The Panama Railroad Travelogues: From Aspinwall to Panama:
I must confess that I was not particularly pleased with the appearance of the subjects of "our youngest alumnus." The first impression of them was derived from three of them in a boat, whom we saw as we were approaching the pier. Each was elegantly clad in a very dirty shirt, sans culotte! I saw enough afterwards to convince me that this picturesque costume is quite a favorite with the loyal people of United Colombia. On the road between Aspinwall and Panama there were plenty to be seen whose dress was the same, minus the shirt.
The uniform of the army of United Colombia has the merit of variety, at any rate. The soldier on the right as we passed through the pier entrance, was a negro clad in a sort of half naval suit of blue, while the one on the left was an Indian, dressed in a suit that was probably once white, but now so black with dirt that one would hardly care to risk a very heavy wager on its original color. A detachment of eight or ten passed us afterwards along the street, and no two of them were dressed alike. The only article of apparel with respect to which they were uniform, was their shoes. Uniformity in shoes is secured by the fact that they are all barefoot!
We passed the gate of the pier and came out between two rows of citizens, who forthwith besieged us with the kindest offers to carry our baggage. There was a babel of voices that would have done no discredit to a cabman's stand in New York. But we found a greater confusion when we reached the hotel where I required to write a practical catechism for the use of Aspinwall Sunday Schools, it would run somewhat in this way:
Q. What made that part of the world called Aspinwall?
It is a circumstance not at all flattering to Americans that so many of the citizens of the goodly city of Aspinwall devote themselves to the sale of rum and brandy. I believe that at least fifty persons were walking around with a bottle in each hand and another under each arm, trying to sell rum, brandy or wine. I stood at the hotel door, and kept up a steady conversation for an hour or two with these venders:
And so on through a long list of commodities, oranges, lemons, limes, palm-leaf fans, Panama hats, bananas, pineapples, &c.
At about 8 P.M.. we took the cars, and set out upon our winding way toward Panama over the most crooked railroad I ever saw. The cars are furnished with cane-bottomed seats, and there are blinds instead of windows; but there is little danger of suffering from cold. The road is smooth and not uncomfortable.
The Panama Railroad is a monopoly, and charges accordingly. Its length is forty-seven miles, and the fare over it, twenty-five dollars in coin! This, with the immense amount of travel between New York and California, renders it perhaps the most profitable road in the world. Its stock is never quoted in the market reports, for the reason that it is neveroffered for sale, so there is no way of as ascertaining its real value.
We arrived at Panama about 7 P.M., after one of the most delightful rides I ever enjoyed, through the rich tropical scenery of the Isthmus. It is utterly impossible to describe the luxuriant vegetation, the dense mass of flowering and fruit bearing trees and shrubs to be seen on the ride to Panama. The botanist who should be bold enough to brave the miasma of the country, and fortunate enough to escape its effects, would find a source of endless delight in the dense mazes of this tropical labyrinth.
If the reader will take the map of the Panama Railroad, he will find two places marked on the route with the names of "Gatun" and "Gorgona." A man who draws his knowledge of geography from the map, would naturally suppose that there were towns there. An enterprising Yankee family,with a jack-knife or two, could build either of them in a fortnight, and furnish them too, if the interior arrangements of all the houses are modeled after those of one or two into which I peeped. They are mere collections of huts, with walls of reeds and roofs thatched with leaves of the palm-trees that grow so abundantly there. A few only have walls of rough boards. They serve as shelter from the rain; as for a house to keep warm in, no such thing is needed there.
The inhabitants of these rustic habitations are as much of a curiosity as their houses. A condensed description of them would read thus; Nationality, Negro; Language, Spanish; Dress, various; Employment, selling eggs and bread to passengers.
I have described their dress as "various." The women wear a single garment of cotton cloth. Of the men, some wear a shirt only, some pants only, and I saw one with neither, only a cloth about the loins. The smaller children wear absolutely nothing, being as nude as when born.
The Panama bay being too shallow to permit ocean steamers to run up to the wharf, we were taken out to the "Nevada" on a small steamer used for this purpose. We saw nothing of the city of Panama, except the wharf where we went aboard, and this was crowded, as at Aspinwall, by fruit-venders, who plied their trade vigorously while we waited for the turn of the tide to enable us to leave. At length we set out, and soon saw the "Nevada" looming up before as through the darkness. We walked across the gang-plank, took lunch and retired, to find ourselves in the morning on the broad Pacific, westward bound.