Last week I traveled to the Panama Canal.

At the time it was finished in 1914, carving a route that joins the Pacific to the Atlantic had been the largest engineering project ever undertaken, in the history of history.

And it’s beautiful, too:

Sunset

photo by Amy McDaniel

But because the canal cuts off travel around South America, it naturally had a negative impact on ports around the horn. One of those stopping places was Valparaiso, and if it wasn’t for the Panama Canal, surely everyone would be familiar with the classic Irish jig that goes:

It was a cold and dreary morning in December (December)
And all of me money it was spent (spent, spent)
Where it went to, I can’t remember (remember)
So down to the shipping office I went (off I went)

Paddy lay back, (Paddy lay back)
Take in your slack (take in your slack)
Take a turn around your capstan heave a pawl.
About ship’s stations, boys be handy (Handy!)
We’re bound for Valparaiso ’round the horn

Well it seems there was a great demand for sailors (for sailors)
For the colonies, and for Frisco and for France (France, France)
Well, I shipped aboard the limey barque the Hotspur (the Hotspur)
And got paralytic drunk on my advance (my ad-vance)

Paddy lay back, (Paddy lay back)
Take in your slack (take in your slack)
Take a turn around your capstan heave a pawl.
About ship’s stations, boys be handy (Handy!)
We’re bound for Valparaiso ’round the horn

[read all the lyrics, why not?]

I will admit that when I first talked to Madeline ffitch about the title of her book, I thought it was about Valparaiso, Indiana. Shows how much I know. In fact, doy, it’s the largest metropolitan area in Chile, known as the jewel of the Pacific. Because of its location, ships would stop there as they navigated the strait of Magellan, until the Panama Canal made it unnecessary.

I don’t know what a book about Valpo, Indiana would be like. Probably not half as rich as Madeline’s Valparaiso, Round the Horn, which you can read all about (and order) right here.

If you’d like to know more about my trip to Panama, check out my personal blog.

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