This year for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I’m writing about the 1800s in celebration of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s race around the world in 1889, the subject of my new novel based on this adventure: Liz and Nellie.
I’ve been on one cruise ship in my life and we splurged on one excursion along the way. Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland went around the world and had several opportunities to go on excursions while they waited for the next ship to set sail. It was interesting to read the difference and similarities in their experiences as they visited the same ports, and often stayed in the same hotels.
For example, Nellie suffered an extended layover in Colombo and had ample time to visit all the tourist haunts and buy herself a ring from the infamous gem dealers. Here she describes the snake charmers outside the hotel who performed all sorts of tricks:
Although these men always asked us to “See the snake dance?” we always saw every other trick but the one that had caught us. One morning, when a man urged me to “See the snake dance?” I said that I would, but that I would pay to see the snake dance and for nothing else.
Quite unwillingly the men lifted the lid of the basket, and the cobra crawled slowly out, curling itself up on the ground. The “charmer” began to play on a little fife, meanwhile waving a red cloth which attracted the cobra’s attention. It rose up steadily, darting angrily at the red cloth, and rose higher at every motion until it seemed to stand on the tip end of its tail. Then it saw the charmer and it darted for him, but he cunningly caught it by the head and with such a grip that I saw the blood gush from the snake’s month.
He worked for some time, still firmly holding the snake by the head before he could get it into the basket, the reptile meanwhile lashing the ground furiously with its tail. When at last it was covered from sight, I drew a long breath, and the charmer said to me sadly:
“Cobra no dance, cobra too young, cobra too fresh!”
–Nellie Bly, Around the World in 72 Days.
Elizabeth Bisland had quite a different experience when she arrived after Nellie (They went opposite directions, crossing each other’s path somewhere on the ocean.)
He takes off the cover of the snake basket, the reptile within lying sullenly sluggish until a rap over the head induces him to lift himself angrily, puff out his throat, and make ready to strike. But his master is playing a low, monotonous tune on a tiny bamboo flute, with his eyes fastened upon the snake’s eyes, and swaying his nude body slowly from side to side.
The serpent stirs restlessly, and flickers his wicked, thin red tongue; but the sleepy tune drones on and on, and the brown body moves to and fro – to and fro. Presently the serpent begins to wave softly, following the movements of the man’s body and with his eyes fixed on the man’s eyes, and so in time sinks slowly in a languid heap of relaxed folds. . . . The music grows fainter, fainter; dies away to a breath – a whisper – ceases. The man hangs the helpless inert serpent – drunk with the insistent low whine of the flute – about his bare neck and breast, and comes forward to beg a rupee for his pains. –Elizabeth Bisland, In Seven Stages
And the walk they took on the Galle Face is partially still there: