Ch 7: Provincial Descriptions

Cuba offers such a variety of scenery, interests and opportunities that it is beyond the scope of this work to classify or deal separately with all the historical and natural features or the centres of different industries. Most of the principal cities are on the coast and have been mentioned in the list of ports. By giving a brief general description of each of the five provinces, their chief interior towns and important features can be denoted.
   The most westerly province is mountainous in parts, and not thickly populated. The Cordilleras de los Organos are not so high as the mountains in Eastern Cuba, but they are very picturesque and the highlands are productive especially for tobacco and coffee. Excellent marble is quarried, and in the arable valleys there are rich plantations and ranches. There are attractive openings for agricultural settlers, and some land is cheap. The province offers the extremes in Cuban land values. Large ranches in the extreme West have been sold recently for about £1 an acre, while in the unrivalled Vuelta Abajo tobacco district, plantations of approved quality, in eager competition, have fetched £400 per acre
   The true Vuelta Abajo is only 30 miles long and about 15 wide, but it produces from some mysterious quality of soil a leaf of delicate aroma which makes the world's choicest cigars. In all parts of Pinar del Rio, patches of good tobacco are found. There is also magnificent grazing land for cattle and horses, and sugar, coffee and general agriculture flourish. There is great undeveloped mineral wealth.
   The principal inland towns are Pinar del Rio, the capital, 118 miles west from Havana, beautifully situated, and a great tobacco centre. Mantua is the nearest market town for the extreme west, Vinales lies in a rich valley famous for scenery and tobacco, and near valuable mineral springs. Travelling eastward from Pinar del Rio, toward Havana, Consolacion del Sur, on the main railroad is the centre of a rich tobacco district. San Cristobel, 70 miles from Havana, is a progressive city and market for the Vuelta Abajo. Artemisa, 35 miles beyond, also draws its prosperity from this famous district. Due north of it Guanajay is the centre of a flourishing agricultural district. Candelaria has important mineral springs and is surrounded by plantations of sugar, tobacco and coffee. San Diego de los Banos on the Caiguanabo is a celebrated Spa with springs and baths of proved curative quality. This resort has wonderful environs, including amazing petrified formations and the Arcos de Caiguanabo, caverns of an underground river.

The Province of Havana
Continuing eastward, Havana province is reached, the smallest, richest, and most closely populated department of Cuba. Possessing a rich soil, it has large plantations of sugar and tobacco, some magnificent ranches and farms. There are many interior towns, each with peculiar local industries. Most of the large tobacco factories are in or near the capital, some in Regla, a business city on the east shore of Havana Harbour. Guanabacoa, on a hill three miles beyond, has fine old churches and important industries, and is near large marble quarries. Within easy reach is Cojimar, a popular bathing resort and full of interesting fortifications, historic as the scene of the landing of the British expedition which finally took Havana in 1762.
    On the railroad running south of the capital, Santiago de las Vegas and Bejucal are important cities 3,000 feet above sea level, and close rivals for the claim of being the healthiest places in the world. Rincon, an important railroad junction and market, lies between them. San Antonio de los Banos and Madruga further west have mineral springs that attract thousands of visitors. Near the former resort the Ariguanabo River ends suddenly in a whirlpool where it disappears underground. Guines is a large and beautiful city 30 miles southwest from Havana. It is surrounded by ranches where the finest horses and cattle in the Island are bred, and has superb environs. Jaruco is an interesting town further north. Quivican, Alquizar, Guara, Managua, Tapaste, Guira, Melina, and Las Lajas are market towns of varied importance and interest.

The Central Provinces
Matanzas is closely settled, and though its area is only 3,700 square miles, every acre of the soil is rich and the province is filled with sugar estates and rich plantations. Its two largest cities on the coast have been mentioned in the list of ports. Macagua and Colon are important centres of rich sugar districts. Sabanilla, Union, Alacranes, Bolondron, Corral Falso, Cuevitas, Cervantes, Calimete and Palmillas are market towns on the southern railroad system. Corral Nuevo, Guanajayabo, Limonar, Jovellanos, and San Jose are trading centres for the rich districts on the northern lines. San Miguel has sulphur springs of repute.
   The most wonderful features of Matanzas are the Yumuri Valley, a natural park of rare tropical beauty six miles in length, with scenery that defies description. It is overlooked by Monserrat, a duplicate of Mons Serratus in Catalonia, after which it is named, and capped with a church and shrine visited by many afflicted pilgrims. From the crest a magnificent view of the valley is obtained. Within easy reach are the mammoth caverns of Bellamar, with extensive stalactitic and stalagmitic formations.
   Santa Clara, the adjoining province covers some 8,900 square miles and has large sugar and tobacco plantations, rich grazing lands, and large apiaries. In the extensive Manicaragua valley tobacco second only to the Vuelta Abajo is grown. The soil is rich, and there is some room for settlers. There is undeveloped mineral wealth in both of the central provinces. The capital, Santa Clara, is an interesting inland city on high ground. The four largest cities are ports on the north and south coast previously described. Sancti Spiritus is a quaint old town founded in 1514 in the south eastern district. Remedies, near the north coast, and Las Cruces, on the railroad to Cienfuegos, are flourishing cities. Santo Domingo, Calabazar, Esperanza, Placetas, Ranchuelo, Las Lajas, Cartagena, and Palmira are market towns of local importance. In the south the low-lying Cienega Zapata has marvellous animal and vegetable life, but it is difficult to explore.

