Impressions Of Rio De Janeiro

We came into the harbor of Rio de Janeiro or the “River of January.” It was 2 o’clock in the morning, and some of the girls sat up till that time, to see the sight. I did not sit up. It takes a lot of enthusiasm, or something, to make a man of fifty sit up so late as that. I got up, however, as we came through the gateway to the harbor, and looked out at the marvelous scene. High, very, very steep mountains rose on either side, very brilliant stars shone overhead and soon as we neared the city, stealing in at half-speed, the city lay before us with all its electric lights glittering down next the bay. There is a boulevard down by the waterside twenty miles long, in a horseshoe curve along the shore, and all the way it is brilliantly lighted by electricity. It was like fairyland as we came in that morning and when daylight came it was just as lovely, for the shores had rows of stately royal palms, the mountains were incredibly deep-green, the houses of the city white and yellow in plaster, the roofs always of red tiles, and near at hand little islands covered with ornamental buildings, as though dropped down from some world’s fair. I think one of the fine buildings on an island was a palace for the late Emperor, one of his places. What the others were does not now matter; all were built to please the eye and to finish the landscape. A fort on one island had been perforated a few weeks before by the mutinous crews of the fleet, when the navy had gone into revolution.

Many important looking men came aboard, finely arrayed in uniform, often of white; then swarms of laborers to unload part of our cargo. As at Bahia, there were no docks; we unloaded on lighters, which is the way seamen prefer, but passengers do not. We went dancing ashore over the blue waves in a steam launch and passing on the way ferry boats laden with gay people bound for other enchanted shores. We found a bright Italian boy who had lived in Connecticut and engaged him for a guide. For the day he charged us $3, which was cheaper than to ramble aimlessly about. I will not tell much about Rio because there is so much to tell. Rio de Janeiro, in its setting, is the most marvelously beautiful city in the world. These South Americans place beauty and harmony of plan first in their schemes of civic improvement. May-be it is because they are not a manufacturing people, but I could not but consider how differently it would have all looked had it been in North America. Think that in all that twenty miles of boulevard surrounding the harbor there was not one junk shop or fertilizer factory, nor hideous manufacturing plant of any sort. These things are put back out of sight, hemmed in behind high white walls, and all the loveliness of the bay enhanced by boulevards, rows of palms, and sightly white stuccoed buildings.

The main part of the city is interesting but not fine ; it has narrow clean streets that are almost horseless. In them go about fine, fat little mules, with brown stripes across their shoulders. They are not the lean mules of Bahia, so I guess that even mules do not relish work too near to the equator. There were fine automobiles, chiefly of European make, in the streets, and many elegantly dressed people. There has been cut straight through the city a fine avenue, lined with shops, hotels, restaurants and theaters. There must have been destroyed thousands of old buildings in order to give room for this fine avenue, now the pride of the city.

The town climbs up on the hillsides, in fact up the very mountains, for it is a large city. Getting a little way from the crowded center, we saw gar-dens and trees and a few flowers of the gayest colors; but I was told that here roses do not thrive, nor many of the common, plain little loved flowers of the temperate climes. We went by trolley to the wonderful botanic garden, then by trolley up into the mountains. The whole ride was full of marvel`s for us. The sides of the hills were covered with rather scrubby but interesting trees; the gardens were full of bananas and other interesting growths that seemed as though they were in a greenhouse ; the white cottages and bungalows looked cool and comfortable, perched often on the hillsides far above the narrow mountain valley up which we rode. We caught glimpses of blue harbor and the guarding mountains, steep and green, and the city was like fairyland in its mingled white and greenery.

It puzzles a North American to know what so many inhabitants of Rio do for a living. One sees few factories. No doubt many go there to live who own plantations and farms in the interior and no doubt the climate is so fine that the poor live more easily than they would in New York. There is doubtless much poverty in Rio, as there is in every city in the tropics for that matter. The easier the conditions the more poverty seems always to be the rule.

