Journey Around The Earth

You do not need a passport to travel to Egypt or to any other English colony. A visit card will do. In Alexandria, I made friends with the tropical flora: date trees that bear almost 100 kg of fruit each year, bananas or the cursed fruits because they grow without any effort from the humans, sugar cane that people eat all day long and whose juice is mixed with scented essences to the delight of the pashas, and cotton which is for Egypt what wheat is for Romania.Everyone rides a camel or a donkey in Egypt. Wealthy Arabians always ride donkeys adorned with beans and coins, their mane trimmed as a tassel. A bag hangs down the donkey's neck, holding fragments from the Holy Koran, meant to protect the animal from accidents or from anyone who might cast an evil eye on them. Camels are most familiar here. I was never seasick in my life, but had I traveled longer on the back of a camel I would have definitely got it.Every traveler spends the 5-hour trip on the railroad in the most annoying and dusty atmosphere, caused by the enormous quantities of dirt carried by the overflowing Nile. Hotels in Cairo are very pleasant, just like real American hotels. Rich Americans and Englishmen meet here constantly. Over 20,000 foreigners come to spend winter in Egypt. Many of them could very well visit Romania on their way, if, of course, we had fast ships sailing from Constanta to Alexandria. Unfortunately, with the disaster of the "Meteor," they postponed the execution of this important project and the ship "King Carol," the fastest and the most elegant ship that sails on the Black Sea, makes the trip from Constanta to Constantinople unworthy and unprofitable. To be successful in this new line of business, ships need high speed (faster than 18 miles per hour), comfort, elegance, good food onboard, friendly stuff, and an orchestra. Then success won't be a problem. This is how "Norddeutscher Lloyd" Company became a serious competitor to all the ships that cross the Suez Canal.There is one sure thing to do to attract travelers to Romania, and that is advertising the country's image. But our administration does not seem to embrace the idea.There is another type of passengers that could bring high profits to Romanian sailing businesses. These are the pilgrims that go to Mecca. For a better flow of the business, we should have an organized timetable of the ships sailing along the Suez Canal, with stops in the most important ports along the European and Asian coast of Turkey. The Moslems long for going on pilgrimages to Mecca, and plantation owners in Singapore speculated their custom. One has the largest number of workers on his pepper plantation because he offers them a trip to Mecca on special ships.One can see many curiosities in Cairo. It goes without saying that the Gizeh pyramids rank first, that is why my top interest was to visit them. The trip is very animated: while travelling by couch for one hour and a half, you always meet camel caravans, Bedouins, Sudanese, elegant processions, whose way is opened by two natives in spectacular costumes, barefooted and carrying long bamboo rods in their hands. You may also come across people riding bicycles, horses etc.The pyramids were the graves of the pharaohs' families and inside the sarcophaguses people later found holy bulls that the pharaohs used to worship. Cheops' pyramid is the greatest of all, and it was built 5000 years ago. One can enter the pyramid through a granite labyrinth, which was purposely built to lose and hinder the arrival of any intruder in the funeral location. Granite is a smooth stone and some passages are so tight that you need the help of two Bedouins to reach the great gallery. The air inside is stuffy because there is no means of ventilating the place, and in the magnesium light you can see hundreds of bats flying above your head which chose to live in that endless darkness. They say that 3000 people worked building the pyramid in 20 years. It rises up in the sky up to 146 m and spreads over 5 hectares. You can reach the peak of the pyramid by climbing from monolith to monolith as they have over 245,000 cubic meters. There is enough stone here to build a 2-meter high wall, 50-cm thick, that could cross Europe from Lisbon to Warsaw. You feel overwhelmed at the sight of the pyramids and the impression would be even deeper if there were some other objects of comparison around. Unfortunately, only the sandy and flat desert surrounds the pyramids, and the flowing Nile at the horizon. The Sphinx stands as a guardian of the pyramids, his face turned to east to salute the rising of the sun. Sands encircle this monument and diggings are permanently done to free it