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The New York Times, November 15, 1851, p.3:

Routes to the Pacific.
THE SAN JUAN ROUTE.

From the Panama Star.

SAN JUAN DEL SUR, Friday, Sept. 26, 1851.
    DEAR STAR:--Complying with my promise to write you a full and true description of the Vanderbilt or Nicaragua Route, I beg to lay before you the result of my observations up to the present time, of the route as it actually is.
    Greytown, or San Juan del Norte, is a pretty village, of some seven or eight hundred inhabitants, most of whom are native Nicaraguans. The people in authority, however, are English or American. The houses are chiefly built of wood, and the town is laid out in streets 60 feet wide; it boasts no fewer than six good hotels, the charge for board is $1.25 American currency per day.

    The harbor is formed by a sand bank extending from the right bank of the river into the sea, and is capacious; the anchorage good and perfectly safe for vessels of any size.
    A good deal of speculation is going on among the foreign residents at Greytown; the land in the neighborhood has been surveyed and laid out in lots for more than two miles, and the people there are sanguine their lots will some time or other be very valuable.

    Vanderbilt's Company have two steamers here, the Henry L. Bulwer and John C. Clayton. They are iron boats, stern wheel and flat-bottomed, drawing two feet when light; these steamers, at this season, run up the river as far as Machuca Rapids, a distance of fifty miles. The time spent on the trip is from ten to twelve hours.
    The steamers are small and can only accomodate some ninety or a hundred passengers. There are no berths on board, nor is there room for the passengers to sleep at night, if so disposed.
    Passengers have to find [for] themselves while on the route, and must therefore lay in enough provisions for their own consumption until they reach the place, as no food of any description can be purchased anywhere on the route.

    At the Machuca Rapids, passengers are transferred to bungos, or large canoes, which are poled and rowed over the rapids, which are very numerous and dangerous, from this point to the Castillo rapids, where [there] is a fall in the river of some four feet. Here the passengers put ashore and the boatsmen drag the canoe over the rapids by ropes; on passing the rapids passengers again embark and proceed in the canoe to the upper rapid called the "Toro," where they are again transferred to the steamer Director, which conveys them to Virgin Bay, where the land route commences.
    The distance from Machuca to the Toro rapid I estimate to be about forty miles. We were two days performing this distance, but I heard it has frequently been done in one day.

    From the Toro rapids to San Carlos, where the river enters the lake, I have heard variously estimated at from twelve to eighteen miles, and thence to Virgin Bay, at about sixty miles.
    The Director is a small steamer, about the size of the Taboga, 200 tuns, and can accomodate about 150 passengers with standing room. Sleeping is not to be thought of, but as her passage is only ten hours between the Toro and Virgin Bay, she can perform the distance between sunrise and sunset.

    The banks of the San Juan River are very low and swampy, and must, I conceive, be very unhealthy. The only habitations of men we saw were huts to shelter the laborers employed to cut wood for the steamers. The scenery is very beautiful.

    Virgin Bay is the port on the Lake. Here there are but three sheds and a house kept by a Frenchman as an hotel. The accomodations are of the most miserable description, and the provisions of all kinds excessively high. The country around is low and swampy.
    Here passengers take mules for San Juan del Sur, a distance said to be only thirteen miles, but which appears to me to be nearer twenty-one than thirteen miles. The first six miles are through a low, flat country, where our horses frequently sank up to their bellies in the mud. The country is very swampy, and, I should think, in the middle of the rainy season nearly impassable.

    After the first six miles, on arriving at a place called the Zebadillah, we came to a range of hills, which we crossed; the elevation, we were told, was 652 feet above the level of the sea. From this place to San Juan del Sur the ground is rather hilly and broken; but the soil being a stiff, brackish clay, retained the water, and the road was in horrible condition. I can only compare it to our Gorgona road [in Panama] in the worst of seasons, when the muleteers consider it impassable; the nature of the ground, too, is very similar.
    The Company, we were told, intend to plank it shortly; and a small steam saw mill has been sent out to saw the planks. The machinery, however, is still at Greytown, and no steps were being taken to get it up to the Lake.

