1 05 675
THE WEST INDIES
HERBERT C. LAJNKS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY THE AUTHOR
New York & London
V. THEODORE SCHREIBER
WHO FIRST TAUGHT IME THE GRATIFICATIONS
OF TROPICAL VAGABONDAGE
I Havana, Potpourri of Past and Present ...... i
II Clubs and Cockfights ...... '..... 14
III Palm Leaves and Hershey Bars ........ *7
IV A Revolutionary Experience ......... 4 2
V Carnival in Santiago ........... 57
VI Black and White in Jamaica ......... 77
VII Port au Prince ............. 93
VIII Haitian Heights and Highlights ........ 109
IX "Always with Trujillo"
X "No Fairer Land Under Heaven
XI Puerto Rico, Uncle Sam's Latin Love ...... 170
XII Trinidad Finale ............ l86
1 his is the story of our trip across the islands of the West Indies,
shipping from island to island in whatever kind of boat we could find,
getting acquainted with lands and peoples by covering the highways
of each country with our own car.
On former trips we had driven a car over the route of the Pan
American Highway as far as the Panama Canal, covered most of South
America on wheels to the Straits of Magellan, and had pushed and
shoved an army jeep to the far end of the Alaska Highway. The Carib-
bean was all we had left, to round out the lands of the New World.
Glamorous and adventurous as was some of the rest of our automobile
pioneering into the remote corners of two hemispheres, this island-
hopping along the trail of the first Spanish explorers, through the haunts
of long-gone pirates and buccaneers from the tip of Florida to the east-
ernmost tip of the Spanish Main, was in some respects the cream of all
our trips. Changes in lands and peoples that were occasionally more
marked on the continent had crept upon us so gradually by car that
often they went unnoticed. Crossing frontiers by water gave each
island a refreshing impact on the senses.
At the same time, probably nowhere in the world does a similar area
offer more variety in geography, physical and human, racial and social.
Spain, England, France, Holland, Denmark, the empire-builders of three
exciting centuries, struggled for a foothold in these tropic isles. Cen-
turies later even the United States entered this languorous, island-girt
arena. Blood of every nation and every breed of humankind, blood of
pirates and buccaneers, blood of convicts and remittance men, blood
of adventurers and farm hands, drenched the thin soil of every islet or
was mixed in the melange of mankind that populates this crowded
world. As a result, in the narrow periphery of the Caribbean there
stand facing each other Spanish Cuba, English Jamaica, French Haiti,
Americanized Puerto Rico, Trinidad with Englishmen and East Indians
lifted bodily from England's empire-building past. There is contrast too
in the legends of an Indian past that has been swept wholly into ob-
livion, in vast and crumbling ruins that whisper of a day when this now
quiet backwater of the world was powerful and rich, in the neon-lit
glare and raucous clatter of night clubs. There is a wealth of allure in
the pristine beauty of dazzling white beaches washed by waters green
as the jungle or blue as tropic skies, in forest-clad mountains, in the
jungle's somber depths, in the rustling ranks of the palms. It is all yours
for the time-taking, and you can drive your own car to it all!
When we first mentioned to friends the idea of covering the Carib-
bean with our own car, we were made to feel as Columbus must have
felt. Even though a freshly-finished war had accustomed everyone to
the possibilities of amphibious operations, we were beset with solemn
warnings on every side. What would we do for roads in the wild West
Indies? What would we do for dependable transportation from island
to island? What would we do for decent accommodations if Gladys
Then we turned for answers to where the answers were. We learned
that oil companies issue road maps for Puerto Rico and Cuba as ex-
cellent as anything to be found in the United States. We learned that
Puerto Rico had more good roads per square mile than continental
United States, and that Cuba was riddled with roads. From govern-
ments of the various islands we secured other maps and statistics. Those
folks had all heard of automobiles too!
We learned too that during the war just past, when German sub-
marines threatened to cut the shipping lanes to our Puerto Rican out-
posts, the United States Army had experimented with trucking supplies
across the islands and shipping by local native craft across the short
water gaps that separate the islands. Our trucks had rolled across Cuba,
Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Why couldn't we?
We found too that there were a considerable number of small craft
plying between the islands. If we took a little car no bigger than three
or four bunches of bananas ... Of course there would be occasional de-
lays, but who cared? We could plan a leisurely trip. As it turned out,
in five months we spent but a small percentage of time in waiting at the
But it's a long trip, 12,000 miles of land and water, so let's back off
for a running start. . . .
List of Illustrations
Ancient Spanish cannon frown down on Havana harbor from La Cabana
fortress facing page 8
Lobsters cheap and plentiful tempt the epicure's appetite between pages 8-9
All kinds of craft pass through the harbor entrance of Havana ....
between pages 8-9
Havana's imposing capitol between pages 8-9
Under the capitol dome is the proud "Republic of Cuba" . . facing page 9
An exclusive club, the cigar-makers of Havana are entertained at work
facing page 16
Kawama Club at fashionable Varadero Beach caters to exclusive clientele
facing page 16
Luscious pineapples are sold for a few cents on the streets of Sancti Spiritus
facing page 17
The shrine of El Cobre Virgin, patron saint of Cuba . . . facing page 32
Improvised, but sanitary, water container for the road workers of Ciego
de Avila between pages 32-33
The Central Highway is a paved arterial route all the way across Cuba
between pages 32-33
Our car is loaded aboard a native craft at Santiago for shipment to Haiti
between pages 32-33
Cleverly made shell figures are sold to the tourists at Varadero Beach
facing page 33
After crossing the Republic of Haiti, we enter the north coast town of
Cap-Haitien facing page 48
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Native fishermen near Port au Prince, Haiti facing page 48
Parade of palm leaves in the country back of Port au Prince between pages 48-49
Lights on the cathedral of Port au Prince serve as beacons to ships entering
the port at night between pages 48-49
Cassava, related to our topioca, is baked in large thin cakes . facing page 49
At home in Carrefour, Haiti facing page 49
Ruins of Sans Souci Palace where a century ago Emperor Christophe held
a brilliant court facing page 64
Rusting cannon at Christophers impregnable mountain fortress of the
Citadel facing page 64
The front part of the Citadel juts out like a ship's prow . between pages 64-65
Back view of Sans Souci Palace between pages 64-65
Sugar ane is still the important money crop of Haiti. Near Cabaret . .
between pages 64-65
Ebony-bodied youngsters of Haiti playing in the tropical waters . . .
between pages 64-65
Native craft bringing in firewood at Port au Prince .... facing page 65
Sunday riding in Petionville, mountain suburb of Port au Prince ....
facing page 65
The market place at Blondeau, Haiti facing page 80
Asleep in the market place facing page 80
In the old nuns of Mercedes Church, Trujillo City . . . between pages 80-8 1
Ruins of San Francisco Monastery ', Trujillo City . . . between pages 80-8 1
Ten-thousand-foot Trujillo Peak, highest point of the West Indies . . .
facing page 81
The Jaragua, in Trujillo City, is one of the most luxurious hotels in the
West Indies . . facing page 81
Roadside shrine to Virgin of Altagracia, patron saint of the Dominican
Republic facing page 96
Christopher Columbus before the Trujillo City cathedral 'where he is
buried between pages 96-97
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS XV
Dominican miss on the highway near Las Matas . . . between pages 96-97
Haina Beach, near Trujillo City, is site of old Spanish fort . . facing page 97
There are many political meetings in the Dominican Republic but always
of the same party facing page 112
Truyllo City by air, showing central city and port .... facing page 112
Santo Domingo Cathedral, Trujillo City between pages 112-113
The church jewels of Santo Domingo Cathedral . . between pages 112-113
Cutting the sugar cane, chief money crop of most of the West Indies
between pages 112-113
Earthquake-ruined Church of San Francisco, Dominican Republic . .
facing page 113
Medical School of Trujillo City University is one of the many examples
of modernistic architecture in the country .... facing page 128
Open air school at Humacao, Puerto Rico facing page 128
Puerto Rico is noted for its handicrafts between pages 128-129
Bridge near Aibonito on route of old Spanish Highway across Puerto
Rico between pages 128-129
"Drying coffee berries near dales, Puerto Rico .... facing page 129
Fangpito slums outside of San Juan, where shacks stand on the mud of
the back bay facing page 144
Puerto Rico's tobacco is nurtured from such seed beds as these near
Caguas between pages 144-145
Bread is sold in yard-long loaves in the market at Ponce between pages 144-145
The country around Yauco is famous for its coffee . between pages 144-145
Bred Gade, a street of St. Thomas, V. /., preserves its quaint Danish
atmosphere facing page 145
A suburb of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, is Frenchtown where the
women still wear Norman French dress and practice the handicrafts
of their ancestors facing page 160
Crystal Gade, an old-world street of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas .
between pages 160-161
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Roaring River Falls on the north coast illustrates original Indian meaning
of Jamaica-land of many waters between pages 160-161
The famous huge silk-cotton tree near Spanish Town, Jamaica . . .
facing page 161
Governor's house, Port of Spain, seat of British authority in Trinidad
facing page 161
Picking bananas on the south coast of Jamaica .... facing page 176
Hindu priest and temple near St. Joseph, Trinidad . between pages 176-177
The bobby lends dignity to British authority in Port of Spain . . .
between pages 176-177
SwiTnming pool of the Myrtle Bank, famous tourist hotel at Kingston,
Fisherman near Balandra Beach, Trinidad, with Hawk's Beak turtle,
source of "tortoise shell" facing page 177
The Hindu jewelry maker of Port of Spain works with feet as well
as hands facing page 192
The breadfruit of the West Indies, nature's manna to the poor . . .
facing page 193
Havana, Potpourri of Past and Present
future automobilists will probably accompany their cars on the ferry
from Key West to Havana. This service, halted by the war, should be
resumed any day now in highly expanded form. But, leaving from
Miami, it was much more comfortable for us to go by air, shipping our
car ahead on a small freighter. Air travel to Cuba is still a thrill, but it
has grown as commonplace as a streetcar ride. Nearly seven thousand
Americans make this flight every week, and planes leave practically
The first part of the air trip followed the Overseas Highway down
to Key West, giving us an opportunity to examine this spectacular road
from the air. With clear weather all the way -down, and flying at a
moderate altitude, we were able to get some excellent photographs and
motion pictures of it.
It is difficult to say whether the Overseas Highway is more impressive,
from the air or by automobile. From the air, its foothold on land seems
most precarious. Traveling over it only a few days before, it had seemed
solid, massive. From six thousand feet up, with the keys strung along it,
it was more like a strand of spider web before the dew is gone. Key
West, which had looked so substantial as we walked along its streets
days before, now appeared held in place by a mere thread which might
break at any minute and allow the toy town to drift away.
Now we were out over the deep blue of the Florida Strait, separating
Cuba from the mainland, through which pours the Gulf Stream with
its powerful influence on the climate of two continents. Columbus re-
ported this on his first voyage as a wnghtie streame in the ocean. Below
2 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
us, ships left a long wake of white water as they plowed upstream into
By the time our tasty lunch of coffee and sandwiches had been served
to us by the air hostess, land began to show up on our left and soon we
were over Cuba. A coastal town or two flitted by beneath, and now we
were over the great city of Havana, miles of flat-roofed buildings and
canyon-like streets. We dropped out of the sunshine and were told it
was raining at the airport, and soon we heard the big drops beating on
the metal wings and fuselage of the plane. We were met with umbrellas
as we stepped down to make our way into the terminal.
While awaiting our turn to go through the customs with the other
passengers, an attendant dressed in resplendent steward's uniform
marched up with a tray of icy cocktails with the compliments of
Bacardi, the famous manufacturers of Cuban rum. As it was still raining
outside I stepped to the open door and, holding my finger out as if to
taste the rain, jocularly demanded to know "Llueve Bacardi aqui?"
(Does it rain Bacardi here?). With this we were rushed through cus-
toms with hardly a glance at our baggage, for Cubans like a joke as
much as anyone.
Although not our first visit to Havana, the ride along the wide
Malecon Drive with the ocean on one side and Havana's skyline on the
other thrilled us anew. It is like a drive over Chicago's Michigan Boule-
vard, or New York's Riverside Drive. Gladys remarked that the archi-
tecture along Malecon Drive looked much like her idea of the way -the
city parts of ancient Greece must have looked. Then up the tree-arched
Prado to the capitol square we turned, a city entrance second to none
in the world for impressiveness. Here, right off Fraternity Square, we
chose one of the score of little hotels not usually patronized by Amer-
icans. In strictly Cuban atmosphere we settled down to learn as much
as possible of these vivacious Cubans and their charming capital city,
Our hotel on Gomez Street was of Spanish architecture, with grilled
windows, iron-railed balconies outside and around the interior patio?,
tiled floors, painted walls. Each floor had rooms opening around two
HAVANA, POTPOURRI OF PAST AND PRESENT 3
patios, the main patio open all the way to the sky with more balconies
on each floor. Marble-topped stairways led up to each floor of the in-
terior patio, and a modern elevator h$d been installed on the end of the
outside patio. With the introduction of private baths for most of the
rooms, there was modern comfort amidst old Spanish surroundings.
While in your room you shut off the view from the public patio by
means of ornately decorated doors open at the top to admit light and
air, swinging aside the heavier doors by which the room was locked.
On the ground floor was the hotel restaurant, run under Chinese man-
agement like many of the Cuban restaurants. At these places you can be
assured of good food at reasonable prices. Gladys and I always looked
forward to the fun of experimenting with the variety of dishes they had
to offer on the extensive menu. One could hardly go wrong, because
they were all so well prepared and excellently flavored. It was entirely
a la carte, so you could choose a combination of dishes for a meal in
infinite variety. There were always three or four soups available, and
probably a score of meat entrees. The latter included practically every
kind of meat and fowl, at least a half-dozen sea food dishes, eggs, steaks
and chops to order in many styles, a half-dozen or more vegetable side
dishes, and at least a dozen different desserts. And finally, a list of prac-
tically every beverage known to man. With such an array of dishes,
a complete meal for each of us sometimes ran over fifty cents!
We found the same irresistible variety of dishes in restaurants, f ondas
and clubs everywhere we ate in Havana. It is certainly a place of thrill-
ing adventure to epicures and hungry people. One of the popular Cuban
dishes is arroz con polio, chicken with rice, nicely seasoned and tempt-
ingly colored with saffron and red pepper. Another is ajiaco, a sort of
stew with all kinds of vegetables. There is also the caldo gallego, a stew
made with garbanzo beans, potatoes, and cabbage, wonderfully flavored
with well-cooked meat and onions. None of these is too strange for
the homesick palate, and everywhere one can buy a bifstek, which is
more similar to the good old American favorite than is the name as
spelled in Spanish. The Cuban version of roast beef, carne asada, will
be found to be more flavored than the American, but very tasty. Eggs
4 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
in infinite variety are recognizable in any language, and you must try
the famous Cuban tortilla or omelette, which makes a meal in itself.
These come in endless combinations, with ham and peas, or shrimp,
or even potatoes. Fried or roasted fowl, particularly chicken or turkey,
are common dishes.
Naturally, Havana, like all Cuban ports, is famous for its sea food.
Here lobster is a dish of the middle class and not of the well-to-do
epicure as in. the United States. There are the famous and delectable
Moorish crabs, shrimp, and many kinds of local fish.
For desserts the preserved native fruits, in which sugar is naturally
not spared, are most excellent. Preserves of guayaba with cheese or
grated coconut in preserves make equally tempting desserts. And there
are all kinds of elaborately decorated French pastries, as well as the
local fresh fruits melon, banana, papaya, watermelon, and mango.
Every meal ends with the tiny demi-tasse of coffee, heavily sweetened
and sipped like nectar.
Although these Havanese eat and drink heartily for both the noonday
and evening meal, generally later than the American hours, they eat a
very sparing breakfast. The regular restaurants do not open much
before noon, and one takes morning coffee in a little sidewalk cafe.
Here you generally have cafe con leche, a mixture of hot milk flavored
with coffee, well sweetened with many spoonfuls of sugar and a touch of
salt. It is quite the custom to dunk the deliciously crusty bread, which
comes in pieces cut from loaves a yard long. There is also a sort of cup
cake called panque, which is very different from the Yankee pancakes
from which the name was derived. In these sidewalk cafes you can also
get hot chocolate and freshly made fruit juices, generally sweetened with
powdered sugar and beaten into a frothy drink. If you want the old
American stand-by, ham and eggs and coffee as you are used to it, you
must seek out one of the places that caters to American trade only.
American style ice cream is now an accepted Havana delicacy, being
served by many of the little cafes, and you can get real American sodas,
sundaes, and milk shakes too. As for stronger drinks, in some sections of
Havana bars and cabarets virtually overlap. One gets the impression that
HAVANA, POTPOURRI OF PAST AND PRESENT 5
a good bit of Havana business is devoted to the quenching of thirst.
This is mainly because bars are particularly common in the section fre-
quented by tourists. If the Cubans themselves drink much, there is little
evidence of it; there is very little drunkenness seen. Mixed drinks may
be the favorite of the foreigner, but beer is the Cuban drink outside of
the ubiquitous rum, of course.
Once we were settled comfortably in our hotel quarters, it became our
object to make as quick and thorough a tour of the city as possible, in
order to get on with the study of the republic as a whole. With our
own car in our possession again, and with Sr. Fernando Fernandez, an
authority on Havana and author of a guide book on the republic, we
were ready to set out. With the help of the Cuban Tourist Commission
to open all doors to us, we were able to speed up our study of Havana
and its people, and to get about anywhere we wished to go.
It all started off with a bang as we arrived there just a few days before
election. As in most countries of Latin America, elections are held on
Sunday in this case on the last Sunday in June. All through the city
during the last days of the week polling places were being set up in
private homes and business houses on practically every street. The ar-
rangement was similar to voting in smaller communities in the United
States. Private canvas booths were provided, with election officials on
hand to check off voters from the voting lists.
Election day in Cuba is a Roman holiday. Every place of employment,
except eating places and hotels, is closed. No intoxicating drinks are
sold until the polls close at six o'clock, but everyone is dressea up in
Sunday best and there is an air of great excitement everywhere. Groups
gather in cafes and private honies, as well as in the streets. Practically
all taxis, as well as many private cars bearing huge political placards,
are engaged by the politicians in carrying voters and party officials to
and from the various polling places.
At the polling places long lines gather, the women on one side and
the men on the other, with military guards on duty to admit people
to the polling booths, and to see that strict order is kept. There is every
evidence that Cubans take their voting seriously. Now and then a voter
O HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST
appears whose name is not on the voting list, and he is likely to argue
vociferously against the injustice of being deprived of the vote. Event
youngsters gather in groups, arguing politics. They show much greater
interest in politics than children in the United States, probably because
of the example set by their elders. The fact that they are closer to
the franchise may have a further bearing on this; Cubans vote at nine-
teen. The high schools and the University of Havana are hotbeds of
political ferment during political campaigns. Campaigns on the whole
are much more exciting than in the United States. Offices are more
eagerly sought, candidates often expending far more in the campaign
than they could possibly earn as salary during their entire period of
office, even if elected. Huge electric and neon signs rivaling the com-
mercial advertisements are erected on the tallest buildings in Havana.
Newspapers, periodicals, and the radio boil with political excitement.
Innumerable leaflets, pamphlets, and broadsides flavor the political stew.
The noisy streets of Havana are noisier still with loudspeakers and radio
trucks hired by the politicos to add to the din with stirring music and
blaring buncombe. Now and then an exchange of fisticuffs takes place.
Crowds gather to watch the participants, urging them on with im-
partiality. Sometimes these fights grow and become general, and have
on occasion ended in bloodshed and shooting. On election day itself,
however, the government takes ample precautions, with plenty of special
military guards to maintain peace and order. We did witness several
scraps between street urchins which sprang more from an urge to take
part in the general excitement than from any real cause to quarrel.
Crowds gathered quickly for these effervescent frays, but obligingly let
me through when they understood that I wanted to secure pictures of
these fights. However, when someone yelled policia, the crowds and
combatants disappeared as if 'by magic. Cubans have come a long way
in a short time on the road to democracy. They love their elections and
get the utmost out of them, but they have also learned to respect laws
made by democratic processes.
Perhaps the reason the naturally irrepressible Cubans accept the maj-
esty of the kw is because of the grandeur of its accoutrements, especially
HAVANA, POTPOURRI OF PAST AND PRESENT J
in Havana. The capitol building dominates the city as Havana herself
dominates the republic. Here is an edifice in which every Cuban can
take just pride, not only for its impressive size but for its beauty and
good taste as well. The enormous white limestone structure with its
gleaming white dome gives a very real impression of stateliness and
richness. The broad steps leading up to it are of white Vermont marble,
and the rooms and halls are paneled in fifty-three varieties of marble,
and ornamented with Burgundy-red Cuban mahogany and rich gold
leaf. The ceilings are done in Italian Renaissance style, with Bohemian
stained glass and magnificent chandeliers imported from France. The
main reception hall alone is an impressive room four hundred feet long.
Beneath the vast dome of the building stands an enormous female warrior
statue of bronze overlaid with gold leaf, representing the republic of
Cuba. It stands fifty-eight feet high, weighs nearly fifty tons, and is
the second largest interior statue in the world. The whole great edifice
cost over eighteen million dollars, which makes it the costliest capitol
building in the world, in proportion to the population of the country.
Free Cuba in this respect at least attempts to "keep up front" in a
style befitting medieval Spain.
The other government buildings of Havana cover an age range of
nearly four hundred years. Many of them, while serving the workaday
needs of the present, are priceless museums of the art and architecture
of the past. Take Santa Clara Convent, as a fine example. -Its huge
balconied patio with its stately colonnades dates back to the early
seventeenth century, to a day when architecture was more profligate.
Within this patio are preserved intact the first houses built in Havana
by the Spaniards nearly a century earlier. But the great old building
itself serves the Ministry of Public Works as office space.
Down near the waterfront an old Franciscan monastery has been
converted into today's general post office, by the simple process of
placing postal clerks instead of monks in the arched stone cells. Every-
where in Havana, in fact, palaces that once belonged to Spanish noble-
men have become business houses, old people's homes, benevolent
societies, even boardinghouses. Yet some of the new buildings, like the
8 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
recently completed Ministry of Agriculture, are beautifully modern in
Aside from the ancient fortresses, perhaps the best place in which to
bask in the emanations of Spanish history in stone is in Cathedral
Square. You breathe history in the very air of this cobblestoned square,
as you amble through the porticoes that run around three sides. On the
other side is the great Columbus Cathedral, where the bones of Co-
lumbus were to have been interred. One building on this square is
referred to as the home of the half-legendary De Soto.
Not far away is the Plaza de Armas, the great square which was the
very center of political, social, and religious life. Overlooking it is a
large stone building with colonnaded front and balconied patio, which
is the best remaining example of Spanish colonial architecture. It is used
today as the City Hall. It was originally the seat of Spanish government,
and successively the seat of United States administration following the
Spanish-American War, and then the modern republic's presidential
palace until completion of the present grand edifice in 1920. Across the
plaza from here is the Templete, a shrine in the form of a miniature
chapel, marking the site of the first Mass held by the Spanish founders.
It was really the mossy antiquity of the Plaza de Armas that first
turned our attention from the modern and the human Cuba to the Cuba
that was handed down from a breath-taking past. Coming in as we did
by air, Cuba at first seemed like a large green map. You, however, will
most likely, if touring-bent, ride over on the same ferry that takes
pour car, and anyone approaching by water is bound to be chiefly
impressed by the venerable aspect of Cuba. Not only do the old stone
buildings that were the original Havana invest the city with a medieval
touch; the massive pillar of El Morro Castle looming over the harbor
entrance is as much the identifying mark of Havana as is the Eiffel
Tower for Paris or the Statue of Liberty for New York. Its gray
stone walls and ramparts are visible from many points in the modern
city, a constant reminder of the days of imperial Spain.
With this gloomy pile looming up in the distance no matter where
Ancient Spanish cannon frown down on Havana harbor from La Cabana fortress
I i; ^'?:^Vt^^r^^;!"'';'v \}yi^ : ^^i^
Lobsters-cheap and plentiful-tempt the epicure's appetite
All kinds of craft pass through the harbor entrance of Havana
Havana's imposing capital
Under the capital dome is the proud "Republic of Cuba"
HAVANA, POTtOURRI OF PAST AND PRESENT 9
we went in the city, it was only natural that we should go and look it
over. Numerous rowboats for hire carry passengers across the narrow
channel to Morro Castle at the rate of five cents for Cubans and
twenty-five cents for tourists. Though El Morro's mass of battlements
and ramparts do not lend themselves readily to the needs of a modern
fort, we were surprised to find that quarters for some Cuban marines
are maintained here.
The name El Morro is only the Spanish word for headland, so there
are many El Morros at Spanish harbor entrances. But the one at Havana
is undoubtedly outstanding, and truly imposing when seen at close hand.
The approach from the boat landing is up an inclined causeway, along
which rusty, half -buried Spanish cannons protrude from the ground.
The causeway leads beneath forbidding battlements studded with addi-
tional rows of rusting cannon, and across arched gateways through walls
so thick that they contain guardrooms buried within the very walls.
From the heights of the old Spanish walls towering high above the
harbor entrance we had a magnificent view of the city of Havana
spread out below. The dome of the great capitol, eighteen million dollars
worth of ostentation, dominated the view and challenged El Morro
itself. The vast marble statue to Maximo Gomez, center of a minor
spider web of city streets, glistened in the sun. The statue to Maceo
and a monument to the memory of the Maine were minor points of
light in a shiny, gay, light-hearted city. A thin, glittering line cutting
toward the heart of town marked the Avenue of the Presidents. We
recalled it when we had come into Havana the first time that spacious
street of gleaming marble likenesses, each softly "antiqued" with pigeon
droppings. Everything sparkled in the city below everything but the
Cathedral Square, and the Plaza de Armas. Everything but over this
way, toward El Morro, across the vast piles of fortress and rampart and
bulwark that had once protected this Pearl of the Antilles from a more
ruthless invader than the American tourist. Over these there seemed to
be a light cloud there seemed to be a gloom and dimness, as when you
see through a glass but darkly there seemed to be a haze, though it
10 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
was a crystal-clear day. Maybe it was the patina of time-worn stone,
or only the mist of a fabulous past. Anyway, it was downtown in
modern Havana, and it was in the same soft and hazy and imponderable
tone as was venerable El Morro itself. It told us that there was and is
a Havana concerned with more than tourists' pleasures, more than
glitter, more than this afternoon's cocktail hour. Havana was built a
long time ago, far back in the days when men were demi-gods and
it is still there. It was there below us, where the shadow of El Morro
was deepest, and it was perhaps our visit to this mossy outpost that drew
our negligent minds back to an awareness of its antiquity.
As a matter of fact, El Morro itself was by way of being a bit of an
afterthought. At the first, the bumbling pile of the stone wall that had
surrounded the original city had been depended upon as a bulwark
against piracy. But an open place had been left in this wall, possibly so
that Spaniards could get in. Soon bands of pirates were landing at the
harbor entrance, marching overland to besiege the city, sacking it thor-
oughly and then handing it back. It was in refutation or defense against
this foul technique that the doughty grandees of old Havana reared a
formidable fortress at one point of the harbor entrance, called Point
Castle. Over here on the other tip of the pincers (headland, to you land-
lubbers) they reared the lofty might of El Morro. Between these two
stone bulwarks, they stretched a chain across the harbor entrance. This
seemed to help.
It helped until 1762, when the British and American colonials, for
some reason that has grown obscure with the passing centuries, decided
to make a test case of El Morro. Capturing the high ground on the land-
ward side, the British succeeded in mining and breeching the walls. After
months of siege, El Morro fell. The Spaniards, in panic, attempted to
stem the crimson tide by sinking a few of their own ships in the harbor
entrance. After the British took El Morro this stratagem proved highly
helpful to the invaders. It kept the Spanish ships in the harbor while the
British took sitting shots at them with El Morro's guns. After two weeks
of hopeless struggle, the city surrendered; but a year later it was handed
back to the Spaniards on the grounds that the Spaniards had disqualified
HAVANA, POTPOURRI OF PAST AND PRESENT II
the whole contest by a foul against themselves. The game was never re-
The disaster, and the embarrassment of receiving Havana back from
the British on such grounds, served to spur the Spaniards to new efforts.
Having learned the hard way the importance of the high ground behind
El Morro, they proceeded to build the mighty fortress of La Cabana
along the ridge. It was built at such a tremendous cost in treasure that
the king expressed surprise that he couldn't see it from Seville.
Today La Cabana serves as costly but very habitable quarters for an
army unit. Although it is not open to the general public, we were invited
to visit it under the escort of an army lieutenant. We were amazed at
the size of the fortifications, as well as by the army's ingenuity in setting
up modernized and highly habitable quarters there. Very acceptable
quarters, as well as mess halls and recreation rooms, had been established
in the labyrinthine tunnels and dungeons carved from living rock. From
the old ramparts a cannon is, still fired each night at nine o'clock, a cus-
tom of the old days of curfew that serves today only as a signal for the
citizenry to set their watches and begin their parties.
The most sacred spot amidst the ramparts and moats of this old fortifi-
cation is called Laurel Ditch. It is a tremendous moat facing the wall,
on one side of which captured Cuban patriots in rebellions against Spain
were forced to kneel with their backs to the firing squad. Countless bul-
let holes in the wall are mute testimony of the number executed. Laurel
trees which grow in the earth at the end of the long moat give the place
its name. An iron railing enclosing a little garden and marked by a
bronze plaque preserves the spot as something of a national shrine.
It is the mass and might of El Morro that turns the attention of every
visitor away from the scintillant, cosmopolite city of today to the Ha-
vana that is rooted in the past and in the very island's living rock. We
were wined and dined and most lavishly entertained but it is the Ha-
vana of our last night in the city that thrills us most.
It was almost dusk and we were crossing the vast Plaza de Armas.
Gladys, too, found this place enchanting, and much more comfortable
to browse through, in high-heeled shoes than the rough and ancient cob-
12 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
blestones of old Cathedral Square. We had left the tremendous and his-
toric pile of the City Hall, and tomorrow we would leave Havana. "Let's
go back in that building," she said, "for just a minute. Because it gives
me goose pimples from something." She pointed over to La Fuerza Cas-
tle, settling down into night and into the ages as the hurried tropic
twilight pushed out from the dark corners to snatch the city from a rosy
We had been all over this ground before, but there is something about
this side of Havana that bears a lot of redoing. The square, even as it
bustled with office workers hurrying home from the City Hall, is a place
of ghosts. Here Hernan Cortez as a lusty young hellion gave headaches
to Governor Diego Velasquez, and from here he had sneaked away to
the conquest of Mexico. We entered the cold stone pile of La Fuerza,
and shivered to the thrilling thought that the very corridor that echoed
the tap of Gladys 5 high heels had once rung to the heavy footfalls of
Ponce de Leon, perhaps hurrying before he was trapped by time and
the ages and the dark hurrying away to an ever-fabulous Florida. The
very castle itself had been built on the order of Hernando de Soto while
he was governor of this rich steppingstone of an island, before he too
had hurried on to larger fields and great adventure and death.
Darkness was creeping out of every doorway and cat-footing down
the corridor now, but this was the last night and I had made myself
simpdtico with the guard, and even though it was after hours he let us
both into the tower, the high tower from which the restless De Soto
had watched an equally restless sea. We sped up the spiral stairway,
hastening to escape the clutching dark. We came out upon the last shred
of daylight at the top, and gazed out on Havana twinkling into life for
a gay evening. We looked out, too, across the gently heaving sea. Then
we turned to leave, but we were afraid to go down again through the
dark afraid of ghosts. Somewhere below might be the wife of Her-
nando de Soto, climbing again to keep her endless vigil as she had kept
it in life. Through the long years on the very spot where we stood she
had scanned the seas for a sign of his return, a lonely woman waiting
for her man. Through all the weary years she had waited for the heroic
HAVANA, POTPOURRI OF PAST AND PRESENT 13
figure who had found an obscure resting place on the bosom of the dis-
tant Mississippi, "alwayes muddie," in the heart of an unborn nation that
centuries later would wrest this warm pearl of an island from a crum-
bling Spain. I struck a light with a pocket lighter, and we felt our way
down through the ghosts of demi-gods and the dark.
Clubs and Cockfights
Unbans are the clubbiest people! And Havana is their capital.
"What's that lovely building?" Gladys asked Sr. Fernandez on our
first day, pointing to an impressive stone edifice on the Prado.
"That? Oh, it is just a clubhouse. For the Clerks' Club."
"The Clerk? Club?"
"That is right, seiiora. It is one of the oldest social benefit clubs in
"Do they have a Bankers' dub here, too? Because if they do, I'd like
to see it. I bet it would be nice!"
When we were told that two of the most impressive of the new build-
ings in central Havana, facing each other on the central park, were the
Galician Center and the Asturian Center, and that they housed two of
the most important regional clubs, we were definitely impressed. We
were more impressed when we were invited on a tour of these fine build-
ings with their ornate marble interiors, and when we learned that the
National Theater itself is but an adjunct of the Galician Center. It began
to look as if in Havana clubs were trumps.
Nothing we learned later did much to erase this first impression. There
are social clubs, yacht clubs, music clubs, culture clubs, country clubs.
There are many regional clubs, such as the Galician Center, founded
originally by people from Galicia or their descendants. Today the mem-
bership requirements are somewhat relaxed, demanding merely that you
know or have heard of someone from Galicia or a descendant of some-
one from Galicia, or that you know a member or the descendant of 3
CLUBS AND COCKFIGHTS 15
member of the club, or that you want to join the club and can afford
two dollars a month!
In case these requirements for membership seem overly strict, or in
case none of Havana's multitudinous clubs catches your fancy, be not
dismayed. You may gather with a few people who share your own likes
and interests and found a new club. Others do it. New clubs spring up
every day. Or if you are opposed to the principle of clubs, you may
start a Club-haters' Club.
We were invited to visit the Galician Center, or Centra Gallego,
shortly after our arrival. Typical of the larger clubs, it is worth a few
words. It had grown from a simple little benefit society to foster neigh-
borliness and mutual aid among Galicians. It had grown well. Today it
is an organization with so many ramifications that few of its members
can take part in all the activities. For dues of two dollars a month mem-
bers receive various social insurances and medical care, to which many
subscribe without taking part in the club's social life.
On the second floor of the clubhouse one room, extending the full
length of a city block, is given over to various pastimes cards, billiards,
pool, dominoes, chess, and anything else you might name. Several hun-
dred people were scattered about this amusement floor the night we
were there, all intent on some one of these games. On the floor above, the
same immense area had been converted into an ornate ballroom. Full-
length balconied windows on all sides reminded us of the Hall of Mir-
rors at Versailles.
That evening we attended the National Theater, in the same building.
The theater interior, with its circles of towering balconies, had much
the appearance of one of the city opera houses in the United States. The
show was put on by a stock company from Madrid, just returning from
a tour of South America. We were amazed at the low prices, ranging
from twenty-five cents in the upper balconies to only a dollar in the
orchestra seats, for what proved to be fair entertainment. The sets were
artistically planned and the performers of professional caliber. The star
was a famous singer named Conchita Piquer, and she and the accom-
panying artists were well received by the audience. The costumes were
l6 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
as competently designed as the scenery, and the show itself consisted
of a series of dances, songs, and choruses featuring Spanish regional
We were fortunate, too, to be invited to attend one of the social
events of the season a formal dance and buffet supper at the Havana
Yacht Club, one of the oldest and most exclusive organizations of the
city. This club is distinctive in that its membership is almost entirely
Cuban, in contrast to several other exclusive clubs which also take in
Americans. We were surprised to see the degree of formal dress worn
by both men and women in this warm climate. As it was summer, the
men were all dressed in immaculate white, although a few appeared in
light suits. The women wore stunning knee-length formal gowns and
immense picture hats, each an individual creation for the wearer. The
atmosphere of the affair was much more formal than a similar function
in the United States. We noticed that most of the young girls were
closely watched over by an elder a custom still surviving from the
duefia system. Although everybody seemed well acquainted, there was
not the cutting-in on dances that would be seen at a similar affair back
home. The same partners stayed with each other for the evening. Tables
along the sides were patronized by the more elderly, who watched the
activities of the younger set while they chatted with their friends.
At the Havana-Biltmore Yacht and Country Club we attended a sail-
boat regatta in which various other clubs participated. It was an exciting
affair, consisting of several classes of sailboats, ranging from sleek,
streamlined boats of narrow keel to the slower flat-bottomed sailboats
manipulated by youngsters, each kept in its own class, of course. It made
quite a thrilling picture as acres of white sails dotted the blue sea. Now
and then a contestant got into distress and had to be towed back to the
shore by one of the motor patrol boats. There was some skillful maneu-
vering, especially when the various entries lined up for the take-off. This
was dojie by timing each one as it passed the starting boat of the course.
Hours all of them exciting were spent in running a circle course laid
out by anchored buoys.
An exclusive club, the cigar-makers of Havana are entertained at work
Kawama Club at fashionable Varadero Beach caters to exclusive clientele
Luscious pineapples are sold for a few cents on the streets of Sancti Spiritus
CLUBS AND COCKFIGHTS 17
Marlin fishing, when the marlin are running, is also an important sport
along the coast, and we were fortunate to be there during a run. Fisher-
men get as many as twenty strikes a trip off the coast near Havana. We
saw some of these monstrous fish brought in. They are caught weighing
up to four or five hundred pounds. Incidentally, marlin fishing is one of
the most vigorous of sports, and only those hardened to it can fight a
marlin all the way.
But to get back to land again in review of Cuban club life: The
Havana Country Club showed us one of the most beautiful golf courses
to be seen anywhere in the world, set off with rows of stately royal
palms. The residential suburb around the same section is called Country
Club Park, and has some of the finest houses in all suburban Havana. The
main approach to it is along sea-walled Malecon Drive and Fifth Ave-
nue, a park-like boulevard of flowers and exotic trees leading through
a suburb named Vedado.
However, golf is not as popular with Cubans as with Americans. The
tired Cuban businessman doesn't usually care to get more exhausted
playing golf in this warm climate, though some of them do engage in
even more strenuous sports, such as riding, hunting, and fishing. For the
most part, though, the tired businessman in Cuba likes to take it easy
with his friends at the club, over a scotch and soda and a good Havana
Practically all sports are popular among the younger set, and in the
schools basketball is particularly important. The climate is too hot for
heavy football uniforms but they do have some baseball. It has not
achieved the wide popularity it enjoys in the United States, though there
is considerable playing of the sand-lot variety around Havana, especially
in the open plazas. It is quite a sight to see costly and artistic monuments
serving as bleachers!
A sport which is especially patronized by tourists in Havana is jai-alai.
It is said to be the fastest contest in the world. It is played on a court
similar to a tennis court, but with high walls on three sides. These walls
are used in the play. A heavy, hard rubber ball is thrown by means of
basket-like devices strapped to the contestants' arms. Since it requires so
l8 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
much skill and costly equipment it is seldom played by other than pro-
Of almost as great interest to the spectators as the game itself is the
betting. Attendants stationed among the audience help betters exchange
bets during the course of the game. It becomes rather complicated in
that a man may hedge former bets so that, although he puts up hundreds
or even thousands, his winnings or his losses may be only a few dollars.
Not even the sketchiest treatment of Cuban sports would be complete
without mention of cockfighting. It is perhaps the national pastime. Al-
though it originated among the lower class, wealthy patrons have since
taken it up and developed it into a fine art of breeding and training select
cocks of fighting blood. These wealthy patrons invest considerable time
and money, so that today the sport is highly organized and has all the
appurtenances of horse racing in the United States or bull fighting in
Mexico. Of course, it lacks as wide a following because it has remained
essentially a man's sport.
We went to one of the places, called vallas, where cock fights are held.
The one we visited, called Valla Habana, was in the city and was typical
of the better places.
The building itself had a rather open frame with a conical roof for
sheltering the circular fighting pit. Rising near the pit on all sides were
steep ascending tiers of seats for spectators. Country vallas, which we
saw later, were always cruder and usually had thatched roofs.
The pit of the Valla Habana consisted of a low wooden barricade on
which the spectators in the front row lean as they eagerly watch the feath-
ered warriors perform. The pit was circular, as they all are, and about
twenty-five feet across. The floor of the pit, which is really the valla
itself, was covered with wood shavings which were kept dampened.
Connected with the valla were other sheltered rooms for various pur-
poses. In one, gamecocks are kept while awaiting their turn, and in an-
other trainers prepare the cocks for the ring, teasing them into fury.
There is also a scale room, where gamecocks are carefully weighed in
before the fight. And of course no building devoted to spectator sports 1
men would be complete without lunchroom and bar.
CLUBS AND COCKFIGHTS 19
The few cockfights we saw there had one point in common: they
were longer than fights we had seen in Central America, and, in the case
of evenly matched birds, their ends were painfully protracted. In Cen-
tral America gamecocks as a rule wear steel spurs. Fights are bloody,
flashy, and short; often a fight is terminated in the first slashing en-
counter of the birds. But, fighting with natural spurs as they do in Cuba,
a fight between evenly matched birds may drag on and on after each
bird is tired, and sometimes the bout ends in one bird being slowly
pecked to death.
A curious thing about the use of natural spurs in Cuba is that seldom
does a bird go into the ring with his own spurs because they are not, as
a rule, perfect enough. In any event a close check is made on the length
of a gamecock's spurs before each fight. So in most cases his spurs are
clipped short early in youth, and when in the ring he will wear more
perfect ones clipped from some dead or retired battler and conforming
to the length requirements of the match. The technique of attaching
these spurs with tape and wax is quite an art in itself. When this is done,
the length of spur is measured by the trainer of the opposing fowl, and
must conform to rigid requirements in length. Trainers generally have
a considerable collection of these horny spurs, removed from old cocks
and saved from fight to fight.
When spur length has been closely checked and the birds have been
carefully weighed, they are ready for the ring. Each has already been
teased into fighting fury, and when placed under the openwork basket
on the floor of the ring he is able to peer out and make insulting noises
and rude faces at his opponent, which serves to further stimulate both
contestants. Then the basket is hoisted by a rope from overhead, and
the fight is on.
As a rule, both birds rush in heatedly for the initial clash. The con-
flict at first is often so furious that it is difficult to distinguish the separate
bundles of feathers. However, there are exceptions. Occasionally both
birds will creep toward each other, tense and watchful, poised as if on
tip-toe, balefuUy watching for an opening, stalking one another like a
pair of mutually respectful boxers. With those long clipped necks out-
20 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
thrust but Gladys pinned down the thought and symbol of those
feathered furies better than I could. "Look!" she cried, "Those snaky
necks! Those fierce, beady eyes!" as two seasoned warriors advanced
cautiously. "Why, there's the Feathered Serpent the Aztecs had in their
religion! Why, they both look like snakes creeping out as far as they can
from a bunch of tail-feathers!"
There is a furious rhythm to the early pan of a fight between well-
matched opponents. Clashes, which begin low and sometimes rise to a
height of four feet or so as the two opponents walk up one another's
feathered breasts, are short and intensely fierce. Despite the madly beat-
ing wings, the return of the battlers to earth often gives an odd impres-
sion that they walk doivn each other's bodies too, and this with great
reluctance. These clashes are followed by minutes of stiff r legged stalk-
ing, broken at times by tragi-comic relief as one or the other ferocious
bit of feathers abruptly turns tail and "bicycles" away from his oppo-
nent at break-neck speed. Comic, because the idea of sudden cowardice
on the part of such a bloodthirsty mite is grotesque; tragic, because it
is often a ruse and always taken seriously. The pursuer, who may have
used good ring judgment up to this point, often finds himself sailing
head-on into an impenetrable maelstrom of beating wing, searing beak,
and tearing spur with no time to reach his brakes.
But we neglect the spectators. No cockfight is complete without an
audience. No moment of insensate fury in the pit is more intense than
the boiling and boisterous enthusiasm of the crowd. No crescendo of
combat there in the ring below is so heroic as the frenzied betting an
all-engulfing tide that begins staidly with the bets between owners or
handlers and rises to envelop the whole audience of the valla; that begins
with pin money and sweeps on to engulf the rent. Roosters aren't the
only idiot brave. The drama of the betting rises and falls with the action
in the vaUa> and the rise and fall of the screaming tumult is an operatic
background to the action. But occasionally, in an evenly matched event,
the birds tire and the match is reduced to a slow and unlovely contest
between two brave but spent birds reduced to pecking one another to
death. Here man rises above the lower beasts; the frenzy of the panting
CLUBS AND COCKFIGHTS 21
audience soars above the fading fray, becomes contrapuntal to the ebb-
Anyone with the price of admission can attend a cockfight in Cuba.
