Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mysterious Island

I adore 'Log from the Sea of Cortes' it is brilliant. It really gets you into the mind of Steinbeck and makes you feel like you are there with him on that amazing expedition in 1940. Some people have criticised Steinbeck for having a 'half-baked' philosophy. I really admire him because he is obviously not a philosopher, he is just trying to think deeply about his life and about the meaning of life. A professional philosopher doesn't really take this approach, when they try to write about general things they become condescending or just write stuff that is incredibly difficult to understand.

Plus the expedition is quite exciting and as travel writing it is an incredible escape and very interesting. I was fascinated by his report about a rather mysterious island that they came across. I'm not really going to say too much about it but when I read this I couldn't help thinking - King Kong or pirates!

“March 23 1940

For although the day was bright this Islet called Cayo on the map, looked black and mysterious. We had a feeling that something strange and dark had happened there or that it was the ruined work of men’s hands. Its northern end is a spur and its southern end a flat plateau about forty feet high. Cayo is only a quarter of a mile long and a hundred yards wide. Even in the distance it had a quality we called ‘burned’. . .

It is nearly all questions, but perhaps someone reading this may know the answers and tell us. There is no landing place; all approaches are strewn with large sea-rounded boulders which even in fairly still water would beat the bottom out of a boat. On its easterly side, the one we approached, a cliff rises [at the] back of a rocky beach and there are a number of shallow caves in the Cliffside. Set in the great boulders in the intertidal zone there are large iron rings and lengths of big chain, but so rusted and disintegrated that they came off in our hands. Also, set in the cliff six to eight feet above the beach, are other iron rings with loops eight inches in diameter. They look very old, but the damp air of the gulf and the rapid oxidation caused by it make it impossible to say how old they are. In the shallow caves in the cliff there were evidences of many fires being built, and piled about the fireplaces, some old and some fresh, were not only thousands of clam-shells but turtle-shells also, as though these animals had been brought here to be smoked. A heap of fairly fresh diced turtle meat lay beside one of the fireplaces. The mysterious quality of all this lies here. There are no clams in the immediate vicinity and turtles do not greatly abound. There is no wood whatever on the island with which to build fires; it would have to be brought here. There is no water whatever. And once arrived, there is no anchorage. Why people would bring clams and turtles and wood to an islet where there is no protection we do not know. A mile and a half away they could have beached easily and have found both wood and water. It is a riddle we cannot answer, just as we think of no reason for the big iron rings … there is no safe water for a boat to lie in and no cove protection from wind and storm. We climbed the cliff by a trail that was well beaten in a crevice and on the flat top found a sparse growth of brown grass and some cactus. Nothing more.”

I searched the Internet for information on Cayo Islet but found nothing. The picture above is of Coronado Island, an Island that is described by Steinbeck as very similar to Cayo. The rock face looks to be similar to Cayo. There is probably some reasonable explanation but it is curious ...


Anonymous said...

I am reading Sea of Cortez and my curiosity has led me to your site. Cayo Island and the iron rings---have you learned anything at all about them?

Thanks, Geoff

Igneos said...

Hi Geoff,

I haven't discovered anything further but thanks for reading my blog, I hope you continue to enjoy the 'Sea of Cortez'. I did read some rumours that there might be a film about Ed Rickets but we will have to wait and see, certainly Rickets had a huge influence over Steinbeck at this time.