National Geographic : 1944 Aug
A Land of Lakes and Volcanoes BY Luis MARDEN With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author IF YOU like to look at volcanoes, go to Nicaragua. Twenty-three of them are strung in a chain down the west side of this largest republic of Central America. Half a dozen are active. Near Managua, the capital, footprints in solidified volcanic mud show where ancient men and animals fled an eruption two to five thousand years ago (page 164). Where rivers and roads have cut into the hills about the capital, superimposed strata of mud, pumice, and lava are revealed in bands of contrasting colors like an illustration from a geology textbook. Nicaragua has great lakes, too. One, Lake Nicaragua, is a hundred miles in length; its smaller twin, Managua, is nearly half as long. Geologists think these were part of a big bay of the Pacific, until the restless earth of the Central American isthmus, which still moves uneasily now and then, rose up and cut off the sea. Rivers flowing into the new-formed lakes eventually turned the water fresh. This may explain why several species of salt-water fish are found in Lake Nicaragua. Of greatest interest to ichthyologists is the fresh-water shark, Eulamia nicaraguensis, found, so far as is known, only here (pages 178, 183, and Plate IV). On the eve of my departure for Central America, Dr. Alexander Wetmore, Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and a trustee of the National Geographic Society, asked me to collect specimens of this unique fish for the United States National Museum. I got for the Museum three sharks that are the first large, complete specimens in any scientific institution. Not all of Nicaragua is mountainous and volcanic. The east-coast area is a broad low land of tropical rain forest laced with torren tial rivers. Down these water highways now move rubber and mahogany for the war ma chine of the United States and its Allies. Managua a Friendly Town Managua, in common with most of the Re public's larger cities and towns, is on the west ern side of the isthmus. Situated on the shore of Lake Managua at an altitude of only 180 feet, it was partially destroyed by an earthquake on March 31, 1931, but has been largely rebuilt along modern lines (P1. VII). However, the capital is still a friendly, leisurely place where everyone knows every one else. At dusk, families place rocking chairs on the narrow sidewalks before their houses and sit and talk. Friends come and bring their guitars (page 179). City telephones have numbers but few know them. You ask for your party by name. Central may cut in and say, "Don Carlos is at the club. I heard him telling his wife he was going there." Streets and avenues have their official designations, too, but these are rarely used. When you ask for directions, a Managuan will say, for example, "Two blocks beyond the Cathedral and three to the right, across from So-and-so's house." But everyone knows the name of the main street. It is Roosevelt Avenue. I lived in the MacArthur Hotel on Roosevelt Avenue. Horse-drawn public carriages, never absent from Managuan streets, are even more numer ous now because of gasoline and tire ration ing. On the Pan American Highway For the past several years my assignments have seemed to follow big construction jobs. First came the Third Locks in Panama, then the West Indian defense bases, and in Nicara gua I saw the construction of part of the Pan American Highway.* The Highway runs from the Rio Grande to Panama, and already you can drive-if you have the gasoline-from the Mexico-Guate mala frontier to San Jose, capital of Costa Rica. Some day you will be able to motor from the Texas border to the Panama Canal, and eventually beyond to South America. One morning I drove north along the road with Col. Edwin C. Kelton, of the U. S. Army Engineers. Colonel Kelton was in charge of the construction from Mexico to Panama. "My orders were to follow as closely as possible the route of the Inter-American High way, planned by the U. S. Public Roads Ad ministration some time ago," the colonel said. "We have had to make a few deviations from the original plan, because we had to complete the road as speedily as possible. However, the road will be of permanent all-weather *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Panama, Bridge of the World," November, 1941, and "Americans in the Caribbean," June, 1942, both by Luis Marden.