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Alexander von Humboldt: „The great cavern of Guacharo, in South America“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 18.05.2024].

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Titel The great cavern of Guacharo, in South America
Jahr 1822
Ort Hartford, Connecticut
in: Cabinet of Curiosities, Natural, Artificial, and Historical, selected from the most authentic records, ancient and modern 1 (1822), S. 140–144.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Fußnoten mit Asterisken.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: III.46
Dateiname: 1818-Cavern_of_Guacharo-04-neu
Seitenanzahl: 5
Zeichenanzahl: 9121

Weitere Fassungen
Cavern of Guacharo (New York City, New York, 1818, Englisch)
Account of the Great Cavern of the Guacharo (Edinburgh, 1820, Englisch)
[Cavern of Guacharo] (Frankfurt am Main, 1821, Deutsch)
The great cavern of Guacharo, in South America (Hartford, Connecticut, 1822, Englisch)
Cavern of the Guacharo (Edinburgh, 1824, Englisch)
The Great Cavern of Guacharo, in South America (New York City, New York, 1826, Englisch)
The great cavern of Guacharo, in South America (London, 1826, Englisch)
Die Felshöhle von Guacharo (Bamberg; Aschaffenburg, 1827, Deutsch)
The great cavern of Guacharo, in South America (Exeter, 1836, Englisch)
The great cavern of Guacharo in South America (London, 1845, Englisch)
Die Felshöhle von Guacharo (Leipzig, 1843, Deutsch)
Die Grotte von Caripe oder die Felshöhle von Guacharo (Berlin, 1851, Deutsch)
Der Guacharo (Bad Langensalza, 1852, Deutsch)
Die Höhle von Guacharo (Mainz, 1854, Deutsch)
Die Höhle von Guacharo (Stuttgart, 1856, Deutsch)
Die Höhle von Guacharo (Leipzig, 1858, Deutsch)

the great cavern of guacharo, in south america *.

