During four hours on the morning of Tuesday, September 27, 1513, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa climbed a 1235-foot hill called Urrucallala (8°30′ N., 78°10′ W.). Silent, upon this peak in Darién, a European viewed the Pacific Ocean for the first time from an American coast. Moments later the Discoverer was joined by his twenty-seven Spanish companions and his Indian retinue.
The subject of this monograph is the reconstructed route of Balboa from Santa María de la Antigua del Darién to Aclá (both on the Caribbean side of the Isthmus of Panama), across the narrow neck to Mount Urrucallala, and thence to the gulf called San Miguel. This route was carefully reconstructed in 1954 by an expedition led by ex-King Leopold of Belgium. Rubio participated in that venture, served as the party’s geographic consultant, and faithfully relates its findings in this report. The author methodically considers the natural setting of Darién, the protagonist (Balboa), and the route itself. The study is intense, scholarly, scientific, poetic, and exceedingly well documented. The bibliography is quite complete, and the primary sources are evaluated with care in separate portions of an appendix.
The late Ángel Rubio was probably the authority best qualified to undertake this bit of historieo-geographic research; twelve pages of vitae in Appendix IV attest to this claim. After taking degrees at the University of Seville and serving the University of Barcelona as a Professor of Geography, Rubio came to Panama in 1937 and devoted the next twenty-five years to geographic research there. But as this work indicates, Rubio was more than a geographer, for his roots were deep in history. Not only did he earn university degrees in that field, he literally “grew up” in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, where his father was an official.
This monograph is more than a definitive study of an event that occurred in time and space; it is a memorial to a truly great scholar, teacher, and individual. Published three years after Rubio’s death, the study is prefaced with a tribute to Don Angel written by a former student. An appendix composed by a colleague from the University of Panama offers further insights on Rubio the man, the teacher, the investigator. This reviewer came to know Rubio the same year that he climbed anew Balboa’s peak in Darién and counted him as a warm and dear friend until his passing. He was a scholar’s scholar, who, though trained in history, practiced geography and roamed the wide breadth of all the social sciences with equal feeling and respect.