VI. AROUND THE ISLAND
A hundred years ago, the Cubans travelled from place to place about the island, just as our ancestors did in this country, by water and over rough trails few of which could, with any approach to correctness, be described as roads. It was not until about a hundred years ago that we, in this country, began to build anything even remotely resembling a modern highway. Our towns and cities were on the seaboard or on the banks of rivers navigable for vessels of size sufficient for their purposes. Commodities carried to or brought from places not so located were dragged in stoutly built wagons over routes the best of which was worse than the worst to be found anywhere today. Because real road-making in Cuba is quite a modern institution, an enterprise to which, in their phrase, the Spanish Government did not "dedicate" itself, the Cuban wagons and carts of today are chiefly those of the older time. They are heavy, cumbrous affairs with large wheels, a diameter necessitated by the deep ruts through which a passage was made. A smaller wheel would soon have been "hub-deep" and hopelessly stuck. So, too, with the carriages of the nabobs. The poorer people, when they travelled at all, went on foot or on horseback, as our ancestors did. The nabobs had their volantes, still occasionally, but with increasing rarity, seen in some parts of the island. Forty years ago, such vehicles, only a little changed from the original type, were common enough in Havana itself. About that time, or a few years earlier, the four-wheeler began to supplant them for city use.
There is a technical difference between the original type of volante and its successor which, though still called a volante was properly called a quitrin. The only real difference was that the top of the quitrinwas collapsible, and could be lowered when desirable, while the top of the volante was not. I have ridden in these affairs, I cannot say comfortably, over roads that would have been quite impossible for any other wheeled vehicle. At the back, and somewhat behind the body were two wheels, six feet in diameter. From, the axle, two shafts projected for a distance, if memory serves me, of some twelve or fifteen feet. A little forward of the axle, the body, not unlike the old-fashioned American chaise, was suspended on stout leather straps serving as springs. Away off in front, at the end of the shafts, was a horse on which the driver rode in a heavy and clumsy saddle. For long-distance travel, or for particularly rough roads, a second horse was added, alongside the shaft horse, and sometimes a third animal. The motion was pleasant enough over the occasional smooth places, but the usual motion was much like that of a cork in a whirlpool, or of a small boat in a choppy sea. Little attention was paid to rocks or ruts; it was almost impossible to capsize the thing. One wheel might be two feet or more higher than the other, whereupon the rider on the upper side would be piled on top of the rider or riders on the lower side, but there was always a fair distribution of this favor. The rocks and ruts were not always on the same side of the road. The safety from overturn was in the long shafts which allowed free play. In the older days, say sixty or seventy years ago, the volante or the quitrin was an outward and visible sign of a well-lined pocket-book. It indicated the possessor as a man of wealth, probably a rich planter who needed such a vehicle to carry him and his family from their mansion in the city to their perhaps quite as costly home on the plantation. The calisero, or driver, was dressed in a costume truly gorgeous, the horses were of the best, and the vehicle itself may have cost two thousand dollars or more. The operation of such a contrivance, extending, from the rear of the wheels to the horse's nose, for twenty feet or more, in the narrow streets of the old city, was a scientific problem, particularly in turning corners.