To ascend this celebrated peak had long been my ambition, as well as, more recently, to discover if the climate and scenery of the queen of the Canaries were equal, not to say superior, to those of Madeira. I was glad to find the two islands so different that comparison was unnecessary, while I was on the whole not disappointed by what I saw at Teneriffe. Although on a grander and more beautiful scale, it resembles Pico Island in the Azores. The peak of the Western Islands, although but 7615 feet high, has not only been seen one hundred and ten miles at sea, but is often visible for half or two thirds that distance, while Teneriffe, five thousand feet more lofty, is rarely seen at a distance, owing to peculiar atmospheric conditions, especially after the northeast trade-winds begin, in April. It was therefore almost useless for me to strain my eyes to discover it on the voyage, although the weather was fine, for the breezy ides of May were against me. But the light near Anaga Point was visible thirty, miles out, and the fearfully ragged and desolate volcanic peaks and cliffs of the southeastern coast were in plain sight close on the starboard beam as we rounded Anaga in the pearly gray of dawn. Erelong Santa Cruz appeared on the shore directly ahead, with the mountains rising behind in ever-ascending scale, and at last the extreme summit of the great cone called the Piton towered before us, clearly cut against the azure of the sky. As the sun rose, the yellow pumice-stone and snow of the little peak assumed a rich roseate hue. The whiteness of the peak gave to it and to the island its name. Thener ifé, the white mountain, it was called by the aborigines of Las Palmas, for so it looked to them sixty-eight miles distant. The Piton is also called the Pico de Teyde, a corruption of Cheyde, the Guanche word for hell, a title whose appropriateness is at once apparent to one who ascends the peak.
The harbor of Santa Cruz is only an open roadstead, whose sole protection is the regular character of the winds and climate, and the nature of the anchorage, which is so steep that a vessel cannot drag ashore, although she may be driven out to sea occasionally. But even when it is calm, the water of the port is always more or less agitated by the heavy swell rolling in from the trade-winds blowing outside, and ships at anchor pitch and roll in the most extraordinary manner. The landing-place is within a mole, but getting ashore is not always easy on account of the swell which sweeps up the stone steps with vigor. The traveler on landing is beset by two contrary emotions, caused by the exorbitant demands of the boatmen and the carters, and the immense and rather unwonted relief at finding no custom-house, — no officials in dirty livery to turn the contents of his trunk inside out; that, in a word, although under the Spanish yellow and scarlet flag, Santa Cruz is a free port. In 1852 this island, with those adjoining, obtained permission from the home government to abolish all duties on goods entering the Canaries, provided that they made up any deficit that might result to the revenues of the crown from the adoption of this measure. The commerce of the islands since then has been tolerably prosperous, and the importers have thriven on free trade; but lest the advocates of free trade should cite this as a proof of the truth of their theories, it is only fair to add that the deficit in the national revenues has never been made up, and already amounts to millions, the possible collection of which is held over the people as a rod of terror, while the taxes have been so increased in proportion by the home government as to cause much grumbling among the landed proprietors and peasantry, besides no small degree of hardship.
The English hotel, I found, had been recently closed for lack of patronage ; it was therefore with dread that I turned to the Spanish fonda kept by Durvun, adjoining the captain - general’s, but I was agreeably disappointed to find a comfortable and well-sustained hotel. Santa Cruz is not the only place of that name in the Spanish dominions; there are several in the Canaries alone, including two on the island of Teneriffe; but this one is the most important town of the group, numbering some eight thousand inhabitants. Las Palmas in Gran Canaria contains twice the population, but is of less relative consequence. Santa Cruz de Teneriffe is regularly laid out on a gradual slope, flanked by sterile, volcanic precipices and ravines, not so near, however, as to justify Humboldt’s statement that it lies under a perpendicular wall of rock, unless his words are accepted in a figurative sense. Lest the people should forget the name of their city, a massive marble cross stands at the head of the Plaza de Constitucion, near the jetty. The houses are often of only one story, and rarely more than two, though a partial third story is not uncommon in the form of a tower surmounted by a terrace. The roofs are flat and offer a pleasant promenade in the cool of the evening. The dwellings are generally in the form of a hollow square, m Eastern style; one would not suspect this from their appearance on the street. From the outer door, which is always open until late at night, one passes through a passage, corresponding in length with the width of the rooms, to the inner door, which gives into the patio or court, open to the sky, and frequently planted with bananas, orange-trees, roses, and jessamines. Around the patio on the groundfloor are store-rooms and offices; the family occupy the next floor, the rooms opening upon verandas overlooking the court. A cluster of small bells is attached to the inner door. When a visitor arrives he pushes it open; the bells sound the alarm, and a shrill voice answers above, “ Qui e' ? ” (Who is it?) Should there be no bells the visitor claps his hands. As in Las Palmas, there are a number of the lower class who live in caves in the outskirts of the town. The Guanehes or aborigines were troglodytes. At Gran Canaria remains of stone dwellings still exist, but the Guanehes of Teneriffe seem to have been uniformly troglodytes, and the custom of turning the numerous air vents or caves of this volcanic soil into dwellings has not yet been quite abandoned. Some of them have been improved by face walls and other “ modern improvements,” but their essential character as cave dwellings is unchanged. The windows of all the houses in Teneriffe deserve especial mention. A massive frame like a box fits into the aperture, but unlike an ordinary casement projects some inches from the wall. The blinds are heavily paneled with square bevels, and in the lower half of each is a smaller blind swinging out from below. This is called the postigillo, and plays a most important part in the uneventful lives of the inhabitants, especially the female portion of the community. Is any unwonted sound heard in the street, up go the postigillos. Early in the day, women with frowzy tresses and children just out of bed, scarcely awake and entirely unwashed, lean languidly on the sill and gaze at the passerby behind the postigillo. Later in the day the dark - eyed señorita, her toilet completed, shoots dangerous glances from behind this convenient ambush, and perhaps drops it suddenly just as one begins to realize the charms it coyly reveals. In the evening the lover converses with her, standing under the half-raised blind of the magic postigillo, while she, seated on the window-seat, leans her round arm on the sill, and listens to the passionate words he utters in low tones, and perhaps with her fan coquets with another admirer across the street.
