"No," said the American shortly; "can't see anything, only that I want to go in that captain's vessel, and I don't mind whether it's up the Orinoco or the Amazons. I wouldn't mind if it was only up this bit of a river here to where the gold grows. They say there's plenty up there." "Then go up this river and seek it," said Brace, "and you'll soon get over this disappointment."
He was sent to Esmeralda, the last Mission of the Upper Orinoco, famous for the vast quantity of noxious insects with which the air is continually filled. Fray Juan Gonzales was thoroughly acquainted with the forests which extend from the cataracts towards the sources of the Orinoco. He confirmed us in our desire of examining the much-disputed bifurcation of the Orinoco.
Those Llanos which form the basin of the Orinoco, and which we crossed twice in one year, in the months of March and July, communicate with the basin of the Amazon and the Rio Negro, bounded on one side by the Cordillera of Chiquitos, and on the other by the mountains of Parime. The opening which is left between the latter and the Andes of New Grenada, occasions this communication.
Superstition attaches great importance to these mineral substances: they are worn suspended from the neck as amulets, because, according to popular belief, they preserve the wearer from nervous complaints, fevers, and the stings of venomous serpents. They have consequently been for ages an article of trade among the natives, both north and south of the Orinoco.
Between the latitudes of 4 and 8 degrees, the Orinoco not only separates the great forest of the Parime from the bare savannahs of the Apure, Meta, and Guaviare, but also forms the boundary between tribes of very different manners.
Wall and Sawkins, in their geological survey of this island, have abstained from expressing any such opinion; and I think wisely. They are more simply explained as the mere leavings of the old sea-worn mountain wall, at a time when the Orinoco, or the sea, lay along their southern, as it now does along their northern, side.
The nations of the Upper Orinoco, the Atabapo, and the Inirida, like the ancient Germans and the Persians, have no other worship than that of the powers of nature. They call the good principle Cachimana; it is the Manitou, the Great Spirit, that regulates the seasons, and favours the harvests.
Some of the Indians of the Orinoco held the toad to be the god or lord of the waters, and for that reason feared to kill the creature. They have been known to keep frogs under a pot and to beat them with rods when there was a drought.
In a few days the travellers were obliged to throw off their ponchos and warm garments, and at the end of a few weeks we find them stretched out lazily in the stern of a canoe, under the guidance of four Creoles, floating quietly down one of the numerous tributaries of the Orinoco. The change was not only sudden but also agreeable.
The incursions of Don Joseph Careno, one of the most enterprising governors of the province of Cumana, occasioned a general migration of independent Caribs toward the banks of the Lower Orinoco in 1720. The whole of this vast plain consists of secondary formations which to the southward rest immediately on the granitic mountains of the Orinoco.