Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On the Trail of Charles Darwin

During a recent holiday in the Azores I visited the island of Terceira. Charles Darwin spent several days here during later part his trip aboard the HMS Beagle.  He made several interesting entries in his diary about the nature and culture of this enchanting island.  I participated in a 50 kilometer Charles Darwin bike tour, visiting the places that the young naturalist experienced on horseback and foot.  I have included an excerpt of Darwin's diary with photos and links.  The diary contains much more detail then The Voyage of the Beagle.  I have included a Google Earth link from Chapter 21 that included one point of interest in the Azores.

20th September 1836

Terceira, Azores
In the morning we were off the East end of the Island of Terceira, and a little after noon reached the town of Angra. The island is moderately lofty & has a rounded outline with detached conical hills evidently of volcanic origin.


The land is well cultivated, & is divided into a multitude of rectangular fields by stone walls, extending from the water's edge to high upon the central hills. There are few or no trees, & the yellow stubble land at this time of year gives a burnt up and unpleasant character to the scenery. Small hamlets & single white-washed houses are scattered in all parts. In the evening a party went on shore; 


We found the city a very clean & tidy little place, containing about 10,000 inhabitants, which includes nearly the fourth part of the total number on the island. 


















There are no good shops, & little signs of activity, excepting the intolerable creaking of an occasional bullock waggon. The churches are very respectable, & there were formerly a good many convents:


but Dom Pedro destroyed several; he levelled three nunneries to the ground, & gave permission to the nuns to marry, which, excepting by some of the very old ones, was gladly received. — Angra was formerly the capital of the whole archipelago, but it has now only one division of the islands under its government, and its glory has departed. The city is defended by a strong castle & line of batteries which encircle the base of Mount Brazil, an extinct volcano with sloping sides, which overlooks the town.



 — Terceira was the first place that received Dom Pedro, & from this beginning he conquered the other islands & finally Portugal. A loan was scraped together in this one island of no less than 400,000 dollars, of which sum not one farthing has ever been paid to these first supporters of the present right royal & honourable family.

21th September 1836
The next day the Consul kindly lent me his horse & furnished me with guides to proceed to a spot, in the centre of the island, which was described as an active crater. — Ascending in deep lanes, bordered on each side by high stone walls, for the three first miles, we passed many houses and gardens. We then entered on a very irregular plain country, consisting of more recent streams of hummocky basaltic lava. The rocks are covered in some parts by a thick brushwood about three feet high, and in others by heath, fern, & short pasture: a few broken down old stone walls completed the resemblance with the mountains of Wales. 

I saw, moreover, some old English friends amongst the insects, and of birds, the starling, water wagtail, chaffinch and blackbird. There are no houses in this elevated and central part, and the ground is only used for the pasture of cattle and goats. On every side, besides the ridges of more ancient lavas, there were cones of various dimensions, which yet partly retained their crater-formed summits, and where broken down showed a pile of cinders such as those from an iron foundry. — When we reached the so called craters, I found it a slight depression, or rather a short valley abutting against a higher range, and without any exit. The bottom was traversed by several large fissures, out of which, in nearly a dozen places, small jets of steam issued, as from the cracks in the boiler of a steam engine.

The steam close to the irregular orifices, is far too hot for the hand to endure it; — it has but little smell, yet from everything made of iron being blackened, and from a peculiar rough sensation communicated to the skin, the vapour cannot be pure, and I imagine it contains some muriatic add gas. — The effect on the surrounding trachytic lavas is singular, the solid stone being entirely converted either into |762 |pure, snow white, porcelain clay, or into a kind of bright red or the two colours marbled together: the steam issued through the moist and hot clay. This phenomenon has thus gone on for many years; it is said that flames once issued from the cracks. During rain, the water from each bank, must flow into these cracks; & it is probable that this same water, trickling down to the neighbourhood of some heated subterranean lava, causes this phenomenon. — Throughout the island, the powers below have been unusually active during the last year; several small earthquakes have been caused, and during a few days a jet of steam issued from a bold precipice overhanging the sea, not far from the town of Angra.



