The Atlantic Islands

Out some four hundred miles from the coasts of Europe and North Africa lie four groups of islands that are the broken remains of a more or less fabulous continent—Atlantis. They seem to have been known to man since the earliest times, for Carthaginian coins have been dug up on Corvu in the Azores, and the Arabian geographers, Edriss and Ibnel Wardi, locate the groups on their maps. There is no doubt that those doughty Greek mariners, Pythias and Eupymides of Massilia (Marseilles) touched here in their adventurous voyages that took them as far as Britain and the Baltic. Significantly, they were always found to be inhabited by aborigines, who received the sailormen more or less belligerently and did not encourage either trading or colonization. The Canaries, in fact, have the distinction of being the home of those aboriginal Guanches nearest in type of all humans to the ancient Cro-Magnon race of the European stone age. They are a last lingering survival of those tall men who could paint and draw the bison and the mammoth, and who were exterminated in Europe by a round-headed race coming up the Danube that knew the use of the how and arrow. That the Guanches survived argues a water separation of Atlantis from Europe as early as the Third Glaciation during the Pleistocene, the Ice Age. The Mediterranean already existed, formed in Pliocene times, and North Africa was already an island cut off from Europe by the sea and bounded on the south, then as now, by the Sahara. We can conceive, therefore, of Atlantis as a third island, about the size of North Africa, and gradually submerged until only the volcanic tops of it remained.

The human significance of the four groups, however, began to affect Europe some twenty centuries after their first discovery by Greek, Phoenician, and Arab. To us they are interesting because they represent the first rewards of a great world movement in commerce. That movement began because of one man, Jenghis Khan, who swept out of central Asia at the head of his Tartar hordes, destroyed utterly the flourishing Grieco-Roman civilization of Asia Minor, and closed all the caravan routes from the East. The bazaars of Constantinople and Beirut were empty. The ships of Venice and Genoa rotted at the wharves. All the rich trade of the East was interdicted.

These things troubled Europe for two hundred years, and then arose the man to end it. He was Prince Henry the Navigator, of Portugal. He dreamed of a sea route around Africa to the East. He knew that it could be done, for there were old records in Alexandria telling of how a certain Nebo, King of Egypt, started two Arab dhows out from the Red Sea and they had finally come home through the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) back to Alexandria. Therefore it was a body of land that could be sailed around, or, going the other way, you would find vourself somewhere south of the Red Sea and the way would be clear to the Indies, and Europe would not need the caravans any more.

So he sent out his ships, and the first reward was the rediscovery of all the Atlantic Islands, Canaries in 1400 Madeira, 1418, Azores, 1432, Cape Verdes, 1441. They were already known vaguely to Europe and had been named by the ancients, Pliny and Herodotus, Azores from Acor, a hawk, Madeira for its woods, Canaria because of its “notable dog population,” Cape Verdes after the Cape, by Juba, King of Mauretania in the times of Augustus. And two of them had been discovered again, involuntarily, by men driven ashore there; the Azores by the Genoese in 1351, and the Canaries by a Frenchman in 1334.

But there is a vast difference between discovery, as a more or less unpleasant incident of a voyage, and colonization. For this Prince Henry proceeded to do, sending out expeditions of his Knights of the Order of Christ to take possession and build castles and establish government. He had something to show, now, something practical and valuable, so that his king felt encouraged to push on the exploration southwards around Africa. Incidentally he turned in a by-product in the discovery of Brazil, one of his captains having been blown over there after passing the Cape Verdes. But, without the Atlantic Islands, it is doubtful that Prince Henry could have kept on southward to the Cape of Good Hope, and so the whole fabric of history might have been written differently.

In these days of regular steamer routes and winter-cruising ships, the Azores and the Madeira Islands are the usual ones touched at, but one may also see the Cape Verdes and Canaries by picking an occasional Fabre Liner making that route. For example, this year we crossed on the Brittania with the schedule: Cape Verdes, Canaries, Madeira, Algiers, Alexandria, Jaffa, Beirut, and Marseilles. It was in late October, and the sea was cold and sharp as we left Providence. But cast your eye over the route! South and south and south it led, in a great circle slanting down across the Atlantic to a point only fifteen degrees above the equator. The second day out it was warm. The third day we were in the latitude of the Bermudas. From then on, day after day of bright skies and placid sea. One read or lounged or promenaded the deck with no thought of an overcoat. Even a light sweater had to be abandoned. It grew hot. I had brought along a topee that had done service in Ceylon and Burma, and now put it on. The ship’s officers appeared in whites. Ladies got out their summer clothes, gentlemen their flannels. It was a busy and happy ship’s company. There were four Arabic classes going on at once, for many of our passengers were Syrians and most of the Americans needed that language. Our own people were either seasoned travelers going to Dakar on West Africa, or to Egypt or Asia Minor. Some were missionaries, archeologists, quite a group of us bound for that garden spot in winter, Algiers.

And then we sighted the Cape Verdes. Passing us, a rugged mountainous island, ragged as the surface of the moon, and covered with apparently bright green moss, Sao Antanao. Ahead of us bare red peaks, islets, channels. Around a cape appeared St. Vincent, the port. The usual tramp steamers coaling. St. Vincent was not inviting, barren and desolate and covered with red cochineal, with great outpourings of yellow sand in the mountain gaps. Its harbor is guarded by a miniature Mont St. Michel, a ragged conical rock having a tall lighthouse perched atop.

The officers wore white topees, now, and it was blazing hot. Thousands of bumboats descended upon us as the ship lost way, all filled with shouting and gesticulating Negroes. They wanted our third-class custom, four hundred Portuguese Negroes who had discovered the value of climate and who flee our shores every autumn to take refuge on the Islands until spring comes again. They were gaudy with new clothes, brilliant ties with handkerchiefs to match, shouting socks. All fat and well fed, and every man with a new suitcase and a guitar. For eighty dollars they can escape our ferocious American winter, earning a princely fortune during our summer, enough to maintain them-selves in luxury over here until the money is all gone and it is time to return and get to work!

There is not much else to say for the Cape Verdes. The principal interest is the colony of some two hundred young Englishmen who run the cable and coaling station there. All tramps, on their way around Africa, fill up there, due to lack of bunker capacity for a long voyage. We went ashore in the launch of Mr. Hart, the manager, pathetically glad to see white folks to talk with. A Portuguese town in its architecture, but Negroid in its coloring. Every house different and violent in its hues. The artists among us raved. Barefooted husky negresses bearing huge fruit baskets on heads. Shiftless males; beggars; thousands of stark-naked negro boys, of all ages up to fifteen, capering about the sandy squares. There is an attempt at palmeries and tropical boulevards, but it looks discouraged by the excessive dryness. We watched a hockey game between twenty-two perspiring young Englishmen on a broiling lava plain, then returned to the ship after seeing the town. For the statistician I will recite: Area 1480 square miles; flourishing chincona and cochineal plantations; the rest the usual tropical products of coffee, cacao, sugar, and palm oil. Discovered by Antonio di Nolli for Prince Henry in 1441, colonized in 1456, first settlement at Cape Mosto.

Two days sail further north brought us to Las Palmas, the big port of the Canaries. The rainy season, like most of West Africa, is here from November to February and was beginning with a thin drizzle when we arrived at the end of October. The famous Peak was not to be seen, buried under thick banks of clouds that covered all the high mountain ranges back of the town, and through the rifts in which snow and bare rock could be seen. Down below, however, the climate was hot, a matter for topees or a Panama hat. The port is some three miles from town, the usual mole and breakwater, with tramp steamers and feluccas and coastal topsail schooners all about. Guides came aboard in quantities. They control the boat service and sightseeing ashore; $2 for a car, the boat trip, and seeing the town; or $1.50 for the same thing but in a two-wheeled species of dogcart. ‘We chose the latter, for who wants to be whirled at breakneck speed through all the sights of a Spanish town! There are no port formalities, as in most of these islands. A “visit” stamp on the passport, and a ticket issued by the guide, examined by the usual sentry at the gangway.

