Saturday, 12 April 2014
Now with perhaps 400 of Verrill's stories included in this blog, we are beginning to exhaust the 'easy' finds. This story as is mentioned below, has twice appeared in The Wide World magazine which was published in the
UK and . The
illustrations are different in the two versions and the end point of 'part 1' is
different in each edition. Link to Part 1 just below./drf USA
The Lost Mine -Part 2
By A. Hyatt Verrill
from The Wide World magazine, July 1952, Vol.109. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2014.
Somewhere in the little-known interior of Panama, lost to the sight of civilized men for centuries, lies Tisingal, reputed to be one of the richest gold-mines ever worked by the Spaniards when they ruled the New World. Many expeditions have set out to seek the vanished bonanza, but all have ended in failure and disaster. When the Author went into the jungle to study the wild Indians everybody assumed he was in search of Tisingal, and before long he found himself involved in some very strange experiences. We originally published this story in 1929. The first instalment described the start of Mr. Verrill’s upriver journey and his meeting with various people who told him of the existence of a mysterious native “king,” whom, with the aid of an Indian guide called
Chico, he determined to
THE following morning we left the General’s home in a torrential shower, and, until he was hidden from sight by a bend in the stream, could see the old Spaniard standing motionless in the drenching rain wistfully watching us. I had been the first white man to visit him for ten years or more; our short stay had evidently been an epoch in his solitary, hermit-like existence.
At the end of a week it seemed to me we must have traversed the entire length of Central America, but
Indian-like, would not commit himself. It was always “Un poco mas lejo” (“A little farther”) to all questions as to the
distance to the Comisario’s home. And
then, quite suddenly and without a word of warning from our guide, we were
No one but an Indian would have dreamed any human beings were within a hundred miles. No boat was drawn up on the bank, no opening showed in the fringe of dense jungle, no tell-tale smoke rose above the trees, and no sounds of voices issued from the forest. A scarcely-distinguishable trail led from the verge of the stone-strewn playa into the bush, and with
Chico in the lead we
trudged along it.
Half a mile inland we came upon a small clearing, and were vociferously welcomed by yelping curs which rushed towards us from three thatched huts. As we reached the largest of these the Comisario himself appeared. A dignified-looking, keen-faced Indian, he was—much to my surprise and momentary disappointment—clad in a white home-spun cotton coat and trousers.
His appearance, in fact, was far more that of a well-to-do native planter than a wild Indian, but I soon found that his more or less conventional costume was a mere veneer; he and his family were at heart as primitive and unspoiled by civilization as I could wish. All of them, men and women alike, wore clothing, but the garments of the women were a blaze of gay colours. Their necklaces and other ornaments were of teeth, bones and shells; and there was not a single “civilized” article or utensil in the houses.
Finely-woven hammocks swung between the palm-wood timbers; baskets, calabashes, and peculiar pottery vessels were scattered about; beautifully-finished bows and long arrows rested on the rafters overhead; and two young Indians were occupied in painting each other’s faces. Upon a fire of glowing coals a great earthern olla was boiling, sending forth appetizing odours, and one of the women was busily crushing cacao beans on a wooden slab by rolling a heavy oval stone backwards and forwards.
No one exhibited the least surprise at our arrival, and
Chico informed me that the sphinx-faced Comisario had been aware of our approach
for the past four days. How he had received the news our guide did not reveal,
but I have no doubt that couriers telling of my plans had been sent overland
from the Indian hut where we first stopped. Toluka, as the old fellow was
called, seemed quite friendly, but did not appear at all enthusiastic over my
proposed visit to his king.
Under the influence of presents to himself and family, however, he presently unbent, and not only gave his official permission for
to guide us to the king’s palace, but even volunteered to send one of his own
youths with us, so that we should be under Government protection, so to speak.
And once Toluka had discovered the contents of my trade-box, his bartering
instincts were aroused and he brought forth innumerable articles of great
During the remainder of the day we rested, and I made good use of my time by acquiring a lengthy list of Shayshan words, with the result that I became convinced these Indians were actually of Mayan ancestry, or at least of a race which had come under Mayan influence in the past.
We made an early start accompanied by a bright-eyed youth, who gabbled incessantly with
Chico and performed most
amazing acrobatic stunts in balancing himself on the gunwale of his cranky cayuca as he poled the craft along. He
was a cheerful, willing fellow, a great help in portaging, and seemed to take
everything as a huge joke. And we certainly needed someone of an optimistic
All that had gone before was as nothing compared with the following three days. It was all up-grade, and the river, although very low, tore along its rocky bed like a mill-race. Often the united strength of the whole party was required to drag our canoe against the current, and I tried to picture what the passage would be like in the rainy season, with the stream in full flood. Then it would fill the bed from bank to bank, a distance of nearly half a mile; and the water-worn bluffs and rounded boulders on either side showed that the torrent must rise fully fifteen feet above its present level.
Here and there great trees were stranded high and dry upon the playa, and at one place we passed an uprooted tree over sixty feet in length and five feet through at the base, which had been carried down by the raging waters and left firmly wedged between two enormous boulders ten feet above my head. Bad as the going was now, I thanked my lucky stars that I had not attempted to reach the Shayshans’ territory during the rainy season.
If current tradition and history were true, and Tisingal actually lay somewhere in this wild, untamed land, then super-human indeed must have been the labours of the old Dons. It seemed utterly impossible that human beings could have transported supplies and equipment, machinery and tools—even a bell and cannon—over this route to the lost mine, or that they could have built a road through such an impenetrable wilderness.
But they worked with slave labour, loss of life meant little or nothing to them, and suffering and hardship were forgotten in their lust for gold. As we toiled onward I wondered how many exhausted and tortured men had died along the route, and how many millions in precious metal had been carried down this selfsame river to enrich the coffers of the King of Spain or to fall into the hands of the dare-devil buccaneers who lay in wait for the gold-laden galleons.
A NIGHTMARE JOURNEY
Meanwhile the country grew steadily wilder and rougher. The river-bed became a canyon, and huge masses of grey, pink, and green porphyry took the place of boulders. On every side rose lofty mountains, covered with dense forests. Often we worked for hours, lifting and carrying our canoes over impassable cataracts or through foaming rapids.
To traverse the dry river-bed was like scaling the walls of some ruined castle. Scrambling and climbing, with bruised and barked shins and hands, we surmounted the barriers of glass-smooth rocks, leaped—with fear gripping our hearts—across the yawning chasms between them, or crawled, crept, and wormed our way through cavern-like interstices. To portage our stores necessitated Herculean efforts.
No living man could force his way for a hundred yards with a load on his back or shoulders; every bundle and package had to be carried piecemeal from one rock-barrier to the next. Finally it became obvious that our craft could go no farther. The river-bed in front was barred by a great dyke of jagged, razor-pointed, black lava. Through a narrow break in this the water poured in a roaring, plunging torrent, and on both sides the mountains rose in sheer thousand-foot precipices to the low-hung clouds.
Apparently all our labours had been for nothing. We had come to the end of our tether. Further progress was impossible!
Chico and his
fellow-tribesmen merely grinned, as, calmly and deliberately, they hauled their
canoes out of the water, began packing the contents of the boats into portable
packages, and gave obvious evidence of intending to continue onward. Evidently
they knew of some way out of the impasse, and, encouraged by their attitude, Cordova
and Pepe likewise fell to work. But Chico
promptly interfered. Only the lighter and most essential articles could be
taken, he declared; the rest must be left in the canoes. In reply to my
questions he pointed toward the frowning, multi-coloured wall of stone that
rose on our right.
“Road too narrow,” he announced. And then, as though stating a most ordinary and familiar fact, he added: “Not any farther. The king’s house here.”
Was it possible? Had we actually reached our goal?
I was not to be kept long in doubt. Shouldering their loads, the two Indians picked their way across the stony river-bed toward the precipitous cliff. At the very base of the overhanging wall a narrow, scarcely-visible trail had been cleared, cut, and cleaned from among the debris fallen from above. It wound about enormous masses of rock, passed through a tunnel-like aperture under piled-up fragments of precipice, zigzagged this way and that, and finally came to an end. Pointing dramatically ahead,
exclaimed : “Look, sir! The house of the king!”
Before us the bare, rocky playa came to an end. The river flowed in a broad, swift expanse stretching from bank to bank, burbling musically over miniature rapids. Above our heads rose the cloud-hung precipice. On the farther shore the land sloped gently upward to a high hill crowned with jungle, and then, rising tier after tier, to the distant mountains.
Up from the pebbly beach stretched a broad sweep of smooth greensward dotted with clumps of lime, palm, and orange trees, and upon the summit of the grassy hill stood a large hut, its thatched roof of palm-leaves gleaming like gold in the afternoon sunshine.
Chico explained, was the
“palace” of the Shayshan king, and, gazing at it, all the hardships we had
suffered were forgotten, for we had accomplished the seemingly impossible and
arrived safely at the home of the mysterious cacique of the Shayshans.
Our arrival had obviously been expected, for a group of Indians had gathered at the water’s edge below the palace, and already a long, narrow canoe was being poled toward us, its bronze-skinned occupant balancing himself upon the after-end, and handling his frail craft with incredible dexterity.
He was a stocky, sturdy youth and, as I learned later, no less a personage than the Crown Prince. Truly we were being received with high honours! He was thoroughly democratic, however, and having greeted me in his own tongue—not a word of which was intelligible to me—he commenced chatting volubly with my two Indian boys.
We were to cross the stream in his canoe, it appeared, though it seemed impossible that our party and our dunnage could be ferried across the swirling river in such a tricky craft. But it would not do to show my doubts in the presence of royalty, and so, as it was a case of trusting to the canoe or swimming, I followed my men and belongings into the dug-out.
I hardly dared to breathe, for the water was within two inches of the gunwales, and a dozen times I felt certain the canoe was on the point of capsizing. But the Indians, and especially the Prince, were as unconcerned as though on dry land. Standing erect, he poled his craft against the swift current and performed feats of balancing that would have shamed an expert performer on the slack wire. And, almost before I realized it, the canoe grated on the opposite bank and we stepped safely ashore just below the home of the Shayshan king.
Like all Shayshan “houses,” the palace was open on three sides, built upon posts several feet above the earth, and floored with strips of black palm-wood. Its steeply-pitched roof was of thatched palm-leaves, with low eaves.
A hearth of baked clay held an ever-smouldering fire, and the furnishings consisted of several carved wooden stools, a number of bark-cloth mats, several large earthenware pots, baskets of various sizes, a platform-like affair of split palm-strips on which stood calabashes and baskets of provisions, and three or four hammocks. Squatted near the hearth were several women and girls, while baby princes and princesses, completely naked, played and rolled about like brown kittens.
THE SHAYSHAN KING
The king himself reclined in a hammock. He displayed no signs of either curiosity or surprise at my appearance, but, through the medium of
Chico as interpreter, received me most
hospitably. He had carved wooden stools placed for myself and my men, and put
the palace and all it contained at my disposal with almost Castilian
politeness. Then the welcoming calabash of thick, unsweetened chocolate was
passed round, and, having solemnly drunk this with due ceremony, I explained
the reason for my visit.