from the desert. Its enormous head measures 4 meters and the whole monument rises up to 19 meters.In Cairo, St. Serge church was built on the foundation of the house where the Holy Family lived for a while during the flight from emperor Herod who ordered the execution of any male infant. Omar's Mosque is the most ancient in Egypt and even in the Moslem world, and it holds a pillar where women who cannot bear children come to hit their heads until they bleed, a thing which is visible by the colour of the stone.El Azar's Mosque is the first university where they teach Islamic doctrines. They make permanent progress and today there are 9000 students and 300 teachers. Both students and teachers sit on the carpets, their legs crossed, and recite verses from the Koran. Others attend the discourses held by the Sheik and take notes with their quills. The courses are held in the open, in the shadow of a porch or in the bright light of the oriental sun. All the students from Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria or black people from Sudan have the same purpose: to learn the ancient knowledge left by the wise men of Islam. We can say El Azar is the heart that beats for the 200 millions of Moslems and the center that spreads the light of this great religion, worshiped by one seventh of the population of this planet.I took the train from Cairo to Ismailia, a town lying at half distance between the Suez Canal and the former residence of the great Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps who lived there for 15 years when the cutting of the isthmus took place. Thus, the route to India was shortened and the commercial flow of Europe and Asia was closer to our country as well, but this flow had been detoured in the south of Africa three centuries before, passing the Cape of Good Hope, following the itinerary of Vasco da Gama. The 164-km canal is dug in a sandy soil, making its maintenance expensive. A powerful dredge is used frequently. There are some sort of garages every 10 km to host the ships that sail from the Red Sea and that have to be laid on one side to clear the way for ships that sail from the opposite direction. Those ships are not allowed to sail more than 8 km per hour as they might damage the sandy gradients with the waves they make.A correct evaluation of the ships' position is known all the time as a clerk places tiny ships on a model of the canal and, thus, day in, day out, helped by the cable messages, he maps the position of the ships. Before 1887, the ships took 36 hours to sail along the canal; but today, the time was shortened to 18 hours as the ships sail by night, too, endowed with electric lamps with powerful spotlights, temporally installed on each deck. It is a real delight of the eye to watch the ships sailing by night. On the shores, poor people run along with the ships to ask for tips, plunging into water for the silver coins. But this delight of the travelers turns into nightmare at Suez and Aden, when the young Arabians no longer can face the surface of the water when the sea is coloured by their blood as a sign they were devoured by sharks.At Ismailia, the canal flows into a salt-water lake: the water here is twice as salty as the canal's waters, and those who are willing to take a plunge, float as a feather on the surface. However, the canal has become insufficient for sailing and the company ought to enlarge it or to dig a parallel one. But a railway to India is imperious. Romania's own advantage would be for this railway not to start at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, as England argues, but from the Black Sea, as Russia wants it. Our national interests, in this case, are bound to Russia's.On the other hand, Germany is deeply involved in accomplishing this plan. German railways start at the Bosphorus and measure 3000 km in Turkey. But the route from Salonika to Monastir is not included, as it will pass through Serbia over the bridge at Turnu Severin, hopefully, until some important traffic is held on this strategic railway, too. Germany has also built railways that take you to the heart of Middle Asia, beyond Kayseri; the destination is the Persian Gulf, and Romania should benefit from all these German investments in Turkey that might include our country as well. We must not be treated as an auxiliary territory for Germany, but as a resourceful ally. The German ship "Barbarosa" paid 43,000 francs to cross the Suez Canal (10 francs per ton and 1 franc per passenger).It is very pleasant to sail across the Red Sea, because the ship is especially equipped for journeys to the Tropics, with elegant, very well ventilated berths, reading halls and smoking lobbies, an enormous dinner hall, plentifully decorated with paintings. All passengers possess bamboo "chaises longues" and we lounge on the deck where fresh air cools us from the tropical heat that, here on the Red Sea, is said to be the most intense on the globe.Prince Henry of Prussia, the brother of Germany's Emperor, was travelling on the "Deutschland," which was 4 days behind me, and everywhere along the journey, people were planning official welcome events. It takes you 4 days to sail from the end of the Red Sea, where Mount Sinai impressively stands out on the left side, to the towns of Mocha and Perim (a very well fortified English island). Mocha is well known for its coffee, however its production is not that impressive (less that 1/2000 part from the entire coffee production of the planet). Brazil holds the record. A Brazilian diplomat who travels on the same ship with me is willing to explain me the coffee culture with plenty of details. He started his trip at Lima, passed through the Strait of Magellan in South America, visited London and headed to Japan to convince the Japanese government to set up colonies in Brazil, a country with only two inhabitants every kilometer. My mission in Japan was similar to his, although unofficial (the Japanese sent three official missions to Romania over the past four years. I myself claimed one of the missions without asking for any retribution from the Romanian Government whatsoever, but I was never granted this delegation.). My purpose was to persuade the Japanese sailing companies to reach Constanta harbour.The English call Aden "the devil's punch bowl" because of the unbearable heat. There are only two seasons here: 1. The warm season; 2. The even warmer season. I myself had to deal with the heat on this journey, during an admirable shiny night, as bright as the daylight. There are many Somali in Aden. They dye their hair red and paint their skulls white. They carry around the neck two yellow beads, as big as a duck's egg. They also wear a tight checkered jacket, opened in front, and an apron. They wear the hair twice as big as their heads. Thanks to the bright moonlight, we visited the crater of an extinct volcano, on the bottom of which lay the famous cemented tanks, with pools for gathering water when it rained. Unfortunately, it had not rained for two years, and people set up water factories that distilled seawater to provide for the 40,000 inhabitants and for the animals. One liter of water costs 3 cents. The Arabians held a very animated fair in town; the mosques were lit by lampions. The Arabians drank coffee from large cups, smoked and swung in some 4-seat swings, yet smaller than ours; and all these wonders happen in the sound of drums and flutes. Many young Arabians and Abyssinians followed my carriage asking for charity money, but, at some point, they suddenly left the site. And it was not because I told them "Ma fisi" which in translation means "I have not," but because I was heading towards a police station, where the English sentinels are given orders to make use of their weapons whenever European people come by, to protect them from being disturbed.On the 11th of January, the ship sailed all day long along the territory of the Somali, a country explored by our colleague Mr. Ghika-Comanesti, then it returned to Cape Guardafui and Socotra Island that overlooks the Arabian Gulf. The mountains seemed to be covered by snow, a curiosity for this latitude. Still, this is an effect given by some sort of white sand.When sailing across the Indian Ocean, the journey on board is quite entertaining. The songs of an orchestra wake you up in the morning. "Breakfast" at 8 o'clock: coffee, chocolate, eggs and so on. At 11 o'clock, they serve sandwiches and a cup of tomato juice; at 1 o'clock, "tiffin," that is an abundant lunch; at 4 o'clock, tea time; dinner at 7, with a diverse menu and an orchestra that plays three times a day.In order to chase the monotony of the 11 days of the trip, the crew had a committee of funny sports, musical evenings that ended with a dancing ball or even two. People who would like to take part in the games are invited to enlist themselves.There are other games beside the ones in the program. There is this German who once played a trick on his friends who had fallen asleep in their "chaises longues." He tied their feet by the chair and then he suddenly woke them up to show them "Big fish!" Everybody laughed, but the German did not wake them in vain, because even if there were no big fish around, they could see many flying fish that jump one meter high above the water surface and gather in troops to follow the floating ships.We passed by Laccadive and Maldive Islands by