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Ch. XIII.] DESCENDANTS OF THE BUCCANEERS.
Many of the people have light sandy-coloured hair and blue eyes, and I thought at first they might be the offspring of a number of Americans that settled in Jinotega during the civil war in the States, but afterwards abandoned the place. I found, however, some elderly people with the same distinctive marks of ancestry other than the Spaniards, Indians, or Negroes, and I am inclined to believe that on the breaking up of the bands of buccaneers by Morgan, at the end of the seventeenth century, many of them found a refuge up the Rio Grande and Rio Wanks. They were well acquainted with these rivers, and made many forays up them to harry the Spanish settlements on the Pacific slope. In 1688 a body of about three hundred French and English pirates abandoned their ships in the Gulf of Fonseca, forced their way across the country, and descended the Rio Wanks to the Atlantic. The fair-haired and blue-eyed natives of Matagalpa and Segovia are probably the descendants of the outlaws who made these provinces their highway from one ocean to another.
Jinotega is pleasantly situated, and has many advantages over other Nicaraguan towns. The climate is temperate and moderately dry, the land very fertile. Pine trees on the surrounding ranges furnish fuel and light. Pasture is abundant; for two miles below the town the valley opens out into wide “campos” covered with grass, on which a large number of horses, cattle, and mules are reared.
Our road lay down the valley. On the sides of the enclosing ranges there were many cultivated patches, and we saw whole families, men, women, and children, weeding amongst the maize. A few showers had fallen during
the night and given them some hopes of saving their crops. We passed a village called Apanás and then struck across the plains, and on the other side reached low flat-topped ranges covered with small trees and brushwood, amongst which were many clearings well fenced and planted with maize. Passing over an undulating country, the hills covered with oak forests, the lowlands well grassed, we reached about two o'clock San Rafael, a small town that has used up all its houses in forming the plaza in front of a barn-like church. As usual, the half-breed population were sunk in idleness and poverty.
We stopped at one of the houses to get a drink of “ tiste,” and were visited by a fussy little man who told us that he was secretary to the judge and keeper of the “estanco," and in fact the ruling power in the town, which he placed at our disposal. We, however, wanted nothing but our “tiste," and to get some information about a cave we had heard was in the neighbourhood. Our friend knew all about it, and got a boy to show us the way for a couple of dimes. Under his guidance we crossed a brook, and passing through a pine forest soon reached the cave, which was on the side of the precipitous bank of a small stream. It was only a small one, extending for about twenty feet back, hollowed out of a sandy conglomerate, probably by the action of the brook when it ran at a higher level. I dug a little into the floor, but had not time to do much, and found nothing. There were signs of its having been recently occupied, the walls and roof were blackened with smoke, and numerous shells of the common fresh-water melania were lying about. We were told that the Indians when travelling Ch. XIII.] BENIGHTED ON THE MOUNTAINS.
used it, and that during the last revolution the inhabitants of San Rafael hid their valuables in it, though what they consisted of I am at a loss to say.
On leaving the cave our guide put us on the wrong road, and we did not discover the mistake until we had travelled a couple of miles. We then arrived at some huts in the pine forest, where we were told that the road to Ocotal was half a mile distant, across a stream and a high steep range opposite. We had either to return to San Rafael to take the right road or to cross the range. The latter looked rather formidable, but we determined to try it. It was very steep and rocky, but amongst the pines there was no underwood, so, after some stumbling and slipping, our beasts managed to scramble to the top, and we soon after regained the road.
We now travelled over steep ranges, composed of great moraine-like heaps of clay, with large angular boulders. Pine and oak trees covered the heights, shrouded with long fringes and festoons of the mosslike Tillandsia. Many epiphytes grew on the oaks, amongst which the mottled yellow flower of an orchid hung down in spikes six feet long.
Five miles after regaining the road we reached the top of a high range of hills, and found a single hut on the summit. Night was coming on, it was raining, and we were told that there was a very bad road before us over mountains, and no other house for three leagues. We determined to stay at the hut, although the prospect of our night's entertainment was a most cheerless one. The hut was about twenty feet square, with a small attached shed for a kitchen. The floor was the natural earth, littered with corn husks and other refuse. There was not a bit of furniture, excepting some rough sleeping-places made of hides stretched over poles. There was not a stool nor even a log of wood to sit down upon. In this miserable hut dwelt three families, consisting of nine individuals; men, women, and children.
The land around appeared to be poor. A patch of the forest in front of the house, sloping down the side of a steep valley, had been cleared, and planted with maize and wheat. We were told that there were a few other houses down this valley. The people in the hut seemed miserably poor. I said to Velasquez that they must have been born on the settlement, as I could not imagine any one coming from outside the mountains to live at such a spot, and on inquiry we found that every one was a native, born within a mile of the hut. It was perhaps bleaker than usual that evening, a continuous rain was falling, and a high wind whistling through the pine-tops. Pigs, dogs, and fowls were constantly in one's way, and the only cheering sign was the bright blaze and fragrant smell of the burning pine splinters. I asked one of the men if he preferred this place to Jinotega, where the fertile slopes and grassy plains had so pleased our eyes. He answered he did, the air was fresher and there was less fever.
They made for us some tortillas, and we had tea with us. The only ingenious thing about the place was a sort of stove, dome-shaped, made of clay, with two holes through the top like a cooking-stove, on which they put their earthenware cooking vessels. I turned into my hammock early, with all my clothes and my boots on, and my coat buttoned tightly round me,
as the bleak wind found many a crevice to whistle through, and the open network of the hammock, agreeable enough in the warm lowlands, was too slight a protection against the cold of the mountains. A few poles placed across the doorway partially closed it, but some of the smallest pigs got through, and were rooting and grunting amongst our baggage all night.
As soon as daylight broke next morning we were up, stiff, chilled, and cramped, and got some hot coffee made, which warmed us a little. We then had a better look round than we had had the night before. It was a most desolate spot, with scarcely any grass; and a poor half-starved horse came up to get a small feed of maize.
The people of the mountain regions of Europe cannot, if they would, take up land in the fertile lowlands, as they are already occupied, but in the central provinces of Nicaragua the greater part of the land is unappropriated, and these people might, if they liked, make their homesteads where, with one-half the labour they spend on their barren mountain ridge, they might live in abundance. But they have been born and bred where they live, and knowing how strong is the force of custom and how attached the Indians are to their homes, I do not wonder that they stay from generation to generation on this bleak range. I can imagine that if removed to the lowlands they would sigh for their mountain home, to smell the fragrance of the pine trees, and to hear once more the wind whistling through their branches. I have already noticed how the Indians cling generation after generation to the same spot, even when a short removal would be manifestly to their