Skip to Content


Humpback Whale

Just when you thought sharks were the only animals to avoid while in the ocean, it seems some angry whales are in attack mode.

Whale Attack in Queensland

A giant Humpback Whale attacked a 30-foot fishing boat below the water line last week in Queensland, Australia. The pressure from the whale threw the charter boat, “The Mistress,” into the air.

“Within a split second, we all hit the floor, the boat launched up into the air and dislodged everyone off their feet,” Captain Oliver Gales told the local newspaper, the Telegraph. One passenger was knocked unconscious and three others were injured.

Afterward, the whale just swam by.

“We see whales all the time, but it’s never known for this sort of thing to happen,” Gales said.

Whale Attack in Alaska

Orca Killer Whale

A few weeks ago in Sitka, Alaska, an Orca Whale attacked a 33 foot boat on a weekend excursion. While the boat was anchored near Little Biorka Island, the Orca rammed the boat, yanked its anchor line and whacked the boat with its tail. Boat owner Victor Littlefield screamed at the whale, hoping to scare it off.

It didn’t help that the night before Littlefield had seen the movie “Jaws.”

The First Whale Attack

Angry whales attacking ships was unheard of before 1820. We humans thought we had the upper hand. It seemed it was perfectly acceptable for humans to attack whales, but unimagineable for whales to attack us.

Whale attacks the Whale Ship Essex in 1820, depicted in a drawing at the time.

That idea changed a little after 8 o’clock in the morning of November 20, 1820, in the Pacific Ocean at the equator, almost 1500 miles from land. The 89 foot whale ship,  Essex, was attacked by an 85 foot sperm whale.

The angry whale bashed in one side of the wooden ship below the water line, swam under the ship and bashed in the other side. The ship rapidly took on water and eventually sank, leaving the crew huddled in a few small boats. Most of that crew perished at sea, trying to reach land, as water and food supplies dwindled.



Cover of Listen To Read audiobook “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex,” available as a digital download or an Mp3 CD.

We know the story of the Essex because one of the survivors, Owen Chase, First Mate, wrote down the story and had his book printed privately the next year.

You can hear Chase’s first person description of the incredible attack and fight for survival on our audiobook, “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary And Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex.”

The “Moby Dick” Connection

Twenty years later, in 1841, Owen Chase’s son served on a whale ship, which crossed paths with another whale ship in the Pacific Ocean, almost exactly where the Essex met her doom.

On board the other whale ship was a sailor and future novelist, Herman Melville. As the two crews socialized, Chase’s son let Melville read his father’s account of the doomed Essex, which gave Melville the idea for what would become his famous novel, “Moby Dick,” the story of an angry whale.


Andre Stojka

Listen To Read


PS: You can easily download the audiobook of  “Narrative of the Most Extraordinary
And Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale Ship Essex” here:

PPS: You can see pictures and hear a free preview of our Listen2Read audiobook here:




Bears Ears National Monument, re-examined for being too large.


Ancient Native American treasures found in Bears Ears National Monument


Donald Trump’s re-examination of Bears Ears Monument in Utah,  covered by the Antiquities Act, reminded me why the Antiquities Act had been created in the first place in 1903.




Before there was an Antiquities Act, there was a Federal Homestead Act of 1862, where the Federal Government encouraged people to settle in the newly acquired U.S. lands in the West. Aimed primarily at farmers, offering 160 acres free if developed within five years, it was a benefit people took seriously. And it was a mind set:

Bridalveil Falls Yosemite Valley California

the government wanted the newly opened western lands used and exploited for a developing economy.
Exploitation was taking place everywhere, including the Yosemite Valley in California, considered a uniquely beautiful treasure. Because of the Homestead Act, Yosemite was being cut up by homesteaders, railroads, mining and sheep herding interests.



There was no existing law to preserve Yosemite from exploitation. Something needed to be done. In 1864, two years after the Homestead Act, the Yosemite Grant was created, which removed Yosemite from development and gave it to the State of California as a State Park.


