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LETTERS FROM CHILI AND PERU,
TO A FRIEND IN NEW-ENGLAND.*
Valparaiso, 1832. Safely arrived at last, and on terra firma ; no, not firma — I have already made a mistake ; for in a few hours after my arrival, the earth trembled and quaked under my feet, to my great terror. I think these constant mementos mori must be a terrible drawback to enjoyment; and I fear I shall never get sufficiently accustomed to them to feel safe or at ease. You can form no idea of the appalling effects of these convulsions of nature ; the mind is perfectly paralyzed ; indeed, all human power is useless -- all effort unavailing. The only thing to be done, is to wait, as calmly as possible, an event which you feel may the next instant bury you in the bowels of the earth. My first impulse was to fly for safety ; but where could I go ? all places were equally unsafe — and I stood like a statue, perfectly powerless, without either the ability or inclination to take one step. For a moment all seemed to share my sensations ; but as soon as the earth was quiet, all went their way, as if nothing had happened to disturb their security. The hum of business was resumed, with the laugh, the oath, the clatter of the heavy wagons, and the trampling of feet over that ground which, but a moment before, seemed like the unstable ocean, ready to engulf them. I will confess to you, that I did not recover my composure in many hours ; and that when I trod the ground, it was with a strange sensation, something resembling your feelings when stepping on a quagmire or quicksand — a want of confidence in its firmness. My friend tells me I shall soon get used to such slight shocks, and think nothing of them ; but I doubt it. I have been in violent storms at sea, when the waves seemed every moment ready to sweep over our frail vessel ; but there I had a feeling of dependence on an Almighty arm ; I was brought step by step to the brink of the grave, and had time to think of and feel my own insufficiency. But an earthquake overwhelms you at once ; you feel as if you were about to be crushed by the very power you would fain rest on -- and have scarcely time or ability to ask aid of the high and lofty One, who holds the waters in the hollow of his hand. But enough of the earthquake, which occupies, I presume, a larger place in my thoughts than it ought ; as every one else appears to have forgotten it. Mr. B***** smiled when I asked him this morning if he had ever felt so severe a shock, and said, as he left the door — Oh yes, every day in the week; we do n't think much of shocks when nothing is thrown down.' .
* To the Editor of the New England Magazine: SIR, - I have in my possession the letters of a friend, who was three years a resident in Peru, and who, at different times before his long location there, visited various parts of South America. His situation gave him access to the best society ; and as he is a man of sense and observation, with a scrupulous regard to the correctness of his statements, I think your readers will be instructed as well as amused by various descriptions of manners, customs, persons, buildings, &c. The present letter is a mere sketch - as at the time it was written, he was only about six months in Chili, though he had been there before. He is more minute when he writes from Peru. In the hope that these letters will please you, and your readers generally, I am, with due respect, &c. &c.
Valparaiso has very few attractions, though it is the largest and indeed the principal seaport of Chili — being only about one hundred miles from the beautiful city of Santiago. I shall say nothing of Valparaiso until my return from Santiago, for which I set out to-morrow
I think you would have smiled had you seen me with my poncho on, making my way over the Andes, with a merry party, all arrayed in the same manner, appearing at the first glance like a group of Indians in pursuit of game. We were all, however, “gentlemen of quality,' I assure you, if not of estate ; and perhaps to the latter our claims were quite as great as many a proud Hidalgo's, who boasts of his descent from the ancient kings, and wraps his cloak around him with all the consequence of a duke. I forget that you are yet ignorant what my poncho is, and may suppose it some fantastic garb — when in fact, it is only a large shawl, with a hole in the centre, through which the head is thrust, leaving the whole to fall over the person. It is very convenient, being light and easy, and preserving the under dress from dust. The road we traveled was good, and the prospect varied and delightful. I could tell you how magnificently the Andes towered above me, peak upon peak, far off in the distance ; how calmly the boundless Pacific spread its waste of waters behind me. I could tell, too, of sparkling rivulets, gushmg through chasms in the rocks, and leaping from steep to steep, like the antelope and chamois, who often bend their graceful necks to taste the limpid element. I could describe scenes of terrific grandeur, brought to view by some sudden turn in the road, much like the wild pictures of Salvator Rosa ; but as the pen cannot place the scene before you, I shall leave it for your imagination.
We were detained on the road by a storm, and contrary to my expectations were very well accommodated. The road, for the greater part of the distance, is very good. It was constructed during the reign of Viceroy Ambrosio O’Hggins, at an immense expense, and does great credit to his public spirit, perseverance and liberality. On its route it crosses the Andes, at an elevation of about seven hundred feet — which is effected by zig-zag cuts, supported on the precipitous sides by strong walls of stone.
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Before reaching the highest peak, there are twenty-eight turns ; and the ascent, even with wheels, is neither difficult nor dangerous. On horseback, it is the most delightful part of the ride ; and the prospect from the summit extensive, sublime, and beautiful. On one side, a richly variegated plain, of forty miles in extent, is spread out, encircled by mountains ; on the other is a plain of twenty miles, near the extremity of which rise the tall spires and cupolas of Santiago — forming a rich and imposing back-ground ; while, to complete the picture, the river Maypocho, on which the city is built, meanders through the whole scene. You have, in short, in glorious combination, snow-crowned mountains, green fields and sparkling streams, with white walled villages, surrounded by vineyards and groves of orange, lemon, and other fruits — their deep green foliage contrasting beautifully with the glowing sky.