But, with the typical luck that has ever dogged my footsteps, I managed
to get more out of it than just the fight. Inquiring around as to who were
the tycoons in the business end of this sport, I was introduced to a Sefior
Federico Cardona. By the rarest of coincidences, Sr. Cardona had gone
to school in the United States not far from my home town. This did
much to turn a contact into a friendship. Gladys' and Sefiora Cardona's
mutual professional interest in art did much to ripen this friendship in
the rapid manner that typifies the ripening process in the tropics. What
might have been merely a pleasant and informative talk ended in a de-
lightful Sunday on the Cardona estate about forty miles out of Havana,
giving us a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes of a stirring sport.
Sefior Cardona's estate is at Guira de Melena. Although a fairly large
and successful finca or farm in its own right and productive of tobacco
and a variety of products, it is for its Chinchinagua Galeria, its pro-
ducing and training ground for game cocks, that Sr. Cardona's place
shines throughout Cuba. Most of the more prosaic and conventional
farming is left in the care of an excellent tenant farmer.
We arrived at the Cardona finca early on Sunday, and had ample op-<
portunity to review every aspect from the egg batteries, where banded
and blooded hens produce the eggs that produce the feathered battlers,
all the way to the point later in die day when Sefior Cardona carefully
"bagged" a few birds to take in to the afternoon's fights in Havana. No-
where, and in no other line, is more skill and care lavished on sport or
farm product than is lavished on a well-reared fighting bird. Even each
egg is numbered with the code number of the hen that laid it, and can
thus be looked up so that, if the end product should be a fighting cock,
its ancestors and their records of victory and defeat for many genera-
tions is a matter of record.
Though Chinchinagua Galeria is a factory production line for turning
out feathered fighters, the most obvious equipment for hatching birds
in large quantities is missing. There are no incubators! All eggs are
22 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
hatched by setting hens. These hens, while setting, are as mean and
irritable as the best of their sons. After Sefior Cardona had showed us
the coops of brooders, he took us out into a large yard where each mother
hen who had completed her accouchement was busy scratching in the
dirt and bossing her offspring. Geography and the fence about the place
gave these litde bits of fluff ample range, but each mother hen rode
close-herd on her brood and bossily held them in a tight formation.
Without a doubt, matron bantams are the busiest busybodies in the
When the cockerels in the flock change from bits of down to leggy,
sassy, obstreperous youngsters, they are torn from the bosom of the
family and begin the life to which they have been born for centuries.
They are taken in groups to a remote corner of the estate, far from sight
and sound of the female of the species, and the very name of "mother"
is erased from whatever a gamecock uses for a brain. Here in this Spartan
existence they spend a few months in macberos, or bachelors' quarters,
each machero group under the dominance of a retired fighting cock.
Here they learn to live with one another, and any disorder attendant to
working out a social structure is speedily put down by the retired bat-
There comes a time, though, when these young future fighters can
no longer be held in check by the old master cock. Here life begins in
earnest. They are removed to individual pens called rajones, which are
large enough to provide each bird with ample room for exercise. As a
matter of fact, here they exercise even in sleep, for the only roost is a
swinging pole, to which the developing cock must fly. Any touch sets
this pole in motion, so the young cock must learn to use wings and body
for balance even while he is asleep.
From time to time the birds are taken out of these rajones, and given
a slight foretaste of the future. Trainers grasp the young gamecocks
firmly by the body and tease them by waving them at one another. They
learn thus to peck viciously and harmlessly and occasionally, for dessert,
the young birds have their spurs wrapped and are given short workouts.
The cockerels are now about a year old, and it is time to begin the
CLUBS AND COCKFIGHTS 23
intensive part of their training. They are kept in smaller sunken cages,
from which they are removed several times a day for sunning, training,
and careful feeding. An important part of the training during this stage
consists of placing each youngster in turn in a pen with a weary, retired
old battler a bird who knows how to feint and dodge, but who no
longer wants to fight. This develops both the skill and the confidence of
When he now acquits himself admirably in his "fixed fights," when
his trainer or owner feels he is ready to face life, the young bird takes
the last step on his way to the ring. His feathers are clipped close on his
neck, under his wings and body, and on his back. He is changed from a
thing of beauty, a gallant bit of iridescent feathers, into one of God's
ugliest creatures. He is now little more than a lean neck with a tuft of
tailfeathers, mounted on steely legs. And finally, he is fitted with the
The last step on the road to gladiatorial combat has been reached
when the bird is carefully stowed into a sack and taken to Havana for
his first fight. "Stripped down" for the ring, shorn of their fine feathers,
these ferocious little fighters are so much alike that later in the day when
we watched Sefior Cardona pack away a few birds for the Sunday after-
noon fights we felt we had watched those very birds grow up.
Lest we leave a false impression of the mercenary aspect of Cbin-
chinagua Galeria, let us add that this is an avocation of Sr. Cardona,
though it has grown to be one of his leading interests. He had an inde-
pendent income from the family's soap manufacturing business, and the
production and training of gamecocks was to him actually only a pas-
We very much enjoyed seeing the rest of his spacious finca, and meet-
ing the members of the family. Senora Cardona, convent-edticated and
fluent in English, had "married into" the sport of cockfighting, and had
learned to enjoy it. Gladys and she found much in common in their
household problems and in the care and education of their children.
Senora Cardona betrayed the fact that, although she found life on the
ftnca pleasant, she would like to move closer to the city for the sake of
24 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
her daughter, Mini, who was approaching school age. Not only did she
want Mini to have the advantages of association with other children of
good families but it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep good
servants so far from the city. Sefiora Cardona revealed, too, considerable
enthusiasm for the freedom-f or-women movement developing in Cuba.
She dissented decidedly with the old Spanish idea that woman's place
is that of unobserved subordinate in her husband's home, secluded from
the rest of the world.
An interesting corollary to the cityward trend of the modern and pro-
gressive Cuban lies in the fact that many an American tourist is finding
the very paradise he is seeking in what the Cuban leaves behind. Many
a fine old finca today has fallen into the delighted hands of a tourist who
flew over to "do" Havana's night clubs, and stayed to find in rural
Cuba the peace and contentment which many a Cuban is eager to ex-
change for the vagaries of city life.
We were invited to one of the most interesting of these, an old Span-
ish finca completely modernized. It belongs to Ernest Hemingway, and
is located on a high point of ground about thirty miles out of Havana-
just far enough off the main road so that his "Havana friends do not find
it easy to come out for a good time while I am busy writing," as Hem-
ingway put it. Gladys and I enjoyed our visit with the Hemingways
enormously, finding much in common. Both Hemingway's and my own
"first love" had been Spain. The display of a number of oil paintings by
modern Spanish painters whom Hemingway knew personally was of
particular interest to Gladys, as art is her chief interest.
For myself, I am afraid my interests run more to natural history, and
while I enjoyed the Spanish painters I feel that I shall remember best the
household's two dozen cats. Taken singly, they would have been out-
standing in any home. Taken collectively, as I took them when I opened
the door of the iroom where they are confined when Hemingway has
guests, they were overwhelming. It is a memorable experience to stand
in a half -opened door and be engulfed by two dozen cats.
We met during our stay in and around Havana a number of other
Americans who had dropped in on Cuba to have a good time and re-
CLUBS AND COCKFIGHTS 25
mained to have a better one. Some of them were retired; others had
bought businesses in Cuba. Many of them had found life on a Cuban
fnca more enjoyable than the night club life they had dropped in to see.
Oh, yes! We started off talking about clubs; yet we have neglected
wholly here the type of club to which Americans in foreign ports are
most addicted the night club! Let's have a look at them.
By the way, do you know that only recently Pan American Airways
has introduced the ultimate in night-clubbing? You can now leave Miami
in the evening and get into Havana at midnight when night life ap-
proaches its peak. You are flown back to Miami at 5.30 A.M., after hours
in doing Havana's glamorous pleasure resorts.
Too often, I am afraid, Americans get the idea that Cubans in Havana
spend their time in going to night clubs or in working in them. Actually,
Cubans are much like people everywhere; the majority of them go home
and go to bed nights. But since American tourists are insatiably addicted
to night clubs, wise Cubans combine courtesy with business acumen,
and some of them stay up to keep the places open.
And what places! We can skip, for the present, the sidewalk cafes
along the Prado and around Central and Fraternity Parks. They are for
the tourists who stay and work their way gradually and unwittingly
toward a Cuban finca. They are the easy-going, "old shoe" places, much
like the Montparnasse in once-gay Paree. The tourist who goes night-
clubbing by plane starts with a highball at Sloppy Joe's, the venerable
progenitor of Cuban night clubs. The American who has ended up on a
Cuban finca comes to town to enjoy the romantic music of the girl or-
chestras attached to the sidewalk cafes, playing softly and glamorously
as he sips his drink. The streamlined Pan American Airways night-
clubber moves on to the casino, being careful not to gamble away his
return-trip ticket. He is swept up in the scintillant lure of the more
gilded pleasure palaces, Sans Souci, Tropicana, Casino de la Playa, Eden
The American in from his finca just sips his drink, listens to the soft
music, and watches the young saunter by in carefully segregated groups.
The airplane bacchante imbibes in more gilded suroundings, in a place
26 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
built like a Moorish harem, like the court of Louis XIV, like an opium
addict's dream of the Mohammedan heaven. Richer and more raucous
and more expensivemusic blares out at him from the minuscule band-
stand. The little patch of floor space is alternately engulfed by couples
sweating out a dance, or overheated with uninhibited floor shows.
A high yaller gal swirls out on the patch of floor and melts into an
ultra-seductive version of the sensuous rhumba. A high yaller gal, bathed
in colored lights, swathed in obvious abundance of close-fitting bronze
skin, bedecked in patches of costume brilliantly colored and even more
brilliantly omitted. Brilliantly omitted, because after all no costume is
as beautiful as bronze skin. People have been making nude statues out of
bronze for ages, and nobody sees any wrong in it. High yaller gal! Her
slim, tense, dancer's body weaves and melts its way into the music and
into the senses. A tom-tom beat in the savage, sensual music beats every
trim line of her body into every tired brain, into the sensory parts of
every brain, the brain that was there ages before brains were used to
think with. The tourist in by plane to do Havana's night clubs is swept
and swirled in the vortex of an inverted maelstrom by the savage beat
of the music, by the sensuous weaving and swaying of a bronze body,
weaving itself into the music, the savage music, the tom-tom music, the
hot voice and breath of the jungle. The airplane night-clubber forgets
he is a bald-headed businessman from Manitowoc; he is swept away by
the tropic night and the tom-tom beat and the weaving bronze body;
he is a part of something young and strong and fierce and ageless as the
jungle and unquenchable as the fiery heart of Africa.
The guide taps him on the shoulder, and the savage dream is done, the
fierce illusion shattered. "The plane, seiior; you advise me to remind you
the plane. But you come back, eh? Some other time you live again like
this, eh? But now, seiior, the plane!"
So he goes. So we all go. So you leave, too. But you come back, some
other time, eh? But don't come back too often. You, too, may get deeper
into Cuba than the night clubs. You, too, may end up on a Cuban finca.
Palm Leaves and Hershey Bars
Uuba is a narrow island some seven hundred and sixty miles long, rang-
ing from twenty-five to one hundred and twenty miles in width. It com-
prises more than half the land area of the West Indies. Moved over onto
the United States, it would reach exactly from New York to Cincinnati.
Restyled, it would approximately cover Pennsylvania. It has an average
density of population somewhat over twice that of the United States,
a total population of five million.
It is divided into six provinces, their boundary lines cutting across the
island. In former days these provinces were quite isolated from one an-
other. Each province has various good harbors, and each has always
exported most of its products directly to the outside world. Even today,
while Havana receives three-fourths of Cuba's total imports, it can han-
dle only one-fourth of Cuba's exports. The island's sugar, tobacco, mo-
lasses, fruit, rum, and its more recent copper, iron, nickel, and manganese
ore, obviously would strain the port of Havana.
Cuba, although not an extraordinarily large land mass and lying
wholly in the same climate zone, has variety because of different types
of terrain, economic differences, and even more, the historic isolation of
From west to east, these provinces are Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matan-
zas, Las Villas, Camaguey, and Oriente. With the exception of Havana
province, dominated by the city of Havana itself, where we landed, we
had planned to cover the island by automobile from west to east. In the
main this was to be by the famous Carretera Central or Central High-
way, which runs the length of the island and has important laterals to
28 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
cities not on the highway itself. This Central Highway connects the
several provincial capitals, since all but Havana and Santiago are situated
in the interior.
What is going to happen to Cuban life when the expected tremendous
influx of American tourists begins, is a most puzzling question. Pending
plans for a cheap and rapid ferry system between Key West and Havana
will make Cuba and the United States very close neighbors. This enor-
mous ferry, capable of carrying seventy-five trailers, two hundred cars,
and thirteen hundred passengers, on a ferry trip of but six hours dura-
tion, is bound to have repercussions on smaller Cuba. Not only will
greater numbers of middle-class Americans be able to visit Cuba, but at
five dollars a passage certainly great numbers of Cubans are bound to
visit the United States.
But the imminent introduction of a cheap and rapid ferry system be-
tween *Key West and Havana is by no means the end of future plans
for increasing travel and intercourse between the United States, Cuba,
and nearby Latin American countries. Plans have been going on apace
for a similar ferry system to the western tip of Yucatan in Mexico. Both
countries are rapidly pushing to completion the highway systems leading
to the ferry terminals in their respective countries. In Mexico the high-
way will begin at the tip of Yucatan, pass through Merida and the states
of Yucatan, Vera Cruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas, to join the main trunk
of the Pan American Highway running southward from the United
States border to Guatemala. This will enable American tourists in east-
ern United States to drive directly to Key West, ferry to Havana, drive
across Cuba to Puerto Fe, ferry to Yucatan, and from there roll home-
ward over the Mexican Highway. Already this has been named the Sun-
shine Circle Route. By this route American automobilists in a couple of
weeks of vacation time can make a complete circuit through Cuba and
Mexico without retracing their tire-prints. By this route Mexican and
Cuban tourists can drive directly to each other's country and thence
into the United States, with greater ease than in driving into many parts
of their own countries. All kinds of new touring possibilities will be
thereby opened for the American automobilist for touring nearby Latin
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS 29
American countries including all of the Caribbean lands, easily and in-
expensively. For subsequently a whole chain of ferries are proposed, to
connect the mainland with other Caribbean islands through Cuba.
Unfortunately, the Cuban section of this Sunshine Circle Route was
not completed sufficiently for us to make the trip down to Puerto Fe on
the western tip of Cuba at the time of our visit. We drove westward in
Cuba in that general direction to San Juan y Fernandez, through the
rich Vuelta Abajo tobacco region of which San Juan y Fernandez is the
center. West of here the road became very poor. Yet up from the coast
at Puerto Fe a good road has been built to a place called St. Julians,
which was used by the United States as a naval air base during the war.
Here again the late war stepped up development of these hemispheric
highways, just as was the case in Central America and Alaska.
The reason for the inconvenient, inland location of important cities
and provincial capitals harkens back to the days of the pirates. Although
Cuba is often referred to as the Isle of a Hundred Harbors, the Spanish
in early days did not permit any but fortified Havana and Santiago to
become important, because of the fear of attack. Rather, they established
their centers in important agricultural sections in the interior, each with
its own little port which was not permitted to become rich and impor-
tant enough to attract pirates.
On the western end of the island is the province of Pinar del Rio,
which is noted mainly for its fine leaf tobacco, probably the finest in
the world. It is but one hundred and nine miles over the Central High-
way from Havana to the city of Pinar del Rio, the provincial capital-
over road so shiny smooth in places that it seems varnished. Towns are
spaced rather closely, and some of them, such as Guanajay, Artemisa,
and San Cristobal, are of fair size. The country is rolling to level, and
neatly checkerboarded with fields of com and pineapples. As it ap-
proaches the capital itself, the road goes through the famous tobacco
region of Vuelta Abajo, where the expensive leaf tobacco is raised under
hundreds of acres of muslin shading.
At Guanajay, the first large town in the province of Pinar del Rio, an
important road branches off the Central Highway. It leads to the north
30 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
coast, to the ports of Mariel and Cabanas, both little port towns over-
looking picturesque harbors for smaller craft. Mariel is the seat of the
Cuban Naval Academy, and from its grounds the town and little Bay of
Mariel present a beautiful panorama. During the revolution arms for the
patriots were smuggled into this harbor from the United States.
Pineapples were just ripening in the rich Vuelta Abajo region. They
were being cut in the fields, and the ripe ones were being rushed by
trucks to canneries along the way. The large pineapples, harvested
green, went to packing houses, where they were boxed for shipment to
the United States. We visited one of the canneries and saw hundreds of
girls working at long benches, stripping off the outer skin and cutting
up the luscious fruit into slices. Automatic machinery then took over
the task of cooking the pineapple and sealing it into tin cans on an end-
less conveyor belt system.
Dominating the Cuban landscape everywhere along the way are the
stately royal palms. Even the endless acres of pineapples had royal palms
jutting up from the jagged sea of pineapple leaves. The royal palm
grows wild and adds a stately note to the landscape. It is also important
in the economic life of the poor for the leaves are used in the palm-
thatched roofs of their homes. The boardlike husks of yearly growth
are used as side walls to their huts or bohios, and the oil-bearing nuts are
harvested for fattening their pigs.
The peasant bohio is the outstanding picturesque note in Cuba. Its
overhanging thatched roof is neatly bobbed. It is painted in soft pastel
shades pink, >salmon, light blues and greens with wooden window and
door framings often in some contrasting color. Invariably the bohio is
surrounded by coconut or royal palms, laurel, or ceiba, or sometimes by
flame-bloomed poinciana. There is often a patch of bananas near the
house, and these take the place of a cellarful of canned goods in a
northern home. If the family budget or larder runs low, bananas or their
larger cousins the plantains are an ever-dependable food supply that can
be eaten ripe or green, cooked or uncooked.
We arrived in the town of Pinar del Rio, a city of some seventy thou-
sand, on a Sunday afternoon. We found a half-dozen hotels from which
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS . 31
to choose, at a much lower cost than for comparable accommodations
in Havana. First impressions of the city were somewhat disappointing.
It looked as if it had grown up a bit too haphazardly, and with too little
planning by the city fathers. The narrow streets were only exceeded
in congestion by the ridiculously narrow sidewalks on the main thor-
oughfares. To walk along these sidewalks was like walking a narrow
wall, with the alternative of jumping down into the street when some-
one approached from the opposite direction, or grasping the stranger's
hand and swinging around him like an demon left in an American
There is another alternative to this struggle for room on the sidewalk
or in the street the use of the space under the stone porticoes of the
different buildings. These are used especially in inclement weather, and
their various levels are connected by steps of varying steepness. The
difficulty in using these porticoes occurs when you are forced to detour
around railings and counters where aggressive business establishments
obstruct the space with merchandise spread out to the sidewalk's edge.
On Sunday evening with many other guests we sat in rockers on
the hotel porch, watching the customary parade of the young folks.
We were amazed to see how these young people dressed up in this
provincial town. As much as in Havana, the girls here went in for
careful coiffures and styles that would not have been out of place on
New York's Fifth Avenue. In many cases the fellows wore the im-
maculate white suits for which Havana is famous in summer. All men
wore either coats or the dressy Cuban combination shirt and jacket
with four pockets, called guayabera. Shoes were shined to a polish not
common in the United States. When I had mine shined, the bootblack
worked on them more than half an hour, until they shone like mirrors
at every point.
We made the acquaintance at the hotel of a young fellow who was
a private English teacher, and he told us much about Cuban customs.
"Among the better classes," he said, "you cannot take a girl to the
movies alone even if you're engaged to her. You must take along an-
other sister or an aunt, or some friend or relative to act as chaperon or
32 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
duena. Of course of late, to some extent, young fellows and their girls
are going out in groups, but never just a single couple." -
We pressed our young English teacher friend as to whether he had
a girl or had any marriage plans. That evening in the hotel he brought
us a lovely picture of his fiancee and told us about her. He said that
he had met her when she had come to Pinar del Rio from her father's
farm to go to school. They had become engaged, and from time to
time he visited her after she went back home again, although it was
very difficult. He had to travel all day by local buses, changing to
smaller and smaller ones until he arrived at the farm. Here he stayed
several days at a time with the family. Such a visit had to do until he
cquld afford to take several days off again, in a matter of months.
Meanwhile, they wrote to each other every day, were much in love,
but could not get married. He detested the isolation of the farm, knew
nothing about farming, and did not want to learn. She was willing to
come and live in town, but he didn't earn enough to support them
both. He hoped eventually to locate in Havana.
We heard the same sort of story from several other young Cubans
with whom we became sufficiently acquainted to gain their confidence.
The rising standard of living in Cuba creates, as it does in the United
States, some severe personal problems for the younger generation.
When subsequently we broached the subject of this young couple
to a conservative, middle-aged business man, Senior Colina, whom we
came to know rather well, he had a ready answer. His answer was the
more interesting in that he went to great lengths to explain the con-
servative position in regard to strengthening the old Spanish type of
strong family unit. He felt that the young fellow we mentioned had
no right to get married. "He is too young, and the girl is entirely too
close to his own age. In the Tropics," Sr. Colina added, "a man should
be at least ten years older than the girl he marries."
We pressed Sr. Colina for an explanation of this. "You have seen
the reason when you have observed our women," he replied, "They
bloom quickly, and they age quickly. When a woman is fifty, she is a
very old woman. If she does not marry a man considerably older than
The shrine of El Cobre Virgin, patron saint of Cuba
Improvised, but sanitary } water container for the road workers of Ciego de Avila
The Central Highway is a paved arterial route all the way across Cuba
Our car is loaded aboard a native craft at Santiago for shipment to Haiti
Cleverly made shell figures are sold to the tourist at Varadero Beach
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS 33
herself, they will become unhappy later, when the woman has aged
and the man is still vigorous and young. Furthermore," he added, "a
marriage is much happier when the man is more mature and plays a
dominant part in it."
This is an illustration of the clash between old and new in Cuba.
Senor Colina went on to decry the rise of the modern attitude, the
growing tendency toward independence for women. To him the old-
fashioned system, where woman sought her whole expression within a
home dominated by a man, was best. He disliked very much the modern
tendency of the well-to-do woman seeking expression outside of the
home in clubs and social events, to the neglect of the personal rearing
of the children. It was the age-old clash of the young, new, modern
way of life with the old. It is a problem that has the same reper-
cussions throughout the world, but here in Cuba it seemed particularly
acute because of the greater conservatism of the Spanish family unit on
which society is built. Senor Colina admired the United States and had
lived there, but this was the one influence of the United States which
he didn't like, the introduction of feminine independence and the conse-
quent weakening of the family unit in Cuba.
Before we drop this question let us examine a belief that has become
legendary. I have always been told that women age more rapidly in
the tropics, and that Spanish women age more rapidly, as if both were
the same. Patently they are not, since much of Spanish America is not
in the tropics. I have always accepted the thesis without examining
it too closely. It has always been so obvious. In any Latin American
country you see for yourself that after forty a woman is old, and they
are generally fat before this age. They seem to get fat soon after
marriage, whether they have children or not. And of course, being fat
is the easiest way to age in the tropics.
But why do they get fat? I used to take it for granted that it was
because the Latin man likes plump beauty. Even their word, hermosa,
meaning "beautiful," has much of the connotation of a Rubens type of
feminine beauty. The other adjective of the same meaning, bonita> is
much less used, because it has the connotation of smallness.
34 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
But after watching Latin American women dine, and comparing
their dietary habits with those of our own women, I am convinced that
therein lies the chief reason for their tendency to plumpness and prema-
ture aging. Starches and fats are eaten in quantities with entire lack of
concern for the future results to the waist line.
Probably much of the lack of discipline in dietary habits is a result
of their whole social and religious psychology. A woman is expected
to marry but once, and at an early age. After marriage, custom dictates
that she drop out of public life and retire to the seclusion of her
husband's home. She is definitely out of the running then and is seldom
seen and admired by other men. There is no divorce. There is seldom
a second marriage even in the event of a husband's premature death.
Under such circumstances, why need a woman bother with diets,
girdles, and other disciplinary measures to keep a trim, youthful figure?
In other words, does not the whole Latin psychology of woman's func-
tion and position in society conspire to age her prematurely? I know
some few Latin American women living in the United States and a
few even in their own countries who, daring to become leaders in
public life, have not succumbed to the general Latin custom of becoming
fat and forty at the same time.
But to return to Pinar del Rio. Our strolls on several occasions through
the residential parts, especially in the better-class section, changed our
first impression of the unprepossessing parts in the business section. Here
we found well-kept streets lined with some really beautiful homes.
Some of the more recently built houses were rather modernistic in
pattern, with large window areas and simpler lines*
The older type of house, however, was generally a tinted stucco with
columned front and with a low piazza opening into a high-ceilinged
living room. Through the open doors we could often see beyond this
front room into a comparatively formal dining room. This is almost a
part of the front room but we seldom if ever saw it in use. It gives the
appearance of being used mostly to guard and display the family china-
ware and a considerable amount of bric-a-brac. The bedrooms with their
high ceilings were also on the same floor, to either side, through the
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS 35
open windows of which could generally be seen a luxurious bed promi-
nently displayed. The rest of the room would be simply furnished.
The town of Pinar del Rio is by no means the end of highways in
western Cuba. From the provincial capital it is still miles to the end
of land on the western tip of Cuba. Several roads extend farther west-
ward, and roads run northward into the mountains and toward the
north coast. Another road runs to the south coast. We drove as far
as we could go on four of these roads. All are being improved and
extended, but we found the road northward into the mountains and
through the beautiful Valley of Vinales the most interesting. It winds
through rich, rolling tobacco and farming country, climbs over a low
pass through hills of sparsely settled pine forest, then drops down into
Vinales Valley, which is noted for its peculiar geologic formations. High
hills almost small mountains among which are scattered countless little
farms, rise vertically from the valley floor far into the distance. A
magnificent view of this panorama can be seen from a lookout con-
structed along the road shortly after it crosses the pass. The road then
winds down the sides of the valley and we saw at increasingly closer
range the palm-thatched bohios of the native farms and farmers plowing
the fields with oxen.
As the road crossed the level floor of the valley it approached close
to the vertical walls of some of these abrupt formations, which had
somewhat the appearance of the buttes of Montana, except that they
were covered with luxuriant vegetation. At close range the vertical
sides were even more interesting, consisting of fluted edges of gray
limestone eroded to give the appearance of gigantic sheets of stalactites.
In some places the vertical walls were undermined by ages-old erosion
to form great caves. Tall coconut palms growing close to the base in
places blended their vertical gray trunks witli the gray limestone forma-
tions. Concealing most of the bare rock formation itself was a great
mass of vines and tangled growth.
Our highway across the valley led through fields of corn and several
kinds of vegetables that are important articles of Cuban diet. There was
the sweet potato; the yuca, a long, starchy root tasting something like
36 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
our potato; and the mdcmga, another starchy root known to us as Ele-
phant Ear. This has a somewhat turnip-like taste. While some of these
crops were being planted, others were being harvested. Crops grow all
the year round in Cuba, so rich is the soil and so favorable the climate.
Our road now led into the foothills of taller forests and rushing
streams, and ended at San Vicente. Here several fine hotels had been
established for the tourist who likes country quiet and virgin freshness,
far from the city and close to good hunting, fishing, and swimming.
Nearby medicinal streams and an underground river in a cave make
this section of great attraction to anyone interested in geology.
Another road we took out of Pinar del Rio led down to the litde
fishing village of Punta de Cams, on the south coast. As the road was
not yet finished, we had a sample of what a primitive Cuban highway
could be like. Rough as it was, it was used considerably by oxcart,
horse-drawn two-wheeler, truck and bus, serving the many tobacco
farms along the way.
From Pinar del Rio we now had to retrace our steps to Havana, on our
long trek across Cuba from west to east. Westward from Pinar del Rio is
the province of Havana, dominated by the nation's capital. In fact, the
city of Havana with its million inhabitants actually comprises one-fifth
of the republic's population, and with its environs it also takes in a con-
siderable section of the province of the same name. For a considerable
distance in all directions out of Havana there are country estates. Many
of the finca owners in this region are not real dirt farmers but, as in the
United States near metropolitan areas, gentlemen fanners who like the
country life but have their business interests in the city.
Cuba is 'narrowest in the province of Havana, so it is not much of a
drive across the island here, from Havana on the north to Batabano
on the south shore a distance of forty miles. The drive across the
island is through slightly rolling country of dairy farms and some sugar
cane, with the landscape dominated by stately royal palms. Cuban towns
and villages are generally close together, but this is doubly true in
the province of Havana, for this metropolis is the only important
manufacturing area in all Cuba.
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS 37
Batabano across the island from Havana is a fishing center, especially
for sponge fishermen. Here sponges are cleaned, clipped, dried, and
packed. We visited several of these sponge packing houses and a fish
cannery at Batabano. There isn't much to preparing sponges for market
save cleaning, drying, and baling.
In the fish cannery they were canning tuna. Large chunks of the
cleaned fish were cooked in huge cauldrons, picked over and cleaned
by hand again after cooking, then packed by hand in the small tins
which were sealed by machinery. As in the pineapple canneries in Pinar
del Rio, many of the workers were women and girls in their early
Outside of Batabano were shipyards where the typical wood sail
and power boats used in fishing were built in long rows, entirely by
hand. Cuba is fortunate in having a great variety of fine woods, espe-
cially mahogany, suitable for shipbuilding. The great number of little
ports like Batabano, coupled with the fact that no part of the island
is far from the sea, will always make Cubans sailing-conscious. Many
controlling laws have been passed to foster this, so that Cuban intra-
island and mainland small boat traffic is of necessity by Cuban boats.
It is from the port of Batabano that one takes the boat across the
ninety miles of ocean to the Isle of Pines, the largest of Cuba's island
territories. This island also can be reached and more comfortably by
plane. Today an increasing number of tourists are finding their way
there because of its medicinal springs. A large part of the island is
nearly impenetrable swamp and dense jungle, the home of millions of
birds and other wild life, so that it also offers fine hunting. The small
fertile part of .the island is very productive, especially of grapefruit,
much of which is sent to the United States. Many Americans settled
there after Cuba became independent, thinking the United States would
retain the Isle of Pines. The place has an interesting historical back-
ground. The Spaniards never settled it, and its wild shores became the
haunts of pirates. It is considered by some to be the locale for Stevenson's
Treasure Island. Even today an occasional treasure-hunting expedition
is organized to seek a legendary burial place of pirate treasure.
38 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
The country is much more settled on the north coast of the province
of Havana, because of its proximity to the metropolitan area. Out of
Havana along the coast countless communities have grown together so
that, although retaining their former names, they are all part of Havana
today. With fairly good beaches running eastward from Havana, there
are many little beach towns like Cojimar and Guanabo scattered along
the coast. Cojimar is an interesting little fishing port, and Guanabo has
come to be quite a pleasure beach.
A much longer trip out of Havana, to the north coast, almost to the
edge of Havana province, is the trip to Hershey. This is a model sugar
refinery town named for and owned by America's chocolate king. Here
we visited one of the largest sugar refineries in all Cuba, equipped with
the most modern machinery, and we saw the processes involved in
.converting cane into tons of crystal-white sugar. Rows of huge evap-
orators heated by blasts of burning oil boiled the cane sap down as it
came from the crushers. From these it came out in a black, crystalline
mass that turned to white before our eyes as batches of it were whirled
in centrifuges which squeezed out the last of the uncrystallized black
syrup. Finally, automatic weighing and bagging machinery turned out
a continuous stream of hundred-pound sacks of sugar onto a conveyor
belt. Such a refinery is called a central, from the early Spanish use of the
word to designate a center to which cane was hauled for refining. But
the modern plant we saw at Hershey, almost completely automatic,
was a far cry from the old Spanish central. In those days slaves not only
cut the cane but actually crushed it by hand-driven rollers, and boiled
down the sap in open cauldrons. Systems almost as primitive may still
be seen in remote parts of Central and South America, where the sap
is pressed out of the sugar cane by ox-powered wooden rollers, with
even the cogs made of hand-carved wood. In these crude establish-
ments the sap is boiled down over open fires and the resulting mass cast
into wooden moulds which form the panela of these countries.
To see modern plants such as we saw along the way in Cuba is to
realize how far the country has come since independence. But modern-
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS 39
ity has its disadvantages, too, as Cuba learned so disastrously in the
Thirties, in what is still referred to as the Dance of the Millions.
After the first World War the demand for sugar rose to hitherto
unheard-of proportions. This resulted in a price rise of from five to
twenty-five cents a pound. Cuba, then as now the greatest single
sugar-producing country in the world, found herself suddenly in the
big money. A fever of wild speculation spread over the country as
everyone tried to convert property into cash for investment in sugar.
New land was cleared and valuable forests were cut down to make
more land for planting. Those already in the business expanded to a
tremendous extent, spending their new-found wealth in an orgy of
building and luxurious living. Then came reality as the world suddenly
found itself producing more sugar than it could consume, and the price
fell to unbelievably low figures. With it tumbled the price of land and
investments as well, since the country's whole economy was based mainly
on this one crop.
Cuba has learned her lesson the danger of being a one-crop country
and has by legislature and otherwise been able to reform her economy
into more diversified channels* Today Cuba is well off with her sugar,
which has not been allowed to expand to unnatural proportions in spite
of the heavy pressure brought to bear during the last war. Since her sad
lesson Cuba has, besides producing cane, tobacco, and bananas, gone
into the raising of varied agricultural products which she had formerly
to import, such as beef, dairy products, coffee, corn, poultry, and eggs.
She also supplies the United States with a variety of fresh garden truck,
But in spite of attempts to break away from being a one-crop coun-
try and to diversify her agriculture, still about one-half of Cuban land
is devoted to the raising of sugar cane. Sugar continues to dominate
the economy of Cuba and sets up an economic rhythm through the year
in much of the country. In sugar cane sections we find the communities
somewhat in the doldrums without much to do until cane-cutting time
in January or February. Then the cane cutters, many of whom have
been without any regular work for the rest of the year, begin to earn
40 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
and spend. Stores in the sugar sections stock up with goods and do a
thriving business. American canned products appear on the tables of
these workers, and they live in comparative luxury for the few brief
months of the cane harvest. There is food, hilarity, and well-being. Then,
after the season is over, the bright lights go out. Many of the workers
cannot afford even candles and oil lights, and they go on an almost
wholly vegetable diet for the rest of the year. Bananas, the Cubans'
cellarful of foodstuffs, come into their own again. Stores allow their
stocks to become depleted until the next winter's awakening.
At the model plant in Hershey the company has done much to help
its employees toward a higher standard of living. Comfortable modern
homes have been built for them, making the town a model for the whole
countryside. Various clinics, as well as educational and social services,
have been established to go with the physical improvements. A clear
attempt has been made to raise the children to a higher standard of
living, and the result was particularly noticeable in the appearance of
the children on the streets. Whereas in other towns and villages there
are always a number of ill-kempt street urchins begging for money, here
all are well dressed, playing together in an orderly manner, and with
respectful answers to questions when spoken to.
Cuba, however, is not depending on the casual benevolence of em-
ployers for an improved standard of living for the masses. Labor has
organized and has been rapidly forcing through a program of better
wages and living conditions, both by legislative measures and by direct
action. Unionized labor has in some cases been making such heavy de-
mands that it has temporarily demoralized certain businesses, as often
happens when labor becomes an aggressive and powerful force. Cuba is
entering the "century of the common man" with a vengeance. Opinions
about it vary. The conservative property holder argues against radical-
ism, and cites instance after instance of damage to business and physical
progress. The liberal or radical argues for still greater advancement of
human values in spite of costs, physical or otherwise.
These clashes of social and economic forces are most obvious in the
metropolitan area of Havana province, where the tremendous difference
PALM LEAVES AND HERSHEY BARS 41
between the upper and lower classes is so obvious. Here the masses are
brought together by a propinquity of interests to organize for their
social and economic improvement. When we left the metropolitan area
of Havana province for the sections of the republic toward the east,
we were entering into country that was for the most part more tranquil
and less disturbed by these modern forces.
There is, beneath the tumult and the shouting, the mass meetings,
the parades, the blaring radios, an almost shocking degree of intrinsic
good manners and good conduct within Cuban socio-political ferment.
Particularly is this so when one compares the thing itself with our
accepted mental picture of Latin revolution. I recall one little incident in
Havana that sums up the case. I was interviewing Dr. Portel-Vila, history
professor at the University of Havana and acting head of Sociedad de
Cultura Cubana-American Culture. We were engaged in an interesting
discussion of so prosaic a subject as the need for an irrigation program
to help Cuban agriculture.
As we were talking, we were drawn to the window by a noisy mob.
Alarge crowd was marching down the Prado with banners flying, headed
for the president's palace. From the signs and banners borne, we saw
that it was an organization of store clerks demonstrating for better
hours and working conditions. Dr. Portel-Vila turned to me.
"As all roads lead to Rome," he said, "here all demonstrations lead
to the president's palace."
"Will there be trouble rioting?"
"Oh no. You have been seeing the movies in your own land. They
will all blow off steam, and then go home. This happens every day-
without these the president would be a lonely man."
A Revolutionary Experience
Eastward from Havana is the province of Matanzas. The name itself,
meaning slaughter or massacre, is a relic of early days, when a great
number of Indians were butchered here by the Spaniards. As is usual,
the province and its capital city bear the same name. The city of
Matanzas is unduly off center for a capital city; it lies on the coast and
is only eighteen miles inside the western border of the province.
Matanzas, built along the curving shore of Matanzas Bay, is one of
the important cities of the north coast, and one of the three coastal
capitals. It is old, nearly as old as Havana and Santiago, and has grown
up subject to dictates of geography. It has been called the City of
Bridges for the numerous and ancient bridges spanning the Yumuri
and San Juan rivers here. It shows a purer Moorish influence than
many cities, in its variegated tiles, in the old clock tower, even in many
of the churches. And yet, with all the ingredients from which pic-
turesque charm and hallowed antiquity are distilled, Matanzas somehow
falls short. It has achieved that unloveliest and rarest of distinctions for
a Latin city it has grown old ungracefully.
Perhaps it is only that Matanzas' face is dirty. Much of its waterfront
is poor, squalid, ugly. Only after you leave the city along the sweeping
curve of the bay, do you come upon a section possessed of any charm.
It is, for all that, a busy spot. Opposite the city along the curve of
the bay a free port bustles with stevedores and ocean freight. Ships
from the wide world dock there. We were particularly intrigued to
find a Norwegian ship unloading cacao from warmer lands, and taking
on a cargo of finished chocolate products from a busy factory. For
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 43
all its dirty face and run-down heels, Matanzas is important. It serves
as principal outlet for two* rich agricultural valleys which meet here.
The principal of these is the Yumuri Valley, which can be seen dis-
tinctly from the heights of Montserrate Shrine a mile or so from the
This Montserrate, well worth a visit, is a famous hermitage noted
for the miracles that have been wrought here, like many of these old
shrines. The church itself, its walls lined with cases filled with little
silver emblems brought by the suffering devout, is only mediocre in
interest. But the heights on which the whole establishment is built,
reached either by a winding road or by steep climb afoot directly up
from Matanzas, is a fine place for viewing a large slice of Cuban city
and countryside. On the level plateau in back of the church provisions
have been made for holiday enjoyment. Here on Sundays and holidays
churchgoers gather for outings after services. The place is almost an
ideal picnic ground, even for those who don't care for the work of
packing a picnic lunch, as the edge of the walls overlooking the valley
below is lined with little booths serving refreshments of every sort.
There are swings and playground equipment for the amusement of
youngsters. Obstreperous and antisocial offspring of whom every play-
ground has a few can be conveniently thrown off the cliff if they
have not yielded to the tenderizing influence of church services. This
fine old custom of combining religious services with a picnic holiday is
commonplace in much of Latin America, and probably dates back to
the old Spanish Romerios which can still be seen outside Madrid.
Outside Matanzas are other worthwhile points of interest. Nearby are
the famous Bellamar Caves, outstanding example in Cuba of limestone
caverns, containing some of the most beautiful formations in the world.
They are eleptrically lighted in such a way as to bring out their best.
Farther eastward and a bit off the Central Highway is one of Cuba's
outstanding spas, the baths of San Miguel, with excellent* hotel facilities.
Natural water bottled here is shipped all over Cuba.
Matanzas is the only port between Havana and Santiago touched by
the Central Highway. To the east the highway stays inland, though
44 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
there is ready access to either coast all the way along over lateral roads
that are often fine, sometimes good, and at times less than that.
Thirty-five miles east of Matanzas was the first of these roads to lead
us seriously astray. This road runs to the important north coast port of
Cardenas. An even more intriguing side road running off this side road
runs on to famous Varadero Beach and beyond. Later a new highway,
to be called the Via Blmca, will sldrt the coast from Matanzas directly
to Varadero Beach and beyond, but this is not ready yet.
Cardenas was a shock, particularly after Matanzas. It was one of
the neatest, cleanest, spick-and-span-est cities we ever saw. It was ex-
tremely interesting to learn that only a few years back it had been as
ugly and slip-shod as only a port can be, its waterfront an unattractive,
fever-breeding swamp. But Cardenas has had its face lifted, and here are
Through the civic-minded efforts of the fine old Etchehabala family,
owners of the Etchehabala Rum Company, the waterfront swamp was
filled in, built up, and planted with tree-lined drives and boulevards.
This company, too, through its model plants that deal not only in rum
but in sugar, commercial alcohol, and candy, has done much to better
the social and economic, as well as the physical, side of the rest of the
city. But this is only part of the story.
In many a Cuban city we had heard of an unusual civic club known
as the Sociedad de los Mil, or Society of the Thousand. This society is
made up of local groups of public-spirited citizens who pledge them-
selves to contribute a certain sum of money monthly to public improve-
ments. The name was adopted largely as a slogan, implying that the
members are the thousand most civic-minded people in the community.
Membership is not actually limited to this number, and in small cities
seldom reaches it. Each household that subscribes bears the proud in-
signia MIL on the home.
Projects undertaken by these clubs are often costly enterprises such
as street paving, sewage-system installation, or park improvement. Offi-
cers are elected annually, serve without pay, and cannot be re-elected
to the same office. Civic improvements are decided upon by a board and
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 45
are carefully planned to take in the interests of the whole community.
In addition to having a wealthy and civic-minded philanthropist among
its citizens, Cardenas had achieved its distinctive qualities because it
possessed an intensely active Sociedad de los Mil. Not only much of
the waterfront but much of the beautification of the city's parks was
the work of this public-spirited group. These Societies of the Thousand
are the most active of democratic forces making different Cuban com-
munities conscious of their own civic responsibilities, and nowhere did
this society function more magnificently than in Cardenas.
Cardenas has an unusual water supply from a subterranean river
which is well worth a visit. This river has furnished the city's water
for many years, but in recent times the mechanical aspects of its use
have been enlarged and modernized. One may descend to the electrically
driven pumping station underground and pass into the extensive caves
themselves. These are electrically lighted and furnished with walks and
bridges. Under the electric lights the underground water takes on a
variety of translucent greens that are beautiful to behold. A bridge leads
across the underground stream from the main cavern into a smaller
one out in the water, where a stalactite formation in the image of the
Virgin is a feature of interest.
In another section of the city the Etchehabala Company has its own
private water supply from a series of underground springs. Although
much smaller, the caves in which these springs originate have been
improved with colored lights, and an aquarium with many kinds of
fish has been built here into the limestone walls and lighted from above.
Visitors to these caverns are generally taken back to the plant and
treated to a choice of rum cocktails. This visit may precede or follow
a trip through the distillery itself, but it is suggested that the cocktails
be made the last port of call.
But one does not tarry long in Cardenas, interesting and comfortable
as it is, with Cuba's famed Varadero Beach only ten miles away over a
fine highway. For scintillant green seas and gleaming white sands, no
beach in all the world surpasses Cuba's Varadero. This beach extends
over a dozen miles along the ocean side of a peninsula. The name Vaxa-
46 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
dero, meaning drydock, comes from the fact that in the early days
pirates dragged their ships on land here to repair them, resting between
forays on this enticing shore.
Today Varadero adds to the delights of nature's beauty the finest
comforts of modern living. Miles of hotels and luxurious private homes
have been built along the water, each with its private section of beach.
Instead of the large hotels such as we find at Miami Beach and Rio de
Janeiro, Varadero has kept to a system of very small hotels almost like
private homes, accommodating but a few dozen guests at most. There
are none of the Coney Island and Atlantic City types of boardwalk
amusements to clash with the delightful home-like atmosphere of these
hotels. It is a restful place to which to retire from the noise and activity
of the city. Even in the busy winter season there is no crowded feeling
about these little hotels. Many of them are converted private dwellings
and they are generally run on the American plan with a price range to
fit almost any pocketbook.
