Darwin and the Voyage: 04 ~ Darwin Gets his Wellies Wet

I became acquainted with an Englishman who was going to visit his estate ... more than a hundred miles [north] of Cape Frio. As I was quite unused to travelling, I gladly accepted his kind offer of allowing me to accompany him.

And so was the case with a number of Darwin's excursions into the bush.

Although he organized expeditions to the interior, he also took advantage of individuals or groups traveling one place or another, such as this Englishman, in order to carry out random acts of geologizing and opportunistic biologizing.

And thus seven men, including Darwin and his Englishman, headed north from Cape Frio, Brazil, which is now a primarily local tourist beach well known for it's shrimp pasta, and across the hills behind Praia Grande, working their way through a wooded area and some cultivated fields. Eventually, they entered the forest.

The Beagle had extra duties to carry out along the Atlantic Coast of South America, mainly Brazil and Argentina, as Fitzroy (The Beagle's Captain) was charged with mapping very complex and extensive coasts and "shoals" (shallow areas) for the purpose of defining shipping routes and making better maps. Fitzroy considered himself to be one of the, if not the, best navigators and cartographers in the British Admiralty if not the world. The upshot is, since Fitzroy had a time consuming job along these costs, the coast itself is extensive and complex, Fitzroy was fixed on doing a good job, and in addition, the weather and local political conditions often failed to cooperate. Therefore, Darwin, who was only marginally involved in the mapping and cartography itself, had a lot of spare time to spend inland.

This is good, since Darwin was perpetually sea sick while on the boat. For five years. What a mensch.

There were occasions when Darwin traveled across a bit of countryside as he is now with his Englishman, there were occasions when he entered the interior at one point with the intention of meeting The Beagle at some other harbor or river mouth a few weeks later, and there were occasions when he simply got a place to crash in a settlement, to work on his stuff and make a number of day walks, while Fitzroy and his boat plied the coastal waters taking soundings and conducting multiple repeated triangulations.

On this trip, Darwin describes the terrain, relates a story of a settlement of runaway slaves captured by the authorities ... all but one old woman who kills herself rather than being captured. He notes the irony of classist constructions of history: "In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it is mere brutal obstinacy." Eventually, they reach their first resting site, using the moon to make progress well into the night, take what is essentially a nap and leave early, before sunrise, the next morning.

At this point I'll give you Darwin's narrative directly. This passage is typical of the entire manuscript. Look for the descriptions of terrain, culture, architecture, plants, and terms that would presage later monographs such as his work on orchids, woven into a story of travel and interaction with the locals, things that happen to him, things that happen around him. Check it out:

We left our miserable sleeping-place before sunrise. The road passed through a narrow sandy plain, lying between the sea and the interior salt lagoons. The number of beautiful fishing birds, such as egrets and cranes, and the succulent plants assuming most fantastical forms, gave to the scene an interest which it would not otherwise have possessed. The few stunted trees were loaded with parasitical plants, among which the beauty and delicious fragrance of some of the orchideae were most to be admired. ... We dined at Mandetiba; the thermometer in the shade being 84°. The beautiful view of the distant wooded hills, reflected in the perfectly calm water of an extensive lagoon, quite refreshed us.

As the [inn] here was a very good one, and I have the pleasant, but rare remembrance, of an excellent dinner, I will be grateful and presently describe it, as the type of its class. These houses are often large, and are built of thick upright posts, with boughs interwoven, and afterwards plastered. They seldom have floors, and never glazed windows; but are generally pretty well roofed. Universally the front part is open, forming a kind of verandah, in which tables and benches are placed. The bed-rooms join on each side, and here the passenger may sleep as comfortably as he can, on a wooden platform, covered by a thin straw mat. The vênda stands in a courtyard, where the horses are fed.

On first arriving, it was our custom to unsaddle the horses and give them their Indian corn; then, with a low bow, to ask the senhôr to do us the favour to give us something to eat. "Any thing you choose, sir," was his usual answer. For the few first times, vainly I thanked Providence for having guided us to so good a man. The conversation proceeding, the case universally became deplorable. "Any fish can you do us the favour of giving?"--"Oh! no, sir."--"Any soup?"-- "No, sir."--"Any bread ?"--"Oh ! no, sir."--"Any dried meat?"--"Oh! no, sir." If we were lucky, by waiting a couple of hours, we obtained fowls, rice, and farinha. It not unfrequently happened, that we were obliged to kill, with stones, the poultry for our own supper.

Of course, many of us have had the same exact experience in one far away land or another. The phrase "Yes, we have everything on the menu" in many language means about the same as "Hey, how's it going" which in turn means "I see you there, don't talk to me unless you have to."

So, let's continue with Darwin the Travel Writer:

When thoroughly exhausted by fatigue and hunger, we timorously hinted that we should be glad of our meal, the pompous, and (though true) most unsatisfactory answer was, "It will be ready when it is ready." If we had dared to remonstrate any further, we should have been told to proceed on our journey, as being too impertinent. The hosts are most ungracious and disagreeable in their manners; their houses and their persons are often filthily dirty; the want of the accommodation of forks, knives, and spoons is common; and I am sure no cottage or hovel in England could be found in a state so utterly destitute of every comfort.

Eventually, I think Darwin became more good natured about the conflict between his English sensibilities and the way everyone else in the world lives. But it took time. Also, note that although Darwin engaged fully in all aspects of his five year voyage on the beagle, he did not repeat any stint of fieldwork abroad after he returned. Continuing....

At Campos Novos, however, we fared sumptuously; having rice and fowls, biscuit, wine, and spirits, for dinner; coffee in the evening, and fish with coffee for breakfast. All this, with good food for the horses, only cost 2s. 6d. per head. Yet the host of this vênda, being asked if he knew any thing of a whip which one of the party had lost, gruffly answered, "How should I know? why did you not take care of it?--I suppose the dogs have eat it."

Always something, always something wrong.....

Next installment ... The Vampire Bat.....

The other posts in this series can be found by clicking this link.


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

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