Almost instantly I discovered that King Polu understood Spanish perfectly, and after this our conversation proceeded in that language. I soon found that the King of the Shayshans was a most remarkable man for a Central American Indian. Unlike his fellows, he was as stoical and reserved as any Sioux or Apache, and he possessed all the eloquence, the love of the dramatic, and the power of simple, poetical expression of a North American Indian.
When I asked him how long his family had ruled the Shayshans he rose and led me to the open side of his house facing the river. Stretching out his arm, the king pointed to the towering mountainside high above the rushing stream.
“Once,” he said, raising his hand towards the water-worn crags hundreds of feet in air, “the river flowed on top of the mountain. But even then my fathers were kings of the Shayshans.”
Despite all that had been told me, he proved to be a most amiable and friendly fellow. He assured me that to find all the members of his tribe would be a long, weary, and probably hopeless task, for they were scattered throughout the mountains, miles apart. But, to save me trouble and help me, he would send a messenger to the outlying tribesmen with orders for all of them to gather at his house, bringing in such of their possessions as they were willing to trade.
My theory that the Shayshans were of Maya stock and perhaps the oldest of existing Central American tribes was rapidly confirmed. Not only was the language distinctly Mayan, but the feather head-dresses were precisely like those depicted on Mayan sculptures and figuring in the engravings and paintings made in the days of the Spanish Conquest, and unlike those of any other known tribe.
Even more remarkable was the fact that the Shayshans’ bows were designed to be bent round side outwards, thus differing from the bows of other races. Apart from their bows, the Shayshans used blow-guns, ten or twelve feet in length, and here again the tribe differed from all their neighbours, for instead-of darts the Shayshans used spherical clay pellets, which, at a distance of thirty or forty yards, were as effective as a small-calibre rifle for bringing down large birds.
Except for maize and a few plantain, banana, and cacao trees, these Indians raised nothing in the way of foodstuffs. An almond-like nut, the boiled fruit and young flower-buds of the palm, and a wild tuber resembling a potato were their mainstays. Corn was eaten whole, and the cacao beans, instead of being fermented and made into chocolate, were roasted and ground to a powder, from which a beverage resembling thick black coffee was made. The Indians drank this in inordinate quantities, taking it, boiling hot almost incessantly from morning to night.
The Shayshans appeared so shy, so friendly, and so docile that I could not imagine them in the role of hostile savages. When I mentioned this matter, Polu and the others declared that the tribe had always been peaceful, and that while they distrusted and disliked the Spaniards, by whom their ancestors had been enslaved, they had merely sought protection from these traditional enemies by moving farther and farther into the wilderness.
By this time I had come to the conclusion that Polu was a wily fellow, and that his sphinx-like face concealed a great deal more guile than one might suppose. When I asked about the other tribes who were reputed to inhabit the even more inaccessible mountains, Polu seemed reluctant to answer, professing the greatest dread of them, although claiming to be at peace with all his neighbours.
Learning that I proposed visiting the Doraks, as the Shayshans called them, the king and his friends showed the greatest concern. They declared it would mean my certain death, explaining that though a Shayshan might enter and pass through the Dorak country, provided he did not linger, no white man would be permitted to set foot beyond the recognized boundary of Shayshan territory.
When pressed for reasons for this attitude, the king and his retinue evaded the question. I felt certain they were trying to keep something from me, and as I puzzled over this I remembered Señor Toro’s words, the tales of the old General and others, and the universal belief that the Shayshans held the secret of the lost Tisingal mine. I also recalled Polu’s evident anxiety that I should not attempt to visit his subjects, and his suggestion that I should remain with him while a courier summoned the tribe.
I AM PUZZLED
Was there, after all, some truth in the rumours? Could it be that the wily chieftain was trying to prevent any possibility of my stumbling upon the jealously-guarded secret of the lost mine? Was I “getting warm,” as they say in the game of “Hunt the Thimble”? It was a fascinating conjecture, and it seemed by no means impossible nor even improbable, I reflected, that the fabulously-rich Tisingal might be located not very far from King Polu’s palace.
But I was not there to investigate mines, old or new, and I had no intention of searching for Tisingal, especially if to do so might result in arousing the resentment or even the suspicions of the Indians, and thereby thwart my purpose in visiting them. Nevertheless, the romantic aspect of the matter appealed to me; my exploring instinct was aroused and—well, I doubt if there is anyone who would not be somewhat thrilled at the thought of being almost within stone’s throw of a long-lost and incredibly rich mine which countless men have sought in vain and whose history is one of tragedy, mystery, and romance.
The most adroit and roundabout questioning, however, failed to elicit any definite information from Polu and his fellows, even though I felt sure I had convinced them that I was not searching for gold. It might be, they agreed, that the Doraks knew of the old mine.
They themselves had heard from their fathers, who had heard it from their fathers, that long ago the Spaniards had a mine somewhere in the mountains, where they forced the Shayshans to labour as slaves. But, they added, they themselves knew nothing. They had no knowledge of gold. It was valueless to them, and if they knew where the mine was they would gladly tell me, for was I not their friend? Had I not given them presents, lived with them like a brother, and dwelt in the king’s house?
Eventually, deciding my imagination had over-ridden my common sense, and that, in all probability, the Shayshans knew nothing definite about Tisingal, I busied myself with my scientific work and forgot the lost mine.
Then, as so often happens, Fate intervened and opened the sealed lips of the Shayshan King. His daughter, a chubby brown princess of eight, was seized with a most agonizing but far from dangerous fit of colic, the result of eating too many oily proa-palm nuts. Her shrieks and screams in the middle of the night aroused everyone, and the Indians, firmly believing some evil spirit had taken possession of her, added their wails, lamentations, and incantations to the uproar.
At first Polu and his copper-coloured queen would have none of the white man’s medicine. But when the most powerful of Shayshan potions, the beating of drums, the application of “magic” wood and fungus, and even the slaughter of a cock failed to exorcise the “devil,” the Shayshans, as a last resort, turned to me.
The little princess’s trouble quickly responded to proper treatment, her screams of agony changed to sobs, the sobs to whimpers, and soon she was sleeping quietly and soundly on her mat of pounded bark beside the queen. I very much doubt, however, if Polu slept again that night. When I tumbled into my hammock he was sitting motionless, staring into the black, starlit night, and when I awoke at dawn he was in precisely the same position, immobile as a bronze statue, his mind evidently concentrated on some deep and important matter.
Not until the inevitable chocolate was passed to him did he come back to earth. Then, having swallowed the steaming mess, he rose, took down a long and powerful black-palm bow and sheaf of wicked-looking six-foot arrows and very carefully examined each one in turn. Evidently, I thought, the king was preparing to go out on a hunt. Then, to my unbounded surprise, he requested me to accompany him.
For a time he walked on in silence. Not until we had passed beyond sight and hearing of the house and were well within the jungle did he speak. Then, halting, he turned, beckoned me to his side, and grinned. His Spanish was somewhat crude and limited, and my recently acquired knowledge of Shayshan was even more exiguous. But we had always got along famously, and there was no possibility of misunderstanding him.
Rubbing his stomach, he twisted his face into an agonized expression. “Child sick; very sick,” he said. Then he closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. “I am grateful; you were good to my daughter,” he added. “I am glad the child is well again,” I replied, using his own dialect.
Polu narrowed his eyes; the half-quizzical expression I had often noted—an expression suggestive of crafty shrewdness came over his face. For fully a minute he studied me. Then he turned abruptly and pointed towards the sombre green mountains, their sides still streaked with shreds of the night mist, their shadows purple and mysterious.
“Come!” he ejaculated, suddenly, “Tisingal!”
I could scarcely believe my ears, hardly convince myself I heard aright. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Polu did know the secret of the lost mine! He was about to reveal it to me, was taking me to it as proof of his gratitude for curing the little princess!
For seemingly endless hours we climbed the mountain through a misty, penetrating drizzle. Mile after mile I followed Polu into the shadows of the vast, impenetrable forest, until I lost all sense of direction. I was drenched to the skin and heartily sick of the whole business when the king suddenly halted and beckoned me to him. Carefully parting the drooping ferns and interlaced creepers, he pointed to a pile of rotting, moss-grown masonry rent by the snakelike, twisted roots of great trees, and almost hidden in the accumulation of decaying vegetation.
Here, buried in this untrodden jungle, was the age-old work of civilized man, and unquestionably, as proved by the mortar, of Europeans. Polu walked a few paces farther, and, stepping aside, showed me a stretch of roughly-paved roadway, beside which were the almost vanished hard-wood logs of what once, centuries before, might have formed a stockade or a massive gate. Was it possible that I was actually gazing at the remains of the approaches to Tisingal?
THE GUNS OF TISINGAL!
Then, while my mind was still a chaos of sensations, Polu, with furtive glances about him, as though desecrating a tomb, bent low, and pressing through a thicket, halted among the trees. Before him lay two large cylindrical objects half buried in the earth. At first glance I took them for moss-covered logs, and then, with fast-beating pulse, I realized my mistake. There was no doubt about it—they were cannon! Cannon of bronze; ancient guns of small bore, ornately ringed, bell-mouthed, and thick with the verdigris of countless years of drenching tropical rains and ever-dripping moisture.
Carefully scraping away the growth of moss and tiny ferns, I could distinguish raised figures and letters upon the metal. Corrosion had almost obliterated them, but here and there a letter was decipherable, and on one the date—“1515”—was quite plain.
I had thought that ancient mines, real or imaginary, held only a passing interest for me, and yet, as I knelt there beside those centuries-old guns, in the heart of that unknown forest, I felt a wave of exultation such as I have seldom known.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt I was looking upon objects that many a man would have given half his life and thousands of dollars to behold—the ancient Spanish cannon that once guarded the way to the richest mine in the New World: the long-lost, long-sought, almost fabulous Tisingal! And, strangest of all, that which no other civilized man had been permitted to see had been revealed to me through a child’s attack of colic!
Unquestionably, I was the first European to view those relics of the past and live to tell of it during all the centuries that had passed since Tisingal had been lost to the world. Somewhere nearby, hidden in the rank growth, was wealth beyond one’s wildest dreams, but if I had dared to enter that ominous jungle alone a Silent arrow might have sped from some lurking, watching savage, and my bones might have been added to those of other seekers for the elusive Tisingal.
As I stood there in that shadowy forest and looked upon those ancient bronze weapons, the whole tragic story of the mine came vividly to my mind. I could revisualize the Dons—mail-clad, ruthless, cruel, caring nothing for life or bloodshed where gold was to be won—murdering the simple Indians who resisted the invaders, enslaving those who were peaceful.
I could imagine them hewing their way through the jungles as they penetrated farther and farther into the mountains. I could see them in their cumbersome craft conquering the rapids, falling by the wayside, suffering martyrdom in their lust for gold, until at last they reached the Shayshan country and, by inhuman tortures, wrung the secret of Tisingal from some captive Indian.