The Eastern Provinces
Passing eastward from Santa Clara, the character of the country changes rapidly. Camaguey, the next province, is sparsely populated. It has 12,400 square miles of rich grazing land and valuable forests. It is an ideal cattle country, but its largest ranches were discontinued when the war with Spain stopped exports and the industry has never been fully re-established. To men fond of horses, and an open life, Eastern Cuba offers ideal conditions. Cattle thrive on the rich Parana grass, a pasture which is practically inexhaustible, and they need no special fattening. The problems of drought or winter have not to be faced as in most cattle countries, and neither stall feeding nor shelter has to be thought of. The grass often is six feet high, and in some of the valleys "Pata de Gallina," or crab-grass is also abundant for fodder. There are districts where stock can be fattened on an acre of pasture a year per head, though I fear British farmers will hardly credit it.
   I have ridden some hundreds of miles in Eastern Cuba, generally slinging a hammock for the night, occasionally testing the never-failing hospitality of the open-hearted Cuban rancheros, who gave their best and refused payment. I can think of no other place so attractive for exploration or for settlers. Fish are plentiful in the rivers and off the coast. Game is abundant, and honey, mangoes, and yams can be found everywhere. For travellers who do not wish to rough it settlements can generally be reached, even from the wildest districts. Geologists, botanists, naturalists, artists and sportsmen will be delighted.
   The capital of the province, Camaguey or Puerto Principe, is the largest and most fascinating inland city in Cuba. With Moorish types of architecture peering from every variety of palm, and many houses built round beautiful courtyards with fountains, tropical plants and flowers, among which birds of rich plumage flit, the city has an almost oriental appearance. The people retain an old-fashioned courtesy, and are very hospitable to strangers. Many of the houses were built in the sixteenth century and the city retains a certain medieval charm. Its people are cultured, and its cavalry regiments performed dashing exploits during the war. Most of the inland towns are quaint and small. Alta Garcia, Ciego de Avila and Minas are interesting. Large quantities of valuable hard woods are exported from the forests.
   La Gloria is the centre of a flourishing fruit district, owned chiefly by foreign settlers. Cubitas, a hill town just to the south, was the seat of the Provisional Government during the war, when the government was set up under the presidency of the venerable Marquis of Santa Lucia, and vigorously maintained. Note the type of owner even of the smaller Cuban ranches: "Heco de Bronce," a fearless horseman, expert with lasso and rifle. If you taste his hospitality he proves a poet at heart, often with a wide knowledge of the lyric verse of his country, a simple cultured philosopher, without prototype and generally with a very large family, with none of the domestic worries of industrial civilisation.

The province of Oriente, formerly Santiago de Cuba, the largest department, occupies the extreme eastern section of the Island. Toward the north coast there are flourishing plantations with an enormous fruit trade. Peaceful agricultural valleys with charming haciendas, are succeeded by rugged and inaccessible Sierra, virgin forests and rolling prairies of succulent grass and cattle herds. The mountains are rich in copper, manganese, iron, mercury, bitumen, lead, and zinc mines.
   In some regions altitude is marked by three distinct belts of vegetation, the wealth and colour of tropical forest, a terrace of the semi-tropical, succeeded by the conifers of pines marking the high sky-line as a tropical anomaly. In the north eastern districts toward Baracoa, the region, geologically young, abounds in beautiful scenery, and a river which leaps down jubilantly a sheer 300 feet in its race seaward, only to be trapped in boiling protest, is engulfed in a deep cavern. Here are caves with amazing limestone formation, prismatic spars, and fossils of prehistoric monsters pushed toward the surface by natural upheaval. All these wonders of Nature are only a few miles from the great fruit port, three days from New York, and thus as accessible as the Yellowstone and Rockies which some parts of Santiago rival.
   The mineral resources of Oriente are beyond estimate. Extensive Manganese mines are worked by Cubans and Americans. At Cobre there are enormous but difficult veins of copper. The Carnegie Steel Group and other American interests have leased many iron and manganese mines in the southern mountains, and enormous quantities of ore are shipped from their own ports on the coast. Marble and Rock Crystal are abundant. Fruit, coffee, cattle and timber offer more simple opportunities. Labour is still needed in Cuba, though there were 57,097 emigrants landed in 1917 and 37,320 in 1918. Of these totals 49,087 were from Spain. These workers are industrious and frugal, though many of them earn good pay for a few years and return home to retire instead of permanently settling. There are thousands of British Negroes on the plantations, and before the war high-class Scandinavian agricultural workers were becoming attracted to the Island.