But I am lingering on the road, quite forgetful of the Chilian capital, before entering which I will mention the only two places worth observation between this place and Valparaiso — Casa Blanco and Bustamenti. They are both small, pleasantly situated directly on the route ; and places where travelers generally stop for rest and refreshment; the former, though destroyed by an earthquake in 1922, has been since re-built, and contains a pretty church. On approaching the city, I was much surprised at the uncultivated state of the fine plain, which, though of the richest soil, produced nothing of consequence. I was told that the produce would not pay the expense of artificial irrigation. The wants of the city are supplied from estates in its vicinity, situated on the rivers, by which they are watered. The supply is so abundant, that all the necessaries of life are sold at very moderate prices.
The entrance to the city, from the post-road, is through a very ordinary gate, at which were stationed sentinels and custom-house officers, to guard against smuggling. Our baggage escaped examination, by the aid of a charm which never fails in the cities of South America that I have visited. We proceeded from the gate through a narrow, dirty street, to a handsome stone bridge across the Maypocho, which traverses the western side of the city. Leaving this, we soon entered the principal square, fronting the palace, near which was the hotel where I was to take up my abode. The general appearance of the city is imposing — not only on account of its spires and cupolas, but from a peculiarly shaped hill, which rises abruptly from the centre of it. You may imagine its curious appearance, when I tell you it is four hundred feet high, in the form of a sugar-loaf, and that not another elevation is visible on the whole plain. It is called St. Lucia; its summit is crowned with a fort, within which are barracks, magazines, &c. &c. ; but it is not now used as a fortress; and the works are fast going to ruins. On one of the bastions, a brass cannon is so placed as to discharge at meridian ; the sun's rays are thrown upon the priming through a glass lens ; by this, the time of the citizens is regulated, except in cloudy weather — then they refer to the church clocks, of which there are abundance. The churches are most of them fine structures ; and the cathedral, when finished, will be very splendid. The palace, or government-house, is also a showy edifice, occupying one whole side of the Plaza Major'; it is two stories high, and in good taste. Besides being the residence of the Supreme Director, it contains the offices of the chief departments of the government. The mint is a truly noble establishment, throughout — combining every convenience and facility for coining on a large scale. It is very spacious, occupying four sides of a large square, with a fine court in the centre. The machinery is operated by water brought fromt he Maypocho, and is, I presume, of the highest order, though, as it was not in motion while I was in the city, I can only judge by what I have heard and seen of its works. The custom-house department occupies one of the central squares; its offices and stores are convenient, and well conducted upon a system liberal and encouraging to the commercial interest of the republic. The private dwellings generally have a neat and comfortable appearance ; most of them are two stories high, and some are very spacious and elegant. Those belonging to their former nobility, richly deserve to be called palaces; and before the revolution, they lived in them in a style of princely splendor. Some of the noble families still retain their wealth, though stripped of their titles by the republican government. I will here mention a singular fact, touching the state of this republic, which is worth remembering. The whole landed property of Chili is owned by about one hundred and fifty families. Such a monopoly fits them, I suspect, much better for aristocrats than republicans.
The buildings all have sharp roofs, covered with tile, baked from the clay which abounds in the vicinity of the city. These coverings render their habitations secure from the pelting storms of the rainy season ; though few of them are provided with proper means for keeping out the cold which generally accompanies the rain. The usual way of warming rooms is by brascos, or brass pans of ignited charcoal. Most of the women have small ones, which they place under their petticoats, or keep in their laps. By this management, they reap a fruitful harvest of diseases consequent upon taking cold. The chief part of the foreigners resident in Santiago and Valparaiso, have introduced fire-places, and a few of the rich class of natives have followed their example. It is probable, before the lapse of many years, these conveniences will entirely take the place of their miserable health-destroying warming-pans.
The walks of the city — those most frequented — are the Canida, or principal Alemeda ; and the Tajamar. This last is formed by a wall, extending the whole length of the city along the banks of the Maypocho, which was built to prevent that river from inundating the place, when swollen by the winter rains; but, notwithstanding this, it sometimes comes over the barricades, and, by its impetuous career, causes much injury and distress to many poor families who reside in that quarter. The Tajamar is the fashionable promenade for spring, summer and autumn, and is indeed a most lovely walk. I have never seen one combining more of the beautiful, the sublime, and the picturesque. The plain on which it is built has a circuit of perhaps forty miles, and is near twenty-six hundred feet above the level of the ocean ; it is surrounded on all sides by ranges of the Andes — spreading before the eye, from different points, all that is delightful in nature. Its coup d'ail'is seldom equalled -- never excelled.
A few words about the inhabitants must close my account of the Chilian capital. There are many fine-looking men to be met with, and some very handsome women; and one discovers more educated intelligence and refinement in the higher classes than is usually found in the cities of South America. The tone of moral feeling is much higher; and their intercourse among themselves and with foreigners, is upon a footing of liberal hospitality and friendliness truly creditable to their taste and character. Much of this is perhaps owing to their freedom from Catholic bigotry, aided by the great number of marriages that have taken place between the inhabitants and people of other nations who have settled there. I have every reason to believe that the republic of Chili, and particularly its capital, is making repectable advances in every department of social life, and that the means of education are extending and improving. From this fact alone, there is good ground to hope that the Chilian republic will ere long present the gratifying spectacle of an enlightened, moral people, enjoying the blessings of a firm, correct, well-administered goverment. Of my ride back to Valparaiso, I will merely say it was performed in twelve hours, in a gig drawn by three horses abreast. I was set down at my lodgings just after sunset, without being in the least fatigued.
Valparaiso is fast becoming a market of great commercial importance. The bulk of the business of Chili is even now transacted here ; and a coasting trade is carried on to all the ports between Cape Horn and the north-west coast ; thus creating a demand for every description of merchandize, greater than is found at any other place in the Pacific. At this time, it unquestionably rivals Lima, in Peru. The harbor of this place, though only an open roadstead, or bay, is secure against all winds, except those from the northern quarter ; these prevail only in the winter season, when they are sometimes so severe as to cause terrible dis