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NATIVES AND "BUNGOES"-CRESCENT CITY ARRIVES—WE SAIL INTO THE MOUTH OF THE
RIVER-PREPARE FOR A FIGHT-FASHIONS AND FORTIFICATIONS-AN HONEST ALCALDE -NON-FULFILLMENT OF CONTRACTS.
OUR attention was first attracted to the natives who were rowing off to us in "bungoes," or canoes of immense size, each manned by eight, ten, or twelve natives, apparently in a state of nudity. Their manner of propelling their craft was as novel as their appearance was ludicrous. They rise simultaneously, stepping up on a high seat, and, uttering a peculiar cry, throw themselves back on their oars, and resume their former seats. This is done with as much uniformity as if they were an entire piece of machinery. In the afternoon the Crescent City came to anchor, together with several sailing vessels, bringing, in all, about one thousand passengers.
We remained outside until the 17th, when we weighed anchor and passed into the mouth, making fast to the right bank, now called the American side of the river. We found an abundance of water in the channel, but at the entrance several dangerous rocks. As this coast is subject to severe northers, it is an extremely difficult port to make. The steamers still anchor some two miles out. We found several vessels near the mouth, beached and filled.
It was amusing to see the passengers preparing to make their advent on land. It is well understood that no one started for California without being thoroughly fortified, and as we had arrived at a place, where, as we thought, there must be, at least, some fighting to do, our first attention was directed to our armor. The revolvers, each man having at least two, were first overhauled, and the six barrels charged. These were put in our belt, which also contained a bowie knife. A brace of smaller pistols are snugly pocketed inside our vest; our rifles are liber. ally charged; and with a cane in hand, (which of course contains a dirk), and a slung shot in our pockets, we step off and look around for the enemy.
We crossed the river to Chagres, which consists of about thirty huts constructed of reeds, and thatched with palm-leaves, the inhabitants, the most squalid set of beings imaginable. They are all good Catholics, but do not go to the Bible for the fashions. There are fig-leaves in abundance, yet they are considered by the inhabitants quite superfluous, they preferring the garments that nature gave them, sometimes, however, adding a Panama hat.
We visited the fortifications, which were in a dilapidated state, the walls fast falling to decay. The only sentinels at the time of our visit, were three goats and two children. (See Plate.) It has a commanding position, and has been a work of much strength, but the guns are now dismounted, and the inhabitants ignorant of their use. In returning from the fort, we crossed a stream where a party of ladies were undressing for a bath, i.
e., they were taking off their hats. We passed on, and after viewing the “lions," returned to our vessel, not very favorably impressed with the manners or customs of the town.
We had contracted with the Alcalde for canoes to carry us up the river. The steamboat Orus, then plying on the river, having contracted to take up the Falcon's passengers, had offered an advanced price, and secured all the canoes, including ours. Our Alcalde had been struck down to the highest bidder, and I will here say that, although many charges have been brought against the New Grenadians, they have never been accused of fulfilling a contract, especially if they could make a "real" by breaking it. We did not relish the idea of remaining until the canoes returned, as Chagres had the name, (and it undoubtedly deserved it,) of being the most unhealthy place in Christendom. Many of our passengers had their lives insured before starting, and there was a clause in each policy, that remaining at Chagres over night would be a forfeiture.
The trunks of the steamers' passengers, particularly those of the Crescent City, were landed on the bank of the river, while their owners were endeavoring to secure passage up. The