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The Californian.



Vol. IV.



NOVEMBER, 1893.







GRASS-THATCHED HUTS AT !.<•> PI



i/



• VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



HY ARTHUR INKERSLEY.




O reach Coatepec from
Vera Crnz, on Christ-
mas Eve, it was neces-
sary to get up at day-
light and have our
baggage carried by car-
gadores, or porters, to the station of
the Inter-Oceanic Railway. For some
little distance out from the city of
Vera Cruz we passed over sand-hills.
When these had been traversed, we
got out into a green country dotted
with palm-trees and cottages thatched
with palm-leaves. In the tier r a cali-
cnte no more substantial habitations



than these huts arc needed. The
track passes through the < Id
tional road byway of CeiTO <»<»rdo,
where Genera] Scott < the

Mexican General Santa Ana on the
18th of April, 1847. At many point*
alcng the track are seen tiny cairns,
erected to commemorate some death
by violence. When a native finds a
dead body he piles a little heap of
stones upon it, and each subsequent
passer-by adds a stone or two. <>n
the top of the pile a rode wooden
cross is placed. At the little way-
stations small crowds of natives



747



74 8



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.




gather, to whom the trains have not yet ceased to
be objects of wonder and interest. The Antigua
River is crossed by a fine iron bridge a hundred
metres in length, which was manufactured in Eng-
^8 land and put together on the spot. As we ad-

^JSt,ii vanced further from the coast, the ascent became

steeper and the country bolder; the track began
to climb up hill-sides and to pass through deep
cuts, often made through solid rock. Now and
then the view opened out, and gave us command
of wide stretches of country, in which occasion-
ally cattle were seen feeding. After reaching
the highest point the descent is made by long
curves, through very pretty country, perfectly
green and fresh. Soon Orizaba's snow-capped
peak, an almost perfect cone, came into view, and
except when hidden by clouds was visible for all
the rest of the journey. The vegetation is every-
where thick, rich, and luxuriant, the moisture
being sufficient to keep it in a state of continual
verdure very refreshing to eyes wearied by the arid aspect of the Valley of
Mexico or of the environs of Vera Cruz. When the track gets clear, as
from time to time it does, of the bower of vegetation through which it cuts
its path, wide views reaching far away on one side to the mountains that
hem in the Valley of Mexico, or to the waters of the Gulf on the other, are
obtained: the distant ranges look purple in the haze, and the peak of Ori-
zaba is often so obscured by clouds that its situation can scarcely be made
out with certainty. The ride is a beautiful one, and becomes more so as
the train nears Jalapa, where we were
kindly received by Mr. Loftus Nunn,
an official of the Inter-Oceanic Rail-
way, and Mr. Thrailkill. The latter
is a big Kentuckian, who has been for
many years in Mexico in charge of
the tramway from Vera Cruz to Jala-
pa ; he had all sorts of adventures in
the earlier days, is a wonderful hunter
of big game, and a lively raconteur of




A STREET IN COATEPEC.



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



749



big stories. To support his state-
ments it is his custom to appeal to a
Mexican servant of his, who to the
question, " Is it not so, Ramon?" al-
ways discreetly replies, "Si, senor. "

Leaving our baggage at the sta-
tion, we walked up a winding, hilly,
picturesque stretch to Mr. Nunn's
house, where we took lunch, meeting
his wife and sister, the latter a de-
lightful girl just out from England
on a visit to her brother. Their
house is a charming, roomy old place,
part of the walls of which belonged
to a convent. The garden contains a
large stone bath, supplied with water
by a perennial
stream, the surplus
running out into a
public fountain on
the street. It is part-
ly surrounded by
high old stone walls
and commands a
glorious view. The
wide plain at our feet
stretches away to the
sea ; the rolling hills
are dominated by
the commanding
height of Orizaba
and the glorious
peak of Ixtaccihuatl
— the white woman.
A broad piazza looks
onto the garden,
and here in lounges
and hammocks the
family spend much
of their time. The
contains one of the
grates to be found in Jalapa

Jalapa — the place of water and
land — has many charms and is a fa-
vorite health-resort, many Vera Cru-
zans maintaining houses both in
Jalapa and in the Gulf city. The
streets are steep, quaint, and wind-
ing, and the air of the highlands is
healthful and invigorating. The city
has a permanent population of 14,-
000, but this number is increased at
certain seasons of the year. There
is a fine cathedral and several hand-




NEAR COATEPEC BRIDGE



drawing-room
very few fire-



some churches, most of which were
built by Cortes and his followers. But
the confiscation of church property
has caused many of the sacred edifices
to fall into ruin ; for when a tower is
thrown down by an earthquake or
lapses from natural decay, no repairs
are made. Near the cathedral a pretty
little plaza, with an ornamental band-
stand and stone seats, has been made.
The convent of San Francisco in the
middle of the city was formerly the
seat of a powerful and wealthy mo-
nastic fraternity, but it is now shorn
of its revenues and influence.