night. At 10 o'clock, by the time of our New Year's Eve, several sailors were busy finding an island in the Maldives. The second ball was unfolding onboard, but this time with costumes. You must wear a tailed coat every night at dinner. The English have even white tailed coats especially for journeys to the Tropics. But this time, a wide range of costumes took the place of the elegant suits.Out of the 40 passengers traveling by 1st class, 30 were wearing costumes, plus 10 ladies: a Chinese woman, an admiral (a manly suit wore by an American lady), a starry night with constellations and gilt crescents, an abigail (a costume borrowed from one of the maids on board), an Australian blonde in a short sailor dress, a Swedish woman and many others.Men: one or two dressed like sailors, a cook, a Barbarossa (two ladies worked all day long for him, knitting a red beard in jute – "Barbarossa," the symbol of the ship), a Colombo English judge's suit that won the second prize, the ship's doctor in a Japanese suit, holding two fans. I was about to forget an American woman disguised as a black woman, her face varnished in coffee.We had much fun at dinner. The English judge gave a speech, then the captain took the floor and then we sang together the national German hymn. The dancing hall was beautifully decorated with the flags of all nations, among which our national flag, too.The sea became rough. In spite of the waves, everybody kept on dancing. Half of the ladies danced only the first parade, and Mrs. von Ollendorf, who was dressed in the most beautiful costume, settled for the first prize – 25 francs and 1 pound. I finished my trip on this boat the very next day, getting off at Colombo, in Ceylon Island, and leaving it to float away to Australia. The Chinese call it "the treasure island" and the Greeks name it "the ruby island." People say this is the place where terrestrial paradise once dwelt, dominated by Adam's Peak, a reputation fairly gained. Right at the pier, there is a board showing large letters that advises foreigners to protect themselves from the burning sun by opening the umbrellas.The Singhalese boats are quite a curious thing to notice here. Made up of two parallel logs, and a thinner one that prevents the boat from turning upside-down. There are also chariots with thin wheels, whose origin goes back to Japan. People call them inriktcha, and a black Singhalese man, whose only piece of clothing is a bathing suit and who for 40 cents per hour will carry you anywhere faster even than a horse. You may also come across some large carriages pulled by hunchbacked oxen (zebu), riding very fast, as well. One other very curious thing is the punka, large fans hanging down from the ceiling and moved with a rope by a native from outside the building. In the large dinner hall at "Goll Face" Hotel, servants that stand behind every customer fanning and banning the flies replace the punkas. But there were more flies than food and more servants than clients. Over 100 servants, with bare feet, the hair worn as the ladies', in a small bun held by a bone comb, swarm among the tables, making everybody feel dizzy because of their white garments. I would not focus on my lateral trips, but in Ceylon we studied the process of making coconut oil and I cannot overlook the voyage to Kandy, at 500 meters altitude, and to Peradenia, the most fascinating botanic garden in the whole world, which covers 60 hectares. The Kandy climate is nice. Queen Hotels belong to a Hungarian who used to live in Bucharest for a long time, during the war between Russia, Turkey and Romania, when he was the representative of Pomery house. He was the one who brought this champagne to Romania. A beautiful lake with a small island crowns the front of the hotel. You can take a one-hour ride in the carriage around the lake. You will see a variety of trees that you have never seen before: the bread tree, the banana tree, the mango tree, the caoutchouc tree, the Durban tree, as tall as an oak, which bears huge fruits, the size of pumpkins. The fan palm, as well, also called the travelers' tree, because in the leaves' cavities one can always find drinking water. I saw the Talipot palm in bloom. They blossom once in 50 years and then they die. The Singhalese Bible was written on Talipot palm leaves. When I visited the Buddhist temple – surrounded by a ditch once populated by crocodiles and today by turtles – I entered the room of the secret Bible. There is a Buddhist priest who lives locked up inside there. You knock at the door, and after one minute the priest comes out, in yellow garments, his skull shaved, and shows you a booklet in French about the origin of the Buddhist religion. Then he