« AnkstesnisTęsti »
NCE he has reached our Virgin Islands, the traveler down the steppingstones of the West Indies
has left his worst experiences behind him; for while connections are rare and precarious between the large islands of the north Caribbean, the tiny ones forming its eastern boundary are favored with frequent and comfortable intercommunication. Several steamship lines from the North make St. Thomas their first stop, and, pausing a day or two in every island of any importance beyond, give the through traveler all the time he can spend to advantage in all but three or four of the Lesser Antilles. In these he can drop off for a more extended exploration and catch the next steamer a week or two later.
A twelve-hour run from St. Croix, with a glimpse of the tiny Dutch islands of Saba and St. Eustatius, peering above the sea like drowning volcanoes, brought us to what the British familiarly call St. Kitts.
We found St. Kitts more down-atheel, more indolent, less self-relying than even our Virgin Islands. The shingle shacks of Basse Terre were more miserable than those of St. Thomas; the swarms of negroes loafing under the palm-trees about them were as ragged as they were lazy and insolent.
Lying at St. Kitts, we visited Nevis, of course, and a forty-mile run through the night brought us to Antigua; and then we went on to Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, Barbados, dropping anchor at last far out in the im
By HARRY A. FRANCK
Photographs by the author
mense shallow bay of Trinidad. The "trinity" of fuzzy hills, to-day called the "Three Sisters," gives quite another aspect than the precipitous volcanic peaks of the Lesser Antilles. Plump, placid, their vegetation tanned a light brown by the now truly tropical sun, they have a strong family resemblance to the mountains of Venezuela, hazily looming into the sky back across the Bocas. Fog, unknown among the stepping-stones to the north, hangs like wet wool over all the lowlands along the edge of the bay. The trade-wind that has never failed on the long journey southward has given place to an enervating breathlessness; by seven in the morning the sun is already cruelly beating down. Instead of the clear blue waters of the Caribbean, the vast expanse of harbor has the drab, lifeless color of a faded brown carpet. Sail-boats, their sails limply aslack as they await the signal to come and carry off the steamer's cargo, give the scene a half-Oriental aspect that recalls the southern coast of China.
There is little indeed to excite the senses as the crowded launch plows for a half-hour toward the uninviting shore. Seen from the harbor, Port of Spain, with its long, straight line of wharves and warehouses, looks dismal in the extreme, especially to those who have left beautiful St. George's of Grenada the evening before.
Yet from the moment of landing one has the feeling of having got somewhere at last. The second in size and the most prosperous of the British West Indies may be less beautiful than the scattered toy lands bordering the Caribbean, but
a glance suffices to prove it far more progressive. Deceived by its featureless appearance from the sea, the traveler is little short of astounded to find Port of Spain an extensive city, the first real city south of Porto Rico, with a beauty of its own unsuggested from the harbor. Spread over an immense plain sloping ever so slightly toward the sea, with wide, right-angled, perfect, asphalt streets, electric cars as up-to-date as those of any American city covering it in every direction, and most of the conveniences of modern times, it bears little resemblance to the backward, if more picturesque, "capitals" of the string of tiny islands to the north. The insignificant "Puerto de los Españoles," which the English found here when they captured the island a mere century and a quarter ago, was burned to the ground in 1808, and another conflagration swept it in 1895; so that the city of to-day has a sprightly, new-built aspect despite the comparative flimsiness of its chiefly wooden buildings. There are numerous imposing structures of brick and stone, too, along its broad streets, and many splendid residences in the suburbs stretching from the bright and ample business section to the foot of the encircling hills.
Long before he reaches these, however, the visitor is sure to be struck by the astonishing variety of types that make up the population. Unlike that of the smaller islands, the development of Trinidad came chiefly after African slavery was beginning to be frowned upon, and though the negro element of its population is large, the monotony of flat noses and black skins is broken by an equal number of less repulsive features. Large numbers of Chinese workmen were imported in the middle of the last century; Hindu coolies, indentured for five years, were introduced in 1839, and though the Government of India has recently forbidden this species of servitude, fully one third of the inhabitants are East-Indians or their more or less full-blooded descendants. Toward the end of the eighteenth century large numbers of French refugees took up their residence in Trinidad, and the island has to-day more inhabitants of this race than any of the West Indies not
under French rule. Martinique and Guadeloupe have also sent their share of laborers, and there are portions of Trinidad in which the negroes are as apt to speak French as English. Portuguese fleeing persecution in Madeira added to this heterogeneous throng, while Venezuelans are constantly drifting across the Bocas to increase the helter-skelter of races which make up the island's present population.