The Plaza de Principe in the centre of the town is very pretty, inclosing a fountain, and embowered with plane and pepper trees. It is the great resort on fine evenings, and few others ever occur, A band of music plays very tolerably, although the romantic guitar tinkling in the side streets is more in consonance with the hour and the clime. One is surprised to see so many handsome ladies in so small a place. They invariably wear that most graceful of all headcoverings, the mantilla, either black or white, and of lace or silk. The ladies of Teneriffe, having found a graceful costume for the head, are sensible enough to know when they are well off, and do not change it. Not until half past eight does the band begin to play; it continues until eleven, when the “ serenos” take up the cry in turn. This is the humorous sobriquet applied to the night watchmen or police, who every half hour sing out, often very musically, “ Ave Maria purissima ! ” then they give the hour and end with “ sereno ” (all serene); hence the epithet; for so almost invariable is the weather, it very rarely occurs that it is necessary for the watchmen to alter the cry, and sometimes when it is actually storming they still from habit shout “ Sereno! ”
But to linger long in Santa Cruz when the valley of Orotava is yet unseen and unexplored is unpardonable. An excellent carriage - road connects the two places, and the distance is about twentyfive miles. The island itself is something over fifty miles long, and Orotava is on the northern coast, I therefore started one fine May morning forthe valley Humboldt considered the most perfect spot he had seen in all his travels. We began to ascend immediately towards the ridge at whose Summit, three thousand feet above the sea, lies that quaint and sleepy old town, Laguna, of all drowsy places one of the most peaceful and somnolent. It was once the capital of the island. Wealth was in its borders. Marquises, counts, and other dons here dwelt in considerable splendor. The adelantado, or first viceroy, reigned here, and his palace, built over four hundred years ago, still remains. But now the grass grows rank in the streets of Laguna; the houseleek is abundant, springing from the mossy tiles of the dilapidated roofs and the crevices of the forsaken jalousies. Stately gate-ways are walled up and “ the spider hath woven her web in the palaces of Afrasiab.” However, on account of her exceptionally cool and moist climate, Laguna continues a resort in summer for those who desire to exchange the parched air of Santa Cruz for a more bracing atmosphere. Even in summer mists and rain are not uncommon there, with abundant breezes, while the charming meadow lands and intervales surrounded by sharp peaks commanding wonderful prospects over land and sea, in the midst of which the little city is situated, afford a limitless variety of charming rambles. But then your true Canary Islander is not much of a rambler. A slight infusion of Anglo-Saxon blood is essential to develop the rambling propensity.
The peasants of Laguna still retain one of the ancient costumes of the island. White drawers cover the whole leg; over these breeches of blue cloth come down nearly to the knee, bound with a scarlet cord, but so slashed or cut away over the hips that the garment really consists of little more than flaps in front and behind, resembling the cuisses of steel armor. Formerly every village had its own dress, some of them very picturesque, but excepting in the more remote districts, like Chasna and Icod, they are gradually passing away. In some of the other islands many curious garbs are still in common use. In Teneriffe the country women invariably wear a white cloth to protect the head and neck, or a shawl extending down the hack, evidently to protect the spine from the sun; over this a straw or felt hat is also de rigueur. The men of the lower classes wear a blanket cloak, that swells out in stiff and unwieldy barrel-like rotundity, and is absurd enough when the mercury is at eighty. The purchase of one of these cloaks is a matter of great importance, as certain qualities enter into its composition without which it is simply useless to offer it for sale over any counter in Teneriffe. It must be white, white as snow, although immediately after purchasing it the wearer will perhaps fling it in the dirt, and it will never henceforward be other than a dingy brown. It must have a blue stripe, with a narrower one of the same color on each side near the lower edge; it must be of uniform thickness, — a thin spot would ruin it, — and the nap must run one way and that downwards, in order to make it water-proof. These and other conditions are required by the Medo-Persian inflexibility of public opinion among the peasantry of Teneriffe.
