Crossing The Equator

There is always a great time when the ship crosses “the line,” as they call the Equator, and all who have not before crossed it must pay tribute to Father Neptune. The ship’s stewards worked hard getting ready for this; there was a great tank rigged on the after deck and filled about four feet deep with salt water. We were ordered to report at nine and most of us appeared in our pajamas. There were the Devil, in fine guise, old Father Neptune, in correct beard and costume, and a lot of other characters, among them a gorilla, admirably imitated. These English lads are certainly bright and painstaking. First there was a parade of the characters, then the bugle called us all aft to the tank, where Neptune had his throne. The women were called first, one by one, and Father Neptune received them very graciously, putting a few courteous questions to them, then turning them over to the doctor, who proceeded to take their temperatures. His thermometer was made of one of the glass boiler tubes, and was open at each end and filled with salt water. As the woman took it in her mouth it was raised and the water went where it would do the most good! One bright lady managed to stop the end of the tube with her tongue, and then to blow hard and deliver the sea water in the doctor’s face. After the temperature was thus taken each was given a tonic from a huge bottle,’ then the faces were lathered with a huge brush and carefully shaved with a wooden razor about two feet long, and then the victims were discharged.

We men went through a similar proceeding, only we were told to be seated on the edge of the tank, and after we were shaved we were suddenly capsized backward into the tank, a pleasant enough finish for one who could swim. Unluckily some one went in on top of me, so that I was down at the bottom of the tank quite a long time, but I did not swallow any water, and came out all right. Some of the men resisted and one was so fearfully strong that it took all of the stewards to put him in ; when they did get him over they all piled in on top of him, then some one turned a hose with a two-inch stream of water on the struggling, screaming mob, and, afterward turned it on a dense mass of Italian third-class passengers who were watching the play. I do not suppose that the water hurt them any. After-ward we were given certificates that we had been presented at the court of King Neptune.

It was characteristic of the good ship Verdi and her men that something was doing nearly all the time, some entertainment for all of us except the second and third-class people, and even they were allowed shuffleboard sets. So many Americans go to Argentina by way of England (the fare being the same either way) that no doubt the shipowners make it their policy to make the direct voyage down as pleasant as possible. Indeed I can see no use in going by Europe; it takes longer and about the only advantage is that one finds bigger boats and more people on them, but one has also to deliver up double sets of tips to stewards, so it costs more in time and money, and one could hardly have more fun than we had on the-Verdi.


On the tenth day we sighted cape St. Roque, in Brazil, the first land we had seen. The cape lay low down on the horizon and was dimly seen. Curiously enough it did not awaken in us the least emotion and only so much interest as would lead us to ascertain whether the ship was really on the course that the chart indicated. Why were we not interested? I have puzzled over this. On voyages to England one is thrilled and excited at the sight of land. It must be that it was because at cape St. Roque we knew that there was “nothing doing” there for us. Then the heat, the humidity, the feeling that were we to land at the place we would find a tropical jungle, prevented our imaginations drawing any pleasing picture of St. Roque; we were glad lazily to steam onward. We made about 290 to 300 miles a day. One can very easily run as fast as that, for a short time. I used to try it, running along the deck toward the stern and keeping abreast of a wave, or some object dropped over-board. And yet, slow as it seems, the boat arrives somewhere. Evidently there is something in keeping steadily at a task.

When at the Equator it had become “good and hot,” I discovered a little nook out forward, where, under shelter, was a great chest full of rockets and other fireworks. No one walked there and I used to take my mattress there and an army blanket and pillow and sleep. There was always a breeze, sometimes a strong one, and sleeping there was indescribably delicious. When I would awaken I would see the bright and glorious stars, among them the beautiful and mysterious southern cross, which hangs over the south pole much as our north star hangs over the north. Why should the heavens be different under the tropics? Be sure that they are different, by night and by day. Have you ever heard of a liquid moon? Well, the new moon used to glow, the dark part of it, with soft, liquid light, and the crescent of it very, very brilliant and the shining path of it across the sea was beautiful in-deed. Near me the bells struck the hours and for-ward in the crowsnest on the mast the watch called out his “all’s well” at intervals ; but nothing disturbed me.; I was happy whether awake or asleep. My one lack was the company of dear ones from home.


