Fragrance in Travel Literature-El Dorado by Bayard Taylor

Eldorado; or, Adventures in the path of empire, comprising a voyage to California, via Panama; life in San Francisco and Monterey; pictures of the gold region; and experiences of Mexican travel (1892)
Taylor, Bayard, 1825-1878

Ah we drew nearer,
the Iron Mountains — a rugged chain in the interior — rose, then the
green hills along the coast, and finally the white beach and bluffs,
the coral reefs and breakers. The shores were buried in vege-
tation. The fields of young sugar-cane ran along the slopes;
pahns waved from the hill-tops, and the country houses of plant-
ers lay deep in the valleys, nestling in orange groves. I drank in
the land-wind — a combination of all tropical perfumes in one full
breath of cool air- with an enjoyment verging on intoxication,
while, point beyond point, we followed the enchanting coast.

After dinner, all our fellow-travelers set out for the Alameda,
which lies in a little valley at the foot of the town. A broad
paved walk, with benches of stone at the side and stone urns on
lofty pedestals at short intervals, leads to a bridge over a deep
chasm, where the little river plunges through a mesh of vines into
a large basin below. Beyond this bridge, a dozen foot-paths lead
off to the groves and shaded glens, the haciendas and orange
orchards. The idlers of the town strolled back and forth, enjoying
the long twilight and balmy air. We were all in the most joyous
mood, and my fellow-passengers of "three or four different nations
expressed their delight in as many tongues, with an amusing
contrast of exclamations : " Ah^ que joli petit pays de Jalape /"
cried the little Frenchwoman, who had talked in a steady stream
since leaving Mexico, notwithstanding she was going to France on
account of delicate lungs. '' Siente uste el aroma de las naran-
jas ?" asked a dark-eyed Andalusian. " Himmlische Luft .'"
exclaimed the enraptured German, unconsciously quoting Gota
von Berlichingen. Don Antonio turned to me, saying in
English : " My pulse is quicker and my blood warmer than for
twenty years ; I believe my youth is actually coming back again."
We talked thus till the stars came out and the perfumed air was cool
with invisible dew.

We could not stroll among the gardens or sit under the urns of
the Alameda, but the towers and balconies were left us ; the land-
scape, though faint and blurred by the filmy rain, was nearly as
beautiful, and the perfume could not be washed out of the air
So passed the day, and with the night we betook ourselves early
to rest, for the Diligence was to leave at three o'clock on the

After the final dish of frijoles had been dispatched, I ma(/i a
short night-stroll through the city. The wind was blowing strong
and cold from the mountains, whistling; under the arches of the
cortal and flaring the red torches that burned in the market-place
The fruit-sellers, nevertheless, kept at their posts, exchanging
jokes occasionally with a masked figure in some nondescript cos-
tume. I found shelter from the wind, at last, in a grand old
church, near the plaza. The interior was brilliantly lighted, and
the floor covered by kneeling figures. There was nothing in the
church itself, except its vastness and dimness, to interest me ; but
the choral music I there heard was not to be described. A
choir of boys, alternating with one of rich masculine voices, over-
ran the full peal of the organ, and filled the aisle with delicious
harmony. There was a single voice, which seemed to come out
of the air , in the pauses of the choral, and send its clear, trumpet-
tones directly to the heart. As long as the exercises continued, I
stood by the door, completely chained by those divine sounds.
The incense finally faded ; the tapers were put out one by one ;
the worshippers arose, took another dip in the basin of holy water,
and returned ; and I, too, went back to the hotel, and tried to keep
warm under cover of a single sarape.

There is nothing in the world comparable to these forests. No
description that I have ever read conveys an idea of the splendid
overplus of vegetable life within the tropics. The river, broad,
and with a swift current of the sweetest water I ever drank, winding
between walls of foliage that rise from its very surface. All the
gorgeous growths of an eternal Summer are so mingled in one
impenetrable mass, that the eye is bewildered. From the rank
jungle of canes and gigantic lilies, and the thickets of strange
shrubs that line the water, rise the trunks of the mango, the ceiba,
the cocoa, the sycamore and the superb palm. Plaintains take
root in the banks, hiding the soil with their leaves, shaken and
split into immense plumes by the wind and rain. The zapote,
with a fruit the size of a man's head, the gourd tree, and other
vegetable wonders, attract the eye on all sides. Blossoms oi
crimson, purple and yellow, of a form and magnitude unknown in
the North, are mingled with the leaves, and flocks of paroquets
and brilliant butterflies circle through the air like blossoms blown
away. Sometimes a spike of scarlet flowers is thrust forth like
the tongue of a serpent from the heart of some convolution of un
folding leaves, and often the creepers and parasites drop trails and
streamers of fragrance from boughs that shoot half-way across the
river. Every turn of the stream only disclosed another and more
magnificent vista of leaf, bough and blossom. All outline of the
landscape is lost under this deluge of vegetation. No trace of the
soil is to be seen ; lowland and highland are the same ; a moun
^tain is but a higher swell of the mass of verdure. As on the
ocean, you have a sense rather than a perception of beauty The
sharp clear lines of our scenery at home are here wanting. What
shape the land would be if cleared, you cannot tell. You gaze
upon the scene before you with a never-sated delight, till your
brain aches with the sensation, and you close your eyes, over
whelmed with the thought that all these wonders have been from
the beginning — that year after year takes away no leaf or blossom
that is not replaced, but the sublime mystery of growth and decay
if renewed forever.

Our road now led over broad plains, through occasional belts
of timber. The grass was almost entirely burnt up, and dry,
gravelly arroyos, in and out of which we went with a plunge and
a scramble, marked the courses of the winter streams. The air
was as warm and balmy as May, and fragrant with the aroma of
a species of gnaphalium, which made it delicious to inhale. Not
a cloud was to be seen in the sky, and the high, sparsely-wooded
mountains on either hand, showed softened and indistinct through
a blue haze. The character of the scenery was entirely new to
me. The splendid valley, untenanted except by a few solitary
rancheros living many miles apart, seemed to be some deserted
location of ancient civilization and culture. The wooded slopes
of the mountains are lawns, planted by Nature with a taste to
which Art could add no charm. The trees have nothing of the
wild growth of our forests ; they are compact, picturesque, and
grouped in every variety of graceful outline. The hUls were
covered to the summit with fields of wild oats, coloring thorn
as far as the eye could reach, with tawny gold, against which the
dark, glossy green of the oak and cypress showed with peculiar
effect. As we advanced further, these natural harvests extended
over the plain, mixed with vast beds of wild mustard, eight feet
in height, under which a thick crop of grass had sprung up, fur-
nishing sustenance to the thousands of cattle, roaming everywhere
unherded. The only cultivation I saw was a small field of maize,
green and with good ears.

I never felt a more thorough, exhilaratin: sense of freedom than
when first fairly afloat on these vast and beautiful plains. With
the mule as my shallop, urged steadily onward past the tranquil
isles and long promontories of timber ; drinking, with a delight
that almost made it a flavor on the palate, the soft, elastic, fragrant
air ; cut off, for the time, from every irksome requirement ol
civilization, and cast loose, like a stray, unshackled spirit, on the
bosom of a new earth, I seemed to take a fresh and more perfect
lease of existence. The mind was in exquisite harmony with the
outer world, and the same sensuous thrill of Life vibrated through
each. The mountains showed themselves through the magical
screen of the haze ; far on our left the bay made a faint, glim-
mering line, like a rod of light, cutting off the hardly-seen hills
beyond it, from the world ; and on all sides, from among the glossy
clumps of bay and evergreen oak, the chirrup and cheery whistle
of birds rang upon the air.