We passed many women carrying on their heads boxes containing the cochineal bug, which they had bought in Santa Cruz and were taking to the north side to put on the plant; as is generally known, the cochineal deposits its young on the leaf of the cactus. The mothers are laid in thin cambric bags or on rags, which are then wrapped around the plant and left on until the bug is deposited on the leaf. After reaching maturity the bugs are scraped off and dried in an oven or in the air. Much of the island is covered with cactus, and two crops of cochineal are gathered in many places; but the beauty of the landscape is marred by the unsightly fields of cactus bound with white rags. The cochineal, originally introduced from Mexico by an enterprising priest who was stoned to death by the peasants for injuring, as they supposed, a plant whose prickly pear supplies them with a staple food, became a source of large profit at a time when the disease of the vines cut off the wine crop. But the discovery of aniline colors has greatly reduced the price of cochineal, although they can never altogether supersede the little insect from which are obtained the most exquisite red dyes known in modern times. The deficiency that might result in the commerce of the islands is at present partially made up by an increasing production of onions and potatoes, which are largely exported to the West Indies. The climate allows three crops of potatoes annually. The cultivation of the vine is also in a measure reviving, and perhaps three thousand pipes of various sorts were made at the last vintage; the annual yield was formerly over thirty thousand pipes. The best canary is, like the wines of warm climates, strong; it has a rich golden hue and a fine fruity flavor, although inferior to old port, or madeira.
The fig grows in Teneriffe abundantly, producing several excellent varieties. During the season the trees are frequented by the capirote, which, nestling in the dense shade and feeding on the fruit, gains inspiration for the exquisite strains which at every hour of the day add the charm of melody to the loveliness that meets the eye at every turn. The notes of the capirote rival those of the mocking-bird and the nightingale in variety and richness, and it can be easily tamed and taught to imitate the notes of other birds; but this modest, pearl-tinted little songster is so sensitive that all attempts to acclimate it in other countries have failed.
After leaving Laguna we saw many palms, sometimes in clusters; but neither there nor in other parts of Teneriffe do they reach full size, or produce dates fit to eat; they give an Oriental aspect to the landscape, which is heightened by the camels that one encounters on the road. But camels are less employed in the island than formerly, and like those of Lancerote are scarcely tame. It is not uncommon for them to charge furiously upon men, not even respecting their masters. I have heard that people have been killed in the Canaries by camels. This certainly belies the reputation for meekness that they have earned in Eastern lands.
Our road beyond Laguna lay by the sea, or rather at a height of two or three thousand feet above it, sometimes on the brow of a slope approaching a precipice, or again separated from the deep blue ocean below by a valley studded with hamlets. At noon we stopped at the village of Matanzas to lunch and bait the horses. Matanza means “ slaughter” in Spanish, and the name was given to the place in memory of the severest drubbing the Spaniards ever received, in proportion to the numbers engaged on each side. Jean de Betancourt, a Norman lord, having heard of the distant Canary Islands, and moved by the roving impulse inherited from his ancestors, set out to visit and perhaps conquer them. Finding no Frenchmen ready to accompany him, he went to Spain, where he was joined by a cousin, who induced some Spanish adventurers to embark on the galleys of Betancourt. The history of the subsequent conquest by Betancourt and his successors, and of the singular people they found and subdued in those islands, is full of romance and interest. Lancerote was the first island seized; Grand Canary was subjugated only after seventy-seven years of heroic defense on the part of a people who were not destitute of some civilization, who displayed many magnanimous traits of character, and who yielded at last only when their king had been seized by treachery, and when their numbers were reduced to five hundred. Teneriffe was not even visited until after all the other islands of the group had come under the Spanish yoke. There are grounds for believing that the Fortunate isles were colonized by exiles of war, expelled from Barbary in Roman times; aside from traditions to this effect, there are many dialectic analogies between their language and that of the Berbers, as well as resemblances in customs. But the natives of Teneriffe differed so much in language and customs from those of the other islands as to throw great doubt on their origin. Some stones have recently been discovered in Hierro and Las Palmas bearing sculptured symbols similar to those found on the shores of Lake Superior. This has led M. Bertholet, the enthusiastic historiographer of the islands, to the conclusion that the first inhabitants of the Canaries and those of the great West were one in race. Although he has arrived at this result rather hastily, as it would seem, when one considers the universality of some of the ancient symbols, there is apparently some reason to urge further investigations of the subject. The colonizing of Teneriffe in Roman times by exiles may have been secondary to a previous occupation. In those primitive days communication between the islands was rare, and it is even asserted that boats were unknown there. Only to the tribes of Teneriffe does the term Guanche apply, although often given to those of the other islands. The island was divided among nine chiefs or kings, and there was a complete organization or feudal system, composed of a wealthy class and of serfs who took charge of the flocks, which formed the riches of the island. The code of laws, though unwritten, was well defined and strictly administered. One of the upper class who so far lowered himself as to milk a goat was degraded to vassalage, but capital punishment was not allowed. Wars were common, chiefly regarding boundaries; the weapons were elaborately carved, and the arrow and spear heads were made of obsidian. The food of all classes was generally gofio, a palatable mixture composed of corn, ground in hand - mills, kneaded with salt and milk, or cheese, and then baked in the skin of a kid. This dish is still almost universal among the peasantry of Teneriffe. The Guanches drank no cold wafer for half an hour after eating, to avoid injuring the teeth. After death the Guanche was embalmed and sewed up in a tanned goat skin and deposited in one of the numerous caves with which the island abounds. Four or five mummies, one of them a princess, the other the remains of a Guarnateme or chief of Teyde in Gran Canaria, are preserved, with a few other Guanche relics, spears, hand-mills, leather pitchers, and the like, in a small private museum which I visited at Tacaronte. But the mummies have otherwise been wantonly destroyed wherever found by the peasantry, who regard them with superstitious dread. Some were discovered in a cave at Santa Lucia while I was at Teneriffe, and were immediately broken up. There are mummies still known by tradition to exist in caves on the edge of precipices, especially at Guimar, and inaccessible unless one chooses to be lowered a thousand feet by a rope. The bodies were thus let down and deposited on ledges in the cave mouth where they probably remain to this day.