Yosemite Valley in Winter

The Yosemite Grant was signed in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln and introduced a new and very controversial concept: the ability of the Federal Government to acquire State land without payment by the Federal Government. Once the concept was accepted, it was also used as a legal precedent in 1872 to establish Yellowstone National Park, nationalizing lands that were once controlled by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.


In May 1903, a Southern Pacific Railroad train from San Francisco arrived at the little town of Raymond, California, formerly known as Wildcat Station. On board the train was the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, with thirty Cavalry escorts and one lone naturalist, John Muir.

Camp in Yosemite with Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir.

Departing the steam train, the President and Muir with others of his party were placed in stage coaches to ride another exhausting 65 miles to the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite. There, a camp was established and the exhausted President retired for the evening with instructions not to be disturbed. Roosevelt slept on 40 blankets, piled up for a bed. There was still snow on the ground.



During their three-day trip, Roosevelt and Muir avoided the busy Wawona Hotel, built in 1876, to avoid the crowds and keep in the spirit of nature. Roosevelt wanted what he called a “roughing trip.” Many people knew the President was visiting Yosemite and wanted to see him. Keeping him away from crowds was part of the duties of Charlie Leadig, the local guide.

Roosevelt and Muir on horseback, with Yosemite Half Dome in the background.

The next morning at 6:30 AM, Roosevelt, Muir and a small party began traveling the Lightning Trail on horseback. In the Bridalveil Meadows, they plowed through five feet of snow. It was still snowing when they arrived for the evening at what is today Glacier Point Camp.
That night, a crackling campfire provided warmth from the snowy chill as Roosevelt and Muir talked and talked. It was an animated, excited conversation, where both men seemed to want to talk at the same time, according to a witness.


Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier Point, Yosemite.

Muir and Roosevelt discussed the idea of preserving important forests in other parts of the United States. Out of this exchange came the idea that Yosemite should be a National Park instead of a State Park. It snowed 5 inches that night and the next morning the ground was frozen. But an idea was born, and shortly after, Yosemite was removed from the jurisdiction of California and became a National Park. The change stirred Roosevelt’s thinking.




Three years later in 1906, Congress passed, and President Roosevelt signed, the National Antiquities act, which said, in part:


“That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”


The Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Interestingly, the Act does not give the President the power to reduce or eliminate anything that has been established by the Act or enacted to by previous Presidents. The President can only act on the powers granted him by established law.

After signing the Antiquities act, Roosevelt moved quickly to protect 18 other national treasures he felt were threatened, including: Grand Canyon, Arizona; Devils Tower, Wyoming; Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico; Tonto Cliff Dwellings, Arizona; Pinnacles, California and also Mesa Verde in Colorado.


Mesa Verde in Colorado.

Not everyone was thrilled with protecting the land. In those days, the natural resources of the United States were available for the taking. Lumber interests saw their endless supply of trees potentially limited. Mining interests railed against having to ask permission to take minerals out of the ground. The West was founded on a free range of open grazing. Now, the Federal government was reaching into sovereign States and claiming large sections of land, which had previously been considered exploitable by the citizens of the state.

As I wrote in a previous blog, there are forces that would destroy the natural views of the Grand Canyon by building a hotel and cable car in plain sight. In Theodore Roosevelt Park in the Dakota Badlands, oil-drilling rigs can be currently viewed from every angle.

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.


Today, commercial forces keep pushing against preservation and President Trump seems to be opening up a conversation that many fear will reduce public lands. I hope everyone is misinterpreting his investigation, because I have visited many of our National Parks and Monuments and they are a national treasure, part of what makes me proud of our country.


Placing important lands under Federal Control is what keeps Native American cliff dwellings and petroglyphs from being shooting targets. It’s what keeps the beautiful redwoods from being turned into decks and siding, fantastic natural rock formations from being dynamited for minerals. I believe that National lands give all Americans a pride of ownership.

