Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Motoring Through Porto Rico (Puerto Rico)
From Scribner’s Magazine, February 1916.
PDF facsimile located at
Digital capture by Doug Frizzle June 2009.

PORTO RICO has frequently been called the "Isle of Enchantment" or the "Treasure Isle," but it would be far more appropriate to call it the "Isle of Good Roads." Although but eighty-five miles in length by thirty-five in breadth, this little island can boast of over eight hundred miles of perfect automobile roads, which encircle the island, connect all the important towns, and form a network over which the island's products and imports are carried by bull carts, mule teams, and auto-trucks.
While the Americans have done much to beautify and improve the island, yet we cannot claim the honor of having first paved the way for Porto Rico's wonderful road system. It is true that we have built many roads and have constructed splendid bridges, but the wonderful Military Road—the best and most important highway of the island—is to-day the same famous road constructed by the Spaniards and will ever remain an enduring monument to the engineering skill and farsightedness of Spanish engineers.
With its splendid roads, its wonderful fertility, its magnificent scenery, and its healthy, pleasant climate, Porto Rico offers an exceptionally attractive field for autoists. It is easily reached by a pleasant four or five day sail on comfortable steamers, and there are no vexatious customs, expensive crating, or other inconveniences attached to transporting an automobile from the United States to our West Indian colony.
The steamships of the New York and Porto Rico line make a specialty of carrying automobiles, and accept them un-crated and ready to run, the only requirement being that the gasolene must be drawn off from the tanks. On some of the ships the machines are run directly into the hold through a side port, while on the smaller ships the machines are hoisted aboard with specially designed slings and placed in the hold beneath the hatches. As machines thus shipped are taken at owner's risk, it is well to insure expensive cars, and, to prevent rust or corrosion by salt air, covers should be placed over the brass or nickel work.
On arrival at Porto Rico an insular license is required before the car is used. This is obtained at the Intendencia Building on the Plaza Principal at San Juan. The fee is five dollars a year for any private machine, but a special transient license may be procured for two dollars per month. The automobile laws are very lenient in Porto Rico, the speed being unlimited in outlying districts, and at each town or village a sign is placed beside the road directing drivers to reduce speed to sixteen kilometres per hour. When leaving a machine in a town a boy or some other person should be left in charge, as there is an ordinance forbidding drivers to leave machines unattended on the streets.
Garages, repair-shops, accessory dealers, and automobile agencies are numerous throughout the island, and charges are very reasonable, and the work is as good as in New York. Gasolene costs from twenty-four to fifty cents per gallon, depending upon the locality, most of the coast towns charging the lower rate, while the distant interior towns charge as high as sixty cents. For this reason the autoist in Porto Rico should always carry an extra tank or tin of gasolene when starting on an extended trip, for the climate and the mountain grades eat up fuel very rapidly and a car will seldom give more than two thirds as much mileage to the gallon as in the United States. A large portion of the traffic and freighting in Porto Rico is carried on by automobile, and a constant stream of pleasure-cars, trucks, and public buses is met wherever one travels. Several regular lines of automobiles are operated on the island and the cars make daily trips over scheduled runs, while others may be rented by the day or hour. Even about San Juan itself the autoist can find much of interest, and the various historical spots, quaint and picturesque parts of the town, and the well-stocked shops and stores may all be reached with less exertion and in greater comfort in an automobile than by any other means.
Every one drives with the top up in Porto Rico, for the sun beats down with true tropical fervor and showers are so frequent and so sudden that some protection is always necessary. The autoist, accustomed to driving his car through our broad American streets and around our ample corners will at first find it quite a task to turn and twist through the busy traffic of Porto Rico's capital, especially as little dependence can be placed upon the gestures and signals of the denim-clad traffic officers. These police mean well, and no doubt in their own minds they know full well what their motions are intended to convey, but they do not speak English, and if slightly excited or hurried they are as likely to use Spanish as English signals, or, worse yet, a mixture of both. If one sees an officer frantically grasping at the air in the direction of an approaching machine it signifies that the way is clear, for the odd motion is the Spanish equivalent for beckoning. On the other hand, a gentle wiggling of the finger-tips does not of necessity mean to proceed, for to the Spanish-American this gesture means to wait. Moreover, in rounding corners do not hug the right-hand curb too closely or swing too far to the opposite side if turning to the left. If you follow out this accustomed procedure you may run down the innocent guardian of the peace, for Porto Rican police have a peculiar habit of stepping to one side or the other of the street as a vehicle turns, instead of maintaining post in the centre of things.