The hotel in which we stayed, the Casa Rosa, had been originally
the beach home of a former vice-president. The modern wings were
heavy-walled, stuccoed masonry, but the old central part of the place
was a two-story frame affair still preserved in its original form, affording
a good idea of the beach home of the wealthy a generation ago. Although
built substantially, the house was quite open to the breezes. There were
the usual high ceilings and many large openings for doors and windows,
with movable shutters instead of glass windows. The separation of
three "of the larger rooms downstairs was merely suggested by columns
and low balustrades. The entire interior was painted a sparkling, re-
freshing white, and the furnishings were not dissimilar to what one
would expect in an American summer home of the same type.
We visited a number of the different hotels and boarding houses at
Varadero. Some are of frame in summer beach style, with ornamental
woodwork, but most are of heavy masonry plastered on the outside.
In fact, masonry is a very easy and economical type of construction at
Varadero, as there are large deposits of soft sandstone which can be cut
and sawed into perf ectly shaped blocks. Houses of these blocks plastered
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 47
and tinted are the typical construction of the region, and make for
excellent insulation against the hot rays of the tropical sun. The floors
are invariably tiled in the cool and colorful patterns characteristic of
the country, and the roofs covered with the corrugated red tile common
to all Latin America.
At the western end of Varadero Beach are the exclusive summer
homes of the elite of Havana. To say that these homes are beautiful is
to put it mildly. Each spacious home with its accompanying grounds
is a perfect symphony of architecture and landscaping. Even the homes
of the wealthy at Palm Beach cannot equal the display at Varadero.
Architecture is a highly honored profession in Cuba, much more so
than in the United States, and Cuban architects with the means of the
Cuban wealthy at their disposal vie with each other in the creation of
The instinct to put on the best possible show with the means at
hand is a basic characteristic of Cuban temperament, and we see this
tendency expressed everywhere. For example, the more economical and
lower-priced cars are not popular in Cuba, even with the high price of
gasoline. They must have the larger de luxe models, often custom built
and sporting a special paint job. Even in conversation the one who
puts on the most forcible and dramatic act wins any discussion. Though
this tends to make the lower classes loud in manner, dress, and talk,
the same tendency for display in the case of the upper class does not
necessarily result in bad taste. As we have said, the homes of the
wealthy at Varadero and in suburban Havana are in perfect taste even
though often executed with audacity in form and color. It is difficult
to give this new residential architectural style a name. It generally has
the u fundamentals of the typical Spanish colonial style, making use of
stucco walls, tile roof and floors, overhanging balconies, and iron railings
and grillwork. But they also manage to inject some very modern
touches large window areas, rounded line effects, and piazzas not com-
mon at all to Spanish architecture. The customary interior patio is often
sacrificed in favor of fine gardening and landscaping on all sides. Hedges,
terraces, and arbored effects are frequently planned to blend with the
48 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
building, making a very harmonious whole. It might really be said that
these native architects have evolved a distinctly Cuban type of archi-
We were reluctant to leave Varadero, where we were hospitably
entertained by Cuban friends, but after nearly a week of luxurious
living and enjoying its sensuous beaches we went back to the Central
Highway. We rolled swiftly along in the breeze, not too mindful of
the hotter climate of the interior.
The rest of Matanzas province is fairly level country, mainly given
over to cane raising and general farming. Proximity of towns and vil-
lages, some like Jovellanos and Colon of fair size, prevents the ride
from becoming monotonous. The rolling nature of the country, always
embellished with royal palms, makes the typical Cuban landscape any-
thing but tiresome, with the picturesque white walls and thatched roof
of an occasional native bohio adding an interesting human touch. In any
of the larger towns one finds at least one or two good places to eat,
with fairly decent accommodations for overnight stops.
Every one of these communities is totally different at night, and it
is hard to realize that the gay spots that brighten the center of each
town at night are the same sun-drenched, bare parks you passed by day.
Attractive girls dressed in their finest come out and promenade around
these parks in one direction, while the young gallants of the town circle
slowly the other way. Those less actively or more romantically in-
clined seek out one of the many park benches. There is usually music,
and a gay fiesta spirit.
The next province, Las Villas, is still referred to as Santa Clara
province, since the name has been changed very recently. The tendency
of the government to change place names is only equaled by the con-
trary tendency of the people to resist such arbitrary changes. It has
long been the custom in Havana to change names of streets to honor
contemporary presidents, heroes, and other personages. As a result
there is much confusion. Some streets bear signs with the new names, but
the people themselves cling to the old ones. Business places go so far
After crossing the Republic of Haiti, we enter the north coast town of
Native fishermen near Port an Prince, Haiti
Parade of palm leaves in the country back of Port au Prince
Lights on the cathedral of Port au Prince serve as beacons to ships entering the
port at night
Cassava, related to our tapioca, is baked in large thin cakes
At borne in Carrefour, Haiti
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 49
as to print their stationery with both street names. So it was with Las
Villas province; we found only officials calling it that.
The provincial capital of Santa Clara is a typical crowded Cuban
community of fifty thousand people, with streets too narrow to ac-
commodate traffic. Somehow or other these places manage to get along,
even with modern trucks and automobiles. It works under the same
system as Havana, having nearly all one-way streets with blind inter-
sections. The fellow who blows his horn first at these intersections
has the right-of-way. As a result there is much horn-blowing, and as
hotels are usually situated at busy intersections we found them very
unsatisfactory places to rest unless we took interior rooms. Santa Clara
has several old places of interest, dating back to Spanish colonial days
when it was an important stronghold during the revolutions. It is noted,
too, for cigars of the highest grade, the Mmicaraguas, which are not
shipped out for general consumption. The visitor is most likely to re-
member Santa Clara as the place where vendors pester all travelers
to buy the special turon candy and sweet cakes for which the place
has quite a name. Santa Clara bids fair to become an industrial center,
since it is centrally located in the heart of fine agricultural country and
has petroleum and important asphalt deposits. In the hills nearby are
found gold, copper, and graphite.
It is a thirty-one-mile drive from the Central Highway south to
Cienfuegos, third city of Cuba. This is a shipping center for sugar and
tobacco, but to the tourist it is becoming more and more known as a
sportsman's center. It is noted for its fine ocean fishing and sailing. Here
the Cienfuegos Yacht Club holds an important annual yacht regatta and
rowing contest, and the city boasts the largest jai-alai fronton or court
in all Cuba. There is also good bird hunting, especially duck hunting.
With the exception of die metropolitan area of Havana, Las Villas
is the most densely populated province with a number of large places
beside Santa Clara on the Central Highway. Also, there are more towns
of interest spread throughout Las Villas which accounts for the many
lateral roads running off the Highway more than in any other province.
Laterals run to t]he north- coast at several points, leading to Sagua
5<D HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Grande, Remedies, and the port of Caibarien. In addition to the side
road south to Cienfuegos another highway is under construction down
to the old town of Trinidad. Gourmets will seek the north coast towns,
famous for sea foods, especially oysters and crabs. Historians will seek
the south coast ports, especially Trinidad. This is one of the oldest
towns in Cuba, and the completion of the road from Sancti Spiritus
to Trinidad will throw open to automobilists a fascinating and historic
corner of Cuba. Trinidad is replete with old churches, convents, and
private homes dating from the first decades of Spain in the New World,
for this town was one of the earliest settlements. Streets are still paved
with the very cobblestones that rang to the footfalls of Hernan Cortez
and his lusty crew, for it was from this very port that they set out
upon the conquest of Mexico. The town is built on sloping ground
and is reminiscent of Taxco, Mexico. Down at the near-by port of
Casilda one can visualize the scene that took place when Cortez arrived
to outfit his ship with men and supplies before embarking on his mighty
adventure. For those whose powers of imagination are not equal to this
task, there is the quaintest of olden touches in the scores of ever-busy
iron rocking chairs about the park in Trinidad.
For those who do not wish to leave tl\e comfort and convenience of
their own cars for hardier traveling via the Cuban railway, the town
of Sancti Spiritus on the Central Highway offers something of the
atmosphere of Trinidad in its old churches and winding, cobblestone
It was on our side jaunt from Placetas to Trinidad by train that we
had the most harrowing experience of our whole trip. It furnished us
with a week of extreme anxiety and, before the drama was played out,
involved a staggering assortment of persons as well.
It centered about a young revolutionary whom we never once actually
met face to face, but with whom we felt well acquainted when we
heard the last of him from army officials, local police, national police,
secret service people, railway inspectors, a congressman and two judges,
the Havana Tourist Bureau, and the American Consulate. The revolu-
tionary leader with whom we dealt by remote control finally took refuge
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 51
in a secluded sugar plantation at the eastern tip of Cuba, while we re-
turned to Havana where the Cuban secret service administered the
aspirin for the trip's biggest headache.
As there is no highway as yet to Trinidad, we stored our car at
Placetas on the Central Highway and ordered a taxi to take us to the
train at Cumbre, a town about five miles away. We had arranged every-
thing in five small bags which included most valuable of all a canvas
overnight bag in which we placed our precious cameras. With loss of
this equipment, irreplaceable in Cuba, we would have had to return to
the United States to be re-outfitted.
We stowed the baggage carefully in the trunk of the taxi and took
our places in the front seat with the driver, who waited -for other pas-
sengers for the same trip. He finally located three men, apparently
traveling agents, as each carried a small leather brief case. The chauffeur
started the car and was just pulling away from the curb when a young
man with his wife and three children dashed up, all five of them panting '
breathlessly. They had just gotten off the bus, and wanted to make the
train for Santiago which was scheduled to leave Cumbre a few minutes
before our own. The chauffeur said he would try to make it but could
give no guarantee, as it was already late. The addition of five more pas-
sengers to the six already in the taxi necessitated considerable shifting of
suitcases and passengers, and it ended up with the back seat a mad jumble
of four men, one woman, three children, and a lot of baggage, all
shaken up into an emulsion as we zig-zagged across fields and ditches and
galloped through mud puddles on the way to Cumbre. Just as we came
within sight of the station we saw the train for Santiago pulling out;
the couple and their three youngsters had missed the train after all.
There was more confusion at the station as baggage was unloaded,
with each of us grabbing his own and rushing toward the waiting train
for Trinidad. Gladys and I took what were apparently our five pieces
of luggage, including a canvas overnight bag. We boarded the train,
carefully stored everything where we could see it, and settled down
to enjoy our surroundings. Although the scenery along the way i
52 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
magnificent, it was not my intention to take pictures from the train
because of the difficulties involved. However, when we stopped at a
siding near Fomento a scene unfolded which I couldn't resist, a long
mule train laden down with tobacco from the back country, winding
its way down a mountain trail. I reached for the canvas overnight bag,
and zipped it open to grab for one of my cameras. There was no camera
there! A wave of shock and uncertainty swept over me as I dug out a
drinking glass, some clothing, a large tin can. Gladys was watching
me and I could see my own expression of dismay and bewilderment
reflected in her face as I said, "This is not our bag!"
There followed a .rapid and anxious search of the train on the off
chance that there had been an accidental exchange, but there was no
similar bag anywhere, and nobody appeared to be the owner of the
one we had. We informed the conductor, trying to make him under-
stand the urgency of our situation. At his suggestion we turned the
matter over to the military guard present on every train. The corporal
of the guard and I then went through the contents of the bag, and there
in the bottom we came upon some important documents which were
to lead us on a bizarre mystery hunt extending from one end of Cuba
to the other.
Among these papers were a number of circulars of a revolutionary
party and two letters, one unsigned but sent from the party's head-
quarters in Havana and addressed to a party living in a fined at Remedios.
There was also a letter of introduction, presenting the bearer as a revo-
lutionist in good standing. It appeared likely that this man was the
owner of the strange canvas bag, but the facts that we had were
meager, to say the least. Placetas was the last place where we were
absolutely certain of having handled our own bag, and Fomento on
the railroad was where the mixup had come to light. But what had
happened? Had there been an accidental exchange of bags, or had it
been intentional? Was a third party involved? Of what significance
were the revolutionary documents?
Unable to answer any of these questions ourselves, we rested our
case with the military. The acting corporal in charge suggested we
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 53
go to army headquarters in Trinidad to begin the investigation from
Meanwhile all the other passengers had learned -of the affair and were
either talking it over among themselves or busy giving us advice. Ap-
parently the mishap of a fellow-passenger on a Cuban train becomes the
concern of everyone. Arriving at Trinidad we went directly to army
headquarters and made a formal deposition of the case, describing the
whole occurrence in detail and listing the missing property with the
serial numbers of the cameras and the lenses. The military immediately
sent out copies of this report of lost property to various stations along
We had letters to persons of importance throughout the republic,
and one of these was to a man in Trinidad. He was the political leader
of the section, a lawyer but recently elected as a national representa-
tive. He seemed eager to help us when we told him our troubles, and
when we mentioned Fomento he called up a fellow practitioner and
had him investigate for us there. When the call came through he turned
to us radiantly, saying that a similar bag had been left at the police
station in Fomento and his lawyer, friend was making a trip to inspect it
to see if it was ours. He assured us that we could surely recover our
bag that very night.
With nothing to do but wait anxiously for news of our missing
equipment, we made subsequent trips to army headquarters and were
assured that they were working on the case. We could expect the re-
turn of our bag by the next day at the latest. People about town, the
hotel man and others who learned about the case, raised a chorus of
resounding reassurance. The Latin tendency to assure you of only
what you want to hear was exemplified in this case to ludicrous pro-
portions. Even we were absorbing some of this tendency toward wish-
ful thinking, particularly since we thought so many people were working
for us on the case. To give us additional optimism, the army headquar-
ters showed us a telegram from Almeida, the address of the apparent
owner of the bag we had, stating that he was an honest man and that
he was not at his place of residence there. This seemed hardly a message
54 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
of telegraphic importance; if it was his bag our acquisition of it was
fair evidence that he wasn't at home.
When a day had passed with nothing to warrant the surfeit of opti-
mism with which everyone had buoyed us up, we began to appreciate
the real gravity of the situation. Without those cameras the whole
trip was off until we could go back for more, and more were mighty
hard to find. We paid a visit to the local police, the only authority
with whom we had had no contact, to learn to our chagrin that they
hadn't even been informed about the matter. Furthermore, they were
quite content to let the matter rest in the hands of the military. We
called again on the military, and found that they were beginning to
run down; they reported that they had no news and that nothing
further could be done.
We returned again to the politician who had been selected by letter
as recipient of our attentions. We were ushered into a large living room
in his home and asked to take a seat as he was just finishing his evening
meal. Eventually he came out and, apologizing for having kept us wait-
ing, went over the entire business -once more. We suggested to him
that we call the Tourist Board in Havana, but he thought this unnec-
essary. We suggested that we return to Placetas to work on the matter
from there, but this too he discountenanced. He was sure he could
solve the case himself to our complete satisfaction. When pressed for
more specific details he was vague. We told him that we had been
doing a little investigating of our own, especially with the railway
station master who had called up Fomento and found there had been
no bag of our description left behind, but even this failed to jar his
complacency. Instead he waxed eloquent, eager for the credit of re-
storing the bag if it could be done easily. He himself would make a
trip personally by train that very night all the way to Cumbre, in-
quiring for our bag along the way. Pressed by the presence of many
people waiting to see him, he finally ended the conversation with the
formal and meaningless phrase, "Esta es su casa; pide lo que qziiere."
(This is your house; ask for what you want.)
We learned from friends next morning that he had planned a trip
A REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIENCE 55
to Cumbre for political reasons that night, and that he would be gone
for several days. We decided to return to Placetas, even after the army
attempted to dissuade us by sending one of their men ahead on a
personal hunt for our missing equipment.
At Cumbre we found the same chauffeur who had brought us over
from Placetas. He told us that the married couple who had traveled
with us had indeed a bag identical to our own. Having missed the train
at Cumbre, they had returned to Placetas with him to take the Central
Highway in the same direction. The chauffeur said he had undoubtedly
exchanged bags with us by accident at Cumbre, and had gone on to
Santiago without discovering the error. This seemed strange, in view
of the fact that his bag contained food and other comforts for his
children which he would need along the way.
Fortunately there was a station of the National Police at Placetas,
and we presented our case to the lieutenant in charge. He was an
intelligent and well-meaning fellow, and upon our solicitation he put in
a long distance call to Almeida, the supposed residence of the supposed
revolutionist who supposedly had our bag. After much delay he got
the police headquarters there, and asked them to investigate and seize
the bag of equipment if they found it, and to report back as soon as they
had done so. But here the mystery and uncertainty of the thing deep-
ened, at least for us. For all that day and night and for the next day,
no report came in from Almeida. Neither were we able to effect any
further contact. Meanwhile I had wired our plight to the Tourist Board
at Havana, who immediately contacted National Police headquarters
there. They ordered full co-operation of the local branches everywhere
to help recover our lost or stolen equipment.
We were now entering the fourth day since our catastrophic loss,
and were still without any definite encouragement. Clues, of course,
were getting colder. We decided to return to Havana to seek the aid
of the secret police through the good offices of the Tourist Board. The
Tourist Board, immediately upon our arrival, were glad to make this
contact for us with the division of the secret police specialising in
robberies. They put through another long distance call to the police^
56 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
of the village near Santiago where the supposed possessor of our hag
had his residence, according to the incriminating documents he, with
unintentional thoughtfulness, had left behind. They learned that our
bag had been seized by the police there. The secret service ordered it
returned to Placetas at our request, rather than to Havana. We would
have to return to Placetas anyway to continue our work. Two days
later we learned that our bag had reached Placetas and we returned
there to claim it. This was not simple, however. Since so much of value
was involved, the local judge to whom the bag had been delivered had
us journey to the larger center of Remedies to make formal claim for
Whatever happened to the revolutionist we do not know. He was
said to be an honest man who merely hadn't known what to do with
our equipment. We were quite happy perhaps happier than he to let
the matter go with the return of our property. We hope he was not
inconvenienced by lack of his letter of introduction, but under the cir-
cumstances this may have been all for the best. With secret police,
national police, local police, a tourist bureau, and a politician on your
trail, who wants a letter of introduction anyhow?
Carnival in Santiago
1 owns became noticeably scarcer as we rolled along the Central High-
way into Camaguey province. They were even more so in the province
of Oriente. Roughly speaking, the trip eastward through Cuba might
be compared to a trip westward through the United States, with Cama-
guey corresponding to the western cattle country and Oriente to the
mountainous area of the far west, with the mountains a bit scaled down
to fit a smaller land. Eastern Cuba is frontier Cuba, with larger unsettled
spaces, a hardier breed of people, a more democratic and liberal out-
look. The people, particularly as we approached the eastern end of
Oriente, were more often of a darker complexion. This may be due
to a warmer climate, to more outdoor living, or to the proximity of the
Negro republic of Haiti.
The importance of cattle raising in Camaguey was noticeable almost
from the provincial border. The rolling and level country along the
way was dotted with herds of cattle standing shoulder-deep in the lush
grass. Most of them were of a light color and displayed the prominent
dark hump typical of Zebu blood from India. This blood has been
widely introduced into Cuba not only for its resistance to diseases
troublesome in hot climates, but also because this strain develops better
in the heat of the tropics. A Camaguey cattleman along the way in-
formed us that although northern breeds like the Hereford and Short-
horn can be raised, they do not develop to their maximum as in the
United States. They do not resist the tropical heat so well, and spend
much of their rime panting in the shade when they should be feeding.
Beef cattle in Cuba are raised entirely in the open without shelter of
5 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WESt INDIES
any sort, and are not fattened oil grain as in the United States but are
brought to market primeness on grass alone. Hence the raising of cattle
in Camaguey requires little labor. Once established, a herd can furnish
fine profits to the owners without much effort.
The wealth of Camaguey province is evident in its population centers,
as we noticed from the first city we came to, Ciego de Avila. The main
business center lies to one side of the Central Highway and at first
glance was disappointing. However, as we drove in to the center of
town in search of a hotel for the night we were struck by the fine
plate-glass fronts on the stores and the excellent stock of merchandise.
The hotel at which we stayed was one of the finest in provincial Cuba.
Though well equipped and modern and with excellent cuisine, our
quarters and meals cost much less than similar accommodations in Ha-
vana. In fact, all along the way from here on we got better food at
lower prices than in the more metropolitan west.
Our daily program now became rather fixed and pleasant indeed. We
arose early to do our writing in the cool, balmy air of the early morn-
ing, often with daylight before six o'clock. After an hour or two of
work we strolled out for a light breakfast at some cafe. Breakfast was
generally a cup or glass of leche con cafe and buttered bread or sweet-
cakes. We found that a half-and-half mixture corresponded most closely
to American coffee, but the Cubans drink it chiefly as a milk drink,
only slightly colored with coffee. At most of these cafes you can also
get orange as well as other fruit juices.
After several hours at the desk each morning we generally took a
walk around the town or village where we had stayed overnight, making
observations and taking pictures. Then we would return to the hotel
and pack. If we had enough work to do to keep us until noon, we
would have our mid-day meal in the same place; if not we would drive
on to the next town. Even in less populated parts of Cuba, towns are
always less than an hour apart on the highway. Of course, the larger
the town the more select the eating places one has to choose from, sp
we always tried to arrive at a larger center for our meals.
Meals are invariably served a la carte, and there is generally quite a
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 59
list from which to choose. There are always several kinds of soups;
several kinds of dishes with rice, potatoes, or macaroni; and several kinds
of stewed, roasted or fried meats and sea food. Dessert may be local
fruit pastes or preserves or canned American fruits. A meal always ends
with a demi-tasse of coffee which is served free. Cold beer and wines
are also available, in practically any place where one may choose to eat.
The bread is always the delightfully crusty type, dependably fresh.
Butter is seldom served except in the larger places, and then only on
request. We found eating along the way a series of enjoyable experiences
with far more pleasant surprises than disappointments.
With no definite schedule to keep we generally stopped at whatever
large center we arrived at in the late afternoon. A little inquiry about the
location of the best hotel usually led us to comfortable quarters at a
reasonable price, averaging around three dollars per couple with private
bath. However we did find the price of food out of line at the first-class
hotels in comparison with room costs, at least according to our American,
ideas. Dining room service seemed to run much higher in proportion at
these places, with no better food than at second-class places.
As previously stated, a great many of the restaurants throughout Cuba
are run by Chinese proprietors. We soon discovered that we got the best
food and the best value for our money at these Chinese-owned places,,
some of which were very fine. So after a refreshing bath and a change of
apparel at the hotel we generally strolled about the center of town, spot-
ting a good eating place. As they all have daily printed menus and are
more or less open, one can become fairly adept at this process. Cubans;
themselves are quite the connoisseurs of food, which accounts for the
fact that Cuban restaurants and hotels on the whole serve far better
prepared meals than in the United States.
After our dinner we soon learned like the Cubans to enjoy that part
of the evening. The intense heat of the day rapidly disappears with the
setting of the sun. The plazas and parks, deserted during the day because
of the intense rays of die sun, now begin to come to life. Well-dressed!
girls nd young men appear, to begin the centuries-old custom of the
promenade about the park. Gladys and I often enjoyed this evening;
60 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
promenade and the refreshing night air for hours at a time, and spent
many idle hours speculating on where American boys and girls would
be at the same time. "In the movies," was our invariable conclusion.
Although the two largest cities of Camaguey province, Ciego de Avila
and Camaguey, are on the Central Highway, most of the rest of the
province's population is predominantly toward the north. Hence it is
at these cities that laterals of the Central Highway reach northward.
This northern section is also served by a railway paralleling the Central
Highway. No important side road leaves the Central Highway into the
sparsely settled south.
Level as the landscape is through the province of Camaguey, it is far
from monotonous. The royal palm adds grandeur to Cuban landscape
everywhere. Here and there too, in the extensive green levels of less in-
tensely cultivated lands, we began to see more trees not quite a forest,
but a wooded park. One of the most stately and interesting of the trees
dotting the landscape is the symmetrical algarrobo tree. Some of these
grow to enormous size, not high but with a top like a perfectly flattened
dome, the lower edge of the foliage forming such a straight line that the
whole tree gives the appearance of having been carefully pruned. The
black shade beneath the algarrobo is frequently broken by the whitish
forms of the Zebu cattle of Camaguey leisurely masticating their cuds.
The tree bears a small leaf in lacy formation that, when arched across
the highway, forms a perfect and delicate frame for the bucolic land-
scape. The delicate pattern of limb and leaf against the sky is silhouetted
frequently with bunched growths of orchidaceous plants. And now for
the first time we began to see Spanish moss hanging from some of the
The entrance to the city of Camaguey, capital of the province, is
through narrow and winding streets. You expect them to open up into
wider thoroughfares as the shops and business houses become larger but
they do not. Only the signs on the business houses get larger and larger,
and reach across the narrow streets, so that one gets the feeling of driv-
ing through a maze. The narrow sidewalks, continually crowding pedes-
trians down into the street itself, just add to the general confusion.
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 6l
Although crowded with modern business establishments, even the
central part of Camaguey has the flavor of being old with a distinctive
air all its own. Buildings are mellowed with age, and the winding streets,
which follow essentially the same pattern as laid out by the Spaniards
more than four centuries ago, were made purposely narrow for defense
against marauding pirates. It was founded in 1514 on the sea, .and orig-
inally called Puerto Principe, but was moved inland the following year
to be more out of reach of pirates. It is sometimes referred to as the city
of churches. The old convent of La Merced was the seat of the Spanish
court of justice for the whole Western world at one time. Most inter-
esting, too, is the old building covering two city blocks now used as a
museum and school, formerly the Camaguey Hotel and in earlier times
a military barracks. The heavily vaulted and porticoed stone construc-
tion and immense grilled windows looking out on the parklike patio
furnish an unending series of picturesque views and angles. The large
patio is planted with a number of indigenous plants, and rows of palm
trees are laid out along the many walks. Artistically placed around the
patio are many of the gigantic tinajones, or great red jars typical of
Camaguey province, each large enough to hold several of Ali Baba's
best. These gargantuan jars were used to collect and store water in colo-
nial times. Buried in the ground, they formed reservoirs keeping the
water fresh and cool.
On the roof of one quadrangle of this old Camaguey is a large tiled
dance floor shaded with a covering of ornamental metal work, and em-
bowered on the sides with flaming cerise Bougainvillia vines. Here in the
cool of the late afternoon and evening in days gone by the flower of
Camagueyan society met. Here, too, when the rhumba was but a voodoo
dance of African slaves, the mantilla-draped Spanish ladies were whirled
in the stately danzon by courtly gallants.
We found Mr. S. Grossman, a local hotel man who had once managed
this building when it was the Camaguey Hotel, to be one of the most
interesting and informative people we met in Cuba. We ran into him
while seeking information on airlines, as he is the local airline representa-
tive. Although a Cuban citizen and very much an old-timer in these
62 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
parts, by his speech and manner he could easily be taken for an Amer-
ican, as he was educated in the United States and has come into much
contact with American travelers and businessmen. It was Mr. Grossman
who gave us an interesting bit of information about Camaguey. Al-
though we had commented on the prosperous appearance of the city and
the province, we were both surprised to learn that in spite of the fact
that the city of Camaguey contains less than one per cent of the country's
population, its banks carry nearly 10 per cent of the floating capital of
The climate of Camaguey charmed us as much as anything. It was one
of the coolest places we found in warm Cuba, especially in the evening.
Perhaps this is due to the flatness of the country thereabouts, which
allows the sea breezes free play. At any rate we had plenty of oppor-
tunity to notice the weather, as we were in and out of Camaguey a num-
ber of times by land and by plane. It is the center for air travel to other
parts of Cuba and to other islands like Jamaica and Haiti. In the city
itself the buildings absorb the heat of the sun and impede the circulation
of the air, but out at the airport there is a flat, unbroken terrain as far as
the eye can reach. People come out from the city by scores on Sunday
just to enjoy the fresh, never-failing breezes.
The next lap of our trip over the Central Highway was the longest.
It is a hundred and twenty miles from Camaguey to Holguin in Oriente
province, with nothing but small villages in between. Upon approaching
Holguin we came upon more grade than on the whole trip to date,
which was rather pleasant. When we saw the horizon of blue mountains
ahead we thought we had some rugged travel coining to us as we had
heard much about the mountainous nature of Oriente province. How-
ever the Central Highway does but little real mountain climbing. It
winds gracefully up a low range, wanders across a high plateau, and then
drops down into the broad valley in which Holguin is located.
As we got deeper into Oriente province not only the terrain but the
vegetation changed to a considerable extent. This was especially true
around Holguin, where we found ourselves in the midst of extensive
of the epmmon fan-shaped palms instead of the taller royal
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 63
variety. It was along the road in this section that the pernicious thorny
mar abH and the problems it causes were first drawn to our attention. We
had noticed how in places the highway had been crowded by a tall,
woody bush, like solid growth of young trees. It grows so close together,
taller than a man on horseback, that neither man nor beast can force a
way through the thorny mass. It crowds out over the edges of the road,
making the Central Highway itself seem like the pathway of a maze
carved out of that impenetrable thicket. When we came upon a group
of sweating road workers clearing this vicious nuisance from the road-
side we saw what a problem the stuff was. The workers wore leather
chaps and gloves to protect themselves from the thorns as they advanced
with swinging machetes. Beneath the keen edges of these swinging
knives the marabu came down like sugar cane. But it was hard work and
the men were dripping wet and constantly calling for water.
The crew's water boy carried the conventional water pail with con-
ventional water in it, but his dipper was something of a novelty. It was
made from an empty quart oil can nailed to a stick. But instead of drink-
ing out of a common clipper as would an American road gang, no worker
permitted the dipper to touch his lips. A hole had been punched in the
side of the can. Each man dipped up a canful of water and, throwing
his head back, allowed the water pouring from the hole to run into his
mouth, much as is done with the spouted water jars of Spain. It was a
fine example of ingenuity in making use of discarded material, and a
testimony of their regard for sanitation, which we found a bit higher
in Cuba than in most countries.
After traveling through country so unsettled in comparison with what
we had seen before, we naturally didn't expect much of the town of
Holguin, even though it appeared by the heavy lettering on the map to
,be a place of fair size and importance. But on taking a stroll about the
town we found some of the finest plate-glass store windows we had
seen in any part of Cuba. The stores were in the center of the town, on
all sides of a public park which was one of the most superb we had seen
anywhere. On one side of the square was a modernistic motion picture
palace outlined in colored neon lights.
64 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
To reach Holguin the Central Highway goes northward consider-
ably out of the way of a direct line to Santiago. In fact, after leaving
Holguin the highway actually doubles back on itself to some extent,
making a huge Z down across Oriente. The towns of Bayamo and San-
tiago, respectively, are situated at either point of this Z. The Highway
was laid out this way not only to include Holguin but to put the whole
northern part of the province into more direct contact with the highway
system of Cuba, although there are still large areas of northeastern
Oriente which are isolated from the rest of the country. Yet this section
figures importantly in Cuba's economy. Several of these isolated north-
ern ports ship nickel and agricultural products to the United States, and
receive much-needed manufactured products in return, entirely uncon-
nected with the trade of the rest of the country. These ports are un-
connected with the rest of Cuba overland except by expensive air travel,
or most difficult mountain travel by pack train. Yet at Nicaro, the iso-
lated north coast port of the province only fifty miles from Holguin,
are rich mines that furnished important amounts of nickel to the United
States during the war. A half-hearted excuse of a road does run eastward
from Holguin to the larger town and port of Banes, but it is not to be
recommended for pleasure driving. Incidentally, the records indicate
that on this peninsula Columbus made his first landing on Cuban soil.
Considerably to the east and on about the eastern extremity of Cuba is
the very old port town of Baracoa, the first town settled by the Spanish
in Cuba, dating from 1512. Today it is an important center of bananas
and cacao, though it still remains probably the most isolated center in
It is forty-three miles south over rather level country again to
Bayamo. Although historic, this town oifers little of real interest. The
entire town was burned during the revolution by its patriot defenders,
rather than let it fall into the hands of the Spaniards. For one interested
in battle sites, the whole region from the coastal port of Manzanillo
eastward to Santiago is literally dotted with battle markers. In fact, the
southeastern part of Cuba includes most of the sites of engagements
during Cuba's war for independence. This has always been the center
Ruins of Sans Souci Palace where a century ago Emperor Christophe held a
Rusting cannon at Christophers impregnable mountain fortress of the Citadel
The front pan of the Citadel juts out like a ship's prow
Back view of Sans Souci Palace
Sugar cam is still the important money crop of Haiti. Near Cabaret
Ebony-bodied youngsters of Haiti playing in the tropical waters
Native craft bringing in firewood at Port au Prince
Sunday riding in Petionville, mountain suburb of Port au Prince
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 65
of resistance movements, and even today prides itself on resisting Havana
politically. It is in Oriente province that communists are most firmly en-
trenched. Nor is Oriente's resistance limited by class lines. Intellectuals
and the wealthy claim that Havana drains their province of wealth
through taxes which are not matched by provincial development. It is
indeed obvious that Oriente suffers much from lack of adequate trans-
portation and communication, but this is due largely to its very moun-
It was at Bayamo that the execution of the outstanding Indian leader,
Hatuey, took place. So many stories are told about him that he has be-
come almost a legendary figure. However it is established that he was
the leader of native resistance to enslavement in the early days. He is
said to have come from the island of Haiti, where he witnessed the grad-
ual extermination of his people by the Spanish, realizing that when the
supply of Indian slaves in Haiti was exhausted, the Spaniards would
look elsewhere. He came to Cuba to warn the Indians about the Span-
iards, urging them never to cease resistance and not to be deceived into
acquiescence to the Spaniards under any pretext. He was finally cap-
tured and ordered burned at the stake for heresy. Asked just before his
death if he did not want to go to heaven, he asked if there were Span-
iards there. Informed that there were, he replied haughtily, "I do not
want to go to any place where there will be Spaniards."
To the south we now saw mountains ahead as we moved on toward
Santiago. This is the Sierra Maestre range and includes Turguino, high-
est peak in Cuba. But the highway keeps out of this range on but
slightly rolling country until it dips southward at Palma Soriana to cross
the coastal range into Santiago. We now encountered steeper grades,
the only real mountains in all Cuba. We enjoyed this change to more
spectacular mountain driving, but we were told that some of the truck
drivers from Havana and the interior insist on turning the wheel over
to a local driver when making the trip for the first time, being so utterly
unaccustomed to mountain driving in the rest of the island.
Our first sight of Santiago was from afar. The soft gleam of its buff
buildings piled up the steep slope on one side of the bay seemed in the
66 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
afternoon haze unreal, a hallucination, a dim and lovely dream. The land-
locked bay looked to us, from that distance, like a mountain lake, and
the whole shimmering scene seemed wafted on the warm air from far
away and long ago. The old Spanish city played hide-and-seek with us
as we climbed and descended the intervening ranges, dropping bit by
bit its purple veil of haze, until finally we reached a point where we
looked directly down on it. We swept downgrade through the outskirts,
past buildings piled on top of one another on the steep slopes like sets
of giant tiled stairways, and on up to Libertad Plaza over one of the few
straight streets in the whole city. We turned onto one of the more nar-
row streets in the older part of the city a street that pitched steeply
down to the waterfront. We struggled for right of way with buses,
trolleys, pedestrians, donkeys, and horse-drawn carts of every descrip-
tion, to arrive finally at the main plaza where our hotel was located.
From first to, last, we were charmed by Santiago. Those steeply
pitched streets with steps of tile-roofed buildings made Santiago the most
photogenic place in Cuba. Resisting our urge to splurge on angle shots
of the many quaint streets about the central part of the city, we planned
first to cover the points of historic interest outside, spots which figured
so largely in the Spanish- American War.
On the outskirts of the city is San Juan Hill, where the last real stand
of the Spaniards was made in 1898 against the combined American and
Cuban patriot forces. Up the steep slopes of this hill, now converted into
a memorial park, charged the mixed forces of the liberation, including
Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. In the midst of the batteries and care-
fully preserved trenches on the top are bronze statues of the typical
American soldier of that time and the Cuban peasant soldier called
Mambi. To this day the Cuban army wears the same kind of khaki uni-
form and wide-brimmed felt hat that was worn by our soldiers at that
Near the crest of San Juan Hill where the fighting occurred is the
famous Peace Tree, a giant ceiba, under which is a bronze plaque in the
form of a huge open book. This is the honor roll of those who partici-
pated here in the battles which ended Spanish rule in Cuba. The tree is
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 67
surrounded by an iron fence made from rifle barrels and bayonets that
were used in the fighting. Much farther out of the city is the town of
El Caney and the hill by the same name, up which the combined forces
charged in much the same manner as at San Juan, wresting the redoubt
from the Spanish defenders. More of the original fortifications remain
here, and their moldering walls give an extensive view in all directions.
An interesting drive of some fifteen miles out of Santiago is the trip
to Siboney Beach, important historically as the spot where American
forces first landed. Today this is Santiago's principal beach resort. The
road winds through the hills which separate Santiago from the sea, San-
tiago being about a dozen miles inland on a bay. It has access to the sea
through a winding ship channel with precipitous sides. Siboney some
miles to the west of the channel mouth offers a fine gently sloping shore.
A monument on the beach marks the spot where the American troops
first landed. From here they circled through the hills in back of the
Spanish fortifications which guarded the narrow harbor entrance, and
attacked the fortified hills of San Juan and El Caney.
Siboney got its name from one of the last Indian groups to live under
Spanish rule. Today the name is preserved as the title of a popular song
as well as the name of a brand of rum. The old town of Daiquiri farther
on another Indian name is the birthplace of the famous rum cocktail
of the same name. Thus has Cuba's past been preserved in song and
pickled in alcohol.
A modern road runs along the winding channel from Santiago to the
summer resort town of Ciudamar. Ciudamar is perched high upon a bluff
overlooking the channel, and facing another El Morro fortification
which is located out at the actual entrance to the channel. Below the
bluff is the Ciudamar Yacht Club, which is only a sort of social club with
its own beach on the channel in front. It owns no yachts. Across the
channel and accessible only by boat is another resort on an island called
Cayo Smith. Here they do have yachts as well as better bathing, as the
shores of the island are gently sloping.
On the hills overlooking the channel on both sides are old Spanish for-
tifications with rusting cannon lying about. The precipitous point on the
68 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
east side is covered with the moldering ruins of an El Morro castle.
These are almost as spectacular as the fortifications of the same name in
Havana harbor, and bear the same relation to the inner harbor.
A spectacular drive out of Santiago is the climb to the summit of the
hills back of town to a point called Puerto Boniato, some fifteen miles
northwest of the city. The road twists and turns in steep zig-zags all the
way up to a height of fourteen hundred feet. It was built during the
occupation, under the governorship of Leonard Wood, and is referred
to as Wood's Folly. His object was to give access to the back country.
Although well paved at the time it was built, it has not been kept in
repair. Cubans have yet to learn the importance of road maintenance,
and the remarkable feature of Wood's Folly is that it is still serviceable
Another interesting trip from Santiago is the trip to the famous shrine
of the Virgin of El Cobre, a bit over twenty miles north and several
miles off. the Central Highway. The church is imposingly situated on
a lonely hill, at the foot of the ancient and diminutive copper mining
town of El Cobre. The Virgin is not of copper and is named only for
the town. The small deposits of copper have been virtually exhausted
for years, and the village hangs on as a combination ghost town and
beggars' paradise. Cubans laughingly say the name is spelled wrong
today; that it should be El Pobre (poor) instead of El Cobre (copper).
A series of great stone steps leads up to the front of the semi-Gothic
shrine, which is of considerable size and strikingly finished in buff and
brick red. The interior is pleasing but not unusual. The back part of the
church is the most interesting. In a grotto-like room with an altar in the
back is a replica of the Virgin of El Cobre and a most amazing collec-
tion not only of the usual silver miracles representing parts of the body
to be treated, but also crutches, canes, and aids left behind by people
cured by faith.
While we were there a middle-aged man came in to make his regular
visitation. He explained to us that he had been miraculously cured, upon
appealing to the Virgin, of a long-standing disease. He told us that he
had promised to make the visitation and offering once a month all his
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 69
life if cured. In an efficient manner that came of long practice, he
fastened a cloth bearing a picture of the Virgin over the front of his
clothes, dropped to his knees, and crawled on them from the door to
the altar. When he reached the altar, oblivious of the people watching
him, he prostrated himself, raised his arms dramatically in adoration,
and prayed an audible prayer. He kissed the altar cloth, and the cloth
he wore which bore the picture of the Virgin, stuffed a bill into the slot
of the offertory box, and rose to leave. He seemed quite willing even
anxious to discuss his miraculous cure with anyone who would listen.
He was a very sincere person himself, and his sincerity impressed all by-
Stone steps lead over this grotto-like altar to another small altar above,
which is ingeniously contrived as the back part of the main altar on the
other side. Here stands the original statue of the Copper Virgin, merely
the customary carved wood figurine, diminutive in size, and richly
dressed. During services in the church itself the statue is faced in that
direction. At other times it is turned to face out from this smaller altar.
Here the devout come between masses upstairs. There seemed to be
no end of them in the several hours that we were there.
Our hotel overlooked the central plaza in Santiago. Although this
place was deserted in the heat of the day, it was a beehive of activity at
night with the time-honored promenade. Gladys and I took to partici-
pating in these evening promenades ourselves. We would walk awhile,
and then sit on a park bench and watch the others pass. It got to be a
favorite game for us to engage in idle speculation about this or that
couple as they passed and repassed us. We noticed that when children
were brought along the father was as much engaged with them as the
mother. Both parents of a Cuban family always agree upon dressing
their children to the limit of their pocketbook, even at sacrifice of cloth-
ing for themselves, and some of die tiny outfits are handsome beyond
description. Cuban stores selling clothing for children always have more
variety and better quality to offer than similar stores at home.
There are a number of American families in and around Santiago who
have adopted the Cuban way of life. We met a number of them, in the
70 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST
Anglo-American Club. Most of them are with American business con-
cerns established here, or have businesses of their own. Several hold
manganese-bearing properties, of which there are a number in the vi-
cinity of Santiago. Considerable manganese concentrate was exported to
the United States during the war.
We were invited to visit the home of Mr. Storey, the American vice-
consul here. He is married to a Cuban woman and his children have been
brought up in the Cuban way of life, although his daughters were edu-
cated in the United States. Their delightful home, planned and built
by themselves, is located in a suburb of Santiago called Emilio Bacardi.
It is a one-story frame structure built high off the ground for better
ventilation. The interior is kept cool by the usual high ceilings, and large
windows and door openings.
Mr. Storey has spent some thirty years in Cuba, and his favorite hobby
was seeing what could be grown in the tropics. He had a truck garden
in which he succeeded in growing almost every kind of northern vege-
table by watching the season carefully and controlling insect pests. It
was interesting to learn from him that he did not plant during the wet
season when everything grows rankly, but instead did most of his grow-
ing in the dry season when he could control through irrigation.
Mr. Storey is also something of a specialist in growing fruit trees.
Asked why he didn't try temperate fruits like apples, peaches, and pears,
he said that it couldn't be done successfully. He pointed out a neighbor
of his who prided himself on establishing peach trees. The trees grew
satisfactorily, but bore insignificant little fruit that didn't mature as it
did in the United States.
We found the very considerable number of distinctive varieties of
mangoes to be the most interesting of Mr. Storey's pursuits. We had
tried varieties of mangoes fa. various places in the tropics, but had no
idea that such an assortment could be found in any one place. "You
know of course the mctmey mango, the kind you see sold in the streets
from those big two-wheeled carts," Mr. Storey said, "and of course
you've had the biscochuelo; that's the finest of the lot." We admitted we
were acquainted with both of these excellent varieties, and to convey an
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 71
air of expert speaking with expert we made reference to the tart little
Toledo, the larger red and green Santa Cruz varieties.
"But here's one you don't know about!" Mr. Storey said as he pulled
a fruit from a tree. "It's a mango that can be eaten with a spoon." He
ran a knife around the middle of it, twisted the two sections, and lifted
one half off the seed intact, cupped like a miniature melon. What a
boon this mango could be to mango fanciers, for the great problem of
how to eat a mango gracefully in public has done much to prevent this
excellent fruit from having a wider appeal. Generally I have felt that
mangoes may be eaten with propriety only in the bathtub, or at least in
the bathroom. The skin of a mango is easily peeled off, but it is the
fibrous seed inside that causes the difficulty. Two large slices can be cut
from the flat sides, but if you wish to eat all the good meat close to the
seed there is nothing suited to the task like primitive attack with fingers
and teeth, stripping the peachlike flesh from the fibres that radiate from
the seed by drawing them through the teeth. Mechanically it is much
the same principle as is employed in the cotton gin.
Even when not committed to a definite trip around Santiago, there is
no waste time for a photographer in the central part of the city. The
tiled roofs on either side rising up the steep slopes like a giant's stairway,
the steep streets that at times give up being streets and become stairways,
the ornamental iron railings and picturesque balconies overhanging the
streets, all contribute an endless variety of picture possibilities.
Vendors of fruits and produce from the country jam the streets with
their big-wheeled carts, yelling or singing their wares. Trash collectors
crowd through, announcing their journey by loud blasts from a cow's
horn. Strings of pack mules clatter over the cobblestones, coining into
the city from the back country. Amidst all this, modern automobiles and
trucks struggle for passage, trying to drive ahead the pedestrians (who
much prefer the middle of the street to the impossibly narrow side-
walks) by incessant blowing of horns.
As in any old city, there are a number of interesting public buildings
to visit, most imposing of which is surely the cathedral. Here in one of
the crypts lie the bones of Diego Velasquez, founder of Santiago and
72 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
first governor of Cuba, as well as many another of the ancient great.
Santiago's cathedral is made doubly impressive by the fact that it is
built high on an elevated square in the center of the city. This raises the
building, huge in itself, to tower high over everything else in the city,
with the solitary angel at the top surely closer to her fellows than to
the humans below. The architectural plan necessitated leaving a con-
siderable elevated area all around the cathedral, above the streets but not
supporting the building itself. So the cathedral fathers figured that here
was valuable space that could be made to earn revenue for the church.
They converted all this into small business places beneath the church
on all four sides which have been rented out for bars, curio shops, and
cafes. Cubans say that whereas Christ drove the money changers from
the temple, the Santiagoans brought them back.
In cultural and allied fields much of what Santiago has to show the
traveler she owes to her favorite son, Emelio Bacardi. His name has rung
around the world as founder of the famous Bacardi Rum Company, but
locally he is better known as a leading citizen and man of culture. He
has served as mayor of the city, and has written fiction and painted
under his own name. He founded the Bacardi Museum in Santiago,
where he has collected many things bearing particular emphasis on the
history of Cuba from the days of the Spanish conquest to the wars for
independence. There is at least something in the museum from each of
the great Cuban patriot leaders, Marti, Gomez, Maceo, and others.
There are also many relics from the American occupation.
It is very likely that more tourists will visit the Bacardi Gardens at
the brewery and distillery near the edge of town, though they are less
conveniently located than the museum. Here at the gardens free beer
is passed out all the day long to the string of visitors who come to "view
the gardens." Free banquets are also given here for groups of outstanding
By coincidence we came into Santiago just as preparations for their
greatest celebration of the year were coming to the boiling point. The
peak of this celebration is Santiago Day, July zjth, a mad festival dating
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 73
back to slave days, when at the end of the harvest slaves were given a
week of freedom to engage in festivities.
There was a fever of madness in the air, a rising torrent of carnival.
It broke out first in the barber shops and spread rapidly to the stores.
Its symptoms were a riotous display of costumes, masks, hats of every
sort. The wide world, the wild world, and the fabulous past were ran-
sacked for colorful raiment. There were hopped up versions of colorful
costumes from every nook and cranny of the Indian past. Spain, China,
Mexico, Turkey, France, and the distant islands of the seven seas were
represented with embellishments. There was lace and color and silk and
shimmer of spangled clowns* costumes, of court dress of another age,
of undress from a harem. There were costumes that owed a debt to no
one that were but ribbon and braid, applique and ruffle, sequin and
spangle, crazy-quilt patches of crazy colors.
The eve of Santiago Day is given over to costume balls, private and
public, exclusive and free-for-all, all over the city. Of these one of the
largest and showiest is held at the Luz de Oriente Club, an exclusive club
of Negro or mulatto membership. On the strength of our press cards we
won admission to this gala affair. The gaily costumed participants began
arriving at nine, and for hours an unbroken stream of cars disgorged a
dazzling array of colored society at its colorful best. Nowhere have I
seen this event matched for brilliant costume. And the tide of merry-
makers seemed endless. Long after the great dance floor was jammed,
people poured into the hall, boiled over into adjoining rooms, draped
over the balcony. We visited other clubs throughout the city that night,
but none was as dazzling as this. Over at the Aponte Club for instance,
the city's or the world's most exclusive colored club, things were more
formal and decorous.
Nor were any of the white or mixed clubs about the town able to put
quite the same spirit into the night's events. This is a festival born of a
slave's brief days of freedom long ago; a white man's copy of it is just
a bit synthetic. The aristocratic and exclusive Aponte Club doesn't re-
member quite what the affair is all about. And only at the Luz de
Oriente Club did they achieve the proper density of population so essen-
74 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
rial to setting up the chain reaction of exuberant ecstasy. True carnival
is a contagion spread best by the closest contact.
No one knew when the gala night ended and the riotous day began.
There was a brief pause, a thinning out of humanity between dawn and
sunrise. There was a pause in the chatter of maracas and claves. But the
ceaseless tom-tom beat from near and far seeped into our very pores to
tie together a wild night and a mad day. Sometime shortly after sunrise
was the carnival storm center.
First there were only people, but these coagulated quickly into
crowds. These crowds swirled about the music in the streets, picked up
the jungle beat of the music with numbed and tireless feet, shuffling
feet, feet hypnotized by rhythm of drum and maraca and the primitive
melody of jungle chants. Little groups of entranced devotees swelled
into bigger groups of marching mankind, ponderous humanity possessed
of imponderable spirit, irresistible humanity writhing and twisting and
shuffling along, tuned body and soul to the wave length of primitive
drum beat and savage chant, tearing out of entranced flesh and bone the
primitive marching dances from which rhumba and conga grew. Slowly
the crowd filtered about to grow into homogeneous groups called com-
parsas or ward groups, in preparation for the day's big parade, in antici-
pation of the prizes awarded to the best comparsas. Oblivious to sultry
heat, to stultifying dust, to sodden fatigue, they shuffled on. Here and
there one or two fell out of formation to stop for drinks at the gaily
decorated stands along the way, and frequently we saw an entranced
devotee carrying a bottle along in the parade. But all in all the vast
crowd was a mob drunk on ecstasy, glazed of eye and with countenance
lit from within. There were no fights, no disagreements, no brawls, as
if everyone was too centered on the great Thing of the carnival itself
to show personal concern. It was orderly but implacable, and we got the
odd feeling as the crowd swelled to fill the streets completely that they
would shove buildings aside to make the streets wider still. As the big
parade began down Avenida Marti it gave us goose pimples. We were
far down the avenue as the vast throng turned into it, and it was a slow-
moving tidal wave of entranced flesh. Street traffic and bystanders were
CARNIVAL IN SANTIAGO 75
brushed aside, and we wouldn't have been surprised at all to see auto-
mobiles and power poles and cornices of buildings bob to the surface
of that vast throng like debris on a wave. Yet in the midst of enthralled,
onsweeping chaos there was unity and form, for each comparsa strove to
carry out some common motif in color or costume.
As the great brown tide advanced, as it rolled and weaved and shuffled
and writhed and twisted by beneath our balcony, there was added to the
human flood a maddening crescendo of rhythmic sound. To the ceaseless
drumbeats that reached out from everywhere there was added a harsh
overtone of rhythmic clatter and clang, as musicians and mob beat out
time on pieces of steel, or bottles, or empty boxes, or anything else that
would give out a ringing sound.
There was no clearly defined end to the parade, as there had been a
beginning. It merely slowed down and thinned out and left little tidal
pools of humankind at street corners. Bystanders, who had been swept
out of the hard channel of stone street and stone walls of buildings,
swirled idly back again. The afternoon shadows crept out to lay the
sultry heat, to blot up the smell of dusty sweat, to bury the litter and
trash sloughed off by packed humanity.
We remembered then that we had another job for our cameras before
the sun went down. If the carnival hadn't caused too much f orgetf ulness,
our little Willys was due to be loaded for shipment to Haiti, where we
expected to rejoin her after a flying visit to Jamaica.
Tl^ere was no regular cargo service from Cuba's eastern tip to neigh-
boring Haiti, but we had managed to locate a native sailingcraft of ques-
tionable seaworthiness which had been plighted to ferry our car across.
This was a Haitian goleta, a tired little tub, brave and dissolute and with
crew to match, and euphemiously named the Vierge Immaculee-ihe Im-
maculate Virgin. It was without motor, without radio, without ambition,
but it was headed for Haiti and we had no choice. It was a vessel of fifty
tons burden, which meant that it would hit the bottom of Davy Jones's
locker with a very gentle bump if anything went wrong.
The Vierge Immaculee's far from immaculate crew had measured the
space on the vessel's narrow deck, and had found that they could just
j6 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
squeeze the Willys in between the two masts. Planks were being laid
from the dock to the top of the gunwales, and I thought it best since I
was there to nurse the car aboard on these planks in person. With block
and tackle rigged between the masts, it was finally worked and warped
and squeezed into place.
Then a motorboat gainfully employed as a tugboat took over, and
towed the crusty little tub out of the harbor, to a point where the soggy
old Vierge Immaculee could catch a bit more breeze, and where it would
require less expert navigation. Our spirits were low as we stood on shore
and watched the motorboat set the Vierge adrift, as the lackadaisical
crew hoisted a tattered sail and scooped up a tired puff of breeze, as she
wallowed groggily out to sea. If the wind blew, it would blow her to
Haiti in a couple of days. If it blew too hard, it would blow her to the
bottom of the sea. If it didn't blow at all
Black and White in Jamaica
The famed mountainous beauty of Jamaica was clearly evident when
first we saw it from the air. Our Pan American plane flew directly across
it from north to south on our way from Camaguey, Cuba, to Kingston,
Jamaica. After a fleeting glimpse of white beaches lined with plumed
palms, the mountains swept in, sheer up under us, as if to brush the
fuselage of the plane. Pearly white parcels of clouds, lodged in moun-
tain pockets, radiated concentric rings of rainbow hue around the
shadow our plane cast on them. Isolated little huts, common enough in
the valleys but occasional even on the peaks, clustered about the patches
of cleared land. Mountain and valley alike were covered with dense
tropical foliage; there were no bare, uncovered rocks in all this lush
tropical land. A silvery river played hide-and-seek in the green mountain
valleys. Now and then neat little towns appeared suddenly under the
wings of the plane, with slick, dark ribbons of roads radiating out from
them. More roadways twisted in sinuous fashion up and down the wind-
ing valleys and across the mountain shoulders, clinging precariously.
From the abundance of these shiny asphalt ribbons, we knew that many
miles of highway adventure awaited us in this country.
Roads and villages became more common as we passed over the moun-
tainous backbone of the country and were out over the plains of the
south side, plains of pleasing green, squares of sugar cane, bananas, coco-
nut palms-a patchwork quilt in variegated greens. Then the plane
dropped rapidly, the bay and the harbor city of Kingston slid by under
the wings, and we were but barely skimming over the water. From the
plane windows we could not see the narrow neck of land directly under
jS HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
us, called the Palisadoes, on which we were landing. There was the slight
crunch of tires on the runway, and we were rolling up to the airport.
On the drive into Kingston the position of the landing field in relation
to the city became more apparent. Although Kingston is but a mile or
two across the bay we had to circle the entire bay by road for a dozen
miles or more to reach the city. The chauffeur explained that much of
this drive was on a built-up causeway, over what had once been only a
chain of small islands. The filling-in process had been started in the early
days of settlement to prevent pirates from slipping in between these
islands on plundering forays not feasible through the well-guarded har-
bor entrance at Port Royal.
Kingston first impressed, in contrast to the Spa.nish_West Indies, by
its neatness anH'orcTerliiiess: For 'example, the streets arelaid^atjnjeast-
"west and iibrtH-south directions, and there are none B ,Qfj:he_hagliazard,
winding, crooked streets so characteristic of many Cubanj:owns. These
streets are^well drained and smoothly paved, too, and though most of
the houses are of frame none are ramshackle. The predominantly frame
architecture of the city makes it distinctive from the Spanish West
Indies towns of tinted plaster and masonry. Most of the large business
places in the central city are more on the Spanish type, built of masonry
and with deep porticoes over tiled walks, but many of the minor places
of business and practically all of the dwellings are frame.
The typical frame house in Kingston is distinctive, even though poor
and small. In fact, smallness is a predominant feature of native homes
throughout the island. In town and country these houses struck us as
being so miniature as to appear play houses. In Kingston many of them
are entered by a short flight of steps from the street, leading up onto a
diminutive roofed porch. The steps are a necessity if the postage-stamp
porch is not; for when the house is not set upon a bank above street level
-it is set up on a masonry wall, with the space under the floor devoted to
storage. The front room, used as a general visiting and living room,
though occupying the width of the house, is quite small. The cubicles of
bedrooms in back of it offer little room for tossing in sleep. In this salu-
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 79
brious climate the people live out-of-doors so much that they have little
need for large interiors.
The windows are a distinctive feature of local architecture. Warm as
the climate is, windows and doors are invariably glazed. Yet on either
side of the glass are open slits covered by adjustable wooden shutters.
This may be a compromise between the English use of glass and the
tropical custom of never using any. The use of porches is also probably
English. At any rate the long rule of the British has left definite effects
on the islands and the people.
To us nothing seemed stranger than hearing the ebony Jamaicans
speaking the king's English, nor is it an English at all easy to understand.
Added to unfamiliar English pronunciations rendered with a Negro
drawl, are many words that are not English. These, most of them nouns,
trace back as a rule to African tongues. Nor is this odd when one recalls
t li2!!L^^ There are of
course other bloods represented, especially Chinese and East Indian. In
fact, even the East Indians outnumber the whites.
Although Jamaica was originally a Spanish colony, having been cap-
, - t vr^wV^-'^'i'i"*^.'' 1 *aw*v ir,W' w*'^m ., ,,.'><"' --i" *"'/* o ' f ' ''* /T ' " ' '*
tured by the English in 105:5, not much or Spanish influence remains,
J i- -iinK.mirr -i-nfatiiff T 'li i"! - -"~*- / 7 ^^ ,, v . - ,, . ,,4-
ancTthe Spanish practically exterminated the peaceful Arawak Indians
^,.-. ^. I L *- "*-Hfl.- .-^"- J-..^~~> -**"*""""<"' '-* ..'.*. ' * ' ' ""' ' - ' ' ' '' '"" .
found here at ^g^5mgj^^jroveTy. So the present culture and language
of the native Negro is a transplanted African culture tutored in a foreign
land under British language, laws, and customs. The dark Jamaican has
certainly acquired the British love of law and order and is a peaceful
citizen. He most certainly .looks upon Jamaica as his own country. The
Negro oFJamaica today does noT suffer from anytliing in the way of an
inferiority complex, for many of his race have risen to positions of influ-
ence and wealth. Negroes participate in the law-making and have passed
laws for their own protection. Those with money now have access to
the best hotels, places formerly limited to white patronage. The upper-
class Jamaica Negro sees no reason why he should be a victim of dis-
crimination in his own land. If this is uncomfortable for a few of the
whites who live or visit there, it has given the Negro a carriage and a
self-respect not seen elsewhere.
80 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
There is, after all, nothing real on which to base discrimination of any
sort. The Jamaican of color is very clean. Seldom does one see even the
poorest dressed in filthy clothes, as one is likely to see among the very-
poor, colored or otherwise, in other countries. Kingston has many
churches, and on Sundays the streets are filled with, neatly dressed Ja-
maicans going to or coming from their many services. In some of them
we heard singing accompanied by native drums and tambourines, and
the custom of shouting out had much the earmarks of Negro spiritual
meetings in many parts of the United States.
In Kingston there are all kinds of clubs; Jamaica is almost as club-
conscious as Cuba. For those who belong to no particular club, there
are innumerable public places with all kinds of strange names, many of
them derived from American places of amusement, such as Pennsyl-
vania Pavilion, Big Apple Club, Golden Eagle, New York Club, Stork
Club, Baltimore Club, Atomic Bar, etc.
In the matter of curious names, though in a very different category,
the two-wheeled pushcarts provide an amusing and distinctive touch.
Among the names emblazoned on these simple carts, which are used as
one-man-power delivery services, we saw the following: First Aid, John
Gilbert, In God We Trust, Hopeful, Shirley Temple.
Kingston has a fairly large main business center of fine shops and
department stores, banks, restaurants, and motion picture theatres. The
patronage, naturally, is nearly all colored, and at first a white person
feels just a bit conspicuous.
The whites have their own clubs where they spend a great deal of
time over cocktails and bridge. The climate is too warm for very much
in the way of strenuous sports, although riding, tennis, golf, cricket, and
of course swimming, are enjoyed. It is interesting to watch the native
youngsters throughout the island playing English cricket instead of
American baseball. A lower humidity around Kingston than one finds
usually in tropical ports makes exercise more endurable than might be
Of the several places to visit about Kingston, undoubtedly the most
interesting is Port Royal, out on the rip of land at the harbor entrance.
The market place at Blondeait, Haiti
Asleep in the market place
In the old ruins of Mercedes Church, Tmjillo City
Ruins of San Francisco Monastery, Trujillo City
Ten-thousand-joot Trujillo Peak, highest point of the West Indies
The Jaragua, in Trujillo City, is one of the most luxurious hotels in the West
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 8l
It can be reached by automobile over the Palisadoes Drive circling the
harbor from Kingston. It can't be done from the landward side as there
is no waterfront drive. Many of the piers are reached by dead-end streets
only. There are always a number of oceangoing craft in port, as well
as smaller interisland boats. Most of the foreign trade of the island passes
through this port. The chief products exported are bananas, sugar, rum,
coffee, coconut products, grapefruit, logwood extract, ginger, and mifr-
cellaneous agricultural produce, roughly in that order of importance.
The imported foods and manufactured products can be shipped from
Kingston to all parts of the island by a fine interconnecting system of
railways and highways, as we soon learned in our travels through the
As we approached Port Royal by water it gave few evidences of its
palmy days when it was the richest and wickedest city in the West
Indies, the port to which the swashbuckling pirates of the seventeenth
century brought their ill-gotten treasures. Today it is but a peaceful
colony of natives living in a painted Lilliputian village, engaged in fishing
or occupied in the nearby government barracks and coaling station. But
there are reminders of its glorious and infamous past. There in Fort
Charles with its rusting cannon and crumbling stone ramparts, is the
elevated platform called Nelson's Quarterdeck. Here Lord Nelson once
paced, watching nervously for the appearance of the French fleet, the
fleet which dragged England's New World prestige to its all-time low.
It was the buccaneers of the century before Nelson who had torn
. at the flanks of the Spanish Main like a pack of wolves, and enabled the
British to take over Jamaica with little effort. One of the English leaders
in that century was William Penn, whose radical son later established his
Holy Experiment in what was called Perm's Woods-or Pennsylvania.
But in the middle of the seventeenth century a great many of the
English were engaged in less holy experiments of robbery on the high
seas under the Jolly Roger. It was to Port Royal that they brought their
treasures and spent them in riotous living. One of their number, Henry
Morgan, later reformed and was knighted and made governor of Jamaica.
He is said to have made gifts of some of his more valuable treasures to
Sz HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
the church. Today visitors who attain the status of special guests by a
contribution are shown the famous Morgan silver in the Church of
St. Peter in Port Royal. There are two silver plates, a communion
chalice, andmost interesting of all the huge silver flagon from which
Morgan himself is said to have drunk. Worked into the bottom of the
handle of the massive silver drinking mug is a whistle which the thirsty
pirate is supposed to have blown to call for a refill of two quarts of
There are many more stories about Port Royal, with more or less
tangible evidence of the past. There is a plaque commemorating the
deliverance of Lewis Galdy from death by earthquake. A first shock is
supposed to have swallowed him up, along with thousands of others.
But Galdy was thrown from the engulfing waters by a secondary quake
and lived to a ripe old age. However, with the nearly total destruction
of old Port Royal by earthquake in 1692 the place passed into oblivion
and Kingston, inside the harbor, took its place as the chief city and port
of the island.
But there is much more to Jamaica than Kingston. In fact Kingston
is but the entrance to a veritable fairyland of beautiful mountain scenery,
rushing streams and waterfalls, luxurious tropical greenery and the won-
derful beaches and resorts of the north coast. The name of the island
itself comes from the Indian word Xayamaca or Island of Many Waters.
A hundred and forty miles long and forty-nine miles wide, it contains
some of the highest mountains of the West Indies. Among these is
Blue Mountain, 7,360 feet high.
Jamaica has more good roads for its area than any other West Indies
island. There are four thousand miles of them, and as a goodly percentage
are paved, it is easy to visit practically every part of the island by motor
car. We set out to circle and cross it in a couple of directions as we
hoped to do in the case of every island. We made the conventional trip
out of Kingston to the famous Castleton Gardens deep in the mountains
of the north, not far from Annotto Bay. The Castleton Botanical
Gardens are high in the list of the island's attractions. Here have been
assembled a great variety of shrubs, trees, and palms from all over the
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 83
world. Beautiful as the gardens are, the ride up Wag River to them is
equally interesting. The luxurious tropical foliage all along the way
makes it like traveling through a great open-air greenhouse along miles
of winding road. Much nearer to Kingston are the more formal Hope
Gardens with a greater display of flowering plants and shrubs. Included
in this is an orchid house full of rare and beautiful orchids indigenous
to the island.
Our first tour by motor round about Jamaica led us across the island
diagonally, over an excellently paved road from Kingston to Ocho Rios
on the north coast. The first fourteen miles of the drive, to Spanish
Town, is across level plain country which characterizes the south coast
for several miles inland. This is the driest part of Jamaica, and some of
the crops are irrigated here. There are fields of sugar cane and planta-
tions of bananas and coconut palms as well as grazing land, dotted
with the light Brahman cattle that have been introduced all over the
tropics. In places the highway is delightfully shaded by gigantic silk
cotton trees which overhang the road. One of these trees along the way
is said to* be the largest tree on the island. It bears a plaque stating that
in its shade Michael Scott wrote Tom Cringle's Log, a travel story of
the West Indies during the eighteenth century.
More interesting than the scenery and the plant growth are the people.
Never for any distance, except in the deepest mountains, were we ever
out of sight of crowds of natives. Commonest were groups of women
carrying baskets of produce on their heads. Others were mounted on
diminutive donkeys, sitting cross-legged between huge hampers of goods
that swayed rhythmically on either side. The typical marketbound lady
of color is distinctive, vivid, amusing, interesting. You catch the gleam
of her bright red bandanna far down the road, rivaling the roadside
flowers. She is a queenly figure, perched atop her overladen donkey with
the dignity of an Eastern potentate on an elephant. Her two huge market
baskets jouncing along on either side of the little beast form a broader
platform, comparatively, than the howdah of a royal elephant. She is an
insouciant and carefree figure, puffing away on a pipe a commanding
figure, as she reaches down a bare foot to rap the beast sharply on the
84 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
ribs and turn him to the side of the road. She is the color, the humor,
the free spirit, of black Jamaica.
After our considerable experience with Latin America, we missed
seeing babies packed on mothers' backs. We asked about this and were
told that it was the custom of the country to leave small children at
home with older children or with other members of the family. And
when they are left at home they are very much left at home; really
small youngsters are seldom seen much outside the house.
We encountered also many two- and four-wheeled carts, the latter
usually drawn by three donkeys hitched abreast. They are so arranged
that one side position can be filled by a young donkey just being broken
in. Unlike Cuba, there are few oxen in the country. Most of the land is
too hilly for using oxen effectively. The natives turn up the soil on their
little hillside farms by hand.
Our first stop on the way to the north coast, Spanish Town, was
called Santiago de la Vega by the Spaniards in the days when Jamaica
was in their possession. Referring to it as Spanish Town is an English
habit, although the old mileposts are still marked SANTIAGO D LA VEGA.
It is a quaint litde town of narrow, twisting streets, of lacy wooden
decorations reminding one of patterns children cut from folded paper.
There is very litde of what one could call Spanish influence remaining,
for it has been English since 1655. The cathedral is one of the oldest in
the Western hemisphere. On one side of the central plaza is the attractive
Rodney Memorial commemorating the defeat of the French fleet by
the British navy in 1782, a defeat which saved the British empire in the
West Indies. The monument is decorated with cannons from the French
flagship of the illustrious De Grasse, the same man who had hitherto
played a decisive part against the British during the American Revo-
From Spanish Town our highway led up the beautiful gorge of the
Cobre River, one of Jamaica's largest. The well-paved road swings
around the bends of the river in never-tiring curves, opening up new
vistas at every turn and constantly climbing into higher and fresher
country. There are neat little native huts of gleaming white along the
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 85
way, a few villages, and even a town of fair size now and then. One of
these, Bog Walk, is a good example of British usage of Spanish names.
The name is derived from the Spanish Boca de Agua.
The road climbs gradually into an upland valley until it begins the
stupendous ascent of Diavolo Mountain. Vegetation becomes even more
interesting and luxuriant at these higher altitudes. The peaks rob the
moisture-laden winds of most of their rain before they get over the
mountains to the Kingston side. Very much in evidence now are the dis-
tinctive breadfruit trees with their shiny cutout leaves and large green
fruit. Oddly enough, this tree which is so successful here, like many
of the trees and plants of economic importance to the island, is not
indigenous. The introduction of the breadfruit will be best remembered
from the story of the famous Captain Bligh. It was his first attempt to
bring the plant from the East Indies across the Pacific that resulted in
the historic mutiny on the Bounty. After that disastrous attempt, which
nearly cost him his life, Captain Bligh made two more trips with young
breadfruit seedlings before he finally got them to his West Indies des-
tination. His second venture suffered shipwreck, but his third in 1793
was successful. Introduced as a cheap food for slave labor, today it helps
to feed one of the densest populations in the world, two hundred and
three people to the square mile. Although a dry and insipid starch food,
it does serve well as a filler for more palatable foods such as their ackee
and codfish. The ackee grows on a tree in brilliantly colored pods closely
resembling peppers. When ripened they offer a beautiful display of
black seeds and a soft white fruit which tastes, when cooked, very much
like hard-boiled eggs. The dried codfish is imported, of course, as well
as much of their other staple foods like rice, beans, and wheat. The two
crops which help most to pay for these imported foods, bananas and
sugar cane, are themselves not indigenous to Jamaica.
We climbed steadily up the Diavolo Mountain, past banana plants and
breadfruit trees seemingly all growing wild and tangled with other
vegetation, extensive panoramas of the valley thousands of feet below
opening up before us. Then down the other side of the mountain we
glided, with full use of brakes and gears, until we arrived in the com-
86 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
fortable valley in which the town of Monteague is situated. From here
it is eighteen miles down to the sea. We passed through Fern Gully,
which is a deeply cut road through a veritable tunnel of tropical foliage.
Towering jungle giants brushed the clouds. Great tree ferns stood in
their shade and blotted up the little sunlight that filtered through. Dense
growths of broad-leaved Elephant Ears caught whatever dim daylight
escaped the lacy fronds of the ferns. From the top of the tallest tree to
the very earth, a greedy and riotous Nature let no light or space go to
We had spent so much time on the way that although we had come
only sixty miles from Kingston to the north coast, it was growing late.
We put up at one of the luxury hotels of Jamaica, situated on the hill-
side and overlooking the palm-fringed shore four hundred feet below.
It was a gem of a place. The owners had diverted a swift-flowing moun-
tain stream into a series of canals and a large open air swimming pool.
There was a landscaped terrace, below which the river dropped several
hundred feet in a beautiful waterfall. Brilliantly lighted at night, the
whole scene was from a land of fantasy. Flower-lined paths led around
the various terraces and along the waters, and an arbor of cerise Bou-
gainvillia shaded the long flight of stone steps that connected two ter-
races and their little hidden gardens and pools. Like many of the luxury
hotels of the West Indies, each room had its own porch or balcony on
which one could spend idle time, lounging, reading, or visiting with
friends, fanned by cooling breezes from the sea. It is also quite the
custom to have breakfast served on these little outdoor living rooms.
Although owned by a Jamaican, the hotel was managed by a Swiss and
copied the Swiss chalet type of service.
At night the promenades were lit up with colored lights and the falls
and palms floodlighted, making the nighttime far too lovely to waste in
sleep. Overhead gleam the stars in the clear brilliance for which they
are especially famed in the tropics, seeming as close as the colored lights
of the promenades. Small wonder that the hotel is much patronized by
The next morning we drove to the shore of Ocho Rios and began
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 87
the long tour of the north coast, right along the sea most of the way,
to Montego Bay at the other end of the island. Ocho Rios is one of the
largest towns of the north coast. Most of the towns here are litde fishing
villages or agricultural centers for the cane and coconut country, though
some are purely resort spots. It is along this north coast that most of the
fine bathing beaches of the island are found. And what an array of color
in these seas! The waters seem to bear every shade and hue of blue and
green from deep purple to azure, from emerald to aquamarine. Casting
their slender shadows across the sands and out on the waters are those
perfect complements of 'tropical beaches, the graceful coconut palms.
Cool, crystal-clear streams flow swiftly down from the mountains every-
where, leaping toward the sea in beautiful rapids and cascades. One of
these, at Dun's River, was such a photogenic delight that we spent a
few hours there, striving for effects with the cameras. A little farther on,
Roaring River tumbles down from the mountains in the largest of these
north coast falls, affording a sublime picture as it is seen through tropical
palms and banana plants.
A bit past the next seacoast town of St. Ann's Bay is Runaway Beach,
so named because here the last of the Spaniards escaped from the island
under British attack in 1657. But a ^ ew miles farther on is the spot where
white men first saw the Isle of Many Waters, for it was here on May 4,
1494, that Columbus first landed. His other visit to Jamaica farther
east was under less auspicious circumstances. Nine years later, when in
his waning glory, Columbus had been forbidden to touch the isle of His-
paniola, seat of Spanish power in the New World, ruled by a governor
who was his jealous rival. Forced to seek refuge from a tempest on this
voyage, Columbus beached his two ships on Jamaica and spent a full
year of privation there before relief came. He sent a small open boat
across the sea to Hispaniola or Santo Domingo, humbly asking his hated
rival for help. The boat finally reached its destination but the jealous
governor delayed sending assistance.
Meanwhile Columbus' band was menaced by starvation as the Ara-
waks became increasingly reluctant to furnish food. Fortunately, Colum-
bus kpsw wh$n th$ next eclipse of the moon wa 4ue, and thf eaten^d t;q
88 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
hide the moon forever if the Indians didn't continue to furnish food. No
sooner was this danger averted than mutiny broke out among the sailors,
but this was put down by Columbus' brother, who executed the ring-
Along the coast here are a series of remarkable limestone caves, some
of them right by the road. They are perfectly dry and easy to explore,
for they are lit by sunlight streaming down through natural chimneys
in the roof. Down some of these openings hang huge streamers of vines
from the earth above, giving the place an eerie air in the half-light. Bats
winging about the caves add to the spookiness of the place. These caves
would make a comfortable place to live, quite protected from the ele-
ments, and it was easy to conjure up a picture of pirates vacationing
here in earlier days. We scuffled around in a few dry dark corners but
found no pieces of eight, nor even a single doubloon.
It is interesting to speculate on the formation of these caves. Although
bone-dry today, their smooth, water-worn walls give evidence that they
were not always so. The geologist's explanation of the formation of the
entire island is most interesting. It is believed that in an early period
Jamaica was part of a solid land formation extending from Central Amer-
ica and cutting off what is now the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean
Sea. At a later period most of this land was submerged and a limestone
deposit covered the whole area but for a few peaks of Blue Mountain.
Then the land rose again, leaving practically the whole island covered
with a heavy deposit of limestone. When eroded into soil this provided
ideal, well-drained soil conditions of extreme fertility. The many springs
and caves of the island are alsc^ explained by this limestone formation,
whose widespread dispersal is most strikingly evident from the air as
one notes the frequency of neat white dots on the dark green land white
dots with black shadows of centers, much like the work of hot springs.
An interesting part of Jamaica that can best be seen from the air is the
wild, broken, inaccessible section called the Cockpit Country, inland
from the north coast at this point of our journey. One highway runs
close to it, but to penetrate deeply into it one must travel by pack animal.
Aside from the wild desolation of the place, it is famous for harboring
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 89
a people who in former days were as wild as the country itself. They
are the Maroons, a name which comes from a Spanish term for "wild
ones." They are descendants of African slaves who escaped from the
Spanish plantations at the time the English took over, mixed with some
of the original Arawak Indian blood. In later years they were joined
by other escaped slaves and outlaws. They lived apart from the rest of
the inhabitants of the country, deep in the most inaccessible retreats.
They set up a hereditary ruler and entered into agreement on a common
set of laws for themselves. But from time to time they raided peaceful
settlements and became such a nuisance that in K 1795 the British decided
they would have to be liquidated. The ensuing war cost millions and
resulted in the death or capture of many of the Maroons. Most of those
captured were deported to Nova Scotia. A treaty was finally made with
the remainder, giving them the right to rule themselves as a foreign
tribe if they remained peaceful and kept within the confines of their own
isolated Cockpit Country. They have lived harmoniously ever since,
governed to this day by their own hereditary leader and their own laws.
Montego Bay is the principal beach resort of Jamaica. Here Nature
has been most bountiful in supplying attractive white beaches within
the protected waters of a beautiful blue bay surrounded by a verdant
backdrop of jungle-clad hills. Although this old port town is as busy a
place as is to be found on the north coast, it still has a quaint and quiet
British Jamaican air. The natives go about their usual business of coming
to town with great loads of goods on their heads, or astride their mouse-
colored little donkeys. They gather in crowds in the market and engage
in their noisy trading, entirely oblivious to the modern luxury hotels
scattered along the beach, wherein dwell people from another world.
Shiny black youngsters scamper about among the market goods, little
boys usually cat natwrel.
The hotels of this beach are more or less self-contained units, gener-
ally each with its own private beach and set apart from the community,
and hence all run on the American plan. There are also quaint little
English guest houses, so one can readily find a mode of living to fit any
pocketbook. The hotel at which we stayed was built overhanging the
9O HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
water's edge. Two floors of promenade gave much the effect of being on
an ocean liner, overlooking nothing but water on the Caribbean side.
Even the dining room was built right over the water, and we were
soothed by soft breezes while dining. Each room had its own little porch
overhanging the sea.
Sports of all kinds are available in Montego Bay. There is a country
club, and there is even alligator shooting in the swamps and rivers on
the south side of the island's point, only thirty miles from the bay.
In Spanish times large numbers of wild pigs, gone astray from domestic
herds, roamed the hills here and were hunted for their lard, called man-
teca in Spanish. The place then was called Manteca Bay, and its present
name is an English corruption of the original. Except for such corrupted
place names, few traces of Spanish occupation remain. The old fort near
Montego Bay is English, not Spanish. Even the wild pigs are gone. Ap-
parently there were no wild animals of size on the island even in
Columbus' time, for he provisioned the boat which he sent to Haiti when
he was shipwrecked with the meat of the coney, which still survives in
remote parts of the island. It is a rodent on the order of a guinea pig
but much larger, very dark brown or nearly black in color, weighing
eight to ten pounds.
We were surprised to learn how litde wild life is to be found in all
the luxurious tropical fastnesses of Jamaica. Like Cuba, it is even devoid
of birds of brilliant plumage, such as the parrot and macaw which one
sees in abundance on the tropical mainland of Central and South Amer-
ica, Of course, the extermination of many species of wild life through
the centuries is natural on densely populated islands like these with no
source of replenishment from the mainland. Fortunately this applies to
reptiles too. There are no poisonous snakes on the island.
Reluctantly we left the north shore of Jamaica and started on the
long drive back toward Kingston, over a route that was to carry us
diagonally over the whole interior of the island. Our paved highway
wound up into the hills overlooking Montego Bay, of which we could
catch glimpses framed by rain forest vegetation as we looked back from
time tx> time. At several thousand feet we emered onto a rolling upland
BLACK AND WHITE IN JAMAICA 91
plateau with less dense vegetation. In fact, the open farming and grazing
land with stone fences might be said, but for an occasional palm tree,
to resemble our New England landscape. But as soon as the road began
climbing into higher country which caught the -moisture-laden winds
from the north, the vegetation changed immediately to dense tropical
rain forests, giant ceibas, as well as breadfruit and other tropical trees,
much of it covered with vines and parasitic plants, with palms and
bananas mixed in here and there.
The road was not always paved as we headed deeper and higher into
the hill country, but it was at worst a stone-surfaced roadway carefully
graded and drained. Other equally good roads branched off or joined
it from rime to time. We passed towns and villages, quaint collections
of varicolored frame or plain white stucco buildings. Tiny native huts
with thatched roofs and walls of gleaming white nestled here and there
in hollows, clung to hillsides, or jutted out on promontories, with small
plots of cultivated land about them. At Montpelier we passed acres of
neatly arranged khaki tents arranged in groups in some open fields. It
was the annual cantonment and jamboree of the Boy Scouts of Jamaica.
We had passed them before in the streets of Montego Bay, solid ranks
of troop after troop marching behind their standards to the music of an
excellent band. For blocks and blocks we had passed them, practically
all black, alert and intelligent, neatly uniformed, Jamaica's future swing-
ing along with perfect cadence of swinging arms and marching feet,
At Lacovia we passed through the famous Bamboo Grove where for
more than a mile the tall bamboo shoots arched over the road, making
us feel like pygmies lost in that giant grass, its graceful tips fingering and
filtering the sunlight fifty feet above us. Rushing along we felt as an
insect must feel scurrying past the grass roots in a meadow. We left this
to climb to the high mountain valley in which the resort town of Mande-
ville is located, climbing to above two thousand feet in a series of steep
ascents that offered increasingly broader panoramas, until finally at the
summit the whole south coast lay stretched out into the hazy distance
before us. By the time we reached Mandeville, our goal, we were punch
drunk on scenery.
92 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Mandeville, oldest of mountain resort towns, is a bit of rural old Eng-
land nestling in the Jamaican hills. It is a peaceful, green country town,
fresh and cool at a bit over two thousand feet elevation. The people live
in scattered houses all across the valley, with acres of green about each
place. Even the business section is scattered.
Lunch had been arranged for us beforehand by the Tourist Board at
Kingston, as they had arranged our whole trip so far. The meal, like all
our meals along the way, was of the finest food, and was served on a
wide verandah overlooking the countryside from the high vantage point
on which the inn was set. We visited the exclusive Manchester Club,
practiced a little golf on their fine course under the guidance of one of
the members, and then, after some hours of driving about to look over
the other hotels, we started back for Kingston. This day's trip was of
nearly two hundred miles, which is a long drive on an island less than
one hundred and fifty miles long.
The road descended gradually from the mountainous interior to the
more level country of the south coast, bringing us back into more settled
country. Native huts were commoner, and we met an increasing number
of people along the road, a constant stream of dark humanity. The set-
ting sun, gilding the sky, painting Kingston in roseate colors and lighting
up the faces of the dark and happy throng along the streets, was fitting
finale to a most delightful island. Gladys envied me the ready conven-
ience of color film in catching and preserving our memories of this happy
isle, as we had hurried through it so that she had had little time for
Port au Prince
Haiti is shaped like the head of a monster with open jaws, the Gulf of
Gonave being the open mouth, with the northern and southern penin-
sulas the jaws themselves. The monster's head seems in the act of swal-
lowing the large island of Gonave in the center of the gulf. Port au
Prince, the capital, is located at the apex of the gulf between the huge
We were flying straight into the monstrous mouth toward Port au
Prince. Looming out of the mist on our left, the first Haitian land we
saw on our flight from Cuba was the inner jaw of the northern penin-
sula, We were over the tranquil waters of the Gulf of Gonave, the
low-lying island of the same name on our right. Here and there tiny
white triangles below us, which we recognized as the sails of little native
craft, dotted the rippling blue of the gulf.
The jaws of land on botli sides closed in very rapidly now, and we
could distinguish details of the high blue-green mountains rising up from
the coast on either side. An occasional white-walled village along the
shore line flitted by like giant gleaming teeth as we seemed to be drawn
irresistibly into the jaws of the monster. Then dead ahead loomed up the
sloping streets of Port au Prince. Without being able to see straight
ahead, it seemed as if we were zooming directly toward the city's build-
ings, with no alternative but to crash into the steeply sloping mountains
that crowded the city itself down to the water's edge. We were low and
I had barely time to get one photographic shot of the harbor and the
white capitol building in the middle of the city, before it was all over
and we were skimming the asphalt runway of the airport- Few cities
94 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
have their airports so close to town, but for Port au Prince to have one
at a more conventional distance, it would have to be a vertical airport
scraped out from the mountains' sides.
Even at the airport we were impressed with something distinctly dif-
ferent from other Latin American countries. There was the language
of course first; Haiti is the only French-speaking country in Latin
America. It was a modern French that was spoken by our first contacts,
educated officials, quite different from the mellifluous Creole French of
the masses which we were to hear later. Yet it seemed spoken with a
tinge of gracious mannerisms lifted from the courtly customs of Louis
XIV. The immigration officials practically apologized for the necessity
of examining our passports, and the customs officials did apologize pro-
fusely for disturbing our luggage. The beautiful and efficient mulatto
miss who piloted us through the officials and helped us with interpreta-
tion abandoned her other duties at one point and went immediately to
telephone the American Consulate in our behalf to inquire for our mail.
All this courteous treatment was extended wholly without any official
knowledge of the purpose of our visit. After they had learned what we
were there for, we were treated with almost bewildering deference.
They summoned a Mr. Cyril Gator, who had been the head of the gov-
ernment's tourist department but who was at the time without official
status because of an interim government. He was a polished colored
gentleman of fine physique, a former Olympic champion broad jumper,
now in the restaurant business in Port au Prince. He graciously offered
to take us in his own car to the Splendid Hotel, as we had letters of
introduction to Madame Franckel, the owner.
The Hotel Splendid, like the other major hotels in the capital, was
not in the center of the city at all but was located out in the residential
part of the town. In fact, the original part of the building had been the
luxurious home of Mme. Franckel herself, and there additional floors and
annexes had been added. The central part of the main floor, including
several reception rooms, still retained the decorations and many of the
furnishings of the time when it was the luxury home of a Haitian. The
residence of a wealthy nineteenth-century Parisian could have boasted
PORT AXJ PRINCE 95
nothing finer than the gracefully carved and beautifully gilded furni-
ture, the long windows and the draperies on the paneled walls, the ceil-
ings in gilt and polychrome, and the large gilt mirrors.
Our own room in the new annex to the hotel, however, in which we
virtually lived during our stay in the city, was more modernly furnished.
It overlooked the beautiful walled gardens of the hotel, gardens shaded
by palm and pine, and rampant with vivid tropical flowers.
The thing that impressed us most was that, although we wrote and
read by day in the open-air balcony and slept at night wholly without
protection, never were we molested by a single fly or mosquito. Always
the soft tropical breezes were allowed to play around us. Life in the
open in the tropics can be pleasant indeed under sanitary conditions, un-
troubled by insect pests of any kind.
There seems to be a great deal of misconception about pests in the
tropics. Mosquitoes are much more of a nuisance in the spring and sum-
mer in temperate and colder climates than they are down there. Mosqui-
toes even in the far north come on in great swarms. In most of the tropics
mosquitoes are smaller and not nearly so plentiful. True, in the tropics
you have them all the year round, and some species carry malaria and
yellow fever. But in clean surroundings and more particularly at some
distance above the ground where air can circulate freely, one need not
be bothered by mosquitoes or flies either day or night.
To the uninitiated, perhaps the little lizards scurrying around in the
hotel and invading one's bedroom may give rise to another fear. Actu-
ally, these are man's best friends. Motionless as a leaf on the wall on
which they are resting, they lie patiently in wait for long periods for
any stray fly or other insect that ventures in reach. Their Eghtning-like
tongues make quick work of them, and the agility with which these
little lizards can leap on their prey is most interesting to watch. In
Haiti as well as in most of the other islands that we have visited, there
are no really dangerous reptiles, animals, or insects.
The residential architecture of Port au Prince varies greatly. The
more pretentious homes are ornate little castles, so highly decorated, and
built up in tiers with white or pastel layer upon layer to such an extent
96 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
that we often referred to them as fancy wedding cakes. Everywhere
there is a profusion of overhanging balconies, of grilled windows, of
wood and stucco gingerbread. Much of the decoration on wood is of
filagree fineness, and definitely gives Port au Prince architecture a dis-
tinctive flavor. The black lace shadows that they cast on the pastel-hued
walls in the night when the street lights are on are all something out of
this world. By day the infinite variety of floral and geometric design of
the woodwork, carried out even in such simple, utilitarian things as
cornices and eaves, is a never-ending source of amazement.
In comparison with the Spanish architecture of other lands, the private
homes of Port au Prince are built up in the air instead of spread out upon
the ground; the balcony supplants the patio to a great extent; and like
the American the Frenchman prefers to put his decorations on the out-
side where others can see it.