To town, in the funny little carriage holding four people. The drive along shore is rather dusty and suburban, with only fine views of the bay to recommend it. But the town, that is an-other matter! It is more Spanish than much that you will see in Spain itself, Barcelona, and even Malaga, being more civilized. Palm gardens, ablaze with tropical flowers in full bloom, where the senors and senoritas take their airings, villas with the miradore on the roof, a sort of stucco pergola where the family gathers for the cool of the evening; Spanish city streets, where are shawls and combs and lacery; the cathedral and the market. And everywhere the decorations of Moorish tile, in shouting colors, set in the masonry. The colorful Spanish soul, reveling in ornament that delights the eye!

One such square was a dream of tropical outdoors. Palms in rows shaded the numerous drinking tables and chairs set out for the delectation of all Las Palmas. Banks of -purple Bougainvillaea and scarlet poinsettia bordered it. And, in the center, a fountain with a long reflection pool running both ways the length of the square, and every inch of it blue and red tile (as in Algiers, most of it comes from Delft, by the way). It was a heavenly place to sit and imbibe something cool and cheering.

The cathedral was a Burgos on a small scale; tall, slender, black columns of Moorish Gothic rising to high groined arches of white stucco, a priceless choir of richly carved stalls and a great lectern in the center with an illuminated Bible on it, a rolling organ, prelates in gold-embroidered copes before the high altar, quantities of very good religious paintings and murals. A cathedral, in short, that enormously increases our respect for a small tropical town like Las Palmas for its practical piety in giving lavishly to the glory of God.

The market is another sight. Imagine every booth in it of gleaming white tile, clean as ice, piled high with gorgeous piles of tropical fruits and gleaming fish and great banks of green-groceries; the walls high and white, the roof all of glass. A place where it is good merely to buy something to eat! The senorita and her maid were there; delightful senoritas with luminous brown eyes and black silk garments and having the thinnest and most enticing of gauzy veils over their pretty features. In truth, this is a good town! If one wanted to stay here and learn Spanish and pass the winter months in the society of these same senoritas, there are hotels, good ones, charging from ten to fifteen pesetas the day route compris. There is a flourishing theater, and bands play in the squares; I imagine one would not be bored!

The Canaries have the distinction of being the most bought-and-sold islands known to history. They were, of course, known to the ancients, and were named Canaria by Pliny from the “multitude of large dogs that do there abound.” A French vessel was driven ashore here in 1334, and in 1400 Jean de Bethencourt sailed from Rochelle to take possession. But the natives would have none of him, and he sold the bad bargain to a Spaniard. From then on they were sold and resold to various Spanish gentleman-adventurers, all of whom had bad luck with the natives. One, Parazza, finally sold them to the crown of Spain, and in 1476 a thousand men set sail in ships to reduce the natives.

Joyous parties from the ship pile into them, and off we go, the retired Portuguese pirate drivers, walking at the head of their bullocks and greasing the runners now and then with a rag. Funchal is a town of flowers, no mat-ter when you come. The purple Bougainvilla is in its glory. Pergolas and festoons of orange trumpet flowers make blaze the garden walls as we pass. Camellias, waxy and white; blue convolvuli; scarlet poinsettia; deep red hibiscus; they riot everywhere. Up past the cathedral and the university we glide. Pungs laden with great casks of Madeira wine, pottery, basketry, sugar cane, pass us on their way into town. There are donkey trains laden with this and that pannier of tropical fruits. The natives, men and women, wear the carapucha, a peaked and pointed skullcap apparently Siamese in origin. One can buy the whole costume, striped skirt, velvet bodice, and carapucha, for 100 escudos, which at last quotation was five cents —the escudo, not the costume!

Our route generally heads for a massive circular bastion above the town that was once an old redoubt of the castle and is now a park all shaded by one huge mango tree. Below are all the gardens of Funchal, banana, sugar cane, vines. A villa here is to be had for ten to fifteen dollars a month. Across the valley is the Hotel St. John, a fine hostelry set in luxurious gardens and frequented by the English colony, of whom there are about five hundred in Funchal. Up on the hill is the old castle of St. John, a seventeenth century construction on the site of an older castle built by Prince Henry’s Knights of the Order of Christ. It repays a visit (walking from the redoubt) for its ex-ample of massive Portuguese military architecture.