On the morning of Feb. 3, we were going into the bay of Bahia Todos Santos. To our left were white sandhills, with some touches of greenness. The air was hot in the sun, delicious in the shade.

As we approached Bahia we saw an enchanting view—a high ridge of land back a little way from the beach, and fields or pastures on the slopes, possibly cane fields, with masses of palms and other trees. Fine houses were on the heights, and in a red hot-looking huddle by the water, Bahia. There was a fine breeze with very gay waves. Past us flew little sailing crafts, going out after fish (whales men assured me), the dark-skinned boatmen standing on the gunwales and leaning far out to windward to keep their little craft from capsizing. Amazing boatmen they appeared to me, but then the water was warm.

From my journal: “The green of palms and trees so very, very green, the tiled roofs so red, the walls so white and yellow, the water so very blue—a great combination of colors. What a lot of church towers—more than I had ever seen be-fore. They say that they mark many periods of deep despair, times when yellow fever ravaged and men vowed to give a church if they lived, or one was given as a memorial if they died. Those were the days when prayers were thought better than sanitation. Now they say yellow fever does not come because they have cleaned up the place and understand the mosquito and its tricks.”

Our Brazilian passengers were as happy as children at the sight of familiar scenes. It is easy to understand and how, after that wealth of warmth and color, our shores must seem cheerless to them. Fine fellows, our Brazilian passengers-much the most courteous and well-bred of any of us, I regret to say.

There are no piers or docks at Bahia; the place is only about 400 years old, but docks are building. We anchored a mile or more from shore and immediately there swarmed around us boatmen of all sorts, clamoring to sell us things, or to take us ashore. Through kind old Da Silva we bargained to be taken ashore in a boat manned by two boat-men, and soon we set off. There were right good swells on, and a stiff wind blew; the boatmen pulled and pulled, as best they could, and that was quite well, it seemed to me, but they made small head-way, and the shore a mile away. Then we took down an awning that sheltered us from the sun and also caught too much wind ; after this we got along better and finally came to land. I had been told the place was very dirty; I was therefore agree-ably astonished to find the streets cleaner than any that I had ever seen in North America. The cleaning up of Bahia is comparatively recent. The streets were narrow; the stone buildings very old; little mules looking underfed toiled with carts laden with hides and other merchandise to the docks; business men walked about with umbrellas raised as a protection from the sun. They were small men, these Bahians, as though the climate had been a little too much for them, though possibly lack of oats in their diet had something to do with that. They were intelligent-looking little brown people mostly Portuguese or of that descent. Naturally negroes abounded, many of them well saturated with repose.

Here I had taste of the peculiar quality of the tropics and its powerful sun. While we were in the shade, or on the shady side of streets, we did not feel the heat to be at all oppressive, but when we walked or climbed a hill a little way on the sunny side of the street, unprovided with umbrellas, a curious feeling came over us; there was something else happening to us than mere warmth; it op-pressed and almost frightened us. It was no doubt the influence of the actinic rays of the sun that are more powerful here than in northern climes.

It is curious how men take with them wherever they go their habits and customs. The Portuguese had built their homes much as they would have built them in Portugal, which has a mild and even cool climate, with no especial protection from the sun. There is a high ridge or plateau here, and the town is built on two levels perhaps 300 feet apart. The bank that separates the levels *is a mass of bananas, bamboos and palms, as lovely as can well be imagined. There is a trolley system, as near to falling apart as can be and run. We rode through the narrow streets, seeing into the shops and homes, and stopping now and then to let some mule pass where the street was only wide enough for a mule or a tiny trolley car.

At one such stop our car windows were just op- posite and near to the windows of a dwelling, and a young mother held her two-year baby up to see the sights. It was a very pretty baby, dressed in a sweet smile. “Oh, how I would like a picture of that child!” exclaimed one of our party. “Well,” I replied, “why do you not make it?”

“Why, the mother would not like it; it is not dressed,” said the would-be photographer. “She will be honored and pleased,” I assured him. I was right. When the camera was leveled on the child the fond mother lifted it completely into view and stood it on the stone. window sill in all its babyish charms. Evidently clothing for children is one expense that these people escape.

