Joseph Conrad: Nostromo


IN THE time of Spanish rule, and for many years afterwards, the
town of Sulaco--the luxuriant beauty of the orange gardens bears
witness to its antiquity--had never been commercially anything
more important than a coasting port with a fairly large local
trade in ox-hides and indigo. The clumsy deep-sea galleons of the
conquerors that, needing a brisk gale to move at all, would lie
becalmed, where your modern ship built on clipper lines forges
ahead by the mere flapping of her sails, had been barred out of
Sulaco by the prevailing calms of its vast gulf. Some harbours of
the earth are made difficult of access by the treachery of sunken
rocks and the tempests of their shores. Sulaco had found an
inviolable sanctuary from the temptations of a trading world in
the solemn hush of the deep Golfo Placido as if within an
enormous semi-circular and unroofed temple open to the ocean,
with its walls of lofty mountains hung with the mourning
draperies of cloud.

On one side of this broad curve in the straight seaboard of the
Republic of Costaguana, the last spur of the coast range forms an
insignificant cape whose name is Punta Mala. From the middle of
the gulf the point of the land itself is not visible at all; but
the shoulder of a steep hill at the back can be made out faintly
like a shadow on the sky.

On the other side, what seems to be an isolated patch of blue
mist floats lightly on the glare of the horizon. This is the
peninsula of Azuera, a wild chaos of sharp rocks and stony levels
cut about by vertical ravines. It lies far out to sea like a
rough head of stone stretched from a green-clad coast at the end
of a slender neck of sand covered with thickets of thorny scrub.
Utterly waterless, for the rainfall runs off at once on all sides
into the sea, it has not soil enough--it is said--to grow a
single blade of grass, as if it were blighted by a curse. The
poor, associating by an obscure instinct of consolation the ideas
of evil and wealth, will tell you that it is deadly because of
its forbidden treasures. The common folk of the neighbourhood,
peons of the estancias, vaqueros of the seaboard plains, tame
Indians coming miles to market with a bundle of sugar-cane or a
basket of maize worth about threepence, are well aware that heaps
of shining gold lie in the gloom of the deep precipices cleaving
the stony levels of Azuera. Tradition has it that many
adventurers of olden time had perished in the search. The story
goes also that within men's memory two wandering sailors--
Americanos, perhaps, but gringos of some sort for certain--talked
over a gambling, good-for-nothing mozo, and the three stole a
donkey to carry for them a bundle of dry sticks, a water-skin,
and provisions enough to last a few days. Thus accompanied, and
with revolvers at their belts, they had started to chop their way
with machetes through the thorny scrub on the neck of the

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