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Journey up river continued—Wild pigs and jaguar-Bungos—Reach
Machuca—Castillo—Capture of Castillo by Nelson-India-rubber
AFTER breakfast we again continued our voyage up the river, and passed the mouth of the San Carlos, another large stream running down from the interior of Costa Rica. Soon after we heard some wild pigs (Dicoteles tajacu) or Wari, as they are called by the natives, striking their teeth together in the wood, and one of the boatmen leaping on shore soon shot one, which he brought on board after cutting out a gland on its back that emits a musky odour, and we afterwards had it cooked for our dinner. These Wari go in herds of from fifty to one hundred. They are said to assist each other against the attacks of the jaguar, but that wary animal is too intelligent for them. He sits quietly upon a branch of a tree until the Wari come underneath then jumping down kills one by breaking its neck ; leaps up into the tree again and waits there until the herd depart, when he comes down and feeds on the slaughtered Wari in quietness. We shortly afterwards passed one
of the large boats called bungos, that carry down to Greytown the produce of the country and take up merchandise and flour. This one was laden with cattle and india-rubber. The bungos are flat-bottomed boats, about forty feet long and nine feet wide. There is generally a little cabin, roofed over at the stern, in which the wife of the captain lives. The bungo is poled along by twelve bungo-men, who have usually only one suit of clothes each, which they do not wear during the day, but keep stowed away under the cargo that it may be dry to put on at night. Their bronzed, glistening, naked bodies, as they ply their long poles together in unison, and chant some Spanish boat-song, is one of the things that linger in the memory of the traveller up the San Juan. Our boatmen paddled and poled until eleven at night, when we reached Machuca, a settlement consisting of a single house, just below the rapids of the same name, seventy-seven miles above Greytown.
We breakfasted at Machuca before starting next morning, and I walked up round the rapids and met the canoe above them. About five o'clock, after paddling all day, we came in sight of Castillo, where there is an old ruined Spanish fort perched on the top of a hill overlooking the little town, which lies along the foot of the steep hill; hemmed in between it and the river, so that there is only room for one narrow street. It was near Castillo that Nelson lost his eye. He took the fort by landing about half a mile lower down the river, and dragging his guns round to a hill behind it by which it was commanded. This hill is now cleared of timber and covered with grass, supporting a few cows and a great many goats. In front of the town run the
rapids of Castillo, which are difficult to ascend, and as there is no road round them excepting through the town of Castillo, advantage has been taken of the situation to fix the custom-house there, where are collected the duties on all articles going up to the interior. The first view of Castillo when coming up the river is a fine
The fort-crowned hill and the little town clinging to its foot form the centre of the picture. The clear, sparkling, dancing rapids on one side contrast with the still, dark forest on the other, whilst the whole is relieved by the bright green grassy hills in the background. This view is the only pleasant recollection I have carried
away of the place. The single street is narrow, dirty, and rugged, and when the shades of evening begin to creep up, swarms of mosquitoes issue forth to buzz and bite.
I here made the acquaintance of Colonel M'Crae, who was largely concerned in the india-rubber trade. He afterwards distinguished himself during the revolutionary outbreak of 1869. He collected the rubber men and came to the assistance of the government, helping greatly to put down the insurrection. Originally a British subject, but now a naturalised Nicaraguan, he has filled with great credit for some time the post of deputy-governor of Greytown, and I always heard him spoken of with great esteem both by Nicaraguans and foreigners. He showed to me pieces of cordage, pottery, and stone implements brought down by the rubber men from the wild Indians of the Rio Frio. Castillo is one of the centres of the rubber trade. Parties of men are here fitted out with canoes and provisions, and proceed up the rivers, far into the uninhabited forests of the Atlantic slope. They remain for several months away, and are ex
pected to bring the rubber they obtain to the merchants who have fitted them out, but very many prove faithless, and carry off their produce to other towns, where they have no difficulty in finding purchasers. Notwithstanding these losses, the merchants engaged in the rubber trade have done well; its steadily increasing value during the last few years having made the business a highly remunerative one. According to the information supplied to me at Greytown by Mr. Paton, the exports of rubber from that port had increased from 401,475 lbs., valued at 112,413 dollars, in 1867, to 754,886 lbs., valued at 226,465 dollars, in 1871. India-rubber was well known to the ancient inhabitants of Central America. Before the Spanish conquest the Mexicans played with balls made from it, and it still bears its Aztec name of Ulli, from which the Spaniards call the collectors of it Ulleros. It is obtained from quite a different tree, and prepared in a different manner, from the rubber of the Amazons. The latter is taken from the Siphonia elastica, a Euphorbiaceous tree; but in Central America the tree that yields it is a species of wild fig (Castilloa elastica). It is easily known by its large leaves, and I saw several whilst ascending the river. When the collectors find an untapped one in the forest, they first make a ladder out of the lianas or “vejuccos” that hang from every tree; this they do by tying short pieces of wood across them with small lianas, many of which are as tough as cord. They then proceed to score the bark, with cuts which extend nearly round the tree like the letter V, the point being downwards. A cut like this is made about every three feet all the way up the trunk. The milk will all run out of a tree in about an hour after it is cut, and is
collected into a large tin bottle made flat on one side and furnished with straps to fix on to a man's back. A decoction is made from a liana (Calonyction speciosum), and this on being added to the milk, in the proportion of one pint to a gallon, coagulates it to rubber, which is made into round flat cakes. A large tree, five feet in diameter, will yield when first cut about twenty gallons of milk, each gallon of which makes two and a half pounds of rubber. I was told that the tree recovers from the wounds and may be cut again after the lapse of a few months; but several that I saw were killed through the large Harlequin beetle (Acrocinus longimanus) laying its eggs in the cuts, and the grubs that are hatched boring great holes all through the trunk. When these grubs are at work you can hear their rasping by standing at the bottom of the tree, and the wood-dust thrown out of their burrows accumulates in heaps on the ground below. The Government attempts no supervision of the forests: any one may cut the trees, and great destruction is going on amongst them through the young ones being tapped as well as the full-grown ones. The tree grows very quickly, and plantations of it might easily be made, which would in the course of ten or twelve years become highly remunerative.
We left Castillo at daylight the next morning, and continued our journey up the river. Its banks presented but little change. We saw many tall graceful palms and tree ferns, but most of the trees were dicoty
dons. Amongst these the mahogany (Swietonia mahogani) and the cedar (Cedrela odorata) are now rare near the river, but a few such trees were pointed out to me. High up in one tree, underneath which we passed, were