All this mixture may be seen in a single block of Port of Spain. Here the stroller passes a wide-open, unfurnished room where turbaned Hindus squat on their heels on the bare floor, some with long shovel beards, through which they run their thin, oily fingers, some in the act of getting their peculiar hair-cuts, most of them smoking their curious treeshaped pipes, all of them chattering their dialects in the rather effeminate voices of their race. On the sidewalk outside are their women, in gold noserings varying in size from mere buttons to hoops which flap against their cheeks as they walk, silver bracelets from wrists to elbows, anklets clinking above their bare feet, the lobes of their ears loaded down with several chain links as well as with ear-rings, their bare upper arms protruding from the colorful cheap shrouds in which they wrap themselves, a corner of it thrown over their bare heads. There are wide diversities of type even of this one race. Here a group of Madrassees, several degrees blacker than the others, is stretched out on another unswept floor, there a Bengalee squats in a doorway arranging his straight black hair with a wooden comb. Mohammedans and Brahmins, sworn enemies through the island as at home, pass one another without a sign of recognition. Men of different castes mingle but slightly despite the broadening influence of foreign travel; they have one and all lost caste by crossing the sea, but all in equal proportion, so that their relative standing remains the same. The influence of their new environment has affected them in varying degrees. Two men alike enough in features to be brothers, the one in an elaborate turban, loose silk blouse, and a flowing white mass of cloth hitched together between his legs in lieu of trousers,
the other in a khaki suit and a Wild West felt hat, stand talking together in Hindustanee. Women in nose-rings, bracelets, and massive silver necklaces weighing several pounds are sometimes garbed in hat, shirt-waist, and skirt, sometimes even in low shoes with silver anklets above them.
Next door to these groups, or alternating between them, is a family of the same slovenly, thick-tongued, jolly negroes who overrun all the West Indies. The difference in color between these and the Hindus, even the swarthy Madrassees, is striking. As great is the contrast between the coarse features of the Africans and those of the East-Indians, the latter so finely modeled that they might be taken for Caucasians except for their mahogany complexions. Even in manners the two races are as widely separated. While the negro is forward, fawningly aggressive, occasionally insolent, the Hindus have a detached air which causes them never to intrude upon the passer-by even to the extent of a glance. Abutting the negro residence is perhaps a two-story house, with a long perpendicular sign-board in Chinese characters, a shop below, a residence above, with many curious Celestial touches. Then comes, perhaps, a building placarded in Spanish, "Venezuelans very welcome," where not a word of English is spoken by the whole swarming family. On down the street stretch queer mixtures of customs, costumes, race, language, and names.
Beyond the business part of Port of Spain is an immense savanna-magnificent indeed it seems to the traveler who has seen no really level open ground for weeks-called Queen's Park. Here graze large herds of cattle, half Oriental, too, like the people, though there is ample playground left for all the city's population. In the afternoon, particularly of a Saturday, it presents a vast expanse of pastimes seldom seen in the tropics. The warning cry of "Fore!" frequently startles the mere stroller, only to have his changed course bring him into a cluster of school-boys shrilly cheering the prowess of their respective teams.
One may doubt whether any fragment of the globe has so high a percentage of perfect streets and roads,-no wonder,
midst of which sets the massive stone
residence of the governor. Several times a week a band concert is given on his front lawn, a formality bearing slight resemblance indeed to the Sunday-night gathering in a Spanish-American plaza. It takes place in the afternoon, and is attended only by the élite, though this does not by any means confine it to Caucasian residents; for there are many, at least of the island-born Chinese and Hindus and their intermixtures, who count themselves in this category, while negro and East-Indian nurse-maids are constantly pursuing their overdressed charges across the noiseless greensward.
Any evidence of human interest is sternly suppressed in the staid and orderly gathering. They sit like automatons on their scattered chairs and benches, no one ever committing the faux pas of speaking above a whisper. Woe betide the mere American who dares address himself to a stranger, for British snob
As I passed this group on a Jamaican highway, the woman holding the Bible was saying, "So I ax de Lard what I shall do"
bery reaches its zenith in Trinidad, and the open-handed hospitality of Barbados is painfully conspicuous by its absence.
Trains are frequent and drawn by large oil-burning Montreal engines with white "drivers" set forth from Port of Spain like our own fliers, over a road-bed in excellent condition for the first twenty miles or more. Beyond that, as the line breaks up into its several branches, the engines get smaller and smaller, the engineers become mulattoes, then blacks, with only a tropical sense of the value of time, the tracks are more and more congested with train-loads of cane in the cutting season, with the result that a well-arranged time-table is often disrupted. Swampy stretches of man
groves to the right and left flank the first few miles. Groups of prisoners, in yellow, white, or orange-colored caps, according to whether they are misdemeanants, felons, or "long-timers," are turning some of these into solid ground. Cocoanut plantations soon supercede the swamps, to be in turn replaced by cane, as flat lands spread farther and farther away on the left to the base of high hills, or low mountains, rather arid in appearance despite the density of their brush and forest.