In 1492 the Spaniards made a landing at Teneriffe; they were peaceably received, and were permitted to remain and construct a fort. But the Spaniards having been guilty of a gross breach of faith, the honest Guanehes were so irritated that they arose and swept fort and garrison out of existence. Naturally infuriated at the conduct of barbarians so simple as to be exasperated by mere perfidy, Alonzo de Lugo landed one thousand men the following year, and, as the natives were taken by surprise, was able to scour the land as far as Orotava. But the chief of that valley sent forward three hundred men under his brother to waylay the Spaniards on their return, while he bestirred himself to rouse the rest of the island. At Matanzas, alluded to above, the invaders were attacked, and although armed with mail and arquebuses they were put to rout, losing not less than six hundred men in the battle, or rather slaughter. On reaching the coast Alonzo de Lugo was again attacked, losing one fourth of his remaining force, and thought himself happy to be able to reëmbark with only three hundred out of the thousand men with which he had landed a few days previously. Nothing daunted, however, Alonzo de Lugo reappeared at Teneriffe with a still larger force, and now the Guanches displayed a common sense rare in history. The leading chief of the island reasoned that although he might be able to cope with the army just landed, it must be of little ultimate use; for an enemy who, after such a disastrous defeat, could so soon put a larger army into the field must by sheer force of numbers gradually wear out the limited population of Teneriffe. The wisest plan therefore seemed to be to submit while it was still in their power to impose certain conditions, of course accepting Christianity, without doing which they would all have been roasted. By the influence of this king all the island was brought to submit to the Spaniards ; Alonzo de Lugo became adelantado, leaving a large posterity to transmit his name, and the Guanches instead of being exterminated were absorbed into the Spanish race. But the peasant of the western parts of the island still shows the lineaments of a race that peopled these islands before the Goth had issued from the north, or the Saracen from the south, to form in Iberia the present race of Spain. Until quite recently Guanches of purely aboriginal blood were still to be found at Chasna.
While we have been glancing briefly at the history of the conquest, the bony horses, three abreast, and well-nigh devoured by the flies, which it must be confessed are sufficiently numerous to amount to a plague in Teneriffe, have carried us past Sausal, where the peak should burst on the sight, revealing its proportions as from no other part of the island. But the peak was concealed in dense layers of the trade-wind cloud, and continued so for ten days after my arrival. This sublime prospect was therefore reserved for my return, as the final picture in a succession of magnificent scenes which were revealed one by one, during my sojourn at Orotava. Could I have arranged everything with the purpose of producing the most effective impression, it could not have been better devised. Five hours brought us to the valley of Orotava, although another hour or two was required to complete the journey to the fonda at the puerto, which can be reached only on donkey or horse back. Situated three hundred feet above the sea, Mrs. Turnbull’s comfortable little boarding-house is perhaps too inconveniently located for transient visitors, but for those who, either for pleasure or health, desire to spend delicious days of poetic indolence gazing on the noble prospect, — the mountains and the valley, and the sea that lashes the volcanic beach from age to age, — a more admirable situation could scarcely be selected. As regards climate, the temperature at that height cannot be surpassed on this imperfect planet of ours. The trade-winds, which are hardly felt at the sea-level, there impart a reviving coolness to the air of midsummer. Fiftyeight degrees Fahrenheit is the lowest the mercury falls in winter. From sixtyeight to seventy-two degrees is the average height it reaches in summer. In the puerto below, the glass descends to sixtyfour in the house in winter, and never rises above eighty. Add to this that the climate is dry, — more so than that of the Bahamas or Madeira, both celebrated resorts for invalids, — and the winds moderate. Santa Cruz is generally too warm, although the heat is not so much excessive as steady, while Laguna, to which residents of the island resort in summer for a more bracing air, is perhaps too damp and windy for invalids who come from abroad; but Orotava seems to combine all that is desirable from a sanitary point of view for those who are afflicted with pulmonary complaints, rheumatism, or neuralgia in its protean forms; also perhaps for those wasting away with that terrible malady, Bright’s disease, if they can endure the voyage, which can be made in eight or nine days from Liverpool, or in three or four days from Cadiz or Gibraltar, between all of which ports and Santa Cruz steamers run regularly.