At 1,300 feet up in a little mountain valley our trolley line ended and I walked a distance along what seemed a country road. Bamboos as thick as one’s leg arched high over our heads—a lovely screen from the too ardent sun. Neatly kept places were on either side, suburban in their nature, yet having gardens and even some coffee trees. The road was splendidly kept. A brown-skinned native came down the road with an ox and cart—a big ox with a soft gray coat and a great hump on his back. He was a zebu, which is an East India type of cattle that thrives in Brazil. He was gentle and the man led him with a small cord about his neck, but he was willful and wayward and his driver maintained a running fire of reproaches as he trotted at the side of the great, mellow beast. The cart was laden with green forage, of some coarse but nutritious grass, going down to the city. I aired my Spanish on the Portuguese driver, and as the languages are similar he understood me and smilingly replied to my questions. “Yes, he is a good ox and easy to keep fat. He is well behaved only he is of a playful spirit. It is a very fine day, but the country needs rain.” Thus did two farmers meet, the one from the North, the other of the South, compare notes, and find much thought in common, for even Ohio often needs rain.

It was February, which is to them what August is to us, and the day was too warm for comfort, if one walked fast, yet it was deliciously cool at the higher altitude. In July, which is mid-winter with them, I was in Rio again and the weather was ideal; one needed a warm coat but no fire; in fact, I presume there is no such thing as a fire for warming mankind in Rio. The cooking is done almost altogether by use of charcoal. Steadily the population grows. Now that they have discovered the relation of the mosquito to disease, it is a healthy city, and is destined perhaps to be the third city of importance in the New World, New York and Buenos Aires only surpassing it.

From my note book I quote :

“I dropped into the cathedral for a few minutes ; it was rather bare and gaudy. The city is the cleanest and brightest that I have ever seen, far exceeding Paris, and the people are well dressed and intelligent looking. Prices in the shop windows seem enormous ; a man’s hat 6,000 to 10,000 reis, an apple 100 reis. To go up the trolley ride cost me, for our party of three, 5,000 reis, but it was worth it. My simple meal in a restaurant cost me 2,500 reis. It is all terrifying until one learns that it takes about 1,000 reis to equal 35 cents of United States money.”

We left at Rio a negro from Seattle, a big, black and intelligent man who hoped to win a home and a banana-shaded backyard in Rio, meaning to take his family a little later. I have often wondered what happened to him. He spoke not one word of the Portuguese language. It is not a good place to get stranded. I was told of an American who found himself penniless in Rio. He was a man of education and used to good living. One night, having no other bed and the night being fine, he lay down to sleep in the park. In the morning some one had taken his shoes.

When we returned to the ship I found my Montana college boys, all animation and joy. Some of us had managed to interest the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture in them and, presto ! they were all hired to go to various experiment stations, at what it seemed to us then, very good wages. They were all dressed to go ashore and, with their trunks on deck, only waiting to tell us the good news and to, say “good bye.” Fine, brave, intelligent, manly boys they were. I wonder whether Brazil knew what a precious treasure it was absorbing into its body politic. Let not this adventure lead any boys who may happen to read it to try to “go and do likewise. A man should take to a foreign land a knowledge of its language, if possible, and money enough to keep him for three months and then take him home. It was almost miraculous that these lads did not get stranded in South America, and lightning does not often strike twice in the same place.

I quote again from my note book:

“The Brazilians have as bright minds as any on shipboard, and have been more kindly, courteous and lovable than any others. How often our impressions are wrong. Before coming here I held Brazil and Brazilians in light esteem. These folk can show us some things. Their love of order and beauty is wonderful. Education is said to be universal and school attendance compulsory. We are coasting below Rio and passing high, bold rocky islets, wooded to their crests and uninhabited. What a place to come and play pirate, or hermit, as one’s fancy led. I should want no better fun, and if piracy got a bit slow there would be the bananas overhanging the hut.


“Immensely pleased and interested, we bore away southwestward to the port of Santos, which we found a hot mountain-girt hole with marshy surroundings, a city full of ships, docks, ware-houses and little else to interest. No one lives at Santos, I assume, if he can live elsewhere; it is the great coffee port of Brazil, the greatest in the world, and an outlet for the State of Sao Paulo, (Saint Paul).”

