National Geographic : 1947 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine grove of curious palms. Their trunks bulged in the center like a black snake that had swal lowed a big rodent. "They look six months along," Lucius commented. We visited a small tobacco farmer, whose place was studded with barrel palms. "Barrigonas store water in their 'bellies' during the rainy season to tide them over long winter dry spells," he told us. "When we need a water tank, we cut out the bulgy sec tion and dig out its spongy inside. Come up to the house and I'll show you one." In the shade of his thatched porch rested a hollow palm tank. His daughter dipped rain water for me (page 6). "We also make barrellike chairs from bar rigonas," he said. "We cut the bulge in half and scoop out the insides to make armchairs." As we drove into Pinar del Rio, people crowded the streets, talking noisily. Loud speakers blared. This was a pre-election night. Dinner in the Hotel Globo was a great success. From a menu listing 35 main-course dishes, I selected biste con papas (beefsteak with mashed potatoes). Referring to my Spanish-English dictionary, I could not find the words. Lucius said many items were in Cuban idiom rather than true Spanish. "Cubans are so accustomed to their slang that some find it difficult to understand Castilian." For dessert I had a typical Cuban dish, cream cheese and preserved guava, while Lucius had grated coconut in sugar syrup. Both were delicious. Everyone in the dining room had a big quart bottle of mineral water at his place. As in many other cities of Cuba, tap water might be contaminated. After dinner we walked up the main street named for Jose Marti, the George Washington of Cuba. Shop windows were bright with fluorescent lights. Everything one could wish for was on display, from Parker "51" fountain pens to nylons and electric irons. At street corners crowds of young men listened with laughter and catcalls to poli ticians' big talk. Older men discussed the elections over their dominoes. Tables were set up on the sidewalk before nearly every shop. After each hand, the men mixed their huge dominoes vigorously and noisily. Once in a while a car covered with political placards tore down the street, blowing its horn. Or a showy coupe crawled past broad casting a speech or rumba. That night we slept in high-ceilinged rooms with tile floors. Snow-white mosquito nets covered our beds like canopies for royalty. Throughout Cuba, excepting in Havana, we slept beneath mosquito nets, as do Cubans. Palm Seeds Feed Hogs Driving out to Vifales valley, scenic Mecca for Cubans, we saw a man climbing a royal palm to harvest its seed clumps. Giant royals not only provide thatch for roofs and sidings, but their seeds furnish food for hogs (page 3). "How do you start new palm forests?" I asked the climber. "We scatter seeds over the ground," he replied. "No cultivation is necessary; seeds root naturally." Royal palm climbers have much prestige among the countryfolk. They travel far and wide. Leaving the hot, flat plain, we climbed a mountain road and suddenly came upon fan tastic Vifiales valley. Brick-red tobacco soil and green pastures made a colorful carpet (Plates II and XI). Rising sheer, huge domes formed a city of castles. The sun, streaking through the clouds, spotlighted the towers. The monoliths are honeycombed with caves. Stalactites hang from the ledges. Domes and turrets may reach 1,000 to 1,200 feet. The monoliths reminded me of similar ones photographed by T. C. Lau and Herbert Clar ence White in southeastern China.* Naturalists have found blind fish and shrimp in subterranean streams. Inside one cavern a dam furnishes power for the country side. From the side of a cliff a stream flows. In the rainy season it reverses, the waters running back into the mountain. Where Havana Leaf Is Grown Next day friends took us out to San Juan y Martinez in the heart of the tobacco country. Soon the Central Highway will follow this road to La Fe. From there the motorist will jump the 125-mile gap to YucatAn by ferry and continue homeward through Mexico by the Pan American Highway. Curing barns were everywhere. "Perhaps under that thatched shed $15,000 or $20,000 worth of tobacco is curing," my friend said. "Our finest wrapper is grown under netting. While we may raise the best cigar leaf here, we produce the poorest cigarette tobacco." We turned into a large group of buildings * See "Landscaped Kwangsi, China's Province of Pictorial Art," by G. W. Groff and T. C. Lau; and "China's Wonderland-Yen Tang Shan," by H. C. White, Deng Bao-ling, and Hwang Yao-tso, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1937.