Among the many friends we made in Port au Prince was the young
manager of the Pan American Airways office there, Roger Jarman, and
his charming wife. Though young, Jarman was an old-tuner in these
parts, and he was able to handle the French patois fluently, which helped
us a great deal. During the war he had served the company in French
Guiana, where he had taken his bride. Now they and their little son,
Mike, were living quite comfortably in a furnished home in Port au
Prince with the usual coterie of servants. Their home had all modern
conveniences and was surrounded by a fine garden of flowers and shrub-
bery, with the whole thing costing them about half what a similar ar-
rangement would cost in the United States. Servants' wages averaged
six to eight dollars a month.
The Jarmans took us on our first trip out of Port au Prince before our
Willys arrived via native sailing craft from Cuba. It was on the popular
fifteen mile drive up the steep mountain road to the resort town of
Kenscoff . Here at 4200 feet above the sea we found ourselves in exceed-
ingly cool climate, not only because of the altitude but because the spot
is so open and swept by breezes from the sea. In fact, the sea can be
seen through the intervening peaks. As the car climbs steadily over the
steep road, palms change to pines and tropical plants to temperate crops
** shrine to Virgin of
patron tarn of the Vommican Republic
Christopher Columbus before the Trujillo City cathedral where he is buried
imcan miss on the highway wear Las Matas
.'^^4'' ;tf'f; : ';' - '' <"" '' " ; : -'. :,^v^, v
Trujillo City, is site of old Spanish fort
PORT ATI PRINCE 97
of grain, corn, and vegetables. The cultivated land is so steep that in
places it has to be terraced.
Up here at Kenscoff many wealthy Haitians have summer homes.
Some even, with businesses in the hot city, have their permanent homes
here, commuting daily by automobile. Along the road, resplendent with
crimson flamboycm trees in summer time, there is a picture at every one
of its infinite twists and turns. Natives are constantly going to and fro
on it, or are clustered about the water fountains along the way. All travel
barefoot, -although some of the more affluent carry their shoes hanging
over their shoulders or slung over the donkey they ride to town. Arriv-
ing there, they put on their shoes and become aristocrats. They cannot
aif ord to wear out this badge of well-being on the road. Besides, it would
be too painful stumbling over the rough cobblestones with feet encased
in torturous leather.
Halfway up to Kenscoff is Petionville, where, on week ends, several
fashionable restaurants and hotels cater to the well-to-do of Port au
Prince. Here, too, is the fashionable night spot, Cabane Choucoune,
which is built in the style of an elaborate peasant's hut or caille with
conical thatched roof. We attended a dance and evening affair given here
on one occasion, a formal party given for a popular member of the Amer-
ican diplomatic set who was leaving the country. Though he was unable
to be present himself, as he was detained by farewell parties in other
parts, the affair was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Inside, the king-sized thatched hut was aglitter with electric lights.
The whole center was an immense circular dance floor with tiers of
raised platforms around it except for the spot where the orchestra's plat-
form jutted out. The platforms held tables for refreshments.
It was a gay party. The smartly gowned women and impeccably
dressed men could have done justice to the smartest New York night
club. But what an international assemblage! There were French-speak-
ing blacks and whites, Spanish-speaking blacks and whites, English-
speaking Americans and British, German-speaking Austrians and Swiss.
There were Dutch, Germans, and Scandinavians, not only of the diplo-
matic corps but permanent residents of the country.
98 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
And there was no color line here. Black, tuxedo-clad men danced with
white-shouldered women. Beautiful mulatto women danced the fast
Haitian merlnque, Cuban rhumbas, and American fox trots with the
most dignified of white gentlemen.
Two thousand feet higher still than Kenscoff in the mountains is the
resort of Le Refuge, with a smart rustic inn patterned after the Swiss
chalet. The trip is often made on foot by even the better class, for other-
wise only a jeep or saddle animal can carry one to this cool point. Up
here the chilly air is very exhilarating and there are even frosts at night.
It is remarkable that such places as these are but a few hours out of
sweltering Port au Prince.
From this cool vantage point let us review Haiti's muggy capital. It
is, as a capital, in a class by itself. While there are some modern residen-
tial developments the business and administrative part of the town is the
most ornate, the most run-down, the most distinctive, of West Indian
capitals. You stumble under gloomy arcades over narrow cobblestone
sidewalks worn more uneven by centuries of shuffling feet. The stores
you pass are housed in massive buildings dating from colonial times.
Great arched doors which open outward are folded back against the
walls. At night, these same doors pull shut and hook with gigantic iron
hooks, giving passersby an overwhelming sense of being left on the out-
side of things.
By day, Port au Prince's narrow streets are bustling with an endless,
dusty procession of peasants, afoot or donkey-back. Now and then a
street is scoured of traffic by a donkey laden down with huge straw
panniers bursting with handicraft. As traffic eddies back in the wake
of one of these, it may be pushed to the wall again by a mountainous
black woman, a Mother Hubbard-clad mass of ebony, jouncing like
Jello atop a spraddle-legged little donkey. As pedestrian traffic springs
up again, it is thrown into a state of static and ecstatic turmoil by a trim
young thing in white, swinging along in a short and low-cut dress, look-
ing as if she had been pressed into it cold and allowed to expand in the
heat to a seam-straining precision fit.
Port an Prince's traffic isn't wholly bucolic and barefoot. There are
PORT AU PRINCE 99
buses, too, high yellow buses, top-heavy and crammed with humanity,
and swaying perilously at every turn. There are taxis, identified by red
flags and exhumed from the whole history of automotive transportation,
each capably managed by a licensed maniac. Foot traffic and donkey-
mounted traffic shuffle along as lackadaisically as if these folk were busy
only with spending eternity here. Wheeled traffic rushes as madly as if
Gabriel had just blown his trumpet and everyone had to hurry home to
pack. Watch 'em! If buses miss you, remember that the more decrepit
taxis can make a sharper turn in pursuit. If you are nimble enough to
escape both, beware of slim young things in white frocks, straining at
life and straining at the seams.
A curious feature of Port au Prince's foot traffic, particularly that part
of it made up of country folk, is the preponderance of women. The rea-
son for this goes back to more unsettled times, when any man might be
seized by revolutionary leaders for service in the army and only women
ventured forth. The habit stuck.
The stores of Port au Prince amuse and entertain for their range of
stock. In one store you may buy flavorful Haitian rum by the case,
American milk of magnesia by the bottle, a flagon of French perfume
at a startlingly low figure, a pound of sausage of startlingly spicy flavor.
The general curio stores will be found interesting, too. There are
bracelets made of coins buried in the late eighteenth century, when Haiti
rebelled against its French masters, and recently unearthed by road-
building crews. There are multicolored sisal bags, shoes and gay hats to
wear at the beach, fine embroidery and lace. Best of all, though bulky, is
the limitless variety of articles of polished mahogany, most beautiful of
Haitian woods. These range from small figurines to custom-built coffee
tables which will be made to your order for a song and are easily shipped
home by air express.
The old section of Port au Prince, centering about the harbor, dates
from the founding of the city in 1749. The Champ de Mars, the large
public square where the gleaming white National Palace is located, was
once at the city limits in the days when Port au Prince was the capital
of the French colony of Saint Domingue, Here are located the more
100 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
important government buildings, the museum, and the leading theatres
and restaurants. On the steep slope beyond Champ de Mars are the fine
modern residences set into the mountain's living rock. From the number-
less terraces of these homes you get a breath-taking view of the encircling
hills, the deep blue harbor, and the old city buried in trees.
The Jarman family took us one Sunday to the American Club outside
Port au Prince for dinner. After the usual social cocktail we all went for
a refreshing dip in the swimming pool built on the terrace in front of
I was thoroughly enjoying my swim when I began to feel, I thought,
the effects of the cocktail or of the hot tropical sun. It seemed as if I
were in a rocking boat. The water swished unnaturally high up and over
the edges of the pool. Could it be possible that I was making such big
waves through my unpolished swimming technique? Then it struck me
that this must be caused by strong gusts of wind. Yet when I held onto
the edge of the pool and raised myself up, there was no wind. The waves
went on spilling over the edge of the pool. Instead of wind, there was an
unnatural deathlike calm about the air. "My, but that cocktail carried
an awful wallop!" I thought to myself. "Perhaps I had better get out
of the water until the effect wears off."
As I was climbing out the others laughingly yelled something to me
which I did not catch, but which I interpreted as a laugh at my silly ap-
pearance. I tried desperately to appear nonchalant. "Joke's on me," I
thought. "They must have loaded that drink."
"Did you feel it?" someone asked.
So I would play the game with them. I shrugged. "Just a little bit,"
The group grew excited. Someone pointed to a chair. "There it is
again! Look at it walk!" The chair was creeping about on the grass.
Now my cocktail theory began not to make sense. Not only did /
see a chair going someplace all by itself, but others saw the same thing.
"That must be really a bad earthquake," someone said. At last the
truth dawned on me. It wasn't the cocktail that was giving me the shak-
ing up after all
PORT AU PRINCE IOI
For seconds more we watched the lawn chairs creeping about and
trembling. There was a hush in the air, but for the rhythmic splash of
the waves as they traveled from end to end of the pool.
"Didn't you feel it in the water?" Jarman asked, turning to me.
"Yes. But I thought it was the cocktail."
This was greeted with a shout of laughter, in which I could now join,
as we discussed the earthquake and how bad it might have been in other
That night the newspapers and radio informed us that we had just
experienced, " at a distance, one of the worst quakes of the Caribbean
area in history. According to the seismographs, it had originated in the
deepest part of the Atlantic off the coasts of the Dominican Republic
and Puerto Rico. Weeks later when we arrived in the Dominican Re-
public we had an opportunity to witness the damage done by the famed
August 4th earthquake, when we saw whole towns destroyed. In fact,
smaller quakes occurred from rime to rime during all the rest of our
travels through these two countries on the island of Hispaniola.
Before our Willys arrived and forced us to get to work seriously at
covering Haiti's highways, we ran into another fellow-countryman who
was very hospitable and interesting. This was Frederick Lee, the writer,
who was making work and fun of the project of living native style to
gather material. Fred had acquired a piece of land on the outskirts of
the village of Carrefour about a dozen miles down the coast from Port
au Prince. With a household of two servants, a cook and a houseboy,
and with hired labor on occasion as required, he was building himself a
ccnlle or home in comfortable native style. By the time we arrived Fred
was already fairly comfortable in a two-room, grass-roofed cage with
adobe walls, and was building a third room. In addition, he was draining
the grounds about the place, landscaping, and fencing it. In his spare
time he invited us out for a native dinner. We went early enough to
watch the process from beginning to end.
We were impressed by the way the old colored woman who cooked
for him prepared the full meal on an open fibre simply by resting clay
pots and a few manufactured utensils on stones around the fire. The
102 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
meal consisted of beans and rice, the pi&ce de resistance of every native
meal, plus a meat stew, fried breadfruit, and cassava cakes for bread.
Sweetened demi-tasses of coffee at the end were both beverage and
When we arrived, Fred was sitting at a table on the shady side of the
house in abbreviated swimming trunks, drinking his morning coffee. The
old cook was busily engaged in starting the stew for the midday meal,
cutting chunks of meat into a clay pot which would be left to simmer
for hours beside the fire. Various seasonings had been added, as well as
pieces of tomato which seem to be considered essential to all meat dishes
in these parts. From time to time she would pause to wash a soiled utensil
by scrubbing it vigorously with cold water dipped from a large earthen
storage jar kept just inside the house. A handful of coarse maguey fiber
was used for scrubbing, instead of the dishcloth to which we are accus-
We watched the entire process of preparing the breadfruit in fact,
we even saw it being picked from one of the large breadfruit trees which
shaded the premises. Breadfruit is a large, warty, green fruit which
grows on a tree of considerable size. The fruit looks somewhat like the
mock oranges found in the eastern United States. The interior is white
and tasteless, and of a pulpy and rather dry texture. It is never eaten raw.
When boiled it is vaguely similar to boiled potatoes but is less flavorful.
When fried, especially if sliced thin, it is a fair substitute for fried pota-
toes. The tree grows almost anywhere in the tropics without any care
whatever, and since there is no set ripening season for the fruit it fur-
nishes a dependable food supply for almost any time of year.
It was fascinating to watch Lo, the colored cook, skillfully pare bread-
fruit with a huge butcher knife and slice the white pulp for frying. She
moved along in her work with a graceless efficiency, now shoving the
kidney beans closer to the fire, now preparing the rice, now pausing to
dean an earthen pot that had served for cooking one item of the meal
before she could go on, for there was no plethora of dishware. She
scurried back and forth between the two open fires required for the
PORT AU PRINCE IOJ
cooking, one out in the yard and the other under the roof of the open
part of the cattle.
Meanwhile Fred was unconsciously giving us a demonstration of the
regal position he enjoyed in this household, showing us how much a
white foreigner is respected even in a black republic. Having completed
his coffee and shaved, he summoned the houseboy, Vitale, and motioned
toward his own feet. Vitale understood and brought a large pan of
water. He removed Fred's shoes and proceeded to wash his feet.
While all this was going on in and about the house, a workman was
laying a stone walk from the door to the road in front. Another was
engaged in weaving the walls of the outhouse which Fred referred to as
his "Chic Sale." There was little reason to fear that these workers would
shirk their jobs or do them poorly, for Vitale seemed to be everywhere
at once, supervising and bossing everyone. He did more than this. If the
mason laying the walk seemed about to run out of mortar, Vitale
speedily set to work mixing another batch. Wherever work was going
on, Vitale'was there to boss and help.
Fred told us something of how Vitale had engaged himself as house-
boy-manager, for definitely Vitale had done the engaging. He appeared
one day from nowhere before Fred. "I see you have no houseboy. I shall
be your houseboy," he said, in Creole French of course.
"I don't know you," Fred replied,
"You will. I am strong and able and can do many things."
"Where do you come from?" asked Fred.
"From across the mountains."
"But I do not need a houseboy. And I cannot pay." Fred turned and
But Vitale was not to be shaken off so lightly. Stepping in front of
Fred, he folded his arms and began a long harangue about his many
abilities and qualifications, his eyes fixed on the sky. To clinch this, he
added, "You need not pay me anything, unless you want to. But I shall
stay here and save you much from my people."
Without assenting or dissenting, Fred allowed Vitale to sleep in his
cattle and to eat what was left over from the meals. But gradually Vitale
104 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
made himself indispensable. He saved Fred money with his shrewd buy-
ing in the market. He did away with the expense of hiring labor for tin-
kering about the place, for Vitale himself was quite a handyman. He was
the constant watchdog of Fred's property. He became not only his
personal servant but overseer of the premises as well. When stone or
lime or boards were bought, they cost half of what they had been cost-
ing. Recognizing his worth, Fred began to pay Vitale a dollar a month
besides his keep. In gourdes, Haitian money, it looked more like wages
than it sounds. And when his wages were raised to two dollars a month,
Vitale's gratitude knew no bounds, with the result that he worked as
hard as two or three ordinary servants and assumed the responsibility for
the whole household. By his energy and knowledge, he dominated all
the others. He had become majordomo of the house and hired and fired
all the others but Lo, the cook.
Lo lived next door, and stayed there when her services were not re^
quired. She too received two dollars a month. Both she and Vitale fur-
nished much of the food Fred ate at no cost from gardens they worked
on the side, as well as products they received in exchange for garden
surplus. The rice, cassava, bananas, as well as tomatoes for flavoring this
dinner for us, as an example, were acquired in this way. The breadfruit
had come free from Fred's trees. The only things he had bought for
this luxurious repast were the beans, the meat, and the coffee. Fred said
he was actually living on thirty-six cents a day, including entertaining
guests with extra meals.
The meal was finally served on a table set out in the front yard under
the shade of breadfruit and mango trees. We were fanned by refreshing
breezes that blew across the open yard, while dinner music was fur-
nished by the murmur of a tiny brook that rippled by only a few feet
from our table. No pests of any kind disturbed our open air banquet.
During the whole meal Vitale hovered about in the background, leaving
for moments now and then to supervise other activities. After the meal,
when Fred walked around to inspect things for himself, he was met
everywhere with the statement, "Vitale was just here," which seemed to
convey assurance that everything was therefor^ qorr^ct.
PORT ATI PRINCE IO5
In the middle of the afternoon Fred invited me to take a stroll with
him to what he referred to as his private shower bath. Through a neigh-
boring cornfield we made our way to a grove of large mango trees*
Through the center of this grove ran a fair-sized mountain stream of
clear water. At one point it dashed in a waterfall down to a lower level,
the falls and the little pool beneath it almost closed in by foliage. Here
Fred stripped and waded out into the pool, allowing the waterfall to
cascade over him in a natural, refreshing shower.
Later in the day he took us over to the village to see the "high life."
This consisted of a unique bar built over a flowing brook to keep it cool,
with a palm-thatched roof above the various tables out in the yard, and
around the main bar. Music was supplied by an old phonograph and a
radio. Girls ranging through all hues from high yellow to jet black sat
around available for whatever service was desired of them. As it was
still only late afternoon, business was slack and most of them were un-
At the opposite end of the economic scale we made the acquaintance
of another American who was living in a veritable palace of a home with
a small army of native servants. Horace Ashton had formerly been
employed as cultural relations official for the United States government
in Haiti. Now retired from service but still possessing tremendous en-
ergy and vitality, he had established a boat-building business. With
cheap but skillful Haitian labor he filled American orders for custom-
built yachts and fishing boats of the finest material, at from half to
two-thirds of what they would cost in the United States. Sportsmen
came down to sail their own boats home, or at times Ashton delivered
them under their own power.
Horace Ashton lived in one of the most palatial homes in Haiti. It
was located off the main highway that climbed up the mountain back
of Port au Prince, and overlooked the picturesque valley below. It had
been built as a place of luxurious retirement by a wealthy American who
had later found it necessary to return to the United States. Built of stone,
stucco, and frame, it was a huge place for a residence,, consisting of sev-
eral floors, an4 % basement, great terraces, overhanging balconies, and a
106 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
patio with an open air swimming pool. In addition to the original furni-
ture, Ashton had filled the place with mementoes of his bizarre life in
many parts of the world. Chinese screens, statues of Buddha, Mohamme-
dan prayer books, African pottery and ceremonial gadgets, and many
other items with especial emphasis on the religious and cultural life of
Africa and the Far East, fought for room in what was a veritable re-
Quite an authority on the religious cults of Africa and the Far East,
Ashton had at various rimes done considerable research on the religious
groups of the African Negro, attempting to trace the origins of present-
day Haitian voodoo, and had had excellent opportunities in Africa to do
this. Religion was of more than passing interest to him. He had even
taken time out from a busy life to become for a time a neophyte monk
in a lamasery in Tibet. We consider Ashton's word about as authorita-
tive as any on the question of voodoo in Haiti. Moreover, what he had
to say checks with leading authorities who have done scholarly research
on the subject.
Today voodoo in Haiti is greatly overrated by many who go there
and wish to return with something strange and spectacular. True, there
have been in the past rare cases of human sacrifice, and today an occa-
sional chicken or goat may end its days as a blood offering in a strange
religious ceremony. But for the most part among the masses all that
remains of the original African voodoo are vague superstitions, an occa-
sional reference to the old gods, Papa-Lo and Mama-Lo (who are now
often confused with Christian saints), and a love of rhythmic dancing to
the music of Haitian drums.
It is the awesome sound of these so-called voodoo drums one hears in
traveling all through the country that inspires so many casual travelers
to believe that voodoo practices are constantly going on all about them.
'The drums carry so far, and their penetrating rhythm does make the
shivers play up and down the spine! But the traveler who takes time to
run down a voodoo drum will in all probability find the use of them
We were thrilled by voodoo drums for the last few miles of our trip
PORT AU PRINCE IQJ
up to Kenscptt. The steady tom-tom beat worked its way even through
the clatter of the Willys' tired old motor, seemed to seep in through our
pores even more than it was heard through our ears. But at the very end
of the trip the thin wail of a violin and the sturdy slapping of a bull
fiddle came to us too sounds that died away beyond a relatively narrow
radius while the lugubrious beat of the drums wandered on and on for
endless distances, seemingly carried on nerve impulses instead of air
We came finally on the voodoo ceremony just short of Kenscott. It
was a bamboche, a native dance, a social function that springs up every-
where in Haiti on slightest provocation. There was nothing more awe-
inspiring in it than in any other aggregation of tired, happy colored folk
anywhere, enjoying an ecstatic emotional jag, drunk on din and jollity.
A bomboche springs into being on the occasion of a wedding, a birth-
day, a week end of fine weather, or the end of a hard job. It is about
as awesome and as laden with religious portent as a country square
dance would be at home, if the country square dance were taken over
by Holy Rollers as a part of church ritual. In fact, the commonness of
drums in Haiti may be founded more on economics than on religious
frenzy. Haiti is poor. The masses are extremely poverty-stricken. It
costs money for most musical instruments, but it costs only time to make
A common custom of planting time and harvest time adds even more
to the ubiquitous quality of drumbeats. At these seasons a Haitian will
call on his neighbors for aid, all pitching in to make a communal job and
a communal party of what would otherwise be plain hard work. Barn
raisings, housewarmings, and husking bees in our own land in earlier
days were like this, and they too featured music. But their music was
generally made of the thinner sounds of violin and guitar. Haitians, ac-
cepting a coumbite or invitation to join in work, generally gather to-
gether to march to the job, led by drummers who beat time along the
way and speed the work tempo with a rhythmic background to the
singing of a vocalist or catalier who entertains the group with lively
songs and recitations of local events. The words, the very sound of the
108 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
voice, fade away in a few hundred yards. The drumbeats march up and
down the valleys, rolling on and on, tampering with nerve-ends wher-
ever they f all. Let them fall on the ear of a passing tourist who is listen-
ing to tales of voodoo worship, and the simple task of planting corn to
music becomes proof positive that Haiti is a dark and fearsome place.
True there are native fakirs here and there who see in the supersti-
tious nature of their own people an opportunity to exploit them by pos-
ing as voodoo priests or priestesses. Some of the more clever and skillful
are taken seriously, and perform rites invoking the ancient African gods.
They are dealers in symbolic designs drawn on the ground with sym-
bolic cornmeal, specialists in ceremonial rooster sacrifices, and occa-
sionally with the unconscious connivance of their own people seem to
display supernatural powers. A woman dancer who has reached a point
of ecstatic exhaustion suddenly grows calm at the touch of voodoo priest
or priestess, and this is taken as proof of hidden power. But growing
knowledge tends rapidly to lessen these practices and their eif ectiveness.
With all the flights of fancy masquerading as fact with which we had
been regaled before the trip, Gladys and I traveled alone into the island's
remotest corners and never had any occasion to fear the people. In fact
I feel certain that, with all the respect shown there to a white person,
a white woman can feel as safe traveling in Haiti as in any nation in our
hemisphere. These Haitians are as friendly a people as we have ever met.
Haitian Heights and Highlights
L he time has come," the walrus said,
"To speak of many things;
Of ships" and here we heartily got off and agreed with him. We had
been talking about ships. About a ship. About a soggy old boat with a
sacrilegious name, the Vierge Immaculee. "Only two days," the doughty
captain had said, when we had intrusted the Willys to his care back in
Cuba. Only two days! We had hurried through Jamaica so as not to let
the Willys rust overlong on the dock. Only two days and we had
dawdled for several days about Port au Prince. Port au Prince was all
in our cameras now, and it was rime to be pushing on. But no car! Not
a sign of a car. Not a sign of the Vierge Imnwculee! "La Vierge Im-
maculee? Mais oui, wtsoo, tres blen I'm known that sheep. Eet makes
weeks that she has gone. Mais non, ?tfsoo, absolifmah she's don' arrive
to thees port. She's vair' ol' boat; maybe she's seenk. Tres trister
We paced the dock and strained our eyes looking out to sea. Would
the grand amphibious tour of the Caribbean end up just a trip to Cuba
after all? Could the Vierge Imrnaculee's rotting old bottom have gathered
barnacles until they dragged her down? She was to have made the trip
in a couple of days. Had her shiftless, lackadaisical crew carelessly sailed
her to the bottom of the sea? She was to have been in over a week ago.
Painfully we counted over our shekels. Bitterly we weighed the hor-
rible cost of buying another car in a car-starved market. Sadly we feared
the Vierge Immaculee had carried the expedition to the bottom too.
Days crept by. Hungrily we gnawed our nails to the bone and started
slowly up toward our elbows. We called down anathema on the ghost
110 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
of a dirty old boat. We placed a curse on the sodden souls of such a
Days more joined the timeless past and we were roaming the water-
front not hopefully but from force of habit. We had just gazed out to
sea to add another little fillip to our curse when something caught my
eyes a tiny sail on the horizon about as big and clear as a flyspeck. "Our
boat!" Gladys shouted.
"Nonsense! Don't use your wishes for eyes. Our boat's done for."
"But it's a sail!"
I peered out and tried hard to believe it too. "Sure. It's a sail. Anybody
could use a sail. There are lots of boats with sails in these waters. If that
soggy old tub .still had a sail above the water, by now she'd have sailed
To use another nautical term, there was a spanking breeze blowing.
It was blowing dead ashore. It was moving the soiled rag down from
the horizon at a fair number of knots, for a sailboat. We both paced up
and down and spent minutes in gentle bickering, minutes that ran around
3600 seconds to the minute. The shaded blob under the dirty sail began
slowly to take shape. It still wasn't much of an identifiable shape, but
that in itself was a characteristic of the Vierge Immaculee. Slowly, in
hopes that Gladys wouldn't notice me in the act, I began to shut up.
I still knew it was impossible for a ship to come back from a watery
grave, especially such a ship as that. I still knew it was impossible for
such a ship to have spent so long a time on such a little journey. Still,
now that the blob on the waters was growing plainer, there was some-
thing about it something familiar in the soggy sauciness with which it
rolled along. Maybe Nonsense!
I gave up and believed in miracles when at long last we could make
out the rounded dome of our Willys between the masts. Sure enough,
it was the good old Vierge Imrnacidee. Sturdy little tub! Wooden ships
and iron men and all that. Only where in blazes had she been hiding
all this time in such a narrow sea? Anyway, home were the sailors and
all was forgiven.
We wsre jtfwrd before the Vierge Immaeulee had scraped her bar-
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS III
nacle-encrusted rump against the pier, both of us boiling with delight and
questions. Where? What? Why? How? The crew of iron men, listless
enough when last we had seen them, were .more listless now. /Moreover,
they seemed leaner. They were listless even for answering questions, but
alert in a question of their own. "When do we eat?" Somewhere in that
short water gap which separates Cuba and Haiti and which seems so
infinitesimal on the map, the Vierge Immaculee had been becalmed.
With the Willys once again in hand we were ready shortly to set
about the business of looking over Haiti's highways. But this was a task
more easily set than done. Haiti was seriously lacking in roads, and such
roads as were there were most grievously lacking in quality. In fact it
might be said that this bkck republic is seriously lacking in many things.
Upon our arrival, though we were too worried to notice it at the time,
Haiti was even lacking a president. Revolution had just unseated the
incumbent or pried him loose, though our fears for the loss of the car
overshadowed this for the time. It was, after all, more or less a private
matter and of no moment to us, as well as being more than slightly be-
yond our comprehension. Haitian politics is slightly faster and more
lethal than ice hockey, and it is difficult even for Haitians to keep up
on the rules and follow the plays. To us outsiders it was comforting to
know that we couldn't understand it even if we knew all about it.
We had a passing contact with this lively sport, however, just before
we took off from Port au Prince. We were only nosing about the town,
taking it easy and trying to get the salt water worked out of the Willys'
lungs, when we came down a street which was rather well blocked by
what seemed to be an angry mob. Up to this time we hadn't done any-
thing in Haiti except to worry, so we couldn't believe anybody was mad
at us. We nosed the car up close to the edge of the demonstrators, and
I unlimbered the movie camera. The air was thick with imprecations,
none of which had been adequately covered in schoolbook French, and
here and there a few rocks were occasionally swirling by in it, giving it
a certain amount of body.
Then things changed suddenly, and the mob, which had been only
in a state of turbulent animation, suddenly turned all in our direction.
112 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
This was puzzling. I got back in the car and was starting to back around
when before us I saw the reason for the sudden purposefulness of the
people in the street. A trim body of garde f Haiti was swinging down
the street. Hot dog! There we were, right in the front lines of a Carib-
bean revolution; or if we weren't we might never know the difference,
because neither of us understand French and especially that French. It
looked like a lively spot for a few feet of action films, with a very good
excuse for taking them as we were caught in the middle and couldn't go
anywhere else at the moment anyway. But the garde d'Haiti didn't seem
to understand the importance of the occasion or the excellent photo-
graphic opportunities it might present. A few tear gas bombs were
launched into and in front of the mob, and under this impetus it speedily
melted away while we speedily melted into tears. This disconcerted my
camera work considerably, and the few pungent whiffs we got don't
show in the film at all, not even in Kodachrome.
That was enough of Port au Prince. We still had Haiti's highways
to cover, and from what information we could pick up it seemed that
they might take a lot of covering. In fact, in some quarters we were led
to believe that they might even take a lot of finding. So we wound up
the motor and took off.
It is sixty-one miles overland across the backbone of mountain range
on the southern peninsula the Haitian monster's lower jaw by high-
way to Jacmel. But there is no highway. It had been washed out by a
flood soon after being built. The present route ascends the bed of a
mountain stream to the pass at Trouin and descends the bed of the
Gouche River to the sea at Jacmel. It is considered a dangerous road
because of the narrow valley of Gouche River, which rises very rapidly
when afternoon rains fall on its tributaries in the mountains. Automo-
biles caught here when the waters rise rapidly have to be abandoned
while occupants climb for their lives into the hills.
This trip was too risky for Gladys to undertake with me. Fortunately
I had made the acquaintance of an ideal companion who not only knew
the road but could speak the Creole language of the natives to whom we
would have to appeal for help in an emergency. This was Charley Bar-
There are many political meetings in the Dominican Republic but always of
the same party
Trujillo City by air, showing central city and port
Santo Domingo Cathedral, Trujillo City
The church jewels of Santo Domingo Cathedral
Cutting the sugar cane, chief money crop of most of the West Indies
Earthquake~ruined Church of San Francisco, Dominican Republic
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 113
reyre, French owner of a garage in Port au Prince. Charley had spent
many years in the U. S. and spoke English like an American and French
like a Parisian or like a Creole as occasion demanded.
Our plan was to make the entire trip and return in one day, starting
back before the river would rise with the afternoon rains. So we left
before five o'clock in the morning with a supply of sandwiches and
fruit, vacuum bottles of ice-cold lemonade prepared by the hotel, and a
bottle of French cognac which Charley said, "might come in handy.
Our route took us west along the gulf from Port au Prince over the only
twelve miles of asphalt on the trip, to Carref our. At the end of this pave-
ment the road was well graded and stone surfaced until we turned off to
ascend the pass, for it is the main highway to various places in the
southern peninsula of the country. Even this early in the morning the
highway was crowded with people walking and on donkey-back.
The cool of the early morning is the favorite time for the people in the
country to do their work or travel long distances on foot. In fact they
can be found traveling along these roads at any hour of the night.
Passing rapidly through several villages and the town of Leogane and
past countryside of flooded rice fields, bananas, sweet potatoes, yuca,
cassava, &&& corn we finally arrived at the point where we turned off the
coast road and into the mountains. Our route looked anything but prom-
ising and without a guide one would never have guessed it was the road
to the south coast. We followed some car tracks through the brush and
through the water of a nice clear stream and started up the valley along-
side it. At places there were evidences .of some roadwork, while at others
the pebbly bed of the stream was simply packed down with the weight
of vehicles using the route.
Our route climbed steadily up a very beautiful valley as the moun-
tains loomed up ahead of us. The water we were following was cool
and clear from mountain springs, and it felt very refreshing to splash
through it from time to time with our car. Stands of bananas crowded
in on both sides of us. It became ever greener as we ascended. Here and
there the valley opened wider, where tributaries joined the main stream
we were following. We could see out and distinguish little white adobe
114 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
huts of the natives, each with the small individual clearing of cultivated
land. As we got higher the air became fresher and the crops became
those of a more temperate climate. We now passed fields of beans, peas,
beets, carrots, and other familiar crops started by the natives under the
U. S. foreign economic projects as a means of helping Haitians increase
food production during the late war. Finally leaving the stream behind
we climbed steeply for a short distance over a pass and there opening
up below us was a wide, lush, tropical valley with the village of Trouin
down the road ahead of us, a little Shangri-La tucked away here in the
Alongside the road on top of the pass we drove by a group of Haitian
prisoners who were at work building a new masonry barracks for the
national guard. The customary striped prisoner uniforms were made
of American blue and white bed ticking. The little white-washed vil-
lage of Trouin was complete with post-office, office of justice of peace,
and tax office of adobe and thatched roof. An incompleted masonry
church large enough for a village many times the size of this overlooked
the whole valley from high above the road. Its gaping apertures had
waited many years for the necessary increase in population with the
resultant revenue for completion. But the building had a roof and could
afford to stand thus and wait.
From the little village of Trouin our route started the winding descent
of eighteen miles through the Gouche River valley. At first our view
was delightfully open but as we dropped in altitude the mountains
loomed up more steeply around us and the valley grew more constricted.
We were now driving over the pebbly bed of a much larger river, at
times driving through running water. But it was not deep. Most of the
time we were crossing and recrossing the stream of clear water in shal-
low fords to follow whatever side offered us most space for driving
between the mountain wall and the river itself. Infrequently the road
dimbed the steep sides to follow the route of the old road which had
been destroyed by the flood. Here and there we came to parts of an
abandoned bridge left standing by the flood. Sometimes evidences of the
old road ended abruptly higher up as if it had crossed the river over a
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
high bridge but no single evidence of the bridge itself remained. We
shuddered to think what would happen to us if we were caught in this
valley with flood waters bearing down on us. We had been told that
the river could rise to flood stage in an hour, and I well knew the truth
of this for I had experienced these tropical downpours before. Often the
rains in this part of the tropics are veritable cloudbursts. The water
pours down in such solid sheets that even walking through one of these
rains requires physical effort.
But we couldn't worry about that very seriously just now, for over-
head the sun shone brilliantly, the birds sang merrily, and the shallow
waters at our feet were a delight indeed. We enjoyed the refreshing
drive down the Gouche valley, stopping now and then to admire the
scenery and to register it on film.
From the upper reaches of the valley and before it closed in we were
constantly passing groups of natives carrying great bundles of leaves
on their heads and on donkey back. We stopped to inquire and found
out they were leaves of the sour orange and that they were to be sold
to a man engaged in distilling them for the essential oil. This distillery
was along the road ahead and we stopped to look it over. It consisted
of a number of large copper stills in which a wagonload of the leaves
could be dumped and treated at a time. The owner explained that the
resulting oil was used as a basis for making perfumes and sold for
several hundred dollars a gallon. The plant had been established by bis
father who had brought knowledge of the business from France. A
number of natives were cutting the peeling from the actual fruit of
this bitter orange which was dried and exported to the U. S. for making
extracts. The fruit itself is too bitter to be of any use and is thrown
After a drive of an hour or more down the mountain valley, splashing
back and forth across the river, we noted that the valley was opening
up and the mountains beginning to recede behind us as the country be-
came flatter and the road better. Soon we were speeding along through
stands of baaana and coconut palms, past more frequent groups of native
huts. Pigs, chickens, and goats that cluttered the road ahead of us now
Il6 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
scattered in all directions before us as we rolled along at thirty miles
an hour. We were in Jacmel before we knew it.
Jacmel is not a large place, only fifteen thousand people. It is one of
the many little ports dotting the coastline of Haiti, mainly engaged in
shipping local products from the hinterland. A number of rivers con-
verge and empty into a fine protected bay here, and hence it is a natural
outlet for the coffee of the mountains and bananas of the valleys and
plains. Today the town is isolated from the rest of the country because
of the lack of good roads across the mountains. It is all the more inter-
esting for being wholly neglected by tourists. The streets of Jacmel
lead up from the shore level at odd angles of ascent so that we were
continually running into interesting views in all directions. There were
the usual overhanging balconies but in many cases the walls of the
buildings came right out onto the narrow streets and huge doors offered
glimpses into quaint patios and alleys. The whole place was extremely
photogenic and full of interest to the artist. Above, the streets of the
town level off for short distances, and here were the main business
places. We heard the babel of voices in the huge iron-covered market
place long before reaching it. Facing the market at the usual place of
prominence was the church, surrounded by an iron fence to keep
the busy street traffic from flowing into its doorways* The narrow streets
would have been hopelessly congested with donkey and human traffic
and squatting vendors overflowing from the market if it were not for
the constant patrol of policemen keeping them all back in their proper
places. In the higher part of the town was the small city park, its
walled abutments overlooking the rooftops and trees directly below
and the deep blue waters of the harbor beyond.
The only thing that detracted from the beauty of the scenes was
the fact that most of the roofs were corrugated sheet iron instead of the
colorful rile of the Spanish American countries. All over Haiti, even
in the remote interior, these corrugated sheet metal roofs were an un-
comfortable and unlovely mark of affluence.
With so few visitors to Jacmel there was not much in the way of
hotels. However, we made out very well for dinner at practically the
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS Iiy
only good hotel in town. Dinner consisted of a steak with all the Creole
trimmings including the usual beans, rice, plantain, breadfruit, and
avocado and tomato salad. In this case the breadfruit was simply boiled
but it had been made fairly palatable with meat gravy.
After a sociable meal with about a half dozen others around the same
table we started talking about our return to Port au Prince. Several
persons voiced surprise that we expected to return the same day. Al-
though it had rained for a short time during dinner this had apparently
blown over and at the time I did not get the significance of the pro-
tests. It was still early, about one o'clock and it was my understanding
that rains in the mountains did not effect a rise in the river until about
four o'clock. This would surely leave us ample time to get through
the dangerous part of the pass or so I thought.
So accustomed had I become to the clocklike regularity of these
tropical convectional rains that I forgot to make allowance for the
erratic nature of the climatic clock in these Caribbean islands where
catastrophic floods, rainstorms, and even hurricanes appear without
schedule or warning. On the mainland it is so easy to explain and pre-
dict the regularity of these daily convectional rains. Rain in the islands
is less regular.
It was fresh and cool upon leaving Jacmel for our return to Port au
Prince though it was cloudy and threatening overhead. Concern lent
speed to our return trip over this first part. The first half dozen miles
passed quickly. Judging by the appearance of the roads it had appar-
ently not rained very hard in the lower valley, at least. Finally we
came to the waters of the main river itself as the valley started to close
in on us, and we breathed a sigh of relief to see it flowing along at its
former low level. We leaned back to enjoy the return trip now.
We came to the first ford across the river and plunged in with the
confidence resulting from scores of such f ordings made on the way
down. The river was spread out very wide here and although we made
it through all right, it seemed to be just a little just a tittle deeper.
Charley and I turned to each other with the same questioning look.
But our recollection of the depths of the various fords on the way down
Il8 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
was rather mixed together. Some we remembered had been deeper than
others. The shallower ones we had passed with ease. We began to relax,
but the sputtering of the motor in the middle of a crossing brought us
back to reality. By racing the motor out of gear and letting it take
hold suddenly we gradually pulled ourselves out with a few spark plugs
missing. We blamed ourselves for the difficulty and decided to take it
easier. A water ford should always be approached in low gear, so that
the slow rate of speed does not splash up water on the motor.
No doubt about it, as we pushed on each ford got deeper, the water
swirled about the car more angrily. From being inconvenienced by an
occasional wet spark plug, we became accustomed to regularly stalling
in every crossing. With the radiator boiling as a result of disconnecting
the fan belt so as not to spray the motor, we had less and less power
to master bigger and bigger problems.
As we sat completely stalled, our feet sloshing in muddy water,
planning hurriedly on what to take with us on a dash to the hills, a
group of natives came along. Charley hailed them for help, which they
gave gladly. Knowing that this couldn't happen at every crossing, we
pressed coins on them and begged them to follow along and help us with
other crossings. We hadn't far to go to pass the main tributary of the
Gouche, but it was a race between us and high water.
We "had it" finally, in sight of the tributary that had us worried,
and that worried us increasingly as we watched its muddy water boil
angrily into the main stream. There was no hope. Water swirled halfway
to the top of the seats, and the motor had long since become just so
much extra weight. Our crew pushed valiantly, but nothing happened.
"Let's start picking up to take to the hills," Charley suggested. But I
wanted to try once more. I stripped hurriedly and leaped out into
the water. So many fewer pounds to push, and one more man to push
them. It turned the trick; the Willys wallowed slowly across and the
big scare was over. This was the last fording place swollen by the
tributary down which was coming the flood water that had been caus-
ing us all the trouble. Above this point the Gouche River was normal
in depth again and a much smaller stream. We had finally left the
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
danger of becoming marooned behind and it was only a short distance
now to the top of the pass. This was one of the closest shaves on the
whole trip. The delicate balance of success or failure had been measured
by a possible inch or two of water or a moment of time. We learned
later that the waters behind us had actually risen sufficiently to have
washed away the whole car. At the top of the pass Charley pulled
out the bottle of Cognac which he had brought along "just in case it
might come in handy." The rest of the trip back to Port au Prince was
only a trip to town.
That was only the first round with Haitian highways. It was inter-
esting enough in its way in spots, but it was only a curtain-raiser to
the rest of the republic. By all odds the most thrilling of all our Carib-
bean motor trips was the drive to Cap Haitien on the north coast, which
took in the spectacular ruins of the palace and fortress of the fabulous
despot, Emperor Henri Christophe.
This was a journey of several days, across a number of mountain
ranges, over roads and lack of roads of every sort, through terrain that
ranged from arid coastal desert to lush rain forest and cloud-swept crags.
This trip, added to our jaunt to Jacmel, completed one of our primary
objectives; it spanned Haiti from south to north coast.
We followed the main street out of Port au Prince and past the
airfield where the paved road ended, although it was solid stone for
miles farther on. Crossing the Cul de Sac River twelve miles but, we
came to the famous sulphur baths, the colorful waters of which made
the air redolent with the aroma of ripe henfruit. We could see the
southern peninsula of the country out over the water in the dim dis-
tance across the Gulf of Gonave, as our road followed close to the
shore line. It was semi-desert country, cactus mixed with thorny vegeta-
tion. We forded a stream near the town of Cabaret and rolled on up
the road close beside the blue waters of the Gulf. We paused here and
there to listen to bands of roadworkers singing lustily a work into
which they poured considerably more skill and enthusiasm than they
gave to their mattocks and shovels. A companion we had brought along
explained that for the most part these were improvised songs, made up
120 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
often in jest about one another. We were listening in on the famed
Calypso singing, better known in the island of Trinidad but practiced
by natives of African culture everywhere in the West Indies in varying
It was a beautiful route, even though the road was poor in places.
Sometimes the green slopes of the mountains crowded the highway to
the very edge of the water, where we caught occasional glimpses of a
dugout canoe or a white triangular patch of sail. As we rounded the
gulf shores to a point where the land caught more of the prevailing
moisture-laden breezes, the vegetation was more dense. In the misty
distance across the water we could see now the island of Gonave.
At the Montrouis River we crossed an old iron bridge densely packed
with black humanity, squatting on the ground on market day with
their meager wares spread out before them. We had to inch along
slowly by car as they picked up their goods with the best of good
nature and got out of the road for us to pass, then closed in behind
to resume their stations on the roadb'ed. This slow motion of black
waves giving way to the prow of our car and swirling back again in
its wake went on for the better part of a mile. In the waters under
the bridge and in the shade of the graceful palms that arched over the
sandy beach, hordes of black youngsters plunged and played, laughed
and shouted, for all the world like any bunch of kids instead of denizens
of a fearsome voodoo land.
Beyond we came on another group of road workers, indifferently
engaged in toil but doing a magnificent job of singing, singing of a
more advanced sort than we had heard before. While I gave the cameras
a workout, Gladys was enchanted by the glorious and powerful voice
of the leader of the group, who carried the solo part, the others joining
in harmoniously from time to time. Haiti will have wonderful high-
ways when her highway workers learn to put the same enthusiasm and
co-operative spirit into their labor that they put into their song.
We stopped in St. Marc for lunch, and wandered briefly through
the neglected park. We discussed the photogenic properties of a row
of old bronze cannon half buried in the sand at the edge of the park,
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 121
but half -buried old cannon are everywhere in Haiti, We found these
particular ones less interesting than the lunch, and we were hungry
for lunch. Just outside of St. Marc we came upon a big banana-loading
job, for we were entering now into the richest banana section of the
whole republic, the Plaine de L'Artibonite. Bunches which are always
called stems until they reach the corner grocer were rolling in to the
pier by truck and plantation railway, and the loading piers were black
beehives of activity. Negroes were hurrying the stems from truck or
flatcar down to the pier, where they were loaded aboard lighters and
taken out to the steamer anchored in the bay. Half-naked and with
sweating black bodies glistening in the sun, they looked like long strings
of army ants bent on a single task. They were paid a few cents for
each stem carried, and the prospect of plenty of money to spend that
night, added to the competitive spirit, led many of them to run at times
with their heavy burdens down to the pier.