The Municipal Palace — for Jalapa
is the capital,
though not the
largest city, of the
important State of
Vera Cruz — is a
large building in
the pseudo-classical
style, and contains,
as I was told, some
handsome rooms, in
which occasional
entertainments are
given by the gov-
ernor, whose official
residence it is. The
governor receives a
salary of $6,000 a
year. The last gov-
ernor had, in addi-
tion to this, $6,000
more, his pay as a
general in the Mexi-
can army. The
deputies to the State legislature meet
in Jalapa, and receive a salary of
$250 a month each.

Here, too, is a normal school for
the training of teachers, who in the
earlier days of the republic were
very ignorant, knowing the church
catechism and very little besides.
Each canton sends two pupils to the
normal school, and each pupil is
allowed $40 a month for expenses:
at the end of the course they must
go wherever the government sends
them to teach.

Besides its pretty streets, winding



75°



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



irregularly up and down the hill-
sides, its splendid views of Orizaba
and of that singular box-shaped peak,
the Cofre de Perote, and its substan-
tial stone houses, Jalapa is famous
as having the most beautiful flowers
and the most lovely women in all
Mexico. Vanilla grows wild in its
forests, and the gathering of it affords
a large revenue and constitutes an
important industry. Its flowers are
greenish-yellow, with spots of white,
and grow upon a climbing stalk.
The pods grow in pairs and are as
large around as a
man's little fin-
ger. They vary
in length, but six
inches may be
taken as an aver-
age. At first the
pods are green,
but they turn to
yellow, and final-
ly to brown. They
are dried in the
sun, and while
drying are
touched with
palm-oil, which
imparts to them
a brilliant gloss.
Every one knows
the delicate flavor
which vanilla
gives to the
wares of the great
French manufac-
turer of whom
Parisian wits said
that, while Fame




COTTAGE DOOR AT CHAPULTEPEC



had



stamped her
mark upon Thiers, Menier had
stamped his upon chocolate. Jalap, a
medicinal plant well known in nur-
series, is native to Jalapa, and derives
its name from the city. The luxuri-
ant vegetation, brilliant flowers, and
glowing complexions of the women of
Jalapa are largely due to the moisture
of the atmosphere, in fact to the same
cause to which the belles of Devon-
shire, Ireland, and Tasmania owe
their reputation. On the highlands
that overlook the tierras calientes, a



drizzle called chipi-chipi is of constant
occurrence and keeps every green
thing fresh. Jalapa also abounds in
singing-birds, often of very bright
plumage, which does not in Mexico,
as in most countries, imply a lack of
sweet voice. Many of these singing-
birds are kept in cages in the houses,
and at the hotels are somewhat of a
nuisance to the tourist who wants to
sleep in the early morning. Of
course, most Mexican women,
whether of Spanish or Indian origin,
are copper-colored, but Jalapa boasts
of many fair-
haired beauties
with blond com-
plexions and blue
eyes.

The chill of
evening comes on
suddenly in Mex-
ico as soon as the
sun goes down,
and some care
must be exercised
by the visitor in
exposing himself
to the night air.
The natives,
though they wear
very light cloth-
ing during the
day, when the
coolness of night
comes on wrap
themselves up
well, the women
in their rebosos
or blue - fringed
shawls, and the men in their blanket-
like vari-colored serapes. The vomito,
or deadly yellow fever, so common
at Vera Cruz, is almost unknown in
the healthy air of Jalapa and Orizaba,
yet, curiously enough, if a man who
has been attacked by the vomito in
the lowlands moves up to the high-
lands, he almost invariably dies.

The house-windows in Jalapa, as
in most Mexican cities, are protect-
ed by bars of iron or wood, and
have little balconies, upon which
the maidens sit or stand while some



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



751




SUGAR FACTORY AT COATEPEC.



youthful admirer " plays bear" in the
street below. This silent flirtation
by means of bows, gestures, sighs,
fan, and flowers is sometimes carried
on for many months before the young
couple meet.

A common feature of a Mexican
town is the public washing-place.
Round two or three sides of a small
square are white pillars supporting a
red-tiled roof. The roof shelters two
rows of tanks placed at a height con-
venient to a woman standing up: the



tanks have marble floors built on a
slope. On the grass of the inclosed
square the clothes are spread out to
dry. The women bring their own
soap, but water is obtained from the
public pump.