    At San Juan del Sur we found only three ranches, with tiled roofs, one of which is occupied by an Englishman named Priest; two frame buildings were in the course of erection, and a number of tents were pitched all along the beach.
    The harbor is very pretty, but it is very small. At the mouth, it is about half a mile wide, and inside, perhaps, from three-quarters to a mile across; from the entrance to the beach, about a quarter of a mile deep. I do not think over fourteen or fifteen vessels could swing clear of each other with safety; and as the harbor is open to the whole swell of the Pacific, it must be very unsafe for vessels to lie there when the wind is from the southward or westward, even when the harbor is as calm as a mirror. There is such a surf on the beach that it is impossible to land, except at the south east corner, where a point of rock juts out and shelters the beach to a certain extent.

    The conclusion I have formed is that San Juan de Sur never can become a place of importance, owing to the badness of the harbor. Steamers will never be able to coal here, consequently Realejo must be the depot of the steamers; and San Juan never will be anything but a place to land and embark passengers, and without any trade whatever.
    About forty Americans are settled at San Juan, chiefly boatmen from Panama, who appear to be the only persons making money. They charge $2 to land and embark passengers. Everything is scarce, but as the population is scanty, if any quantity of provisions were sent there would be little or no demand for them. I am informed provisions are very cheap and abundant at Rivas, a distance of 21 miles.

    Vanderbilt's Company charge $40 for passage from this place to Greytown, and $50 from Greytown to this. The result of my observations so far is that this route is decidedly more expensive, more uncomfortable, and longer than the Panama route. By the Panama route passengers can at all seasons cross comfortably in three days, at an expense of $25. By this route the expense is double; the time occupied is from five to seven days; as to comfort, there is no comparison between the routes.
    On the Isthmus, there are hotels along the Chagres River, and Cruces road, every few miles; whereas here there are none whatever. I am, therefore, decidedly of opinion that any passenger who crosses by this route, and experiences all the discomforts and expenses attending it, will never return, as long as the Isthmus route is open,--the latter even now, in a state of nature, being far superior to the Nicaragua route, with all its boasted improvements; and as far as regards health (with the exception of the port of Chagres alone,) is also better; and finally, next dry season, when the Railroad is through to Gorgona, and passengers cross the Isthmus in one day, no person, in my opinion, will ever think of any other route to California, until the Tehuantepec is open for traveling.

    I am informed that the agent of Mr. Vanderbilt's Company has just gone home, after prevailing on the Provisional Government at Granada to modify the privilege granted the Company by the State of Nicaragua so that two companies, entirely independent of each other, may be formed by the original Company. The one to be named the Transit Company, which is to manage the transportation of merchandise and passengers by the present facilities of steamers, bungos, and the road until the canal is finished. The other to be the Canal Company, which is to build the canal. To the Transit Company all the privileges accorded to the Canal Company when the Canal is finished are conceded from this day henceforth.
    This looks very much as if we should never see any canal through Nicaragua at all; and that the projectors were already convinced of the impossibility of procuring funds for such a gigantic enterprise, and had secured what they could before the fact became known. Hoping to see you soon,
I remain, dear Star, yours truly, J.H.S.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1851 was equivalent to $24.61 in 2007 dollars. Thus the $1.25 hotel room in 1851 cost about $30.76 in 2007 dollars, and the $40 or $50 (depending on direction) price of passage cost about $984 or $1231 in 2007 dollars.

The above article, saying the cost of Isthmus passage in Panama was $25, was written for a Panamanian newspaper. In another article, reprinted on the Panama News page, a New York Times correspondent says the cost for him to cross the Isthmus in Panama in 1850 was $60.
see also: El Salvador News - Honduras - Costa Rica - Panama
    Coffee at Home in Nicaragua, 1894

All of Nicaragua is one
time zone at GMT-6, with
no Daylight Savings Time

  Nicaragua News



    The Pacific Coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838.

    Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades.

    Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979.

    Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Free elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001, saw the Sandinistas defeated, but voting in 2006 announced the return of former Sandinista President Daniel ORTEGA Saavedra.

    Nicaragua's infrastructure and economy - hard hit by the earlier civil war and by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 - are slowly being rebuilt.
    CIA World Factbook: Nicaragua


Area of Nicaragua: 129,494 sq km
slightly smaller than the state of New York

Population of Nicaragua: 5,675,356
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Nicaragua:
Spanish official
Atlantic coast: English & local languages

Nicaragua Capital: Managua


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The New York Times, October 7, 1888, p.11:

DAYS IN NICARAGUA TOWNS

ALONG THE COAST AND ON THE INTERIOR LAKES.

MAN-EATING SHARKS--
THE CANAL AND THE FUTURE OF TOWNS--
PROPOSED UNION OF STATES.

    GRANADA, Nicaragua, Sept. 17.--Owing to unavoidable delays in other Central American ports our steamer did not arrive at Corinto until 5 P. M., which was too late to take the train to Managua.

    Corinto is a beautiful harbor, and so small that when one views it from the steamer's deck it seems but a joke played by nature. It is nearly circular, and about one-half of a mile in diameter, surrounded by low, flat country covered with almost impenetrable underbrush. The town is built on a sandspit, and is nothing but an Indian village of thatch houses now and then seen peeping out between the banana and palm trees.
    Before landing, and while my ship's papers were being examined, my attention was called to the immense man-eating sharks which were slowly swimming at the ships side. Many were 20 feet in length and horrible-looking monsters. The water was so quiet and clear that fish 20 feet below the surface could be seen distinctly as they nosed about for anything eatable dropped from the steamer.

    No sooner had our anchor touched when we were surrounded by many Indians in small boats with fruit for sale. They had every tropical variety, pineapples, oranges, mangoes, and granadias, and, of course, charged the passengers about four times the regular prices, but even then it seemed cheap to one accustomed to more northern rates.

    The captain introduced me to the Commandante of the port, and he was good enough to land me in his private boat, which is much preferable to being dumped into and out of the heavy launches to which the other passengers were consigned. The Commandante was a dapper little fellow, a Colonel of the Nicaraguan Army, and about five feet in height. I soon found that his hobby was "army," and when he discovered that I was American and not English he dilated on the superiority of the United States Army over all others. He spoke as if that nucleus of men was 250,000 strong, instead of a bare 25,000. I did not correct him, but let him rattle on, and to this day I do not know whether he thought me a fool or whether he was misinformed.

    The heat was intense, and with the steady sea breeze blowing I perspired at every pore. Before going to bed in what was called a hotel I had noticed everywhere precautions against mosquitoes, so I rigged my own mosquito bar and got under it before dark in order to render a light unnecessary. The plan succeeded--the insects found where I was, but were unable to effect and entrance, and during breaks in my sleep throughout the night I could hear with satisfaction their angry and hungry buzz. During the rainy season they are almost an unbearable pest along this portion of the coast, and white men are so bitten as to resemble patients suffering with measles.

    After an early breakfast I started on the narrow gauge road at 8 A. M.; it runs due north for some miles along the sand until it joins the mainland and strikes southeast toward Managua, the capital.
    After an hour's ride through the swampy coastlands we reached the Indian pueblo of Chimandega. It is built in two or three long streets of ranchos, and its main support is in rubber working and balsam. From this point one sees how bountifully Nicaragua has been supplied with volcanoes, as four are in plain view, i.e., Chonco to the north, and Viejo, Santa Clara, and Telica to the east.

    From here on to Lake Managua the road runs parallel to the coast and about 10 miles distant from it, so that one almost constantly has the Pacific in view. We passed the town of Leon at about 12, and reached the lake at 4 P. M. at a town called Moábita, which is the terminus of the road.
    Small steamers about 50 or 60 feet in length connect between this point and the capital, about 50 miles further down the lake shore. Early next morning the steamer left, and it seemed to me as if every man, woman and child had come to the wharf to see her off. In any other country than those of Spanish America the terminus of a railroad soon develops into a thriving busy town, but Moábita is as quiet and dead as a cemetary, and the only excitement in the lives of its inhabitants is the departures and arrivals of trains and steamers.

