« EelmineJätka »
and on these the white egrets and other wading birds often alighted. The boatmen told me--and the story is likely enough to be true—that the alligators, floating about like logs, with their eyes above the water, watch these birds, and, moving quietly up until within a few yards of them, sink down below the surface, come up underneath them, catch them by the legs and drag them under water. Besides the alligators, large freshwater sharks
appear to be common in the lake. Sometimes, when in shallow water, we saw a pointed billow rapidly moving away from the boat, produced by some large fish below, and I was told it was a shark.
After dark the wind failed us again, and we got slowly along, but finally reached our port, San Ubaldo, about ten o'clock, and found an officer of the mining company, living in a small thatched hut, stationed there to send on the machinery and other goods that arrived for the mines. A large tiled store had also just been built by the owner of the estate there, Don Gregorio Quadra, under the verandah of which I hung my hammock for the night. Muies were waiting at San Ubaldo for us, and early next morning we set off, with our luggage on pack mules. We crossed some rocky low hills, with scanty vegetation, and, after passing the cattle hacienda of San José, reached the plains of the same name, about two leagues in width, now dry and dusty, but in the wet season forming a great slough of water and tenacious mud, through which the mules have to wade and plunge.
In the midst of these plains there are some rocky knolls, like islands, on which grow spiny cactuses, low leathery-leaved trees, slender, spiny palms, with plumlike fruit, prickly acacias, and thorny bromelias. This spiny character of vegetation seems to be characteristic of dry rocky places and tracts of country liable to great drought. Probably it is as a protection from herbivorous animals, to prevent them browsing upon the twigs and small branches where herbaceous vegetation is dried up. Small armadillos abound near these rocky knolls, and are said to feed on ants and other insects. We had a long chase after one, which we observed some distance from the rock, over the cracked and dried-up plain : though it could not run very fast, it doubled quickly, and the rough cracked ground made odds in its favour; but it was ultimately secured. Pigeons, brown coloured, of various sizes, from that of a thrush to that of a common dove, were numerous and very tame. One of the smallest species alights and seeks about in the streets of small towns for seeds, like a sparrow, and more boldly than that bird, for it is not molested by the childrenmore perhaps from indolence than from any lack of the element of cruelty in their dispositions. After crossing the plains we rode over undulating hills, here called savannahs, with patches of forest on the rising ground, and small plains on which grows the ternate-leaved jicara (pronounced hickory), a tree about as large as an appletree, with fruit of the size, shape, and appearance of a large green orange, but growing on the trunk and branches, not amongst the leaves. The outside of the fruit is a hard thin shell, packed full of seeds in a kind of dry pulp, on which are fed fowls, and even horses and cattle in the dry season; the latter are said sometimes to choke themselves with the fruit, whilst trying to eat it. Of the bruised seeds is also made a cooling drink, much used in Nicaragua. The jicara trees grow apart at equal distances, as if planted by man. The hard thin shell of the fruit, carved in various patterns on the outside, is made into cups and drinking-vessels by the natives, who also cultivate other species of jicara, with round fruit, as large as a man's head, from which the larger drinking-bowls are made. In the smaller jicaras chocolate is always made and served in Central America, and, being rounded at the bottom, little stands are made to set them in; these are sometimes shaped like eggcups, sometimes like toy washhand-stands. In making their earthenware vessels, the Indians up to this day follow this natural form, and their water-jars and bowls are made rounded at the bottom, requiring stands to keep them upright.
The meals of Montezuma were served on thick cushions or pillows. This was probably on account of the rounded bases of the bowls and dishes used. The gourd forms of bowls possibly originated from the clay being moulded over gourds which were burnt out in the baking process.
It is said that in the Southern States the kilns in which the ancient pottery was baked have been found, and in some the halfbaked ware remained, retaining the rinds of the gourds over which they had been moulded. Afterwards, when the potter learned to make bowls without the aid of gourds, he still retained the shape of his ancient pattern.
The name, too, like the form, has had a wonderful vitality. It is the "xicalli” of the ancient Aztecs, changed to "jicara” by the Spaniards, by which they mean a chocolate-cup; and even in Italy a modification
of the same word may be heard, a tea-cup being called a chicchera,
On the top of one of the hills we just got a glimpse of a small pack of wolves, or coyotes, as they are called, from the Aztec coyotl. They are smaller than the European wolf, and are cunning, like a fox, but hunt in packs. They looked down at us from the ridge of the hill for a few moments, then trotted off down the other side. Their howlings may often be heard in the early morning.
Cattle, horses, and mules are bred on these plains. Male asses are kept at some of the haciendas. They are not allowed to mix with any of their own kind, and are well fed and in good condition ; but they are only of small size, and the breed of mules might be greatly improved by the introduction of larger asses.
The vegetation on the plains was rapidly drying up. Many of the trees shed their leaves in the dry season, just as they do with us in autumn. The barrenness of the landscape is relieved in March by several kinds of trees bursting into flower when they have shed their leaves, and presenting great domes of brilliant colour -some pink, others red, blue, yellow, or white, like single-coloured bouquets. One looked like a gigantic rhododendron, with bunches of large pink flowers. The yellow-flowered ones belong to wild cotton-trees, from the pods of which the natives gather cotton to stuff pillows, &c.
About one o'clock we reached rather a large river, and after crossing it came in sight of the town of Acoyapo, one of the principal towns of the province of Chontales. We stayed and had dinner with Señor Don Dolores Bermudez, a Nicaraguan gentleman who had been educated in the States, and spoke English fluently. He very kindly took me over the town, and I always found him ready to give me information respecting the antiquities and natural products of the country. Acoyapo and the district around it contains about two thousand inhabitants. The store-keepers, lawyers, and hacienderos are of Spanish and mixed descent. Amongst the lower classes there is much Indian and some negro blood; but there are many pure Indians scattered through the district, living near the rivers and brooks, and growing patches of maize and beans. In the centre of the town is a large square or plaza, with a stucco-fronted church occupying one side, and the principal stores and houses ranging around the other three sides. A couple of coco-palms grow in front of the church, but do not thrive like those near the sea-coast. It was Saturday, the 22nd of February, when we arrived; this was a great feast-day, or festa, at Acoyapo, and the town was full of country people, who were amusing themselves with horse-races, cock-fights, and drinking aguardiente. Their mode of cock-fighting is very cruel, as the cocks are armed with long sickleshaped lancets, tied on to their natural spurs, with which they give each other fearful gashes and wounds. All classes of Nicaraguans are fond of this amusement; in nearly every house a cock will be found, tied up
in a corner by the leg, but treated otherwise like one of the family. The priests are generally great abettors of the practice, which forms the usual amusement of the towns on Sunday afternoons. I have heard many stories of the padres after service hurrying off to the cock-pit with a cock under each arm. Bets are made