We were sorry to hurry away from
Jalapa and our kind hosts, but it
necessary for us to be getting on to
Coatepec. Accordingly at a few
minutes to 3 p.m. we presented our-
selves at the office of the mule-car
line running between Jalapa and Co-




COFRE DE PEROTE FROM COATEPEC



752



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



atepec, but only to learn that the car
had started half an hour before. On
going up to Mr. Thrailkill's house,
he expressed his astonishment at the
early departure of the car, but very
kindly offered to lend us horses on
which to pursue our journey. We
accepted his offer, hired a mule to
carry our baggage and a mozo on
horseback to look after the mule.
The mozo led us over a rough cause-
way, irregularly paved with stones
and in many places slippery with



about two-thirds of the way to Coate-
pec darkness came on, but our horses
found the way for us. At last we
came to a long bridge over a moun-
tain stream, then to the track over
which the mule-car from Jalapa runs,
and so into the village of Coatepec.
After a little blundering about our
host came out to us and, receiving us
very kindly, showed us into the bed-
room assigned to us. This was a
large room floored with square red
bricks and having two windows,




COATEPEC FROM THE CERRO.



mud. On either hand were copses
of fine trees and flowering bushes;
the banks were high and dripped
with moisture, which caused ferns
and mosses to grow most luxuriantly
upon them. As we went on, we now
and then saw the track of the Inter-
Oceanic Railway, and once or twice
we crossed it. Sometimes the de-
scents were steep, and the horses
slipped about on the mud-covered
stones, though my horse, having no
shoes, stood up better than those
which were shod. On the way we
met a few peons on foot carrying
burdens, and exchanged " buenas
noc/ies" with them. When we were



barred from top to bottom, looking
onto the street. The house is of two
stories and is built in a square about
a pretty patio adorned with flowers,
hanging baskets of ferns, and a little
fountain : behind are the coffee-dry-
ing floors and some sheds contain-
ing a weighing-machine, a coffee-
bean sorter, and other apparatus
connected with the preparation and
buying of coffee. This hospitable
house was our home for a week, dur-
ing which we pottered about study-
ing village life, taking photographs,
or playing billiards at the Casino. A
Mr. J. V. Brenchley, of North W T ales,
was also a guest in the house. He



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



753



has been more than three years in
Mexico, employed upon railway en-
gineering. He is an ardent sports-
man, and told us many stories of
hunting adventures.

Our host is the owner of a large
coffee-plantation, and also buys coffee
for cash from the small growers,
nearly everybody in the district be-
ing coffee-raisers. The coffee grown
round Coatepec is of excellent qual-
ity : three thousand pounds of it were
sent as an exhibit to the Chicago Ex-
position. The cof-
fee-buyers dispose
of the coffee they
purchase from the
small growers to
dealers in New
Orleans and New
York, the magni-
tude of the dealers'
operations being
shown by the fact
that one house buys
700,000 bags, each
containing 130
pounds of coffee,
annually. The vari-
ous grades of coffee
sold by the whole-
sale dealers are pro-
duced by mixing
different qualities,
putting sugar into
the roaster with the
beans, and by roast-
ing them to a lighter
or darker hue.

The coffee - rais-
ing region of Mexico extends from
the sea-coast up to a height of 5,000
feet above sea-level. The coffee-
tree, however, flourishes best at a
height of from 1,000 to 3,000 feet,
for here the plant gets that heat and
moisture which it requires. In a
coffee-plantation all trees more than
two years old will be found well laden
with fruit. The land for planting
can be obtained for about ten dollars
an acre, and once planted will go
on yielding for years. After clear-
ing the land, plants varying in age




NEAR THE AQUEDUCT.



from six to twelve months are set out
in rows distant eight to ten feet from
each other, the plants in the row be-
ing about six feet apart. As the
young coffee-tree is sensitive to ex-
cess of heat, bananas or plantains are
set out to give it shade. These grow
quickly and in a year yield abun-
dantly so that a revenue begins to
come in from them while one is
waiting for the coffee. If one is
very anxious for quick returns, corn
or tobacco may be planted, but it is
better not to make
too heavy a drain
upon the natural
richness of the soil,
but to be content to
wait till the coffee-
trees begin to bear.
The trees rarely
yield much until
they are two or
three years old, and
are not very pro-
ductive until they
are four or five yc
of age: they reach
their highest pro-
ductiveness in the
sixth or seventh
year from planting.
In the favored
region around Ja-
lapa, Orizaba, and
Cordova almost any-
thing will grow.
The products of
temperate and trop-
ic lands alike can be
raised successfully, for the climate is
a harmonious and happy blending of
the characteristics of both these zone s.
Mr. Frederick Ober, in his charming
book of travels in Mexico, mentions
the case of a young man who came
from Illinois to Cordova with $3,5°°
and bought fifty acres of land, half
of which he planted with coffee-trees.
In due time he found himself the pro-
prietor of a flourishing plantation and
enjoying a happy and almost luxuri-
ous life in a lovely land.

