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A WILD COUNTRT. 273
A wild Country.—Ascent of a Mountain.—Ride in a Silla.—A precarious Situation.—The Descent.—Rancho of Nopa.—Attacks of Moschetoes.—Approach to Palenque.—Pasture Grounds.—Village of Palenque.—A crusty Official.—A courteous Reception.—Scarcity of Provisions.—Sunday.—Cholera.—Another Countryman.—The Conversion, Apostacy, and Recovery of the Indians.—Rivet ChacainaL—The Caribs.—Ruins of Palenque.
Early the next morning the sugar party started, and at five minutes before seven we followed, with silla and men, altogether our party swelled to twenty Indians.
The country through which we were now travelling was as wild as before the Spanish conquest, and without a habitation until we reached Palenque. The road was through a forest so overgrown with brush and underwood as to be impenetrable, and the branches were trimmed barely high enough to admit a man's travelling under them on foot, so that on the backs of our mules we were constantly obliged to bend our bodies, and even to dismount. In some places, for a great distance around, the woods seemed killed by the heat, the foliage withered, the leaves dry and crisp, as if burned by the sun; and a tornado had swept the country, of which no mention was made in the San Pedro papers.
We met three Indians carrying clubs in their hands, naked except a small piece of cotton cloth around the loins and passing between the legs, one of them, young, tall, and of admirable symmetry of form, looking the fxeeborn gentleman of the woods. Shortly afterward we passed a stream, where naked Indians were setting rude nets for fish, wild and primitive as in the first ages of savage life.
At twenty minutes past ten we commenced ascending Vol. II.—Mi
the mountain. It was very hot, and I can give no idea of the toil of ascending these mountains. Our mules could barely clamber up with their saddles only. We disencumbered ourselves of sword, spurs, and all useless trappings; in fact,came down to shirt and pantaloons, and as near the condition of the Indians as we could. Our procession would have been a spectacle in Broadway. First were four Indians, each with a rough oxhide box, secured by an iron chain and large padlock, on his back; then Juan, with only a hat and pair of thin cotton drawers, driving two spare mules, and carrying a double-barrelled gun over his naked shoulders; then ourselves, each one driving before him or leading his own mule; then an Indian carrying the silla, with relief carriers, and several boys bearing small bags of provisions, the Indians of the silla being much surprised at our not using them according to contract and the price paid. Though toiling excessively, we felt a sense of degradation at being carried on a man's shoulders. At that time I was in the worst condition of the three, and the night before had gone to bed at San Pedro without supper, which for any of us was sure evidence of being in a bad way.
We had brought the silla with us merely as a measure of precaution, with much expectation of being obliged to use it; but at a steep pitch, which made my head almost burst to think of climbing, I resorted to it for the first time. It was a large, clumsy armchair, put together with wooden pins and bark strings. The Indian who was to carry me, like all the others, was small, not more than five feet seven, very thin, but symmetrically formed. A bark strap was tied to the arms of the chair, and, sitting down, he placed his back against the back of the chair, adjusted the length of the strings,
A PRECARIOUS SITUATION. 275
and smoothed the bark across his forehead with a little cushion to relieve the pressure. An Indian on each side lifted it up, and the carrier rose on his feet, stood still a moment, threw me up once or twice to adjust me on his shoulders, and set off with one man on each side. It was a great relief, but I could feel every movement, even to the heaving of his chest. The ascent was one of the steepest on the whole road. In a few minutes he stopped and sent forth a sound, usual with Indian carriers, between a whistle and a blow, always painful to my ears, but which I never felt so disagreeably before. My face was turned backward; I could not see where he was going, but observed that the Indian on the left fell back. Not to increase the labour of carrying me, I sat as still as possible; but in a few minutes, looking over my shoulder, saw that we were approaching the edge of a precipice more than a thousand feet deep. Here I became very anxious to dismount; but I could not speak intelligibly, and the Indians could or would not understand my signs. My carrier moved along carefully, with his left foot first, feeling that the stone on which he put it down was steady and secure before he brought up the other, and by degrees, after a particularly careful movement, brought both feet up within half a step of the edge of the precipice, stopped, and gave a fearful whistle and blow. I rose and fell with every breath, felt his body trembling under me, and his knees seemed giving way. The precipice was awful, and the slightest irregular movement on my part might bring us both down together. I would have given him a release in full for the rest of the journey to be off his back; but he started again, and with the same care ascended several steps, so close to the edge that even on the back of a muH it would have been very uncomfortable. My fear lest he should break down or stumble was excessive. To my extreme relief, the path turned away; but I had hardly congratulated myself upon my escape before he descended a few steps. This was much worse than ascending; if he fell, nothing could keep me from going over his head; but I remained till he put me down of his own accord. The poor fellow was wet with perspiration, and trembled in every limb. Another stood ready to take me up, but I had had enough. Pawling tried it, but only for a short time. It was bad enough to see an Indian toiling with a dead weight on his back; but to feel him trembling under one's own body, hear his hard breathing, see the sweat rolling down him, and feel the insecurity of the position, made this a mode of travelling which nothing but constitutional laziness and insensibility could endure. Walking, or rather climbing, stopping very often to rest, and riding when it was at all practicable, we reached a thatched shed, where we wished to stop for the night, but there was no water. We could not understand how far it was to Nopa, our intended stopping-place, which we supposed to be on the top of the mountain. To every question the Indians answered una legua. Thinking it could not be much higher, we continued. For an hour more we had a very steep ascent, and then commenced a terrible descent. At this time the sun had disappeared; dark clouds overhung the woods, and thunder rolled heavily on the top of the mountain. As we descended a heavy wind swept through the forest; the air was filled with dry leaves; branches were snapped and broken, trees bent, and there was every appearance of a violent tornado. To hurry down on foot was out of the question. We were so tired that it was impossible; and, afraid of
ATTACKS OF MoSCHETOES. 277
being caught on the mountain by a hurricane and deluge of rain, we spurred down as fast as we could go. It was a continued descent, without any relief, stony, and very steep. Very often the mules stopped, afraid to go on; and in one place the two empty mules bolted into the thick woods rather than proceed. Fortunately for the reader, this is our last mountain, and I can end honestly with a climax: it was the worst mountain I ever encountered in that or any other country, and, under our apprehension of the storm, I \vi.. venture to say that no travellers ever descended in less time. At a quarter before five we reached the plain. The mountain was hidden by clouds, and the storm was now raging above us. We crossed a river, and continuing along it through a thick forest, reached the rancho of Nopa.
It was situated in a circular clearing about one hundred feet in diameter, near the river, with the forest around so thick with brush and underwood that the mules could not penetrate it, and with no opening but for the passage of the road through it. The rancho was merely a pitched roof covered with palm-leaves, and supported by four trunks of trees. All around were heaps of snail-shells, and the ground of the rancho was several inches deep with ashes, the remains of fires for cooking them. We had hardly congratulated ourselves upon our arrival at such a beautiful spot, before we suffered such an onslaught of moschetoes as we had not before experienced in the country. We made a fire, and, with appetites sharpened by a hard day's work, sat down on the grass to dispose of a San Pedro fowl; but we were obliged to get up, and while one hand was occupied with eatables, use the other to brush off the venomous insects. We soon saw that we had