    Our little steamer resembled the tugboats seen around New-York City, but was much smaller, and was provided with a high-pressure engine that made one's skin tingle at every stroke, and a whistle so shrill and piercing that it would serve as a fog signal for New-York Harbor. The day was clear and beautiful; there is but one other steamer on the lake; all the pilot had to do was to keep far enough from the shore to avoid rocks, and yet that whistle was blown every 10 minutes. The native passengers seemed to enjoy it, and especially when the pilot rang changes on it and gave a succession of short sharp toots instead of the long shriek.
    The Captain wore enough gold lace to fit out a militia Brigadier, and he walked his 10-foot deck as proudly as if he was in command of a vessel of Great Eastern size. About the middle of the trip the course turns around a point where the wind blows a little, but I have heard that sometimes the waves ride very high. This day, as soon as we reached that point, every female passenger got seasick, and there was no more rolling than one sees in the Central Park lakes.

    Lake Managua is about 55 miles long and about 16 wide, and is a beautiful sheet of water; it is connected with Lake Nicaragua by the Tipitapa River, and then with the Atlantic by the San Juan River, which will be used in building the Nicaragua Canal. The shores of Lake Managua gave as varied a picture as the shores of the central New-York lakes. Sometimes the steep lava sides of extinct volcanoes reached the water's edge, and in other places the rise from the shore was so gentle as to resemble the rich meadows of the United States and to make one wonder why no cattle were grazing there. Then again where small rocky points jutted out, for a fisherman's eye, were lurking places for bass, and groups of rocks for fly casting.
    The lake has many excellent varieties of fish, but the climate is so warm that they must flop from the water into the frying pan to be good. The natives catch them and "sun dry" and salt them, but to one used to better things this variety of salt fish is a poor dish.

    We arrived at Managua at 1:30 P. M., and here again had the whole town at the wharf to welcome the steamer. The city is built close to the lake, and the ruins on its outskirts recall to memory its destruction 12 years ago by the immense volume of water that came down upon it from the mountains in the rear. In situation it differs but little from that of Cincinnati, with hills encircling it at the back and water in front, and during an unusually heavy rainy season it was simply engulfed and washed into the lake.
    This catastrophe rendered real estate owners cautious, and the new town bears no comparison with the old in point of beauty and massiveness. The population is about 9,000, but an observer would imagine that figure too high. To me it seemed a city of idlers, and judging from their expressions they did not enjoy their idleness.
    There is but one decent hotel, but that is enough, because Managua, commercially speaking, is on the down grade, and would long ago have ceased being the capital had it not contained the public buildings.

    Granada, on Lake Nicaragua, is a larger and busier place, and will eventually be the seat of power. The main theme of conversation here is the canal. They "bank" heavily upon the advantages it offers and the benefits they will reap. For a lazy, indolent population, quite a speculative mania has developed itself among them. Some time ago the point called Brito was thought to have been selected as the western terminus. Instantly two or three companies were formed who bought adjoining lands, laid out plans of cities, and sold lots as long as the boom lasted, but the bubble shrunk somewhat when it leaked out that the Bay of Salinas, 40 miles south, might be the point.

    In nearly every respect Nicaragua is inferior to its northern neighbors. The Cordilleras lessen in height, giving a lower country, hotter and more unhealthy than one finds on the plateaus of Guatemala. The drop in altitude may be conceived when it is understood that the highest point on the surveyed line of the canal is only about 400 feet above the sea, and the river San Juan, which is navigable for vessels of five feet draught, flows quietly over the backbone of the continent on its course to the Atlantic.

    Leaving Managua early one morning, I went muleback the 30 miles to Granada. The direct rail line between the two points is given up to banana and rice planting and rubber growing, but back in the foothills of the mountains, through which my path led, there was a succession of coffee and cacao fincas, corn fields, and Indian villages.
    The country seems to be inhabited in spots; the people do not spread themselves over it. Two or three times during the day I passed small but well-built adobe towns, separated only by a street from thoroughly Indian pueblos 10 times larger.

