STEAMING northward we touch at the island of Ascension, noted for its enormous green turtles, some of which weigh as much as a good-sized Jersey cow, and then go on north to the Cape Verde Islands, situated several hundred miles west of Cape Verde, Africa, from which they are named.
The Cape Verde Islands were discovered and colonized by the Portuguese in the middle of the fifteenth century, and they still belong to them. They are nine or ten in number, but their total area is not much greater than the area of Rhode Island. They are of volcanic origin, most of them being made up of high mountains covered with lava. Some of the islands are all rock; others have patches of rice, corn, and tobacco ; cotton and indigo grow wild in the woods.
Our ship stops at St. Vincent, coming to anchor in a little bay half surrounded by volcanic hills. How dry and dreary it is! There is not a blade of grass to be seen, and the brown lava rocks throw back the rays of the sun, making it hotter than ever. St. Vincent has no water, and its vegetation is so scanty that it would not support a rabbit, much less a man. Still it is the most important of all these islands, and we see why when we notice the many ships in the harbor taking on coal. St. Vincent is a great coaling station on the ocean highway to South Africa. Those sheds on the wharves are filled with coal from Cardiff, Wales, and that town back of them is occupied chiefly in furnishing coal and other supplies to the steamers. There are gangs of negroes at work coaling the ships, and we can hear the great lumps as they rattle down into the hold of our ship.
We next stop at the Canary Islands, opposite Morocco. The nearest is only sixty-five miles from the mainland, and they lie right in the track of ships going from Europe to South Africa.
The Canaries are volcanic islands, rising steeply out of the deep waters of the ocean. There are only about seven of them large enough to be considered important and many smaller ones. They were discovered by an Italian from Genoa, the same city from which Columbus came, about two hundred years before the latter discovered America. They afterward became the property of Spain, and are now ruled as one of the provinces of that country. The original inhabitants were Africans, but they have long since disappeared, and now almost all the people are Spaniards.
The islands have but a small area, in all not much more than two third’s that of Puerto Rico, and their population is but a few hundred thousand. They are very beautiful, and their climate is so mild that many people from England and other parts of Europe visit them during the winter.
One of the most striking features of the Canaries is Mount Teneriffe, whose snow-white peak more than two miles above the sea is visible long before we reach the islands themselves. It is on Teneriffe, one of the chief islands of the group, that we make our first landing, anchoring at the city of Santa Cruz, the capital of the archipelago.
We seem to be in one of the cities of old Spain. The houses are of brick and stone covered with stucco, painted yellow, blue, and other bright colors. They are close to the streets, and some of them surround patios or court-yards, the garden often being in the center of the house, with rooms all around it. Some buildings have towers on their roofs, where the people sit in the evening enjoying the view. We stroll about the narrow streets, spelling out the signs over the stores, and take a drive out through the suburbs past the great walled ring used for bull fighting.
The Canaries are noted for their wines and fruits. We drive over roads lined with vineyards and orange orchards, the rich yellow balls peeping at us out of the trees. We stop at one place and buy a dozen ripe, juicy oranges for a sum equal to ten cents of our money. They are more delicious than any we have tasted at home, as they come fresh from the trees.
Riding back we go along hills dotted with fine residences, gardens, and fields of rich crops. The roads are lined with cacti, geraniums, and roses, and we now and then see a patch of nopal plants, a kind of cactus which is grown to feed an odd little insect which furnishes one of the dyestuffs of commerce. Have you ever heard of cochineal ? It is a dye of the most brilliant crimson, which may be changed by chemicals to orange, red, and bright scarlet. The dyestuff is made from the dead bodies of the cochineal insects which feed on this plant. When the plants are a year old, some of the little insects are placed upon them. They lay their eggs, and in a short time the leaves are covered with tiny white specks, which if touched leave a bright crimson stain. The insects keep on growing until they cover the plants with what seems to be a white mold. Soon after this they are scraped off, put into boiling water, and dried in ovens or on hot plates. When dried, they look much like grains of buckwheat, and are then ready to be shipped to dye factories all over the world.
Returning to Santa Cruz, we take a little steamer which makes a tour of the islands, spending a day at Las Palmas, the capital of the Grand Canary from which the archipelago gets its name. The island is famous for the canary birds which originally came from here and which are often found wild. We take donkeys and ride about through the country, enjoying the people, who are very polite. The moment we enter a home our host tells us the house is ours, and if we admire anything, he at once asks us to accept it as a present, knowing very well that we shall refuse.