Coffee is not a mere bush, but a



754



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



tree, which if allowed to attain its
full growth unchecked would reach
a height of twenty feet or more ; but
when it is about six feet above the
ground, its further growth is stopped
in order that its strength may be
husbanded and that the tree may
not rise to a height inconvenient for
the pickers of its berries. The green
berries turn to a deep bright red and
are hulled by passing them through
a machine: then they are laid out on
mats or on concrete floors to dry in the
sun. The gathering of the crop goes
on from November to April, and dur-
ing those months in a coffee district
the berry is seen everywhere, for
nearly every peasant who has land
grows more or less coffee. This he
sells at a rate per pound according to
its quality to a buyer for silver coin,
which he generally buries in the
ground. In hard times he has to dig
out some of his buried treasure, but
he always does so with extreme re-
luctance. The buyer ships the coffee
to a wholesale firm, who roast and
blend it as already described.

In a Mexican household coffee is
made very strong and is served up
in a small jug; a few spoonfuls of
the concentrated coffee are put into
the cup, which is then filled up with
hot milk. In the restaurants the
waiter brings two pots, one of coffee
and the other of boiling milk, and
pours from them according to the
taste of each customer.

The sugar-cane was introduced into
Mexico by Cortes, and the valley of
Cuernavaca, where he built his Pala-
cio, is still green with great planta-
tions of cane. In most of the sugar
haciendas the machinery is of a
primitive kind, but in some of the
large establishments, which produce
a million pounds of sugar a year, the
most modern appliances for crushing
the cane and evaporating the juice
are found. We walked out one lovely
morning from Coatepec to Los Puen-
tes, over a rugged stone causeway,
down which came clattering a party
of rural guards, heavily armed and



well mounted, in attendance upon the
governor of the State. Los Puentes is
a pretty hamlet, consisting of a sugar
factory, thatched cottages, rushing
rock-strewn streams, and bridges. I
pottered about there a whole morn-
ing, finding several views for my
camera.

Cotton also grows well in Mexico,
and in some parts of the country has
the valuable quality of continuing to
bear good crops for several seasons
in succession; while in the South-
ern States of America the soil must
be strengthened with fertilizers and
fresh seed sown every year. The
cotton-plant is native to Mexico and
yields very richly. Yet with all
these great natural advantages for
the cultivation of cotton, Mexico does
not produce enough of the raw ma-
terial to keep her own mills at work,
but imports large quantities of cotton
from the United States. A great cot-
ton hacienda is strongly built, with
walls like those of a fort; the tops of
the walls are often studded thickly
with broken glass of a jagged and
deadly appearance ; for further pro-
tection, companies of soldiers are
kept within the establishment. A
hacienda of this type, whether de-
voted to the manufacture of sugar or
cotton, the raising of cattle, or min-
ing of silver, is a complete little state,
with every appliance for luxury and
security. It contains within its walls
hundreds of peons, soldiers, barracks,
a chapel, houses for the laborers,
apartments for the owner and his
family, and every necessary of life
for man and beast. The administra-
dor, or general manager, is the father
of the great family ; he decides all
disputes arising between the various
members of it, and if he is only or-
dinarily just, never finds his author-
ity disputed, but is looked up to with
much respect and consulted by the
peons in all family matters. A gen-
tleman who was for some years ad-
ministrador of an estate in the State
of Coahuila told me that while occu-
pying this position he conceived a



756



VILLAGE LIFE IN MEXICO.



high opinion of the simplicity, hon-
esty, and trustworthiness of the Mex-
ican laborer.

The inhabitants of Mexico are
Europeans, Creoles, and Mestizos.
Creoles are children born in Mexico
of European parentage ; Mestizos are
people of mixed origin. The Indian,
or indigenous inhabitant, is of a
brown color, is rather under the mid-
dle height, muscular, broad-chested,
and, though his legs are not large, is
capable of great endurance. The
Indians retain the simple national
dress they wore centuries ago and
form the large class of peons, or la-
borers, on the great mining, coffee,
and pulque haciendas. The man
wears coarse cotton shirt and drawers
and a piece of rough woollen cloth
fastened round the hips with a belt
and reaching to the knees; on his
head is a high broad-brimmed straw
hat, and on his feet, if he is shod at
all, are leather sandals. For some
unexplained reason the men almost
always have one leg of their trousers
rolled up to the knee. The women
wear a chemise reaching to the knees
and a piece of woollen stuff passing
twice round the body, but not sewn
together, girded round the waist by
a colored sash. The hair is either
rolled up on the head or worn in two



long braids fastened together at the
ends with a piece of ribbon. Ear-
rings and bead necklaces are the
usual ornaments.

In the tierra caliente the Indian's-
house is of cane or wood, thatched
with straw or palm-leaves; on the
tierra fria, or table-lands, where a.



Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 102 of 120)