His account and the chances of an attack being made by the Indians, increased our anxiety to proceed; it would, however, have been worse than useless to attempt finding our way in a dark night, while it was raining fast and blowing very hard; but at daybreak in the morning we saddled, and soon afterwards were splashing along the low flat tract of land extending from Arauco westward towards Tubul. Heavy rain during the night had almost inundated the low country, and to our discomfort appeared likely to continue during the day. In half an hour after starting we were soaked with mud and water; but being well warmed by galloping, we felt indifferent to the rain, and to a heavy gale of wind that was blowing.
In the sixteenth century, Arauco was surrounded by a fosse, a strong palisade, and a substantial wall, whose only opening was secured by a gate and drawbridge. Now the ditch, dug by the old Spaniards, is filled up, and the remains of their drawbridge have disappeared, having been used probably as fuel. This was the first place assaulted by the Indians, after their grand union against the Spaniards, at the end of the sixteenth century.
Leaving the low land near the sea, we ascended sloping hills, and found ourselves in a beautiful country. Though I did not see it distinctly until my return, I will endeavour to describe it in this place: — the outer range of hills, near the sea, is a succession of downs, free from wood, except here and there in the valleys, and every where covered with short sweet grass: — there is no sandy or barren rocky land. Numbers of fine cattle were seen grazing in the neighbourhood, but very few sheep. In-shore of the downs is a very luxuriant country: gradually rising hills, every where accessible; extensive valleys, woods of fine timber trees, very little encumbered with underwood; spaces of clear grass-land, like fields; beautiful lakes, and numerous streams of excellent water, together with a rich soil clothed with sweet grass, disposed me to think this the finest country I had ever seen.
Generally speaking, the soil is clayey; but there is every where a layer of vegetable mould upon the surface; which indicates that the country was covered with wood until the Indians partially cleared it by burning. While they were so numerous as they are said to have been in the sixteenth century, large tracts of ground must have been cultivated by them, or cleared for their sheep. In riding across this now unemployed land, regretting at every mile that it should be so neglected, fine bullocks often crossed our path; or wild-looking, but well-conditioned troops of horses. These animals must be very nearly wild: for restrained by no fences, looked after by nobody, they are free to roam and feed where they please. Once only in a year they are driven together, if they can be found, to be counted, marked, or killed. Here and there a stray cottage, or rather hut, was seen, with a high thatched roof, like those of Chilóe. But for these cottages, and a field or two near them, this excellent country would have appeared to be quite deserted by the human race, though possessing every desirable quality. We passed over no hills of any consequence as to height, though generally we were ascending or descending. An in-shore circuit was taken, to avoid crossing three rivers, which, near the sea, are difficult to pass; and having lost our way (notwithstanding the alleged excellence of our guide), a native, almost Indian, was easily prevailed upon to run by the side of our horses until he put us into the right track. Before running through the bushes, he carefully tucked up his loose trousers as high as possible; thinking, I suppose, that his skin was less likely to be torn than the trousers; and thus bare-footed and bare-legged he ran before us for several miles with the greatest ease. At the cottage from which he came, a very good horse, in excellent condition, and well cleaned, was standing in a yard. I asked the owner to let me hire or buy him, but he would consent to neither; alleging that, in the Indian country, his life depended upon having a good horse close at hand. Three thousand Indians had assembled, he told me, and were expected to make an attack upon the Chilian frontier; but on what particular part was quite uncertain. They had heard of the wreck, and were actually going to the place to plunder the crew, when accidentally met and driven back by Colipi, with his friendly tribe. Dogs seem to be kept at these cottages for the same purpose as those at the 'ranchos,' in the Pampas, namely, to give warning of the approach of enemies. Small parties of Indians seldom or ever attack a house without reconnoitring carefully; and this they cannot effect if there are many dogs about.
After our running guide had left us, though put into the right track, we were soon at a loss again; so numerous were the tracks of horses and cattle in this rich pasture land. The professed guide whom we had brought from Arauco, was more useful in recovering half-tired horses, than from knowing the way: no sooner did he get upon a horse, which one of my party could not persuade to go out of a walk, than he started off at full gallop, exulting in his skill. Perhaps his secret lay in a sharp pair of iron spurs: for the thick skin and coarse hair of horses, so roughly kept as these, is proof against ordinary spurs, used with humanity.
