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last, about nine o'clock, we found him at the billiard
He said he thought, when he did not return, we would take it for granted that he had not been able to find the mules. I believe he had never been further than the billiard-saloon looking for them. These people get through the days with such ennui and difficulty, that they have no idea of people economising time. A story is told about them which, whether true or not, illustrates this. When the steamboats were first put on the Lake of Nicaragua, the natives complained that they were charged as much as they were in the bungoes, although they got sometimes a week's sailing in the latter, and only one day in the steamboat. We were in a dilemma about mules. I wished to push on, as I found the journey was a longer one than I expected when I set out; and it was important that I should get back to the mines by the end of the month. At last, our host offered us mules to take us as far as Jinotega, charging us three times as much as was usual; and we determined to go on there, and seek animals to continue our journey. We got our own mules put into a good portrero of Pará grass just below the town, resisting our host's invitation to leave them with him, fearing he might use them instead of feeding them. He had to send out to his hacienda for the fresh ones; and although he promised them at seven, it was ten o'clock the next day before they arrived ; and the delay in waiting for them quickened my appreciation of the laziness and want of punctuality of the people of Matagalpa.
On leaving the town, we crossed the river, and ascended a range on the other side. Here, for the first time, I got amongst pine trees in the tropics; and they gave a very different aspect to the country from what I had before seen. No brushwood grows under them, and they stand apart at regular intervals, not shouldering each other, as in the Atlantic forest, where the trees crowd together, each trying to overtop its neighbour. No lianas hang from the trees, and, excepting a few narrow-leaved Tillandsias, no epiphytes nestle on the branches and trunks. Below, instead of shrubby palms, large-leaved heliconias, and curious melastomæ, the ground was bare and brown from the fallen leaves of the pines, excepting that in some places light grass had sprung up; in others the common bracken-fern of Europe. All that I thought characteristic of a tropical forest had disappeared; and the whistling of the wind through the pine-tops, which I had not heard for years, carried me back in imagination amongst the Canadian forests. The road was rocky, and to the left rose mountains of nearly bare cliffs, up which clung straggling pines, reaching to the summits, relieving, but not concealing, their nakedness. Clumps of evergreen oaks were the only other trees; and these, like the pines, grew in social groups on the hills. In the valleys, the oaks and pines gave place to a variety of trees and brushwood, different species of acacia being the most abundant. Occasionally a tree-cactus appeared, its curious flattened, kite-shaped joints, covered with prickles, looking like great leaves, and its stem, formed of the same, thickened at the bottom into a round filiform trunk, not differing much from the trees around, but in the branches showing all the gradations by which the flat constricted joints thicken out into stems. In some parts, as we travelled on, we found the oak trees and many of the pines completely draped with hanging festoons of the grey moss-like Tillandsia usneoides, or “old man's beard.” Not a bough but had a great fringe hanging down, sometimes as much as six feet long, like a grey veil swaying in the breeze, and giving the trees a strange and venerable look. The ride was delightful after the stagnation at Matagalpa : everything was fresh and new to me. The aspect of the country, the trees, shrubs, and flowers, the birds and insects, the aromatic perfume from the pines, claimed my attention every minute.
After four hours' riding across the pine-clad ranges, we reached a gorge leading up to the heights overlooking the valley of Jinotega. The path was along the steep side of this gorge, often along the side of a precipice, where a few logs were laid to prevent the mules going over, but really increasing the danger, for they were old and rotten. Large boulders, imbedded in dark-coloured earth, lay on the steep slopes, and about these grew small herbaceous ferns in the greatest variety and profusion -a very paradise for a fern-collector. In some parts a light green maiden-hair fern covered the ground with its beautifully tender foliage, reminding me of shady banks in the north of England, covered with the equally lovely oak-fern. Every few yards discovered some new species, filling the mind with delight at their beauty and variety. In dryer and more stony places, a pinnatifid club-moss stood up amongst the stones in crisp tufts, like the parsley fern on mountain-sides at home. A black and blue bird (Cyanocitta melanocyanea), about the size of a jackdaw, flew in small noisy flocks; and I noticed a beautiful trogon, with burnished green back, and rosecoloured breast. The highest points of the ranges enclosing this ravine were covered with pine trees (Pinus tenuifolia); lower down grew evergreen oaks, and lower still a variety of small trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, reaching to the dry bed of the brook.
After a steep and rocky ascent, we reached the top of the range, and before us lay the upper end of the valley of Jinotega. Here it was very narrow, hemmed in by rocky ranges capped with pine forests. Descending the steep and rocky slope, we soon left the pines and oaks above us, and came down on a narrow alluvial flat,
gradually widening out as we proceeded down the valley. On each side of the road were fields of maize, suffering greatly from the drought. The soil was a fine deep, dark loam, and for the first time in Nicaragua I found they ploughed their land, and made permanent fences. The plough was a primitive implement, not unlike some of those still in use in parts of Spain. It was entirely of wood, excepting that the point was shod with an iron plate. Many of the fences were hedges, amongst which grew the lovely creeper (Antigonon leptopus), with festoons of pink and rose-coloured flowers. The Indian and Mestizo girls bind it in their hair, and call it "la vegessima," "the beautiful.” It does not wither for some time after being cut, and so is very suitable for garlands and bouquets. It has been carried to Greytown and the West Indies; and wherever it flourishes, it is a great favourite.
About a mile down the valley we reached the small town of Jinotega, and put up at the estanco kept by a very polite and dignified elderly gentleman, who, in the customary phrase of the country, placed himself, his house, and all he possessed, at our service. His wife, a bustling young woman, not more than half the
of her husband, set to work at once to get our dinner ready. There were several women-servants and many children about the house. It was kept cleaner than is usual in Nicaragua, and I noticed in the yard behind that some attempt at drainage had been made. Our host appeared to be in comfortable circumstances. Outside the town he had a small farm where he grew maize and wheat. He complained greatly of the drought, and said it had never occurred before in his recollection that the maize had failed in Jinotega for want of rain. He found us a man who promised to supply us with mules or horses to take us to Ocotal, but as they had to be brought up from the “Campos ” or plains he could not let us have them early, and it was ten o'clock the next day before we started again.
Whilst waiting for the mules we strolled around the town. In the centre most of the houses are substantially built and tiled; on the outskirts there are small grassthatched huts with high-pitched roofs. Wheat, maize, potatoes, and beans are the principal things grown.