Beyond, the highway cut inland for some distance from the sea to
skirt the foothills of the mountains that completely enclose the Arti-
bonite Plain. This plain is a low-lying, semiarid section, ideal for bananas
when irrigated. A number of rivers flowing across it furnish a plentiful
supply of water. The Artibonite River itself is the largest river of the
entire island and has its origin deep in the neighboring Dominican Re-
public. Through here we found the greatest evidences of modernity that
we met with anywhere in the country sections of Haiti, though most
of it must be credited to American enterprise. Miles and miles of neat
masonry irrigation ditches furnished water for many square miles of
rich green banana plants that stood in endless ranks all across the plain
and down to the sea. Farther on, men with modern spraying equip-
ment were engaged in the endless task of fighting back the tropical
pests and insidious virus diseases that would wipe out the crop if care
were relaxed for even a season. Now and then we passed clusters of
neat, well-painted buildings, in the midst of carefully tended grounds
the homes and offices of managers of the banana plantations. In other
places were rows of neat homes for workers built with attention to
principles of good sanitation.
122 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
At the farthest point inland we came to the town of Dessalines,
named for one of the great Haitian leaders at the time of the fight
for independence. It was at a point not far from here that he is said
to have originated the Haitian flag by taking the French tricolor and
ripping out the white center which he said stood for white domina-
tion, trampling it under foot and raising aloft the blue and red as the
symbol of the new Haitian nation.
North of here our road was crowded by the mountains so close to
the flooded Estere River that we were driving at times through water.
Here and there men were fishing with nets in cultivated fields. Then
we climbed to higher ground and crossed the Quinte River into the
town and port of Gonaives. This city is third in size in all Haiti, and
is located on a deep bay, making it an admirably protected port. Out-
side the town, flat shorelands but slightly above sea level are ideal for
the manufacture of salt by evaporating the sea water in great flats that
are easily diked off. The waterfront of Gonaives was crowded Vith
small sailing craft engaged in coastwise shipping out of this port. Crews
of many of the ships were preparing their evening meals over open
charcoal fires built on the deck. Stevedores were busy loading mangoes
and avocados for Port au Prince and other towns along the Gulf of
Gonave. The economy of the country centers largely about the shores
of this Gulf.
At Gonaives we put up at the Royal Hotel, a gaudy yellow building
whose front was dominated by an overhanging frame balcony sup-
ported by classic Corinthian columns. Accommodations were far from
luxurious but were certainly well worth the seventy cents they cost us.
We were comfortable enough, but clearly we were well beyond the
tourist belt. Meals here were fifty cents regardless of what we ate. Our
breakfast next morning was fried Spam and eggs, fried potatoes, good
bread and coffee, and imported butter. When we arrived, however,
we still had left part of a lunch packed for us in Port au Prince, so
we dropped in at a refreshment spot for a bottle of Pepsi Cola to wash
down our sandwiches.
We shared the refreshment stand with a group of well-dressed young
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 123
fellows who were amusing themselves painfully playing scratchy records
on an old gramophone in the corner. The records, things like "I'm Sorry
I Made You Cry," dated from the Twenties, the rime of the Marine
occupation of Haiti. Seldom has sovereign might inflicted such callous
punishment on a defenseless people. As Americans, jointly responsible
for that outrage, we felt it no less than fitting that we should sit there
and suffer too.
Gonaives had been a main headquarters during the marine occupation,
and marines had apparently left more than gramophone records. The
young men gathered here represented the generation born during the
days of American occupancy. Some of them were pure white. Others
ranged from olive-skinned to quite dark, but the average for the group
was lighter than the average for Haiti.
We had parked the car in the shade of a big tree that stood beside
a garage in Gonaives to have the timing checked, as it was overheating
and losing in power greatly. We returned to it and sat in the front
seat while the mechanic worked away. Startled by the sound of what
seemed to be small pebbles hurled against the car, we both looked about
for whatever mischievous boys might be doing this. The mechanic no-
ticed our puzzled expressions, and offered an explanation. The tree
under which we were parked was a Bomb Tree, and when its long black
pods split upon ripening they curl up with a snap and hurl the seeds
in all directions with considerable violence. It was the rattle of these
seeds against the car that had surprised us.
At Gonaives we had the last look we would get of the coast until
we came down to the sea again at Cap Haitien on the north coast. We
crossed the flat estuary of the Quinte River, and rolled up this river
valley as the mountains closed in on us and pushed us steadily upward
into the sky. This was the Marmalade range. In the time of the Em-
peror Henri Christophe this was a dukedom, and one of the dukes of
Christophe's gaudy court bore the catchy title of the Duke of Marma-
lade. The Marmalade Mountains merged gradually with the higher
Plaisance Chain, and notas one might think with the Big Rock Candy
124 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
We were getting ever deeper into the remote interior, into land few
tourists see. The mountains grew higher and ever more rugged, though
the rich and isolated little valleys between supported quite a dense
population- It was a land close to the moon and far, far out of this
world. The clusters of steep thatched roofs were African kraals, no
less, transplanted from a world away, and the crude stick fences that
surrounded them heightened the effect of an African compound. Goats
and chickens mingled freely with naked black children in the door-
ways, and domestic animals of every sort overflowed into the infre-
quently traveled road. Here and there we had to stop to wait while a
nanny goat shook loose her offspring and made way for us in leisurely
fashion. Goats and pigs had long sticks lashed to their necks to prevent
them from wandering off into the dense growth on every side.
At the village of Ennery the road started for the sky in earnest and
in a hurry. The unpaved road and loose rubble we had been traveling
over for miles gave way to great flat stones cemented together. It was
an odd sort of roadbed, and necessary, for the grade was so steep that
loose rubble over which we had been traveling would have rolled down
the hill by gravity. The mountains lay out on either side covered with
a crazyquilt patchwork of a variety of crops, even grains of the tem-
perate zone, for we were high now. Despite our return to the temperate
zone by way of altitude, here and there a native caille clinging pre-
cariously to the mountain's flank reminded us anew that this was the
heart of Africa's stepchild.
As we topped the crest of the first great mountain to descend into
the valley of Trois Rivieres, the vegetation changed, for we were on the
dry side of the mountain now. Flora of semiarid regions, thorns and
yuca and even cactus, came again into its own. The road leveled off a
bit as it wound around the mountain's flank, and it became far less
impressive. It was a narrow, rutty track with grass growing in the
center, with occasional turnouts for passing traffic, as it was now for
the most part strictly a one-car road. Some of these turnouts were
located at watering places, where cool and crystal-clear water from
mountain springs tumbled down over the rocks.
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 125
Down in the valley we were again in the land of palms and bread-
fruit trees as we came into the town of Plaisance on one of the branches
of the Trois Rivieres. This is one of Haiti's important rivers, winding
for miles through the mountains to flow into the sea opposite Tortue
Island. It was the grassy plain at this river's end that gave to the
language the term buccaneer, though the first buccaneers were only
driers of the meat of wild cattle, who lived by selling provisions to
pirates. Oddly enough, directly across Haiti and lying just off the south
coast is the corresponding island of Vaches, where Henry Morgan
recruited the pirate crew that sacked Panama in 1793 in the most
stupendous pirate feat of all time. Truly this Haiti is cradled in memories
of a stirring past!
Plaisance, tucked away in a remote break in the mountains, was a
quaint and interesting spot. It was a neater and more eye-catching spot
than many, too, for paint in gaudy colors had been used on the town
more recently and more generously than was the case in many towns.
The police station where we registered was a smart affair in bright
yellow, but the rest of the rainbow was well represented about the
town. As we drove up, one of the Garde Civil was whistling "Way
Down Upon the Swanee River," another reminder that once the marines
had landed here.
Though the guard was deferential and overwhelmed by the honor
of having a white woman in its midst, it nevertheless insisted on a care-
ful check on passports and registry. We had secured a special travel
permit and recommendation from the chief of the Garde Civil in Port
au Prince, and this helped a lot. There was of course but little foreign
travel here, and the Garde was hard put to it to keep busy. We pulled
away from the station and started back in the direction from which
we came to make a stop at a little refreshment stand we had passed
on the way in, and we were brought up sharp by the blast of a whistle.
This was not the direction of Cap Haitien, for which our papers
called! But after we explained that we were merely thirsty, every-
thing was quite all right. We inquired about fresh water to fill our
126 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
canteens, and the officer escorted us to the private well back of the
barracks which served the Garde Civil.
At the edge of Plaisance, as we came up to a corner, we were struck
by such a din and babel as had engulfed us during the riot back in
Port au Prince. We looked down the street and saw a long, open
structure with a thatched roof, boiling with black folk. It was only a
banana-gathering depot on market day. Piles of dried banana leaves and
stems of green fruit were piled everywhere, and a host of people were
busy weighing them, counting them, stacking them, and arguing about
them. Here agents of the fruit company bought bananas as they were
brought in from the hills on donkeys or human pack animals, and sent
them down the river to the loading port. All about the rim of the ac-
tivity folks were squatted about small fires preparing a meal after a
hard trip in from the country.
One enterprising colored fellow had set up a unique shop for re-
pairing damaged cooking utensils. He was kept fairly busy, with several
soldering irons heating in a charcoal fire. Draft for the fire was furnished
by a Rube Goldberg masterpiece of inventive genius. A crude bellows
was attached to a crank, for which motive power was furnished by a
rope belt running on an old bicycle wheel, which was attached to the
hands of a colored boy.
The rest of the trip, across the Plaisance Range, through the valley
of the Limbe River, over the lower coastal range and onto the rich
coastal plain that slopes gently down to Cap Haitien, was largely a
repetition of what had gone before. The coastal plain was a change
after the mountains. This part of Haiti is the most fertile, and the
most rich in history. Here and there along the way were crumbling
ruins of old French plantations, reared in the day when this was the
fairest and richest of France's colonies and then destroyed in the blood-
iest of revolutions when the blacks threw off the yoke of France in
the early years of the nineteenth century. These crumbling ruins, and
all the wealth and all the violence they stood for, were in sharp contrast
with the crowds of happy colored folks along the road, laughing and
singing on their way to or from the towns, greeting us with a friendly
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 127
smile and a happy Bo* jour, blanc. We passed tinder the double arch of
the moss-covered gateway to Cap Haitien, and the most difficult of our
automobile objectives was accomplished. We had crossed Haiti the
Cap Haitien, second city of the republic in size, is first in historic
interest and high in photogenic quality. The run-down-at-the-heels
quality of much of the city, which is the essence of the picturesque
when found away from home, was accentuated by the gaudy paint in
other parts of town. The narrow streets, steeply pitched to carry off
the heavy precipitation of the port in the rainy season, added much
to the city's photographic appeal though inadequately serving the
needs of traffic. In addition to serving their more prosaic purpose as
conveyors of traffic, the streets were also playgrounds for the young,
siesta spots for the old, and to some extent market places for everybody.
The great iron shed of the market place was inadequate to such a mass
of humanity, and here and there on the streets about it "little business"
men and women had their piles of rice or beans or plantains, their stacks
of home-rinade shoes, their bunches of handicraft, all piled in the street.
They themselves were often to be found dozing beside their wares in the
full glare of the tropical sun. After Port au Prince, Cap Haitien is cer-
tainly the largest "black market" in Haiti.
At the Pension Martin we found quarters as good as could be expected
in a city as yet litde patronized by tourists and with nothing built to
tourist specifications. It was a large frame building with rooms of varying
degrees of privacy on the second floor. Originally some of these rooms
had been large, but expanded local business had resulted in many of the
rooms being cut up with flimsy partitions that didn't reach the ceiling.
Toilet and bath facilities for the most part were only slightly ahead
of Chic Sale standards. Our room had running water, but when we
pushed aside a galvanized bucket under the wash bowl and pulled the
stopper after washing, the water ran out on the floor. It was the only
place we have ever seen with running water into-but not out of-a
In contrast, die dining room was a model of Victorian style, with
128 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
magnificent old-fashioned lamps, tables spread with the finest of china
and silverware, and the sideboard adorned with the best of chinaware
bric-a-brac of an old English home.
We arrived in Cap Haitien early enough in the day to get in the first
important bit of sight-seeing that afternoona trip to Sans Souci, at the
village of Milot, twelve miles out. This had been the palace of Emperor
We rode out to Sans Souci over cobblestone pavement carpeted with
grass. We scraped off the car, as best we could in the village of Milot,
the enthusiastic but inept guides and the host of beggars who besieged us
for the privilege of explaining and displaying Sans Souci. We climbed
the grass-grown and ill-kept stone stairway that led up onto the broad
terrace. There was everything in the magnificent backdrop of mountain
and sky to dwarf the spectacle of the palace itself. There was everything
in the stark and moss-grown towers, in the gaping windows, in the
sweeping and sad spectacle of unkempt decay, to detract from what
the eye had to offer to the spirit here. Yet of all the ruined records of the
New World's thrilling past, this was the most spine-tingling, this most
stood out. To be sure, our feelings may have been influenced to a degree
by some knowledge of what this spot had been, but it was none the less
overwhelming for what it still was, written in timeless marble, marble
brought from Europe as ballast in the holds of coffee ships.
Here, well over a century past, an awesome and fantastic court had
held sway over a teeming black world, a court created and dominated
by a powerful black man who was blessed and cursed with a physique
and a touch of genius such as are given seldom to mortal men; an illit-
erate black who had learned about the world as a waiter in New Orleans
but who was born with an instinctive knowledge of men; a black leader
of an aimless mob who was able to stand up to imperial France.
Here a minor official from Cabaret had bowed and scraped before the
Duke of Marmalade and the Count of Lemonade, unlettered all, and no
one laughed. Here a British ambassador had stood aghast at a review of
twelve crack regiments in twelve sets of resplendent uniforms. Mighty
England couldn't raise twelve such regiments as that! It was only long
Medical School of Trujillo City Ufiiversity is one of the many examples of
modernistic architecture in the country
Open air school at Humacao, Puerto Rico
^^^^M^^l^^^'' ' V '" - I* 11
J for its handicrafts
Bridge near Aibonito on route of old Spanish Highway across Puerto Rico
Drying coffee berries near dales, Puerto Rico
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
after he was dead and gone that whispering gossip said it was but one
crack regiment, dazzling and confusing in twelve hurried costume
We climbed up and up the broad paved terraces to the top, terraces
teeming with jungle growth that had been formal gardens long ago. We
paused to wipe our brows in the shade of the Star Apple tree on the
top terrace; shade teeming with ghosts, for here the Emperor Henri
Christophe had sat to dispense justice, to review his troops, to gaze across
the broad and fertile fields from which he had wrung wealth with an
iron hand. We wandered into the ruined, roofless rooms, and conjured
up the beauty that was here when these walls were draped in Gobelin
tapestries, gilded mirrors, fine paintings, the pick of the courtly mag-
nificence of all Europe. We marveled at the ingenuity that generations
before its time had run cool mountain streams in conduits 'beneath the
floors, air conditioning a century ahead of its time, though now these
channels were choked with roots and inhabited by burrowing things. We
listened as an ineradicable and obsequious guide droned on about the
facts of the place palace of three hundred and sixty-five doors, one for
each day of the year modeled after the palace of Frederick the Great,
for whom Emperor Christophe had much admiration, from whom he
received his ideas of governing begun in 181 1, and finished in one year
by the labor of gangs of five thousand men and women at a time suites
for royal family, ministers, ministers of state, officers of the guard here
was a magnificent library for a man who could not read below, a royal
But it was mostly lies, as facts and figures so often are. Henri Chris-
tophe had not received the spark from Frederick the Great but from
God, or nature, or the laws of chance. He had received not ideas but a
gift of gefiius such as is seldom given to mortals genius that will shine
on to the end of time to all blacks like a lamp, like a beacon light, like
black sweat in the sun. He had built not a palace begun in 181 1 but a
record and a dream of courtly pomp and majesty that will be remem-
bered until earthquakes shake Haiti down into the sea- We knew that
tomorrow we would see the Citadel of La Ferriere and that it too was
130 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
awesome. But La Ferriere was only a symbol of might from a day when
might was only muscle. Here a man who had begun and ended with
nothing had built a kingly court. Most of his courtiers couldn't read
or write. But they commanded people who could.
From the rear of Sans Souci a paved stone road in former days wound
steeply up across the shoulder of Bonnet-a-L'Eveque to the impregnable
stronghold of Citadelle La Ferriere, invisible from below because of the
intervening mountains. Today this means of ascent is all but abandoned,
overgrown with brush and trees, so ruined by a century of decay and
neglect that it is scarcely visible. Moreover, it is a tiresome climb of
many hot hours under a merciless sun. Few but the hardiest of sight-
seers risk the difficult ascent. Saddle animals are obtainable in the village
of Milot, but walking is much preferred to precarious, chafing torture
up a steep trail mounted in the roughest of saddles on a raw-boned mule
or burro. It was too late for us to think of making the ascent that day,
for it would be nearly dark when we arrived, with no opportunity for
photography. In fact we had been warned that even the early afternoon
is not good for photography there, for about midday the clouds roll up
from the ocean and cover the peaks above. So we fell back to Cap
While in town we looked up the Wood family, whose name had been
given us by mutual friends. Mr. Wood had been a missionary for many
years here, and had reared his family in Port au Prince. He was away on
a trip to Jamaica, but Mrs. Wood received us hospitably and treated us to
cakes and tea. Here too we made the acquaintance of their twenty-year-
old son, George, who volunteered to guide us to the Citadel next morn-
ing over a mountain road that rose by easy ascents to a high point
directly back of the place, from whence we could easily complete the
ascent on foot. We would escape the hot, tortuous climb from sea level
at Sans Souci, and we could carry more camera equipment to the top.
The idea of making another record with the car, that of driving nearly
up to the Gtadel, was also an influencing factor in our decision to accept
his courteous offer.
Although we had left word with the hotel owner to call us long before
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
dawn, the eager anticipation with which we looked forward to this trip
served us as a reliable alarm clock. The cook prepared a hearty breakfast
for us, and packed a lunch for the day. We were hardly dressed when
George Wood drove up with our car, which he had put in the garage
of his home for the night. Through darkness we made our way out
through the quiet streets of Cap Haitien. Light was barely discernible
in the eastern sky as we rolled across the plain toward Milot.
Just before reaching the village we turned off from our road of the
day before and took a much cruder road around the mountain. Even at
this hour we met groups of natives whose dark skins melted into the
shadows of the roadside, natives bound for market or for their fields in
the wee, cool hours. Many of them do their work in the semi-sunlight
of the very early morning, getting most of their day's work done before
the scorching rays of the sun make themselves felt.
Gradually our road began to climb. The way became rougher.
George advised us that we were now in back of the mountain on which
the Citadel was located. We stopped to refresh ourselves and fill our
canteens with the clear, cold water that tumbled down the mountain
wall. In a spot just off the road beyond the settlement of Dondon we
parked and locked the car after unloading our equipment and supplies.
Several * natives appeared from nowhere and asked to be engaged as
porters. We hired two at half a dollar each. Placing our equipment on
their heads, they silently stepped off onto a narrow dirt trail that wound
through dew-soaked foliage. We followed in single file. It was a one-
ring African safari, with black porters bearing burdens on their heads
and the rest of us in pith helmets strung out along the trail.
The energy consumed in climbing the first steep grades soon silenced
everyone. We were strung out too far along the trail anyway. The ground
was slippery from dew nearly as heavy as rain at this high altitude, and
pushing through the wet brush was a task not conducive to unnecessary
conversation of a sort suited to the printed page. No sign of the Citadel
loomed up ahead. Not even much of the mountain was visible through
the cultivated coffee and bananas and dense trees along the way. We
passed a few black natives descending the trail barefoot, with stems of
132 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
bananas balanced on their heads, with the smaller stems borne on the
heads of the youngsters as whole families came down from their moun-
tain homes to the trading center below.
Then suddenly, high and far ahead, we got our first glimpse of the
Citadel. Distant though it was at first, it was an impressive sight. The
great stone walls in the form of the prow of a ship rose straight and
starkly upward from the steeply sloped mountain's crest. Whatever
weariness we felt now was overcome by the growing impressiveness of
the mighty monument to power, as it loomed ever larger around each
turn in the trail. Now we came into the grass-covered cobblestones of
the old road. The great height and length of the tremendous fortress be-
came more apparent as we arrived at the base of the prow and followed
the wide incline that became a stone-walled terrace along the south side
of the forbidding walls that towered high over our heads. Here and there
amidst the weed-grown debris of the terrace we stumbled upon cannon
large and small, and solid cannonballs all heavily corroded with a cen-
Up steps of weathered stone we passed through a massive doorway
guarded by a heavy wooden door, and paused while our eyes became
'adjusted to the change from blinding sunlight to the dungeon-dark
interior. A musty, dank smell assailed our nostrils in the semidark. By the
light that filtered in through high slits of windows that revealed the
tremendous thickness of the walls, we marveled at the solid masonry on
every side, the flagstone floor, the high-walled and vaulted roof, and a
long flight of stone steps ahead that led upward to the sunlight.
We climbed this stairway which led up through the out-thrust prow
of the fortress, and stood in a deep moat that surrounded the other side.
Climbing out of this, we crossed a drawbridge that led across the moat
in much the style of the Middle Ages, and were within the main galleries
of the great fort. Here were long rows of cannon nosing out through
gun ports high up in the wall from the outside but near floor level from
where we were. Back of the cannon were rooms half -filled with heavy
cannonballs, and empty rooms that had been used for storing powder.
On the north side the fortress wall dropped down forty feet or more,
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 133
becoming a part of the precipitous mountain slope that was almost as
unscalable as the battlements themselves. The west end or back of the
fortress rose higher still, with more galleries guarded by cannon at the
portholes. The huge stone battleship extended fully a quarter of a mile
from the prow in front to the battlements in the rear. Many parts of it,
due to the untimely death of Christophe, were never finished. We clam-
bered over the thick walls that compartmented the interior and looked
down into cavernous depths that acted as ventilating shafts for the dun-
geon rooms far below in the very bowels of the mountain. Rumor has it
that Christophe had buried great treasures in some of these forgotten
dungeons, but that is but another of the fanciful tales told of the man
whose indomitable spirit raised his lowly people and mistreated country
to a glimpse of greatness. In a little shed of stone in the central courtyard
repose the remains of this black self-made king.
It was nearly noon before we had surfeited ourselves with exploration.
Chilled by the damp dungeon-like interior, which is anything but cozy
at this altitude, we stretched out in the sunlight on the flat top of the
fortress. Here we lazed through the lunch we had brought along, and
dreamed, and talked of the olden days when whole antlike black armies
had toiled and sweat and died in the boiling sun to rear this stone mon-
ster under the driving lash of an insatiable and uneasy genius. Soft
breezes drifted across the ramparts to temper the blazing tropic sun. We
rose and wandered about; gazed out on the static sea of mountains that
rolled down to the coastal plain; recalled the old tale of how Christophe
had stood here inspecting his terrain by telescope until he caught sight of
a black subject on a mountain slope committing the sin of laziness, nap-
ping during the day. Legend has it that he hurried to the galleries below
to put that subject permanently to sleep with a cannon blast.
The little breezes grew sharp teeth, and came climbing over the ram-
parts bearing wisps of cloud. It was only a little while before these small
cloud remnants were supplanted by cloud banks that came rolling in to
break across our prow, to roll over the stone gunwales and engulf the
bridge. Shot through the engulfing white were long shadows and boiling
breaks in the mist, shadows of stone battlements and clear bits of open
134 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
air. Or were they more? Were they shadows of a ghostly black colossus
a black Gulliver striding the bridge of this stone battleship on a sea of
mountains, wading decks awash with the dreams of his ghostly Lillipu-
Maybe it was only that the majesty of the place was beginning to get
us. Anyway, picture-taking was done for the day, and it was high time
to start for home. It is too bad that Haiti couldn't end with the Citadel,
for anything else was less than anticlimax. The long, grueling drive back
to Port au Prince was just another trip to town.
From Port au Prince the next big problem was how to get out of Haiti.
Unusual in this country, there were two roads. We might come back
years later and drive over into the Dominican Republic via the fine, new
international highway to Ciudad Trujillo. We had been over some miles
of this highway out of Port au Prince, and had seen how fine it was. But
we had been to the end of it too, and seen how ended it was. We had
picked up reliable gossip about travel over the blueprint part of the road.
Cars had been through, in the dry season. Ours was the wet season. Over
in the Dominican Republic, in a section below sea level, things weren't
so good. It was a hot, arid section. People were almost as scarce there
as highways. If we got into trouble, we would have to wait for the coun-
try to fill up with settlers before we could get help. Yes, we could drive
out of Haiti over the international highway, but it would be best to come
back years later to do this, when the road is finished.
But there was another road, a road that would never be finished and
had never been started. Like Topsy, it had "just growed." It wandered
on its rutty way from town to town, with never an idea in the world
of ending up at the edge of the dazzling Dominican Republic. It wan-
dered out of Port au Prince across the Cul de Sac plain, just going places
and not caring where or how fast. Then this road chased off after a
goat, up into some dry hills that were good goat country. In fact the first
mountain we climbed was named Cabrite, which is what a goat would
call himself if he spoke French. The little Willys was getting tired, even
after a good going-over in Port au Prince, and anyway it never did have
much goat blood in its veins. We were both glad to see the other side
HAITIAN HEIGHTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 135
of the mountain and to drop down into Mirebalais. We wandered
around the town a bit and soaked up atmosphere, for this town was
something. It is famous for the fact that here a sociologist named M. J.
Herskovits had lived and written a Haitian classic, Life in a Haitian
Valley. To the Willys, this was just a chance to cool off. That's a job,
under a Haitian sun.
Up and down, up and down. Desert and jungle, wet and dry, high
and low, boil the water out of the radiator and fill 'er up again. That was
us, getting out of Haiti. We got tired and the Willys got tired, and then
Haiti gave upbarely beating us to it. The country rolled out a little
flatter. Rocks and scrub growth gave way to grasslands. We leveled off
lower still and came onto ceibas arched across the road, coconut palms
waving us farewell. When our eyes got tired of green, we would run
under the violent red shade of an occasional flamboym prodigal with its
great crimson blossoms. Along the water courses the road ducked into
holes cut into solid green jungle. Now and then, whenever rickets threat-
ened to set in in the greenish dark, we would dash out of our jungle
tunnel into a cultivated clearing.
Then people and cultivated lands took over and the jungle fell back,
only occasionally throwing a short tunnel across the road. More ebony
folk with ivory smiles and a friendly 'bo' jour, blanc\ This was back
country. These were backward folk, so unworldly they didn't even
know enough to hold out an open palm to beg with when we stopped.
Still, here and there they had things, things that surprised us, after what
we had seen of Haitian roads. Steel bridges across the streams. Concrete
aprons across the fords. After stuff we remembered, it was fun to splash
across streams without a worry in the world.
At Belladere there was a gate across the road, with a few uniformed
officials lolling about. This was the back door of Haiti. Our papers were
inspected, more for something for the boys to do than anything else, for
there isn't much tourist traffic through this gate. They handed back our
papers, bid us a pleasant m revoir, and started to open the gate.
"Wait a minute," I said. I got out a camera and started through the
136 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Gladys called "Hey, come and put on the brake. The car is moving/'
I was busy trying to bring two nations into focus. And besides, I had
left the car on a perfectly level spot. "Nonsense! You couldn't even
push it," I said. "It's on the level"
"I don't care where you left it. It's moving!" She sounded worried. I
quit my international affairs and looked up.
I blinked. The car was moving! You know how sometimes when it's
hot, the hot air makes things waver? Maybe that was it. The gate was
wavering rhythmically, too. I started toward the car, but I was dizzy,
and I wavered. To much hot sun, huh? Gotta be careful
Then it came to me, as I noticed the excitement in the group beside
the gate. Earthquake! Not as good as the quake at the swimming pool,
but not bad. Not bad! Not as stirring as Sans SoucL Not as stirring as
Citadelle La Ferriere, Still, you have to admit that in any sense of the
word an earthquake is stirring enough. Haiti, good old Haiti, had come
through with a photo-finish fillip of anticlimax after all.
'Always with Trujillo'
1 hey say that Columbus loved best the land that became the Dominican
Republic. Though the centuries have changed it, we are inclined to feel
the same way.
Perhaps it was a mere string of coincidences that made our stay there
so pleasant from the time we drove in from Haiti until we winged away
from its western tip for Puerto Rico. Some might say that it was the
master mind of the government that made our visit most pleasant there.
But no master mind had planned the scenery, the gracious Spanish cus-
ttfins, nor the thrilling record of its past. However, no little credit must
be given to the government that furnished us with roads that were a
sheer delight to the Willys' tired old tires, with the best of accommoda-
tion in the West Indies, with a cleanliness and an amazing amount of
modernity that was distinctive in the Caribbean.
The Dominican Republic formerly Santo Domingo occupies the
eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, while Haiti with a far
greater population is crowded into the western third. Haiti is black, and
French in language. The Dominican Republic is white, and here we
were back in die Spanish world where we could tell what was up with-
out an interpreter.
I had often wondered how it was possible for one island to harbor two
such different nations and peoples. After all, the two parts of the island
have the same sort of physical geography, the same climates, the same
crops. This was our first trip to Hispaniola, and we had ahead of us an
object lesson of the extent to which history and political institutions can
mold the economic and social life of a country. For immediately upon
138 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
crossing the border from Haiti into the Dominican Republic, great dif-
ferences were apparent.
It was a few miles down the road from the gate that let us out of Haiti
to the customs and immigration office that conferred on us the benedic-
tion of the Dominican Republic. The road was better. The Willys felt
better. An officer in natty uniform guided us into the immigration office
where we could talk Spanish again, and we felt better too. Linguistically,
Haiti had been a headache. We had never studied French, and Haitian
Creole French would still have been a problem if we had.
Customs and immigration inspection was courteous but thorough. Par-
ticular interest was shown in a few copies of Haitian newspapers we had
brought along, as they contained the report of an interview or two we
had obtained in that country. Heads were shaken but only in amaze-
mentover the large stock of film we carried, as film was still a scarce
article out in The World. All in all, we had less trouble entering the
Dominican Repubic officially than we had elsewhere, though none of
the countries we covered was really troublesome. To begin with, it is
lots easier to drive into a country than to find an island-hopping boat
to ship a car. A declaration we signed at the customs office gave us the
privilege of driving anywhere in the country for a period of ninety days.
We were instructed only to report to the immigration office upon reach-
ing the capital, to obtain tourist cards. We were waved on.
But first we wished to have a look at this border town of Elias Pina.
Not only was it our first town in a new land, but it was indeed a very
modern showplace. Practically the whole town was modernistic in arch-
itecture, as most of it had been built under the regime of President Tru-
jillo. Homes, schools, hospital, social centers, and an army barracks on
the outskirts, were fine examples of Trujillo's work in rebuilding and
modernizing the country, and this place was a far cry from what after
years of travel we had come to expect in the way of a border town.
It was getting on toward dusk when we were through, and this was
a fine time to discover that a short-circuit in our generator had nearly
drained our battery. Correcting this with little loss of time and prevail-
ing upon the neighborliness of our new hosts for a push, we took off
ALWAYS WITH TRUJILLO 139
across the plain. Spurred by the need of getting a little "juice" back in
the battery, we rolled along with some speed and no pauses. It didn't
matter much, for this was a semiarid section anyway. Most of the land
was unsettled and consisted of scrawny grazing brush or sparsely tree-
covered land. Houses were few and far between. The highway was hard
surfaced but narrow, and there were many little bridges but one car
wide. Meeting with hardly any traffic, we hurried on rather nervously
in the growing dusk, knowing we didn't dare to stop the car until we
had recharged our battery a bit.
Nearly fifty miles of dull desert land rolled by us before we came
to San Juan, the first town large enough to offer much in the way of a
hotel for the night. When we reached it, San Juan was as dim as our
own headlights, for their electric light plant was having troubles and
was limping along on half its normal capacity. We prowled up and
down the dark streets looking for hotels, finding them, and then finding
them full for the night. Slowly and darkly we worked our way down
from the best to something less than that. A kind-hearted soul directed
us to a hotel that was a lot less than the best. Here, too, at the Hotel
Benefactor, we found every room taken. But when we explained our
plight, the landlady volunteered to make a place for us. An obliging male
guest offered to give up his room and move into another with two other
men for the night.
So our troubles were over, but only moderately. The room we won
through this neighborly sacrifice was but a shed in the yard, a deluxe
doghouse without running water or housekeeping privileges, equipped
with half a set of twin beds. At least, though, it was refuge if not rest
for the night. We should be thankful for it, after an exhausting day.
Butthis President Trujillo! If he wanted to modernize the country
that was all right with us. It was his country; let him do as he pleases
with it. But why should he go so far as to equip it with hotel room
shortages, just like the United States?
There was one advantage to that shed, though. It wasn't hard to rise
from that narrow-gauge Spartan pallet and get off to an early start. We
pulled out at five-thirty, with nobody else stirring about the place. We
140 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
detoured past the public market, which was already bustling, and picked
up a few bananas to stave off the pangs until we might come on a res-
taurant open for business along the way.
The lure of the countryside held us back but little on the way toward
the capital. The road continued to run through flat country, with towns
monotonously alike. Whether because of fear of earthquakes or because
of custom, most of the buildings of the towns were low, one-story affairs
of painted wood* In the larger places there were a few more substantial
buildings of stuccoed masonry, but the Dominican Republic, like Haiti
and Jamaica, uses much more wood for construction than we had been
accustomed to see in most of the Latin American world.
The farther we drove eastward toward the capital, Trujillo City, the
better the road became, the greener the land, the closer and better the
towns. Near Azua our highway joined the highway which follows along
much of the south coast of the country. Now we caught occasional
glimpses of the blue Caribbean on our right. Here the highway was
asphalt instead of the stone surfaced which had been improving grad-
ually all the way from the border. There was more traffic on the road,
modern automobiles as well as natives on donkeys or afoot. The rank
campeche brush and other plants of semi-arid land gave way to palms, live
oaks draped with moss and bearing corsages of orchidaceous growth,
and acacias decked out in yellow blossoms.
The road took a short turn inland and climbed over a range of moun-
tains that came down to the sea here. On the other side of the mountain
it wound down to the Ocoa River which it crossed by a long toll bridge,
the only toll bridge we encountered in this or any other country in the
Caribbean. The toll was forty cents.
Bani was the largest town on our way between San Juan where we
had spent the night and San Cristobal near the capital. Here we decided
to have a combination breakfast and lunch or brunch, as it is called in
English. We stopped at a local restaurant and had prepared for us a small
steak and potatoes. As we sat there looking out at passersby we both
commented on the attractive appearance of the brunette young girls. In
fact, all these Dominicans of both sexes were rather good looking, and
ALWAYS WITH TRXJJILLo
nearly all are pure Spanish. We learned later that this town of Bani was
particularly noted for its attractive girls for some reason or other, more
so than any other town of the republic.
Some of the buildings here were of frame, some of Spanish stucco,
but nearly all were painted in colorful hues. A store or two bore the
sign "Con Trujillo Siempre" Always with Trujillo. We were to see
similar signs all over the country. But this did not impress us so much as
the neatness and orderliness everywhere apparent. Some private and
public buildings might be poor but they were seldom if ever ramshackle.
The central park was always in good repair, generally with neat con-
crete walks and benches, and always carefully landscaped.
Along the road now were neat irrigation ditches to water the corn,
the cane fields, the bananas. Various kinds of palms, including the ever
gracefully leaning coconut palm, were common.
At San Cristobal, we ran into modernity that fairly dazzled us. Some
of the public buildings were gleaming white and modernistic in the ex-
treme. The central plaza was a model of neatness and planning, and had
apparently been but recently completed. A fine church and an extremely
modernistic bank and motion picture house faced on this central park.
A wide new boulevard led away from the square toward the capital.
San Cristobal was the birthplace of President Trujillo, and it is not at all
remarkable that it should be a show place.
It was a drive of but half an hour to the capital, over a fine highway
on which new cars, trucks, and buses shared the road with primitive
oxcarts and horse-drawn vehicles. Homes of peasants along the way
were simple but neat and colorfully painted, and here and there we
looked back into a more pretentious estate. Estates and wealthy homes
became frequent, and before we knew it the highway became one of
the city's main boulevards. As we drove down this palm-shaded boule-
vard we had more than a sneaking suspicion that we were going to like
Our first objective was the United States Embassy, housed in a build-
ing that looks like a fine country club, set among spacious lawns in the
better residential section of the city. Here we picked up our mail and
142 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
made arrangements to stay in the magnificent government-owned
Jaragua Hotel overlooking the ocean.
The Jaragua Hotel is without shadow of doubt the best and most
luxurious hostelry of the whole Caribbean, and an important part in the
Dominican Republic's bid for favorable notice from the outside world.
It is, as a plaque on the main entrance informed us, a monument to the
capital city and to the rule of Trujillo. The sign further advises us that
it was built during the era of Trujillo. It is a white, modernistic structure
with spacious sun decks and open-air pavilions. It has its own luxurious
open-air swimming pool landscaped into the front of the building and
facing the seas, its own casino, its own open-air ballroom where one
might dance under moon and stars. The building reminded us of the
New York World's Fair in its architecture, with indirect lighting at
But the Jaragua Hotel is by no means the only example of ultra-
modern architecture in a very modern city. There are modernistic
schools, hotels, government buildings. Even the sanitary central market
building is a notable departure from the shambles and chaos that are
most Caribbean public markets. Wide modern boulevards, like the palm-
lined George Washington Boulevard along the sea, knit together with
modem transportation the parts of a modern city.
Why is Trujillo City so much more modern than any other Latin
American city? It all centers about an event, and a man to meet the
emergency of the event. The city, ancient Santo Domingo, was almost
totally destroyed by hurricane in 1930. Even before the hurricane
struck, the country was economically in straitened circumstances and
politically in the state of strain and turmoil that typifies most of this
part of the world. Taking a firm grip on the reins of government, Rafael
Leonidas Trujillo brought order out of chaos and began rebuilding the
capital, following this up with modernization of a great deal of the rest
of the country. The state of emergency that brought the opportunity
about has long since passed, but Trujillo discovered that he liked to hold
the reins of government.
Nor has he done badly. Of all the lands of the Caribbean, the Do-
"ALWAYS WITH TRUJILLO" 143
minican Republic is the most modern. With the powerful and progressive
parts of the world in the age of the atom, much of the Caribbean still
dozes along in the age of Adam. The Dominican Republic alone is pol-
ished up and refurbished to fit in with today. Everywhere one travels
through the country, it breathes in one breath of progress and Trujillo.
This applies not alone to such concrete things as government buildings,
but to such less tangible fields as public health, social security, education,
How much of this has been accomplished at the sacrifice of individual
liberty? Certainly only a tremendously strong personality could initiate
so much progress in a country in so short a time. But personality is not
enough to charm the populace for nearly two decades. Trujillo holds
power in order to wield power, and he has not held his people in line
wholly with daisy chains,
It was but natural that we should wish to meet the man responsible for
Dominican progress. An audience was not difficult to secure. When we
were ushered into his presence in a temporary office near the hotel he was
hard at work. Without the assistance of an interpreter, or the presence
of a secretary, we talked with him alone in his language, Spanish, He
seemed to both Gladys and myself a dynamic, hard working, American-
type businessman. He took our praises of his accomplishments with that
impeccable graciousness for which all Dominicans are noted, and seemed
to be concerned with not having accomplished more.
But for all the modernization the president has brought to Trujillo
City, it boasts, too, of the oldest historical sites in the Western hemi-
sphere. On the north coast near Puerto Plata is the site of the first settle-
ment by white man in the New World, founded by the Great Navigator
himself, which he called La Isabela in honor of his queen. This was the
capital of the New World until 1496, when Columbus* brother moved it
to Santo Domingo, now Trujillo City. This city, most modern capital
of the Caribbean, is the oldest city of the New World. It was from his-
toric Santo Domingo that the great Spanish conquerors set out on their
adventurous conquests that eventually opened up the entire New World*
Diego Velasquez sailed from here to conquer Cuba. Hernan Cortez and
144 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Pizarro walked these streets. Ponce de Leon set out from here on his
quest for the Fountain of Youth and found Florida instead. De Soto
once lived here. Bartolome de la Casas, apostle of the Indians of Mexico,
practiced law here. Here in the Columbus cathedral are the bones of
the Great Admiral himself. Near the port you can walk through the very
rooms where Diego Columbus, son of the admiral, lived and held court.
Here during his viceroyalty he and his wife held the most brilliant court
of Spanish nobles and ladies that ever came to the New World. Here too
is Santo Domingo University, the oldest educational institution in the
western hemisphere and still a going concern. Scattered over the city are
picturesque ruins of many old convents and ancient churches. So many
places in Latin America are described as representing a great contrast
between old and new, but Trujillo City is the acme of contrast between
the very oldest and the very newest in the whole New World today.
We made several one-day excursions out of Trujillo City. There are
very interesting beaches along the coast in either direction, white
beaches gently sloping into the blue waters of the Caribbean, always
shaded by graceful coconut palms leaning into the wind. Such a beach
is Haina, where to add to the romantic atmosphere there are the ruined
walls of an old Spanish fort, only a few miles out of the capital. Boca
Chica, some little distance farther, has become quite a beach resort, with
amusements and refreshment stands and a sizeable colony of summer
There are also drives into the country and hills outside of Trujillo
Gty. One, called La Toma, is a series of mountain springs and cascades.
It has several natural swimming pools and the vegetation around it is the
dense tropical rain forest type. La Toma joins one end of President Tru-
jillo's farm, Hacienda Fundacion, and is quite a popular picnic spot as
well as being much patronized for swimming. We entered La Toma
through the arched gateway of the Hacienda Fundacion, and were im-
pressed by the eucalyptus-lined driveway that led us across a part of the
president's farm. A soldier was stationed on guard at the gate, but traffic
of every sort was allowed through freely.
The main part of Hacienda Fundacion is in the section of San Cristobal.
Fanguito slums outside of San Juan, where shacks stand on the mud of the
Puerto Rico's tobacco is nurtured from such seed beds as these near Caguas
Bread is sold in yard-long loaves in the market at Ponce
The country around Yauco is famous far its coffee
Bred Gade, a street of St. Thomas, V. /., preserves its quaint Danish atmosphere
"ALWAYS WITH TRUJILLO" 145
Though the president lives in Trujillo City, he spends every week end
on this farm, covering it thoroughly on horseback. He specializes in fine
cattle and has an excellent herd, giving away every day three thousand
battles of milk taken from his cows by soldiers of the republic. With
permission one may wander unrestrictedly over Hacienda Fundacion
and swim at La Toma, and on week ends in all likelihood visitors to the
place will see the president going about on horseback.
While in the- capital we made the acquaintance of Luis Mendez and
his fascinating family. Sr. Mendez had been consul-general for the Dom-
inican Republic in New York, and his teen-age daughters had gone to
school there, so to a great extent they seemed like folks from home. He
held a position of some prominence in the protocol office of the depart-
ment of foreign affairs and seemed to know everyone who mattered in
the republic. He did much during our stay to smooth things out for us,
and we asked his three daughters to come along on one of our trips out
of the capital.
This was the trip to San Pedro de Macoris, one of our first get-
acqu^inted trips in the Dominican Republic. Our route led across the
Ozama River on which Trujillo City is located, to the adjacent town or
suburb of Duarte, and thence out into open country. For the most part
the terrain was flat, through miles of sugar cane. This, incidentally, is
the principal crop of the country. The pavement was asphalt and we
made fairly good time over it, even with occasional stops for photo-
Most of the peasants' homes along the way were of frame with roofs
of corrugated sheet iron, and were often painted in most brilliant colors.
Palms, particularly royal palms, and a few tropical pines added interest
and altitude to the flat scenery along the way. Breaking the monotonous
miles of cane were occasional fields of corn and bananas. Now and then
we passed an estate or dairy farm. From time to time a flamboyan, found
nearly everywhere in the moist parts of the tropics, added its dash of
But most interesting to us at least were the many roadside shrines- We
had seen these in other countries, especially Cuba, but never to the ex-
146 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
tent that we found them here in the Dominican Republic. These shrines
are dedicated to various saints, but the majority were to the Virgin of
Aha Gracia, the patron saint of the country.
Generally these shrines consisted of an enclosure of frame or masonry,
containing the effigy of the saint. Invariably there were vases of flowers
or stubs of candles burned as offerings by passing worshippers. Perhaps
our attention was more drawn to highway shrines in this country be-
cause of the extent to which they were patronized during our stay here.
