Description of the physical features of a country seldom makes highly entertaining reading, but it seems a necessary part of a book of this kind. Some readers may find interest if not entertainment in such a review. The total area of the island, including a thousand or more adjacent islands, islets, and keys, is given as 44,164 square miles, a little less than the area of Pennsylvania and a little more than that of Ohio or Tennessee. Illustration of its shape by some familiar object is difficult, although various comparisons have been attempted. Some old Spanish geographers gave the island the name of La Lengua de Pajaro, "the bird's tongue." Mr. M.M. Ballou likened it to "the blade of a Turkish scimitar slightly curved back, or approaching the form of a long, narrow, crescent." Mr. Robert T. Hill holds that it "resembles a great hammer-headed shark, the head of which forms the straight, south coast of the east end of the island, from which the sinuous body extends westward. This analogy is made still more striking by two long, finlike strings of keys, or islets, which extend backward along the opposite coasts, parallel to the main body of the island." But all such comparisons call for a lively imagination. It might be likened to the curving handles of a plow attached to a share, or to any one of a dozen things that it does not at all clearly resemble. Regarding the Oriente coast, from Cape Cruz to Cape Maisi, as a base, from that springs a long and comparatively slender arm that runs northwesterly for five hundred miles to the vicinity of Havana. There, the arm, somewhat narrowed, turns downward in a generally southwestern direction for about two hundred miles. The total length of the island, from Cape Maisi on the east to Cape San Antonio on the west, is about seven hundred and thirty miles. Its width varies from a maximum, in Oriente Province, of about one hundred and sixty miles, to a minimum, in Havana Province, of about twenty-two miles. It has a general coast line of about twenty-two hundred miles, or, following all its sinuosities, of about seven thousand miles. Its north coast is, for much of its length, steep and rocky. Throughout the greater part of the middle provinces, there is a border of coral reefs and small islands. At the western end, the north coast is low, rising gradually to the eastward. At the eastern end, the northern coast is abrupt and rugged, rising in a series of hills to the elevations in the interior. Westward from Cape Maisi to Cape Cruz, on the south coast, and immediately along the shore line, runs a mountain range. From here westward, broken by an occasional hill or bluff, the coast is low and marshy.

Probably the best description of the topography and the orography of the island yet presented is that given by Mr. Robert T. Hill, of the United States Geological Survey. In his book on Cuba and other islands of the West Indies, Mr. Hill says:

"As regards diversity of relief, Cuba's eastern end is mountainous, with summits standing high above the adjacent sea; its middle portion is wide, consisting of gently sloping plains, well-drained, high above the sea, and broken here and there by low, forest-clad hills; and its western third is a picturesque region of mountains, with fertile slopes and valleys, of different structure and less altitude than those of the east. Over the whole is a mantle of tender vegetation, rich in every hue that a flora of more than three thousand species can give, and kept green by mists and gentle rains. Indenting the rock-bound coasts are a hundred pouch-shaped harbors such as are but rarely found in the other islands and shores of the American Mediterranean.

"But, at the outset the reader should dispossess his mind of any preconceived idea that the island of Cuba is in any sense a physical unit. On the contrary, it presents a diversity of topographic, climatic, and cultural features, which, as distributed, divide the island into at least three distinct natural provinces, for convenience termed the eastern, central, and western regions. The distinct types of relief include regions of high mountains, low hills, dissected plateaus, intermontane valleys, and coastal swamps. With the exception of a strip of the south-central coast, the island, as a whole, stands well above the sea, is thoroughly drained, and presents a rugged aspect when viewed from the sea. About one-fourth of the total area is mountainous, three-fifths are rolling plain, valleys, and gentle arable slopes, and the remainder is swampy.

"The island border on the north presents a low cliff topography, with a horizontal sky-line from Matanzas westward, gradually decreasing from five hundred feet at Matanzas to one hundred feet on the west. The coast of the east end is abrupt and rugged, presenting on both the north and south sides a series of remarkable terraces, rising in stair-like arrangement to six hundred feet or more, representing successive pauses or stages in the elevation of the island above the sea, and constituting most striking scenic features. About one-half the Cuban coast is bordered by keys, which are largely old reef rock, the creations of the same coral-builders that may now be seen through the transparent waters still at work on the modern shallows, decking the rocks and sands with their graceful and many colored tufts of animal foliage."

Mr. Hill summarizes the general appearance of the island, thus: "Santiago de Cuba (now called Oriente) is predominantly a mountainous region of high relief, especially along the coasts, with many interior valleys. Puerto Principe (now Camaguey) and Santa Clara are broken regions of low mountain relief, diversified by extensive valleys. Matanzas and Havana are vast stretches of level cultivated plain, with only a few hills of relief. Pinar del Rio is centrally mountainous, with fertile coastward slopes." The notable elevations of the island are the Cordilleras de los Organos, or Organ Mountains, in Pinar del Rio, of which an eastward extension appears in the Tetas de Managua, the Arcas de Canasi, the Escalera de Jaruco, the Pan de Matanzas, and other minor elevations in Havana and Matanzas Provinces. In Santa Clara and Camaguey, the range is represented by crest lines and plateaus along the north shore, and finally runs into the hill and mountain maze of Oriente. In the south-central section of the island, a somewhat isolated group of elevations appears, culminating in El Potrerillo at a height of nearly 3,000 feet. In Oriente, immediately along the south coast line, is the precipitous Sierra Maestra, reaching its greatest altitude in the Pico del Turquino, with an elevation of approximately 8,500 feet. Another elevation, near Santiago, known as La Gran Piedra, is estimated at 5,200 feet. All these heights are densely wooded. From the tops of some of them, east, west, and central, the views are marvellously beautiful, but the summits of most are reached only with considerable difficulty. One of the most notable of these view points, and one of the most easily reached, is the height immediately behind the city of Matanzas, overlooking the famous Yumuri valley. The valley is a broad, shallow bowl, some five or six miles in diameter, enclosed by steeply sloping walls of five to six hundred feet in height. Through it winds the Yumuri River. It is best seen in the early forenoon, or the late afternoon, when there come the shadows and the lights that are largely killed by the more vertical rays of a midday sun. At those hours, it is a scene of entrancing loveliness. There are views, elsewhere, covering wider expanses, but none, I think, of equal beauty.

The vicinity of Matanzas affords a spectacle of almost enchantment for the sight-seer, and of deep interest for the geologist. Somewhat more than fifty years ago, an accident revealed the beautiful caves of Bellamar, two or three miles from the city, and easily reached by carriage. Caves ought to be cool. These are not, but they are well worth all the perspiration it costs to see them. They are a show place, and guides are always available. In size, the caverns are not comparable with the caves of Kentucky and Virginia, but they far excel in beauty. They are about three miles in extent, and their lower levels are said to be about five hundred feet from the surface. The rock is white limestone, in which are chambers and passage-ways, stalactites and stalagmites innumerable. These have their somewhat fantastic but not unfitting names, such as the Gothic Temple, the Altar, the Guardian Spirit, the Fountain of Snow, and Columbus' Mantle. The place has been called "a dream of fairyland," a fairly appropriate description. The colors are snow-white, pink, and shades of yellow, and many of the forms are wonderfully beautiful. There are many other caves in the island, like Cotilla, in the Guines region not far from Havana, others in the Cubitas Mountains in Camaguey Province, and still others in Oriente, but in comparison with Bellamar they are little else than holes in the ground. The trip through these remarkable aisles and chambers occupies some three or four hours.

