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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER IX.
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From Queretaro to the City of Mexico is a distance of 150 miles. The route of the railway lies through a region which is excellent both for agriculture and stock raising. Frank and Fred wished to stop at one of the cattle haciendas, but the Doctor said they would have an opportunity to see one of these establishments at a later date; so they continued to the capital without making a halt after leaving Queretaro.
They crossed the plain of the Cazadero, which obtains its name from an incident of the Conquest. About the year 1540 the Indians organized a great cazadero (hunt) on this plain, to show their good-will towards the first viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza. A great number of them assembled, and the game was driven in from all directions and duly slaughtered by the viceroy and his friends. Hunts of this sort are of very ancient date; they are practised by aborigines in all parts of the world, and even
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 civilized man does not disdain them. Of the civilized class are the kangaroo hunts in Australia, elephant hunts in Ceylon and India, and the chase of wolves and other noxious animals in the Western States of North America and in the Siberian provinces of Russia.
At the edge of the plain of the Cazadero the train reached the foot of the mountain chain that surrounds the valley of Mexico. The locomotive breathed heavily as it ascended the slope dragging its burden behind it. The speed was materially reduced from that by which the plain had been traversed, and the reduction showed very plainly that the grade was steep. Every turn in
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 the road gave a picturesque view, and the youths thoroughly enjoyed their ride towards the famous valley.
The top of the ascent was reached at Tula, of which we shall have something to say later on. Then the train entered a gorge, which Frank and Fred specially wished to look at. It was the Tajo de Nochistongo, the great Spanish drainage-cut, which was intended to save the city of Mexico from inundation.
From the windows of the car they shuddered as they looked into the cut, and wondered if never an accident had happened from the falling away of the earth. The cut is twelve and a half miles in length, and is the work of human hands, not of nature. The railway enters the valley of Mexico through this cut, and the track is laid on a shelf or bench along its sides and high above the bottom. Our friends visited it a few days later, and we will here include Frank's account of what he saw and heard.
"The city of Mexico stands in a valley which has no outlet, the water that accumulates from the rains being evaporated by the heat of the sun or absorbed in the volcanic soil. The city is in the lowest part of the valley, and is therefore liable to be overflowed whenever the evaporation and absorption are not sufficient to carry off the water that accumulates. There are several lakes that cover a tenth part of the area of the valley. The lowest of them is salt, as it has no outlet, but the others which discharge into it are fresh. This salt lake is called Tezcoco. It has an area of seventy-seven square miles, and its surface ordinarily is only two feet lower than the level of the Plaza Mayor, or great square of the city. In the days of the Aztecs the lake surrounded the city, but it is now three miles away from it, owing to the recession of the waters. Lake Chalco is three and a half feet higher than Tezcoco; while Zumpango, the most northerly of all the lakes, is twenty-nine feet higher than the Plaza Mayor. The lakes are separated by dikes, some of which were built by the Aztecs before the arrival of the Spaniards, but the greater number are of more recent construction, as we shall presently see.
"Now, it is evident that an unusual flood of water could raise Tezcoco so that it would flood the city, and this is what has happened on five different occasions—in 1553, 1580, 1604, 1607, and 1629. The last inundation continued for five years, and caused an immense amount of suffering and loss. The city was covered to a depth of three feet, and the waters were finally carried off by an earthquake, which allowed them to run away through the crevices that it formed.
"Here's where we come to the history of the great cut of Nochistongo. The Spanish Government consulted all the celebrated engineers of the day,
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 and they presented numerous plans for draining the city and keeping it out of danger from inundations. Enrico Martinez presented the plan which was adopted. It was to drain Lake Zumpango so that its waters would not be poured into Tezcoco, but would run to the Gulf of Mexico by way of Tula. For this purpose he proposed to make a tunnel through Nochistongo, to carry off the superfluous water of Zumpango, or, rather, of the river Cuatitlan, which flows into it.
"The tunnel was commenced in November, 1607, but when completed
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 it was found insufficient to drain the lake, and a new plan was needed. A Dutch engineer was then brought in, and he naturally proposed a system of dikes, similar to those of his own country and the dikes already built by the Aztecs. He was allowed to carry out his scheme until the arrival of a new viceroy in 1628. The new viceroy would not believe the accounts which he heard of the floods that had occurred, and he ordered Martinez to stop up the tunnel and allow the waters to take their original course. He was soon convinced of his error, and ordered the tunnel to be reopened. It was reopened and continued in use until the following June, when Martinez found that it was being destroyed by the pressure of the water, and he therefore closed it to save it from ruin. A disastrous flood followed, and this was the one that lasted five years."