Later on, when we got up into the recently earthquake-stricken zone on
the north coast, we met with whole processions of people along the
highways going from shrine to shrine and imploring the aid of the vari-
ous saints in protection against further earthquakes. Even along this road
to Macoris, in the south of the country, we met worshippers kneeling at
the shrines or placing flowers or lighted candles before the glass-enclosed
figure. From the Mendez girls we learned that these shrines were gen-
erally erected by different individuals or sometimes by a group of the
faithful. Frequently, however, an individual would construct such a
shrine at his own expense either in gratitude for the blessing believed
to have been received from a certain saint or in memory to some beloved
The trip out to Macoris was made on Sunday, and we met more than
the usual numbers of people along the way. Most of them were well
dressed. The people of this country, even the poorest, appeared to be
much better off than corresponding classes in Haiti. Here practically all
wore shoes and generally were neatly and cleanly dressed even if but
country peasants. At a crossroads store we drove up to the rail beside a
few saddle horses, to go in and listen awhile to the lively native merinque
music. The passenger buses along the way were crowded with well-
dressed people of all classes going into the country for a holiday or to
visit with friends and relations. Along the road local vendors had set up
shop in the shade to sell fruits or mounds of sugar-cane candy to
passersby. On the other side of the modern steel bridge across the
Higuamo River, Gladys and I stopped to sample some of these sweet
wares from an old lady sitting in the shade of a tree behind a table.
"ALWAYS WITH TRUJILLO" 147
While we took our leisurely time, the Mendez girls gathered a supply of
ripened guava fruit from the bushes growing wild in an adjacent field.
Shortly before arriving at Macoris we met a long religious procession
coming along the road to a shrine, the participants bearing religious
banners, crosses, and saints' pictures and chanting in Spanish the hymn,
St. Joseph, Hear Me While I Pray.
We found Macoris to be a neat, clean town, like practically every
other community in the country, but it was of an older type than many.
There was a new athletic field at the edge of the town, but the rest of
the place looked as if it had been there for some time with little added
to it but coats of brilliant paint. There were many horse-drawn carriages
drawn up around the main square, carriages of another age with large
rear wheels and small front ones, taking the place of taxis. Private cars
were somewhat displaced by saddle horses wearing the typical high
saddle of the country. Monuments to the great patriots of the republic
shared space in the central plaza with a fine monument to the living
Trujillo. But this last was scarcely a distinctive feature; there is a statue
of Trujillo in virtually every town, and a great many of them in the
capital. Macoris was interesting but not particularly photogenic, and
after a brief turn about the town we wandered along the docks, stopped
for a bite to eat in a country store that greatly reminded us of home,
and then piled into the car and headed back.
It was still early, and we stopped for a bit on our return trip at Boca
Chica, a well-known beach resort crowded with Sunday holiday-
makers. Here again but for the language was a spot such as we might
have found back home. There was nothing at all obsolete about the
bathing suit creations we saw. Girls and fellows in the latest styles
strolled on the beach, disported in the water, or talked over a Cola at a
table. Couples in street clothes equally up to the minute danced to the
music of a small orchestra in the open air pavilion. Now and then a
group got together to join in singing, with a guitar-playing member to
lead the melody. Feminine style and pulchritude averaged somewhat
higher than we would find in a similar beach scene at home.
Despite the outward symbols of modernity that we saw everywhere,
148 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
an episode at the Mendez home on our return reflected the sway of gra-
cious old customs, particularly in family relationships. All three of the
Mendez girls had been educated in part at least in the United States, and
certainly would be less inclined than most to hold to the old customs.
Yet as we entered the door of their home and they were met by their
father, each approached him with the words, "Tu benedicion, papct*
(your benediction, papa) . To each Luis replied, "Dios te bendiga" (may
God bless you). We were told that this custom is general and is adhered
to even after marriage. Even middle-aged sons and daughters with fam-
ilies of their own salute their parents in the same manner.
It was definitely a great advantage to have someone like Luis Mendez
to help us get around. With his aid we accomplished so much more in
less time and with less effort than we could have accomplished on our
own. For example, on another Sunday he took us to Haina Beach and
Guibia Beach in the morning, a cockfight just after noon, the race track
later in the afternoon, and a political rally and dance in the evening, not
to mention a few stops to visit people on the way between each. Sunday
is a big day for these people; they have, like us, made it a holiday of
some proportions. Since so much takes place on Sunday and there was
only the normal complement of Sundays in our month's stay there, we
felt obliged to avail ourselves of every minute of them.
Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic is a lot like cockfighting in
all the Caribbean countries. It was largely a repetition of what we had
seen in Cuba. The sawdust pit with its concentric rings of seats, the
preliminaries of challenging and weighing in, and the pandemonium of
betting during the fight, all had by now a rather familiar ring. Fights
usually become endurance contests after the first furious moments. To
the casual spectator, when you've seen one you've seen 'em all. So we
left early in order to be on time for the beginning of the horse races.
But horse racing has a greater degree of uniformity by far all over the
world than cockfighting has in Latin America. We were struck, in fact,
by a feeling that we had been here before. The same oval track, the
same big grandstand with windows cut into it for pari-mutuel betting,
even the latest automatic starting apparatus pulled into place before each
"ALWAYS WITH TRUJILLO" 149
race. But to the vociferous enthusiasm of the crowd there may have been
added just a little typical Latin emphasis.
It was at the evening's political rally and the dance that followed it
that we really first got in touch with the Dominican rank and file. This
was held in a workers' suburb just outside of the capital. Alternate
speeches and band concerts had been going on for most of the afternoon
before we arrived. The crowd was standing or sitting in the open before
the balcony of a frame building in an attractive rustic grove. It was
bedecked with Dominican flags, with the band at one end of the balcony
and the local dignitaries and speakers at the other. As we arrived, an
attractive young lady on the rostrum before the microphone was deliv-
ering fulsome eulogies of President Trujillo, after each of which the
Crowd broke into loud acclaim. Her talk, as with the others that fol-
lowed later, was followed by a rendition by the band which played
dance music or national songs, including the national anthem. It was in
form and spirit a replica of an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration
such as I used to enjoy so greatly as a boy.
The dancing after the speeches was limited at first to the lower floor
of the small building which had served as platform and band stand. But
this area couldn't begin to contain the crowd that wanted to participate,
so dancing broke out all over the place with hard-packed earth as a
dance floor. Luis invited Gladys to dance with him, leaving me to my
own devices. As a visiting fireman, cameraman, and writer, I was able
to gather about me a bevy of admirers schooled in the conduct proper
to the situation by having rehearsed for the afternoon on eulogies to
the president. I recognized in the group the little brunette who had been
engaged in the stirring political speech as we arrived, and I asked her to
This was sheer trickery. It was a hot, sultry day, unfit for dancing.
The uneven ground and the dust stirred up by the crowd added little to
the occasion. The lively and unfamiliar two-fourths time of the native
meringue would have required all of my energy and concentration, but
the dance-lot was so densely packed that I had ample opportunity while
awaiting the next place to move to stand and talk.
I5O HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
I learned from my pretty partner that she was a teacher in a near-by
country school, that she was but seventeen, that she was a member of
the Dominican party. This is practically the only organized political
party of the country. She told me too that her speech had been entirely
written out for her. I congratulated her on her delivery and told her
how fine I thought it was that Dominican women like herself were so
interested in public affairs.
I caught an occasional glimpse of Gladys in the dense throng, and she
too was entering into the spirit of the affair. Luis had introduced her
to other friends, and they were making the most of the opportunity to
dance with a gringa. But after about so much of this, I suspected from
my feelings and Gladys' look of dogged determination that we were
running down faster than these folks who were more accustomed to
struggle in the sun.
We were both casting about for a graceful exit that wouldn't expose
our sad physical condition or offend all our new-found friends, when
Mother Nature intervened. One of those sudden tropical showers
sneaked up on the party, and in a small portion of a moment everyone
was making a mad dash for cover. In our case, the car was the most
logical shelter, and once we were in it was easy to think of driving home.
We were sorry, in a way, to find such a ready way out. Both Gladys
and I recall more fondly our afternoon at this country rally and the
ready friendship of Dominican everyday folk than we recall formal
dances later in the luxurious ballroom of the Jaragua Hotel in the com-
pany of the smartly dressed elite of Dominican society.
*No Fairer Land Under Heaven"
1 o the unpracticed or unbiased eye, it began to look as if we were set
on settling in Trujillo City and had quite forgotten our original grand
project of covering each land thoroughly by road. Actually, every min-
ute of our time there, over and above the actual hours spent in short
one-day jaunts out of the capital, was given over to constant and detailed
planning for the big jaunt ahead. We were trying particularly to arrange
for Luis Mendez to go along with us, and trying to keep his enthusiasm
for the trip at proper pitch. After all, he had already seen the Domin-
ican Republic. But we knew that if he could and would accompany us
we should see more, get into more places, and make more contacts.
Luis Mendez helped us lay out the trip tentatively. Straight across the
country to the north coast, to the region recently stricken by earth-
quakesthat took care of objective number one in fine shape, and with
something different to show for it at the end. West to the Haitian bor-
der. South across the interior, following the Haitian border. East along
the southern coast, and back to Trujillo City. Added to the other short
trips we had made, this would give us a look at every nook and cranny
of the country. Luis said it was a nicely planned trip, a trip with every-
thing. Then he said he would go along.
Even with outside help in planning, our island coverage seemed to be
falling into a pattern, not only in the matter of routine adherence to
sequence of compass points, but even in physical geography. Out of the
capital across level farm lands, through fields of cane and corn, past
miles of bananas. You can't talk about the West Indies for long any-
\here^ without anpther reference to palms to give the picture something
152 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
in the way of ups and downs, and abundant bougainvillia to give it color
until you come to another flawiboyan^ and grimy charcoal sheds along
the way to furnish the country's only fuel and give the picture proper
shading. An occasional open-air meat market gave the picture both body
and redolence. The peasant huts along the way were made of wood, but
they were still peasant huts, and still brightly painted, though here and
there we came upon rustic little shanties that were walled up with the
boardlike husks that drop off of the royal palm.
Then, as on other occasions, we began to run out of the rich agricul-
tural hinterland on which every capital city feeds, and wound up into
the foothills through rolling grasslands and on the landward side of
every mountain lands too dry for grass. The dry side of the slope is
always a scratchy place, covered with thorny campeche brush. As we
gained in altitude the contrast between the wet and the dry sides of
every mountain was a bit more marked. Jungle and grassland gave way
to pines on the wet side; campeche brush yielded to the much more
attractive cactus on the dry side of each major slope.
Of course there were people there, too. Carts and pack trains bound
for market, dust-raising modern buses, and herds of market-bound cattle
pounding the dust back into place again. A horseman bringing up the
rear of a little herd had a newborn calf, too wobbly to keep up with its
mother, draped across the saddle. Now and then, the raucous squawk
of a wild parrot from brush or jungle-clad roadside added something in
the way of exotic sound effect.
At the top of the grade beyond the Haina River Valley we paused for
pictures at an unusually ornate wayside shrine in colored tile, to which, as
we watched, a woman came up to kneel and pray. Though it was the
shrine that caught our eye, a barracks of the national guard kept a
colder eye on the sweeping valley scene than did the image of the Virgin
of Alta Gracia in the colorful shrine. This spot was on the boundary
between two provinces, and at such places a military establishment is
nearly always found.
But even here, in the backwoods, the firmest of New World govern-
ments was more than an iron hand. This is perhaps the secret of that
FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN'* 153
government's success: the omnipresent army and omniscient police make
Dominicans toe the line, but worthwhile merits are passed out for good
conduct. In the first valley of the next province we found, adjoining the
barracks, a center where registered sires were kept for the use of sur-
rounding farms to improve their cattle, horses, hogs. It is a firm govern-
ment, but with a scientific view, and it is more than probable that these
scattered centers of breeding stock do more to improve the blood strains
of the republic than the scattered groups of soldiers themselves. Near
here too was a distillery for taking oil from the bitter oranges that grew
wild in the vicinity, for use in making perfume. We had seen this same
sort of distillery in Haiti, but here it was better managed, and had access
to scientific government advice and help. An abandoned prisoner of war
camp near-by shocked us, so far from the fighting front, until we learned
later the enormity of the toll that German submarines had taken off
the shore of all these islands.
There were government irrigation projects along the way in the prov-
ince of Duarte, transforming thorny brushland into excellent farms.
Here and there too, high up on the slopes of the wet side of many a
mountain, were rising columns of smoke where hardy pioneer stock was
carving a home, unaided, out of raw woods.
At San Francisco, capital of the province of Duarte, we came upon our
first important signs of the earthquake. Some buildings were merely
cracked. Some had upper floors naked to the public view where sections
of wall had crumbled. The old masonry church was completely in rubs.
We were now on the country's secondary roads, unpaved but with a
good all-weather gravel surface that permitted fair speed. As we came
down onto the coastal plain of the north, jungle and brush fell back a
bit and farms became more common. Native huts were a trifle cruder
than we had found them on the southern side of the country. More
streams wandering along the coastal plain on their way to the sea meant
more bridges. The recent earthquake meant that most of the bridges
were out, and we did bits of rugged detouring precisely where our going
should have been easiest. More and more, buildings that had been at all
substantially built showed signs of earthquake damage, ruined walls and
154 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
stalls with gaping cracks, walls propped up with poles. Though the big
shake-up was several weeks behind us, there were still slight tremors
almost daily. The trouble with slight earthquake tremors is that you
never know for sure they are slight tremors until they are over, and you
never know even then if the slight tremor was a prelude or a finale.
People, consequently, were still in a state of no little religious trepida-
tion. We passed several religious processions of considerable size en
route to propitiate God at local shrines, bearing crosses and religious
banners, chanting entreaties to St. Joseph to protect them from further
quakes. Results, in the main, were excellent.
As we came back within sight of the ocean we were headed rather
directly for Matanzas, or rather for the site of Matanzas, for the town
itself had disappeared in the tidal wave that followed the major shock.
Here and there on either side of the road were great pools of water that
had rolled inland on that day and hadn't found a way back to the sea.
Peasants' huts by the dozens had become only heaps of muddy sticks
and rubble. Here and there nature had performed a few of her brutally
playful pranks, and we found buildings that had been carried intact from
their original sites and deposited in incongruous locations, still preserving
some semblance of their original shape. As we came closer to the sea,
ruin became more and more complete, and people were huddled together
in muddy fields with army pup tents for their only shelter. Oddly
enough, the tidal wave that had wiped or washed a town off the Do-
minican map had cost comparatively few lives in proportion to its prop-
erty damage. People said they had seen the great tidal wave, born in
the ocean's depths between here and Puerto Rico, while it was still far
out to sea. All but a few had managed to reach the safety of high ground
before it struck.
We had to do a bit of back-tracking through San Francisco again to
get to the city of Santiago where we were to spend the night. Darkness
caught up with us on the way, and at one point we looked down the
grade on a long string of twinkling, fluttering lights. As we overtook
this* we found it was another long religious procession, a joint petition
&QIJI twq towns. t<p a celebrated hrine. Each person in the procession
"NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN 7 ' 155
carried in addition to a banner a saint's picture, a cross, or a lighted
candle. All were singing a monotonous litany-like chant, beseeching pro-
tection from further quakes. It was an odd and eerie thing to drive by
in the night.
It was late when we reached Santiago, but quarters had been reserved
for us at the Hotel Mercedes which were among the finest we found on
the whole trip. It was an old place, very much in contrast to the Jaragua
Hotel in the capital. It had been built soundly in the Victorian Era,
when space was less a luxury than it is today, but had all modern im-
provements incorporated into it without undue clashing of styles or
unseemly damage to its original state, and it was far enough from the
earthquake zone to have escaped all damage to its heavy masonry. A
sweeping grand stairway, high ceilings with French windows that ran
all the way to the top, little private balconies outside each window, made
our stay here virtually a night in a palace. Even the "king size" private
bathroom of our apartment was larger than many a modern apartment.
As we turned to the hotel manager with exclamations of delight, Gladys
made the remark that it must be the bridal suite. He smiled and said that
naturally it was. When he left, Luis Mendez confessed that he had
requested this suite particularly, and that he had stayed here on his
honeymoon. He added slyly that he had labored in other places to con-
vey the impression that we were honeymooners, and this explained many
little incidents of curious humor on the part of our hosts along the way.
All along we had escaped being taken for American tourists as we were,
for much of the time, off the beaten tourist track and as both Gladys
and I are brunettes and speak Spanish. We were amused to know that
after over twenty years of marital bliss we were now taken for newly-
weds. After all though, Luis Mendez had to have some small compensa-
tion for showing a couple of visiting firemen over paths that lacked
novelty for him.
Beyond Santiago we climbed again across the coastal range toward
Puerto Plata. It was rugged country, forested country with here and
there tiny patches of cleared fields carved out of the woods on slopes
so steep we wondered how seeds could be held still on those rugged
156 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
slopes long enough to sprout. It was poor country, with the neatly
painted frame huts of other sections giving way more and more to
cruder, unpainted shacks, their walls made from the great slabs of
husks shed by the royal palm. Motor traffic was much thinner now,
and there were more overloaded donkeys bearing huge loads of the red
pottery of the section, or loaded with much less colorful bales of to-
bacco. It was up-and-down, wet-and-dry land, with jungle and tree
ferns giving way to pines in scenery reminiscent of mountain country
back home, with ccmpeche brash and grassland, with a girl loaded down
with sisal fiber climbing one slope and a boy jogging down the next
with a stem of bananas balanced on his head. The oddest sight along
the way were huge twin barrels trotting down a grade on dainty little
feet. This was the country bread wagon, engulfing a little donkey. Then
the mountains fell back again and we were down to sea level once more
in the Puerto Plata section, back in cane country. We took time out
here to visit the Sosua Settlement, one of the New World's most in-
teresting attempts to lend a hand with Europe's problems.
Back in the late thirties, the problem of Europe's oppressed minorities
was receiving in our own land much the same attention that the weather
received everybody talked about it, but nobody did much about it.
Finally, in 1940, hazy and wishful talk about finding a refuge for these
folk in the sparsely settled sections of the New World was changed
to action on one front. A contract was drawn between the Dominican
Republic and a resettlement association in New York to settle as many
as one hundred thousand displaced persons mostly Jews on Dominican
soil. President Trujillo played an important part in pushing this measure
through, not without some opposition.
The region chosen was a peninsula that enfolded a beautiful bay in
the Puerto Plata region, excellent and well-drained land that had
formerly been controlled by the United Fruit Company. Known as the
Sosua Settlement, it has become one of the most interesting and dis-
appointingattempts to render Europeans a hand. It is disappointing
because so many of the displaced persons admitted using this oportunity
as a stepping stone into the United States, and the grandiose one hun-
CC NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN*' 157
dred thousand refugees after several years at the experiment make a
net total of only six hundred Dominican immigrants.
Those who have tarried and those who have made their way into
the United States and found it unrewarding and returned to the Domin-
ican Republic have done not at all badly by themselves or by their
adopted country. Lush fields of cane lined the road as we drew near
the settlement, and it was obvious that the land the government had
offered was as good as any of the raw lands of the country. We were
impressed by the neatness of all the buildings, and the excellent stand-
ards of sanitation. These people enjoyed a reasonable freedom of oppor-
tunity according to their likes and abilities, and while the settlement
was largely agricultural, artisans and craftsmen had gathered together
in the little settlement of Batey. There was a predominance of Southern
California Mission architecture, although many of the buildings were
frame and in the style of the country.
Again the indispensable Luis Mendez knew the right person to see.
He introduced us to Mr. Baum, a former newspaperman who was now
social manager of the project. Mr. Baum was extremely helpful and
gave freely of his time to show us about and to explain the workings
of the development to us. Though each settler was free to engage in
any individual enterprise, many of the community enterprises were run
co-operatively. Among these were a few stores, a restaurant, hospital,
clinic, school, and a fine little hotel on a hill overlooking the bay.
The association lent aid to anyone interested in starting out in business
for himself, particularly along agricultural lines. Dairying and diversified
farming were encouraged above all else, as there was excellent opportu-
nity for disposing of butter, cheese, and meat products, which are at a
premium in the Dominican Republic. There has always been a lack of
knowledge and experience along these lines among Dominicans them-
selves. Each farmer also has a small truck patch for raising his own
vegetables. Many of the people engaged in these activities are relatively
inexperienced, having come from cities in Europe, but they are given
every assistance and much expert advice by the government and the
association. They were all cheerful folk, more than willing to forget
158 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
their native lands and eager to cast in their lot with the New World,
This was easy to understand when we learned that some were "gradu-
ates" of Nazi concentration camps.
Though Mr. Baum was enthusiastic about the whole project, he was
frank in giving us negative or unfavorable information. He pointed out
that the two-to-one preponderance of men over women immigrants
presented social problems that were aggravated further by differences
in language and background of the immigrants and of the Dominicans.
Some of the men had married Dominican women, and over eighty chil-
dren of Dominican nationality had been born to Sosua's settlers. Though
some of these marriages were happy, Mr. Baum felt that for the most
part it was necessary for the community to nurture its own social and
cultural life. With few exceptions they couldn't marry into the better
Dominican families, and they were accustomed to too high a standard
to mix well with the lower levels. For the most part these European
immigrants represented a better middle class that is as yet all too small
an so predominantly an agricultural country as the Dominican Republic.
Given time and more experience, the community promises much not
only for its own betterment but for improving the country as a whole.
Such projects as a successful citronella oil development, for example,
help to build up the country's exports, creating a favorable trade balance
which helps the country to bring in more necessities and luxuries to
raise the general standard of living.
Speaking of raising standards, while Mr. Baum was giving us the
general picture of the project, we were storing away a combination
breakfast and lunch at die hotel on the hill that was quite exceptional,
considering the place. Bacon and eggs, like home. Locally raised fried
potatoes. Generous slabs of good butter. Ice cold glasses of good milk.
Home-made bread. It was particularly the good butter and milk that
were definitely out of thisthe Caribbean world.
The Sosua Settlement trip, too, was something of a side trip. We
had to return to Santiago again to continue our jaunt along the north
coast, through the rolling foothills that fringed the coastal plain. This
was tobacco country, with great and small tobacco sheds along the
C *NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN*' 159
way. Mingled with these were charcoal sheds where the country's fuel
was stored when first brought down from the hills. Beyond Navariete
this gave way to desert, with the desert yielding to irrigation in a rather
extensive terrain. There wasn't much middle ground here; land was
either cactus-covered or flooded for growing rice, as rice growing has
been advanced greatly here in just the last few years. An astonishingly
modern mill for handling harvested rice was one of the finest works
of the government in this section.
Because of the dryness of the air, there was considerable drying of
meat through here. But the unpleasant smell of a meat-drying yard was
usually subdued by the rich aroma of roasting coffee. Coffee is an
important item in the Dominican Republic, and through this region
everyone bought his coffee green and roasted it at home as needed.
Our road left the hills for the last time on this north coast and headed
for the ocean again, to the port of Monte Cristi. It was a mean little
port, full of low frame buildings with smoking-hot, corrugated sheet
iron roofs, full of boredom and listlessness, violently full of a pink
stucco postoffice and federal building that stood out in that drab town
like a bruised thumb. Other than this, the main mark of its importance
was a long pier running far out from the shallow shore, in a terrain so
flat that much of the shoreland is given over to evaporating salt from
sea water. The town itself is crowded up close to the Haitian border,
but due east of it is the miserable little fishing village of La Isabela, on
a low spit of land that runs out a bit to sea. It is a drab spot, too tired
to dream, but what dreams it might have if it were but alive! For
La Isabela was the first white settlement in the New World, established
by Columbus on his second voyage. Here the first church was built,
the first city council established. Here was Spain's New World capital
for four years, until the seat of government was transferred to Santo
Domingo now Trujillo City when gold was discovered there.
It is a bit hard to understand how Columbus could have become so
enamored of this part of his discoveries as to refer to this section in
glowing terms to his king, stating that "there is no fairer land than this
under heaven." There was litde that we saw in all the Caribbean trip
l6o HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
that was as drab and dreary, as inert, as lacking in all the essence of
hope and dreams.
There was one nice feature about Monte Cristi, though. Here we
rounded first base. We had come to the northwestern corner of the
Dominican Republic, and here we headed south along the Haitian
border, bound for the village of Dajabon. As far as the physical geog-
raphy of the section is concerned, this is only some of Haiti that lapped
over, but in the lower settled regions there was a world of difference.
There were, before we hit the mountains, rich fields of rice and cane
under irrigation. We could not help but note the difference that efficient
government can make to a land. Scarcity of capital and a Spanish in-
disposition toward long-term capital investment makes development of
such country fall largely on the government.
Dajabon itself was somewhat comparable to our first Dominican town
of Elias Pina to the south. It was startlingly spic and span and amazingly
modernized for a border town. There was nothing to remind us that
but a few years ago this had been a blood-stained border hot spot. Here
in 1937 some thousands of Haitians, squatters on Dominican soil had
been slaughtered. It is unfortunate than three million Haitians are
crowded into one-third of this land, while two million Dominicans have
plenty of room in the balance. It is likewise unfortunate that a weak
Haitian government for over a century has been at all times unable to
develop its resources as the Dominican Republic has done. The fact
that the darkest and one of the whitest of Caribbean nations share the
same little island has added much to their difficulties, though the mem-
ory of old bloodshed has faded away and a clear-cut policy and clearly
marked border enable the two nations now to live in peace. Today an
international highway along this frontier is policed and maintained in
common by both countries.
Beyond the agricultural development of the coastal section, the moun-
tainous region of the interior was as wild and unsettled in the Dominican
Republic as it was in Haiti. The hills were forest-covered and untouched
by an axe. The valleys, as in Haiti, were filled up with countryfolk.
Each little hut had its own small garden patch, with papayas to be had
A suburb of
Crystal Gade, an old-world street of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
Roaring River Falls on the north coast illustrates original Indian meaning of
Jamaica-land of many waters
The famous huge silk-cotton tree near Spanish Town, Jamaica
Governor** house, Port of Spain, seat of British authority in Trinidad
"NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN" l6l
for the picking, with breadfruit to be had only for waiting until it
dropped, with the starchy root of the ?nalanga Elephant Ear and the
cassava to supplant our own potatoes.
It was already late afternoon when we reached Dajabon, and later
still when we had looked it over, so Luis Mendez telegraphed ahead
to the army post at Loma de Cabrera for quarters for the night. It was
a night of memorable hospitality in cramped quarters. Naturally a back
country army post had little enough to offer to travelers, and especially
to a woman traveler, in the way of accommodations. But when we ar-
rived we learned that an officer who maintained a home near the barracks
had gone to the capital on business, and his wife, Senora Sanchez, said
she would be honored to have the American couple put up in her room
for the night. She said further that she was expecting us for the evening
It was a homelike night away from home. Senora Sanchez was a typical
housewife of the better middle class, and but for her language and
her deep brunette coloring she might well have passed for an American
woman of the same position. She chatted along with us and with the
officer in charge while she went about preparations for the evening meal.
Feeling honored by the occasion, the officer in charge produced a bottle
of fine brandy and insisted that he treat us all and give the dinner
something of an unneeded lift.
As is usual in many places among our neighbor republics, the electric
light plant was temporarily broken down, so we dined by the flickering
light of a few candles and a lantern. We and the food strained dining
room facilities to the utmost. We felt, too, that Senora Sanchez delved
too deeply into her precious stock of imported canned goods. She had
prepared an excellent dinner of local foods, but she had added to this
canned ham to go with the home-grown eggs, canned peas, canned vege-
table soup, olives, raisin cookies, followed by coffee and crackers and
cheese. The perimeter of the dining room table was much more crowded
when we were finished. The menfolk managed to polish off the botde
of brandy, whereupon we smoked and chatted for a pleasant hour before
Senora Sanchez ushered Gladys and me to our room for the night.
162 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
The outdoors is so easy to live in to the south that as a rule houses
are small. Our bedroom was a trifle crowded with twin beds draped
with mosquito bar, even with all the possessions of the Sanchez family-
shoved well to the side to make room for our luggage. By the dim light
of the lantern Gladys and I were constantly bumping into the sword,
scabbard, and belt of the absent Lieutenant Sanchez as we prepared
for the night. Such wall space as was not covered by his military
accoutrements was well taken care of by pictures ranging from home-
like scenes and patron saints to the big picture of President Trajillo
which is prominent in most Dominican houses. But, once in bed, with
the light out and with the mosquito netting well tucked in about each
bed, we settled down to a comfortable night after a hard day's travel
We were up before daylight when a lantern borne aloft on the
seemingly disembodied arm of a soldier came into our dark room. We
were ready to leave at dawn, as we had a hard day ahead of us. We
waited only for a cup of hot coffee, planning to stop for breakfast at
Restauracion a few miles ahead. When we left, Senora Sanchez told
Gladys with quiet pride, "You know, you are the first foreign lady
ever to spend the night at this army post?"
Restauracion was only another rambling village, remarkable chiefly
for its roadside advertising. Even before we saw the town itself we
saw the great white sign painted on the rocky wall above it, Dios y
Trujillo (God and Trajillo). These signs are common, and the presi-
dent is invariably given second billing. In the town square a sign
over a fine new fountain announced Trujillo nos da agua (Trujillo gives
us water) . The little jobs he takes care of by himself.
Though we spent another night on the road in order to have ample
time for photography, there is little point in a recitation of the return
to the capital. The Arribonite Valley, when we crossed it, looked little
different physically than it had in Haiti. At Elias Pina we came back
onto the highway over which we had first traveled to the capital when
we came in from Haiti, and it was merely more uncomfortable by day.
San Juan looked brighter under full sunlight than it had looked under
FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN" 163
the illumination of an electric plant that had been but half functioning
before. Trujillo City and the Jaragua Hotel look good at any time.
That, as far as highway coverage was concerned, took care of the
Dominican Republic, up and down, sidewise and crosswise. There had
been no grief in it. There was but one thing left, to get the car over
the bounding main again to Puerto Rico. There was no grief in that,
either. It was the easiest thing we did all summer, and it brought us in
contact with an interesting man, Charles McLaughlin.
McLaughlin had been an American marine during the occupation of
the republic. He had a friend in the Dominican National Guard, a young
lieutenant named Trujillo, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. So after the occu-
pation McLaughlin went home and Trujillo stayed home and became a
general. Then he became a president, in 1930. Then the hurricane struck,
and Trujillo wired Washington for the services of his former com-
manding officer, Major Thomas Wood, in rebuilding the place. Mc-
Laughlin drifted back. He took a job with the Naviera Dominicana,
keeping the ships moving. He did so well at it that in time he became
Naviera Dominicana. McLaughlin is the product of a good old American
success formula, with Latin overtones. Play fair. Work hard. Be good
to lieutenants. You never can tell.
McLaughlin was a gold mine of information on the Dominican Re-
public, especially during the war years. Newspapers during the war,
of course, let this part of the world sedulously alone for security reasons.
German submarines were less considerate. They sank three of Naviera
Dominicwufs best ships, and even with government escort for the rest
and an intensive burst of wooden shipbuilding, for a time things were
bad. Puerto Rico, dependent to a great extent on this shipping, was
perilously close to a period of belt-tightening, and Puerto Rico is never
overfed at best.
With peace, the Dominican Republic had held the place of im-
portance it took over to a large extent from the United States as a
supplier of Puerto Rico's tables, particularly in supplying meat. Fast
and sturdy diesel-powered craft with refrigerated holds carry this trade
on regular schedules, and McLaughlin made it easy for us to get the
164 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Willys aboard one of these, though the Willys was accustomed to heat
and rode on the deck.
We would fly across, of course, so this left us with a bit of time
on our hands time which I spent in one of the most interesting and
photogenic experiences of the summer. I wanted, naturally, pictures of
Trujillo Peak, the highest point in the West Indies, as well as some-
thing on Lake Enriquillo, below sea level. These two points, close to
each other and near the Haitian border, are hard to get to by car except
in the dry season, and are not at all an easy trip even then. When I
spoke about this to some of the army men, I received a most generous
offer from them. They would have an army pilot take me on a photo-
reconnaisance trip by plane over these two spots. This offer fitted
nicely into the extra time we had.
Until I was signed, sealed, and delivered at the airport, I didn't know
that the Vultee plane in which I was to ride had been through a war,
had been on the front lines, had been turned out to pasture here.
Dominican air over the mountains, I learned, is a rocky pasture for an
old plane. The pilot, Lieutenant Perez, came highly recommended and
looked better than the plane. He wasn't nearly so noisy either.
When you get an army to doing personal favors, you almost have to
play their way. They insisted on a parachute. When I got this on, and
draped a Leica, a movie camera, and another still camera over its
webs, and when I eased myself and all this down into the narrow
bucket seat, I hoped sincerely that I would never have to climb out of
there in a hurry. But first I must be instructed with the parachute.
Here is the ring, which I am to pull after and if I jumped.
"And I count the usual one-two-three?" I asked, not wishing anyone
to think this was the first time I ever wore a chute.
Lieutenant Perez shrugged deprecatingly. "But of course I am telling
you unnecessary things. I forget that in your country even every little
kid reads of these matters in magazines."
That's when it came time for me to ease all this and me too into that
seat. It was a tight fit. How I would ever combine photographing with
flying in those cramped quarters was clearly going to be something
"NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN*' 165
of a problem. I managed finally to take off my movie camera and
lay it with some extra rolls of film on the troughlike track on which
the bucket seat rested. Then I heard the control tower signals coming
over the phone and we began to pick up speed as we rolled down the
runway. Before I knew it we were airborne and the ground was drop-
ping away under us. The cool air rushed delightfully over my perspiring
face and I leaned back to enjoy the glorious adventure. Cameras, straps,
and webbing kept me from leaning back too far, kept the adventure
from feeling too glorious.
We were circling over the city now. How neat and regular it looked
from the air! There was the harbor below with the ships tied to the
^docks, the warehouses, the checkerboard pattern of streets with gleam-
ing white buildings. There stood out the startling white of the new
palace of justice, the intricate pattern of Ramfis Park with its large
wading pool for children. The pilot, seeing me banging away with all
cameras, brought the plane lower over the city so I could pick up in
the camera viewfinder the cathedral, the stone ruins of the home of
Diego Columbus, the new presidential palace under construction. I
grinned with satisfaction at Perez when he looked back at me and
gave him the sign that I had enough. He banked the plane in a sharp
curve and struck off west over the southern coast, giving me the op-
portunity to pick up a fine air shot of the startling white Hotel Jaragua
as he banked around it several times at low altitude.
Now we leveled off for the last time and cut inland. I photographed
plenty of the countryside and especially the ribbon of highway by
which we had twice traveled across country. The flat patches of green
cultivated land of the coastal plain gave place to low rounded hills which
became steeper and steeper as we headed directly inland toward the
mountains. Rapidly they rose sheer up before us. I felt my seat pushed
up against me and I knew we were rising rapidly. A glance at the alti-
meter verified this as the needle seemed to jump by hundreds of feet
at a time through the thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four
thousand markings and on up. The plane was climbing by steps, each
of which I could perceptibly feel as I alternately got heavier and
l66 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
lighter in my seat. Even then I thought those mountains were looming
up dangerously. I could not believe they were the same ones we had
looked at from the ground, they rose so steeply. From the ground the
greater part of their height is covered by foothills. Upward draughts of
air caught us now and shook us up. The earphones suddenly went out.
I could neither hear Perez nor make myself heard. If only science could
do as much for that deafening old motor!
Then science did. The old motor spat and sputtered a couple of
times, then held its breath for a slow count. I shivered a little but
decided it was only from the chill at that altitude. Couldn't be from
fear. I looked over the side. Nothing to be afraid of there big old
patchwork crazyquilt of green velvet, draped over soft, overstuffed
hills. A man could drop onto that and bounce without a chute, and go
back and do it again for fun.
The motor picked up the thread of its melody again it sounded
sweeter now and went on about its business. I kept on trying to throw
a scare into myself, just for the thrill of it. "Seriously now, Herb," I
said, "what if you did have to use this chute and it didn't work, or
you didn't work it right?"
I got no answer. What can you do with a guy like that, who won't
talk back to himself? The phones were still out, so Perez couldn't
answer me, either. Then common sense took control of the situation.
I looked over what I wore. A chute pack, with webbing to match,
three cameras and straps to match them. I was the best-wrapped pack-
age ever shipped by plane. Shucks, if the chute didn't work, and if
only I could avoid hitting first with my head or feet, I could take it
whether the chute worked or not. There was only one catch. I had no
shoehorn, to pry myself out of that bucket seat if ever I did want to
leave that plane in a hurry.
Perez looked back, motioned over to the right. Mountain peaks had
punched holes through the clouds. I nodded. "Fine sight," I shoutfed,
but made no motion with the cameras.
"No." He shook his head, signaled again. He formed a peak with
"NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN** 167
his finger tips, and raised them up high high. Then I caught on. That
was Trujillo Peak right beside us.
I guess I was expecting too much. It was the highest peak in the
West Indies, but after all that meant only ten thousand feet. It had a
rounded top, which detracted from its dignity. I got in a few shots of
it, but it was too cloud-covered. Perez squirmed and dodged around
with the plane, trying to find an open spot, but it did no good. We
would get a fleeting glimpse of the whole mountain, but before I
could do a thing about it the clouds would close in. Modest old Mt.
Trujillo! It just wouldn't uncover.
We gave up, went "downstairs" a few thousand feet, and wandered
off, simulating lack of interest. I knew from the direction we were
headed that Perez had decided to go on to Lake Enriquillo, the re-
public's section below sea level.
On the way we passed over the town of Azua. I had told Perez of
the fine effects you could get with a camera by corkscrewing down on
a village. It gives the audience the same effect as spiraling down in
the plane itself. Perez remembered my suggestion and as Azua came
into view he looked back to me, pointed below, and made a spiral
motion downward with his finger.
Here it comes, I thought, and just about got all set with my movie
camera when the horizon disappeared and I was looking straight down
over the side of the plane with the town rushing up at me. This was
corkscrew with a vengeance. I figured Perez knew what he was doing,
and anyway I had no shoehorn. And this was really great rnovie shoot-
ing, so I ground away until with a zoom he leveled off, cleared the
housetops and that shot was over. I took the first big breath since we
had started down and grinned back with approval at Perez as he
looked back questioningly to see how I liked it. Apparently my grin
of approval did not betray the sickening effect I had in my stomach.
I guess Perez had been up before. He straightened up to fly right
then, for awhile. We just flew and flew, until my stomach became
master of the situation again. Meanwhile, the green velvet quilt under
us played out, became tattered along the edges, showed bare ground
l68 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
beneath. Then we got to where the bare ground didn't show even
tatters of velvet quilt. This was the Lake Enriquillo country, bare desert
with whitish patches of alkali and poisonous patches of water. Then
we were over Lake Enriquillo itself, a corrupt green jewel set in whitish
rings of alkaline crust. Here we had it all to do over again. More cork-
screwing! It wasn't hard to give Perez an idea, but it was hard to take
it away from him. This I didn't like so much. If anything had gone
wrong back at Azua, we would have been close to the hospital. Here-
well, that water didn't look safe to drink nor fit to bathe in.
I thought we were all done when this was over, but Perez scribbled
a note and passed it back. We would go back for a final try at Mt.
Trujillo. Contrary to the laws of nature in these parts, the clouds had
thinned out a bit around the mountain, but it still wasn't good. But
Perez , wouldn't give up. We squirmed and circled and dodged cloud
banks, we twisted and turned and worried away at the problem. One of
us gave up and leaned back to enjoy the ride, but Perez wouldn't. He
shook his head after each disappointment, but he went back for more.
Then he brightened and pointed excitedly. Our perseverance had re-
warded me. We were in a great hole betwen two cloud banks, and
there beside us was Mt. Trujillo, naked from top to bottom. A moun-
tain named Trujillo should be ashamed, but I didn't think about this at
the time. I just burned film fast.
When the clouds rolled in and cut off this view, that should have
been all for the day. But it wasn't. While Mt. Trujillo had been coyly
teasing, greasy black clouds had been ganging up all around us, like
a wolf pack. The trip home was not merely a race with an oncoming
storm; it was a harried hunt through a maze. You don't plow through
cloud banks in the mountains for long, or someday you'll meet up with
a cloud bank faced with mountain on the far side. Perez did a lot of
squirming to see where he was going. Even then we were nipped
from time to time by black thunderheads, and twice we went through
something Perez called rain, but which I am sure were lakes floating
in the sky.
Finally we got our nose under the storm front and could see home.
U NO FAIRER LAND UNDER HEAVEN 7 ' 169
Perez turned and blew a contemptuous kiss toward the black storm
front. The phones came on again, and I could hear him talking to the
control tower. We circled twice and came onto the runway in a landing
so perfect that I didn't feel the wheels touch the ground. Hurriedly we
piled out of the plane and raced for cover, for one of those airborne lakes
had clearance to land on this field right behind us.
I slapped Perez on the back as the deluge slapped the glass of the
airport, "Gran melo! Lo hicimosF (A great flight! We made it!),
Perez touched fingers to his lips in a Latin gesture. "Cri nor (Al-
Puerto Rico, Uncle Sam's Latin Love
Puerto Rico had all of the same things that the other islands of the
Caribbean had, but it had more of them. More flowers. More roads.
More people. More headaches. More extreme extremes. We did the same
things there, but we did them easier and better.
Even our approach was better. We got a preview. The plane picked
up Puerto Rico at the northwest corner and flew across it to San Juan,
so we had a good look at the map before we hit it. It was a map good
to look at, but it didn't look like a map. It was more of a great green
carpet with a deep nap, a carpet fringed all the way with a thin white
fringe of beach, bordered by a dark thread of coastal road. A rich
green nap of endless cane fields with a darker green center of forest-
clad slopes, patterned all over with dark threads of a great network of
highways, dotted with white tufts of towns. Of course as we looked
farther inland we saw dark brown spots where the mountains had
San Juan broke the fantasy, for we had come down too low for
the carpet effect, and when we floated over it we couldn't possibly take
it for anything but a city. It broke the sensation of novelty too, for
we had seen it all before. With endless miles of sea wall and battlement
engulfing the city, with a repetitious El Morro jutting out to sea, San
Juan was only Little Havana. This was borne out even more when we
landed. There were some differences, of course. For one thing, San
Juan is located on an island and connected by bridge to the mainland.
The modern parts of the city are less engulfed by the ruins of the past
as in Havana. The rich parts of Havana are more extensive and more
PUERTO RICO, TJNCLE SAM*S LATIN LOVE 171
rich. But the poor parts of San Juan are more extensive and poorer,
so the relationship remains about the same.
The contrast between the frontyard and the backyard sides of San
Juan are unmatched anywhere. Nestling under the mighty battlement
of a mighty Spain, a cyclopean stone wall that stretches from San Juan
to San Cristobal, is La Perla the pearl. La Perla is humanity crowded
tier upon tier, in one of the worst slums in the world. You think surely
mankind couldn't exist and breed under conditions worse than these.
That's what you think. But don't be too sure until you have left the
Condado Hotel, Puerto Rico's finest, to ramble through the fine resi-
dential district of Santurce, to wander out to the backwaters of the bay
through the slums festooned along the stinking waters of El Fanguito.
I have no idea what the waters of El Fanguito are composed of or
decomposed of but clearly H 2 O plays but a small part in their chemical
make-up, and definitely they are unfit to serve even for flushing away
But that is touching on the worst first. There is an air about San Juan
that is not at all typified by the redolence of El Fanguito. After all,
you don't have to look at La Perla, huddled and piled and jammed
against an ancient wall; look up at the wall itself and all that goes
with it. As we floated over the city, La Perla was only a dark and
cluttered spot, all but unnoticed. But the tremendous maze of fortress
and battlement that dominates the city was something to raise men's
eyes. Again, these things may be outclassed in Havana, but here they
make up a bigger comparative part of the city and give an impression
of being vaster than Havana's offerings in the same line.
We floated down to earth on the man-made flat of Isla Grande,
breezed through customs and immigration offices, and were whisked
away by taxi to the Escambrom Beach Club, the only place where we
could get quarters at the time in a congested city. At that, it wasn't a
bad last resort as it was set on the edge of a palm-shaded beach where
at night we were lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of the ocean
waves. Later we moved downtown to the old Palace Hotel to be near
172 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
things. It was a nice old hotel, and from it we had an easy time looking
over the capital, but it lacked the idyllic setting of the Beach Club.