Back to the town, where it is well to pay off the driver and walk. A visit to the tropical public gardens; another to the governor’s castle, and the rest is shopping for Madeira embroideries, basketry, and wines. For those who like scenic sites, there is the trip up the mountain by rack rail to the Terreria da Lucta, a peak back of the town. There is a very good restaurant up there; about $1.50 for the meal. The whole vast bowl of the Atlantic lies below, with the vineyarded flanks of the mountain sloping down on all sides. The return trip is either by, rack rail or by sled chairs held back by two natives, a coast of 3000 feet descent down one of those pebbled roads. The natives get “tired” and hold one up for backsheesh when half way down, but that is all in the game.

The cathedral should by no means be missed. It has handsome silver-fronted altars, a chapel that is a magnificence of silver and gold, and a treasury of vestments and altar properties which the verger will be delighted to show you. The cruise steamers put in a day, or a day and an afternoon, at Funchal; enough to see all the town sights and make the ascent of the Terreria da Lucta—all included in the fare. The regular steamers stop about five hours, enough to see everything but the ascent, and to throw in a visit to a wicker chair establishment, a wine press, and a pottery. These industries of the natives are of much interest and novelty, a witness of how simple is all the process of life using only machinery that was extant in Biblical times.

Historically Funchal has had uninterrupted peace since its discovery by Zarco in 1418. Three times it was captured by British fleets, but each time returned to Portugal on conclusion of peace. Men have been free to plant and decorate and build here, unscourged by wars. They brought the grape from Crete in 1420 and sugar cane from Sicily in 1452, and have been most industrious with them ever since. The result is miles of terraces for the vine, great plantations inland for the cane, and generation after generation of beautifying unmolested. The very pebbled streets are laid in patterns interlined with geometric designs in white stones! A shining example of what men can do if you keep them from war.

Farthest north of all the Atlantic Islands lie the Azores. I had the good fortune, in November 1924, of visiting all of them: Horta, Angra, and Punta Delgada. There is not much climatic difference between them and Madeira, a few degress less in mean temperature. The route is a bit stormier. and cold for the first few days. But by the fifth day at sea we are approaching Flores, the westernmost of the islands, and the air is balmy and the sea calm. Off Flores occurred the famous sea fight of Grenville in the “Ranger” against fifty-three Spaniards; but we will see nothing of the island, passing well to the south. We reach Horta, the port of Fayal, a tiny Portuguese town, with several streets of colored stucco buildings along its beach, a ruined fort on the shore, the cathedral, and a hospital on a hill. No port formalities. You go ashore and return in the motor boat for fifty cents. A small crowd of islanders is assembled to greet our passengers from the third class, who are returning here for the winter. One sees numerous women completely enveloped in dark blue capes that have a high-pointed bonnet of the same material hiding the face, save for a mere slit. They must be some order of nuns that we have never heard of; but it develops that this is the national costume of the Azores, and the men have one quite as bizarre. Wonder; how do they ever get married,? for surely these women are frights in that costume! But within the hood you glimpse a fascinating face, with great dark eyes and the soft, olive, Portuguese complexion, and—there is virtue in not revealing all, including legs, to the first masculine glimpse! Let him woo ‘for his charms, the bad dog!

That native madonna of a girl, barelegged, barefooted, and with a stunning orange kerchief draped down her hack, is however more to the tourist eye. Also we stop to view, spellbound, a bullock cart that is one huge basket and has wooden wheels turned up out of solid planks. Men will make a cart, even if entirely without iron or tools! A carriage builder would see, here, the ancestor of all the coaches ever built, and still going strong.

