Friday, 23 March 2012

What We Saw Part4

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

GETTING into Demerara is different from getting into any other place that we have visited. The trip across from Barbados was the roughest we've had, and when we came within sight of land, we found the water a dark, muddy brown, for Georgetown, the capital, is on a big river twenty miles from the sea and the river-water colors the sea for many miles outside.
All we could see was a few tall chimneys against the horizon, and a lightship. The country is so low and flat that the buildings and trees seem to grow right out of the water, but as we came near, we found that the shores were covered with low green bushes and trees and the town was hidden behind docks and warehouses.
There are a number of nice boarding places and hotels here in Georgetown, and we found a fine place right on the main street for the week we are to be here. We were very pleasantly surprised as we drove about the town to find it a beautiful, big city, with the streets regularly laid out and canals everywhere, sometimes beside the streets and sometimes in their centers, for the old Dutch settlers chose this place below the level of the river and had to make canals to drain the water off, and there are dykes to keep the water out just as in Holland. The streets are filled with crowds of people from all quarters of the globe, dressed in their native costumes. There are Hindus, East Indian coolies, Chinese, Afghans, Brahmans, and native Indians. It is very hot in the middle of the day, but the breeze blows from the river and it is cool in the morning and at night. There is a lovely place called the Sea Wall, where the band plays and the people promenade and enjoy the breeze.
We have been very much interested in the shops here as they are so very different from those in any other place we have seen. One part of the town has fine, up-to-date French and English shops, but the ones we like best are in the East Indian section. We prowled about, examining the curious brassware, and picked out some funny little gods and brass candlesticks and some beautiful bowls of East Indian manufacture. The Hindu women are the banks for their families, and the amount of jewelry they wear in their ears and noses and on their arms, toes, and ankles is wonderful.
Valerie wears some Hindu bracelets and an anklet, and I have a funny silver collar, such as is worn by the oldest child in East Indian families, and the coolies all chatter and seem pleased when they see us wearing their ornaments.
The botanic gardens here are the finest we have seen. They are beautifully planned with nearly ten miles of drives and every sort of palm, flower, and tree. There are many canals and lakes in the gardens, and these are filled with beautiful water-lilies of blue, red, pink, purple, and white, but the one which were the most wonderful are called victoria regia. These have leaves so large that they look as if a person could stand on them. They remind us of giant green pancakes on the water, and the enormous white and pink flowers are as big as my head.
The thing we liked best of all in the gardens was a pond where there were live manatees and alligators. The manatees would come up to eat grass we threw into the water, but we could see only their noses. In the trees about the ponds we saw wild herons and white egrets and flocks of parrots, and a great many other strange and lovely birds were everywhere in the trees and shrubbery. Here, for the first time, we saw rice growing, and, much to our surprise, we found it looked just like light green grass growing in shallow water.
Everybody gets up early in the morning, for business begins at seven o'clock and early morning is the pleasantest part of the day. This morning we took an early drive down the coast. The road ran close to the river, and it was very strange to see the water higher than our heads beyond the dyke along the shore. We passed lots of little villages and long lines of houses called ranges, where the coolie laborers on the sugar estates live, and saw native barbers "barbing" their customers on the streets.
This afternoon we went to a football game to which we had been invited by some young people. The game was played in the English way, and none of the players were allowed to touch the ball with their hands. The boys all wore short trousers, and their knees were bare, and many of them were badly scratched and bruised.
When we came back to the hotel tonight, we found a new guest who had just come down from the "bush," as they call the interior. He has a gold mine there and showed us a number of gold nuggets which he had washed out of the sand in a creek. They were the first we'd ever seen, and he gave us each one to have made into a pin as a souvenir. He also showed us some beautiful diamonds from the "diggings" up the river.
Early this morning we went to the market-place, and though it was much the same as the other markets we have seen, it was larger and was more interesting, for it was filled with picturesque Hindus and in the stalls were lots of curious things. There were great blue and red and yellow macaws, monkeys and parrots and many other wild animals and birds for sale. One kind of monkey is just too cunning: it is called a sakawinki and is a little, soft, cuddly thing about the size of a squirrel. We wanted to buy one, but father says they'll not live over winter at home, so we bought a pair of lovebirds for some friends at home, and a very tame blue parrot that just loves to be petted. We have named him Boy Blue. He is mine, and Valerie has a parrakeet, called Joseph because his coat is of many colors.
