Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Edith A. Browne

Brazilian Cities

It takes nearly a fortnight to travel direct from Mangos to Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, by express steamers. Even so, the hurried passenger must be able to change from a Booth boat at Para into a fast steamer that happens to be leaving the same day on a southward trip. We shall take considerably longer to cover the distance, for we are going to break our journey in order to visit two of the largest cities en route, and that will mean waiting several days at each stopping-place, not only for sight-seeing, but for another steamer to carry us a further stage on our way.

A national steamship company, the Lloyd Braziliero, alone affords communication between Para and the ports southwards to Pernambuco. Personally, I have not found their steamers quite as black as they are painted by most travellers; but if you should be inclined to think that I have deceived you, remember I have been well trained in roughing it. I can, at least, promise you that you will not have to sweep the cockroaches off the saloon chairs before you can find room to sit down, as I have had to do on a Greek steamer; on the other hand, I must admit that I have never seen anyone who can make such a mess with clean water as a Brazilian sailor when he is swabbing decks.

The "Bush cities" of Para and Mangos have led us to expect much from the Brazilians in the way of planning and building up-to-date centres of civilization. Pernambuco, the most important city in Northern Brazil, encourages that idea.

We have to set out on the long journey to the shore at Pernambuco in small boats, because there is a coral reef skirting the coast here. The new harbour works are, however, making good progress, and when this great enterprise has been carried through, ocean liners will be able to berth alongside spacious quays. The transhipping operation is a good joke to those of us who welcome anything in the way of an adventure, but a somewhat terrifying experience to those who are inclined to be nervous. As usual, there is a heavy swell on, and the little boats might be dashed to pieces if they came very near the steamer; so we get into a chair, are hauled up skywards by a crane, swung in mid-air, dangled seawards—and just as it seems we are going to be dropped into the ocean, somebody in one of the small craft that are dancing about the waters catches hold of a leg of the chair and lands us safely at the bottom of a little boat.

The city of Pernambuco consists of three parts: (1) Recife (reef), situated on a peninsula; (2) San Antonio, spreading over an island that lies between the peninsula and the mainland; (3) Boa Vista, standing on the mainland. The three divisions are connected by stone and iron bridges; this picturesque style of planning, designed to solve the problem of a difficult site, has won for Pernambuco the title of the "American Venice." The principal industries are sugar, cocoa, cotton, fruit, resins, gums, hides, and timber. At Olinda, three-quarters of an hour's train ride from the city, there are some interesting old Dutch churches.

Bahia, our next port of call, is one of the oldest cities in Brazil. It was founded in 1510 and was the capital of Brazil until 1763. It is now one of the largest cities in the Republic, with a population of over a quarter of a million, including a large proportion of black and coloured folk. Bahia consists of two portions: the lower part, the business section, skirts the Bay; the upper part, the residential section, is perched on the top of a high hill. Means of communication between the two divisions are provided by road, lift, and mountain railway; the lift is the most popular for passenger traffic. The Bay is a good harbour, and from it we get some magnificent views of the city and surrounding country.

Bahia is the centre of some of the finest tobacco plantations in Brazil.

The Brazilian Customs arrangements have won for themselves an unenviable reputation among travellers. Hitherto we have had no reason to join in the chorus of unparliamentary language in which they are usually criticized; but at Bahia we learn to understand by experience that truth is stranger than any tale which any traveller could invent to describe the methods of the Customs officials.

We have come down from Pernambuco in an English steamer, which has anchored in Bahia Bay early on a Saturday morning. The Customs officers who visit the ship refuse to allow anyone to take even a hand-bag ashore. Having unsuccessfully exhausted all our powers of persuasion and been assured that all the luggage will be taken off in lighters directly the passengers have left, we depart in little boats. Upon landing, we at once take the lift to the Upper City and find our way to a well-recommended pension, where we have booked rooms. Our hostess does not seem to be at all surprised that we have nothing with us but the clothes we stand up in, and she very kindly insists on our having some refreshment before we return to the quay. By noon we are at the Customs House. In response to our inquiries for our baggage we are informed that none of the lighters engaged in transferring luggage from the English ship has yet come alongside. In the midday glare and heat of a tropical sun we wait about on the quay until nearly three o'clock, alternately kicking our heels and visiting the Customs officials; at three o'clock we are informed that the Customs House is about to be closed.

"What time do you open again?" we ask.

"Monday morning," comes the reply.

"But you're surely not going to keep us over the weekend without any of our luggage?" we plead, in chorus with a host of our fellow-passengers.

"It's closing-time; the lighters have not come alongside," is the indifferent rejoinder, and the doors are shut in our faces.

Speechless, we look at each other, and, before we have time to find words to express our feelings, the rain begins to fall in torrents. We have left mackin toshes and umbrellas at the pension, a good half-hour's journey away. Clad in the lightest of summer attire, we have to make our way back to the Upper City through a tropical deluge. We are drenched to the skin when we reach our rooms. A cup of tea revives our spirits sufficiently to enable us to voice our ideas as to the Bahia Customs arrangements in vivid language. Then, whilst our clothes are being dried, we play Red Indians and take the vote as to whether we shall dress for dinner in our mackintoshes and sleep in our umbrellas, or vice versd. We are not able to recover so much as a tooth-brush of our possessions until Monday afternoon.