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read reports, papers, and pamphlets on the subject of the great canal, and expected at least to find a road to the port; but the desert of Arabia is not more desolate, and the track of the Children of Israel to the Red Sea a turnpike compared with it.
My beautiful gray, degraded into a cargo-mule, chafed under her burden; and here obstructed, and jerked first one way and then the other, the girths of the saddle became loose, the load turned on her side, and she rushed blindly forward, kicking, and threw herself among the bushes. Her back was badly hurt, and she was desperately frightened; but we were obliged to reload her, and, fortunately, we were near the end of our day's journey.
On the border of the woods we reached a stream, the last at which fresh water was procurable, and filling our calabash, entered a plain covered with high grass. In front was another piece of woodland, and on the left the River San Juan, now a large stream, emptying into the Pacific. In a few minutes we reached a small clearing, so near the shore that the waves seemed breaking at our feet. We tied our mules under the shade of a large tree on the edge of the clearing. The site of Mr. Bailey's rancho was on an eminence near, but hardly a vestige remained; and though it commanded a fine view of the port and the sea, it was so hot under the afternoon sun that I fixed our encampment under the large tree. We hung our saddles, saddlecloths, and arms upon its branches, and while Nicolas and Jose gathered wood and made a fire, I found, what was always the most important and satisfactory part of the day's journey, excellent pasture for the mules.
The next thing was to take care of ourselves. We had no trouble in deciding what to have for dinner.
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We had made provision, as we supposed, for three days; but, as usual, it always happened that, however abundant, it did not last more than one. At this time all was eaten up by ourselves or by vermin; and, but for the wild turkey, we should have been obliged to dine upon chocolate. It was a matter of deeply-interesting consideration how the turkey should be cooked. Boiling it was the best way; but we had nothing to boil it in except a small coffee-pot. We attempted to make a gridiron of our stirrups, and broil it; but those of Nicolas were wooden, and mine alone were not large enough. Roasting was a long and tedious process; but our guide had often been in such straits; and fixing in the ground two sticks with crotches, he laid another across, split open the turkey, and securing it by sticks crosswise, hung it like a spread eagle before a blazing fire. When one side was burned, he turned the other. In an hour it was cooked, and in less than ten minutes eaten up. A cup of chocolate, heavy enough to keep it from rising if it had been eaten with its wings on, followed, and I had dined.
Rested and refreshed, I walked down to the shore. Our encampment was about in the centre of the harbour, which was the finest I saw on the Pacific. It is not large, but beautifully protected, being almost in the form of the letter U. The arms are high and parallel, running nearly north and south, and terminating in high perpendicular bluffs. As I afterward learned from Mr. Bailey, the water is deep, and under either bluff, according to the wind, vessels of the largest class can ride with perfect safety. Supposing this to be correct, there is but one objection to this harbour, which I derive from Captain D'Yriarte, with whom I made the voyage from Zonzonate to Caldera. He has been nine years navigating the coast of the Pacific, from Peru to the Gulf of California, and has made valuable notes, which he intends publishing in France; and he told me that during the summer months, from November to May, the strong north winds which sweep over the Lake of Nicaragua pass with such violence through the Gulf of Papajayo, that, during the prevalence of these winds, it is almost impossible for a vessel to enter the port of San Juan. Whether this is true to the extent that Captain D'Yriarte supposes, and if true, how far steam tugs would answer to bring vessels in against such a wind, is for others to determine. But at the moment there seemed more palpable difficulties.
I walked along the shore down to the estuary of the river, which was here broad and deep. This was the proposed termination of the great canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I had read and examined all that had been published on this subject in England or this country; had conferred with individuals; and I had been sanguine, almost enthusiastic, in regard to this gigantic enterprise; but on the spot the scales fell from my eyes. The harbour was perfectly desolate; for years not a vessel had entered it; primeval trees grew around it; for miles there was not a habitation. I walked the shore alone. Since Mr. Bailey left not a person had visited it; and probably the only thing that keeps it alive even in memory is the theorizing of scientific men, or the occasional visit of some Nicaragua fisherman, who, too lazy to work, seeks his food in the sea. It seemed preposterous to consider it the focus of a great commercial enterprise; to imagine that a city was to rise up out of the forest, the desolate harbour to be filled with ships, and become a great portal for the thoroughfare of nations. But the scene was magnificent. The ROUTE OF THE GREAT CANAL. 401
sun was setting, and the high western headland threw a deep shade over the water. It was perhaps the last time in my life that I should see the Pacific; and in spite of fever and ague tendencies, I bathed once more in the great ocean.
It was after dark when I returned to my encampment. My attendants had not been idle; blazing logs of wood, piled three or four feet high, lighted up the darkness of the forest. We heard the barking of wolves, the scream of the mountain-cat, and other wild beasts of the forest. I wrapped myself in my poncha and lay down to sleep. Nicolas threw more wood upon the burning pile; and, as he stretched himself on the ground, hoped we would not be obliged to pass another night in this desolate place.
In the morning I had more trouble. My gray mule running loose, and drinking at every stream, with her girths tight, had raised a swelling eight or ten inches. I attempted to put the cargo on my macho, with the intention of walking myself; but it was utterly impossible to manage him, and I was obliged to transfer it to the raw back of the cargo-mule.
At seven o'clock we started, recrossed the stream at which we had procured water, and returned to the first station of Mr. Bailey. It was on the River San Juan, a mile and a half from the sea. The river here had sufficient depth of water for large vessels, and from this point Mr. Bailey commenced his survey to the Lake of Nicaragua. I sent Nicolas with the mules by the direct road, and set out with my guide to follow, as far as practicable, his line of survey. I did not know, until I found myself in this wilderness, how fortunate I had been in securing this guide. He had been Mr. Bailey's pioneer in the whole of his exploration. He was a dark
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Mestitzo, and gained his living by hunting bee-trees, and cutting them down for the wild honey, which made him familiar with all the water-courses and secret depths of almost impenetrable forests. He had been selected by Mr. Bailey out of all Nicaragua; and for the benefit of any traveller who may feel an interest in this subject, I mention his name, which is Jose Dionisio de Lerda, and he lives at Nicaragua.
It was two years since Mr. Bailey had taken his observations, and already, in that rank soil, the clearings were overgrown with trees twelve or fifteen feet high. My guide cleared a path for me with his machete; and working our way across the plain, we entered a valley which ran in a great ravine called Quebrada Grande, between the mountain ranges of Zebadea and El Platina. By a vigorous use of the machete I was enabled to follow the line of Mr. Bailey up the ravine to the station of Panama, so called from a large Panama-tree near which Mr. Bailey built his rancho. Up to this place manifestly there could be no difficulty in cutting a canal; beyond, the line of survey follows the small stream of El Cacao for another league, when it crosses the mountain; but there was such a rank growth of young trees that it was impossible to continue without sending men forward to clear the way. We therefore left the line of the canal, and crossing the valley to the right, reached the foot of the mountain over which the road to Nicaragua passes. A path had been opened for carrying Mr. Bailey supplies to that station, but it was difficult to find it. We took a long draught at a beautiful stream called Loco de Agua, and my guide pulled off his shirt and commenced with his machete. It was astonishing how he found anything to guide him, but he knew a tree as the face of a man. The side of