A little party of us decided to occupy the time while the steamer was discharging cargo by going into the interior a little way, to the city of Sao Paulo. There was little to see at Santos, which is a city of typical one-story Spanish houses, flush with the sidewalks of the narrow, roughly paved streets—a city evidently given over to stern matters of business and not to pleasure. In the past, fevers have devastated this town, but it may some day be beautiful, although always hot in summer.

We found the railway station a fine, large, mod-ern one, much in the English style. Our train stood made up, the cars spick-and-span, light, airy and pretty but not so large or heavy as ours, with seats arranged as in our cars. Seeing one car half empty and the passengers within appearing “first-class,” we essayed to enter, but were politely restrained by an official, because we had no season tickets. It seems that each seat in this car is rented for the season by some person living up at Sao Paulo. Thus the seat-owner is always sure of his seat, even if he arrives at the last moment. We found seats, however, in the next car, and the train moved off. I quote from my note book:

“The car was filled with the most daintily dressed people I have ever seen on a railway journey; many of the young men were in spotless white, their hair and mustaches very black and the mustaches beautifully curled. Some of the men were a bit pale, as though they carefully avoided the sun, though they looked vigorous enough. The young women were also quite generally dressed in white, and I must say they were handsome, always with black hair, always with fine teeth, bright eyes and enough color in their cheeks. It was pleasant to observe their gentle manners and courtesy.”


Our way led first out through marshy land and then by great fields of bananas, mostly of a dwarf-growing variety, not more than six feet high; then we entered a cove in the mountains and headed for the heights. But how would we surmount those steep, green ramparts, their crests 3,000 feet above us—and so near us? We stopped at the foot of the mountain and our train was divided ; a small but clean and shining locomotive took three of our cars and pushed us forward; we were then attached to one strand of an endless cable; it moved and we began our climb of 3,000 feet to the plateau of Sao Paulo. We moved up easily, our tiny engine accompanying us but not pushing much. Presently down on the parallel track came three laden freight cars, attached to the other strand of our cable. Evidently we were going up as coffee came down, and coffee was chiefly the power that moved us. There are power houses at the upper end of each cable loop of course, and I assume that we would have been drawn up even had there been no cars to come down, but, as a matter of fact, cars always balanced us on each stage of the climb. There were several, perhaps ten, stages of the journey, each one having its own cable and thus, step by step, we climbed. Our locomotive was meant to shove us across the level track that joined the inclines, when we had let go of one cable and were reaching for another.

This is one of the finest bits of railway in the world. It is maintained in admirable condition. There were places where the mountainside above us was laid in solid masonry and cement for acres and acres, to prevent landslides no doubt. The en-tire system is in duplicate, so if aught goes wrong with one the other is in readiness. The way up afforded us one constant succession of marvelous views of mountainside, canyon and far distant vistas. The mountains were densely wooded, but I was astonished to see that there were not many large trees, and usually they were gnarled and crooked. Some of them were aflame with big pink and red blossoms. I longed to stop and examine these closely.


We emerged at the summit onto a rolling tableland, about 3,000 feet above the sea, and here the waters flow westward and do not come down to the sea before they join the Rio Parana, which flows into the Rio de la Plata and comes down by Buenos Aires. There is always a feeling of excited expectation as one emerges from a cañyon on to a mountaintop; and with this feeling there is another —relief. Here we saw before us only rolling country, once heavily timbered. The timber has been cut away for making charcoal, and there are miles of grassland and brushy land, with no signs of fence or cultivation. At the huts of the railway laborers we saw gardens, looking well indeed, and one tiny field of perhaps six acres of maize had a rich, dark green appearance that reminded me of the best corn of Ohio. This is about the same distance below the equator as Cuba is above it; the altitude of 3,000 feet makes the climate delightful. Why then is there not thick settlement and much cultivation along the railway? I was told later that the land is owned in large tracts and that settlement has not been encouraged. To me it would. seem an ideal place to plant a colony of northern farmers, with pastures, meadows, corn, dairies, pigs, oranges, lemons and apples—all the pleasant things that one can call to mind, they would all grow here.