Cuba is not big enough for rivers of size. There are innumerable streams, for the island generally is well-watered. The only river of real importance is the Cauto, in Oriente Province. This is the longest and the largest river in the island. It rises in the hills north of Santiago, and winds a devious way westward for about a hundred and fifty miles, emptying at last into the Gulf of Buena Esperanza, north of the city of Manzanillo. It is navigable for small boats, according to the stage of the water, from seventy-five to a hundred miles from its mouth. Numerous smaller streams flow to the coast on both north and south. Some, that are really estuaries, are called rivers. Very few of them serve any commercial purposes. There are a few water areas called lakes, but they are really little other than ponds. On the south coast, directly opposite Matanzas, lies a vast swamp known as the Cienega de Zapata. It occupies an area of about seventy-five miles in length and about thirty miles in width, almost a dead flat, and practically at sea-level. Here and there are open spaces of water or clusters of trees, but most of it is bog and quagmire and dense mangrove thickets. Along the coast are numerous harbors, large and small, that are or, by dredging, could be made available for commercial purposes. Among these, on the north coast, from west to east, are Bahia Honda, Mariel, Havana, Matanzas, Nuevitas, Nipe Bay, and Baracoa. On the south, from east to west, are Guantanamo, Santiago, Manzanillo, Cienfuegos, and Batabano. At all of these, there are now cities or towns with trade either by steamers or small sailing vessels. Among the interesting physical curiosities of the island are the numerous "disappearing rivers." Doubtless the action of water on limestone has left, in many places, underground chambers and tunnels into which the streams have found an opening and in which they disappear, perhaps to emerge again and perhaps to find their way to the sea without reappearance. This seems to explain numerous fresh-water springs among the keys and off-shore. The Rio San Antonio quite disappears near San Antonio de los Banos. Near Guantanamo, a cascade drops three hundred feet into a cavern and reappears a short distance away. Such disappearing rivers are not unknown elsewhere but Cuba has several of them.

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The Census Report of 1907, prepared under American auspices, states that "the climate of Cuba is tropical and insular. There are no extremes of heat, and there is no cold weather." This is quite true if the records of a thermometer are the standard; quite untrue if measured by the sensations of the human body. It is true that, in Havana, for instance, the thermometer seldom exceeds 90 deg. in the hottest months, and rarely if ever goes below 50 deg. in the coldest. But a day with the thermometer anywhere in the 80s may seem to a northern body very hot, and a day with the thermometer in the 50s is cold for anyone, whether a native or a visitor. There is doubtless a physical reason for the fact that a hot day in the north seems hotter than the same temperature in the south, while a day that seems, in the north, only pleasantly cool, seems bitterly cold in the tropics. When the thermometer drops below 60 deg. in Havana, the coachmen blanket their horses, the people put on all the clothes they have, and all visitors who are at all sensitive to low temperature go about shivering. Steam heat and furnaces are unknown, and fireplaces are a rarity. Yet, in general, the variations are not wide, either from day to day or when measured by seasons. The extremes are the infrequent exceptions. Nor is there wide difference between day and night. Taking the island as a whole, the average mean temperature for July, the hottest month, is about 82 deg., and for January, the coolest month, about 71 deg. The mean for the year is about 77 deg., as compared with 52 deg. for New York, 48 deg. for Chicago, 62 deg. for Los Angeles, and 68 deg. for New Orleans. There are places that, by reason of exposure to prevailing winds, or distance from the coast, are hotter or cooler than other places. Havana is one of the cool spots, that is, relatively cool. But no one goes there in search of cold. The yearly range in Havana, from maximum to minimum, rarely if ever exceeds fifty degrees, and is usually somewhat below that, while the range in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis is usually from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five degrees. The particular cause of discomfort for those unused to it, is the humidity that prevails throughout the greater part of the year. The worst season for this, however, is the mid-year months when few people visit the island. The winter months, locally known as the "invierno," a term to be associated with our word "vernal" and not with "infernal," are almost invariably delightful, bringing to northern systems a pleasurable physical laziness that is attended by a mental indifference to, or satisfaction with, the sensation.