And, having come that way myself, I could appreciate the Herculean labours of the Spaniards and their slaves as they transported their goods and equipment up the river, made roads through the jungle, built forts and bridges, and erected their dwellings, their barracks, and even their church, deep within these forests. And I could picture the savage exultation of the long-oppressed and enslaved Indians when, at last, they squared accounts and, massacring the Spaniards to the last man, destroyed every vestige of the Dons’ work.
No wonder, I thought, that the Doraks maintained an endless vigil and prevented all intruders from rediscovering Tisingal! Gold and the white man’s greed for wealth have always been the curse of the Indians, and I was thankful that the secret was so well and so effectively guarded. My only regret was that I had no camera. I had not brought it with me when I left Polu’s home, for I thought I was merely accompanying the king on a hunting-trip.
And now Polu was becoming nervous. He was impatiently urging me to go, meanwhile peering furtively about him, searching the surrounding jungle as if in fear of stealthy, hostile savages. Perhaps it was pure imagination, or perhaps the king’s fears were contagious. At any rate, I felt that we were being watched, that unseen eyes were upon us, and that I stood very close indeed to death. So, with a last glance at the mute guardians of the old mine, I turned, and, in Polu’s footsteps, threaded my way along the indistinguishable trail that led back to the domains of my silent companion.
At last we emerged from the jungle with the king’s house in view, and instantly I halted in amazement. Gathered in a little knot before the thatched hut were half-a-dozen wild-looking naked Indians!
Who were they? Had the hostile Doraks swept down on the Shayshans to demand satisfaction for the king’s action in betraying the secret of Tisingal to a white stranger? Before I could ask a question, or utter a word, however, they caught sight of us, and, in the twinkling of an eye, had vanished!
Oddly enough, Polu did not seem at all surprised or disturbed. He could not or would not understand my queries, and merely grinned amiably as we hurried across the few rods of open grassland to his palace.
Then I understood. Seated in the house were the Shayshans the king’s courier had summoned. They were wild-faced, shockheaded, shy-looking tribesmen, but each and all were garbed in ragged shirts and much-patched trousers. At sight of the white man they had hurriedly transformed themselves from untamed savages to semi-civilized Indians—at least outwardly!
Not until much later did I learn the real facts, however. When I was leaving for the long and laborious trip downstream Polu, with a twinkle in his keen eyes, revealed the great secret. The Shayshans and the Doraks were one and the same people! A Jekyll and Hyde tribe—peaceful, quiet, friendly, and with an external veneer of civilization, or wild, savage, and hostile, as the conditions called for—the Shayshans were the sole guardians of the long-lost mine!
Sunday, 6 April 2014
THROUGH THE INTERIOR BY MOTOR CAR
by A. Hyatt Verrill. Panama
By motor into Coclé. Villages and towns. The German colony. Roads and bridges. Hills and llanos. The cattle country. Progressive towns. Schools. The volcano. Natá the oldest city in
The old church. A fortress and church combined. A marvelous contrast. The city
of salt. Onward into Veraguas. Side trips. Silicified forests. Bird life. The
capital of Veraguas.
Having visited the ruins of that once "Goode and
City,'' and having seen all there is
to be seen around and about Panama,
the visitor will do well to take a trip into the interior.
A few years ago this was a difficult thing to do and even a short journey into the country was filled with discomforts and hardships. But today, one may travel for over two hundred miles into the interior by motor car over roads that, with a few exceptions, are by no means bad, and many miles of which would be a credit to our own country.
But the visitor planning this trip should be provided with camping outfit, food and all other necessities and luxuries, if the journey is to be taken in comfort. There are, it is true, little fondas or so-called hotels in every town of any size in the interior. But these are, with few exceptions, impossible for those travelers who are not inured to roughing it. They are dirty, often vermin infested, lacking in nearly every necessity and convenience, and the sleeping accommodations consist of hard native cots. As a rule, too, anywhere from two to ten persons are crowded into one room and there is no privacy. The meals are of the coarsest native food, badly cooked and worse served, and the charges, considering the accommodations, are ridiculous. It is a far better plan to camp out and cook one's own meals. But in selecting a camp site be sure and do not make the mistake that so many Americans make, of camping on low ground near a stream, on lands where there are cattle or in the jungle. If you do you will be eaten alive by mosquitos, devoured by ticks or made miserable by other insect pests. And be sure not to drink river water unless thoroughly boiled. At nearly every village and town there are driven wells from which pure water may be obtained, and the larger towns are provided with a water supply which is safe, although in the height of the dry season it cannot be relied upon. The best places to camp are the sides of the road, and if near a village so much the better, for some fruits, vegetables and other food may usually be purchased, and eggs, pigeons, chickens and turkeys are always obtainable. If fond of hunting by all means carry a shot gun, for quail and wild pigeon are abundant and will greatly help out the menu. But fight shy of the native beef and pork. Cattle are seldom killed in the interior until they are far too old for breeding purposes, or for shipment to
Panama City, and the beasts are slaughtered
and the meat sold and eaten the same day.
If the trip is taken during the height of the dry season,—from December until April, practically no shelter will be required. There will be no danger of rain; but as a strong wind blows constantly a protection from this and the accompanying dust is necessary. And be sure to provide blankets and mosquito nets. The nights are cold in the interior and while, during the dry season, mosquitos are not numerous, it is well to provide against any chance of contracting malaria by being bitten by the pests. In the tropics an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure. For this reason no traveler should venture into the interior of
without a supply of quinine and other simple medicines and a first aid kit. As
there are gasoline filling stations where fuel and oil may be had, at every
town, the traveler need not worry on that score. Leaving Panama or Ancon, the route is to
Pedro Miguel where a ferry carries the automobiles and passengers across the
Canal. Then, over a road that is a disgrace to our government, the way leads
through Empire and Camp Gaillard, where the Porto Rican Regiment is stationed,
and hence over a roughly-cobbled road through charming hilly country to
Panamanian territory. The first portion of the new Panama highroad is far from perfect
and, in many places is so narrow, so tortuous and has such sharp, blind curves
that it is positively dangerous. The first good sized settlement is Chorrera,
an old Spanish town sprawling over the rolling country with its glaring red
earth. But it is of little interest, as is Capira, the next village of any
size. From here on, the road is wider, straighter and, in some places, is
fairly good. Here the highway climbs a number of small mountains or high hills,
covered with jungle and affording wonderful vistas of the Pacific and the
islands in the offing. Here, too, one passes a little village of the typical
wattled, mud-walled, thatch-roofed native huts, but which appear quite
different from the others we have seen. They are neat and tidy; about them are
flower gardens, and, most incongruously, the windows are furnished with muslin
curtains and flower boxes. And the inhabitants seem just as incongruous. They
are white skinned, blue eyed and tow headed, for they are Germans, brought out
by the Panama
government with the mistaken idea that they could make the wilderness blossom
like the proverbial rose, and would,—by some miraculous means,—induce progress
and prosperity in the district. Unfortunately, the poor colonists, who were
entirely ignorant of the tropics and tropical agriculture, have proved a dismal
failure. The few crops they have raised, in a spot wholly un-suited to
gardening, have been either destroyed by the natives or have proved unsalable,
while such products as were harvested and were salable could not be sold except
at a loss owing to the high cost of transportation.
As a result, the Germans became poverty stricken and were actually suffering from want until their plight was brought to the attention of charitable persons on the Zone and in
Thus partially provided for, and by earning a few dollars serving coffee and
light refreshments to passing travelers, the colonists who have remained have
managed to eke out an existence; but by far the greater number have migrated to
more promising fields and are working as laborers. Had the Panama government selected peasants from
southern Europe instead of Germans, they might
have succeeded, though it is hard to see how any one could succeed as an
agriculturist in the district and under present economic conditions.
Beyond here the road swings westward towards the coast to Chame, and hence to Bejuco, both small but rather neat little settlements where orange trees laden with fruit are on every side, and where the traveler may fill his car with the sweetest of juicy oranges at a cost of a few cents.
Beyond Chame a branch road runs to
while the main thoroughfare continues on to Antón. This district is the
beginning of the plains or llanos that sweep inland to the distant mountains.
Here, too, the road is excellent, and bridge after bridge is crossed. The land,
however, though well watered by the numerous streams, is sterile and thin and
is incapable of supporting anything more than a sparse growth of wiry grass and
thorny shrubs. It is almost wholly volcanic ash and tufa, and often, near the road,
one sees areas of the glaring white ash cut by the rains into weird formations
like innumerable spires.
Antón, the largest shipping town in the district, is a fairly good sized village but with few attractions, and from here the smooth surfaced road runs across the almost level llanos to Penonomé. Penonomé the capital of Coclé province, is the most up-to-date, most progressive and the cleanest and best kept town in the interior of the republic.
It was the first to have a municipal water supply and the first to have an electric light system. Its schools are so numerous that they seem out of all proportion to the size of the town, and everyone appears well-to-do, contented and happy. In fact the better class of inhabitants are apparently of a far superior race to those of other interior villages, and their pride in their town is most admirable.
The streets are smoothly paved and well kept, every house is repainted each year, there are numerous well stocked stores, two or three gasolene filling stations and a good market. But the most attractive feature of Penonomé, the ancient church on the plaza, has been completely ruined by rebuilding and modernizing. Penonomé is the outlet for a large area of country, and quantities of rubber, coffee and other mountain products are brought into the settlement by the Indians who dwell about La Pintada and in the mountainous country of the interior of the province. But the Coclé tribe is thoroughly civilized and the Indians have even forgotten their own tongue. However, they still keep up some of their ancient tribal customs, and they weave excellent hammocks, baskets and bags which may be purchased at very reasonable prices in the Penonomé shops.
Immediately after leaving Penonomé a rugged isolated mountain is seen, rising abruptly from the plain to the north, or right hand side, of the road. This is the Guacamayo volcano which is still slightly active. On its southern side, plainly visible as we pass within a few miles of the volcano, is the great red broken down crater. Here are immense deposits of sulphur with
hot springs and a few fumeroles. From the
summit of Guacamayo a magnificent panorama of country and sea is spread at
one's feet; but the climb to the summit is a terrific undertaking and is not to
From Penonomé the road continues on across flat llanos and over numerous big iron bridges, and passes through the little villages of Coclé,
Rio Grande and Rio Caño to Natá. This town is
mainly of interest as being the oldest occupied town on the American continent,
having been founded by the Spaniards in 1520. The church, however, is the only
remaining building of the original town, the present houses being mainly
miserable native shacks, while the town itself is filthy, badly kept and wholly
unattractive. Here, as in so many instances, the priests, with more zeal than
common sense, have attempted to rejuvenate the splendid old church. But here,
fortunately, they only got as far as one tower and left the rest of the
building in its original condition. Built of brick and rubble, the old church
covers an immense area and was originally surrounded by a stout loop-holed wall
which also enclosed the fort. Much of the wall has been destroyed and the fort
has vanished, but the church itself is in a fair state of preservation. It
contains some priceless Old Masters and some remarkable silver but, like
everything else in the place, it seems run down at the heels and woefully in
need of cleaning and care.
