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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER XXII.
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At Cuernavaca our friends learned that they were on the road from Vera Cruz and Mexico to Acapulco, and the youths greatly wished to continue to the Pacific Ocean. It is the old route of commerce between Spain and Asia, and was travelled for hundreds of years by long trains of pack-mules laden with the products of the Orient on their way to Europe, and with those of Mexico and Europe destined for Asia. It seems incredible that such a route should have been so long maintained across the continent, with no track for wheeled vehicles, over mountains and through deep gorges, with the dangers of robbers, pestilence, and the hundred accidents that are liable to occur in such a country and such a time; but so it was. Over this route were carried the cargoes of many richly freighted galleons; along these dangerous path-ways thousands of soldiers marched to glory or the grave, and hundreds if not thousands of civilians went in search of new lands from which they could gather the wealth they coveted.
It is eighty leagues, or 240 miles, from Cuernavaca to Acapulco, the port which once enjoyed a profitable commerce but is to-day of comparatively little moment. Spasmodic efforts have been made at different
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 times for the construction of a wagon-road, but they have never been carried far. There is a wagon-road between Cuernavaca and Mexico City, a distance of about forty-five miles, and over this a diligence runs three times a week each way, and wagons laden with merchandise pass in fair number. But the business of the route is less than it was two hundred years ago; the Mexicans hope for a revival when the railway is completed from Vera Cruz to Acapulco, and a line of steamers between Acapulco and China is under consideration.
Doctor Bronson's plans did not include the overland journey to Acapulco, and by way of consolation the youths determined to write a description of the route from what they could learn from others. By consulting those who had made the journey, and by references to some of the volumes in their possession, they composed the following:
"There is no regular system of hiring horses and baggage-mules for the journey, and the traveller must make his bargain with an arriero. A horse to carry himself, and a mule for the baggage, will cost about forty dollars, twenty for each animal; if there are several persons in a party the
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 price can be reduced somewhat. It should be carefully stipulated that the arriero pay his own expenses and those of his animals, or the traveller will find himself mulcted for a considerable sum as he goes along. The arriero will want to be paid in advance, a demand that should be strenuously refused; the affair can be compromised by paying half down, and the other half at the end of the journey, which is ordinarily made in ten days.
"As we start from Cuernavaca we find ourselves on a carriage-road, and wonder how it happens that we were told we must go in the saddle. The reason is soon apparent, as the carriage-road comes to an end after a little while. It reminds us of that famous turnpike somewhere in the Western States that began with a macadamized road fifty feet wide, and steadily dwindled till it became only a squirrel-track and ran up a tree, or a similar road that terminated in a gopher-hole. One gentleman says the route from Cuernavaca to Acapulco is spoken of as a bueno camino de pajaros (a good road for birds), and he is about right.
"The country is rough and the scenery wild and interesting, except that one wearies of mountains and valleys after seeing a few hundreds of each. Portions of the way as we leave Cuernavaca behind us are through the sugar region. We pass large fields of cane and meet trains of mules laden with sugar. At irregular intervals we find villages or isolated houses, and in the construction of these buildings we observe that the cane is very prominent. Houses in this region are mostly built of cane, and their roofs are heavily thatched to keep out the heat of the tropical suns and the heavy downpour of tropical rains.
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"This is the regular routine: We make an early start in the daybreak, take a long rest in the middle of the day, then ride in the late afternoon, and put up in a meson, or inn, or in the hut of some villager. The accommodations are of the most primitive character, but they are the best the country can afford, and we accept them without murmuring. For food, we have eggs, chickens, fried bananas, tortillas, and always the national dish, frijoles. We can get milk in the morning but not at night, as they milk their cows only once a day.
"Some of the rivers are fordable, others have been bridged, and others swollen by rains must be crossed in boats. Some of the boats are large enough to ferry our animals along with ourselves, while at the crossing of others we are transported in dugouts, and the horses and mules are compelled to swim. Of course in such a case everything must be removed from the backs of the animals, and this causes a considerable delay. We think ourselves fortunate in getting through in ten days when all the hinderances of progress are considered. In some places there is absolutely no track, as we follow the beds of streams, where at each rise all traces of
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 previous travellers are washed away. In the time of floods these river-beds are abandoned, and the banks of the streams are followed.
"Years and years before New England and New York were settled the Spaniards were traversing this route with long trains of beasts of burden, laden with the treasures of the East. If you want to know what they carried, read Bret Harte's poem of 'The Lost Galleon:'
"'In sixteen hundred and forty-one
The regular yearly galleon,
Laden with odorous gums and spice,
India cotton and India rice,
And the richest silks of far Cathay,
Was due at Acapulco Bay.

