Ch 5: Some Characteristics of Cuba

In 1914 a large proportion of the British men in Latin America came home to join the army. In most countries Germans replaced them but in Cuba Americans generally filled the vacated posts. Inspired by a deep knowledge of the menace which had to be faced, and eminently fitted for officers, these volunteers arrived before the need of such material was appreciated. They enlisted in their thousands for the early contingents, to be swept away in the shambles of Ypres, their brains and physique almost wasted in dead-locked trenches which devoured the flower of British manhood, afterwards more greatly needed when standards were lowered to obtain the numbers necessary for the great attacks. This patriotic impulse has greatly restricted our influence abroad. It was the withdrawal of a small army of men, who directly or indirectly influenced a flood of commerce to British markets and ships. And for some inscrutable reason discharged survivors who were anxious to return to reconquer their old fields of commercial activity were refused passports unless they had definite appointments which seldom could be obtained in England. This fatuous policy has been gradually reversed.
   In Cuba efforts have been made to reinstate these men in their original positions, and railroad workers, engineers, and merchants are returning in large numbers. There is also a strong desire in the Island to give preference to British ex-service men who are suited for new appointments, and the Government and Press in Havana have encouraged the idea. Many educated men whose horizons and ambitions have been widened by the war will find in Cuba a most attractive field of opportunity. As it is difficult in England to learn anything about modern conditions there, a brief account of the country may be of interest. It offers many possibilities and an attractive life, especially for men of resource with some capital and fond of outdoor pursuits.

Climate and Health
The death-rate of Cuba is now the lowest in the world. It is 12.45 per thousand, with Australia 12.60, United States 13.40, and England 14.04 (pre-war). The climate is healthy, equable and agreeable, for though many days are hot, there is a surprising absence of depleting humidity. The Island is swept by trade winds, and the Cuban doctors, whose study of tropical Disease aided the United States in abolishing Yellow Jack and its pyretic allies from the Canal Zone, have also worked miracles in expelling these scourges from their own country. American and Cuban surgeons proved that yellow fever, Havana's traditional enemy, was carried chiefly by the stegomyia mosquito, and that its destruction and the careful screening of yellow fever patients, would check the scourge.
   This theory, originated by Dr. Finlay, a famous Anglo-Cuban, has practically expelled the disease, and lessened the troublesome methods of quarantine in tropical ports. A war on typhoid has now been undertaken with promising results.. The monthly publications issued by the Department of Sanitation and Charities are studied in all tropical countries owing to the wide range of their articles on disease and research, notably in leprosy, typhoid, cholera and fevers. The work started by the United States when the close of war had left a trail of pestilence which gave Cuba a death rate of 91 per thousand, has been admirably continued by the National Government. The names of Guiteras, Agremonte, and Lebredo for Cuba, and for the United States Gorgas, Carroll, and Lazear who died from the experiments which localised the cause of yellow fever, should be inscribed on the medical annals of the world which has benefitted so greatly from their efforts. The Island has several modern hospitals, the chief of which is the Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana.

Life in the Island
Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492. He wrote to his patrons: "It surpasses all countries in charms and graces as the day doth the night. I have been so overcome by its beauty that I know not how to make my pen describe it."
   Life there is never dull. The people are hospitable, and no race is more addicted to the open air. All the year round there are bathing, boating and riding. Cricket, tennis, baseball, golf, racing and flying are popular. The coast offers splendid opportunities for motor boats to visit the adjacent archipelagos full of tropical delights. Motoring on the main roads, horses for less accessible districts, make the open and beautiful interior accessible in conjunction with the railroads which network the Island. There are more automobiles there in ratio of the population, than in any country in the world, and incidentally more Freemasons, followers of the Scottish Rite. The Automobile Club of Cuba offers every facility to visitors, and its magnificent new Club House, delayed through the war, is now being completed. There are 1,240 miles of roads specially metalled for motoring.