Near Natá a road branches off to the north across the llanos. This road, which is passable for automobiles during the dry season, leads to within a short distance of the Limon waterfall, one of
greatest natural wonders. Here the Rio Caño, flowing across a high plateau,
plunges over the verge of a precipice, and, in a series of gigantic cataracts,
falls for over one thousand feet to the level of the plains. During the dry
season the volume of water is not great, but during the rainy season and the
first part of the dry season, the falls are visible for twenty miles and their
roar is audible for nearly five miles.
Beyond Natá the plains are more fertile and in places are covered with large trees while here and there are fields of sugar cane. Here, too, one first sees the giant nests of termites, hard conical or culumnar objects dotting the plains, and looking from a distance like the kahki-colored tents of an encampment.
Soon the sugar cane patches grow more numerous, we pass the centrál of Don Rudolpho Chiari, president of
and presently reach Agua Dulce.
This town, which is an important port, is the center of the salt industry. Indeed, its entire existence depends upon the salt which is crystallized in immense "pans" on the low mud flats about the town and is shipped far and wide. The visitor is often at a loss to understand how a town several miles inland can be a port, but like many other Latin American cities, the town was built at a distance from the sea to decrease the danger of piratical raids in the old days, while the port itself, or the "playa" as it is called, is at the water side. The town and
connected by a splendid road, but as the port consists merely of a dock and a
shed there is nothing of interest to be seen. Agua Dulce is by no means
comparable to Penonomé or even to Antón, for cleanliness, neatness or
of Agua Dulce
It is dirty and badly kept, it has few good buildings, the church has been thoroughly modernized, and the inhabitants have a greater admixture of negro blood than in the other towns. There are, however, a number of fairly good shops and several garages and filling stations in the town. Also, from Agua Dulce several side trips may be taken to Pocrí, Chitré, etc.
But the main road runs on to
the ancient picturesque capital of Veraguas province.1 Beyond Agua
Dulce the same flat llanos extend, almost deserted except for herds of rather
scrawny, undersized cattle and an occasional native hut. Altogether it is such
a scene as one might expect in South
Africa. There are the same conical ants'
nests, often ten to fifteen feet high, the kopjes, the distant hazy mountains,
the thorny mimosa scrub, and one half expects to see a Kaffir kraal or a herd
of ostriches or giraffes. But the nearest approach to giraffes are the woefully
thin cattle and horses, while there is nothing more resembling an ostrich than
the repulsive vultures and carrion hawks.
Now and then another car is met, usually a delapidated Ford; at times a bus or "chiva" tears by, bound for Panama and intermediate stops, and often we pass the big, lumbering, native bull carts creaking ponderously as they are drawn at a snail's pace by two or four great, long-horned bulls lashed by the horns to the cart's pole on which perches the swarthy, brigandish-looking driver.
1 The name Veraguas is of Indian origin and not Spanish as is generally thought. The ending "agua" is merely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the Spanish word "agua" meaning water. The same ending is found in many other Indian words and names such as
, Comagua, etc. Managua, Nicaragua
Bird life, too, is abundant. Little flocks of ground doves flutter from the roadway. Graceful quaker-gray swallow-tailed flycatchers dart back and forth as they capture tiny insects. Bold-eyed hawks look disdainfully down from the telegraph poles, and sweet-voiced meadow larks sing from fence posts and shrubbery.
At Estrella, a tiny village about ten miles from Agua Dulce, the road forks, the right hand branch proceeding to
But it is almost impassable, even for a Ford, and the main highway stretches
Scenically, however, the old road through the hills is more attractive, and the visitor who is fond of nature and horseback riding, might do worse than take this trip. It leads past the Santa Rosa sugar estate and hence through rugged and picturesque country among the foothills of the cordilleras,—crossing tumbling rivers where one must swim one's horse; meandering through dense thorny jungles; following the verges of deep ravines; passing through narrow defiles with scarcely space for a horse to pass. Here and there are bare areas of brilliant red, purple, yellow and green earth dotted with lumps and boulders of agate, while often one rides for long distances through areas covered with silicified trees. Some of these stumps are standing as if freshly cut; others lie about in short smooth-ended sections as if sawed for cordwood, and still more are scattered about like newly broken sticks and branches. Indeed, one cannot believe that they are flinty hard agate until closely examined and tested.
On the main road also, there are spots where these fossil trees may be seen, but these and the agates are far less numerous than farther back near the mountains. Beyond Estrella the first village worthy of the name is Davisa, about halfway between Agua Dulce and
Beyond here the plains grow more restricted, there are more hills, and
presently one is constantly ascending and descending sharp grades. Then at last
the road comes forth from the broken country and ahead sweep broad plains
stretching to the far off mountains, and with the little town nestling, white
and red, upon the level land.
Friday, 4 April 2014
Guiana -Part 4
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From The Wide World Magazine, December 1918, Vol. XLII, No. 248?, American Edition. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, April 2014.
It is no exaggeration to say that
British Guiana, a
vast stretch of territory on the shoulders of the South American Continent, is
one of the least-known portions of the globe. Here are great primeval forests,
mighty rivers, huge waterfalls, extensive plateaus, and great mountain ranges,
where dwell strange Indian tribes and quaint animal life of which virtually
nothing is known. The Author, who has made it his business to penetrate into
the unknown interior of this land, has specially written for "The Wide
World Magazine" an account of his journeys and adventures, which will be
found of absorbing interest. He discovered large rivers and mountains whose
existence was unknown, and stumbled across primitive races who had never seen a
white man before. His striking photographs give an added value to a fascinating
HIDDEN in the heart of British Guiana—almost unknown to the outside world and yet within comparatively easy reach of Georgetown, the busy, attractive, up-to-date capital of the colony—is Kaietuerk, the cataract incomparable, a stupendous waterfall five times the size of Niagara and in a tropic setting whose beauty cannot be excelled in all the world.
To visit Kaietuerk is by no means difficult, and the round trip may be made from
Georgetown in less than
ten days and at a total expense of less than two hundred dollars, or forty
pounds sterling. It seems incredible that in these days of progress a country
should possess such a world wonder as
and should be so short-sighted, or apathetic, as to leave it unexploited and
relatively inaccessible. In a straight line Kaietuerk is scarcely one hundred
and fifty miles from Kaietuerk Falls Georgetown,
and yet one must travel for five days by steamer, railway, and small boat in
order to reach the cataract. For a comparatively small outlay the falls could
be brought within two days' travel of the capital, but in a way it is fortunate
that it is unexploited, for the very wildness of its surroundings, its
untouched, unspoiled beauty, its solitude, and its freedom from crowds of
visitors are among its greatest attractions. Here, in the presence of
Kaietuerk, with civilization left miles behind, with only Indian guides as
one's companions, and with the vast interminable forest stretching to the very
heart of South America, one feels as if he
were the first human being to gaze upon the marvellous sight.
There are two ways of reaching Kaietuerk: the first by steamer and rail to Rockstone, the other by boat up the
Essequibo from Bartica and
through the rapids to Rockstone.
If one be in hurry, or desire comfort and ease, by all means take the first route; but if you would really see the "bush” with its wealth of wild life and its vegetable wonders, and would taste the thrill of adventure, the spell of the wilderness, and the excitement of a journey through the jungle, then travel up the Essequibo.
Although the falls and rapids which stretch between Bartica and Rockstone are considered among the most dangerous in the colony, yet in the dry season, and with a good crew of six men, a captain, and a bowman, there is no danger, for the greatest peril is in running down the rapids; there is nothing to worry over when going up, although there is plenty of excitement and thrills. Bartica is a tiny frontier settlement at the head of steamer navigation on the
and here one may always secure a boat and crew. The prime necessity is a
competent captain and bowman, and with these engaged all other details may be
left in their hands.
Propelled by the powerful strokes of the eight paddlers, the craft sweeps swiftly up the tranquil river and soon leaves the last outlying houses of Bartica astern. Low in the east the sun is painting the sky in gorgeous crimson and gold; above the league-wide river hangs a curtain of gossamer mist; parrots wing screaming overhead, macaws screech and toucans clatter and yelp from the tree-tops, and from the forest depths issue the countless songs, notes, and cries of awakening life. Then the clearings and lime orchards of Agatash are passed, and nought but the untamed wilderness stretches ahead for forty miles along the river's banks. Close to the shore the boat skirts the rank green jungle with its dark, mysterious shadows and giant trees, while strange birds and great sky-blue butterflies flit amid the labyrinth of roots, vines, palms, and foliage—an impenetrable barrier, a living wall, through which one cannot move a yard without hewing a way.
Just before sundown the boat is run upon the sandy beach of a wooded island and the men bustle about preparing camp. While some "catch" a fire, others are busy clearing a small opening in the brush, and others again are cutting poles and stakes, and in a wonderfully short time the big tarpaulin, which forms a part of every outfit in the bush, is stretched across a pole between two trees and in its shelter the hammocks are slung. As the velvet-black night descends upon river and forest a wonderful picture is presented, a scene beyond the power of brush to paint or pen to describe. Against the background of the giant trees glow the camp-fires, touching the great trunks with ruddy lights, filling the air with the pungent odour of smoke, and transforming the old tarpaulin to a canopy of gold. Squatting on their haunches, leaning against the trees, or lolling in their hammocks are the men, their brawny limbs and half-savage features gleaming like polished bronze in the fitful light, while all about the giant lantern-flies twinkle and flash like animated incandescent lights. Borne down the river on the cool night wind comes the distant roar of the falls; from afar in the forest echoes the weird scream of a jaguar; a soft-winged goatsucker cries querulously, complainingly, as it flits by, and from every side issue the countless croaks, trills, whistles, and booming notes of innumerable frogs. Then a sudden shower rattles like hail upon the canvas roof and quenches the glowing embers of the fire, the forest voices are hushed, and silence falls like a curtain over the wilderness.
Long ere the sun has risen, everything is again stowed in the boat and is covered with tightly-lashed tarpaulin, and once more the flashing paddles are urging the boat upstream.
Within half a mile of camp are the river falls, in reality a rapid with the brown water churned to amber foam where it swirls and eddies over hidden rocks and between jutting fangs of granite. At the foot of the falls the boat is paddled alongside a mass of rocks and the passenger steps ashore, while the men uncoil long bow and stern lines and prepare to haul the craft through the boiling waters.
Waist-deep in the rushing flood, they struggle up against the current, securing precarious footholds on slippery submerged rocks, and bending their backs to the strain of the rope. Others, holding the stern line, brace themselves for the supreme effort; the captain, huge paddle in hand, stands erect in the stern, directing, encouraging, and guiding, while the gigantic bowman, submerged save for head and shoulders, exerts the mighty strength of his back against the bow—a human buffer between the boat and the jagged rocks. Slowly the boat forges ahead to the irresistible drag of six pairs of knotted muscular arms; the water dashes and roars high above the bow; the stern is swung deftly by line and paddle, and a minute later the heavy craft emerges from the turmoil and floats quietly on a smooth backwater above the falls.
