Friday, 23 March 2012

What We Saw -Part3

Times do change a bit. I don’t think that 11 and 14 year old girls drink coffee today.
What We Saw in the West Indies        Part III
By Lola and Valerie
From Everyland magazine, Mar. 1917; researched by Alan Schenker; digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar, 2012.

IT seems strange to sleep on shore again. We were so tired last night we were glad to go to bed early. Our beds have mosquito-nettings all around them and, as there are many mosquitoes here in Dominica, we have to be careful to jump quickly into bed before the mosquitoes do, and to close the opening in the nets. We liked doing this so much that we tried it over and over, until we grew to be quite expert.
We got up at about five and went out on the veranda to see the sun rise. The streets were full of people coming in from the country with loads of fruits and vegetables in trays on their heads. Children were going back and forth from the hydrant at the corner with buckets of water on their heads, for the people carry everything, big or little, on their heads instead of in their hands. It looks so funny to see a big black woman walking along with empty hands and with a cake of soap or a bottle of oil balanced on her brightly colored turban. One little girl had such a pleasant, smiling face and waved her hand to us so prettily. All the people are very polite; they bow and smile and say, "Howdy, missy," or, "Bo' jour," whenever they meet us. There is the greatest chattering all around, and I really think the early morning is the nicest part of the whole day down here.
From the veranda, or gallery, as they call it here, we saw a sad little funeral procession which seemed very strange to us as the people all walked instead of going in carriages as they do at home. Mother told us that when she was here before they didn't even have a hearse, but carried the coffins through the streets on men's heads. The people have a very funny name for the hearse; they call it the "dead machine."
Early this morning we went down to the river to watch the washer-women at work. There were whole rows of them, standing up to their knees in the water, soaping the clothes on flat stones, and then pounding them up and down against the rocks. They have special ways of doing laundry work and never make any change. Monday the clothes are washed, Tuesday they are bleached, Wednesday they are starched, on Thursday and Friday they are handed over to an ironer, and on Saturday they are sent home. They are beautifully done in spite of the rough treatment.
Thursday we were wakened early by father who said he had a surprise for us and to hurry and dress in just khaki bloomers and blouse. It was barely daylight, and after we'd had coffee and toast, which the maid always brings to the room, we were ready to go downstairs. There we found three horses all saddled—for mother did not go— and were told we were to take a trip into the interior to a place called Mountain Lake. As soon as we were outside the town, we entered a great lime grove, and for nearly an hour the road led through gardens and under cocoa trees. Then we began to climb the mountains and very soon we were far above the river and the air grew cool and fresh. There was so much to interest us along the road that the time passed very quickly. Sometimes we rode under the shade of giant bamboo trees, and we thought them very beautiful, but when we reached still higher and came to forests of tree ferns we decided they were even prettier. In many places the road followed along the edges of precipices and we could look down from our horses' backs to the bottoms of ravines which, father said, were a thousand feet below. Everywhere was forest with the funniest kind of great trees with their trunks spreading out in broad, thin pieces like planks or boards, and with their branches all covered and draped with vines and orchids. It was all very damp and still, and sometimes we heard wild pigeons cooing in the woods, and once father had us stop and listen to a beautiful bird-song that sounded like a flute. Father said it was the "mountain whistler" and was a very shy, rare bird only found in Dominica. We also saw many humming-birds darting about the orchid and begonia flowers along the path and, when we stopped at a spring for a drink, we found a tiny humming-bird's nest fastened on the under side of a fern leaf. Sometimes the road was very steep and slippery and the horses had to scramble to keep from falling over the precipice, but they were so sure-footed and so used to making the trip that we were not a bit frightened.
When we had been riding about three hours, we reached the highest part of the road and suddenly found ourselves in a thick mist. We thought it was fog, but it was really a cloud passing over and keeping everything damp and cool. When the sun shone again, we saw a lovely lake lying near the road in the midst of the forest, with great wooded mountains on every side. This was Mountain Lake, and father said it was really an old volcano filled with water and that it had no outlet and no inlet. It looked very pretty there in the mountains. We sat in the shelter of a little house beside the road and ate our lunch, while clouds drifted across the lake and sometimes hid it from us. After lunch we rode on for some distance, until we could look down on the other side of the island and could see the Atlantic Ocean. Then, as it was time to return, we rode back toward Roseau and reached home just about dark with fine appetites. We were dreadfully tired though, and were glad to go to bed early.
