صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[blocks in formation]

green plots of wheat land or pasture. Separating these valleys, or their branches, from one another, are mountains rising up around us to about the same height as that on which we stand, their steep sides scantily covered with tall cacti, the 'quillai,' the dwarf mimosa, and one or two other low-growing trees not unlike the alder and the hawthorn. Looking westward we catch a glimpse here and there of the mountains beyond the Santiago plain; looking eastwards the whole view from north to south is bounded by the magnificent chain of the Cordilleras, its snow-fields glistening in the early sun, its black precipices standing out boldly from the mass of white, and its jagged peaks cutting clear and sharp into the deep blue sky above.

The giants of the Oberland, as viewed from Berne, are not so near the spectator, and therefore not so imposing as these towering Andes are from our point of view; we want but a few forests of pine or deodar scattered on the lower mountain-slopes, and a few blue lakes or broad rivers to fill up the valleys at our feet, and we should have a landscape before us equal to any in the Alps or the Himalayas.

CHAPTER XXVI.

THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN.

Let the dire Andes from the radiant Line
Stretched to the stormy seas that thi ler round
The southern pole, their hideous deeps unfold.' Thomson's 'Autumn.'

[ocr errors]

Our intention had been to cross the dire Andes' by the well-known Cumbre or Uspallata Pass leading from Santiago to Mendoza, and from the latter place to traverse the Pampas to Rosario or Buenos Ayres. But the Cumbre, being of an altitude of 13,000 feet, is seldom clear of snow, or passable for mules, before the month of Ncvember; and from information gathered at Santiago we learn that this season is an unusually late one, and that a crossing cannot be counted on with certainty before the middle of November at the earliest.

Unable to spare another month, we reluctantly determine on taking the sea route from Valparaiso to the La Plata, viâ the Strait of Magellan. From subsequent reports of persons who have made the passage of the Cumbre, we are inclined to regret this the less, inasmuch as the journey over the Andes is described as disappointing in its scenery and variety, and the subsequent ride or drive across the Pampas as monotonous in the extreme.

Two years ago a vessel leaving Valparaiso with the intention of passing through the Strait of Magellan would have been looked on as a rarity ; but now the fine steamers of the P. S. N. Co. run through the Strait in each direction

THE SOUTH PACIFIC,

315

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

twice. every month, and we have no difficulty in securing a passage in the fitly-named “Magellan.'

We steam out of Valparaiso Bay on a bright forenoon, and rounding the Western Point become immediately aware, from certain lurches and rolls of our vessel, that we are again in the dominion of Neptune, and that that monarch’s territory is, as usual, in a disturbed condition. For three days the “ Magellan' steams resolutely on against a headwind, which reduces her speed considerably, and occasionally sends a shower of spray over her bows. But on the fourth morning the wind veers round to the north-west, and for thirty hours or more we bowl along at the rate of twelve, or thirteen knots an hour. We have occasional distant glimpses of the headlands of the Chilian and Patagonian coast, but during the greater part of the four days we look round on nothing but dancing, curling, waves, over and among which skim Cape pigeons and Cape hens, and occasionally a long-winged albatross.

On the fifth evening the north-west breeze increases to a gale; the good ship rolls like a cask; dinner is achieved with difficulty, and not without various catastrophes happening to wine-glasses and pudding-plates : everything not lashed, bolted, or otherwise secured, takes to a wandering, reckless, life; and there ensues a night of heavy toil to the officers and crew, and of sleepless listening to the thumping of the screw and the straining of the timbers to most of the passengers. Early next morning it is judged that we are within a few miles of the entrance to the Strait : the vessel's head is brought round to the wind, and there we lie, and wish for the day. The day comes, but little light comes with it, and we remain in the same position, riding up and down the waves in the face of a strong gale, for seven hours more.

During the forenoon we have a fine opportunity of

[ocr errors]

admiring from the deck the grandeur of a heavy sea.'

. . The horizon, whenever we can catch a glimpse of it from the top of a tall wave, is dark and gloomy: the sky overhead is a mass of driving clouds, through the occasional rents in which the sun casts for a moment a sickly beam upon us : all around us is a waste of heaving, roaring billows, of a dull gray hue, except here and there when the occasional sunbeam flies swiftly across the troubled waters, or when the crests of the taller waves are curled over into foam, and swept off by the gale in flakes of whitening spray.

In such a scene of raging nature, the handiwork of man has to play a very humble part. It gives one a forcible idea of the power of water to see our vessel, than which few look more stately or more powerful when in harbour, tossed about at the will of the waves as every ship has been since the days of David. Now' mounting up to the heavens,' and now 'going down again to the depths,' she seems to be the plaything of the great waters.' But though bound to obey the elements, she does so with as good a grace as possible. As we stand near the aft wheel-house and hold on by the side-rail, we can see how well she behaves. When a wave huger than its fellows comes towards her, she does indeed stoop down into the valley at its base, as if bent on burying herself beneath it; but just as the watery mass, whose crest is seen on a level with her fore-yard, seems on the point of rolling over her, up rises her head, as if proud of her Clyde build and her sturdy form ; slowly and firmly the gray slope is climbed, and she rides over the crest with all the buoyancy of life.

While waiting for a glimpse of the land, or an opportunity for an observation of the sun, we are reminded that we are not very far from the former by the score or more of ‘Cape pigeons 'who seem quite at home in the storm,

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

and keep hovering round the vessel's stern in search of their favourite scraps, battling hard against the wind, and occasionally driven backwards or hurled on to the water by a squall more furious than usual. Just at mid-day an observation of the sun is caught in an interval of watery sunshine, and as a result of it the ship's head is brought round to the north-east, and all steam made in the supposed direction of Cape Pillar.

In a quarter of an hour the loom of high land is descried right ahead, but in another quarter of an hour it is discovered that the true Cape lies more to the north, and that we are making straight for a more southern part of the Land of Desolation, where such unpleasant names as Dislocation Point and Chancery Bay appear on the chart. So the ship's head is brought round again to the north, and after struggling against a heavy sea and a strong current setting down the coast, we round the wild and gloomy-looking headland, passing within a couple of miles of its off-lying rocks and great cold slate-cliffs, and enter the comparatively smooth water of the Strait. Just as we enter we are greeted by a shoal of some hundreds of seal who come tumbling through the waves across the vessel's bows and in her wake, as if to see what the strange monster can be, venturing so near such a coast on such a day.

Once inside the Strait we make rapid progress down the first broad reach, the wind sweeping in angrily after us. On our left, near the entrance, is the curiously peaked and pointed island, named Westminster Hall; and behind it, six or eight miles distant, are the mountains of the mainland on the Patagonian side of the Strait: on our right is Cape Pillar, a bold headland 2,000 feet in height, itself the most northerly of the waste of mountains forming the Island of Desolation.

As we steam further into the Strait these mountains

« السابقةمتابعة »