© 2013 Miro Roman

Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of the New Continent

Author: Alexander von Humboldt, Aimé Bonpland
Translated: Thomasina Ross
Written: 1799-1804

The small extent of the valley, and the proximity of the high mountains of Avila and the Silla, give a gloomy and stern character to the scenery of Caracas; particularly in that part of the year when the coolest temperature prevails, namely, in the months of November and December. The mornings are then very fine; and on a clear and serene sky we could perceive the two domes or rounded pyramids of the Silla, and the craggy ridge of the Cerro de Avila. But towards evening the atmosphere thickens; the mountains are overhung with clouds; streams of vapour cling to their evergreen slopes, and seem to divide them into zones one above another. These zones are gradually blended together; the cold air which descends from the Silla, accumulates in the valley, and condenses the light vapours into large fleecy clouds. These often descend below the Cross of La Guayra, and advance, gliding on the soil, in the direction of the Pastora of Caracas, and the adjacent quarter of Trinidad. Beneath this misty sky, I could scarcely imagine myself to be in one of the temperate valleys of the torrid zone; but rather in the north of Germany, among the pines and the larches that cover the mountains of the Hartz.

It is to be regretted that this delightful climate is generally inconstant and variable. The inhabitants of Caracas complain of having several seasons in one and the same day; and of the rapid change from one season to another. In the month of January, for instance, a night, of which the mean temperature is 16 degrees, is sometimes followed by a day when the thermometer during eight successive hours keeps above 22 degrees in the shade. In the same day, we may find the temperature of 24 and 18 degrees. These variations are extremely common in our temperate climates of Europe, but in the torrid zone, Europeans themselves are so accustomed to the uniform action of exterior stimulus, that they suffer from a change of temperature of 6 degrees. At Cumana, and everywhere in the plains, the temperature from eleven in the morning to eleven at night changes only 2 or 3 degrees. Moreover, these variations act on the human frame at Caracas more violently than might be supposed from the mere indications of the thermometer. In this narrow valley the atmosphere is in some sort balanced between two winds, one blowing from the west, or the seaside, the other from the east, or the inland country. The first is known by the name of the wind of Catia, because it blows from Catia westward of Cabo Blanco through the ravine of Tipe. It is, however, only a westerly wind in appearance, and it is oftener the breeze of the east and north-east, which, rushing with extreme impetuosity, engulfs itself in the Quebrada de Tipe. Rebounding from the high mountains of Aguas Negras, this wind finds its way back to Caracas, in the direction of the hospital of the Capuchins and the Rio Caraguata. It is loaded with vapours, which it deposits as its temperature decreases, and consequently the summit of the Silla is enveloped in clouds, when the catia blows in the valley. This wind is dreaded by the inhabitants of Caracas; it causes headache in persons whose nervous system is irritable. In order to shun its effects, people sometimes shut themselves up in their houses, as they do in Italy when the sirocco is blowing. I thought I perceived, during my stay at Caracas, that the wind of Catia was purer (a little richer in oxygen) than the wind of Petare. I even imagined that its purity might explain its exciting property. The wind of Petare coming from the east and south-east, by the eastern extremity of the valley of the Guayra, brings from the mountains and the interior of the country, a drier air, which dissipates the clouds, and the summit of the Silla rises in all its beauty.

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