Page:Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan.djvu/36

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
8
TRAVELS IN CENTRAL AMERICA.

We returned to breakfast, and immediately after made an excursion in the government pit-pan. This is the same fashion of boat in which the Indians navigated the rivers of America before the Spaniards discovered it. European ingenuity has not contrived a better, though it has, perhaps, beautified the Indian model. Ours was about forty feet long, and six wide in the centre, running to a point at both ends, and made of the trunk of a mahogany-tree. Ten feet from the stem, and running forward, was a light wooden top, supported by fanciful stancheons, with curtains for protection against sun and rain; it had large cushioned seats, and was fitted up almost as neatly as the gondolas of Venice. It was manned by eight negro soldiers, who sat two on a seat, with paddles six feet long, and two stood up behind with paddles as steersmen. A few touches of the paddles gave brisk way to the pit-pan, and we passed rapidly the whole length of the town. It was an unusual thing for his Excellency's pit-pan to be upon the water; citizens stopped to gaze at us, and all the idle negroes hurried to the bridge to cheer us. This excited our African boatmen, who, with a wild chant that reminded us of the songs of the Nubian boatmen on the Nile, swept under the bridge, and hurried us into the still expanse of a majestic river. Before the cheering of the negroes died away, we were in as perfect a solitude as if removed thousands of miles from human habitations. The Balize River, coming from sources even yet but little known to civilized man, was then in its fulness. On each side was a dense, unbroken forest; the banks were overflowed; the trees seemed to grow out of the water, their branches spreading across so as almost to shut out the light of the sun, and reflected in the water as in a mirror. The sources of the river were occupied by the aboriginal owners, wild and free as Cortes found them. We had an eager desire to penetrate by it to the famous Lake of Peten, where the skeleton of the conquering Spaniard's horse was erected into a god by the astonished Indians; but the toil of our boatmen reminded us that they were paddling against a rapid current. We turned the pitpan, and with the full power of the stream, a pull stronger, and a chant louder than before, amid the increased cheering of the negroes, swept under the bridge, and in a few minutes were landed at the Government House.

In order that we might embark at the hour appointed. Colonel M'Donald had ordered dinner at two o'clock, and, as on the two preceding days, had invited a small party to meet us. Perhaps I am wrong, but I should do violence to my feelings did I fail to express here my sense of the colonel's kindness. My invitation to the Government House was the fruit of my position as Minister of the United