"'The trains were waiting outside the walls,
The wives of the sailors thronged the town,
The traders sat by their empty stalls,
And the Viceroy himself came down.
The bells in the town were all atrip,
Te Deums were on each father's lip,
The limes were ripening in the sun
For the sick of the coming galleon.
"'All in vain. Weeks passed away,
And yet no galleon saw the bay;
India goods advanced in price;
The Governor missed his favorite spice;
The señoritas mourned for sandal
And the famous cottons of Coromandel;
And some for an absent lover lost,
And one for a husband tempest-tossed;
"'And all along the coast that year
Votive candles were scarce and dear.'
"A thousand mules and donkeys were required for the transport of the freight of one of these galleons; a cargo was often valued at $2,000,000, and the return one to the East was of equal worth. The return cargo consisted mostly of silver, cochineal, cocoa, and other Mexican products, together with European goods from Spain. The cargoes from Asia were taken to the city of Mexico, and whatever did not find a market there was sent to Spain by way of Vera Cruz. The old chroniclers say that the Mexicans had the first selection of the goods, and often aroused the jealousy of their friends in Spain in consequence.
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"Well, here we are at Acapulco, and for the last time dismount from our steeds. We look upon the blue waters of the little harbor, but can see no galleon at anchor, only a few sailing-ships and one of the steamers of the Pacific Mail Company, which has just come into port and lies fuming uneasily, as though impatient to continue her voyage. Were it not for the semi-monthly visits of the Pacific mail steamers, Acapulco would have no regular connection with the rest of the world. The place has a population of three or four thousand only, and it has a fort on an island which lies opposite the town, cutting off the long swell of the Pacific Ocean, and forming one of the best harbors on the western coast of Mexico."
Frank and Fred returned with Doctor Bronson to the city of Mexico by diligence. The road is rough, and they were severely jolted in their eight hours' ride; they managed to shorten the rough part to six hours by leaving the diligence at Tlalpan and coming thence to the city by the tram-way.
Hardly had the youths shaken the dust of the road from their garments than they looked around for "new worlds to conquer." Their attention was drawn to Guadalajara (pronounced gwa-da-la-ha-ra), a city that is not often visited by tourists, for the reason that it lies off the main route of travel. It is the capital of the State of Jalisco, has a population of some eighty or ninety thousand, contains a fine cathedral, and
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 other public buildings, and altogether is worth a good deal more than a passing thought.
"We can go there by train," said Frank, "as the branch line from the Mexican Central Railway at Irapuato has been recently opened."
"How long will it take us to get there?" queried Fred.
"About twenty-two hours," was the reply. "We can leave here at 8.10 p.m., and if not delayed, the north-bound train will get us to Irapuato at 6.57 the next morning. The train for Guadalajara leaves Irapuato at 8.40 a.m., and we are due in that city at 6 p.m."
"But perhaps Uncle will not wish to go there; what will we do in that case?"
"Why, go alone, to be sure, if he can spare us the time."
The plan was duly laid before Doctor Bronson, who at once gave his permission for the youths to make the excursion without him. He did not care particularly for it, and said he would be satisfied to look at Guadalajara through their eyes.
They immediately secured places in the Pullman sleeping-car for Irapuato, and were off by the train that evening. By good-fortune they were introduced during the day to a Mexican gentleman, Señor Sanchez, who had a large hacienda near Guadalajara, and was then on his way to it.
With the customary politeness, he informed the youths that his "house and all it contained were theirs;" he followed up the formality by inviting them to spend a day or two with him, either on their outward or return journey. They took the hint, and concluding that he desired to have a little time to himself on his arrival, they arranged to stop off on their return from Guadalajara.
It is 353 kilometres from Mexico City to Irapuato, and 260 from that station to Guadalajara, a total of 613 kilometres, or 380 miles. The
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 country from Irapuato is for the most part broken, but it contains few high mountains, and here and there the youths found themselves looking across plains of considerable extent. The region is well peopled, and there are several towns or cities along the route, each of them containing upwards of 5000 inhabitants. There are many arroyos and barrancas that severely taxed the abilities of the engineers, but they are insignificant when compared with the great barrancas between Guadalajara and the western coast. Construction parties are at work on the western section of the route, and in due time the locomotive from Guadalajara will sound its whistle at San Blas, on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.
"There ar............
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