Nov 18, 2011

The Tehuantepec Route

Recently I reviewed an automobile trip through Nicaragua and Costa Rica to illustrate the route and the difficulties of travel through that area.  Today I would like to review a journey across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which many feel is the Book of Mormon's "narrow neck of land."  This account was written by John Hackett in 1859 and subsequently published in the New York Times under the title of The Tehuantepec Route.  Hackett was a gold miner/adventurer returning to the United States by way of the Tehuantepec "shortcut."  For those who would like to read the full account it can be found here.  I will only give an abbreviate chronology of his actual crossing of the isthmus.  

Tuesday, February 21.  Their party disembarked on the Pacific side of Tehuantepec at the village of La Ventosa at 6 am.  They were then transported 15 miles into the city of Tehuantepec by coach.  This coach trip took them 3 hours.  Then they waited in Tehuantepec until 5 pm when they resumed their jouney again in a coach.  They traveled all night, stopping only for one hour to changes horses.  At 6 am they arrived at a place called Almaloya where they stopped to eat and rest for 2 hours.  At 8 am they continued on, this time riding horses, mules and donkeys.  At 4 pm, after riding for 33 miles (or 8 hours), they arrived at a place called Sanderson's.  There they ate and slept until the following morning.  They resumed their journey at 6 am, again riding horses, mules and donkeys.  By 10 am they had traveled 15 miles and stopped for lunch.  One of the party dies of fatigue and the heat.  After burying him, the resume the journey, however, now they are walking as they cannot endure the discomfort of riding.  At 5 pm they arrive at a place called Suchil (Suchilapan?) which is the head of navigation of the Coatzacoalcos River.  At this point they had traveled about 120 miles.  It has taken them 3 days and 2 nights with only one night of sleep.  They expected to find a steamer awaiting them at Suchil, but it was not there, so they sleep the night at Suchil.  
Coatzacoalcos River
Friday, March 4.  At 12 noon a canoe arrives bringing mail from the steamer which is stranded on a sandbar downstream.  At 2 pm the party boards canoes and head downstream to locate the steamer, which is supposedly only 15 miles downstream.  With the aid of the current, they assumed that they would reach the steamer by dark.  At this point they were all dispirited and discouraged due to the fatigues of the journey.  The river was flowing at about 2.5-3 miles an hour, but the rivers was full of snags and sand bars.  They had still not found the steamer by nightfall, but encountered a canoe from the steamer heading upstream.  They find out that the steamer is still a days travel downstream.
Saturday, March 5.  After toiling all night on the river, they finally sight the lights of the steamer at 2 am and shortly thereafter are on board.  They are too tired and miserable to sleep, especially when they learn that they are still 50 miles upstream from Minatilan on the gulf coast.  They finally arrive at Minatilan at 5 pm and board a home bound ship and are finally out to sea at 9 pm.  
According to my calculations, their time traveling was as follows:
Riding in horse drawn coach                         15 hours
Riding horses, etc.                                        12 hours
Walking                                                          5 hours
Traveling on river by canoe                            12 hours
On river by steamer                                        11 hours
For a total of 55 hours.  This is two full 24 hour days, plus 7 hours, not counting time to rest, eat or sleep.  If we break it up into long 12 hour days it would be 4.75 days travel.  And as can be seen, Hackett only walked 5 hours of the trip.  The rest of the way he was either riding, floating with the river current, or being transported by steam power.  If a person were to walk the entire distance, it would take much longer than this, probably double the time.  
As you can observe, Tehuantepec cannot be crossed in a day by an average person as the Book of Mormon requires.      

  

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