A ride of perhaps twenty miles over the plateau brought us in the dusk of the evening to the city of Sao Paulo, and a carriage deposited us at the “Hotel Sportsman” with nothing English about it but the name. It was a damp, plain and out-of-date old hotel, but the waiters brought us a dinner that would be hard to equal. I was amused when they brought at the close a great basket of fruit—the best grapes I have ever eaten—peaches, oranges, several fruits that I do not know, figs, and apples. I asked especially whence came the apples, and learned that they came from Australia. The rest of the fruit I think came from Brazil and most of it from the nearby environs of Sao Paulo.

When we had eaten what fruit we desired, the waiter took to the manager what was left, the manager made a mental calculation of what sum to add to our bill, which was sufficiently large. I slept that night in a tiny closet of a room, for which next morning I paid in full, for room, the land it rested on and all. Since then new hotels have arisen in Sao Paulo and bedrooms are no doubt better, but commend me to that waiter and that cook at the Sportsman.


Very early in the morning I was astir, eager to see the sights. The architecture is interesting, all in stucco, like some world’s fair taken root, with roofs all of red tiles, but what I recall with most interest and pleasure is the great ravine or narrow valley through the center of the town. A stone via-duct takes one over the ravine and one can stand on the bridge and look down on the valley perhaps 200 feet below. You know well what you would see in a North American town, were you to gaze off into such a place in the midst of it; you would look down on piles of garbage, a waste of old barrels and tin cans, some coal piles, some shacks, a disorder of rotting weeds, a scene of neglect and despair. In Sao Paulo one sees instead a lovely garden, almost like a park, with figs, grapes, flowers, a tiny irrigating canal, neatly kept, some charming red tiled cottages, each apparently planned with thought of how it would look to the viewer from above. Just how this was accomplished, whether it is instinctive to the Brazilians to make everything possible beautiful, or whether municipal law steps in to direct, I do not know. Assuredly it is a striking lesson to us at home.

I am aware that these Latin cities have certain advantages that we do not; their freedom from foundries, coal bins and large factories makes it easier to have a city beautiful, yet I think that the root of the difference lies in the nature of those people. They have the artistic sense more highly developed than we; they live for beauty more than we; they will not permit others to deface and make hideous places on which their eyes must rest, and we assert that a man has a right to do as he pleases with what is his own. We are too busy, or think we are, to take much interest in things that merely concern appearances. I wonder whether a Puritan training away back, or a Quaker influence, had something to do with our disregard for mere beauty.

Well, I stood on the bridge and rejoiced that I was alive. One cannot feel that when he is looking down at an ash dump or a disfiguring mass of billboards. There was in our party a little- woman, Mrs. Y., who had a lively appreciation developed in her, and just then she appeared. She had decided to take an early morning walk, and together we ex-claimed and enraptured and appreciated, and then went with good appetites to our breakfast.

Now the South Americans have not the United States breakfast habit; in fact, I know of no other nation that has. Our breakfast consisted of fruits, a roll with butter from Denmark, and that delicious coffee that the Brazilians keep at home. It was eaten in a charming palm-shaded patio, where little tables were set about anywhere that one might desire. Perhaps every one has had days when he was completely happy. This was one of those days for me. Every muscle, every nerve and fiber of the body and all the little happiness cells of the mind were tingling with delight. One was grateful for being alive, and had a lively expectation of further good things about to occur. Confidentially, I think that Brazilian coffee had a little to do with this state, but chiefly it was the beauty of the scene, the glorious air and sun, the joy of being on dry land after so many days at sea.

As soon as we had finished breakfast, a great automobile appeared with Señor Braga, one of our fellow-passengers who lived at Sao Paulo. Having reached home he was eager to show us its beauties. We had not much time, but he whirled us out to the suburbs and over superb streets and roads. We rode many miles. I do not know whether it is prettier than Pasadena, California, or not; it is like that town in its way of putting bungalows in great gardens filled with palms and oranges and all manner of flowers. The Brazilians build after the Portuguese manner, with gabled roofs of red titles on walls of white, or blue stucco, and they set the houses in beautiful gardens whenever they can do so, in contrast with Spanish cities that usually are built with one-storied, flat-roofed houses set flush with the sidewalk and having their little gardens in their courts or patios in the center of the houses.

