Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

with fallen trunks, aloes and agaves.

Thus the road gradually ascended among desolation, until we reached a height where the clouds were lodged on the mountain tops, and a cold, drizzling rain filled the air. In this disagreeable manner, travelling among the clouds, we reached the village of St. Michel, and afterward La Hoya, over a road paved with basalt. From the latter place the scenery is described as magnificent when the day is clear, and the sun is out in its brilliancy. The vapor is said to be then spread out below you like a sea, and the moun. tain tops and little eminences peer above it like so many islands.

We passed through the village of "Las Vigas," described by Humboldt, as the highest point on the road to Mexico. The houses in this neighborhood are of different construction from those below the mountains, and are built of pine logs, each tree furnishing but one piece of timber of four inches thickness, and the whole width of its diameter; these hewn with the axe, and closely fitted. The floors of the dwellings are laid with the same material, and the roofs are shingled. As the houses indicate a colder climate than the one through which we have recently travelled, so does also the appearance of the people, who are hardier and more robust than the inhabitants of the plains skirting the sea.

After winding along the edge of the mountain for some hours, we obtained an occasional view of the plain of Perote, level as 'the ocean, and bounded by the distant mountains. The Peak of Orizaba again appeared in the southeast, while the Coffre of Perote towered immediately on our left, and, seemingly in the midst of the plain, rose the Peak of Tepiacualca. Beyond it, on the remotest horizon, was sketched the outline of the snowcapped mountains. All these plains have doubtless been the basins of former lakes; but they now appear dry and arid, and it is not easy to distinguish how far they are cultivated at the suitable season. During the summer, they present a very different prospect, and, losing the guise of a waste moor, only fit for the sportsman, put on a lively livery of cultivation and improvement, far more agreeable than the dark and thorny maguey and the wilted foliage of dwarfish trees, with which they are now mostly covered. We occasionally see the stubble of last year, but the chief agriculture is evidently carried on upon the slopes and rising ground, where the irrigation is more easy from the adjacent mountains and is not so rapidly absorbed as in the marshy flats.

We had not travelled this road without our usual dread of thieves. Our guns were constantly prepared for attack, and we kept a wary watch, although during nearly the whole day we were accompanied by a party of lancers, who clattered along after us on nimble horses. Some leagues from Perote we approached the “ Barranca Secca,” a noted haunt of the ladrones ; and as we came within gunshot of the place, a band of horse. men dashed out from the ruins of an old hacienda on our right and galloped directly to the carriage. The mist had again come down in heavy wreaths around us, obscuring the prospect at a dozen yards distance; and the guard of troopers had fallen considerably in the rear. What

up

with the fog and, the dread of our foes, we were somewhat startledcocked our weapons-ordered the coach to stop—and were half out of it, when the lancers reined up at full tilt, and after a parley with the new comers, assured us that they were only an additional troop kept here for security. I questioned, and still doubt the truth of this story, as I never saw a more uncouth, or better mounted, armed and equipped set of men. Their pistols, sabres, and carbines were in the best order, and their horses stanch and fleet; but they may have composed a band of old well-known robbers, pensioned off by the Government as a guard; and willing to take regular pay from the authorities, and gratuities from travellers, as less dangerous than uncertain booty with constant risk of life.

Accompanied by these six suspicious rascals and the four lancers, we quickly passed the wild mist-covered moor, and entered the Barranca, a deep fissure worn by time and water into the plain, and overhung, on all sides by lofty trees, while the adjacent parts of the flat country are cut

into similar ravines, embowered with foliage. With all the aids of art, the thieves could not have constructed a more suitable covert; and, to add to our dismay, soon after entering the Barranca, our coach broke down!

We tramped about in the mud while the accident was repairing, and the guard and its auxiliaries scoured the pass. The quarter of a mile through which the ravine extended was literally lined with crosses, marking the spot of some murder or violent death. These four or five hundred mementos mori, seemed to convert it into a perfect graveyard; while the broken coach, the dreary day, shrouding mist, approaching night, and savage figures in the scene, made a picture more fit for a Trappist than a quiet traveller fonder of his ease than adventure.

We were, however, soon again in our vehicle, and for an hour afterward the country gradually ascended, until, at sunset, the sky cleared off and we entered Perote by a brilliant starlight.

Perote is a small town, containing not more than 2500 people. It is irregularly built; the houses are only of one low and dark story, erected around large court-yards with the strength of castles. In the middle of the town there is a large square, abundantly supplied by fountains of pure water from the neighboring hills.

The Meson is at the further end of the town, and incloses a spacious court-yard, around which on the ground floor (which is the only floor) are a number of brick-paved, windowless stalls, furnished with a bed, a couple of chairs, and a table. No landlord made his appearance to welcome

We waited a considerable time in the court-yard for his attendance; but as we received no invitation, S— and myself got possession of a consumptive-looking candle, and sallied out to hunt for lodgings. We took possession of one of the dens I have described and sent in our luggage; and carefully locking the door afterward, (as Perote is the headquarters of villainy, and the court-yard was full of unshaved, ill-looking devils wrapped up in blankets,) we left our thin tallow as evidence of our tenure.

us.