"How did the people get around in that time?" Fred asked.
"They were forced to use boats," was the reply; "but the getting about was the least part of the trouble caused by the flood. Most of the houses were of adobe, and these soon crumbled and fell. The loss was so great that the Spanish Government ordered the site of the city to be changed to higher ground, but on representations by the City Council of the value of the permanent structures which would thus be rendered useless, the order was countermanded. The city was restored after the subsidence of the waters. It has been threatened several times since, but though it has been in great danger the cut and the dikes have saved it."
"But how about the making of the tunnel into a cut?"
"They put Martinez in prison as soon as the flood came, and he was kept there for several years. Then it was determined to change the tunnel into a cut, and he was released and put in charge of the work. It took 150 years to make it, and though nominally finished in 1789, it has never been entirely completed. Thousands of Indians died during the work of digging this enormous ditch. It was the greatest earthwork of its time, and in fact the greatest down to the cutting of the Suez and Panama canals. Here are the figures:
"Length of the cut, 67,537 feet; greatest depth, 197 feet; greatest breadth, 361 feet. The original tunnel of Martinez was four miles long, eleven and a half feet wide, and fourteen feet high. Portions of the old tunnel, or rather of its ruins, are visible to-day. There is a monument to the memory of Martinez, which was erected a few years ago in one of the public squares of the capital city; it might possibly console him for his five years in prison if he could only come around and look at it."
As Frank paused, Doctor Bronson took up the subject and said that even with the waters of Zumpango drained away there was still a liability
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 of the overflow of the lower lakes. He added that numerous projects had been proposed. Some engineers were in favor of drying up Tezcoco altogether by turning away the waters that flow into it; others advised draining the waters into a lower part of the valley, if such could be found; and others again proposed a long and large tunnel through the mountains at so
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 low a level that Tezcoco and the city could be thoroughly drained. To this should be added a canal from the upper lakes to flow through the city and wash out its sewers.
"What will be done about it no one can safely predict," the Doctor remarked. "The city is badly drained, its sewage is only partially carried away, and such of it as the water removes is accumulated in Lake Tezcoco, which is becoming dirtier and more shallow every year. No plan has been proposed that has been pronounced successful, or to which there is not a serious objection. Of course almost anything could be done with unlimited money, but Mexico, like other cities and countries, has a limit to the amount that might be expended for any given purpose."
The smells that greeted the nostrils of the youths on their arrival at the capital convinced them that the drainage of Mexico is little better than no drainage at all. Fred remarked that if it were anywhere else than in the very high region where it is (7602 feet above the sea), it would have no need of drainage, as all the inhabitants would die of pestilence.
Emerging from the famous earth-cutting, our friends had their first view of the snowy peaks of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, the great volcanoes which lie to the east of the city of Mexico. They had read and heard much of these famous mountains, and had formed many mental pictures of them. To the credit of the volcanoes, it is proper to say that they fully came up to the expectations which had been formed of them.
The train sped on over the comparatively level region of the valley. For several miles the Mexican Central Railway lies parallel to the Mexican National line, and as there happened to be a train on the other track, the passengers had the exhilaration of a race as a concluding feature of their journey.
They had left Queretaro a little before noon; it was seven o'clock in the evening when the train rolled into the Buena Vista station outside the city, and the journey over the Mexican Central Railway came to an end.
Doctor Bronson had telegraphed for a courier from the Hotel del Jardin to meet them at the station, and the man was there in accordance with his request. The key of one of the trunks was given up to meet the requirements of the local custom-house, after the manner of the octroi of Paris and other Continental cities. Our friends had found this regulation at all the towns where they had stopped on their route, but the trunks had invariably been passed without being opened, on the assurance that they contained no merchandise.
The Hotel del Jardin proved to be quite satisfactory, so far as the
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 rooms were concerned, but there was not much to be said in favor of the supper to which the travellers sat down, after removing the dust from their garments and making themselves generally presentable. The boys ascertained on inquiry that the hotel was built around the garden of an old convent, and that a portion of it was really the convent edifice. Some of the rooms are the former cells of the monks, and the youths concluded that the monks were very com............
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