Darkest Jungle:The True Story of the Darién
Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas
By Todd Balf
ISBN # 0-609-60989-0
"Crack contemporary place writing, related in wrenching, enchanting
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Balf vibrantly recounts…a disaster on a par
with the Donner party or the sinking of the whale ship Essex."
— Publishers Weekly
"A great adventure story where it is the suffering
of the characters that drives the story, not just the hostility
of the terrain."
— Mark Burnett, creator and executive
producer of the television series "Survivor"
"A brilliant illumination of a virtually forgotten
chapter in the history of American exploration. Isaac Strain is
like an early incarnation of Shackleton transposed to the sweltering
— Lawrence Millman, author of
Last Places and Lost in the Arctic
'Heart-pounding…like Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, The
Last River is a page-flipping odyssey fueled by the adrenaline
and near-madness of a team of well-heeled world-class thrill seekers."
— Entertainment Weekly (named
a top-ten nonfiction book for 2000)
"Difficult to put down…a fascinating
book…a kind of kayaker’s Rashomon."
—The New York Times
"A rich and troubling story…a must-read for
anyone who loved Into Thin Air." —Erik Larson,
author of The Devil in the White City and Isaac’s Storm
Photographs by Todd Balf
Boldly Go Where Only Bot Flies Have Gone Before
At day's end most of the men had been
marked. Trekking in and out of rivers was causing fungal
infections and circulatory problems in their feet. The white
bottoms were bloodless, wrinkled, and tender, a condition
later described as "warm-water-immersion foot."
Walking was so agonizing, some had tried to march on the
edges of their feet, seeking out scraps of foot tread that
wouldn’t make them wince each time their shoes, or
what was left of them, struck the ground. Itchy brown and
reddish patches of fungus appeared where their haversacks
rubbed against their backs, or high on the leg extending
from the crotch. Others reported a strange worm of sorts
embedded under the surface of the skin, and covered over
like a blind boil. "As to the manner in which it was
deposited no information could ever be obtained,'' an officer
wrote, "but it appeared to grow rapidly, in some subsequent
cases attaining the length of one inch, and was extremely
painful, especially when in motion.''
Evening hours were spent prying the bot flies and more numerous
ticks from their bodies, and the open fires burned dusk
till dawn—not to keep off the insects, which couldn’t
be kept off, but to discourage what the party believed were
the jaguars howling on the camp periphery. In the morning
when the men awoke, some found themselves weak and disoriented,
their night clothing saturated with blood. The culprit,
a vampire bat, excised such a tiny piece of flesh, and bit
so surgically, a sleeping man almost never stirred. An anticoagulant
in the bat’s saliva produced a steady trickle of blood
that flowed freely all night long...
Read more excerpts