opens for you the secret Bible written on Talipot leaves, held in wooden covers and tied with rope.Outside, around the temple, coconut oil lamps burn in the night. Believers bring offerings to their god, Buddha, or better, to his tooth that is preserved here as relic of immemorial times. The offerings consist of flowers and yellow paper cornets, holding pieces of scented wood, canella (cinnamon) and camphor. Chinese believers bring thin sticks imbued with a substance that makes them burn like candles. In Japan, the offerings consist of fir-tree boards with the believer's name engraved. They throw money in the big boxes on the altar and before that, they clap the hands or ring a bell to draw the attention of their god who is said to be asleep most of the time. My opinion is that they draw the attention of the other believers in order to make them throw more money.A drum orchestra plays furiously, and, as I go away, the drummers see me to the gate. Domestic elephants are very common in Ceylon; they are well trained and obedient to their trainers, doing all kinds of tricks. For example, they lift people in the air with the fangs or on the trunk. When you climb on their backs, they stretch out one leg, forming a tilted plane. It is much easier like this, than to sit down on all fours. They love to eat some huge tree branches. They taste sweet, as I myself found out.Making tea is an extremely delicate industry. In Ceylon, tea is harvested all through the year, not only 8 months as they do in India. The Singhalese women arrive at the factory in the evening, carrying baskets filled with the freshest tealeaves. They dry on tilted cloth shelves, then are rolled in some machinery moved by steam that has the same effect as rubbing the palms, then sifted, separated by 4 degrees of quality, then dried again in some machinery called "Sirocco." In the end, they are wrapped in wooden boxes, wrapped in tinfoil to make it through the wet air at sea. Colombo consumes many wooden boxes and this would be a great opportunity for Romania's wood industry.I also visited the famous Hagenbeck, the supplier of all zoos and menageries all over the world, who had sold many lions and snakes to Mr. Campineanu in Bucharest as well. Mr. Hagenbeck, the son, gave me this piece of advice: if the Romanian Government ever decided on opening a zoo, they should consider buying the animals not directly from the source, but from the subsidiaries set up in Hamburg or from other European sellers because the animals are already accustomed to the climate. During his last transportation, eight elephants perished on the ship and one giraffe died at the gate of the London zoo. On January 22nd 1898, I left Ceylon, while at the same time in India there was a total sun eclipse. The total limit began at Bombay and stopped in the Himalayan Mountains, being a few kilometers wide. Unfortunately, because of the quarantine enforced in the locations contaminated by the plague, I lost this total eclipse. In 1896, at the Northern Cape, I had the chance to see a total eclipse, such a magnificent phenomenon that moved me deeply.I traveled for 6 days from Colombo to Singapore on a "Peninsular and Oriental" ship, in short P and O, and I would never advice anyone to embark on an English boat. German ships are the best, followed by the French ones; the Austrian ones are obsolete and old-fashioned. After 5 years, a ship is worth half the money it was paid for, as the construction techniques improve quickly nowadays. On our fifth day of the journey on the "Coromandel," we saw the shores of Sumatra Island, a Dutch possession, rich in oil. We reached Pola Pinang Island the same day and I got off there. I was so excited by the beauty of the landscape and by my interest in a Chinese town, that I nearly missed the ship, as I was absorbed in taking pictures everywhere. Had it not been for Admiral Seymour, the commander of the English fleet in Chinese waters, who was traveling on the same ship with me and who nicely asked the captain to wait for me, I would have been left behind. Pinang Island stands at 800 meters high above the ocean water and although in the neighborhood of the Equator, the climate is calm here, and thus many merchants and clerks from Madras and Calcutta come here to take care of their frail health. When captain Hight took possession of this island on England's behalf, 100 years ago, he had a very strange idea of how to clear the abundant vegetation that covered the location of the present city. He ordered to load the cannons with silver coins and fired them right into the bushes, aware that the Malaysians would strip the bushes naked in search of the dollars. Malacca hosts the most ancient