of gay flowers over the forest, and fills the air with the sweetest odours. Numerous birds, •rivalling in beauty of colour the flowers of these hanging gardens, animate the banks of the lagoon; gaudy macaws? perch on the loftiest trees; humming-birds dart with lightning speed from flower to flower—now hovering for an instant before you, as if to allow you to admire their surpassing beauty—now vanishing again with the rapidity of thought. But, as if to remind ono that death is not banished from this scene of Paradise, a darkrobed vulture screeches through the woods; or an alligator, like a black log of wood or a sombre rock, rests on the dormant waters.
In these boundless forests the monkeys form much the greater part of the mammalian inhabitants; for each species, though often confined within narrow limits, generally consists of a large number of individuals. The various 'arboreous fruits which the savage population of these immeasurable wilds is unable to turn to ad.
vantage, fall chiefly to their share; many of them also live upon insects. They are never seen in the open savannas, as they never touch the ground unless compelled by the greatest necessity. The trees of the forests furnish them with all the food they require ; it is only in the woods that they feel “at home," and secure against the attacks of mightier animals : why then should they quit them for less .congenial haunts ?
For their perpetual wanderings from branch to branch, Nature has bountifully endowed many of them, not only with robust and muscular limbs and large hands, whose moist palms •facilitate the seizure of a bough, but in many cases also with a 'prehensile tail, which may deservedly be called a fifth hand, and is hardly less wonderful in its structure than the proboscis of the elephant. Covered with short hair, and completely bare underneath towards the end, this admirable organ rolls around the boughs as though it were a supple finger, and is at the same time so muscular that the monkey frequently swings by it from a branch, like the pendulum of a clock. Scarce has he grasped a bough with his long arms, when immediately coiling his fifth hand round the branch, he springs on to the next; and secure from a fall, he hurries so rapidly through the crowns of the highest trees that the sportsman's bullet has scarce time to reach him in his flight.
Of the beasts of prey that frequent these vast woods, the jaguar is the most formidable, resembling the panther by his spotted skin, but almost equalling the Bengal tiger in size and power. He roams about at all times of the day, swims over broad rivers, and even in the water proves a most dangerous foe; for when driven to extremities he frequently turns against the boat which contains his 'assailants, and forces them to seek their safety by jumping overboard. Many an Indian, while wandering through thinly peopled districts, where swampy thickets alternate with open grass plains, has been torn to pieces by the jaguar; and in many a lonely plantation the inhabitants hardly venture to leave their enclosures after sunset, for fear of his attacks. Far from being afraid of man, this .ferocious animal springs upon him when alone; and when pressed by hunger he will even venture during the day-time into the mountain villages to seek his prey.
The dreadful storms which burst suddenly over the Amazon recall to memory the tornadoes of the ocean. The howlings of the monkeys, the shrill tones of the mews, and the visible terror of all animals, first announce the approaching conflict of the elements. The crowns of the palms rustle and hend, while as