We trotted the twenty-five miles in about
four hours, rested an hour, and then set out again, hoping to reach
San Francisco that night. It was too much, however, for our
mules ; after passing the point of Santa Clara mountain they be-
gan to scatter, and as it was quite dark, we halted in a grove near
the Ruined Mission. We lay down on the ground, supperless and
somewhat weary with a ride of about seventy miles. I slept a
refreshing sleep under a fragrant bay-tree, and was up with the
first streak of dawn to look after my mules. Once started, we
spurred our animals into a rapid trot, which was not slackened till
we had passed the twenty miles that intervened between us and
the Mission Dolores.

The pine forest behind the town encloses in its depths many
spots of remarkable loneliness and beauty. The forest itself had
a peculiar charm for me, and scarcely a day passed without my
exploring some part of its solemn region. The old, rugged trees,
blackened with many fires, are thickly bearded with long gray
moss, which gives out a hoarse, dull sound as the sea-wind sweeps
through them. The promontory of Monterey is entirely covered
with them, excepting only the little glens, or canadas, which wind
their way between the interlocking bases of the hills. Here, the
grass is thick and luxuriant through the whole year ; the pine?
shut out all sight but the mild, stainless heaven above their tops ;
the air is fragrant with the bay and laurel, and the light tread oi
a deer or whirr of a partridge, at intervals, alone breaks the deli-
cious solitude. The far roar of the surf, stealing up through the
avenues of the forest, is softened to a murmur by the time it
reaches these secluded places. No more lovely hermitages for
thought or the pluming of callow fancies, can be found among the
pine-bowers of the Villa Borghese.

Making the circuit of the bay, the road finally doubled the last
mountain-cape, and plunged into dark green thickets, fragrant
with blossoms.

We reached at noon a village called El Ingenio, about twelve
leagues from Tepic. It lies in a warm valley planted with ba-
nanas and sugar-cane ; the mountain streams are made to turn a
number of mills, from which the place probably derives its name.
Here the road from San Bias runs up through a narrow gorge
and joins that from Mazatlan. We walked behind our horses all tha
afternoon, but as mine held out best. I gradually got ahead of the
arriero. I halted several times for him to come up, but as he did
not appear, I thought it advisable to push on to a good place of
rest. My caminador had touched the bottom of his capability,
and another day would have broken him down completely. Never-
theless, he had served me faithfully and performed miracles, con-
sidering his wasted condition. I drove him forward up ra-
vines, buried in foliage and fragrant with blossoms ; the golden
globes of the oranges spangled the " embalmed darkness," as
twilight settled on the mountains. Two leagues from Tepic, I
reached the hacienda of La Meca, and quartered myself for the
night. One of the rancheros wished to purchase my horse, and
after some chaffering, I agreed to deliver him in Tepic for four
dollars ! The owner of the hacienda, on learning this, was greatly
disappointed that I had not bargained with him, and urged me
very strongly to break my word and seil him the horse for three
dollars and a half !

Diie of the benches, so near the throng of promenaders passing
around the plaza, that their dresses brushed our feet. The ladiep
were in full dress, with their heads uncovered, and there were
many specimens of tropic beau+y among them. The faint cleaj
olire of their complexion, like a warm sunset-light on alabaster—
tne deep, dark, languishing eye, with the full drooping lid thai
would fain conceal its fire — the ripe voluptuous lip — the dark hair
whose silky waves would have touched the ground had they been
unbound — and the pliant grace and fullness of the form, formed
together a type of beauty, which a little queenly ambition would
have moulded into a living Cleopatra. A German band in front
jf the cathedral played " God save the King" and some of the
melodies oi the Fatherland. About ten o'clock, the throng began
to disperse ; we sat nearly an hour longer, enjoying the delicious
moonlight, coolness and fragrance, and when I lay down again on
the tiles, so far from thinking of Touchstone, I felt glad and grate-
ful for having seen Guadalajara.