tin mines. Historians say that it was right here that the Bronze Age started, and that without the Malaysian tin there would have never been any such alloy at all. I also paid a visit to some foundries that produce 1/3 of the entire tin quantity in the world. It rains all the time, and the small waterfalls make the rivers unfit for sailing. Before floating down the rivers, the Malaysians stop to pray at the rocks, to explain them the importance of the journey, to bring offerings such as bananas, nuts, even biscuits if they pass along with a white person. Abundant flora grows in warm and rainy regions. This is the only place where you can find the gutta-percha tree out of which submarine cables are made; also a variety of palm tree species and Chicano, etc. People grow rice, tobacco, corn, and tapioca, coffee, tea, cocoa and the well-known Singapore pepper. Down there, under the Equator, where there are no seasons, people sow, seed, and harvest the crops all the time.The fauna includes elephants, rhinos, tigers and a very graceful Malaysian bear. The savage populations are divided in several tribes according to the life they lead. So we can count Orang-Ubu, the people of the rivers, Orang-Tambura, the people of the sea, Orang-Utang, the people of the forest, who do not live in houses and spend the night in trees accompanied by their only fortune, a knife. There is no marital ceremony. Man has to conquer the female in a race; he gives her some handicap, and if he fails to catch her before reaching an established target, he is not allowed to try his luck once again.Although married to her first man, any woman belongs to the tribe. With nomad families, children are not named after their mother's name, but they are given the name of the tree they were born under. Fishers have a very bizarre domestic animal. It is a snake called boa, and the people feed it eggs and rice, just as they do with children, dogs and cats. They all live in harmony and undisturbed. Boa is the indispensable friend of the fishers. It follows them like a dog. It coils on the bottom of the boat, stays still until it feels a storm coming. Then it raises its head, crawls into the sea and swims back home. In this case, fishers hurry home too, to avoid being caught in the storm.Singapore means the city of the lion. All commercial routes of the Pacific and Indian Ocean meet here, in the middle of Asia. They call this Cape Romania, situated in the neighborhood of Singapore. I continued my study of producing cocoa oil, ilipes and mowra, the raw material for stearic acid, since they abandoned suet. I personally contacted the merchants to buy rubber from Manila, Macassar and New Zealand for Romanian varnish factories. Singapore is the core of import of many materials from the Philippines and Oceania.While on a trip to the peninsula, I had the privilege to see a life-size oil portrait of the Duke of Coburg exhibited in the sultan's palace in Djohore. The Duke is Princess Mary's father. I also remarked the portrait of Carol, King of Romania, and the pleasure was strengthened by the portrait's location, that is in the eastern end of Asia, at Cape Romania. However, I could not unearth the etymology of this word, or the presence of those portraits in the sultan's palace. The sultan, although independent, is under English influence and, as any commonsense Moslem, recognizes the supremacy of the Sultan in Constantinople.A wide variety of sensitive plants cover the peninsula the leaves of which close up as soon as they are touched. More often than not, 4 or 5 tigers swim back here from the neighbouring islands. Boas are rare here, but many tiny insects, lizards, ants or strange bugs swarm on the hotels' walls for the establishments have no windows; you do not need any blankets to cover yourself during the night. Rooms are equipped with private bathrooms and the first thing you do when you get out of the bed is to take a bath which you will surprisingly find cold compared to the temperature of the air. Mosquitoes are very annoying in this hot and humid climate and Europeans can hardly feel at ease. I was overwhelmed with grief at the news of my friend's death, Schmidt, the director of an oil factory in Singapore.I spent five days on the German ship "Saxen," on my way to Hong Kong. The sun goes down very suddenly at the Tropics, and on a starry night, the passengers stare at the Southern Cross, a constellation that is visible only in the southern hemisphere. Up to the north, the North Star fades in the skies as a quiet landmark, suggesting the huge distance that separates me from home.Excerpted from: Journey around the Earth, 1899, in Extraordinary Journeys, CD Press, 2001

by Basil Assan