On one side of the gateway is the fonda, or eating part of the establishment, where two or three women were employed cooking sundry strange looking messes. We signified our hunger, and were soon called to table. Several officers of the garrison, as well as the stage-load coming from Mexico, were there before us. The cooking had been done with charcoal, over furnaces, and the color of the cooks, their clothes, the food, and the hearth was identical ; a warning, as in France, never to enter the kitchen before meals. The meats had been good, but were perfectly be. devilled by the culinary imps. Garlic, onions, grease, chilé, and God knows what of other nasty compounds, had flavored the food like nothing else in the world but Perote cookery. We tasted, however, of every dish, and that taste answered to allay appetite if not to assuage hunger; especially as the table-cloth had served many a wayfarer since its last washing, (if it had ever been washed,) and had, besides, doubtless been used for duster, (if they ever dust.) The waiter, too, was a boy, in sooty rags, who hardly knew the meaning of a plate, and had never heard of other forks but his fingers.

Disgusted, as you may well suppose we were with this supper, I did not remain long at table. We were a set of baulked, hungry men, and withal, tired and peevish. I put my face for a moment outside of the gate, to take a walk, as the night was beautiful; but S— pulled me back again, with a hint at the notorious reputation of Perote. It was not eight o'clock, but the town was already still as death. Its population had slunk home to their cheerless dwellings, and the streets wer as deserted as those of Pompeii, save where a ragged rascal now and then skulked along in the shadow of the houses, buried up in his broad-brimmed sombrero and dirty blanket.

We therefore at once retired to our cells; I threw myself on the bed wrapped in my cloak, in dread of a vigorous attack from the fleas, and slept without moving until the driver called us at midnight to start for Puebla. Being already dressed, I required no time for my toilet, and I doubt much if hair-brushes, orris tooth-powder, or the sweet savors of the Rue Vivienne, were ever thought of by a parting guest at Perote!

In half an hour we were once more in the coach galloping out of the town, followed by three dragoons furnished by the officer we had met at supper, who seemed to entertain as poor an opinion as we did of this citadel of vagabondism.

Although the sky had been clear and the stars were shining brightly when we retired to bed, a mist was now hanging in low clouds over the plain. The road was, however, smooth and level; and we scampered along nimbly, fear adding stings to our coachman's lash, inasmuch as he was the driver of a diligence that had been robbed last spring, and had received a ball between his shoulders, from the effects of which he had just sufficiently recovered to drive on his first trip since the conflict. We galloped during the whole night, stopping only for a moment to change horses; nor did we meet a living thing except a pack of jackals, that

came bounding beside the coach along the level and almost trackless plain. I never saw half so frightened a man as our coachman, especially when we passed the spot where he had been wounded. Every shrub was a robber—and a maguey of decent size was a whole troop!

The early morning, from the rain which had fallen during the night on this portion of the plain, was as cold and raw as November at home; nor was it until an hour after sunrise that the mists peeled off from the lowlands, and, folding themselves around the distant hills, revealed a prospect as bare and dreary as the Campagna of Rome.

LETTER V.

CITY OF PUEBLA.

I shall say nothing more of our journey from Perote to Puebla, or of the several uninteresting villages through which we passed. The road led among deep gullies, and was exceedingly dusty on the plains. The towns were usually built of the common adobes, or sun-dried bricks of the country, and neither in their architectural appearance, nor in the character of their inhabitants, offered any attractions for the attention of a traveller. It was, indeed, a tedious and uninteresting drive over the solitary moors, and I have seldom been more gratified at the termination of a day's fatigue than I was when we entered the gateway of our spacious and comfortable inn at Puebla. In addition to the usual discomforts of the road, we had suffered greatly from the heat during the two or three last hours of our ride, and were annoyed by a fine dust, which, heated by a blazing sun, rolled into our coach from every side, and fell like a parching powder on our skins. A bath was, therefore, indispensable before the dinner, which we found excellent after our fare of the previous night at Perote. In the afternoon I paid a visit to the governor, who promised an escort of dragoons for the rest of the journey the Capital; and I then sallied forth, to see as much as possible of this really beautiful city.

My recollections of Puebla (comparing it now, with Mexico) are far more agreeable than those of the Capital. There is an air of neat. ness and tidiness observable everywhere. The streets are broad, well paved with flat stones, and have a washed and cleanly look. The crowd of people is far less than in the Capital, and they are not so ragged and miserable. House rents are one-half or one-third those of Mexico, and the dwellings are usually inhabited by one family ; but, churches and convents seem rather more plentiful in proportion to the inhabitants. The friars are less numerous, and the secular clergy greater.

A small stream skirts the eastern side of Puebla, affording a large water-power for manufacturing purposes. On its banks a public walk has been planted with rows of trees, among which the paths meander, while a neat fountain throws up its waters in the midst of them. The views from this retreat, in the evening, are charmingly picturesque over the eastern plain.

On the western side of Puebla lie the extensive piles of buildings belonging to the Convent of St. Francis, situated opposite the entrance of

« ForrigeFortsett »