    These natives, or Indigenas, as they are called, are the remnants of the aboriginal race found by the Spaniards when they arrived in the country. They own much valuable land, and to them selling a piece is like cutting off a limb. They are very clannish, and regard every other race with suspicion. They desire no intercourse without their own circle, and the half-breeds of the country in their eyes are as bad as, if not worse than, a foreigner. This race prejudice undoubtedly arises from their unwritten history of the Spanish conquest.
    With earnest work, these people would be wealthy, but the soil is so rich and their needs in the warm climate so few that the end of the year finds them with as little as in the beginning, and, like the Indian of the Balsam coast, he is satisfied with a hat and a banana.

    People who have been over this ground had told me that travelers could apply at their ranchos in vain for anything to eat, but everywhere I tried a plenty was offered in return for silver. Toward the evening I drew near to Granada, and the contrast between it and Managua is like that between New-York and Brooklyn.

    Granada is a larger and more bustling town, and much resembles Tucson in Arizona. The city is built on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, which at this point is about 25 miles wide. Looking south, on an island about 25 miles away, the twin volcanoes Ometepe and Madera are in easy sight. They are old and now extinct, and long ago must have shoved themselves up from the lake bottom just as the volcano of Slopango did in the lake of that name in San Salvador only 10 years ago. For miles around, and until one gets up too high into the hills, the country is a garden of tropical fruits.
    The city was founded by Pedro de Alvarado in 1524, and was named by him Granada on account of the surrounding forests of trees bearing that fruit, and called by us the pomegranate. To form some idea of the hardships undergone by Alvarado's band in its march south overland from the City of Mexico, one need only walk or ride a few miles through the hot country on the coast. With nothing on but clothes made of the lightest materials, any exertion brings perspiration out at every pore, and yet these Spaniards wore armor to protect themselves from showers of Indian arrows received from every hilltop as they marched along, and almost daily pitched battles with the jealous aborigines.

    This strip of land, forming the Pacific shore and the western side of Lakes Managua and Nicaragua, is where the filibuster Walker did most of his work, and I have met several gentlemen in Granada who had seen him, and one old army officer who was present when Walker surrendered at Rivas, further south on this strip of land, in 1857. This officer was a young Lieutenant at the time, and was in command of the guard put over Walker. Seeing much of each other, the Lieutenant and the prisoner became much attached, and tears came to the old Colonel's eyes as he described the execution.

    Coming from colder Central American countries to Nicaragua, one is immediately impressed with the difference in dress of the Indians. In the rubber fincas the women wear only a short, thin petticoat of gaudy colors reaching to the knee. Children of both sexes run around naked up to 12 years of age, and the men wear a cloth around the loins. On "feast" days Granada is filled with the surrounding Indian population, and on such occasions the women wear a native, sleeveless, loose-fitting shirt, and with this on they feel well enough dressed to promenade on their Fifth-avenue. Many wear complete suits of a coarse white material called manta, which at first sight gives the wearer that cool, clean appearance so much desired in a hot climate.
    One immediately imagines what splendid laundresses these Indian women must be, and sends his clothes to be washed. When they return he finds them looking as if they had had a mud bath, without starch, and he begins to realize that the apparent spotlessness of Indian garments is due only to the contrast with their copper-colored skins.

    Throughout Central America, and especially in Guatemala, San Salvador, and Nicaragua, there is a strong growing sentiment in favor of a union of the five republics into the United States of Central America, which had a political existence from 1824 to 1839...

    For the purpose of allowing tourists to see something except the bare coast of Central America, the Pacific Mail Company is now arranging with the railroads running into the interiors to stop long enough in port to allow those who wish it a short run inland. This will doubly increase the interest of a trip from California to New-York via the Isthmus. A few days ago a whole shipload of people were able to pass the 15th of September, which is Central America's Fourth of July, at Guatemala...

    The mozo labor of Nicaragua is more resident in nature than that of Guatemala, i. e., more of the families make permanent homes on their employer's plantations, which is a great advantage in every way. Very many of the women and older girls during seasons of light work employ themselves in making hammocks, and that class of hat known as the "Panama." These hats, according to the fineness of the pita, or vegetable thread of which they are made, sell on the spot anywhere from 25 cents to $40, gold, apiece...

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1888 was equivalent to $22.79 in 2007 dollars.

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