After Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, and after Fernandina the most beautiful of islands, Isabella, where we lay three days. People upon this island seemed to us more civilized than the Salvador folk. The cotton was woven, loin cloths were worn, they had greater variety of calabashes, the huts were larger, the villages more regular. They slept in “hamacs” which are stout and wide cotton nets slung between posts, two or three feet above earth. Light, space-giving, easy of removal, these beds greatly took our fancy.
Here we sought determinedly for spice-giving trees and medicinal herbs and roots. It was not a spicery such as Europe depended upon, but still certain things seemed valuable! We gathered here and gathered there what might be taken to Spain. There grew an emulation to find. The Admiral offered prizes for such and such a commodity come upon.
We sailed from Isabella and after three days came
CUBA! At first he called it Juana, but we came afterwards still to use the Indian name. Cuba! We saw it after three days, and it was little enough like Isabella, Fernandina, Concepcion, San Salvador and the islets the Admiral called Isles de Arena. It covered all our south, no level, shining thing that masthead could see around, but a mighty coast line, mountainous, with headlands and bays and river mouths. Now after long years, I who outlive the Admiral, know it for an island, but how could he or I or any know that in November fourteen hundred and ninety-two? He never believed it an island.
He stood on deck watching. “Cuba—Cuba! Have you not read of Cublai Khan? The sounds chime!”
“Cublai Khan. He lives in Quinsai.”
“Ay. His splendid, capital city. Buildings all wonderful, and gardens like Mahound’s paradise!”
“But if it is Cipango?”
“Ay. It may be Cipango. We have no angel here to tell us which. I would one would fly down and take us by the hand! Being men, we must make guesses.”
Beautiful to us, splendid to us, was this coast of Cuba! We sailed by headlands and deep, narrow-necked bays, river mouths and hanging forests and bold cliffs. We sailed west and still headland followed headland, and still the lookout cried, “It stretched forever like the main!”
We came to a river where ships might ride. Sounding, we found deep water, entered river mouth and dropped anchor, then went ashore in the boats. Palms and their water doubles, and in the grove a small abandoned village. We had seen the people flee before us, and they were no more nor other kind of people than had showed in Concepcion or Fernandina. Yet were they a little wealthier. We found parrots on their perches, and two dogs, small and wolf-like that never barked. In one hut lay a harpoon tipped with bone, and a net for fishing. In another we found a wrought block of wood which Fray Ignatio pronounced their idol.