Going very much by chance, often losing our way, and often taking a cast round to look for the most frequented track, we at last arrived at Quiapo, a hamlet consisting of five huts only, just in sight of one another on neighbouring hills. To which of them the name belongs, I know not, as 'Todo es Quiapo,' was all the answer I could get from my guide.
All these huts are much alike. Under one thatched roof, there is a place where all the family (including the dogs, cats, and pigs) eat, while sitting or lying round the fire, which is on the ground in the middle; and there is a kind of 'dais,' where the same party afterwards seek that sound sleep from which none of the insect tribe appear to awake them, however much they may plague others. Sometimes there is a sort of bedstead, and a slight partition for the older people; but the others take their rest upon the raised part of the floor, wrapped in sheep-skins, or goat-skins, and rough woollen clothes. A large heap of potatoes occupies one corner of the hut, and another is filled by a granary, curiously contrived with stakes about six feet in length, driven into the ground in a circle of perhaps six feet diameter. Rough wicker-work unites the stakes, and forms a bottom about half a foot from the ground. Straw is then inserted into the wattled-work, until there is enough to prevent any corn from falling through. This large fixed basket is filled at harvest time, and supplies the family during the whole year: neither rat or mouse can get at it without making a rustling noise, which instantly alarms each cat and dog.
Before our host returned with horses it was evening. He would have detained us until the next morning, could his arguments have availed, but finding that with or without him, on we were resolved to go, he set out at a good pace towards Leübu. Less rain and wind encouraged hopes of a fine night, so we trotted or galloped along while day-light lasted, but as the night grew dark rain again poured down: and, obliged then to go slowly, we followed one another as close as possible, placing the guide in front with a white poncho. While in the open country we got on pretty well, but, after two hours easy work, we found that the track was taking us through thick woods. My first intimation of the change was being nearly knocked off my horse by the bough of a tree, so pitchy dark was the night; and after this I kept my head on the horse's neck, trusting to his eyes entirely, for I could see nothing. That our guide could find the way has been matter of astonishment to me ever since: he never failed once. Some of the defiles through which he led were knee-deep in clayey mud, so stiff that the horses could hardly move. Often we were set fast in such places, obliged to get off, and feel for the track,—knee-deep, and up to our elbows in mud,—for it was upon hands and knees that we went, oftener than upon our legs. Our guide knew we were in the right track, but each of us was obliged to seek safe footing for himself and his horse, in the defiles among steep ravines and streams, swelled by heavy rains. Passing these streams was dangerous, and there only did the guide hang back. At one brook which seemed by the noise, to be deep and large, he refused to cross, saying his horse would not go on, and that we could not get over in the dark. However, Vogelborg was not to be so stopped. Leaving his own horse stuck fast in a slough, he scrambled through, hauling my horse after him by the bridle. Holding by my horse's long tail, and driving him on, I scrambled after: Vogelborg then went back, and with the guide brought the others over. In several places, while in the ravines, I had recourse to the tail of the guide's horse for my support and dragged my own animal after me, for it was hopeless to remain on his back, so often was he stuck fast or down in the mud. The last man, Fuller, fared the worst, as he had no one behind him to drive his horse on; and frequently we were obliged to stop and holla to one another, to avoid parting company. At last we emerged from the wood and from those horrible ravines. Before us we could then see that there was space, nothing interfering between our eyes and the clouds; but while under the trees and in the water courses, utter blackness surrounded us to a degree I never witnessed in any other place. Our eyes were not of the least use, for I could not even see the white poncho of our guide, though close before me. Feeling and hearing alone availed. Heavy rain during the whole time prevented the mud from forming too thick a coat upon us. Another hour brought our small party to an Indian settlement, near the river Leübu; and as we rode by the huts, our guide talked to those within at the utmost pitch of his voice, as if determined no one should be ignorant of his adventure. Hearing their conversation carried on in the Indian language, was rather an impressive novelty. We continued our route, and at last reached the Leübu.
The north side of this river (on which we were), is low and sandy near the sea, but the south side rises to a high, remarkable headland, called the 'Heights of old Tucapel. The breadth of the river is about one hundred yards. Tucapel was the name of one of the more powerful caciques who united under Caupolican, to resist and expel the Spaniards. In his district and near his usual residence, which bore the same name, the daring but avaricious Valdivia was overwhelmed by numbers and taken prisoner, though not until every one of his small party had desperately fought and devotedly died for the cause which many among them considered that of God and their king.