Looking over San Juan cleaning up on the capital before we ex-
plored the country was about the only thing we did in Puerto Rico
that conformed to our regular pattern for island coverage. Though we
couldn't get away from a feeling that we had seen it all in Havana, we
couldn't get enough of that stuff. It had something that bigger, more
bustling, more modern Havana lacked. After all, Puerto Rico is a bit
more away from things than Havana. Its old side preserved a more au-
thentic flavor of the past. It is incrusted with legends that wear away
more slowly here far out to sea. There is, for example, La Garita del
Diablo, the Devil's watchtower. It is only an ancient sentry box; like a
thousand sentry boxes decorating Spanish fortifications, but this is a
very special box. They say that once upon a time long, long ago when
the New World was young it was impossible to keep sentries in this
box. Even brave ones who would dare the dangers of the spot couldn't
be kept on guard here. No, sefiores, for even the so brave sentries dis-
appeared in the watches of the night, with all mystery. And only for an
indication of their fate, whenever a sentry was gone the air was filled
with the sharp smell of brimstone. Brimstone, no less, sefiores! Clearly
for some unknown reason of his own, Satan himself was snatching away
those brave men, none knows why.
There is San Cristobal, at one end of the great wall that guarded the
harbor. Surely San Cristobal is less monumental than the similar sprawling
fortification in Havana. But in Havana things have been changed, the
old place has been modernized to fit the needs of a modern garrison. In
San Cristobal, things have stayed as they were. Its tunnels, moats, ramps,
dungeons, and gateways all seemed filled with the very air breathed by
men gone centuries ago.
Of course even in Puerto Rico the past has been forced to yield a bit
here and there. Over at the other end of the wall running back from
the tip of El Morro, is the world's most unusual golf course. Our OWE
Fort Brook is encompassed by these walls, and lying about it is a golf
course where hazards are sea wall, moats, draw-bridges, and ramparts,
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAM*S LATIN LOVE 173
to say nothing of the added hazard of the brisk trade winds playing
havoc with the trajectory of your ball. What Spanish kings would turn
in their graves if they but knew that this costly symbol of their might
had been put to such a use! But this interesting and unusual golf course is
more than just another fact for Ripley. Can anything convey more
clearly the tremendous wealth and might of Spain in her heyday than
a golf course within the walls of a ruined Spanish fortification?
Not the least interesting thing about San Juan is the fact that this was
Ponce de Leon's bailiwick. For some reason psychologists might be able
to explain, this early settler caught the attention of most of us in gram-
mar school and held a place in our memories better than many a greater
man. Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, but doesn't his most enduring
fame rest on his failure to discover the Fountain of Youth? What other
of the world's great names in exploration rests so firmly on the feat of
But back of Florida and the Fountain of Youth there was a training
period and a testing ground for Ponce de Leon, a place to win the right
to lead an expedition of discovery and failure. And San Juan was that
place. Ponce de Leon came here on Columbus' second voyage and fell
in love with the island. After repeated requests, he was given permission
and aid in settling it, and he became its first governor in 1508.
To judge by the evidence, the place and especially San Juan fell in
love with Ponce de Leon too. The island's second city, Ponce, was
named for him. San Juan itself bristles with monuments to his memory.
A bronze statue of him looks down on a plaza named for him. His bones
repose in the cathedral here. The main avenue of the city is Ponce de
Leon Avenue. The famed baths of Coamo are known speciously as
Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth. Casa Blanca, official residence of
the American commanding officer of the island, was once his home.
The Fortaleza, the governor's official residence, is connected with the
Casa Blanca by a terrace. Originally it was wholly a fortress, antedating
even El Morro. But not long after it was built it x*s improved and modi-
fied, and it has been the governor's residence ever since the time of
174 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Ponce de Leon, whose successor was the first to occupy it. It is open to
visitors, who are shown through it freely from the tower to the vault
beneath in which treasure was stored from time to time for safety from
pirates. Sir Francis Drake in 1595, before the Fortaleza was finished,
launched a foolhardy attack on the city as he had heard that a Spanish
treasure fleet had taken refuge from a hurricane here. At this time gold
ingots to the value of over two million pesos were stored in the vault
until, the attack was fought off. This, incidentally, was Drake's last
In times past subterranean tunnels formed secret exits without the city
walls or entrances into El Morro, but these have long since been filled
in. All in all, from tower to tunnel the Fortaleza is an impressive place.
It is a spot of high contrast too, for its broad terraces and tiled prom-
enades, its garden patios and its balconies, belong to a more gracious and
spacious age. But it faces on busy, commercial Allen Street. The sharp
transition from Fortaleza to bustling, noisy Allen Street or vice versa
is always a shock.
The old part of San Juan, the island city, is connected with the island
by a causeway. It is on the mainland that the most modern part of the
city is growing up. Here too is the American Suburb of Santurce. For
the most part, the portion of the city on the mainland is more modern,
richer and whiter.
It might be well to add at this point that Puerto Rico is the whitest
of the Caribbean islands, though when one comes to it from the Domini-
can Republic this is less apparent than it would be otherwise. The origi-
nal Arawaks wouldn't work or fight, so the Indian problem was disposed
of with the same drastic simplicity that we used in the United States;
they were killed or driven off. Negro slaves did not inundate this island
as they did other islands, because Puerto Rico was poor even in its hey-
day, and few of the early settlers could afford to buy many slaves. Since
American occupation began in 1898, color has edged even farther from
the dark end of the spectrum.
We spent less time in San Juan than we had spent in the other capitals,
not beause it was less interesting but because it was comparatively com-
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAAl's LATIN LOVE 175
pact. Also, time was running out for us. We were soon ready to take
off with the Willys for a look at what else the island had to offer.
This raised the problem of where to go and where to start. On the
other islands there were just some roads and when we had covered them
we had another island chalked off. But Puerto Rico has over fifteen
hundred miles of excellent highways, a lot more than we had rime for
and a lot more in proportion to its size than most of the United States.
They cover the island with a paved network. They begin everywhere
and end nowhere. A well-paved highway, part of it a superhighway,
circles the island. There are roads that lead to places, and more roads
still that merely lead away from places up into the scenery. Of the latter
sort, the road through the part of the Caribbean National Forest at El
Yunque the Anvilis probably the most spectacular. Wrongly, perhaps,
I chose this first. It might have been better left for a climax.
Though El Yunque is but forty miles from San Juan, we got off to a
very early start, having learned by now that clouds have a predictable
habit of cluttering up the scenery in the afternoon. Route Three, across
the coastal plain that lies back of San Juan, is a picturesque drive in it-
self, and even though we were off to an early start there was a sur-
prising number of people already on the road. Puerto Rico has taken
up our Sunday holiday idea and added something to it. The road stayed
down in low, rolling country through Rio Piedras and past the beautiful
campus of the University of Puerto Rico, on to Mamey thirty miles
from the capital. Here the road up to El Yunque starts, but we were
but a few miles from Luquillo, one of the island's most popular beaches,
so we drove on for a look at it. By now waving palms and sandy crescent
of beaches, however lovely, were beginning to look slightly like some-
thing we had seen before someplace. But the neat rows of bath houses,
the trim picnic tables, and a few scattered outdoor fireplaces and water
faucets were further indications that Puerto Rico has learned how to
make a holiday of any Sunday. Cars were parked solid in the shade of the
palms along the road for over a mile. Adding everywhere to the holiday
and picnic touch were countless roadside stands selling the Puerto Rican
counterpart of the hot doglechon asado, or roast pork sandwiches.
176 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
Poorer children munched on chicharrones or bits of fried pigskin, as our
own youngsters work over an all-day sucker.
Returning to the crossroad leading to El Yunque, we turned to follow
tip the course of a little stream toward the mountains ahead. It was a
peaceful little country stream at first, a mere babbling brook. But it got
over its lazy ways, became fast and mean-looking. It turned to boiling
rapids, and then to leaping cataracts. Infected by its change in spirit,
the road became much the same. It quit being a bucolic road through
farmland, took to sweeping around graceful curves cut out of the
mountain wall, gave this up finally to scramble goatlike right up the
mountain's face in a series of zig-zags that had the Willys panting. It
gave us inspiring views, views of rolling farmland, of forested mountains,
of endless ocean. It gave us a look at a dim serrated edge out at the end
of things where sea and sky meet, the Virgin Islands, the next stepping-
stones down across the rest of the Caribbean. But if I had given the
Willys its head and enjoyed the scenery, there was no limit to the num-
ber of places where we could have easily left the road.
For once, our gain in altitude wasn't compensated by a loss in tem-
perature. We were climbing into an open-air greenhouse. We were
climbing into the green light of a jungle roomier than most jungles. We
were climbing into the past. Tree ferns larger than we had ever seen
arched over the road, filtered lacy bits of sunlight down through the
green shade. There was a heavy, earthy smell to the air a smell such as
must have been here when the earth was young and warm and not half
dry yet. No one would have been less surprised than we if a dinosaur
had nosed through the giant ferns and sniffed and snorted at our car.
Back to the Carboniferous by automobile, that was us. Then the Willys'
merry bubbling and boiling gave way to the frenzied hiss of steam, such
a hiss as must have blown through cracks in the thin earth in Jurassic
time. We stopped to let it cool off "and get a refill from the stream, and
to bring our minds up to date with thoughts of radiators and tired old
automobiles and things like that, remembering that after all this was
really the Cenozoic Era. The dinosaurs were all gone, long ago.
While waiting for the Willys to regain its composure, I thought to
T Picking bananas on the south coast of Jamaica
w^dtr St. Joseph, Trinidad
The bobby lends dignity to British authority in Port of Spain
y' Swimming pool of the Myrtle Bank, famous tourist hotel at Kingston, Jamaica
Fisherman near Ealcmdra Beach, Trinidad, with Hawk's Beak turtle, source of
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAM*S LATIN LOVE 177
improve the shining moment by trying to catch some of this lace-and-
lettuce wonderland in deathless Kodachrome. I started clambering up a
steep bank. Serious photographers always climb up a steep bank to get
a better point of vantage, to improve their pictures, and to develop
their wind. Suddenly Gladys let out a ladylike screech behind me. I
was unnerved. It was a wordless, frightened, primitive sound, such as
the graceful Eohippus might have made, away back in Eocene time.
Had she seen a dinosaur after all? I scrambled back down.
Gladys was standing transfixed, gazing wide-eyed at some rustling
motion in the leaves at her feet. "What's up?" I asked, but she only
gasped and pointed. I looked closer. It was a centipede. Not just an
ordinary centipede, but the great-great-granddaddy of all the centipedes
in the world. It was a centipede out of the primeval past, out of the
age when dragonflies were two feet from wing tip to wing tip. I esti-
mated it at seven inches in length, having always found that estimating
in such cases is more impressive than actual measurement. Anyway, who
wanted to pick him up and hold him down on a ruler? Moreover, any-
way, it had a barbed tail like a scorpion, a tail such as never belonged on a
Twentieth Century centipede. Who wants to hold a centipede by the
tail even if he has a rounded, streamlined, modern tail? I picked up a
dead stick and raised it to bring down on his head like Homo neander-
thalensis in defense of his mate.
Then the Cenozoic Era caught up with me again. Suppose I don't
kill him until he has a fair trial? Maybe he can act in the movies! So I
dug out the movie camera, and tossed the centipede out into a patch of
sunlight which incidentally had a few scrubby little ferns just getting
started in it. I showed Gladys how to keep him awake and moving with-
out danger to life or limb, and I went to work with the close-up lens.
So when you go to El Yunque maybe you will find a dinosaur. Who
cares? There are never more than four legs on a dinosaur. But you
should see my primordial centipede crashing over the tops of the ferns.
You should see the legs on him! Scurrying for shade from his patch of
sunlight, filling a movie screen from edge to edge, he embodies more of
178 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
what El Yunque was all about when it was young and all over the world
than any dinosaur unless you find a big one.
With appetites whetted by the El Yunque trip, we went into confer-
ence with the tourist bureau for advice and information on how to
make the rest of Puerto Rico look as memorable even though made of
the same old things. They teamed us up with a guide named Hector,
who had been places and knew people. We settled with Hector for
what is known as the Loop Trip across the island to Ponce on the south
coast. The Loop Trip sounds like something that is nicely laid out and
formal with no nerve-wracking indecision on which way to turn, but
such is not the case. Puerto Rico has far too many roads to permit of
anyone getting into a rut. The Loop Trip simply means that you cut
across the island by any leisurely and indirect route of the many avail-
able, keeping in mind only that you are heading for Ponce but nobody
is keeping supper warm for you. Then you turn away from Ponce in
some direction or other, and you ramble around to some other places-
dealer's choiceand when you have had enough of it or your time is up,
you roll back to San Juan, remembering en route that nobody is wait-
ing supper for you in San Juan either.
We took off on Route One from San Juan to Rio Piedras old stuff
so far, but after that it got different. This Route One across the island
to Ponce for the most part follows the old Camino Real royial highway
which was a wagon road in more leisurely times. What did those old
timers care if a road wound around a little? We didn't care (either.
There is something about Puerto Ricans that is different, and it
showed up on this trip. This is digression and philosophical reflection
and other things you don't want much of in travel, but on the other
hand you don't want to sit in the back of the Willys all the way across
the island, listening to the radiator boil. So this is about Puerto Ricans:
There they are, three million of them crowded on one little island.
Any statistician can divide the population into the income and show
that Puerto Rico is starving poor. Anyone can lift the lid in a corner
of a San Juan slum and prove that's right. And they're in the tropics.
By any rule, Puerto Rico should be one vast shanty town.
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAM*S LATIN LOVE 179
We have spoken of the trip to El Yunque as a drive through a green-
house. The trip across the island and many of the other trips on the
island were drives through a semi-formal flower garden, with the high-
ways only wide walks through beds bordered with violent and exotic
color. The flamboyan or royal poinciana is an eye-catcher in bloom when
it grows up by accident, but when generations of thought and effort pro-
duce miles of ftcwnboyan neatly lining the roads and nearly knocking
your eyes out with the blaze of color the effect is easy to remember.
But, not satisfied with this, a second border of lower but equally brilliant
hibiscus fills in the gaps. Sometimes they run out of flamboyan and have
to struggle along with just solid hedgerows of hibiscus.
Halfway across the island we looped off to a spot called Treasure
Island, having heard that this is the proper spot for celebrities and honey-
mooners. Treasure Island seems at first to be only a better-class mountain
resort, but it is more than that. Actually it is a large-scale farm enter-
prise, American big business in agriculture with Latin overtones. It is
possible to visit Treasure Island and never notice more than the fine
sports facilities, the excellent accommodations, the good food. All of
this is, indeed, for the most part only a profitable sideline. Agriculture
under modern methods flourishes here as nowhere else, ranging from
mulberry culture for silkworms to extensive fields of excellent strawber-
ries. Name a cropthey have some of it at this place.
Up the valley of the La Plata River were what appeared to be patches
of snow on the slopes. This is where fine tobacco is grown under muslin,
expensive tobacco for cigar wrappers. This was prosperous farming
country, though with many of its people kept poor by overcrowding.
Because of the greater amount of highway travel, sometimes you get a
deeper feeling of contrast here. We all know that there are oxcarts and
automobiles in every country to the south. But in Puerto Rico they get
closer oftener. We know that American products go all over the world,
and that people are crazy about them. But the best human scene across
the mountains was a woman trotting down the road from the corner
store with groceries piled in her arms. A bunch of planwns, the cooking
l8o HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
bananas. A few long yuca roots, to take the place of potatoes. A box of
cornflakes. A can of Crisco.
Then we came down out of the mountains into the broad coastal
border of waving fields of cane again, and a city loomed up ahead in a
low sort of way. A Lions' Club sign and a Rotary wheel announced that
it was Ponce.
Even with its service club signs, Ponce was different. In fact, there
is some reason to believe that the service club signs may be posted out-
side the city limits. Ponce de Leon built San Juan, but time has changed
it. Ponce is like a city when he was still here. You could find Spain of
the ages in San Juan, you could become enthralled with the air of by-
gone days but you were forever coming out of a narrow little street
that hadn't even been swept since the sixteenth century and coming face
to face with an ice-cream parlor. Ponce was as Spanish as Spain, as old
as Time, quiet, dignified, acting its age. It is an important port for sugar
and coffee, but the townsfolk don't let business ruin their rest. There
is a Rotary Club part of town in the central city, a place of modern
department stores, drug stores, notions stores. But it is small and compact
and people don't talk about such things.
Even in the matter of house painting, there was something different
about this place. We have spoken poetically of the native tendency
through most of these islands to paint houses in rainbow hues. Actually,
the colors are often garish things that no self-respecting rainbow would
dare to show. There was a softer tone to Ponce's color, a tone that made
one think perhaps Ponce de Leon had slapped the paint on some of
them himself, to let time and the sunlight soften them. The place never
hurts the eyes.
From Ponce we rolled west and then up into the hills again, through
coffee country. The tree-lined highway here was less floral, more exotic.
Rich green stalks of banana plants shared the roadside with almarcio
trees, a member of the rubber tree family with striking red bark. The
scene was draped with long grey streamers of moss, throwing the picture
into soft focus like a scene from a daydream.
For the most part, the coffee country isn't rich. Sugar is the big money
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAAl's LATIN LOVE l8l
crop of the island, a crop singularly ill-adapted to small individual enter-
prise. Sugar brings Puerto Rico dollars with zeros draped after them.
Coif ee here is more often pin money for little people remembering that
pin money is all the money many a family gets in this land. It is raised
more often in small individual holdings by people forced to live most
of the year from their garden patch. It is a seasonal crop, making its
owner rich one day a year. In other places coffee production is sometimes
highly organized and mechanized, but here for the most part methods
are simple and primitive. Much of the countryside is laden with the
heavy smell of roasting coffee, for people use it as well as sell it. It is
always roasted for home use to a nearly charred state, making the roast-
ing process highly aromatic. It is served with a lot of sugar making it
thick, black, and sweet, doing double duty as both drink and dessert.
Because of the time we spent looking over a coffee plantation, we had
to put up for the night in Yauco, which gave us a taste of life in a small
town. Yauco doesn't know about tourists. We were surprised to find
a choice of two or three small but clean hotels of limited facilities. We
settled on the Hotel New York.
The next day brought another long drive through the flower garden,
with a touch of variety thrown in. We touched the sea at the port of
Guanica, where American troops first landed in the Spanish-American
War. We passed, but did not pause at, one of the world's largest
centrales or sugar refineries. Then we got a slight shock. We hit a spot
of dry land, land with occasional cactus. We had nearly forgotten that
these islands have dry spots, for Puerto Rico is more uniformly blessed
with rainfall than any of the other islands. The day ended at San German
on the Guanajibo River, and after seeing Ponce it was a surprising place
to end a day.
By the book, San German should be loaded with history. Two of its
fine old churches date from 1511 and one of these, Porta Coelis, or Gate
of Heaven, is so photogenic that it is perhaps one of the most photo-
graphed spots on the island. Many of the families are as old as Ponce's
First Families, and some trace a fanciful descent from a rich retired
182 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
pirate who is said to have spent his declining years here. But San German
is not a declining place now. A fine modern Polytechnic Institute is
located here, and title town bustles with embroidery and handkerchief
factories. We visited one of these to see long lines of girls at work at long
tables. But actually most of these factories are really shipping centers
and the greater part of the work is done under the sweat shop system,
with people doing most of the work at home. We saw a bit of this and
of the economic need for it at nearby Cabo Rojo, a miserable fishing
village of ramshackle huts set up on stilts along the water's edge.
Through open doors and on the porches were women busily engaged
in the same sort of handiwork.
Mayaguez, only an hour away up the west coast, was more of the
same. This is really the big center of the embroidery and handkerchief
industry. We visited briefly the Dweck Factory, from which issue a
million dozen handkerchiefs a year, as well as a lot of sidelines like em-
broidered baby clothes and women's underwear. Much of the raw ma-
terial comes from the United States already made up, to have the
embroidery work added here, so what this factory system really amounts
to is a means of shipping hand labor into the United States. Mayaguez
too is well equipped with modern schools, modern buildings, modern
ideas. It has forgotten all about the past, is straining to overtake the
The rest of the Loop Trip was just a trip headed for the barn, with
here and there a side jaunt Aguada, where a stone monument among
the palms on the beach states that Columbus landed here on November
19, 1493; near-by Aguadilla, which claims the same. After a tour of the
Caribbean, one reflects on what a fine time the shades of Columbus and
George Washington may have in the next world. Washington telling
about his bed sores. Columbus talking about his tired, aching feet.
Borinquen Field was worth a stop, and got it. This U. S. base is a
mammoth establishment, and we got the feeling after touring it that
Puerto Rico was but an appendage to it. It is important not only in
Caribbean air travel, but is a way-station on the transatlantic hop. We
had flown over it on our way to San Juan, and had been properly
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAM's LATIN LOVE
amazed by its size, its miles of great landing strips, its countless build-
ings. It is built to be virtually a self-sufficient unit, with everything it
needs from vegetable patches to its own cemetery. Puerto Rico might
secede from Borinquen Field, and nobody on the field would know the
Ninety miles of superhighway connects the Field with San Juan, and
it can be covered in less than two hours, with no side trips. We took
side trips. It doesn't matter which, for you will want to pick your own
There is a trip through the Camuy Valley near Arecibo that has some-
thing different to offer. Vertical cliffs rise on either side of the valley,
and these cliffs are full of caves. Now anyone is interested in caves, but
many people don't like going into them because of the feeling of con-
finement. The caves here have the cure for that claustrophobia sensation.
Their entrances are heavily festooned with matted vines, so they give
you that genuine cave feeling. But many of them run clear through the
cliff, so that you can always see daylight ahead and behind. Or skip all
this if you want, and g'wan back to San Juan.
The Loop Trip just about wrapped up Puerto Rico. We hadn't seen
everything by a long shot, but we had seen samples of everything. With
one exception we hadn't seen The Man. Just as we had arrived in San
Juan, there was a lot of celebrating going on, for the President had just
given Puerto Rico back to the Puerto Ricans. He had just appointed
Jesus Pinero, a native of the island, as governor. This had never hap-
pened before, and we wanted if possible to meet the first man to be
allowed to carry the ball for his home team.
He was surprisingly easy to meet, and easy to talk to. Having been
resident commissioner in Washington for the island for years, his English
was quite a bit better than mine. He was something of a camera enthusi-
ast himself, and the interview kept drifting from affairs of state to affairs
photographic, a natural tendency, as Kodachrome makes it possible
to get more color into photography than into affairs of state.
Governor Pinero was realistic in his approach to the island's problems,
184 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
once we tore ourselves away from photography. In his inaugural speech
he had told his countrymen that they were essentially a poor and over-
crowded people, and must have a government interested in their col-
lective problems, rather than the problems of a select few. The dense
population called for improvements in agricultural methods and for a
greater degree of industrialization. He gave considerable credit to his
predecessor, Rexford G. Tugwell, for having made progress toward
this goal. He spoke of the work of the Industrial Development Com-
pany, engaged in a program of speeding up industry on the island both
by private enterprise and through government help.
'What of recurrent talk of independence for the island?" I asked.
Governor Pinero shrugged. "Independence from what? We realize
that today it would be economic catastrophe to live outside the tariff
walls of die United States." We went on and talked briefly of the mean-
ing of independence. For all its poverty and overcrowding, Puerto Rico
occupies an enviable place in comparison with most of the Caribbean.
Independence and economic chaos can't be readily reconciled. Gov-
ernor Pinero looked forward more wisely and hopefully to a day when
Puerto Rico might become another state.
We left his office in mid-afternoon, and there were a few hours of
good sunlight left. A Puerto Rican had been pestering us to sell him
our car, and since the islands on ahead were far too small to justify its
shipment, it looked like a good idea. It looked like a better idea to him,
as he didn't know the car as well. Anyway it was his own idea and he
was welcome to it.
"But let's first," Gladys suggested, "see if we can get permission to
drive it up on the ramps of El Morro and get a farewell picture of it,
kind of sniffing to the east as if it wanted to go on and jump across
So we did. Right up the ramp and onto the stone roof, with the city
lying below, the American flag fluttering in the breeze, everything but
a band to play the Star Spangled Banner. It was a fine finale; a great
idea one of Gladys', too. There the faithful, fitful old wagon stood,
crouched on the very edge of the eastern tip of our Gibraltar, eagerly
PUERTO RICO, UNCLE SAXl's LATIN LOVE 185
sniffing-well, it wasn't really sniffing, no. But after the run up the
ramparts its radiator was burbling softly, as if it ought to blow its nose.
Then we drove back down again, and drove off to sell the car to the
man. After all, it was his own idea, He asked for k
He got it
Somewhere along the line Gladys, in a poetic mood, compared the
West Indies to a long strand of brown pearls stretched across the New
World's throat. It was a nice poetic concept, but betrayed a relatively
limited knowledge of strands of pearls. For one thing, airplane and ship
routes are rather tenuous threads on which to string pearls. And they
are not brown pearls; they range ethnologically from black to white
and from that to nothing, for many of them are uninhabited. Hispaniola
is a queer-looking pearl, with black Haiti on one end and the white
Dominican Republic on the other.
Nor are they much in the way of a matched strand. Sizes run from
Cuba, which is seven hundred and sixty miles long, down to bare little
dots too small to support a palm. With Puerto Rico, we run out of size-
able pearls for a great many miles, but as we look down the strand to
where we should find smaller and smaller pearls, we find Trinidad away
down at the end of the line. Trinidad isn't so big; it looks big after miles
and millions of Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, and just islands.
St. Thomas in the Virgin Island group was our first stop beyond
Puerto Rico, and it is easy to see why we didn't bother with a car. There
was almost a shuttle plane service of only minutes from San Juan, and
we would have grown a bit restless waiting for the Willys to arrive by
boat. Nor would we have had much use for the old crate if it got there,
for the island is about thirteen miles long and from about one to less
than four miles wide. It was only a taxi ride to see all the island had to
offer in the way of roads.
We covered half of the island just in getting from the airport to the
TRINIDAD FINALE 187
city, Charlotte Amalie. That's a joke, having the airport halfway across
the country from the town, but it wasn't much of a joke to die men
who had to find a piece of level land big enough for a plane. At that,
they had to make a fill to extend the runway out into the water in order
to land the bigger planes.
Once in town, there was a surprising choice of places to stay. We had
already made arrangements at Hotel 1829, but Bluebeard's Castle and
the old Grand Hotel down near the waterfront are also good.
Of them all, I believe Hotel 1829 is the most impressive and distinc-
tive. It is entered by a tremendous flight of stone steps, and from its
broad porch and balcony the whole port city of Charlotte Arnalie lies
out before the guest like a great map. We occupied the rooms where
King Carol of Rumania and Magda Lupescu stayed as refugees during
part of the war.
The dining room with its great Danish fireplace flanked by Dutch
ovens was a unique sight for the Caribbean. Denmark owned this island
group until we bought it in 1917, and a long Danish occupancy has
made the inhabited islands interestingly different. This difference is by
no means limited to the Hotel 1829. There was a wealth of plain, solid
stone architecture in the town that was somewhat at variance with any-
thing else in the West Indies. Not the least distinctive feature was the
abundance of tremendous wooden shutters, as big as doors, fastened
from within by great iron hooks. Closed, they made a place virtually
impregnable, as they were of very heavy wood. Open, the shutters them-
selves as well as the huge iron hinges added much that was unusual to
the decorative effect.
Mr. Maguire, son of the owner of the hotel, spent a few hours in
driving us completely around the island. An undecided highway keeps
climbing small mountains and then wandering back to the sea, offering
chiefly marine views, as much of the island is uninhabited and dry. In
fact, there is not even sufficient water on it for drinking purposes, and
most of the water comes from great concrete catchment basins built on
the hillsides. One of the hills is occupied by Blackbeard's Tower, so
named because the pirate Blackbeard once captured it and had the town
l88 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
at his mercy. Another hilltop gave us a fine view of Magen's Bay with its
fine bathing beach. Beyond it we could see Drake's Passage, through
which Sir Francis Drake is said to have entered one time. A seat. erected
here for restful contemplation of the view is known somewhat eu-
phemiously, I am afraid as Drake's Seat.
The island has more to offer in the way of quaint and distinctive
charm than any other spot of its size in the Caribbean. It is increasingly
popular, not so much with regular tourists as with folks who want to get
away from it all, to rest, to fish, and to let the world hurry by to
wherever it is going. It is a quiet corner away from the world. As one
writer put it, "Nothing more exciting than a game of bridge ever hap-
pens here at night."
Beyond the Virgin Islands stretch a string of small islands called the
Lesser Antilles. These are of mixed nationality, French Guadeloupe,
British Dominica, French Martinique, British St. Lucia and Barbados.
They are as interesting historically as anything in the Caribbean, but too
numerous for one man to cover them all on just a trip. Many of them
were Columbus' stamping grounds in 1493, in 1498, in 1502. A minor
island off St. Kitts was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton. Near
Guadeloupe Admiral Romney defeated the French fleet in the struggle
for empire. To St. Vincent, Captain Bligh of Bounty mutiny fame
brought the first breadfruit seedlings. Martinique was the home of the
Empress Josephine. It was Mt. Pelee on the northern end of the island
that blew up in 1902 and killed forty thousand people, the greatest single
catastrophe in the entire New World. Today all these islands are in
deep sleep, having forgotten the days when they were once pawns of
empire. We let them sleep, for the most part. An airplane can't stop
quickly enough to visit them all.
At the end of the Lesser Antilles, though not considered a part of
them, is the island of Trinidad. Fifty miles long by forty miles wide, no
larger than many an American county, yet it contains perhaps nearly
as much land as all the Lesser Antilles put together. Lying but a short
distance off the coast of South America, the South American clasp of
our strand of pearls, it deserved a looking over. Loaded with more variety
TRINIDAD FINALE 189
than any island in the whole Caribbean, it demanded attention. So we
gave it some, landing by night in Port of Spain. It was perhaps fitting
that we should come in night black as pitch to the island that has sup-
plied the world's asphalt for over half a century.
It is too bad that Trinidad isn't close to home instead of close to South
America. It would offer a convenient trip around the world at little in-
convenience and expense. Though the bulk of its population is colored,
it is a British possession. Its colored population speak an English mixed
with words brought over from Africa or picked up from native Carib,
from French, from Spanish, for this rich little island has been a football
of empire, and thousands of French fled here during the revolution in
Haiti over a century ago. Its English overlords are not the English of
today but the English of Kipling. Blending nicely with Kipling are the
thousands of Hindus transplanted here from India as a source of cheap
labor. Out in the hills are African kraals. On the asphalt lake is the last
word in modern industrialization, in the refining processes for the crude
asphalt. What more could one ask of an island the size of a county?
Not the least interesting spot on the island is the capital city of Port
of Spain, and the Queens Park Hotel where we put up was not at all a
bad place from which to see some of the city's attractions. It is a rambling
old Victorian place facing on the Savannah and flanked by the homes of
some of Port of Spain's elite. Its tremendous open-air dining room is the
Mecca of Port of Spain society. Not far off is the section of the East
The Savannah, heart of the city's life, is a grassy meadow of a hundred
and seventy acres, surrounded by large trees. As it is a race track as well
as a soccer and cricket field, there is usually something going on there.
The hotel commands a fine view of all the Savannah's activities, but the
more myopic spectators may watch while they loaf in the shade of the
gigantic Saman. trees that surround it. These trees are quite a sight in
themselves, as they are of tremendous size and their limbs reach out so
far horizontally that they seem to defy the law of gravity. It is a tree of
dense foliage, and the shade of a Saman tree is all shade. Or if you wish
190 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
to enjoy a slight breeze while watching the sports, take a slow-motion
ride in one of the open-air trolleys that circle part of the Savannah. And
if the action palls, sit on the other side of the trolley and get either a
pain or a laugh from the fantastically ornate homes of the well-to-do.
For the most part they are a nice blending of the architectural agonies
of French, Victorian, Spanish, and Moorish ideas of how to throw
money around and have it all show on the outside of a house. Here are
raised to the nth degree the architectural features most suited to catch-
ing attention and pigeon droppings.
Our first trip along Trinidad's highway was over the Saddle to beauti-
ful Maracas Bay on the north coast. This is an American-built road,
giving the islanders access to the fine beach of the bay by way of com-
pensation for their former beach, which is now taken over by the Ameri-
can base, Fort Read, to the west of Port of Spain. It is difficult, though,
to see why the people should have wanted a compensation for loss of a
beach, as the island is virtually ringed with excellent beaches. Anyway,
it is a fine road and gave us a good look at the island, taking us through
cane fields, climbing up through cocoa plantations growing in the pro-
tecting shade of immortel trees, giving us another touch of bamboo
orchards, and throwing in a few fine views of the Gulf of Paria and
We next crossed the island directly westward, through a more level
country, a densely populated country with frequent towns and villages.
Here we were back again in the West Indies, with wood frame archi-
tecture dominant. At Arima, halfway across, a new race track reminded
us that money had been flowing into this island as a result of the war,
and that some of this money came from the pay window at nearby Fort
Read. We took a short side trip to visit this base, and were pleasantly
surprised to find that even a little sample of the United States is to be
found on this polyglot island. After Borinquen Field this establishment
wasn't very big, but it was nice to be home away from home again.
Beyond Fort Read we ran out of towns and into tropical rain forest
again. There was some lumbering and charcoal making along the way,
and we even came upon a rubber plantation. It wasn't a big industry
here, but it gave further evidence that Trinidad has everything and can
do everything. This trip, ending up among the coconut groves about
Matura on the east coast, brought home to us the unbelievable variety
offered by this one little island.
All along the way on any trip, we were more than struck by Trini-
dad's varied fauna and flora, far in excess of all the rest of the Caribbean
lumped together. Howler monkeys made the jungle sections hideous
with noise, with considerable help from the bluejay-like keskadee birds.
The brilliant toucan flitted by, his tremendous yellow bill a sight that
must be seen to be believed. Sixteen varieties of humming birds, yellow
and black orioles, the stately scarlet ibis, the queer trogon bird which
rears its young in ants' nests, all fill more of nature's niches with bird
life than anyplace we've ever seen.
Nor do birds have a monopoly. There are plenty of agoutis, which
are best described as a sort of short-eared rabbit that enjoys getting its
feet wet. Opossums, armadillos, and a small variety of deer fill in more
places left blank in the other islands.
Nor is the reptilian family without representation. We were warned
that this is the only island where dangerous snakes are to be found. The
dreaded fer-de-lance, extinct in the other islands, is still here. The beau-
tiful and deadly coral snake, the dreaded bushmaster, are residents of
Trinidad. The impressive but harmless boa constrictor is sometimes en-
couraged to stay around the garden to keep down rodents.
Flowers, too, have taken over Trinidad, and without the help they
have received in Puerto Rico. Here and there as we drove along there
was wafted to us the nearly overpowering sweetness of the Christmas
Flower. Beautiful wax pink antherium lilies grew wild in roadside
ditches. The imrnortel trees were staid enough, but we were told that
when they are in bloom, from January through March, they are a riot
of red that puts the flamboyan to shame.
But we can't stand about sniffing blossoms, can we? There was still
one more trip to make, and it had to be made. This was the trip to the
asphalt lake on the southwest corner of the island. Scenically, this fifty-
192 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
seven mile jaunt rated low, but after all there is only one asphalt lake
in the world and this was it, and all the world's tarred roads have come
out of it. From the viewpoint of human interest^ this trip was tops. In
less than fifty-seven miles we went halfway around the world.
Water buffalo pulled primitive plows in fields along the roadside,
guided by Hindu farmers. Water buffalo pulled primitive carts, on which
sat ftin-covered Hindu women beside their menfolk. Even the homes
along the way were Hindu homes, adobe walled, with rounded corners
and oddly thatched. We passed huge sugar centrals, but the human evi-
dence along the way told us we were over in India, not over here. Tur-
baned fishermen cast and drew their nets in Othaheite Bay, stopped to
sell their catch to the Hindu mob on the beach, went back to their fishing
again. Coconut palms good old conventional coconut palms such as
we had been seeing for monthswaved over us. Cocoa groves and
patches of jungle moved by. Still, every time we passed a human, we
knew we were far away somewhere else. To prove it, here and there
were Hindu temples, and an occasional Mohammedan mosque.
The tar pit brought us back a bit, even though there were some
Hindus there, too. It was a black, ugly marsh, of well over a hundred
acres. India is exotic; this ugly black spot must be nearer home. Trucks
were rolling down beaten paths across the tar, and there was a hurry
and an ugliness and an efficiency that didn't mention India. We followed
a truck down and walked across the revolting stuff, shriveled like giant
folds of elephant skin. It was dry enough and didn't stick to our shoes,
but it gave oddly under our feet and Gladys said it was like walking on
hard-packed clouds. Here and there men with mattocks were digging
out chunks of the black cheese pocked with bubbles, loading it in trucks,
rushing it off to the refinery. Tomorrow the spots dug out today will
fill up again. This has been going on for fifty years, and has lowered the
tar lake by only twenty feet. According to geologists, another two
hundred and fifty feet and we'll have to find a substitute.
Off to our right a group of workmen were singing and we strained
to catch the words. The leader intoned in a rich African tenor,
The Hindu jewelry maker of Port of Spain 'works imth feet as 'well as hand*
The breadfruit of the West Indies, nature's manna to the poor
TRINIDAD FINALE 193
Get to work, get to work!
I've told you what to do.
If you don't try, you'll lose your job.
Then you will be through.
We were hearing the calypso in its native haunts. Some calypso singers
get good enough in improvisation of this troubador type of song to
quit working. They hang around towns, win calypso contests, get jobs
in New York night clubs, make recordings. We were hearing calypso
as it is when it gets its start, all that is left in the world of the minstrelsy
of the Middle Ages.
That trip left us with little more to do but to catch a plane and go
home. But before we could accomplish this, one last adventure came
along. I had mentioned my keen disappointment in finding voodoo to be
mostly drumbeats in Haiti, in talking over the trip with a young Ameri-
can in business in Port of Spain. He defended the voodoo legend, said
that while of course it was overplayed for tourists and stay-at-home
travelers alike, nevertheless there was a lot of real voodoo religion in
the islands. I laughed it off, but he insisted that he had seen such cere-
monies through the co-operation of a colored friend of his.
"How about this friend of yours getting me in on it?" I asked.
"Sure, the very next time they have a get-together."
I regarded this as his "out" at the time, but on our return from the tar
pit he dropped around to the hotel with the information that "tonight's
the night." What could I do? It was unfair to Haiti to patronize voodoo
in Trinidad. But on the other hand, Haiti had introduced me to calypso
singing, which is rightfully a Trinidad product. Naturally I went, but
for once without Gladys and without cameras. No, he assured me,
everything was perfectly safe. But we would be witnessing the show by
night, from a place of concealment arranged through his dark friend.
The pop of a flash-bulb might stampede the self-hypnotized devotees
into doing something rash. And the place of concealment wasn't large
enough to include Gladys.
So after dinner we piled into his diminutive English car and wound
off across part of Trinidad. Finally we threaded our way through the
194 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
crooked streets of a little village, following the low-pitched drumbeats.
We turned up a pitch dark alley, parked the car, knocked on a back-
yard gate, and this fellow's friend let us in.
It was a large yard, and at one end of it was an open shed nothing
more than a thatched roof set up on four posts. The yard was just be-
ginning to fill up with devotees who gathered close-packed about this
shed- My friend's black friend led us around the edge of the yard to a
point of vantage behind a few conveniently piled packing boxes. "You
stay here, with safety," the colored boy said. "Don't be scare. Ev'ry
body friend. Nobody bother. But you take careful, eh? Please not to
let anyone see." Then he left us, thus comforted and reassured, and went
to join the crowd.
Crude benches arranged about the outside of the open shed were
jammed with blacks. Over their shoulders a packed mass of more col-
ored folk peered at the ceremony.
The spectacle within the shed was rather dull at first. We couldn't
see why anyone should strain to see it. Musicians, at one end of the shed,
were lazing along with drums and rattles, not at all putting their hearts
into their work. In front of them was a low, crude altar only a few
stones set upright, with a large knife stuck in the ground in the center.
Ringed round this were some bottles, pop bottles, catsup bottles, gin
bottles, for a good bottle is never tossed away. My friend whispered
that they were full of rum.
In front of the altar a few men and women were dancing but the
dancing consisted almost wholly of listlessly suggestive movements of
the body sort of half-hearted suggestions. From time to time a man
joined hands with a woman, and they danced around together. Now and
then a man got down and rolled on the floor in odd contortions, or knelt
transfixed and crawled about on his knees. In either case, these seemed
to be ceremonial ways of working up toward the bottles to get a drink.
It was hard to be carried away in our hot, cramped, sweaty quarters.
Our chief emotion was impatience fostered by discomfort. But we no-
ticed that the drums and the worshippers began to take on sort of a
wavelike rhythm. There were minutes dull as dishwater, and then action
TRINIDAD FINALE 195
and tempo would pick up for a bit recede pick up each time rising a
little higher. The suggestive dancing became less half-hearted. The drums
were drowned out on the emotional crests of wild shouts and ejacula-
At what seemed afterward to have been the emotional peak of the
ceremony, a wildly dancing woman suddenly froze in her tracks, let
loose a high-pitched scream that rang and rang against the board walls
of the yard, and then went into a frenzy. She tore, scratched, clawed
wildly at anyone within reach. One of the men my friend said a voodoo
priest took her hand, mumbled soothing words to drive out the bad
spirit, quieted her, and she went back to normal dancing.
Shortly after this, in a quiet time, a live rooster was brought in. The
black voodoo priest took the knife that stood between the stones and cut
its throat while two assistants held it. One of them was quick to catch
the spurting blood in a cup. The cup was passed around to the people
who had done most of the dancing. They each took a ceremonial sip,
passed it on, and resumed dancing.
But dancing fell off rapidly after this point. Exhaustion, the first
streaks of dawn, and a sense of climax caused watchers and dancers alike
to steal away. Grey daylight on the empty and overturned bottles, on
a few black feathers from the sacrifice, did nothing to enhance the scene.
The dust that had been kept churned up through the long night settled
now, softening the rough edges. The thick rank smell of sweat lingered
on only the bright sun could burn that away.
I was exhausted, too. But not from emotion. It had been an uncom-
fortable night. With all its ups and downs, it hadn't been an exciting
night. This was voodoo-voodoo as it is voodooed. You can have it. The
old time religion is good enough for me.
There was nothing left now but to await our plane which left at
night. I guided Gladys through the shopping district, holding her hand
or handbag when she showed sign of weakening before the temptations
of the East Indian shops or Bombay stores. Fine silks and embroidery,
Benares brassware, inlaid jewel boxes, oriental perfumes-all very fine,
but the house is so full of travel junk now that I can't find a place to he
196 HIGHWAY ACROSS THE WEST INDIES
down. The English stores on Fredericks street well, here I gave Gladys
back her handbag. English woolens, Scotch plaids, Irish linen prices
on some of these goods outside the tariff wall of the United States make
one ashamed to take them away from the storekeeper.
That was our lazy day. Nothing to do, really, but wait for the plane
or start back afoot. Finally night fell and it was time to get out to the
field. We climbed aboard our Pan American Airways liner, and in a few
minutes were borne aloft. It was a black night and Trinidad is a very
dark island, and a minute after we left the field we were only a little
point in directionless space. The receding lights of Port of Spain winked
at us and the stars twinkled around us everywhere, and it was hard to
say which were stars and which was Port of Spain. Anyway, the pilot
had a map and a compass and it was his worry. We leaned back and
dreamed. It must have been a dream. There couldn't have been that
much in so few months except on the magic carpet of dreams.
While dreaming we went on farther and slept awhile. There was
water, water everywhere when we awoke, but shortly afterward our
mechanized magic carpet brought a familiar scene into focus. The New
York skyline, famed even in Trinidad.
Everything would have been all right except that we had to go down-
town to see a man about a book. There were no sea breezes blowing
through the city's canyons. The wind that whistled around New York's
street corners was right off the ice, and filled with flecks of snow that
bit like knives. We had left here with summer just getting under way,
and with only a hazy idea of how long we would be gone, and with no
idea at all that we would let the Caribbean lure so much time away from
us. We had left prepared for summer in a summery world. We had come
back with nothing more added to what we had taken with us than
Gladys' poetic image of a warm pearl necklace stretched across the New
World's throat. A muffler would have been better.
We leaned into a wind that surely must have swept both Poles and
an icebox to pick up all it had. We came around a corner into a New
York canyon williwaw a wind that blew up, down, and sidewise. I
turned up my coat collar to do service in lieu of a warm pearl necklace,
TRINIDAD FINALE 197
and fought to steal back just a few bites of that biting air, just enough
to do me for breathing purposes. I didn't want any more of it than that,
and I had that coming if I could get it, as the same wind had whipped
my breath away when we came around that corner.
But Gladys was made of sterner stuff. She was not only breathing,
but she had a little left over for conversation. It wasn't just idle chatter,
either. She came through with a fine idea, only we couldn't use it just
now. We both filed it away for later.
"Herb, let's go back," Gladys said.