In Porto Rico one may leave a machine on either side of the street or road regardless of the direction in which it is headed, for the law merely requires drivers to place their cars "as near the edge of the highway as possible." In certain sections of the streets in San Juan one-way traffic rules are maintained, and the newcomer should take care not to travel west on a street devoted to easterly traffic, or vice versa. Unfortunately, these streets are not posted at every corner, and the stranger is quite apt to turn into such a thoroughfare in perfect innocence, only to be held up and ordered back by a policeman, and, as turning about in these narrow streets is impossible, the unfortunate driver may be compelled to reverse through several hundred yards of closely packed vehicles or even up some steep and narrow hill— for San Juan's streets are mostly hills, and steep hills at that.
The police, as a rule, however, are very courteous and obliging, and realize that strangers cannot be expected to know all the ins and outs of the local vehicle laws, and arrests for petty or unintentional violations of the law seldom or never occur.
Outside of the town and the urban speed-limit lines there is no trouble, for each traveller uses his or her own best judgment, and the common rules of the road hold good. The native Porto Rican chauffeurs are reckless, daredevil drivers, and should be given a wide berth, especially on curves and near bridges, while the lumbering ox carts and huge autotrucks take plenty of time to get out of the way and cannot be frightened, bullied, or coaxed into prompt response to signal or horn.
The most important and best-known road in Porto Rico is the famous Military Road, constructed by the Spaniards long before the American occupation, and still the best and most popular overland route from San Juan on the north to Ponce on the southeastern coast.
This splendid macadam highway leads across the very centre or backbone of the island and passes through many interesting interior towns, through rich agricultural districts, and through magnificent mountain scenery. Leaving San Juan, a splendid asphalt boulevard leads past the railway station, the Y. M. C. A. building, and the theatre, passing under the frowning walls of old Fort San Cristobal and to the little outlying suburb of Puerta Tierra. At this point the true Military Road commences, and a mile or so beyond crosses the splendid San Antonio bridge with the quaint fort of San Geronimo to the left and the half-hidden remains of the old walls and moats to the right. Crossing the bridge the island of San Juan is left behind and the mainland of Porto Rico is reached at the pretty residential suburb of Santurce. This comparatively new section is very attractive, with its numerous handsome concrete houses, its fine hotels, and its palm-embowered gardens, while the never-ending procession of people, vehicles, and animals upon the road is most interesting. From all the interior districts the traffic to San Juan passes over this road, for it is the sole and only highway leading from the capital. Great, lumbering bull carts, pannier-laden horses, six-mule army wagons, huge autotrucks, and two-wheeled, horse-drawn drays are passed by scores, while barefooted natives laden with trays and baskets of vegetables, fruits, eggs, live fowl, and every imaginable native product give a touch of character and local color to the throngs. Queerest of all, however, are the funny little stores on wheels, some made in the forms of miniature houses— chimneys and all— others fashioned in the shape of steamships, others like little trolley-cars, but each and every one filled with bottles of soft drinks, odd cakes, loaves of bread, or other simple commodities, and each of the owners literally doing a "pushing business."
Beyond Santurce the road curves through broad meadows covered with cocoanut groves, over the beautiful Martin Pena bridge, through the outlying barrio of Hato Rey, and at last enters the little town of Rio Piedras.
This town is far more Spanish-American in appearance than San Juan, but possesses all the modern improvements and has many new and handsome buildings, while the Capuchin Monastery, the Municipal Hospital, the Insular Normal School, and the University of Porto Rico are all situated here, as well as the reservoir from which San Juan derives its water-supply and the repair-shops of the Caguas Railway and the San Juan trolley-line. The old summer palace of the Spanish governors-general of Porto Rico was formerly at Rio Piedras, but the buildings have been demolished and the grounds converted into a public park and botanical garden. The Military Road continues straight through the town and extends across an almost level plain, while to south and east the foot-hills rise in broken spurs and cone-shaped eminences, gradually rising higher and more rugged to the towering mountains of the Luquilla range, with their cloud-wreathed summits purple and hazy in the distance. Soon the road commences to ascend the hills, winding by graceful curves and easy grades, the roadbed always smooth, always well kept, and in many places with an asphalt surface, and gradually mounting higher and higher, but so gradually that one scarcely realizes there is any grade whatever.
Here and there along the roadside great feathery clumps of bamboo wave and rustle in the breeze, while towering royal palms shade the highway, and through the foliage one glimpses deep valleys and steep hillsides, all clothed in rich green verdure, with picturesque thatched huts nestling half-hidden among the banner-like leaves of plantains and bananas.
Each moment new and more lovely scenery opens to the view, until, swinging about a curve and crossing an ancient Spanish bridge, the half-way house of La Muda is reached, and a little later the last rise is topped and one looks down upon the magnificent Caguas valley, with the little red-roofed town nestling in the midst of broad cane and tobacco fields between the silver ribbons of the Turabo and Caguas Rivers.
Caguas is a thriving town of some twenty-seven thousand inhabitants, situated about twenty-five miles from San Juan, and in the centre of a rich tobacco district. On every hand stretch the broad tobacco-fields, the great thatched drying-sheds standing in their midst, while during growing time the ground appears as if covered with snow, owing to the immense areas of cheese-cloth stretched above the fields. There are a number of large tobacco warehouses and packing-houses at Caguas, and a visit to one of these is well worth while.
Caguas has well-kept streets and shops, two hotels, several restaurants, a pretty plaza, and a picturesque church. One of the finest of the insular schools is in this town, and in addition there are fourteen graded and eleven rural schools, a good library, a hospital, a splendid water system, and electric lights in all the houses and streets. A telephone-line connects the town with the rest of the island, a railway runs to Rio Piedras, and in every way the people are provided with modern appliances, conveniences, and improvements.
Beyond Caguas the road crosses a fairly level valley, the roadside bordered by glorious, scarlet-flowered Poinciana-trees, forming an arch of living fire and casting welcome shade across the highway. Beyond the confines of the circular valley the road again ascends the further foothills, and presently we find ourselves winding round and round the mountainside in sweeping serpentine curves. In a few minutes we rise far above the valley and look down upon silvery rivers, broad green fields, verdure-filled valleys, and palm-clothed hillsides far beneath us. Ever upward climbs the road, crossing deep barrancas on ancient Spanish bridges, swinging around the very brinks of precipices, turning in sharp, hairpin curves around jutting mountain spurs and beetling cliffs— a marvel of engineering skill and as smooth, well-kept, and hard-surfaced as a city boulevard.
While the grade is at no place sharp, yet the ascent of the mountain is accomplished in fifteen miles, and at the crest of the ridge the road has risen two thousand feet above the valley, and one's ears ring and hum with the change of atmospheric pressure.
As the mountain top is approached beautiful tree-ferns appear beside the roadway, while tropic vegetation of innumerable forms— air-plants, orchids, trailing ferns, and gorgeous flowers— greets the traveller at every turn. Once over the summit of the divide the road leads rapidly downward to a smiling green valley, with which lies the little town of Cavey, with the immense military barracks prominent upon a low hilltop in the foreground.
Cavey, founded in 1774, is situated at an elevation of about one thousand three hundred feet above the sea. The town is cool, healthy, and clean, and is devoted to coffee and tobacco growing, and although picturesque and quaint is of little interest to tourists. Leaving behind the rough and uneven streets of this mountain town, the traveller soon commences the ascent of a second range of mountains even loftier than the one over which he has just passed,
At every turn one marvels at the stupendous labor which must have been expended in constructing the road, while the glorious panorama is beyond all description.