Within ten minutes after re-embarking above the first rapids you are compelled to disembark again as another series of rapids is reached, and throughout the day the traveller does little else than clamber in and out of the boat as one rapid follows another. But even if one loses interest in watching the men, there is still much to occupy one's attention. On every side are thousands of rocks and ledges surrounded by water rushing and roaring like a mill-race, and every rock and boulder bears its own crown of vegetation and its quota of life. Everywhere the rocks appear as if covered with a stubbly beard, and a closer examination reveals the fact that this is a curious, sedge-like plant with delicate pink blooms which somehow finds roothold and sustenance on the smooth, bare surface of these water-washed rocks.
But blasé indeed must be he whose attention is not riveted on the toiling men, or whose pulses do not quicken at their constant perils, escaped by almost superhuman efforts. In places the raging waters tear between rocky barriers scarce wide enough to permit the passage of the boat; in other places the waters above the falls run black, deep, and ominous, and the men are forced to swim ahead with towlines grasped in their teeth in order to reach a foothold from which to haul their craft upstream. Now and again the water roars in cataracts over dam-like dykes where the boat cannot float, and by herculean efforts the sweating, toiling men actually lift their craft and drag her to deeper water by main strength.
But they never hesitate, never grumble, never shirk. Their lives and yours are at stake, and though the waters are infested with the dreaded Perai fish, though the cry of "Cayman!" often causes the crew to glance apprehensively about, and though ever and again some man loses his footing and is swept from the line, they take it all in the light of a frolic and laugh heartily at one another's mishaps.
It is thrilling enough as one watches their progress from the safe, dry vantage-point of the rocks, but the real excitement comes when, in certain spots, the traveller remains in the boat while the rapids are conquered.
Perchance, when paddling furiously to stem a series of small rapids, the boat may be caught by an unseen cross-current, and, despite the frantic efforts of the men, it is dashed full upon a submerged rock.
With a blow that all but throws you from your seat, the heavy craft crashes against the reef, rides half its length over it, swings as on a pivot, and tips perilously. But ere it can capsize or fill, the men leap overboard, some breast deep, others buried in the torrent to their mouths, and others swimming, and by dint of sheer strength they lift the boat and push it into deep water. Then, with the agility of monkeys, they clamber over the gunwales, grasp paddies once more, and drive the boat through the rapids to safety. It is a marvellous exhibition of skill, pluck, and concerted instantaneous action. If they hesitate, if one fails at the critical moment, nothing can prevent a capsize or a washout with loss of provisions and possible loss of life.
Sometimes, too, there are huge treacherous whirlpools to be passed, great swirling oval spaces below or above the falls. With every ounce of their strength the eight men ply their paddles, the boat hangs motionless for one instant, the bow quivers and vibrates to the drag of the water, and then the craft darts forward. High above the gunwales boils the maelstrom as the centre of the pool is reached; the boat seems actually to rear on end; it slides up a hill of racing water, and ere you have time to realize it is accomplished, the boat is beyond the danger-point and is safe in a narrow, swift-flowing channel. It is no place for the timid, no trip for the nervous; but exhilarating, exciting, stirring beyond compare for those who love a spice of danger and a novel experience.
But while falls and rapids innumerable are passed through, the river is by no means all broken water. Between the various falls the stream stretches for miles, broad, unbroken, tranquil, placid as an inland lake, and walled by primeval bush which is reflected in the oillike water as on a polished mirror. No sign of man or of his handicraft is visible; one can scarce believe that fellow-men have ever passed this way, and the traveller feels as if he were in the very heart of the wilderness, in a land untamed, untouched, and all but unknown.
On every hand rises the vast forest, the enormous trees towering for near two hundred feet above the river banks, and so bound together with lianas, so densely foliaged, so overgrown and covered with vines and creepers that the forest appears like a stupendous curtain of green velvet draped in graceful folds above the quiet river.
Overhead toucans, parrots, macaws, and many smaller birds wing their noisy way from shore to shore; crested eagles and great white-headed hawks soar majestically in vast circles; great-billed terns and pied skimmers preen their plumage on golden sand-bars, and thousands of steel-blue dainty swallows rise in vast clouds from their resting-places on the ledges. And as the boat skirts the forest's edge, hosts of vicious little vampire bats flutter from the tree-trunks and, winging an erratic course for a few yards, again flatten themselves against the bark of other trees, where instantly they become invisible. From before the boat, shoals of fresh-water flying-fish spring from the glassy surface of the stream and skitter off like skipping-stones, or a clumsy tapir or startled capybara crashes into the forest in headlong flight.
And now the last rapids have been passed, the boat speeds swiftly up the smooth river, it sweeps around a wooded bend, and ahead are the broad cleared lands and the scattered buildings of Rockstone.
This town is of no importance, save as the terminus of the railway from
on the Demerara River,
which was built to obviate the necessity of travelling up the line from Bartica
in order to reach the Upper Essequibo and the
hinterland. At Rockstone the boat and its Bartica crew may be dismissed, for
noisy, ill-smelling, kerosene-burning river-boats ply up and down the river
between the town and Tumatumari.
The trip up the Essequibo above Rockstone seems tame indeed by comparison with the journey from Bartica, but once or twice glimpses of distant mountains may be seen, and at the mouth of the Potaro a brief stop is made before continuing the voyage up the
to Tumatumari. Potaro River
Tumatumari is a very beautiful spot, with its four foaming cataracts roaring between their wooded islands just below the rest-house windows, and there are few places in the tropics which could be transformed into more desirable resorts in which to spend one's time. There is an abundance of game in the forests; the river teems with fish; there are extensive gold placers four miles back in the bush, and close to the settlement are several good-sized Indian villages, while the air is delightfully cool and invigorating and the scenery is magnificent.
As the falls are practically impassable, it is necessary to walk for half a mile over a good road to the head of the cataracts, and from here a launch continues the journey to Potaro Landing, about a dozen miles up the river. This landing is at the head of launch navigation, and it is also the terminus of the road leading into the Minnehaha and other goldmines. From this spot the traveller must tramp about seven miles to Kangaruma, but as much of the distance is through the dense forest it is cool and shady. This detour is made necessary because of
, whose roar can be heard as one
walks along, and which bar the river with a series of dangerous cataracts.
While these falls can be navigated, so much time is required and the trip is so
dangerous that it is not advisable, unless one is out for excitement. On one
occasion I went through Pakutuerk Falls , and some idea of
the difficulties may be gauged by the fact that it required four days of
unceasing, heart-breaking, almost superhuman efforts on the part of my twelve
men—ten of whom were Indians—to successfully negotiate them. But returning was
a wonderful experience, and with the speed of an express train we shot through
the foaming, roaring, rock-filled rapids and over the cataracts in less than
four hours. It was an adventure I would not have missed for worlds, but which I
would never care to repeat, for although we got through safely, yet time and
again we came perilously near to death, and in one spot we had a lively washout
with a considerable loss of our belongings. Pakutuerk
At Kangaruma one embarks once more in a batteau and is paddled swiftly up the ever-narrowing river towards Amaktuerk.
Wilder and more luxuriant becomes the forest; ever more beautiful becomes the winding river, the charming islets, and the vistas of mirror-like stream. Far away above the endless bush loom the blue
, and as the sun
sinks in a blaze of glory the boat swings around a bend in the river and
Amaktuerk is revealed in all its beauty. Against the rose and golden clouds
rise the towering mountains, already wreathed in evening mists; on either hand
the dark forests are reflected in the gilded waters, and in the centre,
bursting from between the wooded shores, leap the lovely falls, half hidden in
a filmy veil of spray. It is a wonderful picture, a glorious sight, for Pakaraima
Mountains Amaktuerk Falls
are by far the most attractive on the Potaro
and their setting is perfection itself. Here, above the falls, and directly
across the river from the towering Amaktuerk Mountain, is a tiny rest-house,
and it would be hard to find a more charming spot in which to spend the night.
Portaging the luggage around Amaktuerk, another boat is taken above the falls,
and from here, on, the traveller is in the heart of Guiana's
scenic wonderland. On every hand the great isolated mountains rear their bare
precipitous faces and forest-clad slopes for thousands of feet above the sea of
forest, while fleecy clouds drift lazily across their frowning ramparts.
Mirrored in the river, they appear twice their height and seem to overhang the
passing boat; but, in reality, miles of impenetrable forest stretch from the
river bank to their feet. Of them all, perhaps Kukuieng, or Hawk's Nest, is the
most impressive and the most conspicuous, for it rises abruptly from the
forest, its turret-like form and rocky battlements startlingly resembling some
titanic castle, and for mile after mile it is ever within sight. But no matter
where one looks, mountain after mountain may be seen, and with each mile they
increase in numbers and in size as they merge into the stupendous gorge which
forms a fitting approach, a worthy gateway, to the world's highest waterfall.
By noon the
are reached, and, having made
a short portage, the last stage of the journey is begun, and two hours later
the traveller catches his first glimpse of Kaietuerk—a faint silvery thread
against the hazy blue of the gorge. Now the mountains hem the river in as by a
mighty wall on either side, and again and again one catches new glimpses of the
marvellous cataract in the dim distance. It is a scene of surpassing beauty and
grandeur, a land wrapped in a vast silence broken only by the silvery, ringing
notes of the bell-birds, which, perched on the topmost summits of the dead
trees, gleam like specks of alabaster against the dark verdure of the mountain
sides. falls of Waraktuerk
And then, at last, the boat is run ashore at Tukuit, the journey by river is at an end, and preparations are made for the climb over the mountains to the falls on the following morning.
Tukuit is a beautiful spot surrounded by great wooded mountains with the silvery river at their feet, while directly across from the rest-house a lovely cataract issues from the verdure and plunges down for hundreds of feet to lose itself in masses of trees above the clouds. In many lands this fall in itself would considered a wonderful sight and worthy of the pilgrimage, but in this gorge of stupendous proportions, in the presence of titanic Kaietuerk, and amid such an excess of sublime scenery, this cataract and a dozen or more like it pass unnoticed.
Although several women have made the climb to Kaietuerk, yet it is a fearful trail and no easy walk even for an able-bodied man. Formerly there was an easier, zigzag trail, but this is now, or was until very recently, impassable with fallen trees, and one must clamber, or rather claw, a way straight up the mountain side in the dry bed of a water-course. It cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a path, for it is filled with loose boulders of every size, deep holes and crevices, slippery mud, and gnarled, moss-grown roots. It is a good two hours' climb up a slope of about sixty degrees to the summit of the first ridge, which is marked by a large tree on whose bark is deeply carved the word "Amen."
