Iztaccihuatl, or "The White Woman," derives its name from the fact that its form resembles that of a dead woman robed in white for burial. From some points of view the likeness is startling. The head appears to fall back, as in death; and from this lines of snow, like long disheveled silvery tresses, stream in all directions. An Indian tradition says that these volcanoes were once living beings, a giant and a giantess; but that the Deity, angered by their haughty independence, transformed them into mountains. The woman died at once and lies outstretched forever in a winding sheet of snow. Her lover, far less fortunate, is doomed to live in full view of her lifeless body; and when his sorrow becomes uncontrollable, he shakes the earth in his convulsive grief and pours forth tears of fire.
Saying farewell one morning to the capital we started to explore the temperate and tropic lands of Mexico, which lie between the ocean and the tableland, bathed in perpetual sunshine, and rivaling in beauty and luxuriance the golden gardens of Hesperides. In a few hours we had reached the edge of the great Mexican plateau, and, with some trepidation, began the wonderful journey toward Vera Cruz. I rightly call it wonderful, for the railway by which it is accomplished is one of the most remarkable specimens of engineering skill and courage that the world can show. Most of the descent of eight thousand feet is made in about twenty miles. The steepness of the track can, therefore, be imagined. Railroad grades seldom exceed a fall of one foot in a hundred; but here there is at times an incline of four feet in a hundred. Standing on the rear platform, we experienced the sensation of sliding down the mountains, and it seemed wonderful that the heavy train did not rush downward to destruction. What kept it from so doing was a monstrous double engine, used, not only to pull its heavy burdens up the mountains, but also to restrain them in the descent. When necessity requires it, one-half of the engine works in a direction opposite to that in which the train is moving, in order to retard the almost overwhelming force of gravitation. It is a serious undertaking; for any undue impetus on the edge of these stupendous cliffs would mean swift death to every one on board. Few accidents, however, have occurred; no doubt because they are so constantly anticipated. It is where men are heedless from a sense of perfect safety that real danger lies; not in the iron bridge watched carefully from hour to hour, but in the little culvert or the loosened rail.
The Train For Vera Cruz.
I was astonished to perceive that though a brakeman stood on every car there were no air-brakes on our train. "We could not keep them," was the explanation. "As fast as we put them on, the natives, who are inveterate thieves, cut them off and carried them away. In fact, until we riveted the spikes that hold down the rails, they stole them also; and rubber pads on the steps of Pullman cars invariably suffered the same fate." I noticed that steel ties were used instead of wooden ones, and that the sides of corrugated iron; since it is claimed that wood will not endure the sudden changes, daily, from the intense heat of the tropics to the cooler table-land.
A Curving Bridge.
A Mexican Valley.
The scenery on this route is magnificent. At times we saw a broad expanse of cultivated fields three thousand feet below us, the whitewashed buildings on their surface resembling dice upon a checker-board. The trees looked so diminutive, that they recalled the tiny playthings of our childhood called "Swiss Villages." At one point, the descent was so precipitous, that the Indians, who had been selling fruit and flowers at a station half up the mountain, ran down the rocks and reached another halting-place before our train arrived, and were ready to renew their traffic. A characteristic feature of this railway journey was the variety of life and merchandise discernible at every station. No sooner would we halt than scores of dark-hued men and women swarmed about the cars, of the cars were made crying their wares in harsh, discordant tones which sounded like a chorus of creaking signs on a windy night. The number of these Indian traders, the miscellaneous objects which they sold, and above all the amount of necessary bargaining, in broken English and Spanish spoken on the installment plan, were both novel and amusing. Every part of Mexico seems to have a special article to tempt the tourist. In one place oranges are sold, the next produces baskets of all shapes and sizes; at Irapuato strawberries are offered every day, the whole year round; another place is famous for its handsome canes; another still, for opals or for onyx. Everywhere we heard the cry of "Pulque! Pulque!" and had that nauseating mixture offered us by hands that looked more uninviting than the drink itself, - all mute, inglorious witnesses of the scarcity of soap.