Across Nicaragua with Transit and Machéte, by R. E. Peary (1856-1920)

From the National Geographic Magazine of 1888.

From the National Geographic Magazine of 1888.

From the introduction of Vol. 1, No. 4 of the National Geographic Magazine:

A second route by way of the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua, that has also been under discussion for many years, has recently been energetically advocated by American engineers, with the result of the actual location of a line and careful cross-sectioning during the past year. A company has been formed and obtained a charter from the State of Vermont, and as it is represented to be backed by abundant capital, we may, ere many years, have the gratification of seeing an inter-oceanic canal opened under American auspices.

Many speculations have been indulged in as to the probable
effect of a canal through this Isthmus on the carrying trade of the world, the impetus it might give to the opening up of new commercial relations, and even the effect it may have in advancing our civilization to distant nations. Such speculations are hardly pertinent to this report, but we may well reflect upon the changes that have been wrought since the opening of the canal through the Isthmus of Suez, and conceive, if we can, the leveling up that may accrue to the political divisions of the western world from the same influences that will cut the channel through her Isthmus.

Except for the dates and some details of the exact route of the canal, this text from National Geographic from 1888 could be torn from today’s headlines (or ripped from today’s RSS feeds, depending on your age and technophile status…).

In addition to learning more about the geography and history of Nicaragua, this report from Peary in 1888 tells you how the idea of the canal has been around for a long time, and perhaps gives the reader pause to consider why none of these earlier ventures were never successful. Whether a canal will ultimately be built now or not, the geography still indicates that it is do-able!

If you would like the full text, you can go here to download the full text of the National Geographic Magazine Vol. 1, No. 4. Or, as I prefer, you can listen to part 1 and part 2 via Librivox. Here is a snippet from the presentation of R.E. Peary:

I propose this evening to touch lightly and briefly upon the
natural features of Nicaragua, to note the reasons for the interest which has always centered upon her, to trace the growth of the great project with which her name is inseparably linked; to show you somewhat in detail, the life, work, and surroundings of an engineer within her borders ; and finally to show you the result that is to crown the engineer’s work in her wide spreading forests and fertile valleys.

That portion of Central America now included within the
boundaries of our sister republic Nicaragua, has almost from the moment that European eyes looked upon it attracted and charmed the attention of explorers, geographers, great rulers, students, and men of sagacious and far reaching intellect.

From Gomara the long list of famous names which have
linked themselves with Nicaragua reaches down through Humboldt, Napoleon III , Amraen, Lull, Menocal and Taylor.

The shores were first seen by Europeans in 1502, when Columbus in his fourth voyage rounded the cape which forms the northeast angle of the state, and called it ” Gracias a Dios,” which name it bears today. Columbus then coasted southward along the eastern shore.

In 1522, Avila, penetrated from the Pacific coast of the country to the lakes and the cities of the Indian inhabitants.
Previous to this the country was occupied by a numerous
population of Aztecs, or nearly allied people, as the quan-
tities of specimens of pottery, gold images, and other articles
found upon the islands and along the shores of the lakes, prove conclusively.

As someone living here in Nicaragua, the details of the adventure of laying down a route back in the late 19th century is fascinating, and several of the points made in the report are still valid today. A couple of things that stand out for me are:

  • Discussion of the dense forests starting on the Caribbean side and working their way West, and how difficult the terrain is, but that they overcame the challenges by some excellent planning and logistics. Much was learned in an earlier attempt at defining the route in Panama, apparently.
  • Also, a discussion of the climate of Nicaragua indicates how much more favorable and healthy the climate is here as compared to Panama. I think that means a lot even today!

Another quick snippet:

The products of the country are numerous despite the fact that its resources are as yet almost entirely undeveloped.

Maize, plantains, bananas, oranges, limes, and indeed every
tropical fruit, thrive in abundance. Coffee is grown in large
quantities in the hilly region in the northwest ; sugar, tobacco,cotton, rice, indigo and cacao plantations abound between the lakes and the Pacific ; potatoes and wheat thrive in the uplands of Segovia ; the Chontales region east of Lake Nicaragua, a great grazing section, supports thousands of head of cattle ; and back of this are the gold and silver districts of La Libertad, Javali and others.

I really enjoyed listening to the report. Fascinating information. Even today these are the main crops and regions in which they are grown.