Around that campfire in 1903, John Muir also told President Roosevelt about a theory he had on how Yosemite had been created. He believed the mountains had been carved by ancient glaciers long gone. In 1879, Muir had traveled to Glacier Bay in Alaska to walk on the glaciers and learn about them at first hand.

Out of his adventure came a short story Muir wrote, about a feisty small dog who wouldn’t go away and kept following Muir into very dangerous places.
The story is called “Stickeen” and it one of our most popular audiobooks, and, also our least expensive audiobook. You can hear a preview of Stickeen’s story here:
and you can inexpensively download it from Audible here:


My thanks to the Sierra Club for including our Listen To Read audiobook “Stickeen” to their list of audio visual materials, in connection with their John Muir exhibit:

Andre Stojka


Here was the dilemma:
Which of these two stunningly beautiful, one of a kind, world class, historically priceless, irreplaceable, works of nature should the US government totally sacrifice, obliterate and destroy, so no future  generations would ever see it?

Choose one: A or B?

“A” is the stunningly beautiful Steamboat Rock in the Echo Park district of the Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado.

“B” is the stunningly beautiful Glen Canyon in the Vermillion Cliffs of southeastern and southcentral Utah and northcentral Arizona.


John Wesley Powell and a Native American. Powell was the first white man to travel down the complete length of the Colorado River.

Both of these were discovered by John Wesley Powell and described in his book “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons.”

The problem was this: after Powell’s death defying journey down the unknown Colorado river in 1869, the mighty Colorado river became vitally important to all residents of the Southwest United States as the major source of life sustaining water.


Hoover Dam from down river.

The US government has harnessed the power of the Colorado by creating  Hoover Dam, where the Colorado River water is blocked from its natural flow and backs up into a huge reservoir, named Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, Nevada.
From this point, the water flow is controlled as it continues downstream, sustaining communities throughout the Southwest.

The tamed Colorado River sends water to cities from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles, California. As a byproduct, as the water passes through Hoover Dam, it powers giant generators, creating electrical power.

The US government guaranteed the delivery of water to the various stakeholders. However, the Government overestimated the amount of future water available. So, unfortunately, the Government promised more than it could deliver.

Government bureaucrats theorized that if one lake could successfully store Colorado River water, two lakes could store even more water.

Rafting deep in the silent canyons of Echo Park.

The question was: where to locate the second lake.

Naturally, with all the empty lands in the West, the Government chose the most beautiful, irreplaceable Steamboat Rock, in the Echo Park district of the Dinosaur National Monument in Northwest Colorado.
The choice shocked conservationists, environmentalists and all interested in our National Parks.


Hiking on the floor of Glen Canyon.

To save the Colorado River at Steamboat Rock from being dammed and flooding over the stunning Echo Park area, conservationists had to find another choice…and they did, far, far down river, in the middle of the vast desert. The stunning Glen Canyon was their choice. Some say it was sacrificed.

“Glen Canyon died, and I was partly responsible for its needless death,” Sierra Club president, David R. Brower wrote in Sierra Magazine in 1997.

“But as surely as we made a mistake years ago, we can reverse it now. We can drain Lake Powell and let the Colorado River run through the dam that created it…”

Lake Powell, the giant reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam, was named for John Wesley Powell, the Colorado River explorer. (See pictures of Powell’s Exploration and hear his narrative : )

The surface of Lake Powell. The beautiful Glen Canyon is below the water.

When I last visited the lake, the view was deceptive. I felt as if I were in a vast hot desert, in the middle of which was this out of place, huge expanse of water with docks, houseboats and tourist facilities.

I had to stare at the lake for a moment to fully comprehend that all that water, stretching out endlessly, was actually covering and drowning one of America’s most beautiful canyons, buried far below the surface by tons of water.

Two years ago, I wrote about how the drought had lowered the water levels of both Lake Mead and Lake Powell.  As I flew over Lake Mead, I could look down and see the rings, like bathtub rings, circling the lake, showing where the water once was and is no longer. It is reported that Lake Mead water is now so low, it is beneath the water intake for the City of Las Vegas. Lake Mead could use a lot more water, but with the drought, nature is not providing it.