Beyond here the way is comparatively easy, for it leads across a narrow, hog-backed ridge between two deep gorges and is fairly level. Here, if one proceeds quietly, may be seen the gorgeous cock of the rock, whose orange plumage glows like fire amid the leaves, for about Kaietuerk these rare birds are fairly common, and in the breeding season they may be seen performing their remarkable "dances" on the little open spaces among the rocks, which the birds clear for the purpose. Three hours after leaving Tukuit, the Kaietuerk Plateau is reached, a weird, strange place, so different from the forest that the traveller feels as if he had entered another land, and it is hard to believe that one is still in
Everywhere are the strange giant lily-like bromelias peculiar to the region;
here and there among the rocks are clumps of remarkable, grotesquely-flowered
orchids; pretty sundews carpet the ground in spots, and grey lichens lend a
northern aspect to the place, while clumps of bracken and nodding blue
harebells seem out of place here in the tropics. Even the birds and butterflies
are different from those of the lower levels, for the Kaietuerk Plateau has a
flora and a fauna of its own. But, on the whole, it is a dreary and barren
scene; a waste of smooth, water-worn rock and stagnant pools of rain-water, across
which the visitor hurries towards the brink of the falls.
Throughout my life I have prided myself on never feeling nervous or dizzy at great heights. I have stood on lofty mountain peaks; I have climbed to the trucks of ships' masts rolling in a seaway, and I have gazed down at teeming city streets from the narrow steel beams of half-finished skyscrapers, and never have I felt ill at ease. But when, for the first time, I stepped boldly to the brink of Kaietuerk Gorge, I beat a precipitate retreat and sat down among the bushes a dozen yards from the edge.
I had expected to look down for an enormous distance, but I also expected to see some tangible connection between the brink of the plateau and the bottom of the gorge. Instead, I found myself standing isolated on a narrow, outjutting, shelving rock in mid-air, with nothing but space between me and the tiny thread of river a thousand feet below.
There is something so unexpected about this absence of a sloping, or even a precipitous, mountain side beneath one's feet that it quite takes one's breath away, while the motion of the falls and the rising spray gives one the sensation of plunging forward into the abyss. The feeling soon wears off, however, and in a short time I found I could approach the brink without trembling and could even lie down and peer into the gorge; but I confess that I had an irresistible desire to hold on to something whenever I drew near the brink.
There are some things in the world which are impossible to describe, and Kaietuerk is one of them, for words utterly fail to convey any adequate idea of the falls and the gorge. It is something which must be seen to be realized, and even the most perfect photographs fall far short of the reality.
Kaietuerk cannot be properly described as beautiful, for it is far more than that. It is awe-inspiring, sublime, overwhelming, and terrifying in its grandeur. It is the very epitome of stupendous power and titanic strength; immeasurable, irresistible, incomparable. In its presence one feels puny, helpless, and insignificant. Gazing upon it the beholder is filled with quaking, unreasonable dread, and yet is fascinated as by some gigantic savage beast of magnificent form and perfect grace. It is a sight so sublime, so marvellous, so stupendous that the human mind cannot grasp it all at once, and one must gaze long upon it, must remain in its presence for hours, and must become accustomed to the titanic scale of one's surroundings ere it is possible to appreciate Kaietuerk in full. Only by comparison with other objects can we realize the tremendous size, the overwhelming scale of the falls and the gorge: for the proportions are so perfect, the distances so deceptive, and the surroundings so vast that the cataract itself seems but a mere detail of the whole.
Far down, in the depths below the falls, we see a soft green carpet which we take for moss studded with pebbles. Then, with almost a shock, we discover that the apparent moss is in reality a forest of giant trees, that the pebbles are enormous masses of rock weighing hundreds of tons, and that the clinging vines and fern-like growths about them are immense bush ropes and lofty palms. It is the same with the falls themselves. At first sight they appear surprisingly small, and we cannot realize that the gleaming mass is plunging through space for near a thousand feet and is almost a mile distant. But little by little the scene assumes its true proportions. A man standing beside the verge of the falls appears a mere speck, almost invisible. We noticed that not a drop of real water ever reaches the deep pool below; that so stupendous is the drop that the falling masses are transformed to spray-long ere they reach the limit of their descent and appear more like falling smoke than water, and then it dawns suddenly upon us that there is something lacking, that there is no deafening roar, no audible evidence of a gigantic cataract; that there is scarce more noise than would be made by the rush of water over a good-sized mill-dam, that the only sound is that of the torrent pouring over the brink of the falls, and that standing at the very verge of the cataract there is no difficulty in conversing in ordinary tones.
Could one but reach the base of Kaietuerk a far better idea of its size could be obtained, but the difficulties in doing this are almost insurmountable. One or two men have gained the foot of Kaietuerk by almost superhuman efforts, arduously climbing over immense masses of fallen rock and lowering themselves down precipices by ropes. The vast forest conceals the true character of the country, and it is difficult to believe that beneath the mantle of green are stupendous precipices, black fathomless ravines, and a chaotic mass of boulders and broken rock. The only feasible route by land is close to the river, but with light canoes it would be a comparatively easy, although a slow journey, the only difficulty being to carry the canoes around the several rapids and falls between Tukuit and Kaietuerk.
Perhaps the greatest attraction of Kaietuerk is that it is never twice the same. Every moment it changes; with every breath of wind, with each variation of light, with every passing cloud, it takes on a different aspect. And scarcely less sublime, scarcely less marvellous than the cataract itself, is the stupendous gorge stretching from the falls for miles into the dim and hazy distance. Wonderfully beautiful is this gorge, hemmed between vast forest-covered mountains and plateaux of a myriad shades of green, with its frowning precipices and black ravines, purple in the shadows and golden in the sunlight, while between the mighty ramparts flows the slender silver thread of river which, through untold and countless centuries, has cut this titanic scarf through the heart of the enduring rock.
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
By A. Hyatt Verrill
ILLUSTRATED FROM PHOTOGRAPHS.
From The Wide World magazine, September 1918, Vol. XLI, No. 245 (American Edition). Digitized by Doug Frizzle, March 2014.
It is no exaggeration to say that
British Guiana, a
vast stretch of territory on the shoulders of the South American Continent, is
one of the least-known portions of the globe. Here are great primeval forests,
mighty rivers, huge waterfalls, extensive plateaus, and great mountain ranges,
where dwell strange Indian tribes and quaint animal life of which virtually
nothing is known. The Author, who has made it his business to penetrate into
the unknown interior of this land, has specially written for “The Wide World
Magazine” an account of his journeys and adventures, which will be found of
absorbing interest. He discovered large rivers and mountains whose existence
was unknown, and stumbled across primitive races who had never seen a white man
before. His striking photographs give an added value to a fascinating narrative.
WE are prone to form opinions of strange places from our first impressions, and, in the majority of cases, such opinions are unjustified. This is the case with
British Guiana, and the traveller whose experiences are
confined to the low-lying coasts and mud-flats has no conception of the country
as a whole.
Much of this wonderful country is inaccessible and vast areas are still unknown and unexplored; but much may be visited by anyone who is willing to rough it and who does not mind discomforts, hardships, and a modicum of danger. To such,
British Guiana offers attractions which cannot be found
in any other land. Here one may see the illimitable tropic jungle in its
natural, untouched state—the forests of Humboldt and Darwin; here the
naturalist may revel in the wonderful flora of the South American “bush”; here
the sportsman may hunt the stealthy jaguar, the clumsy tapir, the puma, the
peccary, and hosts of smaller game both furred and feathered, while the angler
will find ample opportunities for his skill with rod and line. The gamy
lukanani, tropical prototype of the muscallonge; the flashing leaping pacu ;
the giant haimara—often weighing upwards of two hundred pounds; the fierce
man-eating perai, and even the regal tarpon, all abound in the rivers and
streams. Here too the explorer will find a wide field and the mountain climber
will see many a towering peak whose summit has never been trodden by human
feet, while to others the strange primitive races with their savage weapons,
their weird dances, their beautiful bead and feather ornaments, and their
curious customs will prove a source of greatest interest. Finally, there are
the magnificent scenery, the luxuriant vegetation, the gorgeous colouring, and
the innumerable strange sights, which will prove a revelation to the most jaded
And despite popular ideas to the contrary, it is neither a dangerous nor an unhealthy country. Back from the coastlands mosquitoes are almost unknown, and sand-flies, while abundant at times, are not unduly troublesome. Centipedes and scorpions there are, but one must search diligently to find them, while poisonous snakes are so rare that one may spend a year in the "bush” and never see one. Above the first rapids there are no swamps, and while many of the natives and some strangers suffer from “fever”—which is a mild form of malaria—yet such attacks are usually due to carelessness or to defying the simplest rules of health and hygiene.
In a way, travelling through
Guiana is easy, for
journeying is largely by boat upon the rivers, and the dangerous rapids and
falls only add a thrill of adventure to the trip.
A brief journey into the
Guiana wilds served only to
whet my desire to see more of the country and to penetrate farther into its
fastnesses. At the first opportunity I returned, and although a year of almost
constant travel has been spent in the wilderness there is still much that I
have not seen and many ambitions are still unsatisfied. As on my first trip, I
set forth on my second expedition from Bartica, a tiny outpost of civilization
at the junction of the Essequibo and . Bartica is the
terminus of steamboat service from Mazaruni
and is the starting place for the gold diggers and diamond-field workers far up
the Cuyuni and , and otherwise is
of no importance and little interest. Mazaruni
Here I procured my boat and crew, the former a spoon-bottomed, heavily-built craft about twenty-five feet in length, and designed especially for breasting the cataracts and running the rock-filled rapids of the rivers and known locally as a “batteau.” The crew consisted of six Indians—representing four tribes—with a Boviander, or captain, and bowman, while last, but perhaps most important of all, was my black boy Sam, jack-of-all-trades and master of all, but whose chief duties were to look after my personal comfort and outfit and cook my meals.
And now a word as to outfit, for in travelling through the
hinterland one must carry everything required for the entire journey. First
there are the men’s rations, provided in accordance with the Government
regulations. Then the traveller’s personal provisions; the cooking utensils,
hammock bags, steel canisters containing clothing, waterproof bags, hammocks,
medicines, guns and ammunition, fishing tackle, trade goods for the Indians,
axes and machetes, and, finally, the huge tarpaulin used as a covering for the
load by day and as a tent at night.
It is no small matter to condense all these, and the thousand and one other essentials, so as to fit the capacity of a twenty-five-foot boat and yet leave space for ten men. Moreover, the outfit must be so arranged and packed that it is safe from the torrential tropical rains, and yet is readily accessible and can be transported piecemeal over the portages and around the rapids.
But at last all was in readiness; the officials inspected our craft and passed it—for no boat is permitted to start up the rivers until examined by a Government official and declared staunch and safe and branded with its load-line above the water-level—and with shouts of farewell from the assembled villagers the Indians dug their paddles into the river and we were off.
Swiftly the little town dropped astern. On our right the extensive buildings of the penal settlement gleamed upon their grassy hill, and ahead loomed Kartabo Point, with the Cuyuni mouth just beyond.
Kartabo Point is an interesting spot, historically, for here the sturdy Dutch had trading posts and a fort which was known as Kykoveral, the ruins of which still stand; but to-day the point is mainly of importance as the terminus of the Kartabo road, a trail leading for some seventy miles inland to the Peters gold mine, now abandoned.