The capital, with a population of 655,000 is an important and fascinating city, and one of the most beautiful, with its multi coloured houses, the ancient cathedral, imposing churches, and medieval forts, convents and palaces, merged in a rich setting of tropical vegetation. In few places are commerce, culture and pleasure so happily blended. It is clean, well lighted and drained, with soundly built houses, pretentious shops, hotels, theatres and cafes, good transit facilities, and an automatic telephone service which should make London envious. It is aptly called the Paris of the Western World. The old city is crammed with historic interest and quaint architecture, starting with the cathedral and tomb, where until recently Columbus was buried, and redolent of the picturesque story of the Spanish Main and of our siege and occupancy in 1762. The residential districts are spread over higher ground, in beautiful environs.
   In the cool of the evenings thousands of motors and splendid horses pass in continuous procession along the illuminated Prado and boulevards. Brilliant crowds stroll by the band or sit at the open-air cafes. The animation and relaxation of the scenes could not be duplicated in Europe, and few other skies are so clear or air so kindly. You can dine at luxurious hotels, at quaint bodegas where the cuisine is perfect if the service is rough, or if you prefer it, at tables in the open cafes close to music and happy crowds. Moderate cars may be hired for jaunts along the shore drives and to delightful dinners at palm-capped tables looking over the Caribbean. There are many pretentious club houses in the environs, where guests and members gather on the cool patios in the evening, and lavish entertainments are given.

A Chance for British Sculptors
Under the direction of a French landscape artist identified with the Bois de Boulogne, work has been resumed on a new system of drives and parks delayed by the war. This includes the construction of a new boulevard overlooking the sea, continuing the Prado and Malecon to the Vedado. In connection with these improvements a series of national memorials to Cuban liberators are being erected. These are open to international competition, with large prizes for the best designs, and the award of the work to the winner. The first of these, an imposing statue to General Maceo, was executed by a young Italian sculptor, Domenchio Boni.
   The award for the second memorial, an equestrian statue to General Gomez, to cost £40,000, is now being decided. Only one English sculptor submitted a design, and owing to inadequate shipping facilities his magnificent conception was lost or delayed in transit, and had not arrived when the judging took place. Among the models submitted were works from leading American sculptors and many from France, including designs sent by officers subsequently killed. Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Venezuela, and Romania were represented. The first prize has again gone to Italy. It will be unfortunate if British artists fail to make a more determined effort to compete for the next memorial of the series, a statue to General Calixto Garcia, father of the Cuban Minister in London. The municipal authorities in Havana are also planning a series of statues and cenotaphs which include memorials to Dr. Estrada Palma, the first president, and Colonel Roosevelt, who was a staunch friend and admirer of the Cuban people.
   The new Presidential Palace, a beautiful structure of white marble overlooking the bay, was built from the designs submitted by a Belgian architect in an international competition, which attracted little attention from England, but for which architects in practically all countries entered. In decoration and furnishing magnificent results have been achieved by firms in New York and Paris, the American art journals devoting much space to the building, its special features and requirements. The surroundings of the Palace are not yet particularly happy on the land side, but it was necessary to make the building easily accessible to the city where space was restricted.
   The old Palace, the Cathedral, several beautiful churches, the National Theatre, all add to the interest of Havana. The famous Plaza del Toros has now become a baseball ground. The parks are central and beautiful. The cemetery has some notable monuments, including one erected to the young students of the University shot for a trivial political offence during the old regime, and the imposing tomb of thirty volunteer firemen who perished in the big conflagration. There are also the tombs of General Garcia and General Gomez.
   The forts of Havana are both impressive and interesting, especially the Cabanas, one of the walls of which is still spattered with bullets where many Cubans paid the extreme penalty for patriotism. This fortress was painted by Vasili Verestchagin when he visited Cuba to immortalise some of its war scenes shortly before his untimely death.

The Port of Havana
Second only to New York, Havana harbour is marked by a forest of masts and funnels. The piers and docks are so crowded that many steamers anchor in rows across the great land-locked bay and discharge and load by lighters. The Spanish Transatlantic and French Transatlantic Companies maintain regular services with Cadiz and Havre; a Japanese line now has established connection with the Far East. Large fleets are employed regularly by the New York and Cuba Mail Company (Ward Line), the Florida Ferries, and the Munson, the Morgan, the Plant and the Pinillos Lines, and there are the Naviera and National Navigation Company's fleets which fly the Cuban flag. Besides these regular services there are the freighters of every country, among which we do see the Red Ensign.
   The most delightful resort of Havana is La Playa de Marianao, which is like the Riviera, and only ten miles away by rail, or by motor along the Gran Avenida Habana, a boulevard 150 feet wide and becoming lined with beautiful residences and parks. The bathing is delightful. The headquarters of the Havana Yacht Club is another feature. There are large hotels, a Casino, tracks for motor and horse racing, an aerodrome, and many other high-class attractions. A Stadium is being built, so that Cuba will be in a position to stage the Olympic Games. Her athletes are winning a recognised place in contests in the United States, especially in rowing, swimming, tennis and baseball.
   Several new and pretentious hotels are being built for tourists, here and at many other points in the Island. Prohibition in the United States will send thousands more visitors to winter in Cuba, where incidentally the people are exceedingly temperate, a characteristic which generally obtains in a genial climate, where light wines are part of the daily menu and indiscriminate tippling is unknown.

There are nearly five thousand schools in Cuba, education providing one of the most remarkable reforms achieved by the Republic. There are five times the number of pupils now under instruction than during the old regime. Primary free schools are established in all rural districts, and the secondary schools have been greatly improved. A novel system of travelling teachers also has been instituted for higher grade schools in country districts and small towns where a permanent staff for advanced subjects could not be maintained. Circuits are arranged over which first-class instructors follow each other in succession for subjects which include Anatomy, Physiology, Hygiene, Agriculture, Manual Training, Natural History, Psychology and Music.
   In the lower grades a modern system of kindergarten is proving successful. Domestic economy, deportment and English are special features of Cuban education. There are Normal Colleges in each province, and a special department in the University for training teachers of both sexes. Advanced and University Education for poor but brilliant students is provided by municipal and national scholarships, which are also given to enable pupils of special promise to finish abroad. Veterinary students are sent to take courses in England, architects and artists are assisted to finish in Rome or Paris, engineers and dentists to the United States, and medical students to the best centres for the study of the branches in which they specialise. The School of Applied Arts and Crafts in Havana turns out a creditable list of engineers, chemists and architects. There are the National Conservatory of Music, the Military Academy, the School of Painting and Sculpture, and many other important institutions in Havana. There fs also the English College, with a staff drawn from the leading public schools here after which the establishment is modelled.
   The National University is composed of three faculties: Science and Literature, Law, Surgery and Medicine. Very low fees are asked from poor students of exceptional ability. There are nearly two thousand under-graduates enrolled.

The Belen College, Havana, has made excellent meteorological observations for many years, and these multitudinous records provide unvarying averages as a tribute to the equable Cuban climate. The National Observatory now carries out important work, providing observations, weather reports, and storm warnings by wireless, which are a great boon to navigators and supply data for bulletins of adjacent countries. The average noon temperature in Havana, in degrees Fahrenheit, ranges from balmy to tropically warm.
   Frosts are known occasionally in the mountains, there are some hot spells; but no country in the tropics has such a succession of delightful days. Frequently in summer, travellers swelter in New York, gasp sleepless through a humid night in Washington, find in Florida conditions singularly like torrid Africa, and sail across to Cuba to enter an Arden of restful green and fresh breezes, and only need to avoid the mid-day sun. The atmosphere is so clear that it is possible to ride across most difficult mountainous districts by starlight. In daylight from some spur you see a town or river apparently at your feet, but find it takes a Sabbath day's journey to reach. During the war I have seen incredible distances bridged by heliograph when wires were cut, feats far greater than those recorded as amazing during the South African campaign.
   Though there is a rainy season lasting from mid-summer to mid-autumn, the intensity of which varies in different localities, this is generally marked by heavy thunderstorms, and short sharp deluges punctuated by long intervals of sunshine. Of really wet days so frequent in England, 19 per annum is the average in Cuba. The prevailing winds are the North East Trades, averaging about 7 miles per hour.

There are 2,650 miles of railroad in Cuba, and 250 miles of electric traction, much of which is more modern and quicker than our own tramways. The principal railroads are connected to form a backbone along the centre of the Island fed by different systems which link the trunk lines to the coast towns north and south. There are 1,000 miles of light railroads also, running from the plantations to the main lines. The through trains are luxuriously equipped and fast, and passengers can travel right across from Havana to Santiago or Antilla with speed and comfort, or break the journey at the principal junctions to visit the various points of interest by branch railroads, which tap the different districts.
   Weeks can be spent in visiting the interesting towns, wandering through beautiful and richly cultivated districts, riding over cattle country, or in exploring wild and difficult regions of virgin forest, tropical rivers, or lofty Sierra, easily approached by rail and rivalling the Rockies in natural beauty and grandeur. Close to the coast, scores of beautiful tropic islands lure for shooting or fishing. A sailing boat, a tent, and a few provisions bring romantic adventure and exploration within a few hours of Havana with its grand opera and modern comforts.
   Cuba is divided into five provinces, each with marked typographical differences. Pinar del Rio, in the west, is broken and hilly; Havana is flatter, but with plateaux, and richly agricultural; Matanzas, undulating and cultivated; Santa Clara, flat, rising to hilly in the east; Camaguey, a rolling well-watered open country; and Oriente, furthest east, mountainous and with luxuriant forests.
   The scenery from the railroads is both varied and beautiful. Most interesting and more leisurely trips can be made by coasting steamers which circle the Island through hundreds of miles of smooth waters, strewn with coral islets of real enchantment. No country of its size has so many magnificent natural harbours or ports, fifty-five of which deserve notice, though some have not yet been developed fully. Before describing the interior therefore, let us briefly follow the chief points touched in steaming round the Island.

Ports on the Cuban Coast
On the north, sailing eastward from Havana, along the shore of Matanzas province, Matanzas is the first coast city of importance. It is prosperous and beautiful, divided by two rivers which make one district resemble Venice, and call many artists. The seven mile harbour maintains a large export. Next is Cardenas, an interesting progressive seaport, and centre of the bitumen industry. Skirting Santa Clara province, Sagua le Grande is reached, a sugar port recently improved, and Caibarien, famous for its sponge fishing. The north coast from here is protected for 300 miles by cayos and coral islets, including the beautiful Cayo Romano. Some of these islands are tropical gems, with luxuriant vegetation, wonderful birds and shimmering shoals of fish.

The Coastline of Cuba

   On the north of Camaguey province, Moron exports hard woods and tobacco, and Nuevitas, with a harbour six miles across, is the terminus of a new railway which will double its importance. Continuing eastward, magnificent mountain views are obtained when passing round the coast of Oriente (or Santiago) province. Manate, Malagueto, and Puerto Padre are ports from which the marine spoils of the adjacent archipelago are garnered. Gibara is the outlet from the rich Holguin district. Further east, in one enormous bay, the coast is again indented as if by a huge trident, providing within the outer roadstead a trinity of natural harbours of great potentialities for a rich and fertile district of recent development. The first, Banes, has large fruit exports. In the centre inlet, or bay of Nipe, the port of Antilla has been created as the terminus of the trans-Cuban railroad system and the harbour for the fleet of fast fruit steamers, on a direct route from New York, which brings thousands of winter visitors and takes enormous cargoes of bananas, pineapples, and other fruit to the northern markets. Many tourists choose this route to land in eastern Cuba, travelling thence by rail-stages through the Island to Havana. From the capital, New York can then be reached by direct steamer or by ferry or seaplane across the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys, which are linked by the wonderful causeway that carries the railroad across the stretches of tranquil ocean to the Florida mainland.
   From Nipe Bay, five miles up the Mayari River, is a port of the same name, which ships iron ore and manganese mined in the interior, and hardwoods. In the third inlet, or Bay of Levisa, Cabonico completes this interesting group of harbours. The next place of importance is Sagua, near the mouth of the Tanamo River, and then the last port on the north coast is reached Baracoa, the oldest city in Cuba. Founded by Velasquez, whose house is preserved, and originally the capital, it is a historic centre of a district of magnificent scenery and natural wonders. It also has a large export trade.