Circular rock shapes in the Antelope Canyon portion of Glen Canyon.

That needed water just might be in Lake Powell, covering Glen Canyon. Environmentalists have proposed that Lake Mead be filled with Lake Powell water. If Glen Canyon were drained, it would once more be visible. Visitors could once again appreciate the amazing natural rock and land formations, which are now covered with water.

Under one plan, the great Dam spanning Glen Canyon would remain in place. The huge Dam’s diversion tunnels would send 200,000 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Lake Mead, removing those “bathtub rings.”

Is it possible to do this without creating harm? I really hope so, because America is such a beautiful country, I’d hate to think that our most spectacular and beautiful places could remain destroyed by mistake.

Rings on the Glen Canyon walls, becoming visible as the water level goes down because of the drought.



If you haven’t read Powell’s wonderful book, “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons,” you can listen to our audiobook of his historic narrative, embellished by many of the sounds of a river adventure. You can download it directly into your phone from


If you would like to give someone a gift of our audiobook, or donate it to a school library, it is available in CD and Mp3CD formats, in stereo, right here on our website.


Andre Stojka
© 2017



Sinking British passenger ship Lusitania, torpedoed without warning in 1915 by a German U-Boat, off the Irish coast. Great Britain was at war with Germany, but the United states was neutral. One hundred and twenty-eight Americans were killed. America was outraged.


World War I German transmitting station.


One hundred years ago, in 1917, a secret coded radio transmission from a German transmitter was intercepted by British Intelligence. Great Britain was already at war with Germany. Despite the loss of American lives on the Lusitania, United States President Woodrow Wilson was struggling to keep America out of World War I.




World War I German submarine.


German submarines were attacking unarmed merchant ships crossing the Atlantic to prevent food and war materials from reaching England.



Urgent German message in secret code.



The coded radio transmission, one of many, passed into Room 40 of the Admiralty Old Building in London.

Two years before this telegram was intercepted, a copy of the top secret German Handelsschiffsverkehrsbuch had been retrieved from the safe of a German destroyer and had found a welcome home in Room 40.

It was the handbook of the German secret code.




United States President Woodrow Wilson.

President Woodrow Wilson struggled to keep the United State neutral in the war, to “keep an even Spirit.” Entering a war with Germany would be a dangerous undertaking when Germany had not directly threatened the United States.

When British Cryptographers decoded the German radio transmission, they were stunned by its content.

The message was so completely self-serving  to British interests in involving the United States into their war, they were almost afraid to show it to the United States Ambassador, James W. Gerard.

They were also reluctant to reveal it because it would signal to the Germans that the British had unlocked their codes.



The content of this message was breathtaking; it was sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to Erich von Eckardt, German Ambassador to Mexico.
Here’s what it said:

German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman.


“We (Germany) intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare…we shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States neutral.

In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis:

Make war together – make peace together –

generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.


The settlement detail is left to you. You will inform the President (of Mexico) of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain….

Please call the President’s (of Mexico) attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.”


This was an explosive revelation of the true German attitude toward the United States. Yet, despite reading the Zimmerman telegram, Wilson declared, “We are the sincere friends of the German people and earnestly desire to remain at peace with them…”

In Light Green: US States Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Mexico’s proposed reward for supporting Germany in World War One.

Then, in March 1917, several United States merchant ships were sunk by Germany and former President Theodore Roosevelt said to a friend: ”If he (Wilson) does not go to war, I shall skin him alive.”

Reluctantly, Wilson delivered a War Message to Congress on April 2, 1917 and a declaration of war was passed by Congress and signed by Wilson on April 6, 1917. The United State was now fully committed to war with Germany and was going, as songwriter Irving Berlin wrote in his famous song, “Over There.”


President of Mexico Venustiano Carranza.

Germany probably hoped to take advantage of the revolution in Mexico, knowing that  the United States relationship with Mexico was rocky at best. However, the US did recognize Venustiano Carranza as the legitimate President of Mexico.