Nothing ever happens or has happened in Horta. Its principal scenic interest is the peak of Pico, on an island across a placid sheet of water from Horta. Pico rises 7000 feet into the clouds and his flanks spread majestically for miles, making a veritable strait between him and Fayal. He was once an active volcano. We learn with alarm that the Azores have a habit of them, an earthquake occurring every fifty years with clocklike regularity.

From Horta the steamer sails through islands and estuaries to arrive the following day at Angra. We pass remarkable and towering brown cliffs, ragged and crenelated and hung with festoons of vegetation. Batteries begin to line the shore, seventeenth-century forts now empty of cannon and overgrown with moss. During the days of the East India men, Angra’ was a brave place. Whole fleets of sail stopped here under the protection of those embrasures; there were admirals on visits of ceremony to the Governor, and fetes for the officers. Sail-ors, with strange tales of the Spice Isles and stranger plunder bought there, fraternized with the soldiers that manned the fortifications. We pass a mile of them, and then note a large dark castle crowning a hill to one side of the harbor and the ruins of still another fort on the opposite point. A large, straggling Portuguese town is Angra. That brown obelisk that you see rising on a hill of greenery back in the town is the monument to Dom Pedro IV, who did much for Angra. Under it is a fascinating little tropical garden, all ablaze with florescence under the palms. We shall explore it alone.

About two hours is enough to exhaust Angra. There are no port formalities; you go ashore in the motor boat at fifty cents the round trip. Arrived at the water gate, there is a rather interesting Romanesque church to be seen and then you drift at will through the streets. It is well to attach the first reasonably respectable looking guide who presents itself. It will show you the cathedral, and that cute little garden, where you accumulate camellias and orchids. The guide saves much weary wandering, for Angra’s distances are fatiguing. If you want to buy anything you must have escudos with you, as the natives will not accept foreign silyer.

Punta Delgada is the last stop in the Azores and the one visited by most of the steamers. There are no port formalities; fare ashore fifty cents and return. The big sight of Punta Delgada is its gardens. You engage a carriage at the water gate and drive through the town up to the heights back of it. The Antonio Borga gardens are the ones most visited. Up a blind alley drives the carriage, and the guide gets out to ring a bell. In due time the custodian arrives: admission twenty-five cents per person. The gardens are much run down from their former magnificence of private ownership, and part have become a sort of public amusement park. But, if your first tropical gardens, they will be verv wonderful. There are dense thickets of traveler’s trees (which look like huge fans of banana leaves) and you wander through grottoes and caves grown thick with tree ferns; you encounter banks of strange aloes with odd orange and blue flowers like birds’ tongues; there are avenues of stately banyans, rubber trees, and other varieties of the numerous Ficus family (though what relation they are to the esculent fig you may not ask me).

One ascends by garden paths to a ruined stone citadel that commands all Punta Delgada. There is the blue ocean and the harbor with our steamer in it bulking large amidst the tramps: along shore the triple-arched water gate, the Saracenic tower of the cathedral, the Moorish-Gothic of San Pedro, the long Portuguese streets of many-colored houses and iron grillages forming balconies for each window, where the senoritas sit to watch the world go by. And, adjoining us, the Conti Gardens, which we will view next. They arc reached by much ringing of a hell at a great grilled gate. A guide materializes; this garden is privately owned by the Conti family, and has a chateau, not occupied at present. Its water gardens and South American araucarias—great evergreens only familiar in hothouses at home—are very fine. The gardens of Berengha, somewhat farther down the road, are notable for their great avenues of banyans and their pools shaded by pandanus palm, the “screw pine” of the tropics.

There is not much to see in Punta Delgada aside from its gardens. Most of the winter cruise steamers have arranged motor trips to the Valley of Furnas. If funds are abundant I should advise hiring a motor for this purpose, stopping for a brief visit to the Borgia gardens and then out into this scenic route of San Miguel Islands. You pass along roads shaded with pine and eucalyptus, valleys of ferns, wild hydrangeas in blossom all about, and reach the lake and the valley of hot springs, boiling geysers, volcanic phenomena, something of a tropical Yellowstone. A twelve-hour stop of the steamer is enough to permit this excursion besides seeing the town.