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The Southern Countries of North America 262

water, yucatan, people, sisal, mexico, enrique and cave

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THE SOUTHERN COUNTRIES OF NORTH AMERICA 262. The sisal growers of Yucatan.— Enrique is an Indian boy. His skin is dark, almost black. The sun would burn your skin several shades darker, too, if you lived in Yucatan with Enrique, where the sun shines most of the time. There is but little rain, and no frost or winter. Enrique never had shoes on his feet until he was ten years old. Then he was given a pair as a reward for going by himself to get a jar of water. He never saw a stream or a spring or a water pipe. There are none of these things anywhere near his little village of one-storied, whitewashed houses built of sun-dried clay brick called adobe.

When the family needed water in the days before Enrique was big enough to help, his mother balanced a big earthen water jar on her head with one hand and took a lighted candle in the other hand. Then she went down a long, crooked, dark passageway from the center of the village into a cave deep underground. Here she dipped up a jar of water and took it home. Since it took her fifteen minutes to make the trip, she was glad when Enrique could do it for her.

In Yucatan nearly everybody gets water by going down into these caves or under ground passages. Do you wonder what makes these passages? This is the way it happens. Suppose that there was a thick layer of hard salt a few feet under the earth where you lived. When the rain soaked through the earth, it would dissolve the salt, carry it away to the springs, and leave holes under the ground where the salt had been.

This is almost what happens in the caves of Yucatan. Under the earth there is limestone. It, like salt, dissolves so easily that the water has made holes or caves in it and the -rain water, after it soaks into the ground, runs into them. The people then have to go down into Nature's wells to get water. There are like that in many parts of the world where there are limestone rocks. There is a very large one in Kentucky, called Mammoth Cave. Many people go to see it. You can ride in a boat on a stream that flows through Mammoth Cave. (See Fig. 173.) In the Yucatan cave coun try, Enrique's father works in the sisal fields. Sisal is a

coarse kind of plant that grows in dry, hot countries. It has strong fibers in its long leaves. The yucca and century plant, which grow in parts of the United States, are small cousins of the sisal plant. There are factories in Yucatan in which the sisal fiber is taken from the leaves, after which ship loads of it go from Progreso to New Orleans, and New York. In America the fiber is made into the twine with which reapers bind up the wheat on MacDonald's farm in Saskatchewan and on the wheat farms of Kansas, Dakota, and Indiana. Manila hemp from the Philippines is also used for binder twine.

During the World War, we feared that we would lose some of our wheat because ships could not be spared to bring manila hemp the long, long journey from Manila, and there was barely enough sisal in Yucatan to bind up our grain.

The people of Yucatan sell little else than sisal. The steamers from the United States, England, France, and Spain, stop ping at Progreso, leave in exchange for sisal all the things you can find in any store.

263. Mexico, general view.—To dis cover the size of Mexico, we must look at the scale on the map, for Mexico is a big country. It is one-quarter as big as the United States, but has only about one seventh as many people. How far is it from the city of Mexico to El Paso, Texas? The few white people of Mexico speak Spanish and are very polite. There are more native Indians than white people, and a great many of the people are part Indian and part Spanish. When the white man discovered Mexico, the Indians had good farms, large cities, and fine buildings. Some of these buildings were of enormous size and the ruins of them can still be seen. The natives did fine work making orna ments and jewelry of gold and silver. The Spaniards made the Indians work the silver mines, and then sent the silver back home to Spain. But after the Spanish had ruled for three centuries, the Mexicans set up their own government. Unfortunately, they often fight to see who shall be presi dent, instead of electing him by voting, as people should.

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