A Mexican military commission appointed by Carranza studied the German proposal and eventually rejected the offer. Mexico/United States relations continued to be strained during this time.  Mexico remained totally neutral during World War I, even allowing German companies to operate businesses within Mexico.


Long before the official United States Declaration of War on Germany, individual Americans had already been involved in World War I, “Over there.”


British wounded at Bernafay Wood, July 1916.

England needed extra soldiers for its army and Americans, some believing in the cause and some just seeking adventure, volunteered.

The French, just beginning to develop their air force, especially needed educated men to become pilots and fly air sorties over the German line on the Western Front.

James Norman Hall in 1917.

One of the Americans, who volunteered to join the new French Lafayette Escadrille Flying School was James Norman Hall. Hall was 29 years old at the time and looking for adventure. Later in life, he would become the co-author of the world famous book “Mutiny On The Bounty,” as well as other South Seas adventures.

James Norman Hall and his World War I bi-plane.



James Norman Hall learned to fly primitive bi-planes and engage in the original form of air dogfights and battles. He wrote about his unique and hair raising experiences in his book “High Adventure,” which I have published as a Listen To Read audiobook, with actor Andre Devin portraying Hall. As you might imagine, it was quite an experience!

“High Adventure” is part of our American Adventure Library Series, available at, I-Tunes, Scribed, Tunein, Barnes and Noble, Downpour, and If you’d like to download it, here is a link to our page at

Andre Stojka
Listen To Read audiobooks


There is a secret in this picture I took last year outside the Summer Palace, Beijing, China. Inside that building, all the doors and windows are blocked by an inside wall so the occupant, the Emperor of China, could not escape. In the year 1898, the Emperor was a prisoner in his own house.




This is the prisoner, Zaitian, the Guangxu Emperor from the Qing Dynasty. He had been made Emperor when he was five years old. Too young to rule, he was controlled by his adoptive mother.





This is his adoptive Mother and captor, the Grand Dowager Cizi. She had been Empress of China for 39 years. Cizi had come to power because, as a concubine, she had given birth to a son with her husband, the Emperor of China.

After her husband died, Cizi’s son became Emperor and she ruled through him.

When her son died, Cizi adopted Zaitian, her nephew, in the direct line of the Qing Dynasty and continued her rule through him.

By 1898, her adopted son was 37 years old. His royal tutors had raised him to believe his mother, the Empress, was brilliant, knew everything and was the smartest person in China. But now, he was beginning to have his doubts.


China had just lost a war with Japan. There was a rebellion of his own people against modern foreign influence. The Emperor saw his mother making decisions leading to a great financial loss for China.

He  saw problems everywhere he looked and came to believe that a constitutional monarchy would be best for modern China.

The Guangxu Emperor wanted to exercise his authority without the interference of his mother.

The Grand Dowager, however, would have none of this.  To stop the talk of modernization, she placed her son under house arrest for the rest of his life.


Nevertheless, change did come in high drama worthy of a major motion picture or novel. In November 1908, the Empress Cizi fell ill and believed she was about to die. She realized that after her death, her son would exercise his full power as Emperor of China and make the reforms she hated.


So .….she murdered him.


It was said that he was given a bowl of yogurt containing arsenic. It was said that upon eating it, his face turned blue. The Emperor died on November 14, 1908.  On the left is a picture of his funeral procession.

Later that very day, the Empress installed as Emperor the next in line from the Qing Dynasty, a 2-year-old boy.


Undoubtedly, the Empress felt she could continue her rule over China through the boy, just as she had ruled through the two previous Emperors.  But it was not to be. She was very ill and died November 15, 1908, the day after she murdered her son.


The child Emperor’s name was Henry Pu Yi, and his story became a motion picture in 1997. It was titled, “The Last Emperor”.

After the Grand Dowager‘s death, China remained as she had wanted it: old fashioned, out of date, and out of step with the outside world.


