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Start on journey to Segovia-Rocky mountain road-A poor lodging
—The rock of Cuapo—The use of large beaks in some birdsComoapa-A native doctor—Vultures-Flight of birds that soar -Natives live from generation to generation on the same spotDo not give distinctive names to the rivers--Caribs barter guns and iron pots for dogs—The hairless dogs of tropical America-Difference between artificial and natural selection—The cause of sterility between allied species considered— The disadvantages of a covering of hair in a domesticated animal in a tropical country.
In July of the same year, 1872, I made the longest journey of any I undertook in Nicaragua. It had been for some time difficult to obtain sufficient native labourers for our mines, and, as we contemplated extending our operations, it was very important that it should be ascertained whether or not we could depend upon obtaining the additional workmen that would be required. Nearly all our native miners came from the highlands of the province of Segovia, near to the boundary of Honduras. The inhabitants of the lower country are mostly vacqueros, used to riding on horseback after cattle, and not to be tempted, even by the much higher wages they can obtain, to engage in the toilsome labour of underground mining. The inhabitants of Segovia, on the contrary, have been miners from time immemorial, and it is work they readily take to. I had often desired to see for myself what supply of labour could be ob
tained, but the journey was a long and toilsome one, and it was not until the labour question became urgent that I resolved to undertake it.
Having determined on the journey, I soon completed my preparations. I took my Mestizo boy, Rito, with me; Velasquez was to join me on the road ; a pack-mule carried our equipment, consisting of some bread, rugs, a large waterproof sheet, a change of clothes, and a hammock. We started at seven o'clock on the morning of the [ith July, and, as usual, made very slow progress through the forest as far as Pital, in consequence of the badness of the road, which was now worse than when I had passed over it a month before. After reaching the savannahs, we proceeded more rapidly. We followed the Juigalpa road until we got two leagues beyond Libertad, when we turned more to the north, taking a path that led over mountain ranges. This road was very rocky and steep; we were continually ascending or descending, and as it rained all the afternoon, the footing for our beasts was very bad. I was riding on a horse, and he not being so sure-footed or so cautious as a mule, often stumbled on the steep and slippery slopes. In some places the path led along the top of the narrow ridge of a long hog-backed hill; in others, by a series of zigzags, we surmounted or came down the precipitous slopes. I nearly came to grief at one place. We had climbed up one of the steep hills, and at the top a rocky shelf or cap had to be leaped, at right angles to the narrow path that slanted up the face of the hill. I put my horse to it, but he slipped on the smooth rock and fell. If he had gone back over the narrow path, he must have rolled down the abrupt slope ; but he made another spring,
fell again, but this time with his fore-feet over the rock, and on the third attempt scrambled over and landed me safely on the top, but, I confess, much shaken in my
seat. My straw-hat came off in the struggle, and was rolling merrily down the hill, when it was caught in a low bush, much to Rito's satisfaction, who was anticipating a long tramp after it. We had a fine view from the top of this range over a deep valley, bounded with precipitous cliffs and dark patches of forest. Over our heads floated drifting rain-clouds from the north-east that sometimes concealed the mountain tops, sometimes lifted and showed their craggy summits.
Our beasts were tired out with the rough travelling, and we moved along slowly. About five o'clock we came in sight of the rock of Cuapo, an isolated perpendicular cliff rising about 300 feet above the top of a hill that it crowns. After descending a long, steep range, we reached, near dusk, a small hut, called Tablasón, and here we determined to pass the night, although the accommodation was about the scantiest possible. A man and his wife, six children, and a woman to grind the maize for tortillas, lived in the hut. The greatest portion
of it was quite open at the sides, without even a fence to keep out the pigs. At one end a place about ten feet square was partitioned off from the rest, and surrounded with mud-walls, and in this the whole family slept. Both the people and the house were very dirty. The remains of a broken chair was the only furniture, excepting the rough bedsteads made by inserting four sticks into the ground, on which were laid two long poles, kept apart by two shorter ones at the end, over which rude frame a dry hide was stretched. I was offered one of these couches for the night, and accepted it; though if it had not been for the rain I would rather have slept outside, but all around was sloppy and wet; night had set in; our mules and horse were tired; we ourselves were fatigued, and there was no other shelter within several miles. They had no food to sell us, and appeared to have nothing for themselves, excepting a few tortillas and a little homemade cheese. We opened out some of our preserved meats. Whilst I was eating, the whole family crowded around me, apparently never having seen any one eat with a fork before. Fortunately we had brought candles with us, or we should have been in darkness, for they had none; nor did they appear to use them, as they had no candlesticks, and the children and our host himself took it by turns to hold our lights. All wore ragged, dirty cotton clothes, that only half-covered them. They had four cows, and pigs, dogs, and poultry. The land around was fertile; they might take as much of it as they liked to cultivate, and, with a little trouble, might have grown almost anything ; but the blight of Central America—the curse of idleness, was upon them, and
they were content to live on in squalid poverty rather than work.
We were so tired, that notwithstanding our miserable and crowded quarters, we slept soundly, but were up at daylight, and soon ready for our journey again, after Rito had made a little coffee, and I had compensated our host for our lodging. The scenery around was very fine, and the place might have been made an earthly paradise. To the north-east a spur of the forest came down to within a mile of the house; in front were grassy hills and clumps of brushwood and trees, with a clear gurgling stream in the bottom; and beyond, in the distance, forest-clad mountains. As usual, the family had a pet animal. Before we left, a pretty fawn came in from the forest to be fed, and eyed us suspiciously, laying its head back over its shoulders, and gazing at us with its large, dreamy-looking eyes. The woman told us it had a wild mate in the woods, but came in daily to visit them, the dogs recognising and not molesting it. Our road still lay within a few miles of the dark Atlantic forest, the clouds lying all along the first range, concealing more than they exposed. There was a sort of gloomy grandeur about the view; so much was hidden, that the mind was left at liberty to imagine that behind these clouds lay towering mountains and awful cliffs. The road passed within a short distance of the rock of Cuapo, and, leaving my horse with Rito, I climbed up towards it. A ridge on the eastern side runs up to within about 200 feet of the summit, and so far it is accessible. Up this I climbed to the base of the brown rock, the perpendicular cliff towering up above me; here and there were patches of grey, where lichens clung to