St Jago

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At about 11 oclock we neared the Western coast of St Jago & by about three we anchored in the bay of Porto Praya.St Jago viewed from the sea is even much more desolate than the land about Santa Cruz.The Volcanic fire of past ages & the scorching heat of a tropical sun have in most places rendered the soil sterile & unfit for vegetation.- The country rises in successive steps of table land, interspersed by some truncate conical hills, & the horizon is bounded by an irregular chain of more lofty & bolder hills.The scene when viewed through the peculiar atmosphere of the tropics was one of great interest: if indeed a person fresh from sea & walking for the first time in a grove of Cocoa-nut trees, can be a judge of anything but his own happiness.- At three oclock I went with a party to announce our arrival to the "Governador".- After having found out the house, which certainly is not suited to the grandeur of his title we were ushered into a room where the great man most courteously received us.After having made out our story in a very ludicrous mixture of Portuguese, English & French, we retreated under a shower of bows.We then called on the American Consul who likewise acts for the English.The Portugeese might with great advantage have instilled a little of his well-bred politesse into this quarter.I was surprised at the houses: the rooms are large & airy, but with uncommonly little furniture, & that little in vile taste.


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We then strolled about the town, & feasted upon oranges: which I believe are now selling a hundred per shilling. I likewise tasted a Banana: but did not like it, being maukish & sweet with little flavor.The town is a miserable place, consisting of a square & some broard streets, if indeed they deserve so respectable a name.In the middle of these "Ruas" are lying together goats, pigs & black & brown children: some of whom boast of a shirt, but quite as many not: these latter look less like human being than I could have fancied any degradation could have produced.- There are a good many black soldiers, it would be difficult I should think to pick out a less efficient body of men.Many of them only possess for arms a wooden staff.Before returning to our boat, we walked across the town & came to a deep valley.- Here I first saw the glory of tropical vegetation. Tamarinds, Bananas & Palms were flourishing at my feet.I expected a good deal, for I had read Humboldts descriptions & I was afraid of disappointments: how utterly vain such fear is, none can tell but those who have seen experienced what I to day have.It is not only the gracefulness of their forms or the novel richness of their colours, it is the numberless & confusing associations that rush together on the mind that& produces the effect.- I returned to the shore, treading on Volcanic rocks, hearing the notes of unknown birds, & seeing new insects fluttering about still newer flowers.It has been for me a glorious day, like giving to a blind man eyes, --he is overwhelmed with what he sees & cannot justly comprehend it.Such are my feelings, & such may they remain.

Immediately after breakfast I went with the Captain to Quail Island.This is a miserable desolate spot, less than a mile in circumference. It is intended to fix here the observatory & tents; & will of course be a sort of head quarters to us.Uninviting as its first appearance was, I do not think the impression this day has made will ever leave me.The first examining of Volcanic rocks must to a Geologist be a memorable epoch, & little less so to the naturalist is the first burst of admiration at seeing Corals growing on their native rock.- Often whilst at Edinburgh, have I gazed at the little pools of water left by the tide: & from the minute corals of our own shore pictured to myself those of larger growth: little did I think how exquisite their beauty is & still less did I expect my hopes of seeing them would ever be realized.And in what a manner has it come to pass, never in the wildest castles in the air did I imagine so good a plan; it was beyond the bounds of the little reason that such day-dreams require.After having selected a series of geolog. specimens & collected numerous animals from the seaI sat myself down to a luncheon of ripe tamarinds & biscuit; the day was hot, but not much more so than the summers of England & the sun tried to make cheerful the dark rocks of St Jago.- The atmosphere was a curious mixture of haziness & clearnessdistant objects were blended together: but every angle & streak of colour was brightly visible at the short distance on the nearer rocks.

Let those who have seen the Andes be discontented with the scenery of St Jago. I think its unusually sterile character gives it a grandeur which more vegetation might have spoiled.I suppose the view is truly African, especially to our left, where some round sandy hills were only broken by a few stunted Palms. -- I returned to the ship heavily laden with my rich harvest, & have all evening been busily employed in examining its produce.

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This page contains a single entry by Charles Darwin published on January 17, 1832 12:45 PM.

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