And that is why, six years later, when Americans Roy Chapman Andrews and his wife, Yvette Borup Andrews, explored China for the Natural Science Museum of New York, they found the country in frightful condition.

Life was lived as it had been for centuries, with very little sign of progress. The couple wrote about their fascinating journey in their book “Camps and Trails in Old China,” which I have recorded and published as a Listen To Read audiobook in our American Adventure Library series.

Here are Roy and Yvette, wearing white hats, encamped at Fuchow. In one chapter of the audiobook, the couple describe their encounter with the ancient practice of binding women’s feet, still taking place in the countryside, although Empress Cizi had been against the brutal practice.

Some Chinese were afraid to have their photographs taken; most people had never traveled more than 5 miles from their home. And Roy Chapman Andrews wrote, “No matter how long one has lived in China, one remains in mental suspense unable to decide which is the filthiest city of the republic.”


Our audiobook “Camps and Trails in Old China” describes a time warp between the ancient dictatorship of the Dowager Empress and the modern era, when a constitutional government was just struggling to take hold.

If you would like to hear their lively and fascinating true adventure, you can download it into your cell-phone from and listen while driving. Here is the link:


Here are Roy and Yvette shipside before the trip. By the way, Roy Chapman Andrews is said to be the model for Steven Spielberg’s character Indiana Jones.

Andrews didn’t search for the Ark of the Covenant, but he did explore bat caves, the haunts of the legendary Blue Tiger, travel through a wild country by mule train and take cover from a rain of bullets, surviving an attack in the Yen Ping Rebellion. Roy and Yvette had quite an adventure.


Andre Stojka
Listen To Read audiobooks
© 2017


Border fence between Arizona, USA and Mexico

Building a border wall between Mexico and the United States is a hot subject these days. Some people regard the border as the beginning of the illegal immigrant trail into the U.S.

But actually, the border is the end of a long trail for would-be illegal immigrants, I recently discovered. Most have traveled along the Pan American Highway that stretches from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the US border, with one notable, dangerous interruption:

There is no road at all for 60 miles between Turbo, Columbia and Yaviza, Panama. It is an area of Panama named the Darian Gap and some claim it is the most dangerous jungle in the world.

The Dariun jungle

The Darian jungle is a partly unexplored rainforest, filled with crocodiles, killer snakes, vampire bats and insects as big as your hand. The tropical heat can rise to over 90 degrees. It is also home to mosquitos, lots of mosquitos, carrying every disease a mosquito carries, from the Zika Virus and the West Nile Virus to Malaria and Yellow Fever.

There is no road here, because it would be too dangerous to build one.

Immigrant trail.

Environmentalists want the area to remain in its natural state to preserve the ancient jungle growth and wildlife, including Indian life. So do the drug smugglers, terrorists, kidnappers, and Marxist guerrilla fighters. They know there are few marked trails through the wilderness and it is easy to disappear. For some, easy disappearance is a good thing.

Some immigrants, who can afford it, try to avoid the dangerous jungle by traveling around it on the ocean, in the rickety boats with questionable engines offered by the human Coyotes. All payment is in cash. If the engine dies, however, the currents carry the hapless travelers out to sea.

Other Coyotes offer to be guides through the dangerous jungle, for cash, claiming to know the way. Sometimes they do, but often they abandon their wards. Because of the heavy layer of foliage, satellite direction finders are almost useless. If a guide abandons his party of immigrants, they could be doomed. Travelers often pass dead bodies along the way. If an insect or animal doesn’t bite you, a bullet might.

The immigrants come from all over the world. Many have flown from Asia, Bangladesh and Dubai to Brazil where, apparently, not too many questions are asked.

Pan American Highway Chicken Bus.

Once on the South American Continent, immigrants find their way to the Pan American Highway heading North, with little or no governmental interference, moving from one country to another.

Eventually, they arrive at the mountainous, yet swampy Darian Jungle between Colombia and Panama that one immigrant called the greenest place he’d ever seen. At this point, the journey becomes more difficult and treacherous than anyone could imagine.  Many immigrants have said that had they known how difficult it would be, they would have tried to immigrate to Europe instead.