Beyond Kartabo Point the scattered huts and cleared lands became fewer, and by sundown the last vestige of civilization had disappeared and our boat was run ashore just below
and camp was made in the primeval
forest that hemmed the river on either hand. It is an interesting sight to
watch the experienced river hands prepare camp. While one or two men rapidly
clear the brush and small growth from the selected site, the captain and two
helpers cut and trim small saplings. Placing the ridgepole on the ground
between two trees the tarpaulin is spread over it. Then one end is lifted,
placed in the forked end of another pole, and is quickly lifted and rested
against one of the trees. Marshall Falls
The process is next repeated at the other end of the ridge-pole; the tarpaulin is spread out and its edges tied to light poles set in the ground. A few lengths of saplings are laid to serve as a floor, and camp is complete. Meanwhile, one of the Indians has “caught” a fire, pots and pans are sizzling and boiling over the flames, and by the time the luxurious cotton hammocks are swung under the canvas shelter the meal is ready.
As with satisfied appetites we lit pipes and cigarettes and lolled in our hammocks the roar of the falls seemed close at hand. And here it may be well to explain that the so-called falls of the
Guiana rivers are
not true falls, but rapids; the real falls, no matter how small, being known
locally as cataracts. These rapids are both dangerous and treacherous.
In the first place, the foaming, cream-coloured, broken water marks the channels, while the smooth brown spots denote jagged reefs and hidden rocks. In the second place, the rivers rise and fall with marvellous rapidity, and to pass the rapids in safety one must know each rock and reef, each eddy and current, at every stage of water. Moreover, there are backwaters, eddies, cross-currents, and huge whirlpools both above and below the falls, which may easily spell disaster and death if the least mistake is made, if a paddle snaps, or if there is the slightest hesitation, the least error of judgment, on the part of captain or crew.
Long before daylight we were aroused by the reverberating roars of the howling monkeys, although, after a few days in the bush, one becomes accustomed to the weird, rolling, thunderous voices of the “baboons,” as they are called, and sleeps soundly through their uproar, which invariably heralds the approaching dawn.
It was still dark when camp was broken and tarpaulin and dunnage were stowed and the men took their places at the paddles. Through the soft, white river mist we slipped away from the shore and headed for the falls. Very soon we were in the grip of the current, and the men paddled lustily, breasting the foam-flecked waters diagonally until a rugged mass of rocks was gained and we disembarked preparatory to hauling through the rapids.
The sun had now risen above the walls of forest to the east, the last thin wisps of vapour were being whisked away by the cool morning breeze, the rushing brown river glimmered and sparkled in the sunlight, flocks of parrots winged screeching overhead, and all about us the tumbling, foaming falls roared, plunging, between the sharp black rocks. There is always a thrill, a bit of excitement, in hauling through the falls, and no matter how often it is accomplished—and it must be done a score of times a day oftentimes—I never tire of watching the bronze-skinned men as they strain and labour, fighting their way inch by inch against the angry waters, shouting and laughing, wading, swimming, holding their own on submerged rocks and, at last, winning their battle with the boat safely above the falls.
And wonderful skill and judgment are required to accomplish the feat successfully. Two men grasp the stern lines, four others seize the bowline, and, half-wading, half-swimming, gain a foothold a hundred feet or more up-stream. Then, at a cry from the captain, the bowman swings the boat into the current; the men on the bow rope haul with all their strength; the captain shouts orders; the bowman paddles furiously, the men on the rocks strain to their task, and slowly the boat forges ahead. With consummate skill captain and bowman swing the craft clear of rocks, the stern warps keep it headed into the racing waters, and little by little the boat creeps up the rapids. About its bow the waters foam and seethe and the hungry waves leap above its rails, but in a few moments the fight is won and the craft shoots from the torrent into the calm waters above the brink of the falls.
Often, too, the excitement has just begun when the boat has been hauled through the rapids, for in many places huge whirlpools form above the falls, and through these the men must paddle for their very lives. With every ounce of strength of their knotted muscles the Indians ply their heavy paddles, the boat hangs motionless for an instant, quivering and vibrating to the drag of water, and then with a lurch darts forward. High above the rails boils the swirling maelstrom, and as the centre of the pool is reached the boat seems actually to rear on end. Then, ere one can realize how it has been accomplished, the craft dashes beyond the danger-point and floats safely in the narrow, swift-flowing channel beyond.
Many a boat has been sunk, many a man has lost his life, in these treacherous rapids and whirlpools, but in nearly every case it has been due to incompetent or intoxicated captains or bowmen, to overloaded boats, or to ignorance of the river. I have travelled up and down nearly every river in the colony, have run many a prohibited rapid, and have never met with a serious accident, my only mishap being a washout when hauling through a supposedly impossible fall on the
Very often, however, the new-comer sits gripping the boat’s rails and gulping with mortal fear, for it seems as if no craft made by man could withstand the knocking about that the river boats receive. It is humanly impossible to avoid rocks at times, and with a sickening lurch and a crashing, grinding sound the boat will bank full upon some hidden boulder. Each second one expects it to fill and sink, for, perched upon the rock, it swings and tips perilously. But instantly the men slip overboard and, up to their necks in the water, tug and strain and lift it bodily from the reef, leaping nimbly in and grasping paddles once more when the craft floats free. It is to avoid sticking fast on rocks that the Guiana river boats are made spoon-bottomed and with no stem or stern posts, for modelled as they are they can be shoved forward, backwards, or sideways with equal ease.
It was a long hard tussle up
, for the tide was
out—the tide rises and falls to the first rapids in all these rivers and the
falls were at their worst. But at the end of two hours of herculean labours the
last of the rapids was passed, and resuming our seats we sped swiftly up the
still waters beyond. Marshall
These stretches of tranquil river are most welcome to the men, as they afford a respite from the terrible labour of hauling through the rapids. And they are so beautiful that one does not chafe at the loss of time, as with short lazy strokes the tired crew loiters along in the shadow of the verdured banks.
In a sheer two-hundred-foot wall the vast forests rise from the water’s edge in a thousand shades of green, so interwoven and dense that they seem draped in folds like a gigantic curtain of plush. Here and there blooming vines and flowering trees break the emerald ramparts with masses of scarlet, white, magenta, mauve, yellow, and blue, while fallen petals carpet the surface of the water with a multicoloured mosaic overhung by graceful palms and drooping festoons of foliage.
And such trees! Gigantic moras with huge, buttressed roots and gnarled trunks towering in massive four-foot columns; dark, brown-red purplehearts smooth and symmetrical as titanic iron pipes; scaly, pale-grey greenhearts;. balata and locusts, souris and letter-wood—a score of varieties of “ballis” and a hundred trees known only to the Indians and bush-men—spring upward and are lost to sight amid the canopy of foliage a hundred feet above the forest floor, like endless columns supporting a vast roof of green.
Swinging down from far-off branches, shooting upward from the earth, draping the mighty trees, crawling over the ground, clambering across rotting logs, knotted, twisted, inextricably tangled and interlaced, are the lianas, vines, and creepers, some delicate as silken threads; others great six-inch cables, and all binding and knotting the entire fabric of the forest into an impassable maze everywhere decked with strange orchids and weird air-plants. It is as if Nature had gone mad and, in a debauch of floral extravagance, had exhausted all her resources to produce this grotesquely beautiful, this impossibly unreal “bush,” so full of contradictions and surprises.
One sees huge trees with trunks ending a yard or more above the earth and supported only by scores of tiny, stilt-like roots no thicker than a lead pencil; soft, moss-grown palm trunks are armed with a myriad encircling rows of six-inch poisonous spikes; a gorgeously flowered trailer hides wicked recurved thorns beneath each bloom; a mass of maidenhair ferns forms a jungle higher than one’s head, with each fragile, delicate frond armed with needle-like spines; a dainty, fairylike flower gives off the stench of putrid flesh, and mosses upon the trees are so magnified that they appear as though viewed through a microscope; but everything is monstrous, gigantic, in this wonderland, and man seems puny, insignificant, and overwhelmed. And at every turn one meets with some new and amazing surprise, some dream-like, unbelievable condition. One brushes carelessly against a swinging tuft of grass and finds its innocent-looking blades shear through flesh and clothing like the keenest razor; one plucks a charming orchid and instantly, from hidden recesses, a horde of ants swarm forth and bite viciously at the offending hand; thoughtlessly, one strikes with machete at a six-inch shaft of silver-white, and the blade slices through it as through paper and, as the lofty top rips and crashes to earth, crimson blood oozes from the severed trunk; a moment later, the way is barred by a slender sapling, and one gapes dumbfounded when the keen-edged cutlass glances from it as though it were a bar of hardened steel.
To move about in this forest, even for a few yards, is well-nigh impossible, and only by forcing one’s way inch by inch, by hewing a passage and by constant exertion, can any progress be made. If the traveller covers a mile an hour he is doing well, for at every step he is tripped, bound, barred, torn, and scratched as if the vegetation were endowed with life and with devilish ingenuity were striving to keep back the intruder.
It is impossible to proceed quietly, and all living things take warning and become invisible, and one imagines the forest is barren of life; but in reality the bush teems with birds and beasts, and the native Indian, naked save for his scarlet lap, glides like a shadow through the labyrinth and finds game in plenty. Upon the wet and muddy ground his sharp eyes note the tracks of jaguar, deer, peccary, or tapir; a fragment of nibbled fruit or root tells him a shy agouti or a paca is close at hand; bits of seed or fruit drop from the lofty tree-tops, and his sharp vision discerns a troop of monkeys or a flock of curassows among the foliage. At times even the clumsy, blundering white man may stumble within sight of some strange bird or quadruped. It may be a huge ant-bear, so engrossed in tearing a dead tree to bits that he fails to hear your approach and continues his labours and laps up the swarming ants with his yard-long tongue while you watch him; or it may be a lithe and graceful ocelot, so intent on stalking an unsuspecting bush-turkey or a sleepy monkey that your proximity is unnoticed; or again, it may be a flock of trumpeters feeding or dancing in some tiny open glade.
And far overhead, unknown, unseen, forever out of reach of puny man, is another world, for in the dense roof of the jungle dwells a host of creatures who never descend to earth. Here is the home of the huge-billed toucans, the parrots, and the loud-voiced macaws; here troops of howlers and a score of smaller monkeys pass their lives; here myriads of bright-hued birds twitter and sing and fly from twig to twig and rear their young; here the slow-moving sloths spend their upside-down lives; and here the fierce Harpy eagles, the ocelots, the margay and the longtailed cats, the puma, and even the great spotted jaguar, find a happy hunting-ground.
But don’t expect to find the tropical bush as pictured in geographies of school days, or disappointment will be yours. Such forest, with its veritable menagerie, is a thing of the imagination, and one may travel for days in the
wilderness and never see a four-footed creature nor any feathered life save
parrots, toucans, and small birds.
At other times the traveller may be fortunate enough to see many denizens of the wilderness as he makes his way up the rivers by boat. Close to the banks, alligators and crocodiles rest like floating logs; otters swim and frolic in the stream and voice their resentment at the intruders by sharp dog-like yelps; monkeys may chatter from a vantage-point in the Mazetta trees along the shores; capybaras may be inquisitive enough to stand their ground until the boat is close at hand ere seeking refuge under water; deer, tapirs, or jaguars may be surprised in swimming from shore to shore, or if luck favours, huge twenty-foot anacondas may be seen as they lie coiled on the sun-warmed rocks or on weathered snags.