Creeping around precipitous mountainsides, skirting cliffs and precipices, stretching across narrow "hogback" ridges, but ever climbing upward, the road stretches, until at an altitude of nearly three thousand feet one looks down upon Aibonito sleeping on a green and rolling plain girt round with lofty mountain peaks. Aibonito, at an altitude of some two thousand feet above the sea, is an important coffee and tobacco town, with hospitals, hotels, many schools, and well-kept streets and stores.
Beyond the town the road again climbs upward through dense groves of coffee, riotous tropical vegetation, and deep, wooded ravines, until at Aibonito Pass, three thousand three hundred feet above the sea, we look upon a scene of marvellous beauty, vast mountain heights, and magnificent distances. On every hand stretch rich green valleys, towering peaks, and verdure-covered hills. In the dim and shadowy depths of cool ravines we catch glimpses of sparkling mountain streams; tiny wattled huts peep from bowers of bananas and palms, or perch on the very brinks of dizzy precipices, and, turning southward, we see the distant Caribbean Sea, a line of shimmering blue beyond the far-off hazy foot-hills. From this lofty mountain pass the road dips sharply down in marvellous, sinuous curves, sharp turns, and spiral twists, and within six miles Coamo is reached, a bare five hundred feet above sea-level. Coamo, founded in 1606, has a hospital, many schools, a splendid water system, a pretty plaza, neat houses, and well-kept streets, and produces coffee, sugar, fruits, and vegetables. The traveller in Porto Rico will soon notice that all these smaller interior towns look much alike. There are always the same straight, well-kept main streets, the narrower, rougher cross streets, the bright-tinted stucco and concrete houses, the same red-tiled roofs, and invariably a central open square or plaza with the attendant church. But in one feature each and every town is distinct, for no two of the churches are alike, and any town on the island may be readily identified by its church.
A few miles from Coamo are the famed Coamo Springs, the waters of which are noted for their wonderful medicinal properties. Here there are a large and splendidly equipped hotel, a sanitarium, and baths which are the Mecca of all Porto Ricans afflicted with rheumatic and other ailments.
The descent from Aibonito Pass to the lowlands of the southern slopes is marked by great changes in the vegetation, and as one travels onward toward Ponce moss, ferns, and other tropical growths disappear, and the tourist passes through a scene which reminds one of a New England road through the Berkshires or the Litchfield Hills. Thick, leafy trees have replaced the tree-ferns, palms and bamboo have disappeared, broad-spreading shade-trees border the roadside, and on every hand stretch meadows, plains, and hillsides covered with a dense growth of waving green grass wherein sleek cattle and quiet ponies graze in peace. Soon we pass through the little town of Juana Diaz, and a little later we cross the level coastal plain beneath long arches of glorious Poinciana-trees and speed over the perfect macadam road which leads to the outlying streets of Ponce.
Compared with San Juan there is little of interest in Ponce, but it is so distinctive in character and so different from the capital that a day or so may be profitably spent in the town. There are several good hotels in Ponce, the best and most expensive being the Frances, while the Melia and Inglaterra are clean, comfortable, and entirely satisfactory if one cares for Spanish cooking and native dishes.
Ponce is so utterly distinct in appearance from San Juan that it might well be in a different country. San Juan is built on a hillside and there is scarcely a level street in the town, while three, four, or even six story buildings give it a modern appearance. Ponce, on the other hand, is level as a floor and not a hilly street can be seen, while buildings of more than two stories in height are rare. In character Ponce is decidedly more Spanish-American and in many ways is more attractive. The streets are fairly wide and are mainly smooth and well kept, the town is regularly laid out, and the buildings, of Spanish architecture and tinted in bright colors, give the town a tropical, foreign atmosphere that is quite lacking in more Americanized San Juan. The climate, however, is far hotter than in the capital, and little relief from the heat is afforded by the nights, although the sea-breezes prevail throughout the greater portion of the year. The large, shaded plaza forms the central feature of the city, with an ornamental kiosk in which the band plays in the evening, an imposing cathedral, and a fearfully and wonderfully designed and marvellously painted fire-engine house.
