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Unknown Panama'

By TOWNSEND WHELEN Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army

BELIEVE it will surprise most Americans, and perhaps a few of our field naturalists, to learn that right at the back door of the Panama Canal lies an almost unknown jungle wilderness, unmapped and practically uninhabited in the interior except for a few very primitive Indians. Virtually the entire eastern portion of the republic of Panama lying between the Canal and Colombia, roughly three hundred miles long by from fifty to one hundred miles wide, is unknown, and the published maps of this country, except for the seacoast and the location of half a dozen small towns, are all faked.

It was my good fortune to spend the entire dry seasons (December to June) of 1916 and 1917 exploring a part of this country. We found it necessary to know something of that portion of it nearest the Canal, and it fell to my lot, assisted by Companies E and H, 29th United States Infantry, to make a preliminary exploration with a view to planning and expediting its accurate mapping by the Engineer Corps.

The coasts of Panama are all accurately charted. In the vicinity of the city of Panama are a few fair-sized towns on the larger rivers, and their location, as well as the general course of the rivers on which they lie, is indicated with fair accuracy on existing maps. Some of the mountain ranges which can be seen from the sea have also been set down. The remainder is unknown. Moreover, it will of necessity remain so. The Panamanian is not a pioneer. Exploration does not appeal to him and, in fact, he dreads the jungle at his back door. No guides to this coun

try can be procured. The Indians of the interior are hostile to the invasion of the country by the whites. There are no roads or trails, and practically no navigable rivers, back packing being the only practical means of transportation. Even maps are not available, and probably it will be very many years before they become so, owing to the necessarily confidential nature of such accurate maps as exist, because of their connection with the defense of the Panama Canal.

It is because this little piece of jungle probably will remain virgin and unspoiled for many years that I think it ought to be brought to the attention of our field naturalists. It is so easily accessible, and yet only the borders of it have been scratched by the scientist. No one yet knows what is in the interior, what secrets it contains, what new fauna and flora its exploration will reveal.

In the Canal Zone, which extends five miles to either side of the Canal, practically all of the jungle forest has long since been cut off, and in its place has grown up a dense, impenetrable second growth of small trees, palms, creepers, thorns, and coarse grass. The casual visitor to the Canal never sees the real jungle, nor dreams of its existence. In fact not 5 per cent of the inhabitants of the Canal Zone and the cities near by have ever seen the virgin jungle. To them the second growth is the jungle, uninteresting, impossible, terrifying.

But if one cuts his way through this tangled growth for about five miles in from the Canal he comes to the real jungle, standing up like a gigantic wall of green verdure. Once in it all is different, even the very climate itself.

1 The illustrations are from photographs by the Author.

Here one can wander at will, unimpeded by thorns and creepers. It is even easier traveling here than in the woods of our own Northeast, because as a rule there is much less "down" timber. It is like a new world, a world that one has not even read about. From the blazing sun and sweltering heat of the second growth one enters what is almost an underground world, cool and balmy. Everywhere the giant trees go up limbless for from one hundred to two hundred feet, and then spread out their verdure, literally hiding the sky. Beautiful slender palms grow in great profusion in the semidarkness forming the lower growth, impeding one's view but not one's progress. Scarcely ever can one see more than fifty yards, and never does the explorer get an extended view, even from the tops of the highest mountains. When I first entered the jungle it was with an indescribable feeling of awe and wonder, and this feeling has never left me; nay, it persists, drawing me, calling me to come back, more insistent even than the "Call of the North."

That part of the jungle in which my most intensive exploration was conducted lies to the east of the city of Colon, between there and the town of Nombre de Dios, and extending from the Caribbean coast inland to the headwaters of the Chagres River system. Between the Chagres basin and the Caribbean coast rises the cordillera of Cerro Bruja, a mountain range that starts about ten miles east of Colon, and rises steadily, culminating in the peak of Cerro Bruja (3200 feet) about fifteen miles south of the town of Porto Bello. East of Cerro Bruja peak the Rio Piedras rises almost in the basin of the Chagres, flows north around the base of Cerro Bruja, then west, and empties into the sea halfway between Colon and Porto Bello. The Piedras is one of the largest rivers of Panama, but you will not find it on any map, even its mouth having been mistaken

for a lagoon of the sea when the coast line was charted.

The Rio Grande, figuring largely on existing maps, is an insignificant little stream, several miles long, really unworthy of a name. Beyond the valley of the upper Piedras rises a really imposing range of mountains called Cerro Saximo, culminating in a peak somewhere south of Nombre de Dios, which must attain an altitude of from six thousand to eight thousand feet. I think I am the only one who has ever viewed this range, as it seems to be invisible from any place where there is any trace of human beings, and its presence is barely noted on only one old map, with no indication as to its altitude.

Beyond Saximo neither I nor anyone else knows what. There are rumors that the interior beyond is inhabited by Indians of the San Blas (Cuna-Cuna) tribe, and that they are very hostile to invasion of their country by whites. Today one can enter the jungle ten miles east of the city of Colon, and travel eastward through this jungle wilderness for more than three hundred miles, and except for a few marks of my machete, he will not see the trace of a civilized being.

In January, 1916, I established a base camp at the end of the extreme northeastern arm of Gatun Lake, and from there extended my explorations. Trails were cut for about fifteen miles into the jungle, and other base camps were established from time to time. Sketch maps were made of the surrounding jungle, the work being done by Companies E and H, 29th United States Infantry, which companies I commanded from time to time. The extended exploration, however, could not be done in this way. The difficulties attending the supply of a large number of men in a country without trails or horse feed made the work very slow. So I was forced to fall back on the most primitive of all methods of



All the equipment was packed on the backs of the men for more than twenty miles. The jungle here was so thick that before it was cleared off we could not see more than ten feet ahead. The men's sleeping quarters are on the left. On the right are the large cheesecloth mosquito bars (12x9x7 feet) which the men used in the evenings for reading and recreation. Below 1000 feet altitude the mosquitoes are so thick at night that it is impossible to remain out of doors with any comfort, although the mosquitoes are not dangerous except where they have become infected by biting natives suffering from malaria. It was from this camp that the author started on a number of his explorations into the distant jungle 311



First a thick, springy mattress of palm leaves is cut (palm boughs in Panama taking the place of balsam boughs in northern woods), then the little jungle tent, with waterproof silk floor and roof most comfortable bed, insect and mosquito net sides, is pitched on top of the mattress, making a proof and cool. At every camp site there were always plenty of palms within a distance of twentyfive yards with which to make the bed



While the Cuipo tree (Cavanillesia platanifolia) is not the largest of Panamanian trees, it is by far the most conspicuous. It always grows in the most prominent places and rears its head like a gigantic umbrella far above the surrounding jungle. Rings in the bark surround the trunk about every four feet, the trunk rising without a limb for one hundred and twenty feet. The buttressed trunk reminds one of a gigantic elephant leg and foot

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