Along The South Coast
Sailing round Cape Maysi, the eastern extremity, and turning westward along the south coast, the first harbour of importance is Guantanamo Bay, seven miles across, completely shut in by mountains except the narrow gorge of entrance, and very deep. It is of great strategic importance, and Caimenera, on the western side has a large export trade in sugar and minerals. The city of Guantanamo is built inland on the Guaso River. Skirting the great mining districts of Oriente, the capital of the province, Santiago de Cuba, is reached. The harbour is also mountain locked except for a narrow winding entrance, the scene of dramatic naval incidents in the Spanish-American conflict. Santiago was the headquarters of Diego Columbus and De Soto.
   The cathedral is interesting; but most of the ancient town was destroyed by earthquake. There is much, however, to delight the visitor, arid the city is built on the foothills of majestic Sierra. The port has a large volume of shipping, and exports sugar, tobacco, iron ore, coffee, molasses, and hard woods. Rum distilled locally from sugar by-products is also a trade staple.
   Manzanillo is the port and clearing house for the important Rivers Yara and Cauto, which tap forests of hard woods, and for the sugar districts near Bayamo. Santa Cruz and Jucaro are ports on the south coast of Camaguey reached through the coral islets of Doce Leguas, haunts of Morgan and other famous pirates. Sailing now off the coast of Santa Clara province, Tunas de Zaza is the harbour for Sancti Spiritus, and Casilda is the port of old Trinidad, which, like so many coast towns, was built three miles inland to protect it from famous buccaneers who made this coast historic and sanguinary. In Trinidad Cortes gathered his Mexican expeditionaries and the ancient city is full of interest. It stands on a hill and has just been reached by railroad which may in time detract from its 16th century charm.
   Continuing the voyage, Cienfuegos is reached, one of the most flourishing and attractive cities in Cuba with a magnificent land-locked harbour ten miles long, and described as the most wonderful port in the world (Mahan). It has a large export and import trade. After skirting the famous Zapata swamps, the passage for a hundred miles lies in a natural channel through white coral, with clear water which allows a wonderful view of tropical sea bed with a wealth of marine flora, fauna, and exquisite coral formation, to Batabano, the southern port of Havana province.
   South of this lies a beautiful archipelego, island gems where pirates lurked, and retaining many legends of buried treasure. These are now chiefly the haunts of giant turtles and rare birds, and can be known best by taking passage on the sponge boats, from which the work of the divers can be seen as they swim with agility and gather their prizes under the clear water in which fish, some enormous and dangerous and many beautiful varieties, abound. There is no place where submarine photography can be so simply arranged. Yachting parties linger for weeks in this marine fairyland. Frequent steamers ply from Batabano to the Isle of Pines, the only large island in this group. It is 60 miles across, and is rich in minerals, especially copper, and has large colonies of foreign fruit growers who export from Nueva Gerona, which is also a popular health resort.
   There are no ports of note on the western end of Cuba, and from Batabano you sail round Cape San Antonio, on the rocky shores of Pinar del Rio, and continue eastward on the north coast to Bahia Honda, the province's chief port, with a harbour capable of great development. Next comes Cabanas with its large land-locked roadstead, then Mariel, a large but partially developed harbour. Twenty-six miles eastward, Havana again is reached, completing the tour round the Island.

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