National Geographic : 1908 Jul
AMONG THE MAHOGANY FORESTS OF CUBA BY WALTER D. WILCOX AUTHOR OF " CAMPING IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES," " THE ROCKIES OF CANADA," ETC. THE Bay of Cochinos, on the south coast of Cuba, is about forty miles west of Cienfuegos. It is the largest protected bay in Cuba, with a length of over 15 miles and an average breadth of about four miles, great depth of water, and very fair protection from the sea, and it is surprising at the first glance not to find a thriving port town located here. On the contrary, this is one of the wildest and most sparsely populated parts of Cuba. Until within a few years this bay was said to be the resort of brigands and bad characters of all kinds; the waters were supposedly infested with sharks and other dangerous fish and the shores with crocodiles, while the swampy interior was the reputed breeding place of innumera ble mosquitoes. The days of piracy are past, and while crocodiles and sharks do abound, no fatalities have ever occurred. The isolation of this region, to which may be attributed the vagueness of these evil reports, is due to the fact that this entire coast is hemmed in by a line of al most impassable swamps more than fifty miles in length, called the Cienaga de Zapata, which cut off communication with the interior. Then, too, the com paratively new city of Cienfuegos, situ ated on its beautiful land-locked bay, which Humboldt pronounced one of the most magnificent harbors in the world, has served as an outlet for the adjoining region. In connection with the purchase of a timber tract on this bay, I had abundant opportunities to learn many interesting facts about the region. On the first visit a small boat was engaged to sail from Cienfuegos. Under the influence of a fresh land breeze, the forty miles west ward along the rocky coast were run in the night, and early the following morn ing the boat was well within the Bay of Cochinos and approaching a low, flat shore covered by a uniform expanse of green forest. Above the tree-tops the sky was a rosy red in the early dawn. It was a typical midwinter day in the tropics-the bay smooth as a mirror; the cool air laden with forest odors and the perfume of flowers, while the chattering of wild parrots could be heard from the shore. Our captain entered a small river or inlet and poled the boat to a convenient landing place. A year later,'at this same spot, a land ing was made with a force of carpenters and laborers and a cargo of lumber and tools. A place was cleared in the forest for a house, docks were built, gardens laid out, wells dug, and eventually a per manent home made, comfortable enough to house my family during the succeed ing eighteen months. In all that time we were not molested by the natives, and no case of illness oc curred in any member of the household. It seems that malaria and yellow fever are unknown among the natives of this entire region. HERONS, WHITE EGRETS AND CROCODILES The encircling shores of Cochinos Bay are low and flat. The west shore is a sandy beach four or five feet above the water. This coast is often a mere strip of dry land separating the bay from swampy tracts and lagoons full of man grove trees. Herons and various wading birds, including the white egret, sought for its feathers, abound here in great numbers. Hunters shoot the latter bird by the hundreds, unfortunately in the breeding season, because the feathers are then at their best, and only the inaccessi ble nature of these lonely lagoons and the plague of insect life prevent their total extinction.