29 october 2020

We waited nearly the whole day in the miserable village of Mahates for the animals carrying our belongings to the landing-stage on the Magdalena river. It was suffocatingly hot; at this time of year there is not a breath of wind.
Feeling depressed we lay on the ground in the main square. My barometer had broken and it was the last one I had. I had anticipated measuring the slope of the river and fixing the speed of its current and the position of different stages through astronomical observations.
Only travelers know how painful it is to suffer such accidents, which continued to dog me in the Andes and in Mexico; each time this happened I felt the same. Of all the instruments a traveler should carry the barometer is the one, despite all its imperfections, that caused me the most worry and whose loss I felt the most. Only chronometers, which sometimes suddenly and unpredictably change their rates, give rise to the same sense of loss. Indeed, after travelling thousands of leagues over land with astronomical and physical instruments, you are tempted to cry out: 'Lucky are those who travel without instruments that break, without dried plants that get wet, without animal collections that rot; lucky are those who travel the world to see it with their own eyes, trying to understand it, and recollecting the sweet emotions that nature inspires!'
We saw several beautiful species of large aras (guacamayos) in the hands of Indians who had killed them in the nearby jungle to eat them. We began to dissect their enormous brains, though they are far less intelligent than parrots. I sketched the parts while Bonpland cut them apart; I examined the hyoid bone and the lower larynx, which cause this bird's raucous sounds. It was the kind of research that Cuvier had recently instigated in anatomy and it appealed to me. I began to console myself for the loss of my barometer.

Humboldt, Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, 1814

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