I walked a little way up the valley & saw those step-like plains of shingle described by Capt. B. Hall, the origin of which has been discussed by Mr Lyell. The same phenomenon is found in the valley of Guasco in a more evident manner; in places there [are] as many as seven perfectly level & unequally broad plains, ascending by steps on one or both sides the valley. There can be no doubt that during the rise of the land each line of cliff was for a period the beach of a large bay. At Coquimbo marine shells were embedded in strata near the surface; independent of this proof, the explanation of the successive breaking down of the barrier of a lake adduced by Capt. Hall is quite inapplicable. The appearance of these steps, especially in Guasco, is sufficiently remarkable to call the attention of any one who is not at all interested concerning the causes of the present forms of the land. The number of parallel & horizontal lines, of which many have exactly corresponding ones on the opposite side of the valley, is rendered more conspicuous by the irregular outline of the neighbouring mountains.
In the morning it rained lightly for about five hours; the first time this season; with this the farmers would break the ground, with a second plant their corn; & if a third shower fell, would in the spring reap a good harvest. It was curious to witness the effect of this trifling amount of moisture; the ground apparently was scarcely damp 12 hours afterwards, yet on the 27th an interval of 10 days, all the hills were tinged green in patches, the grass being sparingly scattered in hair-like fibres a full inch long. — Before this every part was as destitute of Vegetation as a turnpike road. In the evening I dined with Mr Edwards, during dinner there was a smart shock of an Earthquake. I heard the forecoming rumble, but from the screams of the ladies, the running of servants & the rush of several of the gentlemen to the doorway I could not distinguish the motion. Some of the women afterwards were crying with fear & one person said he should not be able to sleep all night or if he did, it would only be to dream of falling houses. — The father of this gentleman had lost all his property at Talcuhuana, & he himself only just escaped from a falling roof at Valparaiso in 1822; a curious coincidence happened; he with a party were playing at cards when a German remarked he never would sit in a room in these countries with the door shut, as he had with difficulty escaped in the Copiapò earthquake, accordingly it was opened. No sooner was this done than the famous shock commenced, & the whole party effected their escape by this coincidence. The danger in an Earthquake is not the time lost in opening a door, but the chance of its being jammed by the movement of the walls. — It is impossible to be much surprised at the fear which Natives & old Residents experience. — I think the excess of panic may be partly owing to a want of habit in governing fear; the usual restraint, shame, being here absent. — Indeed the natives do not like to see a person indifferent. I heard of two Englishmen who, sleeping in the open air near to some houses during a smart shock, knowing there was no danger did not rise — the natives cried out indignantly "Look at those hereticks, they will not even get out of their beds".
Capt. Head has described the wonderful load which the "Apires", truly beasts of burden, carry up from deep mines. — I confess I thought the account exaggerated; so that I was glad to take the opportunity of weighing one of the loads, which I picked out by chance. When standing straight over it, I could just lift it from the ground, the weight was 197 pounds (equal [to] a 14 stone man). — The Apire had carried this up 80 perpendicular yards, by a very steep road, & by climbing up a zigzag nearly vertical notched pole.— He is not allowed to halt to breathe, excepting the mine is more than 600 ft deep. — The average weight is rather more than 200 £. (Nearly equal 22 & ½ stone.) — I have been assured that 300 £ have been carried for a trial from the deepest mines.
In this mine they bring up the above load on their backs 12 times in the day, that is 2400 £ from 80 yards deep to the surface. These men work nearly naked; their bodies are not very muscular; but excepting from accidents, they are healthy and they appear cheerful. They rarely eat meat once a week & never oftener & then only the hard dry Charqúi. — Knowing that the labor is voluntary, it is yet quite revolting to see the state in which they reach the mouth of the mine. — their bodies bent forward, leaning with their arms on the steps; their legs bowed, the muscles quivering, the perspiration streaming from their faces over their breasts, the nostrils distended, the corners of the mouth forcibly drawn back, & the expulsion of their breath most laborious: each time from habit they utter an articulate cry of ay-ay, which ends in a sound rising from deep in the chest, but shrill like the note of a fife. — After staggering to the pile of ore, they empty the "Carpacho" — in two or three seconds recovering their breath, they wipe the sweat from their brows & apparently quite fresh descend the mine again at a quick pace. — This appears to me a wonderful instance of the amount of labor which habit, for it can be nothing else, will teach a man to endure.