This odd structure is perhaps the most striking feature of Ponce. Situated at one corner of the plaza and painted in brilliant red, blue, black, and white, it attracts attention immediately. The fire department consists of hand-engines and hose-carts, and the "bomberos," or firemen, stand about in the palpitating heat clothed in red-flannel shirts, enormous helmets, and jack-boots, expectantly waiting for a fire. As there are sometimes as many as five fires a year, patience must be the prime requisite in securing an appointment to the Ponce fire brigade.
Although Ponce is both industrially and commercially one of the foremost cities on the island and is the shipping port for the principal coffee and sugar districts, the casual visitor sees little of its commerce or business. This is due to the fact that the "playa," or shore, and the docks, or "muelle," are at some two miles from the centre of the town and are reached by trolley or a broad macadam highroad.
Ponce has many magnificent private residences, several hospitals and asylums, numerous clubs, telephone and electric-light systems, an ice factory, cigar and cigarette factories, a hippodrome and baseball ground, and a splendid theatre known as "La Perla." The people are pleasant, sociable, and hospitable, and are passionately fond of flowers. There is scarce a patio, balcony, or garden that is not gorgeous with blooming shrubs and vines, tropical flowers and palms. The climate seems very favorable to vegetation, and the visitor is filled with wonder at seeing the telegraph and telephone wires everywhere covered with a luxuriant growth of orchid-like air-plants which grow in bunches and give the wires the appearance of being decorated with innumerable birds' nests.
From Ponce the autoist may select numerous routes to other towns. To the west a road leads through Penuelas, Yauco, Sabana Grande, San German, and other towns to Mayaguez. To the north a splendid highway carries the tourist through Adjunlas and Utuado to Arecibo, while easterly one may travel through the shore towns to Guayama and Humacao and from either of these towns turn inland to Cayey or Caguas. The Mayaguez road is not of the best, and the country through which it passes is rather flat, uninteresting, and monotonous, and if one is limited for time the trip may well be omitted. The Arecibo road is very beautiful and, if possible, the trip should be taken, for it carries one through some of the few remaining patches of virgin forest on the island.
Some twelve miles from Ponce the road passes through Adjuntas, a little mountain town at an elevation of one thousand seven hundred feet above the sea and in the midst of a great coffee district. Adjuntas is located in a charming valley surrounded by lofty mountains some three thousand feet in height, and from some of these the traveller may gaze north upon the Atlantic, and by turning about may look upon the Caribbean to the south, while to east and west and stretching from coast to coast is the whole vast panorama of the island spread like a map beneath one's feet.
From Adjuntas the road climbs steadily upward over even loftier heights to Utuado, a thriving town of thirty thousand inhabitants, lighted by electricity, with a splendid water-supply, hospitals, a library, and fifty-one public schools. In this district the mountain scenery is very grand and rugged, and many naked rocky peaks may be seen projecting far above the masses of verdure, while dashing mountain streams foam in roaring cataracts amid the luxurious tropical vegetation of shadowy ravines.
Between Utuado and Arecibo the scenery is also beautiful, while Arecibo itself is a very old and interesting town and well worth a visit. It was founded in 1537, has a population of about forty-three thousand, and is probably the most typically Spanish-American town on the island. In former years the town was surrounded by extensive swamps which are now being drained and converted into excellent sugar plantations.
From Arecibo the autoist may turn westward to Aguadilla, or eastward and to San Juan through Manati, Vega Baja, and Bayamon. The latter trip traverses a rich tobacco and fruit growing district, but the road is flat and the scenery monotonous and uninteresting. The Aguadilla road is also of little interest, although Aguadilla itself is so intimately associated with Columbus and the early history of Porto Rico that many people find it very interesting. It was here that the great discoverer first landed on the island and from a spring which gushed forth filled his water-casks. The spring, which is known as the "Ojo de Agua," is now covered by an ornate commemorative fountain. Aguadilla is a town of some twenty-two thousand inhabitants and has a delightful climate with a refreshing ocean breeze during the day and cool nights. The surrounding country is very densely populated, and is cultivated in coffee, cane, tobacco, oranges, pineapples, and other fruits.