This afternoon we went to an entertainment given for the benefit of the Baby-Saving League. Everybody is trying to help save Creole and coolie babies by teaching how to feed and care for them properly. I think they used to give babies all kinds of dreadful things to eat before this league was formed.
Our steamer is coming in to-morrow, and we have had such a fine time here it doesn't seem possible we've been here a whole week. We are just getting well acquainted and enjoying our stay, and mother is sorry to go, too, but father says we'll find plenty to interest us in Paramaribo, where we are going next.
We find the Maraval a nice big ship with even larger and better staterooms than the Guiana. We are on board now and ready to sail, and so many of our friends have come to bid us good-by that it makes us feel quite homesick. The people down here are certainly very hospitable and friendly.
This morning we found ourselves in the same old muddy water, although we were entering the river at Surinam. We stopped by a funny little red lightship to take on the pilot and lifted his launch and its occupants right up onto our deck. At the quarantine station the doctor came along in a boat flying the Dutch flag, but we hardly noticed anything besides the men who rowed the boat. They were all black and were dressed in blouse, trousers, and cap, one side of their costume being bright blue and the other brown. The captain told us they were convicts and this was the convict dress to prevent them from getting away without being recognized. They didn't seem at all unhappy, but laughed and joked and appeared as jolly as possible.
Very soon after, we saw the town and were delighted with its appearance, for it was so clean and neat and all the houses had quaint dormer windows and looked just like the pictures of Holland. The Maraval tied to a big iron dock close to the market-place, and the ship was so high above the buildings that the town seemed like a little toy village.
Paramaribo is very different from any other place. The streets are all shaded with huge mahogany trees, and the houses look like those of some little New England or Dutch village. We drove out to a big rubber plantation and were much interested in seeing the men tap the trees and gather the white sap that flowed out. This was caught in little glass cups and was treated with acid, and then it turned into real rubber.
We find the people fearfully and wonderfully dressed. The idea of the colored women seems to be to look as fat as they can, and they wear bright-colored, stiffly starched clothes with padded rolls about their waists to keep their skirts out, and flowing starched capes, with stiff handkerchiefs tied like Dutch caps on their heads. One dear little girl named Trinka, who sold us candies and baskets, looked so sweet in her Dutch dress that I wanted to take her home. She helps her mother make the baskets and sweets to sell but goes to school every day and to church and Sunday-school and speaks English well. She is so polite and nice we told her we would put her picture in the Everyland magazine, so children all over the world could see how dear and clean and nicely starched she looks, and you ought to see how happy that made her!
There are Hindus here, too, and hundreds of Javanese who dress in flowered silk and cotton and look like pictures of the Far East, and then there are native Indians and Bush Negroes from the interior who wear very little clothing.
The people all speak Dutch, and the shops are full of a funny mixture of things from Holland and Java and the East Indies.
The botanic gardens here are not as large nor as pretty as those in Demerara, but they are very interesting because of the Javanese village there. The Javanese are the laborers here, and in their village in the gardens they live just as they do in Java. The little brown babies run about without any clothes and are so shy they seem like little brown birds or rabbits, but the women and men followed us about on their funny wooden clogs and seemed to find us just as strange as we thought them.
Valerie tried to take some snapshots of some Bush Negro children whom we met on the street, but their fathers and mothers dragged them out of sight behind themselves, so she couldn't take them. They think that if any one takes their picture it robs them of part of their spirit or soul.
We happened to see a very interesting coolie betrothal ceremony. The little bride-to-be was only twelve years old and had her face covered with a heavy veil and was fastened by her long white wedding garments to the bridegroom's pink robes. He wore a funny bird-cage-like head-dress of fancy colored paper and Christmaslike trimmings, through which his face could hardly be seen. On paying a piece of silver any one could look at the bride's face, so we each took a shilling look.
We left Paramaribo day before yesterday and this morning early saw Trinidad ahead. We are now just entering the Bocas, narrow strips of water which connect the ocean with the Gulf of Paria. The captain says boca is Spanish for mouth and that these at the north are the dragon's mouths and that those at the other end of the gulf are the serpent's mouths. There are three of these mouths at this end of the gulf, and we are going through the narrowest of all. It doesn't look as if the ship would have room to pass, the mouth is so narrow, and on either side are great mountains rising right out of the water and covered with forests and with huge caves at their bases. Trinidad is on the left and Venezuela on the right, and ahead we can see the gulf of Paria, on which the town, Port of Spain, is situated.
(To be concluded)

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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.