In all probability your first view of the valley of the Yumuri will be from the Hermitage of Montserrate, for it is there that the cocheros drive you. Up the winding road they take you, with the bay at your back and the gorge at your right, to the crest of a narrow ridge where the chapel stands. Once there, you overlook the fairest sight in all Christendom—“the loveliest valley in the world,” as Humboldt called it—for the Yumuri nestles right at your feet, a vale of pure delight, a glimpse of Paradise that bewilders the eye and fills the soul with ecstasy.
It is larger than it seems at first sight; through it meanders the river, coiling and uncoiling, hidden here and there by jungle growths, and seeking final outlet through a cleft in the wall not unlike a crack in the side of a painted bowl. The place seems to have been fashioned as a dwelling for dryads and hamadryads, for nixies and pixies, and all the fabled spirits of forest and stream. Fairy hands tinted its steep slopes and carpeted its level floor with the richest of green brocades. Nowhere is there a clash of color; nowhere does a naked hillside or monstrous jut of rock obtrude to mar its placid beauty; nowhere can you see a crude, disfiguring mark of man’s handiwork—there are only fields, and bowers, with an occasional thatched roof faded gray by the sun.
Royal palms, most perfect of trees, are scattered everywhere. They stand alone or in stately groves, their lush fronds drooping like gigantic ostrich plumes, their slim trunks as smooth and regular and white as if turned in a giant lathe and then rubbed with pipe-clay. In all Cuba, island of bewitching vistas, there is no other Yumuri, and in all the wide world, perhaps, there is no valley of moods and aspects so varying. You should see it at evening, all warm and slumberous, all gold and green and purple; or at early dawn, when the mists are fading like pale memories of dreams and the tints are delicate; or again, during a tempest, when it is a caldron of whirling vapors and when the palm-trees bend like coryphees, tossing their arms to the galloping hurricane. But whatever the time of day or the season of the year at which you visit it, the Yumuri will render you wordless with delight, and you will vow that it is the happiest valley men’s eyes have ever looked upon.
Standing there beside the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrate, you will see beyond the cleft through which the river emerges another hill, La Cumbre, from which the view is almost as wonderful, and your driver may tell you about the splendid homes that used to grace its slopes in the golden days when Cuba had an aristocracy. They were classic Roman villas, such as once lined the Via Appia— little palaces, with mosaics and marbles and precious woods imported from Europe, and furnished with the rarest treasures—for in those days the Cuban planters were rich and spent