The rainfall varies so widely in different parts of the island, and from year to year, that exact information is difficult. Taken as a whole, it is little if at all greater than it is in most places in the United States. We have our arid spots, like El Paso, Fresno, Boise, Phoenix, and Winnemucca, where only a few inches fall in a year, just as Cuba has a few places where the fall may reach sixty-five or seventy inches in a year. But the average fall in Havana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Santiago, is little if any greater than in Boston, New York, or Washington. A difference appears in the fact that about three-quarters of Cuba's precipitation comes between the first of May and the first of October. But the term "wet season" does not mean that it rains all the time, or every day, any more than the term "dry season" means that during those months it does not rain at all. At times during the winter, or dry season, there come storms that are due to unusual cold in the United States. These are known in Cuba, as they are in Texas, as "northers." High winds sweep furiously across the Gulf of Mexico, piling up huge seas on the Cuban coast, and bringing what, in the island, is the substitute for cold weather, usually attended by rain and sometimes by a torrent of it. The prevailing wind in Cuba is the northeast trade-wind. In summer when the sun is directly overhead this wind is nearly east, while in winter it is northeast. The proper way to avoid such discomfort as attends humidity accompanying a thermometer in the 80s, is to avoid haste in movement, to saunter instead of hurrying, to ride instead of walking, to eat and drink in moderation, and where-ever possible, to keep in the shade. Many of those who eat heartily and hurry always, will, after a few days, be quite sure that they have yellow fever or some other tropical disorder, but will be entirely mistaken about it. Modern sanitation in Cuba has made yellow fever a remote possibility, and the drinking water in Havana is as pure as any in the world.

Most of the official descriptions of the flora of Cuba appear to be copied from Robert T. Hill's book, published in 1898. As nothing better is available, it may be used here. He says: "The surface of the island is clad in a voluptuous floral mantle, which, from its abundance and beauty, first caused Cuba to be designated the Pearl of the Antilles. In addition to those introduced from abroad, over 3,350 native plants have been catalogued. The flora includes nearly all characteristic forms of the other West Indies, the southern part of Florida, and the Central American seaboard. Nearly all the large trees of the Mexican Tierra Caliente, so remarkable for their size, foliage, and fragrance, reappear in western Cuba. Numerous species of palm, including the famous royal palm, occur, while the pine trees, elsewhere characteristic of the temperate zone and the high altitudes of the tropics, are found associated with palms and mahoganies in the province of Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Pines, both of which take their name from this tree. Among other woods are the lignum-vitae, granadilla, the coco-wood, and the Cedrela Odorata (fragrant cedar) which is used for cigar boxes and the lining of cabinet work."

In quoting the number of native plants, Mr. Hill uses a report somewhat antiquated. Later estimates place the number as between five and six thousand. Flowers are abundant, flowers on vines, plants, shrubs, and trees, tall stalks with massive heads, and dainty little blossoms by the wayside. Brilliant flowering trees are planted to line the roadsides. Among all the tree-growths, the royal palm is notable. Scoffers have likened it to "a feather duster stood on end," but it is the prominent feature in most of Cuba's landscape, and it serves many purposes other than that of mere decoration. From its stem the Cuban peasant builds his little cottage which he roofs with its leaves. Medicinal qualities are claimed for its roots. From different parts of the tree, a wide variety of useful articles is made, plates, buckets, basins, and even a kettle in which water may be boiled. The huge clusters of seeds are excellent food for animals, and I have heard it said, though without proper confirmation, that "a royal palm will keep a hog." Almost invariably, its presence indicates a rich soil, as it rarely grows in areas of poor land. The forest area of the island is not known with exactness, and is variously estimated at from about six thousand square miles to about sixteen thousand. The difference probably represents the opinion of individual investigators as to what is forest. About one-third of the total is reported as in Oriente, another third in Camaguey, and the remainder scattered through the four remaining provinces. A part of it is "public land," that is, owned by the central government, but a greater part is of private ownership under old Spanish grants. Much of it is dense jungle through which a way can be made only by hacking, almost foot by foot. A good deal of it has already been cut over for its most valuable timber. Most of the woods bear names entirely unfamiliar to us. Some are used as cabinet woods, and some for tanning, for oils, dyes, gums, or fibres.

Cuba has few four-footed native wild animals. There are rabbits, but their nativity is not quite certain. There are deer, but it is known that their ancestors were brought from some other country. There are wild dogs, wild cats, and wild pigs, but all are only domestic animals run wild.

