Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/36

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TRAVELS IN MEXICO.

then charged at a very unreasonable rate; now, however, it is finished. There are two trains daily each way, besides the freight cars, forenoon and afternoon.

Back of the dunes of the coast there is a broad lagoon, hundreds of miles in length, varying in depth and breadth with the season. Here many of our Northern summer birds spend the winter: duck and teal, snowy-plumaged herons, ibis and egrets, snipe and sandpipers, curlews, snake-birds, and cormorants. Beyond the lagoon, the bed of coral rock, composing the entire territory of Yucatan, rises above the level of the water. The vegetation is not exuberant, and the soil is thin and dry.

Soon after leaving the lagoon, the road passes through the henequen plantations, with miles and miles of Sisal hemp on either side the track, the immense fields neatly walled, to prevent the roaming cattle from getting in and eating the plant. The dwellings of the planters are surrounded with coco palms, and are approached by long lanes terminating in arched stone gateways. Excepting the hemp plantations, there is little to interest one, as the prevailing vegetation is low and scrubby. But the people alone are sufficiently strange to Northern eyes, for they are wholly peculiar to this country; they are Indians, descendants of the original inhabitants found here by Cortés and Cordova. We meet them in little groups that grow larger as we near the city suburbs, until (this being Sunday, and consequently a holiday) they pass along the road in processions of hundreds. The men and women are all neatly clad in garments of white, white as snow, the former wearing shirts with ruffled bosoms and plaited backs, the women their traditional dress of three centuries ago,—a skirt from the waist to the ankles, and an outside nipil, or overskirt, from the shoulders to the knees. It is evident that the engine has not ceased to be a wonder with them, as many have a timorous expression on their faces, and every time the whistle blows, or steam escapes, start back in affright. It seemed that intense curiosity only had overcome their fear of this monster. These great crowds of Indians, gathered here to inspect the steam marvel of the white man, recall to mind those passages in the narratives of the explorers of this