The Sierra Region
Visitors to Cuba should recall Cato's lament, and endeavour to make the mountain trip on horseback. Who can say that they know the Island unless they have seen Turquino, King of the Sierra Maestre, by the full moon? Dawn is not so early either that the sunrise need be missed from some point on the Sierra del Cobre. For preference, leave the railroad near Las Tunas, and with a practice to guide, ride across to the wonderful Cauto region. Follow the course of the river, upstream, through magnificent forest, fertile potrero and glen. A week can be spent in this region, riding near shallows, haunts of the flamingo, albatross, brightened by kaleidoscopic flights of plumage, and with huge alligators sunning on the banks. Clumps of enormous sugar cane, trails through grass higher than horse and rider, backwaters hidden by clouds of melliferous blossoms, near woods dripping with wild honey, give every variety of scene, alternating with magnificent pyramids of verdure, hills of vivid forest succeeded by sunlit valleys, beyond which stately mountains rise from a sea of vegetation up to 9,000 feet.
   Riding southward, avoid the passes through which rails and roads wangle to the coast and boldly negotiate trails leading up and over the wall of lofty sierra which extends along the southern seaboard of the province. Camp at least one night on some open and accessible peak to see the sunset of orange, pink and scarlet flame across the royal blue of sea and sky, backing the serrated ridges of mount and forest, to fade to rapid darkness, with no twilight contest, as a million stars blaze out with bewildering rapidity.
   If fortune has thrown in a moon near full, the clear atmosphere will give new views of surpassing wonder, with sea, rivers and lagoons of quicksilver, in a wide vista of vegetation, heavily wooded canons in black shadow, with Turquino, Gran Piedra, and other giant peaks standing in clean cut silhouette. Heed your practico and sleep shaded from this moon glare, and rise before the dawn which will be an ineffaceable recollection, a vision of natural glory that defies adequate description. Imagine first the aurora australis. The tropics give no creeping transitions between nights and days. To eastward, sea, earth and sky are bathed suddenly in changing colours, a pageant of tinted lights across the heavens, effaced by a rising wave of ruddy gold which dissolves before an enlarging arc of brilliant sun rays. This throws mountain valley and forest in wonderful chiaroscuro until the sun itself appears to move steadily into the sky, lighting up every nook and chasm, absorbing the golden haze of the lowlands and defining sharply a view of incredible extent. Cities, distant many hours of hard riding, appear within rifle shot, every tone and shade of vegetation is vivified, and peaks more than a hundred miles away seem to be easy neighbours.
   In these mountains I have ridden above a storm, with clear sky and sun overhead, and a sea of dark clouds obliterating everything below. Some of the peaks are huge cones of virgin forest, others rise in fertile green terraces with haciendas nestling picturesquely on the heights. To the southward many slope precipitously to the sea, and the descents by some trails leading towards Santiago or to the mining towns nestling in the foothills, are difficult and dangerous. Most of these mountains are great calcareous masses, many are verdure clad, and there are wonderful varieties of colouring, mineral and vegetable.
   To tour the Island thoroughly, after seeing Havana, Pinar del Rio should be covered by rail and horseback. From Batabano take a sail through the southern archipelago or from the Isle of Pines. Train, or motor on the network of national highways, make points in the Central Provinces accessible. Take a boat to visit Cayo Romano and the islands in the Bahama Channel, returning to Nuevitas for rail through the heart of Camaguey and Oriente. Ride over the wonderful Baracoa district and through the region of the Upper Cauto before crossing the mountains to Santiago.

Some Historic Scenes from the Provinces
Every town in Eastern Cuba has some adjacent interest. Bayamo is a famous old Cuban city, with quaint architecture and much charm and history. Holguin is more modern, and has important industries. Jiguani is interesting and picturesquely situated, overlooked by a quaint old fort. It was the scene of bitter fighting during the war. There are flourishing plantations in the vicinity. Sabanilla, Palma Soriano, Moron and Cobre are towns near important mining districts. Caney, near the capital, was captured by the American forces during the Santiago campaign. The American troops landed on the mountainous south coast to co-operate with the navy in investing the city, duplicating the preliminary operations during Vernon's unfortunate expedition in 1741, when British forces under Wentworth landed further eastward to co-operate with the ships in attacking the same land-locked port.
   Off these shores too, scene of the Spanish-American naval battle, there was an earlier episode when the steamer Virginius was captured with an expedition of Cubans and Americans. Their execution in batches was delayed by Mr. Ramsden, our Consul in Santiago, who covered some prisoners with the Union Jack and dared the troops to fire. He had sent for HMS "Niobe," whose captain on arrival summarily stopped the executions by laying his guns on the city. No event in history has done so much for British prestige in all the Americas.
   South of Bayamo, near Paralyo, the Cubans won a great victory from which the Captain-General only escaped capture by hiding in a Red Cross litter which was allowed to pass with the wounded. Following his capture of Guaimaro, Victoria Las Tunas with twenty forts was besieged and taken by General Calixto Garcia. Here the potency of German Mausers, backed by Krupps with machine guns, barbed wire, and trenches were first demonstrated by the casualties of the attacking forces after the Cuban artillery had silenced the forts. Led in person by Colonel now President Menocal, who was shot down at the wire, and by Colonel Carlos Garcia, now Minister at London, who also lost his horse in the charge, but led the troops through the entanglements, the Cuban infantry stormed and took the city at enormous sacrifice.

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