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above the level of the sea; and in the same country it has been found in tombs apparently more ancient than the earliest times of the Incas.* In Mexico it was known from the earliest times of which we have any record, in the picture writings of the Toltecs; and that ancient people carried it with them in all their wanderings. In Central America the stone grinders, with which they bruised it down, are almost invariably found in the ancient graves, having been buried with the ashes of the dead, as an indispensable article for their outfit for another world. When Florida and Louisiana were first discovered, the native Indian tribes all cultivated maize as their staple food; and throughout Yucatan, Mexico, and all the western side of Central America, and through Peru to Chili, it was, and still is, the main sustenance of the Indians. The people that cultivated it were all more or less advanced in civilisation; they were settled in towns; their traders travelled from one country to another with their wares; they were of a docile and tractable disposition, easily frightened into submission. It is likely that these maize-eating peoples belonged to closely affiliated races. In the West India Islands they occupied most of Cuba and Hayti; but from Porto Rico southwards the islands were peopled by the warlike Caribs, who harassed the more civilised tribes to the north. From Cape Gracias a Dios southward, the eastern coast of America was peopled on its first discovery by much ruder tribes, who did not grow maize, but made bread from the roots of the mandioca (Manihot aipim); and still in British Guiana, on the Lower Amazon, and in north-eastern Brazil, farina made from the roots of the
* Von Tschudi, “ Travels in Peru,” English edition, p. 177.
mandioca is the staple food. Maize has been introduced by the Portuguese, but it has no native name, and is used mostly for feeding cattle and fowls, scarcely at all for the food of the people. This fundamental difference in the food of the indigenes points to a great distinction between the peoples to which I shall have in the sequel to revert. In the West India Islands, Cuba and Hayti seem to have been peopled from Yucatan, and Florida, Porto Rico, and all the islands to the southwards, from Venezuela.
In Central America, the bread made from the maize is prepared at the present day exactly as it was in ancient Mexico. The grain is first of all boiled along with wood ashes or a little lime: the alkali loosens the outer skin of the grain, and this is rubbed off with the hands in running water, a little of it at a time, placed upon a slightly concave stone, called a metlate, from the Aztec metlatl, on which it is rubbed with another stone shaped like a rolling-pin. A little water is thrown on it as it is bruised, and it is thus formed into paste. A ball of the paste is taken and flattened out between the hands into a cake about ten inches diameter and threesixteenths of an inch thick, which is baked on a slightly concave earthenware pan. The cakes so made are called tortillas, and are very nutritious. When travelling, I preferred them myself to bread made from wheaten flour. When well made and eaten warm, they are very palatable.
There are a few small sugar plantations near Pital. The juice is pressed out of the canes by rude wooden rollers set upright in threes, the centre one driving the one on each side of it by projecting cogs. The whole
are set in motion by oxen travelling round the same as, in a thrashing-mill. The ungreased axles of the rollers, squeaking and screeching like a score of tormented pigs, generally inform the traveller of their vicinity long before he reaches them. The juice is boiled, and an impure sugar made from it. I do not think that the sugarcane was known to the ancient inhabitants of this country: it is not mentioned by the historians of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, nor has it, like maize and cacao, any native name.
As soon as we passed Pital we entered the great forest, the black margin of which we had seen for many miles, that extends from this point to the Atlantic. At first the road lay through small trees and brushwood, a second growth that had sprung up where the original forest had been cut for maize plantations; but after passing a brook bordered by numerous plants of the pita, from which a fine fibre is obtained, and which gives its name to Pital, we entered the primeval forest. On each side of the road great trees towered up, carrying their crowns out of sight amongst a canopy of foliage; lianas wound round every trunk and hung from every bough, passing from tree to tree, and entangling the giants in a great network of coiling cables, as the serpents did Laocoon; the simile being strengthened by the fact that many of the trees are really strangled in the winding folds. Sometimes a tree appears covered with beautiful flowers, which do not belong to it, but to one of the lianas that twines through its branches and sends down great rope-like stems to the ground. Climbing ferns and vanilla cling to the trunks, and a thousand epiphytes perch themselves on the branches. Amongst these are
large arums that send down aërial roots, tough and strong, and universally used instead of cordage by the natives. Amongst the undergrowth several small species of palms, varying in height from two to fifteen feet, are common; and now and then magnificent tree ferns, sending off their feathery crowns twenty feet from the ground, delight the sight with their graceful elegance. Great broad-leaved heliconiæ, leathery melastomæ, and succulent-stemmed, lop-sided leaved begonias are abundant, and typical of tropical American forests. Not less so are the cecropia trees, with their white stems and large palmated leaves standing up like great candelabra. Sometimes the ground is carpeted with large flowers, yellow, pink, or white, that have fallen from some invisible tree-top above, or the air is filled with a delicious perfume, for the source of which one seeks around in vain, as the flowers that cause it are far overhead out of sight, lost in the great overshadowing crown of verdure. Numerous babbling brooks intersect the forest, with moss-covered stones and fern-clad nooks. One's thoughts are led away to the green dells in English denes, but are soon recalled; for the sparkling pools are the favourite haunts of the fairy humming-birds, and like an arrow one will dart up the brook, and, poised on wings moving with almost invisible velocity, clothed in purple, golden, or emerald glory, hang suspended in the air; gazing with startled look at the intruder, with a sudden jerk, turning round first one eye, then the other, and suddenly disappear like a flash of light.
Unlike the plains and savannahs we crossed yesterday, where the ground is parched up in the dry season, the Atlantic forest, bathed in the rains distilled from the
north-east trades, is ever verdant. Perennial moisture reigns in the soil, perennial summer in the air, and vegetation luxuriates in ceaseless activity and verdure, all the year round. Unknown are the autumn tints, the bright browns and yellows of English woods, much less the crimsons, purples, and yellows of Canada, where the dying foliage rivals, nay, excels the expiring dolphin in splendour. Unknown the cold sleep of winter; unknown the lovely awakening of vegetation at the first gentle touch of spring. A ceaseless round of ever-active life weaves the forest scenery of the tropics into one monotonous whole, of which the component parts exhibit in detail untold variety and beauty.
To the genial influence of ever-present moisture and heat we must ascribe the infinite variety of the trees of these forests. They do not grow in clusters or masses of single species, like our oaks, beeches, and firs, but every tree is different from its neighbour, and they crowd upon each other in unsocial rivalry, each trying to overtop the other. For this reason we see the great straight trunks rising a hundred feet without a branch, and carrying their domes of foliage directly up to where the balmy breezes blow and the sun's rays quicken. Lianas hurry up to the light and sunshine, and innumerable epiphytes perch themselves high up on the branches.
The road through the forest was very bad, the mud deep and tenacious, the hills steep and slippery, and the mules had to struggle and plunge along through from two to three feet of sticky clay. One part, named the Nispral, was especially steep and difficult to descend, the road being worn into great ruts. We crossed the ranges and brooks nearly at right angles, and were always