The Wonders Of Colombia

AS I begin this chapter I am on the hottest geographical line on the globe. I am on the deck of the steamship Santiago, opposite the coast of Ecuador, almost exactly on the equator, which we shall cross within an hour. If it were not for a slight breeze, which still follows us from the northeast trade winds, the air would be stifling; as it is, the very sea seems to steam. On the right is a vast extent of ocean, which the sun has turned into molten silver. Ten billion diamonds are dancing up and down on the wavelets; and, although I am under cover, the light of the sun as reflected from the water dazzles my eyes as do the direct rays of a July sun at home. On the opposite side of the steamer, in the shadow, the water is of an indigo blue ; and as I stand up and look about me I see nothing but a vast expanse of what in the hot, hazy air appears to be a steaming sea. To the westward the Pacific stretches a distance of about 10,000 miles before it reaches the lower part of Asia; to the east is the equatorial region of South America, including the snow-capped Andes and the mighty Amazon, my present field of travel.

It is now three days since I left Panama for Guayaquil, the port of Ecuador, and until this morning we have been sailing by the coast of Colombia, though in many places only 150 miles from the shore. In this way we have saved four or five days of travel, and will make Guayaquil in four days, while the coasting steamers take ten.

The boats of the southern Pacific are far different from those on the northern Pacific. Indeed, they are unlike the steamers of any other part of the world. The cabins are larger, and the quiet of the sea—for a storm is rare here—allows the ship to have several decks and to keep everything open. There is about a quarter of a mile of walking space on the two upper decks of the Santiago, and on the top deck there are places so large that one could almost lay out a croquet ground, and have room to spare.

I awake every morning thinking I am on a farm. There is a bleating of sheep, a crowing of cocks, and a cackling and quacking of geese and ducks. Now and then a cow moos or a pig squeals. We carry all our meat with us. On the upper deck, within ten feet of where I am writing, there are two big coops full of chickens, ducks, and geese. ‘ The coops are two-story affairs, walled with slats. The chickens are in the top story, some roosting and others poking their heads out to get at the water and corn in the troughs outside. The ducks and geese are on the ground floor. A little further over there are crates filled with potatoes and onions, and others containing oranges and pine-apples. The sheep and cattle are in pens and stalls two floors below. They are in the steerage, near the butcher shops and the kitchens.

These South Pacific steamers, indeed, carry a travelling market with them. There are men who pay big sums for the privilege of selling from the ships to the people at the ports. The marketmen on the Santiago had in stock about a dozen waggon-loads of oranges and pineapples from Panama and ten fat beeves from Chile, and they will load up with other things at Guayaquil. They will take this stuff to the ports along the deserts of Peru and Chile, and as nothing grows there they will get high prices.

Travel is very costly on the South Pacific. Two lines of steamers sail between Panama and Valparaiso. One belongs to the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, the other to the Chileans. The two companies have combined, and as they have a monopoly of the business they keep up the rates. I have never paid so much for steamship travel as now. The fare to Guayaquil from Panama is $67 in gold for a distance of about S00 miles, or more than eight cents a mile. The fares to Europe by the first-class Atlantic liners are not more than three cents a mile, and on some of the boats only two cents or less. The South Pacific lines have steamers every week, north and south from Panama to Valparaiso, a distance of 3,000 miles. The through rate is $154, but all passengers are charged extra for stopovers at the ports, and the local rates are correspondingly higher.

I am surprised at the extent of these South American countries. The republic of Colombia, along which we have been sailing, and of which the Isthmus of Panama forms a part, is longer from north to south than the distance between St. Paul and New Orleans, and wider in some parts than from New York to Chicago. It contains an area of more than 500,000 square miles. It is about one-sixth the size of the United States, without Alaska; and would make more than ten states the size of New York, or twelve as big as Ohio or Kentucky. The Isthmus, or department, of Panama has an area almost four times as large as Massachusetts, and Cauca, one of the Colombian departments, is almost as large as Texas.

I have met a number of Americans and others who have recently travelled in many parts of Colombia. They tell me that the country is an undeveloped empire, and that much of it is as yet unexplored. There are a few Americans in the extreme north, in the Chiriqui lands of the upper Isthmus, raising coffee, and others have been buying lands in the Cauca valley. This valley is over the mountains, a little back of the Pacific. It is several hundred miles long, and about twenty or more miles wide, and is said to have some of the most fertile lands on the globe.

The chief mode of getting about through Colombia is by means of the rivers, and on the mule and donkey paths, which everywhere cross the mountains. No country has more curious streams. One of them is known in Columbia as a river of vinegar. It is the upper part of the Cauca river. The Cauca rises in the southern part of the country, near Ecuador, and after flowing 680 miles north, empties into the Magdalena. In the upper part of its course its water contains eleven parts of sulphuric acid and nine parts of hydrochloric acid in every thou-sand, and is so sour that no fish can live in it, and it goes by the name of the Rio Vinagre—the Vinegar river.

The Magdalena, the chief river of Colombia, corresponds with our Mississippi. It is more than 1,000 miles long, and is as wide though not so deep as the Mississippi ; it cuts the country right in two. Steamers of light draft sail weekly from Barranquilla, on the Caribbean Sea, up the Magdalena to Hondo, where you take mules and climb up to the plain of Bogota, on which the Colombian capital is situated. Then there are branches of the .Amazon and of other big rivers in Colombia, so that the country is almost as well watered as China. Ten of the little steamers on the Colombia were made at Pittsburg and brought from New York in pieces and here put together.

Bogota is a city of about 120,000 inhabitants. It has electric lights and a street railroad, which were put in by Americans. It has a university ninety-five years old, a national theatre, a library of 50,000 volumes, an astronomical observatory, and a poor-house. The city is about a half mile higher up in the air than Denver, and its climate is much the same. It is the head-quarters of the army, and is the scene of a revolution now and then.

It is at Bogota that the President lives, and there the Colombian Congress meets. The city is very healthful, as is the greater part of the country where the people live. It is only the coast lands of Colombia that are low, moist, and unhealthy. A short distance back the land rises, and there one finds plains and valleys of vast extent, from 3,000 to 5,000 feet above the sea. Many of these valleys are but sparsely inhabited. They contain good land, and they will sometime support a large population.

Colombia is a land of gold. It is like Alaska in that you cannot wash the soil anywhere along the rivers without finding what miners call «color.” I saw men washing the sands in the bay of Panama, and though they said they did not get much, I was told that they have been doing the same work for years. It was here that the Spaniards got some of their first gold; and since the conquest an aggregate of $700,000,000 worth of the precious metals has been taken out of Colombia. A great deal of mining is now going on in the department of Antioquia, which is reached by going several hundred miles up the Magdalena river. Here small diamonds are sometimes found with the gold. English concerns own the best mines of this region, and much capital is invested.