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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 1836
Ort Exeter
in: The Wonders of the Universe, or Curiosities of Nature and Art: Including Memoirs and Anecdotes of Wonderful and Eccentric Characters of every Age and Nation. From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Exeter: J. & B. Williams 1836, S. 169–172.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung; Schmuck: Kapitälchen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: III.46
Dateiname: 1818-Cavern_of_Guacharo-09-neu
Seitenanzahl: 4
Zeichenanzahl: 8909

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, as describedby baron humboldt.

In a country where the people love what is marvellous, a cavernthat gives birth to a river, and is inhabited by thousands of nocturnalbirds, the fat of which is employed in the Missions to dress food, isan everlasting object of conversation and discussion. Scarcely has astranger arrived at Cumana, when he is told of the stone of Arayafor the eyes; of the labourer of Arenas who suckled his child; andof the Cavern of Guacharo, which is said to be several leagues inlength; till he is tired of hearing of them. The Cueva del Guacharo is pierced in the vertical profile of a rock,The entrance is toward the south, and forms a vault eighty feet broad,and seventy-two feet high. The rock, that surmounts the grotto, iscovered with trees of gigantic height. The mammee-tree, and thegenipa with large and shining leaves, raise their branches verticallytoward the sky; while those of the courbaril and the erythrina, formas they extend themselves, a thick vault of verdure. Plants of thefamily of pathos with succulent stems, oxalises, and orchideæ of asingular structure, rise in the driest clefts of the rocks; while creep-ing plants, waving in the winds, are inter-woven in festoons beforethe opening of the cavern. We distinguished in these festoons abignonia of a violet-blue, the purple dolichos, and for the first timethat magnificent olandra, the orange flower of which has a fleshy |170|tube more than four inches long. The entrances of grottoes, like theview of cascades, derive their principal charm from the situation,more or less majestic, in which they are placed, and which in somesort determines the character of the landscape. What a contrast be-tween the Cueva of Caripe, and those caverns of the North crownedwith oaks and gloomy larch-trees! But this luxury of vegetation embellishes not only the outside ofthe vault, but appears even in the vestibule of the grotto. We sawwith astonishment plaintain-leaved heliconias eighteen feet high, thepraga palm-tree, and arborescent arums, follow the banks of the rivereven to those subterranean places. The vegetation continues in theCave of Caripe, as in those deep crevices of the Andes, half exclu-ded from the light of day; and does not disappear, till, advancing inthe interior, we reach thirty or forty paces from the entrance. Wemeasured the way by means of a cord: and we went on about fourhundred and thirty feet, without being obliged to light our torches. Day-light penetrates into this region, because the grotto forms butone single channel, which keeps the same direction from south-east tonorth-west. Where the light begins to fail, we heard from afar thehoarse sounds of the nocturnal birds, sounds which the natives thinkbelong exclusively to those subterraneous places. The guacharo isof the size of our fowls, has the mouth of the goatsuckers andprocnias, and the port of those vultures, the crooked beak of whichis surrounded with stiff silky hairs. It forms a new genus, very dif-ferent from the goatsucker by the force of its voice, by the consider-able strength of its beak, containing a double tooth, by its feet with-out the membranes that unite the anterior phalanxes of the claws. Inits manners it has analogies both with the goatsuckers and the alpinecrow. The plumage of the guacharo is of a dark bluish-gray, mixedwith small streaks and specks of black. It is difficult to form anidea of the horrible noise occasioned by thousands of these birds inthe dark part of the cavern, and which can only be compared to thecroaking of our crows, which, in the pine forests of the north, live insociety, and construct their nests upon trees, the tops of which toucheach other. The shrill and piercing cries of the guacharoes strikeupon the vaults of the rocks, and are repeated by the echo in thedepth of the cavern. The Indians showed us the nests of these birds,by fixing torches to the end of a long pole. These nests were fifty orsixty feet high above our heads, in holes in the shape of funnels, withwhich the roof of the grotto is pierced like a sieve. The noise in- |171|creased as we advanced, and the birds were affrighted by the light ofthe torches of copal. When this noise ceased around us, we heard,at a distance, the plaintive cries of the birds roosting in other ramifi-cations of the cavern. It seemed as if these bands answered eachother alternately. The Indians enter into the Cueva del Guacharo once a year, nearMidsummer, armed with poles, by means of which they destroy thegreater part of the nests. At this season, several thousands of birdsare killed; and the old ones, to defend their brood, hover around theheads of the savage Indians, uttering terrible cries, which would appalany heart but that of a man in an untutored state. We followed, as we continued our progress through the cavern, thebanks of the small river which issued from it, and is from twenty-eight to thirty feet wide. We walked on the banks, as far as the hillsformed of calcareous incrustations permitted us. When the torrentwinds among very high masses of stalactites, we were often obligedto descend into its bed, which is only two feet in depth. We learnt,with surprise, that this subterraneous rivulet is the origin of the riverCaripe, which, at a few leagues distance, after having joined the smallriver of Santa Maria, is navigable for canoes. It enters into the ri-ver Areo, under the name of Canno de Terezen. We found, on thebanks of the subterraneous rivulet, a great quantity of palm-tree wood,the remains of trunks, on which the Indians climb to reach the nestshanging to the roofs of the cavern. The rings, formed by the ves-tiges of the old footstalks of the leaves, furnish, as it were, the foot-steps of a ladder perpendicularly placed. The Grotto of Caripe preserves the same breadth, and its primi-tive height of sixty or seventy feet, to the distance of 1458 feet, ac-curately measured. I have never seen a cavern, in either continent,of so uniform and regular a construction. We had great difficulty inpersuading the Indians to pass beyond the outer part of the grotto,the only part which they annually visit to collect the fat. The wholeauthority of los padres was necessary, to induce them to advance asfar as the spot where the soil rises abruptly at an inclination of sixtydegrees, and where the torrent forms a small subterraneous cascade.The natives connect mystic ideas with this cave, inhabited by noctur-nal birds; they believe, that the souls of their ancestors sojourn in thedeep recesses of the cavern. “Man,” say they, “should avoid placeswhich are enlightened neither by the Sun nor by the Moon.” To goand join the guacharoes, is to join their fathers,—is to die. The ma- |172|gicians and 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 cascade, a hillcovered with vegetation, which is opposite the opening of the grotto,presents itself in a very picturesque manner. It appears, at the ex-tremity of a straight passage, 240 toises in length. The stalactites,which descend from the vault, and which resemble colums suspendedin the air, display themselves on a back-ground of verdure. Theopening of the cavern appeared singularly contracted, when we sawit about the middle of the day, illumined by the vivid light reflectedat once from the sky, the plants, and the rocks. The distant light ofday formed somewhat of magical contrast with the darkness that sur-rounded us in those vast caverns. We climbed, not without somedifficulty, the small hill, whence the subterraneous rivulet descends.We saw that the grotto was perceptibly contracted, retaining only fortyfeet in height; and that it continued stretching to the northeast, withoutdeviating from its primitive direction, which is parallel to that of thegreat valley of Caripe. The missionaries, with all their authority, could not prevail on theIndians to penetrate farther into the cavern. As the vault grew low-er, the cries of the guacharoes became more shrill. We were obligedto yield to the pusillanimity of our guides, and trace back our steps.We followed the course of the torrent to go out of the cavern. Be-fore our eyes were dazzled with the light of day, we saw, without thegrotto, the water of the river sparkling amid the foliage of the treesthat concealed it. It was like a picture placed in the distance, and towhich the mouth of the cavern served as a frame. Having at lengthreached the entrance, and seated ourselves on the bank of the rivulet,we rested after our fatigues. We were glad to be beyond the hoarsecries of the birds, and to leave a place where darkness does not offereven the charm of silence and tranquillity.