Perhaps the only animal of the kind known to be native is the jutia, sometimes spelled, as pronounced, hutia. Some observers have referred to it as a rat, but it climbs trees and grows to the size of a woodchuck, or groundhog. It is sometimes eaten and is said to be quite palatable. Reptiles are fairly common, but none of them is dangerous. The best known is the maja, a snake that grows to a length, sometimes, of twelve or fifteen feet. The country people not infrequently make of it a kind of house pet. When that is done, the reptile often makes its home in the cottage thatch, living on birds and mice. They are dull and sluggish in motion. While visiting a sugar plantation a few years ago one of the hands asked if I should be interested by their maja. He dipped his hand into a nearby water-barrel in the bottom of which two of them were closely coiled. He dragged out one of perhaps ten or twelve feet in length and four or five inches in diameter, handling it as he would the same length of hawser. He hung it over the limb of a tree so that I could have a good chance for a picture of it. The thing squirmed slowly to the ground and crawled sluggishly away to the place from which it had been taken. Of bird-life there is a large representation, both native and migratory. Among them are some fifty species of "waders." In some parts of the island, the very unpleasant land-crab, about the size of a soup-plate, seems to exist in millions, although thousands is probably nearer the actual. The American soldiers made their acquaintance in large numbers at the time of the Santiago campaign. They are not a proper article of food. They have a salt-water relative that is most excellent eating, as is also the lobster (langosta) of Cuban waters. In the swamp known as the Cienega de Zapata are both alligators and crocodiles, some of them of quite imposing dimensions.

The insect life of the island is extensive. From personal experience, particularly behind the search-light of an automobile that drew them in swarms, I, should say that the island would be a rich field for the entomologist. There are mosquitos, gnats, beetles, moths, butterflies, spiders, and scorpions. The bites of some of the spiders and the stings of the scorpions are, of course, uncomfortable, but they are neither fatal nor dangerous. With the exception of an occasional mosquito, and a perhaps more than occasional flea, the visitor to cities only is likely to encounter few of the members of these branches of Cuban zoology. There is one of the beetle family, however, that is extremely interesting. That is the cucullo, which Mr. Hazard, in his book on Cuba, calls a "bright peripatetic candle-bearer, by whose brilliant light one can not only walk, but even read." They are really a kind of glorified firefly, much larger than ours, and with a much more brilliant light. I do not know their candle-power, but Mr. Hazard exaggerates little if at all in the matter of their brilliancy.

While those referred to in the foregoing are the most notable features in this particular part of the Cuban field, there are others, though of perhaps less importance, to which reference might be made. Among them would be the sponge fisheries of the coast in the neighborhood of Batabano, and the numerous mineral springs, some of them really having, and others supposed to have, remarkable curative qualities. A half century or so ago, a number of places not far from Havana were resorts to which rich and poor went to drink or to bathe in springs hot or cold or sulphurous or otherwise, for their healing. Among these were the baths at San Diego, near the Organ Mountains in Pinar del Rio; Santa Rita, near Guanabacoa in Havana Province; others near Marianao, on the outskirts of the city; and San Antonio, also in Havana Province. Most of these places now appear to have lost their popularity if not their medicinal virtues. Some, like those at Madruga, not far from Havana, still have a considerable patronage. Something may also be said of earthquakes and hurricanes. The former occur, on a small scale, more or less frequently in Oriente, and much less frequently and of less severity in Havana. The latter come from time to time to work disaster to Cuban industries and, sometimes but not frequently, to cause loss of life and the destruction of buildings. They rarely occur except in the late summer and the autumn.

Nearly a hundred years ago, Alexander Humboldt, a traveller and a scientist, wrote thus of the island of Cuba: "Notwithstanding the absence of deep rivers and the unequal fertility of the soil, the island of Cuba presents on every hand a most varied and agreeable country from its undulating character, its ever-springing verdure, and the variety of its vegetable formations."