Jungle at the Darian Gap.

This part of Central America is continuing to play its long historic role in our United States history. Panama has the narrowest landmass between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Before the US continental railroad was completed in 1869, traveling across this area was the shortest route from the West to the East. But it was always been risky. And, with all the progress resulting from the building of the Panama Canal, travel by foot through the primal jungle remains as dangerous as it has always been.

William Lewis Manly, author of “Death Valley in ’49.”


Adventurer William Lewis Manly trekked  North of the Darian jungle, along the Chagres River, in the early 1850’s, crossing from West to East. Manly had been successful mining for gold in California during the gold rush of 1849. He discovered and mined enough gold to enable him to return East and establish a farm, as he wrote in his book ” Death Valley in ‘49”. Preview:

In William Lewis Manly’s day, crossing Panama on foot was the only practical way to travel from California to the Eastern United States. To return home with his gold, Manly booked passage on a clipper ship from San Francisco Bay to Panama. Once Manly landed in Panama City, he had to hike through the jungle, 48 miles to the Caribbean side, where a passenger ship bound for Havana and New Orleans was expected. His entire fortune was wrapped in a gold belt tied tight around his waist.

“We had very little to eat. We kept a sharp eye out for robbers, keeping together as much as we could, for we knew that all returning Californians would be suspected of having money. Most all of them were ready for war, except myself, who had no weapon of any kind. All of these people had a bad name and all of them carried a long bladed knife called a Machete, with which they could kill a man with a single blow.”

Panamanian Police.

Every immigrant who crosses this area today is just as nervous as Manly was in the 1850’s. Everyone knows that what they are doing is high risk, with strong odds of failure. An immigrant named Ahmed Hassan told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, “There was no water. There were snakes. I thought I might die in the jungle.”

Immigrants to the US arrive at this point because it is easy for them to pass through as many as six South American countries without being stopped. Only recently, has Panama begun returning would-be immigrants caught in the Darian Gap to Colombia.

Pan American Highway


Those who are able to pass through Panama without being deported must then pass through five more countries before they reach that much talked about fence on the United States border. At that point, eleven sovereign nations in South and Central America have allowed the immigrants to pass through their jurisdiction toward the United States without stopping them.  I guess the US State Department doesn’t know about this.



Andre Stojka
Listen To Read



“A Visit from St. Nicholas” was written by Clemente Moore in 1823.
I recorded it recently and thought I would share it pur Listen To Read community during this Holiday Season with  best wishes for the New Year.

Here’s the link:

Andre Stojka
Listen to Read


Buying a slave in Havana Cuba 1837

Buying a slave in Havana, Cuba 1837.

If you or I were plantation slaves in Cuba in 1859, our value would have been set by law at $1,000 a person, which is equivalent to $28,316.68 in today’s US currency.

Cuban sugar plantation

Cuban sugar plantation.


This was a considerable investment by the plantation owner. A large plantation might have around 200 slaves, with a human value in today’s currency of $5,663,336.

All of this horrified abolitionist Richard Henry Dana, who wrote a book about Cuba in 1859, “To Cuba and Back.” He called it “a vacation voyage,” but it was really an investigation into Cuban slavery. I have recorded this adventure as an audiobook:
“To Cuba and Back – A Vacation Voyage in 1859.”

To see pictures of Cuban slavery, the plantations and old Havana and hear excerpts from the narrative, click on this internet link:

Richard Henry Dana author of "To Cuba and Back" and also "Two Years Before The Mast"

Richard Henry Dana, author of “To Cuba and Back” and also “Two Years Before The Mast.”

Richard Henry Dana didn’t sit on the sidelines when he witnessed injustice. He was one of the good people in American history, individuals who actively opposed immoral and unethical behavior.

Hundreds of slaves each year escaped their Southern masters and worked their way North to freedom, beyond the reach of Southern slave laws. Unfortunately, in 1850, the United States Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Act in an attempt to form a compromise between the Southern slave holding states and the Northern free states.
Richard Henry Dana represented fugitive slaves in court, attempting to keep the former slaves, who had escaped to the North, out of reach of their Southern masters. He refused payment for most of his legal services.


US Fugitive slave captured by law enforcement. Dana represented fugitive slaves pro bono, at no cost to the fugitive.

US Fugitive slave captured by law enforcement. Dana represented fugitive slaves pro bono, at no cost to the fugitive.

Richard Henry Dana was an active and outspoken abolitionist – dedicated to totally abolishing slavery everywhere, including Cuba, where sugar plantations were worked by slaves. The heat could be so intense in Cuba that when a US mainland slave was belligerent, and could not be controlled, the slave was shipped south, to spend the rest of his or her life in the heat of the Cuban sugar fields as punishment.

When Dana took his so-called “vacation,” he was well aware that Cuba was a place where United States interests were attempting to sustain slavery. He knew that he was entering territory with slave practices that were abhorrent to him.

Slaves cutting down sugar cane on a Cuban sugar plantation

Slaves cutting down sugar cane on a Cuban sugar plantation.


Dana was a deeply religious man, a man of conviction, who had considered the ministry, but eventually chose to practice law. He didn’t visualize himself as a writer, yet as a very young man, he had written a shocking, provocative book that changed the laws of the Merchant Marine, “Two Years Before The Mast.” He was a witness to and described the brutal practices of some ship Captains when they were long at sea and out of sight of the law, treating seamen almost as slaves.

Slavery had been abolished by Spain in 1820, however the Spanish government tolerated slavery’s existence in its Cuban colony for local economic reasons. It was an uneasy situation. Spain had already forbidden the importing of new slaves to Cuba, so plantation owners could only add to the new slave population with the children of present slaves.


Slaves tasting the sugar.


As Dana wrote:
“Every slave has a right to go to a magistrate and have him valued, and on paying the value, to receive his free papers. A slave is not obliged to pay the entire valuation at once; but may pay it in installments of not less than fifty dollars each.

By paying a share he becomes entitled to a corresponding share of his time and labor. If his valuation is $1,000, and he pays $100.00, he is owned one tenth by himself and nine tenths by his master.”



“To Cuba and Back” is an adventure that takes us on a journey into the lazy heat of tropical cities, the strict lines of society and the near lawlessness of the plantations.
It was a rough time for both Slave and Master, as Dana wrote:

Colonial Havana in a recent photograph

“The Master is a policeman as well as an economist and a judge. His revolver and rifle are always loaded. He has his dogs, his trackers and seizers, that lie at his gate. His hedges maybe broken down, his cane trampled or cut, or still worse, set fire to, goats let into his pastures, his poultry stolen and sometimes, his dogs poisoned. It is a country of little law and order, and what with slavery and free Negroes and low whites, violence or fraud are imminent and always formidable. No man rides far unarmed.”

Young ladies of wealthy Cuban Plantation families in Havana ride in a volante, drawn by horse with Black postillion.


“To Cuba and Back” also discusses the failed attempt, in 1859, to purchase Cuba and make it one of the United States’ slave states. Only a year after this book was written, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. A year after that, the American Civil War broke out, ending slavery in the United States, but not in Spanish Cuba.

Here is a link to pictures of Cuban slavery, sugar plantations and old Cuba, as well as excerpts from the narrative of “To Cuba and Back:”


“To Cuba and Back,” by Richard Henry Dana, is now an audiobook and published by Listen To Read, a new addition to our American Adventure Library series. It is enhanced with sound effects, music and an original Afterword.

It is available at,, Barnes & Noble Nook,,, and at our Listen 2 Read website, where it can be downloaded in full stereo.
Now that Cuba is so much in the news, I found it interesting to learn of Cuba’s history long before Castro, the Casinos and the Spanish American War.

Andre Stojka
Listen To Read
© 2016