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DOWN THE WEST COAST.

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CHAPTER XXIV.

DOWN THE WEST COAST.

Nor tree, nor shrub, nor plant, nor flower,
Nor aught of regetative power

The weary eye may ken.'-- The Lord of the Isles.

STEAMING southwards from Panama, through a calm sea and a hot atmosphere, we rapidly approach the equator. On the second evening after leaving the Taboga anchorage we cross the Line. In doing so we have reason to be thankful that the march of civilisation has recently extended even to sailors, and that the traditional tar and feather,' and other jokes too practical to be agreeable, have in consequence been abolished, at least from passenger steamers.

Strange to say, in entering the Southern hemisphere, the change in temperature which we experience is such as would rather induce us to believe that we have passed out of the Tropics altogether, than that we had only crossed from one into the other. While, in Panama and for several hundred miles southwards, our thermometer ranged at midday between 80° and 85°; no sooner do we approach within one or two degrees of the Line than it falls rapidly, and on the first mid-day after passing the Line, when we are in lat. 2° S., it stands at 65°. This comparative cold continues more or less throughout our voyage down the coast, and is said to be the rule here during the greater part of the year- an almost constant wind from the south or south-east, fresh from the snowy Andes, and a constant sea-current from the lower latitudes, being the causes of it.

Our first port of stoppage is Payta ; so after catching one glimpse of Ecuador, by sighting Punta St. Helena, the next land visible is part of the Peruvian coast. On the fourth morning after leaving Taboga we anchor at day-break in the open roadstead of what is the most important part of Peru, north of Callao.

Not that the appearance of Payta would lead a foreigner to suspect its importance. As we look out from the vessel towards the shore, we see little but a long line of bare yellow cliffs of sandstone and shale, from 100 to 200 feet high, stretching away in a gradual curve towards the northwest and south-west to the two points which form the extremities of the bay. Between the cliffs and the tidal line is a strip of sandy land, on part of which stands the town of Payta—a collection of 600 or 800 low houses of plaster, brick and bamboo, with a church, a town-hall, and a custom-house of the same materials. Not a tree, not a blade of glass, is visible; and if we ascend to the top of the line of cliffs and look inland, a still wider scene of barrenness presents itself. One vast plain, with a hard surface of pebbles and grit-a dreary grey waste unbroken by a single green patch-stretches away for twepty miles or more to the east, ending in a misty horizon, or in a chain of rocky mountains that look as dry and scorched as the heights of Aden. Old residents in Payta tell how they remember this plain having once burst out into a sudden flush of green, after a short but heavy rain-fall; but its normal state is absolute barrenness, for rain is a blessing which visits this dry and thirsty land at very rare intervals.

1 Quite recently a remarkable exception to this rule has occurred. In the month of March, 1871, rain fell heavily for several days in Payta, and on the surrounding coast and couutry. This resulted in a general

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The nearest vegetation to Payta is said to exist in a riverbed twenty miles to the north, whence all the water consumed in Payta, except that distilled from sea-water, is conveyed on the backs of mules.

Thirty miles to the south-east lies another river, on whose banks stands Piura, the capital of the province of that name. Payta is the port through which all the trade of this province passes; and here accordingly our vessel discharges various bales of prints and other European goods, taking in exchange a considerable number of bags of produce, together with a score or two of barrels of whale-oil from a vessel which has just arrived in the roadstead from a successful cruise off the coast.

Before leaving the port we pay a visit to one small object contained in it, which possesses a certain amount of historical interest. This is an image of the Virgin Mary, in one of the shrines of the only church in the place, with a vermilion-painted gash in her throat and another in her chin. These gashes are said to have been made, by way of a rude joke, by some of Lord Cochrane's Jack Tars, fifty years ago: the priests, however, have made good capital out of the intended insult, for on each anniversary of the outrage they display the figure with these wounds bleeding!

From Payta to Callao is a distance of just 500 miles, which our vessel accomplishes in forty-five hours, in spite of a head wind, an adverse current, and a heavy freight. Callao is almost the only well-sheltered port on the west coast of South America; the island of San Lorenzo, which stretches across it, serving to guard it from the heavy

inundation of the district; several villages were destroyed ; in Payta itself a number of houses were swept down by the torrents which poured down from the cliffs into the sea, and for one or two days the streets were only passable for canoes and boats.—See The Times, April 13, 1871.

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swell which often rolls in from the ocean. Sailing in round the northern end of this island, we are soon at anchor among the crowd of ships, chiefly engaged in the guano trade, which are lying in the anchorage.

Before us lies Callao, a crowded seaport town of nearly 20,000 inhabitants, full of warehouses, stores, offices, and shops, but with few broad streets or good-looking houses. Though its name is an old one, the present town has not much more than a century of history, for in 1746 the original Callao was shaken down by an earthquake, and then swallowed up by the sea, and it still lies at the bottom of the waters of the harbour. Behind Callao, at a distance of twelve miles, rise the Andes--a towering range, bare and rocky, with here and there a distant snow-crest visible. At the foot of one of their spurs, and at the head of the broad plain which slopes very gradually up from Callao harbour, the white walls and church towers of Lima are distinctly visible. On either side of the city, especially towards the north, trees and green patches of verdure thickly dot the sloping plain: these are the result of careful irrigation; for there never falls in or around Lima anything of a nature nearer to rain than a sort of Scotch mist, and so nothing will grow in the district without the aid of borrowed water.

We land near the Callao Custom-house, and after spending some little time within its precincts and in walking through the winding streets of this chief port of Peru, we take the train up to the capital. In moving rapidly from place to place, it is well if the traveller can catch a favourable first impression of the places on which he is prepared to bestow his admiration. Such, however, cannot

, always be his fortune ; and in this instance our preconceived ideas of Lima are sorelyshattered by our arriving there in the dark, having to spend upwards of an hour in

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hunting for rooms, and coming to the conclusion that the hotels in Lima are all equally dirty and uncomfortable. We even doubt whether the absence of carpet in the room which we at last obtain is not an advantage, as affording so much less shelter to those domestic kangaroos' who seem acclimatised in every country of the world, and especially in Peru.

Perbaps the best that can be said of Lima is, that it is the capital of a very large and rich country, contains about 120,000 inhabitants, has straight streets, good shops, and boasts of the beauty of its fair sex. Few other good qualities can be assigned to it. Though it is the seat of a government which is lavish with its money, the home of many rich bankers, merchants, and landowners, and the centre of what social civilisation there is in Peru, it yet cannot boast a single handsome and substantial building, nor one well-paved street. From its cathedral to its cottages, all is of plaster, brick, and old paint; and though there is a certain picturesquenesss about the Spanish balconies which mark the older houses, and about the bowwindows whose grates and bars remain to tell of times in Peru even more unsettled than the present, there is scarcely a house which, from its outward appearance, a visitor would think worthy of being the residence of a wealthy financier, or of an old and illustrious half-Spanish, half-Peruvian family.

The hotels, as we have already hinted, are 'musty, dusty, and fusty ;' the cafés and restaurants are scarcely better than those in a second-class Italian town; even the theatres, which, in a nation with strong dramatic tendencies, one would expect to find well-built and wellornamented, look dingy and small; and the cathedral and churches, though in one or two cases handsome in design, present very dirty surfaces of paint and plaster outside,

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