By Guest Lecturer Sandy Cares
Caribbean history serves up a comical and surprising sampler of references to ice and snow. Sailing past a volcanic island, Christopher Columbus took the cloudy top for a snow-capped mountain and named it “Nieves,” Spanish for snow. Nevis is what stuck.
Salt-raking on the Turks Islands led to a comical gaffe on their flag. Instead of drawing salt-piles, the economic mainstay of the 19th century, a slightly confused artist back in England erroneously depicted igloos. Beach igloos remained on the tropical Turks and Caicos flag for nearly a century.
The turn of the 19th century witnessed the unexpected and stunning move of the entire Portuguese Court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The English shipped products straight from their bustling factories to welcome the Portuguese emigrants to their new home in the tropics. Among the housewarming gifts were bed warmers, woolen shawls and ice skates!
Where did early sugar planters obtain the ice for their refreshing lemonade, sorrel, mauby and “sangaree” beverages? As it turns out, there was a brisk ice trade between the Caribbean and Wenham Lake in Massachusetts. The exceptional water of Wenham Lake, near Salem, produced high-quality ice rumored to be Queen Victoria’s ice of choice. It survived the long voyage to the tropics when packed away in sawdust. An ice warehouse in tropical Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas served as the regional ice depot once the ice arrived from Massachusetts.
But arguably the most riotous story of ice in the tropics happened at the Battle of Laguna Trestle in Honduras. The only ice factory in all of Central America was in San Pedro Sula, along the beaten track of a narrow-gauge train hauling bananas from the interior to the coastal shipping ports. In 1897, a banana train found itself smack in the crosshairs of revolutionary gunfire. The train conductor, Lee Christmas, who just happened to be an American, leapt from the train and stacked the 200-pound bricks of ice he had just loaded at the San Pedro Sula ice factory. Imagine the surprise of the enemy rebels once they realized that deep in the hot and humid Honduran jungle their bullets were ricocheting off a wall… of ice!
Join me in the Caribbean this fall or winter for more fascinating looks at the region’s history and culture – I’ll be on board the sailings below: