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The Darkest Jungle:
The True Story of the Darién Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas


By Todd Balf
Crown Publishers
$24.95 U.S.
331 pages
ISBN # 0-609-60989-0

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Praise for The Darkest Jungle:
"Crack contemporary place writing, related in wrenching, enchanting detail."
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 tropics."
— Lawrence Millman, author of Last Places and Lost in the Arctic

Praise for The Last River by Todd Balf
'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

[Excerpt from the book]

To 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...
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