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a breath of air was stirring and the sails idly flapped against the mast, have I seen the albatross, the petrel, and the Cape-pigeon resting on the water, or rising with difficulty, and only by the constant motion of their long wings able to fly at all. But when a breeze sprang up they were all life and motion, wheeling in graceful circles, now presenting one side, now the other, to view, descending rapidly with the wind, and so gaining velocity to turn and rise up again against it. Then, as the breeze freshened to a gale, the petrels darted about, playing round and round the scudding ship, at home on the wings of the storm, poising themselves upon the wind as instinctively and with as little effort as a man balances himself on his feet. The old times recurred as I rode over the savannah, and the soaring vultures brought back to my mind the wheeling stormy petrels that darted about whilst under close-reefed topsails we struggled against the gale, rounding the stormy southern cape; when great blue seas,
green glimmering towards the summit," towered on every side, or struck our gallant ship like a sledge, making it shiver with the blow, and sending a driving cloud of spray from stem to stern. Then the petrels were in their element; then they darted about-above, below, now here, now there—all life and motion ; as if their chief pleasure was, like Ariel, “ to ride on the curled cloud” and "point the tempest.”*
We were travelling nearly parallel with the edge of
* The Duke of Argyll, in his “Reign of Law," has some excellent remarks on the flight of birds that soar, or hover. My remarks, of which the above account is a paraphrase, were written out in my journal in 1852, but were not published.
the great forest which was two or three miles away on our right; in all other directions the view was bounded by ranges, some grassed to their tops, others with forests climbing up their steep sides, excepting where white cliffs gave no foothold for the trees. We passed several grass-thatched huts inhabited by half-clad Indians or Mestizos, who generally possess a few cows, and, away on the edge of the forest, small clearings of maize. These people, with unlimited fertile land at their disposal, were all sunk in what looked like squalid poverty; but they had a roof over their heads, and sufficient, though coarse, food, and they cared for nothing more. Our road lay a couple of miles to the north of the village of Huaco, where much of the maize of the province is grown; the road then led over many swampy valleys, and our beasts had hard work plunging through the mud. We passed through La Puerta, a scattered collection of Indian huts; then over a river called the Aguasco, running to the east, and probably emptying into the Rio Grande. There were a few orange trees about some of the huts, but most of the people were Mestizos, or half-breeds, and nothing but weeds grew around their habitations. Their plantations of maize were always some miles distant, and they never seem to think of moving their houses nearer to their clearings on the edge of the forest. Nearly always when I asked the question, I found that the grown-up people had been born on the spot where they lived, and they are evidently greatly attached to the localities where they have been brought up. Probably when the settlements were first made, forest land lay near, in which they made their clearings and raised their crops of corn. Since then the edge of the forest has been beaten back some miles to the north-east; but the people cling to the old spots, where, generation after generation, their ancestors have lived and died. A new house could be built in a few days, closer to the forest; but they prefer travelling several miles every day to and from their clearings, rather than desert their old homes.
Beyond the Aguasco, we had to travel over a swampy plain for about a mile, our animals plunging all the time through about three feet of mud. This plain was covered with thousands of guayava trees, laden with sufficient fruit to make guava jelly for all the world. After floundering through the swamp, we reached more savannahs, and then entered a beautiful valley, well grassed, and with herds of fine cattle, horses, and mules grazing on it. The grass was well cropped, and looked like pastureland at home. The ground was now firmer, and we got more rapidly across it. A flock of wild Muscovy ducks flew heavily across the plain, looking very like the tame variety. I do not wonder at sportsmen sometimes being unwilling to fire at them, mistaking them for domestic ducks. The tame variety is very prolific, and sits better on its eggs than the common duck. I have seen twenty ducklings brought out at a single hatching. They are good eating, and a large one has nearly as much flesh upon it as an average-sized goose.
About dusk on these plains, which extended around for several miles, we reached the cattle hacienda of Olama, where was a large tile-roofed house, near a river of the same name. The natives of Nicaragua seldom give distinctive names to their rivers, but call them after the towns or villages on their banks. Thus, at Olama,
the river was called the Olama river; higher up, at Matagalpa, the same stream is called the Matagalpa river; and at Jinotego the Jinotego river. The Caribs, however, who live on the rivers, and use them as highways, have names for them all; but to the agricultural Indians and Mestizos of the interior, they are but reservoirs of water, crossed at distant points by their roads, and everywhere amongst them I found the greatest ignorance prevailing as to the connection of the different streams, and their outflow to the ocean. All the streams about Olama flow eastward, and join together to form the Rio Grande, that reaches the Atlantic about midway between Blewfields and the river Wanks. It is very incorrectly marked on all the maps of Nicaragua that I have seen.
The Caribs from the lower parts of the river occasionally come up in their canoes to Olama, and bring with them common guns and iron pots that they have obtained from the mahogany cutters at the mouth of the river. These they barter for dogs. I could not ascertain what they wanted with the dogs, but both at this place and at Matagalpa I was told of the great value the Caribs put on them. Although the people of Olama expressed great surprise that the "Caritos," as they call the river Indians, should take so much trouble to obtain dogs, they had not had the curiosity to ask them what they wanted them for. Some people near the river have even commenced to rear dogs, to supply the demand. The Caribs had a special liking for black ones, and did not value those of any other colour so much. They would barter a gun or a large iron pot for a single dog, if it was of the right colour.
The common dogs of Central America are a mongrel breed—not differing, I believe, from those of Europe. There are usually a number of curs about the Indian houses that run out barking at a stranger, but seldom bite.
The hairless dogs, mentioned by Humboldt, as being abundant in Peru,* are not common in Central America, but there are a few to be met with. At Colon I saw several. They are of a shining dark colour, quite without hair, excepting a little on the face and on the tip of the tail. Both in Peru and Mexico this variety was found by the Spanish conquerors. It would be interesting to have these dogs compared with the hairless dogs of China, which Humboldt says have certainly been extremely common since very early times. Perhaps another link might be added to the broken chain of evidence that connects the peoples of the two countries.
A large naked dog-like animal is figured by Clavigero as one of the indigenous animals of Mexico. It was called Xoloitzcuintli by the Mexicans; and Humboldt considers it was distinct from the hairless dog, and was a large dog-like wolf. Its name does not support this view; Xoloitzcuintli literally means “a servant dog," from “ Xolotl," a slave or servant, and itzcuintli, a dog ; and we find the word Xolotl in Huexlotl, the Aztec name of the common turkey, which was domesticated by them, and largely used as food. I am led to believe from this, that Xolotl was applied to any animal that lived in the house or was domesticated, and that the Xoloitzcuintli was merely a large variety of the hairless dog. Clavi
Aspects of Nature,” vol. i. p. 109.