In a country where the people love what is marvellous, acavern that gives birth to a river, and is inhabited by thou-
* Abridged from the Personal Narrative of Humboldt, vol. iii.
|141|sands of nocturnal birds, the fat of which is employed in theMissions to dress food, is an everlasting object of conversationand discussion. Scarcely has a stranger arrived at Cumana,when he is told of the stone of Araya for the eyes; of the la-bourer of Arenas who suckled his child; and of the Cavernof Guacharo, which is said to be several leagues in length;till he is tired of hearing of them.
The Cueva del Guacharo is pierced in the vertical profileof a rock. The entrance is toward the south, and forms avault eighty feet broad, and seventy-two feet high. The rock,that surmounts the grotto, is covered with trees of gigantic height.The mammee-tree, and the genipa with large and shiningleaves, raise their branches vertically towards the sky; whilethose of the courbaril and the erythrina form, as they extendthemselves, a thick vault of verdure. Plants of the family ofpothos with succulent stems, oxalises, and orchideæ, of a sin-gular structure, rise in the driest cliffs of the rocks; whilecreeping plants, waving in the winds, are interwoven in fes-toons before the opening of the cavern. We distinguished inthese festoons a bignonia of a violet blue, the purple dolichos,and, for the first time, that magnificent olandra, the orange flowerof which has a fleshy tube more than four inches long. Theentrances of grottoes, like the view of cascades, derive theirprincipal charm from the situation, more or less majestic, inwhich they are placed, and which in some sort determines thecharacter of the landscape. What a contrast between theCueva of Caripe, and those caverns of the North, crownedwith oaks and gloomy larch-trees! But this luxury of vegetation embellishes not only the out-side of the vault, it appears even in the vestibule of the grotto.We saw with astonishment, plantain-leaved heliconias eighteenfeet high, the praga palm-tree, and arborescent arums, followthe banks of the river even to those subterranean places. Thevegetation continues in the cave of Caripe, as in those deepcrevices of the Andes, half excluded from the light of day;and does not disappear, till, advancing into the interior, wereach thirty or forty paces from the entrance. We measuredthe way by means of a cord: and we went on about four hun-dred and thirty feet, without being obliged to light our torches. Day-light penetrates into this region, because the grottoforms but one single channel, which keeps the same directionfrom southeast to northwest. Where the light begins to fail,we heard from afar the hoarse sounds of the nocturnal birds;sounds which the natives think belong exclusively to those sub-terraneous places. The guacharo is of the size of our fowls,has the mouth of the goatsuckers and procnias, and the port |142|of those vultures, the crooked beak of which is surroundedwith stiff silky hairs. It forms a new genus, very differentfrom the goatsucker by the force of its voice, by the considera-ble strength of its beak, containing a double tooth, by its feetwithout the membranes that unite the anterior phalanxes of theclaws. In its manners, it has analogies both with the goat-suckers and the alpine crow. The plumage of the guacharois of a dark bluish-grey, mixed with small streaks and specksof black. It is difficult to form an idea of the horrible noiseoccasioned by thousands of these birds in the dark part of thecavern, and which can only be compared to the croaking ofour crows, which, in the pine forests of the north, live in so-ciety, and construct their nests upon trees, the tops of whichtouch each other. The shrill and piercing cries of the guacha-roes strike upon the vaults of the rocks, and are repeated by theecho in the depth of the cavern. The Indians showed us the nestsof these birds, by fixing torches to the end of a long pole. Thesenests were fifty or sixty feet high above our heads, in holes in theshape of funnels, with which the roof of the grotto is pierced likea sieve. The noise increased as we advanced, and the birds wereaffrighted by the light of the torches of copal. When this noiseceased around us, we heard at a distance the plaintive cries ofthe birds roosting in other ramifications of the cavern. It seem-ed as if these bands answered each other alternately. The Indians enter into the Cueva del Guacharo once a year,near mid-summer, armed with poles, by means of which, theydestroy the greater part of the nests. At this season, severalthousands of birds are killed; and the old ones, to defend theirbrood, hover around the heads of the savage Indians, utteringterrible cries, which would appal any heart but that of man inan untutored state. We followed, as we continued our progress through the ca-vern, the banks of the small river which issued from it, and isfrom twenty-eight to thirty feet wide. We walked on thebanks, as far as the hills, formed of calcareous incrustations,permitted us. When the torrent winds among very highmasses of stalactites, we were often obliged to descend into itsbed, which is only two feet in depth. We learnt with sur-prise, that this subterraneous rivulet is the origin of the riverCaripe, which, at a few leagues distance, after having joinedthe small river of Santa Maria, is navigable for canoes. Itenters into the river Areo under the name of Canno de Tere-zen. We found on the banks of the subterraneous rivulet agreat quantity of palm-tree wood, the remains of trunks, onwhich the Indians climb to reach the nests hanging to the roofsof the cavern. The rings, formed by the vestiges of the old |143|footstalks of the leaves, furnish, as it were, the footsteps of aladder perpendicularly placed. The grotto of Caripe preserves the same direction, the samebreadth, and its primitive height of sixty or seventy feet, to thedistance of 1458 feet, accurately measured. I have never seena cavern in either continent, of so uniform and regular a con-struction. We had great difficulty in persuading the Indiansto pass beyond the outer part of the grotto, the only part whichthey annually visit to collect the fat. The whole authority of themissionaries was necessary, to induce them to advance as far asthe spot where the soil rises abruptly at an inclination of sixtydegrees, and where the torrent forms a small subterraneouscascade.* The natives connect mystic ideas with this cave,inhabited by nocturnal birds; they believe, that the souls oftheir ancestors sojourn in the deep recesses of the cavern.“Man,” say they, “should avoid places which are enlighten-ed neither by the sun, nor by the moon.” To go and join theguacharoes, is to rejoin their fathers; is to die. The magiciansand the poisoners perform their nocturnal tricks at the en-trance of the cavern, to conjure the chief of the evil spirits. At the point where the river forms the subterraneous cas-cade, a hill, covered with vegetation, which is opposite theopening of the grotto, presents itself in a very picturesque man-ner. It appears at the extremity of a straight passage, 240toises in length. The stalactites, which descend from thevault, and which resemble columns suspended in the air, dis-play themselves on a back-ground of verdure. The openingof the cavern appeared singularly contracted, when we saw itabout the middle of the day, illumined by the vivid light reflect-ed at once from the sky, the plants, and the rocks. The dis-tant light of day formed somewhat of a magical contrast withthe darkness that surrounded us in those vast caverns. Weclimbed, not without some difficulty, the small hill, whencethe subterraneous rivulet descends. We saw that the grottowas perceptibly contracted, retaining only forty feet in itsheight; and that it continued stretching to the northeast, with-out deviating from its primitive direction, which is parallel tothat of the great valley of Caripe. The missionaries, with all their authority, could not prevailon the Indians to penetrate farther into the cavern. As thevault grew lower, the cries of the guacharoes became moreshrill. We were obliged to yield to the pusillanimity of ourguides, and trace back our steps. We followed the course of
* We find this phenomenon of a subterranean cascade, but on amuch larger scale, in England, at Yordas cave, near Kingsdale, inYorkshire.
|144|the torrent to go out of the cavern. Before our eyes were daz-zled with the light of day, we saw, without the grotto, the wa-ter of the river sparkling amid the foliage of the trees that con-cealed it. It was like a picture placed in the distance, and towhich the mouth of the cavern served as a frame. Having atlength reached the entrance, and seated ourselves on the bankof the rivulet, we rested after our fatigues. We were glad tobe beyond the hoarse cries of the birds, and to leave a placewhere darkness does not offer even the charms of silence andtranquility.