The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seasby Todd Balf
In the 1850s, the world's foremost scientists, capitalists, and statesmen saw the Darien wilderness in eastern Panama as the perfect spot to build a great canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ships from three continents raced to this largely unexplored region, but the twenty-seven-man U.S. Darien Exploring Expedition, led by an ambitious, adventure-driven… See more details below
In the 1850s, the world's foremost scientists, capitalists, and statesmen saw the Darien wilderness in eastern Panama as the perfect spot to build a great canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ships from three continents raced to this largely unexplored region, but the twenty-seven-man U.S. Darien Exploring Expedition, led by an ambitious, adventure-driven navy lieutenant named Isaac G. Strain, made sure it got there first. Misled by fraudulent maps and unable to find any "gap" amid the mass of precipitous peaks, the expedition marched the untracked course of the isthmus's longest and most contorted river, enduring oppressive equatorial heat and a terrifying catalogue of often bewildering tropical maladies. Their ninety-seven-day ordeal of starvation, exhaustion, and madness -- a tragedy turned largely to triumph due to the courage and self-sacrifice of their leader and the seamen who followed him devotedly is one of the great untold tales of human survival and exploration in the tropics. Based on the vividly detailed log entries of Strain and his junior officers, other newly discovered period sources, and Balf's own multiple treks through the dangerous (and still roadless) Darien Gap, The Darkest Jungle is a rich and utterly compelling historical narrative that will thrill readers who enjoyed In the Heart of the Sea, Isaac's Storm, The Endurance, and other sagas of adventure at the limits of human tolerance.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.48(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.13(d)
Read an Excerpt
1 / GALES of DECEMBER
And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people. . . . God has predestinated, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours. In our youth is our strength; in our inexperience our wisdom . . . And let us always remember, that with ourselves--almost for the first time in the history of the Earth--national selfishness is unbounded philanthropy; for we cannot do a good to America but we give alms to the world.
Herman Melville, White-Jacket (1850)
December 19, 1853
The ships rounding cape henlopen at the mouth of the Delaware River were rushing home to port. A blockade of frost had fastened upon Delaware Bay and was spreading up the river's winding, 100-mile course to Philadelphia. Already two merchant ships, the bark Louisa and the brig Loretto, were bound up near the breakwater. Another few days of single-digit cold and even the port's steam tugs might not make it out. The river would be corked until March. Along the bitterly cold Southwark waterfront, where the long wood-planked wharves and the brick-walled Navy yard thronged with officers and merchantmen safely back, the talk wasn't of Christmas or the New Year but the coming ice. Few could recall it fixing so early.
At dockside the sloop-of-war Cyane's preparations drew curious onlookers. She wasn't one of the American Navy's powerful new steamships, but an old square-rigged man-of-war whose heyday was the Mexican War, almost a decade before. There wasn't a graceful line in her 132 feet of running length, critics said, and the secretary of the Navy seemed to agree; her active duty in recent years had been confined to quiet coastal cruises. Of late the vessel had gone nowhere. A year earlier, at port in Hampton Roads, Virginia, a near mutiny had erupted, and the subsequent trial had kept the ship in limbo for months. Only in recent weeks had the Cyane received the okay to return to duty and with the order a different, more restorative kind of attention. Her hull was newly coppered and her decks and hold meticulously disinfected with a purging vinegar wash.
She was crammed with personnel. In addition the standard two-hundred-man complement for a vessel her size, she carried an unusual number of supernumeraries--a party that included three additional naval officers, a trio of engineers, and two civilian volunteers, one of those a surgeon. The extra outfit was evidently getting a lift somewhere. The Cyane was said to be headed south on Home Squadron business, but where exactly, nobody knew. The hustle and bustle suggested she had little time to lose.
In fact, throughout the frigid winter day the activity intensified. The ship's carpenters banged together chicken coops and pigpens, and the boatswain's mate's silver whistle pealed insistently. A "high die" or "heave hard" command boomed from the deck officer's speaking trumpet with enough venom to awaken the dear departed souls on Chestnut Street. Man-hauled sail bundles rose up the fore, main, and mizzen masts, and late-arriving stores, livestock, and sea trunks coursed across the gangway. By the locals' rough estimate there were well over 15,000 pounds of sea biscuit and salted meat bound for the hold--sufficient provisions for a three-month cruise, maybe more. Barrels of fresh water and spirits went down the hatchways with a number of less recognizable containers. Theodolites, sextants, spyglasses, mountain...
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >