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Juigalpa—A Nicaraguan family—Description of the road from Jui
galpa to Santo Domingo—Comparative scarcity of insects in Nicaragua in 1872—Water-bearing plants—Insect traps—The south-western edge of the forest region-Influence of cultivation upon it—Sagacity of the mule.
The site of Juigalpa is beautifully chosen, as is usual with the old Indian towns. It is on a level dry piece of land, about three hundred feet above the river. A rocky brook behind the town supplies the water for drinking and cooking purposes. The large square or plaza has the church at one end; on the other three sides are red-tiled adobe houses and stores, with floors of clay or red bricks. Streets branch off at right angles from the square, and are crossed by others. The best houses are those nearest the square. Those on the outskirts are mere thatched hovels, with open sides of bamboo poles. The house I stayed at was at the corner of one of the square blocks, and from the angle the view extended in four directions along the level roads. Each way the prospect was bounded by hills in the distance. North-east were the white cliffs of the Amerrique range, mantled with dark woods. The intervening country could not be seen, and only a small portion of the range itself; framed in, as it were, by the sides of the street. It looked close at hand, like a piece of artificial rockery, or the grey walls of a castle covered with ivy. The range to the south-west is several miles distant; and is called San Miguelito by the Spaniards, but I could not learn its Indian name.
Our host was a musician, and his wife attended to the guests. As usual, a number of relations lived with them, including the mother of our hostess and two of her brothers. It was a very fair sample of a family amongst what may be called the middle class in Nicaragua. The master of the house plays occasionally in a band at dances and festas, and holds a respectable position at Juigalpa, where the highest families keep stores and shops.
The only work is done by the females—the men keep up their dignity by lounging about all day, or lolling in a hammock, all wearied with their slothfulness, and looking discontented and unhappy. One brother told me he was a carpenter, the other a shoemaker, but that there was nothing to do in Juigalpa. I suggested that they should go to Libertad, where there was plenty of work. They said there was too much rain there. As long as their brother-in-law will allow them, they will remain lounging about his house; and that will probably be as long as he has one, for I noticed that the wealthier Nicaraguans are rather proud of having a lot of relations hanging about and dependent on them. Now and then they do little spells of work-get in the cows or doctor one that is sick-but I doubt if any of them average more than half an hour's work per day. Even this may be an equivalent for their board, which does not cost much, being only a few tortillas and beans.
To this have the descendants of the Spanish con
querors come, throughout the length and breadth of the land. With perennial summer and a fertile soil they might drink the waters of abundance, but the bands of indolence have wound round them generation after generation, and now they are so bound up in the drowsy folds of slothfulness that they cannot break their silken fetters. Not a green vegetable, not a fruit, can you buy at Juigalpa. Beef, or a fowl-brown beans, rice, and tortillas—form the only fare. When Mexico becomes one of the United States, all Central America will soon follow. Railways will be pushed from the north into the tropics, and a constant stream of immigration will change the face of the country, and fill it with farms and gardens, orange groves, and coffee, sugar, cacao, and indigo plantations. No progress need be expected from the present inhabitants.
Having finished our business in Juigalpa, we arranged to start on our return early the next morning, Velasquez going round by Acoyapo whilst Rito accompanied me to the mines. I had a fowl cooked overnight to take with us, and set off at six o'clock. I shall make some remarks on the road on points not touched on in my account of the journey out. After leaving Juigalpa, we descended to the river by a rocky and steep path, crossed it, and then passed over alluvial-like plains, intersected by a few nearly dry river beds, to the foot of the south-western side of the Amerrique hills, then gradually ascended the range that separates the Juigalpa district from that of Libertad. The ground was gravelly and dry, with stony hillocks covered with low trees and bushes. After ascending about a thousand feet, the ground became much moister, and we reached an Indian hut on the side of the range, where a few bananas and a little maize was grown. Indian women, naked to the waist, were, as usual, bruising maize, this being their employment from morning to night, whilst the men were sitting about idle. Some mangy-looking dogs set up a loud barking as we approached. To one of them clung a young spider-monkey. A number of parrots also gave evidence of the great fondness the Indians have for animal pets. There is scarcely a house where some bird or beast is not kept; and the Indian women are very clever in taming birds, probably by their constant kindness and gentleness to them, and by feeding them out of their mouths and fondling them. From near here we had a fine view, and saw that we had come up the side of a wide valley, bounded on the right by the Amerrique range, on the left by high rounded grassy hills, on one of which we could make out the cattle hacienda of La Puerta. Lines of trees and bamboo thickets marked the course of numerous brooks that joined lower down and formed the small rivers we had crossed. Looking down the valley it opened out into a wide plain, with here and there sharp-topped conical hills, such as abound in Central America, where they appear to have been taken as landmarks by the Indians, as many of the old roads lead past them. Beyond the plain in the grey distance were the waters of the lake and the peaks of Ometepec and Madera.
We had now to ascend the side of a ravine, the road, or rather path, being through a bamboo thicket for about a mile, the bamboos touching our knees on either side and arching close overhead, so that we had to lie on the mules' necks a great part of the way. Some portions of the road were dangerously steep and rocky; but as fully a league in distance is saved by taking this by-path, instead of the main road by way of La Puerta, I generally preferred travelling by it, especially as I often took rare and new beetles on the bushes. I usually, when travelling, carried a net fixed to a short stick, and caught the insects as I passed along, off the leaves, without stopping ; so abundant were they, that it was very rare for me to take the shortest journey without finding some new species to add to my collection. On this journey I did not, however, take many insects, as the latter half of the year 1872, for some reason or other, was a very unfavourable season for them. The scarcity of beetles was very remarkable. The wet season set in a little earlier than usual, but I do not think that this caused the dearth of insects, as at Juigalpa, where there had been scarcely any rain, there were very few compared with the two former years. The year before, when the season was nearly as wet, beetles, especially longicorns, had been very abundant; and the first half of 1872 had not been characterised by any scarcity of them. Some of the fine longicorns that appear in April were numerous. No less than five specimens of a large and beautiful one (Deliathis nivea, Bates), white, with black spots, that we considered one of our greatest rarities, were taken in that month. It was not until the end of May that the great scarcity of beetles, compared with their abundance in former years, became apparent. I think all classes of beetles had suffered. Many fine lamellicorns, that were generally numerous, were not seen at all; neither were many species of longicorns, usually common. A fig-tree that I had growing in my garden