The valley of Orotava is more properly a slope than a valley. From the crater of the Cañadas a central ridge runs to Anaga Point. From this ridge where it meets the Cañadas a magnificent bastion, called Mount Tigayga, stretches for several miles like a stupendous wall on one side of the slope, throwing out into the valley buttresses of astonishing grandeur, often nearly vertical for thousands of feet; on the eastern side another mountain, nearly as sublime, bounds the slope. Between these two lateral mountains the celebrated valley of Orotava rises by a very gradual but unbroken ascent from the coast until it reaches the central ridge, some seven thousand feet above tlie sea. The shore sometimes terminates in abrupt precipices of lava and basalt, or in a rocky beach of slag, whitened forevermore by the surges of the hoarse Atlantic. Three miles from the coast lies Orotava, an ancient-looking town of seven thousand inhabitants. Here are houses quaint with dilapidation and a certain musty air of decayed splendor. It is still the residence of certain Spanish families of title — counts, marquises, and dons of high and low degree. A church of some architectural merit, but incomplete, occupies a prominent position, and some of the gardens of the place are stocked with exotics. I observed here a very pretty custom, common in other towns of the island, but seen in its perfection at Orotava. On the fête days of the church the streets through which the procession passes are strewn with carpets of flowers. This is done by gathering the petals of various brilliant flowers into separate baskets. A mold is laid on the pavement representing the pattern. In one compartment rose petals are dropped, in another marigold, in another violet, and so on. All the divisions - having been filled with petals, an inch deep, the mold is carefully removed, and a most beautiful painting appears, magnificent as the richest of stained-glass windows. Before private houses the ladies sometimes assist in this pious ami poetic art, which, as may be easily understood, would be impossible in a land where flowers are scarce or where the winds are rude. In the garden of the Marquis of Sausal are the remains of what was once considered on the highest authority to be the oldest tree in the world, the famous dragon - tree of Orotava. Five thousand years was the least age that could be assigned to it. It was over eighty feet high and of enormous circumference, but had been reduced to a mere shell, although still green at the top and with a possibility of centuries yet before it. The marquis paid no heed to its decrepit condition, and the venerable patriarch was left without support. Six years ago a hurricane, the severest of the century, swept the island, and in that wild night, while the thunders raged, while the winds screamed over houses unroofed, while ships foundered with all on board, the old dragon-tree that had survived the fall of empires, and the earthquake-shocks and fiery torrents of volcanoes, at last went down. What relic hunters and fuel seekers — with shame be it said — have left of this patriarch now lies a crumbling heap of red bark and nothing more. The dragon-tree, so called from its red sap, formerly used as a dye, is common in the Canary Islands, and many very fine specimens of it are to be seen there.
Below the town is the celebrated botanic garden of Teneriffe, which would be more properly termed a garden of acclimation. Great hopes of its usefulness were entertained at its inception, but a larger experience and the extensive greenhouses put up more recently in northern climes have to a degree neutralized its value, although it is still well tended by the very intelligent superintendent, Mr. Wilpert. The Puerto de Orotava is a sleepy little village of about the same size as the town, but on the whole more cheerful, and with a certain amusing assumption of thrift, not to say bustle, about it during the onion and potato season, when the diminutive mole is piled with the bulbs, and the lighters row out through the narrow passage among the rocks and ride over the heavy swell, upon which the ships pitch and roll in a most uncomfortable manner, moored by the stern as well as the bow, and with the breakers often just under the quarter. The regularity of the winds makes accidents rare, but I should notwithstanding wish a ship well insured if I were to send her to Orotava for a cargo of onions. The number of crosses at the port, in shrines, on the house-walls, or over the gates, almost exceeds belief.
Three miles to the westward of the port is the Val Taoro, a regular depression of the slope, but with a steeper incline. Here is the extensive village of Realejo, very striking and picturesque. The women of this place are more fair and plump than most of the country women of Teneriffe, because, some say, of the wonderful air of the locality, and others because of their Norman descent. In the small church attached to the convent of San Francisco, here, is a carven cedar roof, exquisitely beautiful.
