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[CHAP. XVI.
NORTHERN CHILE.

rain falls on the mud-bank, when left dry, it deepens the already-formed shallow lines of excavation; and so is it with the rain of successive centuries on the bank of rock and soil, which we call a continent.

We rode on after it was dark, till we reached a side ravine with a small well, called "Agua amarga." The water deserved its name, for besides being saline it was most offensively putrid and bitter; so that we could not force ourselves to drink either tea or maté. I suppose the distance from the river of Copiapó to this spot was at least twenty-five or thirty English miles; in the whole space there was not a single drop of water, the country deserving the name of desert in the strictest sense. Yet about halfway we passed some old Indian ruins near Punta Gorda; I noticed also in front of some of the valleys, which branch off from the Despoblado, two piles of stones placed a little way apart, and directed so as to point up the mouths of these small valleys. My companions knew nothing about them, and only answered my queries by their imperturbable "quien sabe?"

I observed Indian ruins in several parts of the Cordillera: the most perfect, which I saw, were the Ruinas de Tambillos, in the Uspallata Pass. Small square rooms were there huddled together in separate groups: some of the doorways were yet standing; they were formed by a cross slab of stone only about three feet high. Ulloa has remarked on the lowness of the doors in the ancient Peruvian dwellings. These houses, when perfect, must have been capable of containing a considerable number of persons. Tradition says, that they were used as halting places for the Incas, when they crossed the mountains. Traces of Indian habitations have been discovered in many other parts, where it does not appear probable that they were used as mere resting-places, but yet where the land is as utterly unfit for any kind of cultivation as it is near the Tambillos or at the Incas Bridge, or in the Portillo Pass, at all which places I saw ruins. In the ravine of Jajuel, near Aconcagua, where there is no pass, I heard of remains of houses situated at a great height, where it is extremely cold and sterile. At first I imagined that these buildings had been places of refuge, built by the Indians on the first arrival of the Spaniards; but I have since been inclined to speculate on the probability of a small change of climate.