Sao Paulo, founded in 1533, is growing with amazing rapidity, increasing in twenty years from 80,000 to 400,000. It is extending its suburbs far, following our custom. No doubt the advent of the American trolley car has much to do with this getting of the people to the suburbs—that and the advent of the automobile.

It was February, which would be the same as August with us, yet the day was not uncomfortably warm. I have an idea that the climate of this plateau is as fine as one could find anywhere, although they tell me it is cold enough for fires in winter, and Señor Braga said lie would prefer to live in Rio, despite the summer heats there, because he does not like cool weather. We went to his suburban home, a great comfortable, elegant house set in a big space full of trees and flowers. The señor wished most to have us see his garden, so we went therein and picked ripe strawberries, green lemons, green apples and a bewildering assortment of other fruits, the names of which I have forgotten. Then we motored rapidly to the railway station, took a train down to Santos and went to the Verdi. Santos seemed a fiery furnace, after Sao Paulo, and some of the passengers were covered with ugly looking mosquito bites, having left their portholes open during the night, as, indeed, they must.

The Verdi continued to discharge cargo for a few hours after we reached her, and during that time an Italian passenger steamer came into port, calling enroute to Buenos Aires. She had on board about 4,000 passengers, mainly of the third-class; she was black with masses of people eager for a glimpse of the new world to which they had come. This gave me an idea of the great world-movement, the transplantation of Latin people and Latin civilizations to the vacant spaces of South America. Señor Braga had told us that labor in Brazil was cheap, costing he said no more than half what it costs in. the United States. Let no Yankee laborer go southbound expecting to work with his hands ; the field is occupied by men with customs, ideals and standards unlike his own. I think, however, that there should be room near Sao Paulo on those cool highlands for dairy farms and that they ought to pay if carried on in the northern style. We did not see much of the agriculture of the region; it lies farther inland, and in this state consists mostly of coffee-growing. We marveled greatly at the enterprise and courage of the Brazilians when we learned that the state of Sao Paulo had borrowed in Europe so many millions of pounds that I dare not state the number—this in order to enable them to hold their surplus coffee and maintain the price by judicious marketing. This artificial boosting of coffee has given a great stimulus to the growth and development of the state and city, but the thought comes, “What will be the end of it all? Can the state forever pile coffee in warehouses and dictate the price that it shall bring?”

That is about all that I saw of Brazil. It is, I am sure, a land of great opportunities and ad-vantages, laboring, however, often under the disadvantages of too much ‘warmth, too many insects and inferior labor. The Brazilians, however, have quite generally keen minds and enterprising dispositions, and we will hear from Brazil; great things are due to happen in its development in the near future. Think how vast is its territory, nearly equaling that of the United States, counting Alaska, although it has nowhere the cool, temperate, man-breeding plains that make North America promise to continue its dominating course in the world’s commercial -progress.

These things I learned of the opportunities of Brazil: that there are in the south vast plains that grow good grasses and good cattle; that the cattle are often of inferior type, of much the same character as the old Mexican and Texas cattle, al-though they are being considerably improved by use of sires from Argentina and recently from Texas. It is a land where the Hereford thrives, and I was told that there is room for thousands of good United States Hereford sires, but they must be born south of the tick line, which means that all of Brazil is a tick-infested region, where Texas fever must be reckoned with when cattle are newly introduced. Considerable of the zebu blood has been used, and the results of cross-breeding with these cattle, themselves native to the tropics, has been good.

The Brazilian government, seeing the great development of Argentina, is ambitious to emulate it and is offering many inducements to men of capital to come and develop its rich and nearly virgin fields. Brazil is not the place for the American farmer to go—the man, that is, of moderate means. Nor is it the place for the American la-borer; he must there compete with labor that is content with far a much smaller wage than is current in the United States.