I enjoyed my day's ride, though I did not see much worth seeing: it was pleasant to meet such a number of fine peasantry; I do not recollect ever having beheld a set of handsomer young men, with more good humoured pleasant expressions. The men and boys are all dressed in a plain jacket & trowsers, without shoes or stockings; their heads are barely covered by a little blue cloth cap with two ears and a border of red; this they lift in the most courteous manner to each passing stranger. Their clothes although very ragged, appeared singularly clean, as well as their persons; I am told, that in almost every cottage, a visitor will sleep in snow white sheets & will dine off a clean napkin. Each man carries in his hand a walking staff about six feet high; by fixing a large knife at each extremity, they can make this into a formidable weapon. — Their ruddy complexions, bright eyes & erect gait, made them a picture of a fine peasantry: how different from the Portugeese of Brazil! — The greater number, which we this day met, were employed in the mountains gathering sticks for fire-wood. — A whole family, from the father to the least boy, might be seen, each carrying his bundle on his head to sell in the town. Their burthens were very heavy; this hard labour & the ragged state of their clothes too plainly bespoke poverty, yet I am told, it is not the want of food, but of all luxuries, a case parallel to that of Chiloe. — Hence, although the whole land is not cultivated, at the present time numbers emigrate to Brazil, where the contract to which they are bound, differs but little from slavery. It seems a great pity that so fine a population should be compelled [to] leave a land of plenty, where every article of food, meat, vegetables & fruit, — is exceedingly cheap & most abundant, but the labourer finds his labour of proportionally little value.–

23th September 1836
Another day I set out early in the morning to visit the town of Praya seated on the NE and of the island. — The distance is about fifteen miles; the road ran the great part of the way not far from the coast. The country is all cultivated & scattered with houses & small villages. I noticed in several places, from the long traffic of the bullock waggons, that the solid lava, which formed in parts the road, was worn into ruts of the depth of twelve inches. This circumstance has been noticed with surprise, in the ancient pavement of Pompeii, as not occurring in any of the present towns of Italy. At this place the wheels have a tire surmounted by singularly large iron knobs, perhaps the old Roman wheels were thus furnished. 



The country during our morning's ride, was not interesting, excepting always the pleasant sight of a happy peasantry. The harvest was lately over, & near to the houses the fine yellow heads of Indian corn, were bound, for the sake of drying, in large bundles to the stems of the poplar trees. These seen from a distance, appeared weighed down by some beautiful fruit,—the very emblem of fertility.—One part of the road crossed a broad stream of lava, which from its |766| rocky & black surface, showed itself to be of comparatively recent origin; indeed the crater whence it had flowed could be distinguished. The industrious inhabitants, have turned this space into vineyards, but for this purpose it was necessary to clear away the loose fragments & pile them into a multitude of walls, which enclosed little patches of ground a few yards square; thus covering the country with a network of black lines.—

The town of Praya is a quiet forlorn little place; Many years since a large city was here overwhelmed by an earthquake. It is asserted the land subsided, and a wall of a convent now bathed by the sea is shown as a proof: the fact is probable, but the proof not convincing.




 I returned home by another road, which first leads along the Northern shore,




 & then crosses the central part of the Island.— This North Eastern extremity is particularly well cultivated, & produces a large quantity of fine wheat. The square, open fields, & small villages with white washed churches, gave to the view as seen from the heights, an aspect resembling the less picturesque parts of central England. — We soon reached the region of clouds, which during our whole visit have hung very low & concealed the tops of the mountains. For a couple of hours we crossed the elevated central part, which is not inhabited & bears a desolate appearance. When we descended from the clouds to the city, I heard the good news that observations had been obtained, & that we should go to sea the same evening.

The anchorage is exposed to the whole swell of the Southern ocean, & hence during the present boisterous time of year is very disagreeable & far from safe:—

24th September 1836
In the morning, we were off the Western end of St. Michaels; to the capital of which we were bound in quest of letters. A contrary wind detained us the whole day,

25th September 1836
but by the following morning, we were off the city, & a boat was sent on shore.— The Island of St Michaels is considerably larger & three times more populous & enjoys a more extensive trade than Terceira. — The chief export is the fruit, for which a fleet of vessels annually arrives. Although several hundred vessels are loaded with oranges, these trees on neither island appear in any great numbers. No one would guess that this was the great market for the numberless oranges imposed into England. St Michaels has much the same open, semi-green, cultivated patchwork appearance as Terceira.

The town is more scatted; the houses & churches there & throughout the country are white washed & look from a distance neat and pretty. The land behind the  town is less elevated than at Terceira, but yet rises considerably; it is thickly studded or rather made up of small mammiformed hills, each of which has sometime been an active Volcano.




 — In an hours time the boat returned without any letters, and then getting a good offing from the land, we steered, thanks to God, a direct course for England.—




Thursday, August 4, 2016

Somes Sound



One chilly summer day on Mount Dessert Island we stopped along Sargeant Drive and looked out over Somes Sound [44.328073°, -68.303697°].  Although Somes Sound reminded me of the fjords of Norway, it is actually considered to be a fjard.