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which are seldom less than twenty, or more than eighty or ninety miles apart. The narrow strips on each bank of every stream are peopled in proportion to the supply of water. During the rainy season in the interior, or from the melting of the snows upon the Andes, the great rivers upon the coast swell prodigiously, and can be crossed only by means of a balsa, which is a raft or frame-work, fastened upon four bull-hides sewed up, made air-tight, and filled with wind. A few of the large rivers reach the sea, but most of those of the second order are consumed in irrigating the cultivated patches, or are absorbed by the encompassing desert, where it never rains; where neither birds, beasts, nor reptiles, are ever
, seen, and where a blade of vegetation never grew. Sometimes a rill of water bubbles up, and is lost within the space of a hundred yards. Very often the banks of rivers are too steep and rugged to admit of the water being applied to the purposes of irrigation; consequently the surrounding country cannot be cultivated. No stranger can travel from valley to valley, as the inhabited strips are inappropriately called, without a guide; for the only indication that the desert has been trodden before is an occasional cluster of bones, the remains of beasts of burden that have perished. The sand is frequently raised into immense clouds by the wind, to the great annoyance of the traveller, who generally rides with his face muf
When he becomes fatigued, or his animal jaded, he dismounts, and, if the sun shines, he his poncho between the fore and hind legs of his horse or mule, and lies down under the only shade
It is a very
to be obtained in the shrubless waste. curious sight to behold a regiment of cavalry reposing in this manner. On approaching Arequipa from the coast, the desert is thickly sprinkled with médanos, which are mounds of sand raised by eddying winds, that extend their influence several leagues from the mountain ridges. The médanos are in the shape of a crescent, the interior face of which is six or eight feet high, and nearly perpendicular, the outer front sloping like a glacis, and the horns diminishing to a very fine point. Whatever may be the dimensions of a médano, it always assumes this form, until, upon approaching nearer to the line of mountains, it gradually loses its symmetry. In the immediate vicinity of the Cordillera these formations cease.
The médanos create an tremely irksome labyrinth to the vaquianos, who, from their repeated shiftings, have no species of clue by which to direct their course. Between Payta and Piura, about a league or two from the latter place, there is also an extent of desert covered with médanos, which are situated at the same distance from the range of the Cordillera as those near Arequipa. On the road from Arequipa to Yarabamba columns of dust, from fifty to two hundred feet in height, are raised by whirlwinds. Let the traveller turn which way he will, some of these columns are constantly before him. He is sometimes caught in one; but as they last only a minute or two, and as it is an easy matter to gallop out of them, no inconvenience arises.
The obstacles to moving a body of troops from
one point to another in this country can only be appreciated by military men who have had to contend against them. But description, unaccompanied by a statement of facts, will fall short of conveying even a faint idea of the horrors of the desert, where a puff of wind obliterates, in a moment, the footmarks of a column of soldiers.
It is not a rare circumstance for the most experienced vaquianos, or guides, to lose themselves. In that case, terror instantly reduces them to a state of positive insanity, and unless they recover the path by chance, or are fortunate enough to see other travellers loom above the horizon, they inevitably perish, and their fate is no more known than that of a ship which founders unseen in the distant ocean. They are nevertheless very expert, and regulate their course by circumstances unobservable to the casual traveller. When Miller galloped across the desert of Siguas, ten leagues in breadth, he expressed some doubts to the guides, as to whether they were in the proper direction. They told him that, so long as a bright star which they pointed out was in sight, there was no danger of their losing themselves, and remarked that, as the wind always blew from the same quarter, they had only to keep the breeze in their left eye, to make the valley of Vitor. How. ever, detachments, and even entire corps of the army, have often been known to lose themselves for a considerable time.
When the remains of Alvarado's army were on the passage from the Puertos Intermedios to Lima, in 1823, a transport conveying above three hundred cavalry grounded, and went to pieces twelve leagues south of Pisco, and fourteen leagues west of Ica. All hands escaped on shore; but, in attempting to find their way to Pisco, they lost themselves for thirty-six hours, and became bewildered by despair. On the wreck being known at Pisco, a regiment of cavalry was ordered out with a supply of water, to pick up the wanderers. The
. commanding officer of the wrecked soldiers, Colonel Lavalle, was one of the survivors, and has recounted the sufferings of the party in that dreadful calamity. He had with him an orderly who had fought by his side at Chacabuco, Maypo, Nasca, Rio-Bamba, Pasco, and Pinchincha, and who had on one occasion saved the colonel's life at the risk of his own, but who was now as insensible to the distresses of his master as to those of his comrades. Overcome by fatigue, the unfortunate men would sometimes drop upon the burning surface, and tear up the sand in search of water with agonizing fury. After proceeding some leagues, a few date-trees were discovered at a distance, near the roots of which water is always to be found. A feeble cry of joy issued from the parched tongues of the foremost. It was not given to encourage those in the rear, but was an involuntary expression of internal feelings, animated by a glimpse of the palms towering in the distance. All in sight immediately quickened their pace,
but numbers fell lifeless before they could reach the muchdesired place. Those who had strength enough left to arrive there began to excavate, and found water, which however was scarce and muddy. The rush of the almost breathless throng rendered it at first impos
sible for any to satisfy the cravings of their thirst. Beyond the friendly palms none had the courage to advance, but dropped or spread themselves around in fixed and mute despair, no one thinking more of his fellow-sufferers than if he alone lay panting in the desert. Even those thoughts of home, of family, and of friends, which are the last to quit their hold upon the memory at the hour of death in a foreign land; even those tender recollections appeared to have vanished from every mind. At length the hussars sent from Pisco appeared in sight. Indescribable emotions of joy were felt, rather than expressed; for all had by this time become nearly speechless. Their first joyful emotions were chilled by unutterable anxieties, lest their hoped-for deliverers should not shape their course towards the date-trees, and all were too weak for even one to stand up and make a signal. They could turn their glazed eyes upon the horsemen, and form a silent hope, but that was all, for not a word was spoken. They were, however, at last delivered from a state of frightful suspense by the arrival of the hussars, who poured water down the burning throats of the men as they lay extended on the ground, unable to stir, or to ask for the delicious draught, or to give thanks for it, excepting by an expression of delight which faintly beamed on their features. Many drew their last breath before relief could be administered, and nearly one hundred unburied corpses, which strewed the dreary waste, will, for ages, mark the calamitous route.
It is not an unusual circumstance for soldiers to drop down dead, or to see the blood gush out from their ears and nostrils as they march, sometimes,