The Mayor-domo of these mines, Don Joaquin Edwards, is a young man & the son of an Englishman, but till some years old did not learn English. — Talking with him about the number of foreigners in all parts of the country, he told me he recollected being at school in Coquimbo, when a holiday was given to all the boys to see the Captain of an English Ship, who came on some business from the Port to the city. He believes that nothing would have induced any body in the school, including himself, to have gone close to the Englishman; so fully had they been impressed with all the heresy, contamination & evil to be derived from contact with such a person. To this day they hand down the atrocious actions of the Buccaniers; one of them took the Virgin Mary out [of] the Church & returned the ensuing year for St. Joseph, saying it was a pity the Lady should not have a husband. I heard Mr Caldcleugh say that sitting by an old lady at a dinner in Coquimbo, she remarked how wonderfully strange it was that she should live to dine in the same room with an Englishman. — Twice as a girl, at the cry of "Los Ingleses" every soul carrying what valuables they could had taken to the mountains.
There are so very few inhabited spots & the roads so obscure we had some difficulty in finding our way — during these last days there was nothing of interest, & the travelling sufficiently wearisome. — We passed the Mineral of Punitague, from which much Copper & Gold has been extracted; there are also Quicksilver mines which are not worked. — We reached Ovalle, a small town on the R. Limari, late in the evening. — Before arriving there we had to cross some extensive sterile plains or Traversias, which extend from the coast many leagues in the interior.
Travelled on to Los Hornos, which is a "Mineral" or particular district abounding with mines; the principal hill was so drilled with excavations that it was a magnified edition of a large Anthill. The Miners in Chili are a peculiar race of men; in their habits they somewhat resemble men-of-war sailors; living for weeks together in the most desolate spots, when they descend on the feast days to the villages, there is no excess or extravagance into which they do not run. They sometimes gain a considerable sum & then like Sailors with prize money, they try how soon they can possibly squander it. They drink excessively, buy quantities of clothes & in a few days return penniless to their miserable abodes there to work harder than beasts of burden.
Their dress is peculiar & rather picturesque; they wear a very long shirt of some dark coloured baize & leathern apron; around the waist there is also a broad & gayly coloured Senador (like the red silk woven band of officers); their trowsers are very broad & their heads are covered by little scarlet caps. — We met a party of these Miners on horseback in full costume, carrying for burial the body of one of their companions. — They marched at a very quick trot; four men on foot carried the corpse; each set running as hard as they could for about 200 yards, were relieved by four others who had previously dashed on ahead on horseback & so on.— They encouraged each other by wild crys; altogether it formed a most strange funeral.
The country near the coast possessed little Geological interest, & otherwise the rocky barren hills were very monotomous; so I determined to strike in the country to the mining town of Illapel. — It was a long days journey & we had to cross a Cuesta I should think at least 2000 ft high. — The valley of Illapel is like all the others, dead level, broad, bordered by gravel cliffs or mountain sides, & very fertile. — Above the straight line of the upper irrigating ditch, all is as brown as a turnpike road, all beneath is Alfarfa (a kind of Clover) green as Verdigris — the contrast is singular. — Illapel is a very regular & pretty little town, its flourishing condition depends on the numerous mines, chiefly Copper, in the vicinity.
The Country becomes more & more barren; the valleys have so little water that there is scarcely any irrigation; of course the intermediate country is quite useless & will not even support goats. — In the Spring after the winter rains there is a rapid growth of thin pasture & cattle are then brought down from the Cordilleras to graze. It is rather curious the manner in which the Vegetation knows how much rain to expect; one shower at Copiapo produces an equal effect with a couple at Guasco & 3 or 4 at Coquimbo, whilst at Valparaiso torrents of rain fall. Travelling North from the latter place, the quantity does not decrease in a regular proportion to the distances. At Conchalee which is not half-way between Valparaiso & Coquimbo (being only 67 miles to the North of the former) they do not expect rain till end of May, whereas at Valparaiso generally early in April; the quantity likewise which falls is proportionally small to the later time it comes.
I heard of the Beagle surveying all these ports; all the inhabitants were convinced she was a Smuggler, they complained of the entire want of confidence the Captain showed in not coming to any terms; each man thought his neighbour was in the secret — I had even difficulty in undeceiving them. — By the way, this anecdote about the smuggling shows how little even the upper classes in these countries understand the wide distinction of manners. A person who could possibly mistake Capt. FitzRoy for a smuggler, would never perceive any difference between a Lord Chesterfield & his valet.
As yesterday, the road generally runs at no great distance from the sea coast. The country on a small scale singularly broken & irregular: abrupt little peaks rise out of small plains or basins: the bottom of the neighbouring sea, studded with breakers, & the indented coast would if converted into dry land, present similar forms.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
Another smuggling cove, called Quilimari, was examined by me. There is but doubtful landing, and no shelter for a vessel; balsas, however, might do a good deal of work for such a character as I was taken for at Conchali.