The flora of Teneriffe is said to be exceedingly rich; this, however, must be taken as implying variety in its botanic specimens rather than such a general luxuriance of verdure as is found in Madeira or Jamaica. The chestnut forests which once covered the valley have been largely cut down to make room for the culture of the cochineal; and the vestiges of volcanic action abounding on all sides in the form of streams of lava or slag, in dark-brown cliffs and mounds, and numerous walls and huge piles of lava stones of which the fields have to be cleared before they can be cultivated, together with long stretches of unsightly cactus or poisonous euphorbia, give the landscape an air of desolation. But these features are soon forgotten in the grander objects which Orotava presents. To appreciate the valley of Orotava one must give to it weeks and months of passive, reverent observation and reflection. It is not in the minute details but in its general effect that it should be regarded, like a painting executed broadly and leaving the imaginative mind to supply the details. So viewed, the majestic slope of Orotava, encircled by the mountains and the sea, wearing on its bosom its cluster of beautiful towns and robing itself in the vegetation of all climes, offers one of the most remarkable landscapes of the globe, if not indeed the most remarkable. Whether seen from Icod Alto on the brow of Tigayga, or from the opposite side, or from the beach, or from the town, it everywhere overwhelms one more and more with its matchless magnificence and sublimity. The last time I saw it from the shore was at sunset. Not a cloud obscured the vast amphitheatre before me. The upper heights were bathed in purple. Beyond Tigayga, far up in the blue, the white cone of the peak towered in regal solitude, a wreath of golden clouds above its head and seemingly ablaze in the ruddy glow of the sun dropping below the ocean’s verge. Purple shadows crept over the lower part of the slope until they gradually mantled the ridges of Tigayga and the Cañadas. But long after, like a star in the firmament, the extreme summit of the Piton gleamed alone in the heavens.
From Orotava I made a trip to Icod, distant twenty miles to the westward. The road was remarkable only for its rugged, not to say dangerous character. We scaled the lower heights of Tigayra, and passing the village of Guanche reached Icod towards evening. The volcanic desolations through which we had picked our way moderated somewhat as we approached the little place, and it was almost with surprise I found myself in a well-built, picturesque town with considerable pretensions to beauty. The situation is certainly very fine. The view of the peak is the chief object of interest at Icod, and one who has never ascended it can obtain a better idea of the cone from Icod than from the valley of Orotava. There is in the garden adjoining the fonda, at Icod, the oldest and noblest dragon-tree now known to exist; it is in excellent condition, and can hardly be less than three thousand years old. Another object of interest is the cave of the Guanches, close to the town. A formidable supply of pitch-pine fagots having been prepared, I followed the guide through a crevice so low that one must enter it on his knees. The cave is long and narrow, generally from ten to fifteen feet high, but sometimes so low that we were forced to crawl; it is also so regular in its width as to seem like an artificial subterranean passage. After walking a third of a mile in darkness, a gleam of light was seen at last, and we reached the Other end of the cave. Here it widened to a moderate-sized hall, and remains of mummies were to be seen on the ground and in crevices in the wall. Although there were some dusky rays of light here, there was no exit. The light came from a low aperture, which, by creeping face to the ground, I was able to reach. I put my head out and found myself directly over a lofty precipice at the foot of which the ocean dashed with unceasing roar. Burial place more impressive could hardly be imagined.
Three miles beyond Icod is Guarachico, which once owned the finest harbor in the Canaries and was a city of commercial importance. But two centuries ago the town was overwhelmed by volcanic eruptions and the port filled up with a torrent of lava; a little fishing village now stands where the former port was. Guanche was written on the face of most of the peasants I saw in that district. On Corpus Christi day they were all out, and I had a good opportunity of observing them. It may be added that the fonda at Icod is very comfortable and visitors are not badly entertained. The return by a lower road along the coast, through the villages of Santa Caterina, La Rambla, and San Juan de la Rambla, was very pleasing; the road, although fearfully bad, offers many striking views and objects of interest. Before leaving Orotava I ascended the peak of Teyde. It was towards the last of May, but still somewhat earlier than it is usually attempted, and mine was therefore the first ascent of the season. The number who go up the peak during the year is always very limited, perhaps a dozen, and generally they are travelers from abroad who come there expressly for that purpose. The difficulty of the undertaking and lack of enterprise deter most of the residents from trying it. The muleteer and guide were my only companions. We started at five in the morning. My mule, when I mounted him, acted in a manner that aroused grave suspicions as to his character, and his subsequent conduct during this and the following day confirmed my suspicions. The sumpter-mule generally comported himself with propriety. Not only the mules but also the horses of Teneriffe bear a very bad reputation. We passed through Realejo up the Val Taora, and for several thousand feet the ascent was moderate, although the road soon degenerated into a rough bridle-path. At a height of three thousand feet we entered the stratum of trade-wind cloud, which continued to conceal all objects from view except those in the immediate vicinity and at the same time tempered the heat of the sun. This continued up to nearly six thousand feet above the sea, when we suddenly emerged and saw the vast sheet of cloud spread like a snowy table-land between the island and the offing. The entire absence of running streams, and the perfect stillness of the air, — undisturbed by the music of woodland water-falls or any other appreciable sound, except now and then the voices of peasants descending the mountain under their loads of brushwood, — became very noticeable soon after we left Realejo.
Five thousand feet up we left behind all traces of vegetation except grass and ferns. The ferns kept us company until we reached the stratum of heather, as it may be called; after a while the heather became scarce and the retama began to appear, until at a height of seven thousand feet nothing green was to be seen but tufts of retama. The retama is a species of broom peculiar to the Canary Islands; that of Teneriffe is again a distinct kind found nowhere else, and never there below six thousand feet above the sea. It reminds one alternately of the yew and the cedar, reaching a very good size sometimes, although diminishing in growth as one ascends the mountain. In summer it is covered with clusters of white flowers.