Another very interesting trip from Ponce is the Guayama-Humacao road, which passes along the southern coast and through Caguas to San Juan. For many miles after leaving Ponce this road runs through a flat plain which is of a very different character from any other part of the island. In many places there are extensive salt deserts on which thorny scrub and giant cacti grow in profusion, thus giving the land the appearance of a bit of Arizona or New Mexico rather than of the West Indies. Farther on these sterile lands give way to enormous cane-fields that stretch for miles from the level road to the distant mountains, while here and there huge "centrals," or sugar-mills, rear their great chimneys far above the waving cane. For nearly fifty miles the road lies level and smooth as a floor, following close along the shore, the white beaches shaded by rows of feathery cocoa-palms, with the turquoise sea beyond and the Berberia and Muertos Islands in the distance.
In many places one sees the great irrigation system that was designed to transform these sun-scorched, dry southern lands into fertile cane plantations, and many interesting little towns and villages are passed. Salinas with its neat and attractive school and shaded streets, Santa Isabel with its beautiful, palm-encircled plaza, and thriving, many-tinted Guayama with its great domed church. Here the road branches and the traveller may strike inland over a splendid highway to Cayey or may continue onward to Humacao and hence to Caguas. The scenery between Guayama and Cayey is very attractive, with glimpses of sea, valley, and mountain, wonderful shadowy gorges and dizzy heights, but the Humacao route has more variety and, in the mind of the writer, is the better road to follow, although several good-sized rivers must be forded.
Leaving Guayama the road passes through Patillas and Arroyo, the latter of interest as having been the first place to employ the telegraph in Porto Rico, a line having been installed by Samuel F. B Morse while on a visit to members of his family who were interested in a neighboring sugar estate. From Patillas the road gradually ascends the side of a cliff, and for some miles the tourist travels along the brink of a precipice with the white, palm-bordered beach beneath him and the wonderfully blue sea stretching away to the dim and wraith-like form of Culebra Island to the southeast. Rounding the last cliff the road descends to a broad and fertile valley and soon afterward passes through the town of Maunabo. Beyond this little town the highway climbs up the mountains, winding around and about and affording most charming vistas of deep valleys, lofty peaks, and tumbling mountain streams. Beyond the crest of the ridge the road sweeps in great serpentine turns down to the lovely valley of Yabucoa. Here it is necessary to make a detour through the grounds of the "Central Mercedes" and across the private bridge in order to avoid fording the river, which is usually impassable for autos. Beyond Yabucoa the road is splendid to Humacao save for several small rivers which must be forded, but only one of these— in the very outskirts of Humacao— is apt to be at all troublesome.
Humacao is a beautifully situated and rather attractive town and has a very good hotel— the Hotel Maxim— where one may stop without discomfort. From Humacao the road passes through some very attractive mountain scenery to Juncos, where the river is crossed on a remarkable bridge consisting of two parallel planks supported on short posts, and hence to Gurabo over the splendid iron bridge across the Rio Grande, with its lush meadows and bamboo groves, and hence to Caguas.
There are so many splendid roads and such a wealth of beautiful scenery in Porto Rico that it is difficult to say which route is the most attractive. If you can make but a single trip, by all means take the San Juan-Ponce road across the island and return via Guayama, but for a short one-day trip none is more desirable than the so-called Comerio road. Leaving San Juan by the ferry, which sails hourly from the slip near the new Federal Building, we cross the bay and land at Cantano, a typical West Indian hamlet surrounded by extensive mangrove swamps. From Cantano the road crosses the swamps on a high and broad causeway and leads to the town of Bayamon. This town is noteworthy as having been founded in 1509 by Ponce de Leon, and, moreover, is close to the site of the first settlement in Porto Rico—the "Villa de Caparra," which later became the capital of the island and was known as the "City of Puerto Rico." In 1521 the site was abandoned and the settlers moved across the bay and founded the present city of San Juan. The country surrounding Bayamon is mainly devoted to fruit culture and is being rapidly developed by American planters who ship large quantities of grapefruit, oranges, and pineapples. Bayamon itself is prosperous and progressive, with an ice-plant, brick and match factories, electric lights, and an immense cigar factory which employs over one thousand people and turns out millions of cigars monthly.