Beyond Arima the hills die out, and for miles the track is walled by uncultivated brush or virgin forests, with only a rare frontier-like village and a few young cacao plantations sheltered from the sun by the bois immortel, or what Spaniards call madre del cacao. Hindus are more numerous in this region than negroes. The railway ends at the thriving town of Sangre Grande, though it hopes soon to push on to the east coast. Chinese merchants and the resultant half-breeds are unusually numerous; Hindu women in full metallic regalia, sitting in buggies like farmers' wives in our Western prairie towns, some of them smoking little Irish-looking clay pipes, and silversmiths of the same race, naked but for a clout, plying their trade in back alleys, are among the sights of the place.
We snorted away along an asphalt highway, bordered by large cacao estates, passing many automobiles, some of them driven by Chinese and Hindus, then through a great forest with many immense trees, their branches laden with orchids and climbing vines. Except for one low ridge the country was flat, with not even a suggestion of the rugged scenery of most West-Indian islands. Soon the landscape turned to cocoanut plantations, the now narrow road mounted somewhat, and the Atlantic spread out before us. But it was shallow and yellowish, not at all like the sealashed east coasts of Barbados or Dominica, the shores of its many bays and indentations low and heavily wooded, a hazy clump of hills stretching far away into the south. Then came a cluster of ridges and mounds of earth covered with primeval forest, only little patches of which had been cleared to give place to the most primitive, weather-beaten
thatched-huts, scattered at long intervals along the way, and all inhabited by negroes, the other races evidently finding the region too undeveloped for their more civilized taste. Nineteen miles from Sangre Grande the bus halted at a cluster of hovels on Balandra Bay, the road which pushes on to the northeast point of the island being impassable for vehicles.
But to most strangers Trinidad has little meaning except as the home of the "asphalt lake." Strictly speaking, it is neither the one nor the other, being rather a pitch deposit, though it would be foolish to quibble over mere words. It is sufficient to know that the spot furnishes most of the asphalt for the western hemisphere.
To reach it one must return to San Fernando by train and continue by government steamer.
We landed with misgiving, having often heard of "that terrible walk" from the pier to the "lake." No doubt it seems so to many a tourist, being nearly ten minutes long, up a very gentle slope by a perfect macadam highway. Beside it buckets are constantly roaring past on elevated cables, carrying pitch to the ship or returning for a new load with an almost human air of busy preoccupation. The highway leads to the gate of a yard with a mine-like reduction plant peopled with tar-smeared negroes, immediately behind which opens out the "lake."
The far-famed deposit is not much to look at. It is a slightly concave black patch of a hundred acres, with as definite shores as a lake of water, surrounded by a Venezuelan landscape of scanty brush and low, thirsty palms. To the left the black towers of half a dozen oilwells break the otherwise featureless horizon. About the surface of the hollow several groups of negroes are working leisurely. One in each group turns up with every blow of his pick a black, porous lump of pitch averaging the size of a market-basket; the others bear these away on their heads to small cars on narrow tracks, along which they are pushed by hand to the "factory." That is all there is to it. A trade-wind sweeps almost constantly across the field, and the pitch is so light that the largest lump is hardly a burden. On the side of the
concessionists the deposit offers not even the difficulty of transportation, being barely a mile from the ship, furnishing its own material for the necessary roads, and it is virtually inexhaustible. The holes dug during the day fill imperceptibly and are gone by morning, the deepest one ever excavated having disappeared in three days. Only a small fraction of the field is exploited; it could easily keep all the ships of the world busy. Should it ever be exhausted, there is a still larger deposit just across the bay in Venezuela.
The lake is soft underfoot, like a tar sidewalk in midsummer, the heels sinking out of sight in a minute or two, and has a faint smell of sulphur. In a few places it is not solid enough to sustain a man's weight, though children and the barefooted workmen scamper across it anywhere at sight of a white visitor for the inevitable British West-Indian purpose of demanding "a penny, please, sir." A crease remains around each hole as it refills, some of these rolling under like the edge of a rising mass of dough, and in these crevices the rains gather in puddles of clear, though black-looking, water in which the surrounding families do their washing. Most of the pitch goes directly to the steamer, but as it is one third water, and royalties, duties, and transportation are paid by weight, a certain proportion is boiled in vats in the "factory" and shipped in barrels constructed on the spot.
The first view of Jamaica and of its capital is pleasing. A mountainous mass gradually developing on the horizon grows into a series of ranges which promise to rival the beauty of Porto Rico. Beyond a long, low, narrow sand reef lies an immense harbor, on the farther shore of which Kingston is suspected rather than seen, only a few wharves and one domed building rising above the wooded plain on which the low city stands, the hills behind it tumbled into a disordered heap culminating in the cloud-swathed peak of what are most fittingly called the Blue Mountains. On this strip of sand, known as the Palisadoes, lies buried the famous bucaneer, Sir Henry Morgan, once governor of Jamaica, and at the extreme end of it stands the remnant of the old capital,