The approach to the Cañadas grew more and more rugged and sterile, Pumice-stone, volcanic rocks, and lava towers became more frequent, until we finally scaled the slope which seemed to keep us still within sight and sound and reach of life, and entered the vast crater called the Cañadas, on the eastern side, where its sides are most broken. The plan, the formation, of the peak now fur the first time became clear and intelligible to me. We found ourselves on the floor of a crater ten miles in diameter, thirty miles in circumference, circular but elliptical in shape. This floor is covered with yellow pumice-stone, generally level, with here and there a moderate depression, and resembling in barrenness, atmospheric dryness, and concentration of heat a section of the. desert of Sahara. Around it rise the sides of the crater, sufficiently distinct in form to convey the idea of a surrounding wall, sometimes springing aloft in splintered perpendicular peaks. The soft purple hues of these crater walls and battlements, contrasted with the sea of glaring pumice-stone, was very beautiful. Near the centre of the Cañadas the great cone swells abruptly with a dome-like outline, resembling in its preportions the peculiar curve of the cupola of St. Sophia, although certainly more steep as seen from some points. The great dome is supported on the cast side by the Montañna Blanca, a huge mound covered with pumice-stone, rising like a buttress from the Cañadas. Vast cataracts of brown and black lava, solidified into permanent forms, corrugate the sides of the peak. The peak or dome rises over four thousand feet above the Cañadas, and terminates in another crater called the Rambleta. Out of the Rumbleta rises the little peak of Teyde or Eeheyde, also called the Piton, six hundred feet higher, conical and at an angle excessively steep, terminating in a point and a third diminutive crater, above which we discerned very distinctly, against the blue sky, thin columns of white vapor shooting up with an uncertain motion, like tongues of white flame from a smoldering fire.
Such was the scene before us as we entered the Cañadas, majestic, solitary, desolate, beyond the power of language to describe. It seemed best before going further to fortify ourselves for the additional labors of the day with a substantial lunch; and in the absence of other shade we took shelter in the shadow of one of the great rocks which strew the Cañadas, — a mystery to scientific experts, although nothing seemed plainer to me than that they must have rolled down from the lava torrents on the slope of the peak.
A long and hot, but not tedious ride over the Cañadas and the Montaña Blanca at length brought us to the foot of the peak and to a serious consideration of the task yet to be accomplished. Rugged Plutonian ridges of black lava, warmed here and there by brown slag or gleaming in the sun like glass where a mass, breaking off, had left a smooth surface, rose above us like some Titanic fortress. A very severe climb brought us to the Estancia de los Ingleses, over ten thousand feet above the sea. Here are some rocks so clustered as to afford a shelter, so that it is generally the spot where travelers halt for the night. It has been called after the English, because they furnish the largest number of visitors to the peak.
As daylight was yet abundant, I concluded to abridge the labors of the morrow by ascending a thousand feet higher and spending the night at Alta Vista, a plateau two or three acres in extent, occupied by Prof. Piozzi Smyth when engaged in taking astronomical observations at Teneriffe in 1856. He spent several weeks on Guajara, and then removed to Alta Vista, where he pursued his labors for a month. The numerous corps of attendants at his disposal enabled him to erect two little huts there, but few vestiges of these now remain to indicate that human beings ever occupied that lonely height. The retama, which had been growing more and more scarce, ceased together with all other signs of vegetation soon after we left the Estaneia, and we were obliged to carry up bits of dry retama to our halting place for the fire which was indispensable. A fragment of one of Professor Smyth’s walls afforded a partial shelter; on the other side a black mass of slag contributed its aid, but roof of course, there was none. The fire was soon going, but the water the muleteers had brought was so muddy we should have been poorly off for tea if there had not been a bank of snow within a dozen feet of the fire. With melted snow a delicious cup of tea was brewed very soon, but it was noticeable how rapidly it cooled at that height.