We went then to some very curious markets and wondered at the new fruits and vegetables; then to a great tower in which is an elevator that reaches from the lower level to the upper one. The fare in the elevator is the same as on a trolley car, but few persons except negroes climb the street that leads from one level to the other. The upper town was immaculately clean and pretty in places.

Bahia has about 375,000 people. It is the chief city of the state of Bahia, a large state, nearly four times as large as our state of Ohio. Judging from external signs it is not at present very thickly settled nor very productive. The population is not quite one-half that of Ohio and the volume of trade of less importance, probably, than that of the one town of Dayton in Ohio. Why not? Well, there are several reasons, no doubt. The climate is warm, and there is not the need of stern endeavor that there is in the United States. As we have seen, lothes are worn more as evidence of conformity than for the comfort they give. Then I can imagine that it would be difficult to train men to regular and strenuous labor such as has built Ohio, when banana bunches hang ripening over every hut and bungalow.

The interior is reached by railways; there is rain in plenty; there is fertility next to the coast; it is dry in the interior. There are /mountain ranges and forests. I longed to explore the interior and long yet to do it. Sugar, cotton and hides I take it are the chief articles of export, and from Bahia comes mir fine navel seedless orange.

We found the United States Consul up on the heights, and he escorted us to some lovely parks and residence streets. Speaking of the climate, he had been there a year and this was the hottest day that he remembered. It was merely a July day fol. Ohio, all but the penetrating heat of the sun’s direct rays. I had never before felt that the true tropics would support fine civilization, and people of our kind. I changed my mind here, as I was profoundly impressed that if only people knew how to live, how to banish the mosquito with the consequent malaria and yellow fever, they could live in comfort and happiness in such a climate as that of Bahia; but they would assuredly need men of darker skin than their own to do much of the manual labor in the sun. The pigment of the Indian and the Negro was given as a protection from the sun’s actinic rays ; we, poor unfortunates, children of the cold North, are without dark skins, so we suffer most when trans-planted too near the equator.

I quote again from my note book: “I took a long trolley ride and saw many pretty homes and gardens; flowers, very vivid in their colors; waste places carpeted densely with Bermuda grass; goats and children playing on the commons ; banks of bananas almost as high as trees; groves of oranges big and green and many, many happy, well-looking children. It was not a hot day in the shade—not in the least what one would imagine the tropics to be like. The señors wore black, thin coats and straw hats, no sun helmets nor anything suggesting African or Indian pictures. It was all delicious—the air, in the evening and the sights. Of course there was, enough to criticise, if one wished to do that, but Bahia has had so many sorrows from yellow fever in the past that it should be forgiven much. Now is no doubt the dawn of a new era.”

We passed a pretty house with a big European lawn, only so much greener a lawn than I ever saw in -Europe, and on it some German people playing lawn tennis in the evening and happy, healthy-looking children playing about. The thought came : “Why, here one could have a farm, with meadows, pastures, corn, sugar, bananas and many things.” After all it would be a poor place for hay-making, for it rains every day, they say, and why would one want any hay? I saw donkeys laden with very long green grass, Guinea grass, I imagine. I fear the country is settled up with the wrong kind of people for progress; there is a great deal of African blood. Bahia once was a center of a’ great slave trade.

We took on at Bahia, great green-colored oranges that are said never to turn yellow, (delicious they are, too), and mangoes. A mango is a cross between a peach and a pomegranate, as big as a duck’s egg, with a flavor like a peach tinged with turpentine. One eats them best in a bath tub, undressed, but they are very delicious, once you get used to them.

We must remember that the Verdi sailed at 6 o’clock. Three of us missed our boat and had to bargain with a swarthy pirate to take us out, which he did for double price; it was an anxious moment or two, as we wondered whether we would reach the Verdi in time, but we did; all was well and we were happy. – We had had an adventure; we had achieved something, and so we were happy. Then we bore away to Rio Janeiro.

Next day we were under the vertical sun. We passed Brazilian coasting steamers, not very big or comfortable looking, and we wondered what life as the Brazilians live it was like. We felt very sure, now, that we were really in South America, and it seemed to a North American a far stranger land than Europe.