At Bayamon the road forks, the right-hand road leading along the coast to Arecibo, while the left-hand branch, or Comerio road, turns inland and for several miles rises and falls over low, rolling hills until the Rio Plata bridge is crossed. Here the highway commences its upward climb over the mountains, following the valley, and with the gleaming Rio Plata tumbling seaward in its rock bed between the emerald mountainsides. Gradually the road mounts higher and higher above the river until the stream seems but a mere silver thread deep within its gorge. Presently one comes within sight of the great dam of the Porto Rico Lighting and Power Company, which furnishes the power for the trolley-lines and electric lights in many of the towns and cities of the island.
Over the lofty dam an immense volume of water roars to the rocky bed far below, while above the vast artificial lake lies placid and calm between the towering mountains that surround it on every side.
A few miles above this beautiful lake Comerio is reached— a mountain town of some twelve thousand inhabitants formerly known as "Sabana del Palma," or Palm Meadow, owing to the numerous groves of royal palms on the neighboring hillsides. From Comerio the road winds about the precipitous mountainsides, rounding jutting promontories, clinging like a twining vine to the cliffs and by wonderful curves and marvellous feats of engineering surmounting the mountains, while at every turn the traveller gazes into vast gorges on one side and looks upward to cloud-topped peaks on the other.
When at last the devious windings, hairpin turns, and innumerable loops come to an end and the traveller emerges upon the wind-swept mountain-top he feels well repaid for the trip by the glorious panorama stretching away in every direction—a view unequalled in any other portion of the island: a marvellous array of rugged, towering peaks, deep valleys, broad plateaus, and terrific gorges of a thousand tints of green; golden in the sunshine, indigo beneath the shadows of passing clouds, and opalescent, purple, mauve, and lavender in the distance. From this highest point the road swings in broad curves through groves of coffee, tangled jungles of tropical plants, and immense groves of royal palms to Barranquitas, known as the coolest town on the island and the centre of the coffee district. Here in the evening overcoats and blankets are in order and even at midday the air is deliriously cool. From Barranquitas the road descends somewhat, passes through deep shady groves of coffee and tangled tropical vegetation, and emerges on the main military road a mile or two above Aibonito.
To describe in detail every automobile road on the island or even to attempt to convey an adequate idea of the charm and novelty of touring Porto Rico by auto is impossible. It is not alone the natural scenery that attracts nor the splendid roads nor even the balmy air and tropic vegetation, but in addition a wonderfully fascinating and indefinable sensation of being in some remote corner of the world or on another planet. It is hard indeed to realize that one is still on American soil and scarcely farther from New York than Des Moines, Ia. Moreover, there is a charm in the incongruity one meets at every turn. We speed in high-powered automobiles over roads and bridges built by Spanish slaves three hundred years ago, the grim old battle-scarred walls of Christobal and Morro echo to the clang of trolley-cars and shriek of locomotive-whistle, thundering auto-trucks crowd ancient, lumbering bull-carts to one side, while barefooted peons till their land with crooked sticks across the road from huge steam-ploughs. On every hand the old rubs elbows with the new, there is no intermediate state, there has been no transition period. The space of four centuries has been bridged almost in a night. Between the ancient and the modern, Porto Rico is being ground as between two millstones, to emerge— let us hope— with a new civilization, a new prosperity, and the brilliant future which she so justly deserves.

1 comment:

Shine said...

I was searching for some reference regarding this matter. Good thing I've found your article. Great insight.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.