Below us lay the yellow floor of the Cañadas; beyond that, the stratum of trade-wind clouds; and below these, the sea fading into the sky. Around us circled masses of lava presenting an astonishing, singularly grotesque variety of form; here a ridge of Moorish battlements; there a gigantic goat standing against the sky as if startled and on the alert; then it seemed a dragon or a griffin sculptured out of lava that met the eye. As the view was unobstructed towards the east, we saw the shadow of the peak thrown across the sea at sunset; the color of the shadow was of the most exquisite purple, delicate and elusive at the edges, but at the same time very impressive. Twilight was soon over, and the full moon suddenly appeared. A low wind from the eastward now began to blow, increasing until it became a gale, boisterous and gusty, the blasts coming sometimes from every quarter at once, as it seemed to us. This wind continued all night, intensely searching and violent; the muleteers tended the fire, and bent over it wrapped in their huge mantles. Two blankets, two coats and an overcoat, two pairs of pantaloons, and a carpet under and over me were insufficient to drive away the sensation of cold, and I slept not a wink all night. Soon after three A. M. we took some tea, and by the light of a lantern started for the summit. We entered immediately on the Malpays, which can only he described as a mass of lava blocks, from one to twenty feet long, but generally not above five feet square, of all shapes, heaped together in the most inconceivable manner, whose like is probably to be found nowhere else. Often there were holes into which one might easily fall several feet. The stones were piled one over the other to a considerable depth, and great caution was required in springing from one to the other, especially with only the dim glimmer of a lantern to guide us. After climbing up a thousand feet over this volcanic débris we came again in sight of the little peak, and passing some vents, through which issued jets of vapor, emerged on the Rambleta, or second crater, which is covered with pumice-stone; we were soon across this and grappled with the Piton, which is not less steep than the largest of the pyramids, but probably contains twice the number of cubic feet. It is about six hundred feet in height, chiefly of pumice-stone, with bits of rock projecting here and there and serving as resting-places for the climber. When we were half-way up, the sun burst suddenly above the sea, apparently out of, instead of beyond it. The variety and beauty of the tints in the lower sky at the time were very remarkable. The peculiar golden-yellow glow thrown by the sun on the tradewind clouds directly under it, which lasted for two hours, was such as I have seen under no other circumstances, nor does it appear to have been observed by other travelers.
This part of the ascent was very fatiguing. Humboldt said that Teneriffe was, with the exception of Jurullo in Mexico, the hardest mountain he had ever ascended. He did not exaggerate the difficulties. Professor Smyth rather takes him to task for this, unreasonably as I think, for the professor did not undertake it until he had seasoned his lungs to the rarefied air on Guajara for six weeks. He then spent some days at Alta Vista; and after a capital night’s rest, without having wasted his energies on the previous day in climbing, went up to the Rambleta. There he ate a hearty breakfast before attempting the little peak, and then, after all this preparation and training, he undertakes to assure us that Humboldt, a veteran mountain climber, overestimated the difficulties of Teneriffe.
While we were still over one hundred feet from the summit, a gust of wind suddenly brought the fumes of sulphur so strongly from the crater that for a moment I was almost overcome by it; but as we neared the top the oppression grew less, a phenomenon I find it difficult to explain. The crater which fitly terminates the celebrated peak of TenerifTe is perhaps seventy yards in diameter, with a rim abrupt and sharp, but rather lower on the western side. It appears to be gradually filling up. Professor Smyth twenty years ago observed that it was more shallow than described by Humboldt or Van Buck, and the floor seems now still more elevated; I say elevated, for that must be the process, since there is nothing from outside to account for the decreasing depth. The different tints of the stones in or on the edge of the crater are varied and beautiful, but the prevailing colors which strike the eye are the straw yellow and pale green of the sulphur, which lies in separate masses or covers the rocks with moist sulphur crystals. Vapor constantly arose from the bottom of the crater, and the soil was warm although a little snow still lingered in the crevices. The wind was keen and violent. The sky above was unclouded and of a deep azure; this intense hue of the heavens has been the subject of philosophical speculation, but it was not as dark and opaque as I have repeatedly seen it at the top of Pico Riuvo and other mountains of Madeira, which have only half the altitude of TenerifTe. Several thousand feet below us the impenetrable curtain of trade-wind cloud was spread like a frozen land at the pole, and like the sea dovetailing with the land, filling every bay and inlet, and dashing surf-like against the cliffs, yet calm and noiseless, altering its forms so slowly as to be imperceptible. The higher ridges towered above it like islands, while here and there slopes could be seen below it, but veiled in a dark purple gloom that seemed to isolate them from the rest of the world forever. Beyond this cloud-land arose the edge of the ocean joining the sky by an invisible line, two hemispheres uniting to inclose the island and its peak within an azure sphere. The trade-wind caused a haze which concealed several of the Fortunate Isles, but Grand Canary, Hierro, Gomera, and Las Palmas with its astonishing outline, containing the deepest crater on the face of the globe, were quite distinct. In winter, when other winds prevail, the whole group is clearly seen, but few have ever cared to ascend the peak when deep snows envelop it with almost arctic austerity.
On returning over the Malpays wo stopped to examine the ice cave, where alone on the mountain snow and water can be found at all times of the year. It would seem to be a sort of vent or air bubble in the lava, made when it was at its hottest. On reaching our bivouac we breakfasted as well as the circumstances would allow, and then packed up the “ traps ” and prepared to go. But the unexpected conduct of the mules delayed us for nearly two hours, incredible as it may appear. Three times my mule kicked off his saddle, which, after the girths were torn to pieces, was with great difficulty made fast by a bit of rope. To mount the brute was about as difficult as to saddle him. The snmpter - mule also astonished us by suddenly laying hack his ears, throwing up his heels with a snort that was quite satanic in its tone, and flinging the basket of crockery and provisions over his head. Plates, bottles, and cups were demolished in the general wreck. However, I finally succeeded in reaching Orotava without further mishap than a face burned almost beyond recognition by the winds of the peak and the scorching sun of the Canadas.
S. G. W. Benjamin.