Friday, 23 March 2012

What We Saw -Part 5

What We Saw in the West Indies        Part V
By Lola and Valerie
From Everyland magazine, May 1917; researched by Alan Schenker; digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar. 2012.

WE came to anchor nearly five miles from shore, for the water is so shallow large ships cannot go close in to the town. Trinidad looks very beautiful, and the town seems large and pretty. The company has a steam-launch which takes the passengers back and forth, and we are going ashore right away. We are surprised to see what a beautiful, big city Port of Spain is. It looks like any other big city except for the bright colors of the buildings, but it's very damp and hot and feels like being in a hothouse or conservatory, especially as all the houses are surrounded with beautiful gardens full of wonderful tropical flowers.
Up-to-date electric trolley lines run everywhere about the town, and we took a long ride out to the coolie or Hindu quarter. The roads are so smooth and hard and so different from those in the other places where we've been that we were surprised, until we remembered that there is a pitch lake on Trinidad and that asphalt from the lake is used for making the roads.
The ship is sailing this evening for a place forty miles up the coast called Brighton. That is where the pitch lake is situated, and the Maraval will be there for three or four days loading asphalt.
We woke up this morning to find the ship tied to a long steel pier extending far out from the shore. It is the most interesting thing we've seen yet, for all along the pier is a row of moving iron buckets that look like bathtubs, and each of these, as it reaches the ship, is tipped up, and a load of asphalt goes tumbling into the hold.
We are going to see the pitch lake as soon as we can, for it is a very, very hot spot—bearably cool only in the early morning. Valerie wanted to ride up in one of the empty buckets, but the captain says it would be too dangerous, so we have decided to walk up.
It was ticklish walking along the dock, for there was just a narrow plank for a footway, but we reached shore safely and passed all the pretty bungalows where the employees of the asphalt company live, and climbed over the hill. It was easy to find our way, for the buckets of asphalt ran right over the hill from the pier to the lake and all we had to do was to follow.
At the top of the hill were the machine-shops and a big building where the asphalt is refined, and all about were great black oil-tanks, for there are huge oil-wells here as well as asphalt. When we first saw the lake we were disappointed, for it was not a real lake at all, but just a big flat place with pools of water among the coarse grass, and black, muddy-looking asphalt. Little railways ran over the lake, and we walked out on one of these and watched the men digging the asphalt from the lake. It is quite hard, but as fast as it is dugout, fresh asphalt is pushed up from below, so the lake is never exhausted. It was so hot that we didn't stay long, and after going over to see where one of the oil derricks was pumping up oil, we went back to the ship.
We were very hot and tired, and the mate suggested we should go in bathing. The water was lovely and warm, but the beach was all made of bits of asphalt, and so much petroleum oil came up through the bottom of the sea that we felt as if we'd been bathing in kerosene instead of in water.
We had a fine trip across the gulf on the steamer and found San Fernando a very funny little town built on the side of a hill and full of coolies. We didn't stop long in the town, but took an automobile out to the estate, which is the largest sugar mill in the British West Indies. The cars are marked U. S. M., and we thought at first it stood for United States Mail, but it really meant Usine Saint Madeline, which is the name of the estate.
We went all through the mill and saw the sugar-cane made into sugar and watched every step of the process from start to finish. It was very interesting to see the canes crushed and the juice boiled down to molasses and then crystallized and changed into brown and white sugar. We stayed all night and left early the next morning to go back to Brighton by land in an automobile.
It was a beautiful ride. For many miles we ran along roads through groves of cocoa trees, which are cool and dark, while at other times the way led across cane fields, which are bright and sunny. The roads everywhere are perfect, and the scenery, with all the native huts, is very interesting. Children were everywhere, and everybody seemed happy and contented and waved hands and called to us as we passed.
We left the same night for Port of Spain, and now we are once more off the town and just waiting for the mails and passengers. The ship is very deeply loaded, and the captain says she'll be as steady as a rock.
Grenada, our last stop, is just in sight, and from the ship the island looks very much like the upper islands with its high, green mountains and beautiful blue water.
We thought the island looked like the others until we neared the port, but when we saw the town of Saint George, we found it very different from any other place. We had to take on a pilot, and then the ship headed in for a little group of houses and buildings on the shore. We didn't land there, but ran past a funny old fort on a point of land and turning around a corner, came into a tiny little harbor tucked away among the hills and with the prettiest, neatest little town stretching up the steep hills from the water on every side. The harbor is so little and the ship so big that she stretches almost right across from shore to shore, and from the stern one could jump right onto the smooth street with the stone houses and buildings along it.
The town was even prettier and stranger when we were ashore than when seen from the water, for the streets are so narrow and run up and down such steep hills that in many places they are built like flights of stairs, and in one place a tunnel has been cut right through a hill to make the way easier from one part of the town to the other. We had lunch ashore with our friends and among other things had some lovely nutmeg jelly. This is made from the nutmeg fruit, for the nutmegs are one of the biggest crops in Grenada. After lunch we started out for our ride and climbed right up a steep hill until we could look straight down onto all the toy-like houses and the little harbor with the big Maraval across the entrance.
The scenery was lovely—beautiful valleys and grand mountains, and palms, cocoa, and nutmeg trees everywhere. The first and most interesting things we saw were nutmegs growing. They are very pretty, and the fruit looks just like salmon-colored peaches or apricots. When ripe, the fruit splits open, and between the two sides you can see the nutmeg, which is a shiny black seed covered with beautiful, scarlet, lacelike material. This scarlet part is mace, and when dried it turns brown, and the real nutmeg is a kernel inside of the black shell. From the yellow outside covering, which is soft and pulpy, the people make a very nice, spicy-tasting jam or jelly.
We took a big branch of the growing nutmegs with us and also some bright red and yellow cocoa pods, which we picked from the trees along the road. The cocoa pods look very funny when they are growing, for they sprout right from the bark of the trees on the trunks and branches. We watched some men opening the pods and taking out the seeds, for the seeds are the part used in making cocoa. They have to be fermented and then dried, and they look like reddish-brown beans. While they are drying, men and women shuffle them about with their bare feet, but all the outside skin and dirt is removed before the beans are ground up into cocoa and chocolate.
We have left Grenada behind and are now on the way direct to New York. We left Grenada about sunset, and our last view of the lovely island was like a beautiful picture. Now it is but a little gray cloud above the blue sea, and we'll stop nowhere else until we reach home.
We have just passed Saba. It is a Dutch island and is just a single peak sticking up out of the sea. It seems dreadfully cut off from the world, as the captain says there is no harbor or anchorage. We saw a few little red-roofed houses among the foliage on top of the island, but the town itself is hidden away in a hollow which was once the crater of a volcano and is called Bottom. It was so still and calm as we passed close to this place, that we could hear the sound of the church bells. It seems funny to think of people living there, but the captain says the people love their little island and that many of the men are sailors and go all over the world but always come back to Saba to spend their old age. He also told us that the people have to climb from the shore up to the town by a steep stone stairway a thousand feet high. We'd love to go and visit such a strange place, but it is only reached by small boats from Saint Kitts.
Two days at sea now and still smooth and pleasant. Every day we have wireless news from the United States, which is printed in a bulletin, so we know all the important things which are happening.
We are now in the Gulf Stream and in two days more will be in sight of land, the coast of New Jersey. Yesterday we saw a wrecked, forsaken ship tossing about in the waves. The captain called it a derelict and said it was very dangerous, for some ship might run into it in the darkness. He sent a wireless message to the government authorities in New York, telling them where the wreck is, and says they'll send out a warship to destroy it.
This morning we got up early, for the captain told us we'd sight the land to-day. We couldn't see anything until after breakfast, for it was quite foggy, and the water, we found, had lost its blue color and was dull green. Soon after breakfast the fog lifted, and the sun came out, and we saw a low line of gray to the west which was land. Every one was terribly excited, and no one wanted to do anything but stand by the rail and watch the shore, which grew plainer and plainer all the time. Before noon we passed Asbury Park and could see the houses and hotels quite plainly. Then we saw the Highland lighthouse and the lightship off Sandy Hook, and then we stopped for the pilot to come on board. He brought out a lot of papers, but we were so anxious to see New York that no one more than glanced at them.
Frank, a boy who came from Demerara with us to visit his sister in New York, is filled with wonder at everything as we go up the harbor, and he keeps running from one side to the other, trying to see everything at once. We wonder what he'll think when we get to the city and he sees the Brooklyn Bridge and the skyscrapers and the elevators and the subway and the lights and people. I know he will enjoy all these things up here as much as we did his country.
We've passed quarantine and are turning up the East River. Two fussy little tugs are pulling and hauling the Maraval about, trying to get her into her dock, and the ferryboats and steamers are tooting their whistles, and the people on their decks arc staring at us, for they know we've just arrived from some far-away place.
Now we're close to the dock; we can see crowds of people on the wharf waiting for friends, and among them I can see my big sister waving her hand to us. It does seem nice to be home again, even if we have had such a splendid trip, and now it's time to bid good-by to the good old ship and all the nice officers and the people we've met and to say the last words in my dear old diary. I thought writing it was going to be a tiresome task, but it has proved a real pleasure and, I hope, will win for me many new friends among the readers of Everyland.
The End

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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.