Even more wonderful than the bush and its inhabitants, and far more beautiful, are the reflections on these calm stretches of river. The water, stained a deep red-brown by the vegetation, mirrors the jungle-covered banks, the palms, and trees—each leaf and twig and detail, so perfectly that it is scarcely possible to say where water ends and land begins, and one has the strange sensation of travelling through air with forests above and beneath. Indeed, so polished and oil-like is the water that even the great dazzling blue butterflies flitting across the rivers have their cerulean counterparts in the waters over which they pass.
Amid such sights and through such scenery we paddled up the Mazaruni until, all too soon, the still waters were wrinkled with the current and lumps of creamy foam announced rapids ahead, and presently I was again standing on the rocks while the tireless men hauled their boat through the falls. A dozen times that day the boat was hauled through falls, and by ten in the morning we had passed Kwaipan, Mapituri, Espanol, and
Tarpi Falls, and ran ashore at
for breakfast. Sarpi Island
Guiana is not an early morning meal, but corresponds to
our midday repast, and, when travelling on the rivers, it is customarily taken
between ten and twelve.
While the meal was being prepared one of the Indians grasped bow and arrows and started over the rocks towards the nearest falls in search of fish, for shooting fish with bow and arrow is the common method of fishing with the Guiana Indians. They are wonderfully expert at this, and use a powerful seven-foot bow and six-foot arrow with a detachable, barbed, iron head. This tip is attached to the shaft by a strong line and thus forms a miniature harpoon shot from a bow. I never tired of watching the Bucks, as the aboriginal Indians are called, at this feat, and followed Joseph as he hurried towards the falls, stringing his bow as he went. To my eyes, there was nothing to be seen but a tumbling mass of foam and water, but the Indian evidently discerned a paku or a lukanani, for, crouching low, he slipped rapidly towards the cataract with weapons ready for instant use. Gaining a jutting spur of rock he suddenly rose, drew his bow to his ear, and drove the arrow half its length under water. Dropping his bow and extra arrows he sprang forward, plunged into the torrent, and seizing the bobbing shaft, scrambled back to land. Quickly he hauled in the line, and an instant later a ten-pound paku was flapping about on the rocks. In almost as many minutes he had shot five more fish, and grinned with well- merited pride at his success.
Breakfast over, we again resumed our journey, and all through the afternoon hauled through rapid after rapid. Sometimes these were small, and I remained in the shelter of the "tent” in the boat; but more often they were too swift and dangerous, and I was compelled to disembark and clamber over the rocks to the head of the falls. Strangely enough, these forbidding, water-worn rocks are by no means devoid of life. In the crevices, stunted wild guava trees find root; upon stranded logs and dead trees bright-flowered orchids grow in profusion, and every inch of surface, above the high-water mark, is covered with a miniature jungle and a number of large trees. Upon the bare, sun-baked rocks scores of nightjars roost and flit away a few feet at one’s approach; hummingbirds and tyrant flycatchers nest in the guavas, and parrots, parakeets, and red-headed finches are ever present in the denser growth.
And when the queer pink flowers, already mentioned, cover the rocks, immense flocks of yellow butterflies frequent them, transforming the ledges into sheets of gold and ever winging backwards and forwards across the river like clouds of wind blown autumn leaves.
Here we were in a wonderful timber country, and camp was made in a greenheart forest. From my hammock I counted no fewer than fifty-five greenheart trees, the hardest and densest of wood, every one of which would have squared to eighteen inches or more, and yet, owing to lack of transportation, not a single stick of timber is ever cut here. Throughout a large part of
it is the same. There are vast resources in timber, forest products, and
minerals, but between lack of transportation, the hopelessly inert Government,
and the total absence of progressive energy on the part of the inhabitants,
this marvellously rich land remains undeveloped, unproductive, and largely
unknown. A few “pork knockers,” or independent gold-diggers, eke out a
precarious livelihood by working the gold placers, a certain number of diamonds
are won from the claims up river, and balata bleeders range the forests
following their trade; but there is no organized, no extensive effort made to
develop the interior, no improvement or advance in existing conditions, no
incentives to induce either capital or labour to wrest wealth from the forests
or the mineral deposits of the vast area of untrodden country stretching for
hundreds o f miles away from Georgetown’s back door.
Early the next morning we reached Yamatuk Rapids; an hour later we were beyond
and we stopped for breakfast at . Here the river
was dotted with islands, varying in size from several miles in length to tiny
rocks, but all covered with a marvellously luxuriant vegetation and hiding the
shores from view, for at this point the river is nearly three miles wide. Kapasi
For several hours we paddled rapidly upstream through the long stretch of Tupeku Still Water, and then, having negotiated Tupeku and Mary’s Falls, made camp below Itaballi Rapids.
So far we had seen no game, and I went into camp at three o'clock in order to send two of my Indians on a hunt. Shortly after they had left the report of gunshots reached us, and I felt sure of fresh meat for dinner, for very rarely does an Indian miss his quarry. They feel heartily ashamed at wasting a charge of powder and shot, and to make sure of every shot invariably get very close to their game before firing. As a result, small creatures are usually blown to bits, and the largest game, such as tapir, peccary, and jaguar, are killed with B.B. shot.
My faith in the Indians proved well-founded, for just before sundown they stepped from the forest, one carrying a good-sized deer and a pair of curassows or “powis”; the other with a bush-hog or peccary across his bronze shoulders. We dined regally that night, the Indians gorging themselves in their customary way, and the meat left from our feast was prepared for future use by “babricotting.”
This is done by suspending the meat on a grid of sticks above a smoky fire for a few hours. Partly dried and smoked in this way the meat will keep fresh and tender for weeks, and is as nourishing and palatable as when first killed.
As the Indians squatted about the glowing fires, or lounged in their hammocks, while waiting for the meat to cure, they whiled away their time by telling stories. These Indian tales are usually of a highly imaginative character, age-old legends, myths, and folk-tales. Some are picturesque and weird, others symbolical, many are humorous and a few truly poetical, and all are extremely interesting. But in order fully to appreciate them one must understand the Indians’ dialect, with which I was fortunately acquainted and thus able to follow them. There were stories of “Kenaima”—the fearful, mysterious blood-avenger; tales of "Gungas,” Warracabra Tigers, and other fierce, supernatural man-eating beasts; yarns of Didoes and Hooris, of the awful two-toed, claw-handed monkey-men, and of many another weird creature and spirit. All of these were fascinatingly interesting and were so convincingly told that one felt decidedly “creepy,” and started involuntarily and glanced nervously about when some soft-winged night-bird uttered its plaintive call or a tree-toad croaked unexpectedly in the black forest that hemmed us in.
It was nearly midnight when the last of the babricotted meat had been hung out of reach of prowling beasts, and the fires having died to smouldering coals, the Indians wrapped themselves in their hammocks like gigantic caterpillars in their cocoons. No doubt the Indians’ habit of thus completely enshrouding themselves is partly due to superstitious fear, but it is mainly to protect themselves from vampire bats. These blood-sucking, repulsive creatures abound in the
Guiana bush, and passing up the river in the day one may
see them by hundreds as, alarmed at the boat’s approach, they flit from their
roosting-places and seek refuge a few yards ahead. Although greatly feared by
the Indians and black people, in reality there is little danger of being
bitten, for the bats will not enter a camp where a light is burning, and in all
my experience in tropical forests I have never been attacked by a vampire,
although on several occasions my men have had ears, toes, and fingers nipped by
Itaballi, Sapira, and
Koirimapa Falls form a long continuous chain of rapids, and for
four hours the next morning the men toiled like demons to cover the five miles
of tumbling broken water, the innumerable whirlpools, and the rushing
sluiceways that stretch from Tamanu Hole to the foot of . Farawakash Falls
Then, having rested and breakfasted, the difficult and dangerous haul through Farawakash was begun. Here an impassable cataract bars the river and the passage is made through a narrow channel or “itabu,” which tears like a mill-race through the forest around the cataract. So swift is the current that time and again the men were swept from their footholds and only saved themselves by grasping overhanging lianas or jutting tree-roots. Frequently, too, they were compelled to make the warps fast to trees and rest from their labours, while in many places it was impossible to make headway against the swirl of water without taking a turn of the bowline around a tree and hauling in the slack inch by inch. But after two hours of heartbreaking exertions the boat emerged safely from the forest-walled itabu and was run ashore in the small lake-like expanse of still water at the head of the falls. Ten minutes’ paddling carried us across this to the foot of Kaburi Cataract, a lovely cascade a score of feet in height and stretching across the river from shore to shore. Here a portage has been constructed by the Government—a graded concrete way into which semi-cylindrical iron cross-pieces are embedded. These are supposed to serve as rollers, but they have been neglected until they have worn and rusted through and their jagged edges make hauling about as difficult as over the bare rocks, and they cut and scar a boat’s bottom horribly.
At this portage every article in our outfit was unloaded and carried overland on the men’s heads, and all hands were required to lift the heavy boat from the water to the portage. But once on the run it was comparatively easy to keep the craft moving, and an hour later everything had been restowed and we once more headed up the river.
While camp was being made an Indian coorial, or light dug-out canoe, arrived with a party of Patamonas on a hunting and fishing trip. The frail and cranky craft was loaded to the gunwales with the two men, their wives, half-a-dozen children, several yelping, flea-bitten, emaciated dogs, bundles of cassava bread, hammocks, and cooking utensils, in addition to the weapons and fishing paraphernalia.
The men were short but finely-built fellows, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and small-limbed, like all the bush Indians; the women were as unprepossessing as usual and bore the blue tattooed "benna” lines about their mouths, which are typical of the Akawoia race, and, in addition, had designs painted in red upon foreheads and cheeks—potent charms to keep off evil spirits and safeguard the wearers when on a journey. All were as yet unspoiled by missionaries or civilization, and were garbed in their native costume, or lack of costume, consisting of scarlet laps or breech-clouts for the men, beautifully-wrought bead aprons or “queyus” for the women, and with innumerable strings of beads, teeth, and seeds about necks, arms, and legs; while the children were as innocent of clothing as so many brown monkeys.
The men were armed with bows and arrows, and, in addition, one bore an ancient muzzleloading gun and the other a twelve-foot blowpipe with a quiver of deadly poisoned arrows slung at his side.
With a low-voiced guttural “Howdy,” they made themselves at home with the confident freemasonry of the bush, while the women, ever silent and shy, erected a rude shelter of palm leaves, slung the hammocks, and prepared the evening meal. As usual, presents were exchanged, the Bucks giving us a haunch of labba (paca), a lukanani, and some cassava bread in exchange for black leaf tobacco, sugar, and salt, and, friendly relations having been thus established, the Patamonas cast aside their dignified reserve and were soon chatting and laughing with us on the best of terms.
(To be continued.)
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.