We spent Friday with father and mother at a lime estate. We were very much interested in seeing how the limes were crushed to make lime juice and in watching the women and girls pressing the oil from the limes under the trees. The funniest thing was to see the oxen and cows eating the lime skins after they had been crushed in the mill. We picked a big basket of limes for ourselves and gathered a bunch of scarlet lilies that grow everywhere beneath the lime trees.
In the evening after dinner the people who worked on the estate gave a native dance in the moonlight for our benefit. The band played the queerest sort of instruments. One man sat on a big drum and beat it with his hands, another played a triangle, another a flute made from bamboo, the fourth shook a rattle made of a calabash filled with stones, and the last one rubbed a stick up and down a rough piece of tin like a huge nutmeg-grater. The music was weird, but it just suited the black men and women who danced about, chanting wild, strange songs in patois and English. For our special benefit they sang, to the tune of "John Brown's Body," all about "John Brown's donkey," who "had a red morocco tail, so he could not march along."
We have left Dominica and are passing Martinique now. The captain is running the ship close to shore, so we can see the ruins of St. Pierre, which was destroyed by an eruption. We can't see much except a few ruined walls, for the bushes have grown up and hidden most of the dust and ashes that covered the town. Father pointed out Mount Pelee, the volcano which destroyed the town, but it doesn't look a bit dangerous now. It is lovely and smooth sailing, for back of the islands the wind cannot roughen the sea, and it's as calm as a lake, and such a lovely, deep blue color!
This afternoon we reached the capital of Martinique, Fort de France. It's very Frenchy. Everything is bright-colored and gay, but the streets are not so clean as in the English islands. The prettiest part of the town is the savanna with the statue of Empress Josephine in the center. Father told us she was born on a sugar estate across the harbor, but we did not have time to go over to see her old home.
We saw a queer old hand-worked ferry-boat which Valerie snapped, and were sorry we could not play in it, as it seems just like a little house.
We left Martinique yesterday, and this morning when we woke up, we found the ship tied up to the dock at Castries, the capital of Saint Lucia.
The first things we noticed were the huge piles of coal which covered the docks and almost hid the little town beyond. It seems that Saint Lucia is most important as a coaling station and lots of steamers come here to get coal. We were most interested in watching the people coaling a ship behind ours. They were nearly all women and were the blackest people we have ever seen. Each woman carried a great basket of coal on her head and hurried from the piles up a plank and onto the ship, where she dumped it into the bunkers and ran back with the empty basket for another load. They worked so fast that they looked just like a stream of black ants running along the dock and up and down the gang-planks to the ship. The men worked hard, too, shoveling the coal from the piles into the baskets, but every one seemed to enjoy the work. Once, when there was a moment's pause, one of the men picked up his shovel and, holding it like a banjo, played tunes upon it with a bit of coal, while all the women danced about.
We left St. Lucia yesterday noon. This morning at sunrise our ship came to anchor at Barbados. It seemed very low and flat after the other islands, for the highest part is on the other side and that's only hilly. We found a beautiful hotel right on a lovely, white, sandy beach, and we have already spent hours in the warm, pale blue water and hate to come out and dress, even to take motor trips over the island.
There is a funny little car line that goes right past the hotel. The people call it a tram line, and the cars are queer little things drawn by mules. The ladies here, all wear long, colored chiffon veils to protect their eyes from the dust and the glare of the sunlight on the white roads.
The island is so flat and the roads, cut from the lime rock, are so smooth, that it's fine for driving or motoring about. We went for a long motor drive and everywhere passed by cane fields with great windmills standing up against the sky. An object of special interest was a huge lion carved out of the natural rock on a high hill. We climbed up on it and had a fine view from the lion's back.
There is a beautiful breeze blowing all the time, so the island is never very hot. All the palms that border the roads bend the same way, as the wind always blows from one direction.
The people here call the island Little England, and it is no wonder, for the city is very busy and all the shops are up to date and seem to have everything one could possibly wish to buy. Father tells us Barbados is one of the most thickly populated spots in the world and that many of the inhabitants have to work hard to keep from starving. They certainly all seem to be very busy.
One of the nicest things we've tasted in the islands are the flying-fish cutlets here at Barbados. We had seen flying-fish alive nearly every day, and now we've eaten them, for they are a national dish at Barbados. Another funny thing the people eat is the sea egg, a kind of sea-urchin. Some boys were gathering them and they gave us some, which we cooked on the beach, but we didn't like them very much, as they are too salty and sandy.
We have taken our last bath in the lovely water this morning, for we are sailing this afternoon. We are really very sorry to leave, as we've grown to love Little England even in the short time we've been here. Our next stop will be South America, for we are going direct from Barbados to Demerara, in British Guiana.
(To be continued)

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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.