The Madeiras And The Azores
( Originally Published 1904 )
LAS PALMAS has frequent ships to the Madeiras, and we have no trouble in getting a vessel which takes us northward to Funchal, the capital on the island of Madeira, the chief of the group. As we come into its harbor, we seem to be entering a vast amphitheater, walled with hills, dotted with villas, and terraced with gardens, orchards, and vineyards.
Many little boats, manned by half-naked boys, put out for our steamer as we come in, and the little ones ask us to throw money into the water and let them dive for it. We do so, and they leap from their boats into the sea, following the coins to the bottom, and coming up holding them in their hands or teeth. They gasp for breath a moment or two, and then call out for more.
As the anchor drops, peddlers swarm on the boat, offering filigree jewelry, embroideries, flowers made of feathers, and delicious oranges, bananas, lemons, pineapples, and pears. The people have white skins, and they are dressed not unlike Europeans. They are Portuguese, the islands being a province of Portugal which owns them by right of discovery and colonization.
Going ashore, we walk up the cobblestone street to the hotel, and later go out into the country. Much of our travel is upon sledges drawn by bullocks. The roads are paved with smooth cobbles, and the sleds, which have greased runners, glide easily over them. Each team has a boy who goes along in front, and a man who walks behind, jabbing the animals with a goad to make them go faster. Coming down the hills the bullocks are sometimes taken out, and the runners shoot along as though over snow.
Imagine sliding down hill in the most beautiful May or June weather, eating oranges as you go; that is one of our experiences in Madeira.
Funchal is like a city of Portugal. Its better houses are two, three, and sometimes more stories high. The windows along the streets are barred like a prison, and those above have little balconies where the people sit in the evening, chatting and enjoying the air. The streets are narrow, and the cobblestones are hard to our feet. People from all parts of Europe come here for their health. The Madeiras have about the finest climate of the world. They are also famous for their wines and fruits.
The same is true of the Azores or Hawk Islands, which we visit before going east to the Mediterranean Sea. This archipelago is a little volcanic group of nine inhabited islands, having less land than a single county of some of our far western states, but a soil so good for oranges, pineapples, and grapes that it supplies Europe with its finest tropical fruits. There are forty steamers kept busy carrying oranges and pineapples from the Azores to the continent, and in one year as many as fifty million oranges have been shipped to England alone.
The resin of a curious tree, called the dragon tree, is also an article of export.
The Azores are about as far from Africa as Pittsburg is distant from the Mississippi River, and they are almost as far away from Portugal, to which country they belong. They rise abruptly out of the ocean, having been forced up by volcanic eruption. Some of them are little more than volcanoes, and one has a crater so low that the water has rushed in and formed a great lake into which boats go through a break in the brim. Others of the volcanoes are high, Mount Pico, the highest of them, being more than eight thousand feet above the sea.
Our steamer from Madeira carries us over sunny seas. There is a whale spouting at the right of the ship, and nearer us a school of flying fish skimming over the waves. Look ! One has jumped high up and fallen on the deck of our steamer. It is like a small mackerel, but it has winglike fins on the forward part of its body, each as long as one's hand.
We see Mount Pico before we come in sight of the rest of the Azores; they appear a little later, and at the same time the sweet smell of orange blossoms is borne to us on the breeze. As we approach the land, we can see orchards on the hill with windmills waving their arms above them, and below the scattering white villages of the shore.
We land at Ponta Delgada, the chief city of the archipelago, on the island of San Miguel (sari me-gel'), the largest of the group, and make our way up the street to the hotel. What a curious city ! The buildings are of all the colors of the rainbow. The houses and stores are painted rose pink, sky blue, and bright yellow. There are many white houses, red houses, and houses of brown, gray, and purple. The buildings are close to the sidewalks. They have roofs of red tiles, and the whole city is a patchwork with as many colors as Joseph's coat.
The natives are Portuguese, not unlike those of Madeira, although their dress is very different. The better class women wear hoods of blue broadcloth, for all the world like gigantic sunbonnets with capes which reach almost to the feet. Some of the men wear high hats of blue cloth, and they have large capes over their shoulders. The poorer women have shawls or handkerchiefs about their heads, and their dresses are as bright colored as the walls of their houses.
We take donkeys and ride about through the towns. Donkeys are used for all sorts of work. They carry great loads on their backs, they haul carts, and are also the chief riding animals. Each of us has a donkey boy who runs along behind with a long stick or goad in his hand, beating the animal when he slackens his pace.
We find the farming rude in the extreme, but the soil is so rich that the islands are of some commercial importance.