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months, from March to June, there is sufficient water coming down from the lake to keep open a fine harbour, if it were not that about twenty miles above its mouth it begins to dissipate its force by sending off a large branch called the Colorado river, and lower down parts with more of its waters by side channels. Twenty years ago the main body of water ran past Greytown; there was then a magnificent port, and large ships sailed up to the town, but for several years past the Colorado branch has been taking away more and more of its waters, and the port of Greytown has in consequence silted up. All ships now have to lie off outside, and a shallow and, in heavy weather, dangerous bar has to be crossed.
All we could see from the steamer was the sandy beach on which the white surf was breaking, a fringe of bushes with a few coco-nut palms holding up their feathery crowns, and in the distance a low background of dark foliage. Before we anchored a gun was fired, and in quick answer to the signal some canoes, paddled by negroes of the Mosquito coast, here called “ Caribs,” were seen crossing the bar, and in a few minutes were alongside. Getting into one of the canoes with my boxes, I was rapidly paddled towards the shore. When we reached the bar we were dexterously taken over it, the Caribs waited just outside until a higher wave than usual came rolling in, then paddling with all their might we were carried over on its crest, and found ourselves in the smooth water of the river.
Many lives have been lost on this bar. In 1872 the commander of the United States surveying expedition and six of his men were drowned in trying to cross it in heavy weather. Only a few mangled remnants of their bodies were ever found; for what adds to the horror of an upset at this place, and perhaps has unnerved many a man at a critical moment, is that large sharks swarm about the entrance to the river. We saw the fin of one rising above the surface of the water as it swam lazily about, and the sailors of the mail steamers when lying off the port often amuse themselves by catching them with large hooks baited with pieces of meat. It is probable that it was at one of the mouths of the San Juan that Columbus, in his fourth voyage, lost a boat's crew who had been sent for wood and fresh water, and when returning were swamped on the bar. Columbus had rounded Cape Gracias a Dios four days before, and had sailed down the coast with a fair wind and tide, so that he might easily have reached the San Juan.
Inside the bar we were in smooth water, for but a small stream is discharged by this channel. On our right was a sandy beach, on our left great beds of grass growing out of the shoal water-weedy banks filled up the once spacious harbour, and cattle waded amongst the long grass, where within the last twenty years a frigate has lain at anchor. Wading and aquatic birds were abundant in the marshes, amongst which white cranes and a chocolate-brown jacana, with lemon-yellow underwing, were the most conspicuous. A large alligator lazily crawled off a mud-spit into the water, where he floated, showing only his eyes and the pointed scales of his back above the surface. The town was now in full view-neat, white-painted houses, with plume-crowned palms rising amongst and over them, and we landed at one of several wooden wharves that jut into the river.
Greytown, though only a small place, is one of the neatest tropical towns that I have visited. The houses, especially in the business portion of the town, are well built of wood, and painted white with brown roofs. Pretty flower gardens surround or front many of them. Others are nearly hidden amongst palms and breadfruit, orange, mango, and other tropical fruit trees. A lovely creeper (Antigonon leptopus), with festoons of pink and rose-coloured flowers, adorns some of the gardens. It is called la vegessima, “the beautiful,” by the natives, and I found it afterwards growing wild in the provinces of Matagalpa and Segovia, where it was one of the great favourites of the flower-loving Indians. The land at and around Greytown is perfectly level. The square, the open spaces, and many of the streets are covered with short grass
that makes a beautful sward to walk on. The trade in the town is almost entirely in the hands of foreign residents, amongst whom Mr. Hollenbeck, a citizen of the United States, is one of the most enterprising. A considerable import trade is done with the States and England. Coffee, indigo, hides, cacao, sugar, logwood, and india-rubber are the principal exports. I called on Dr. Green, the British Consul, and found him a most courteous and amiable gentleman, ready to afford protection or advice to his countrymen, and on very friendly terms with the native authorities. He has lived for many years in Nicaragua, and his many charitable kindnesses, and especially the medical assistance that he renders in all cases of emergency, free of charge, have made him very popular at Greytown. His beautiful house and grounds, with a fine avenue of coconut trees in full bearing, form one of the most attractive sights in Greytown. I found Mr. Paton, the vice-consul,
equally obliging, and I am indebted to him for much information respecting the trade of the port, particularly with regard to the export of india-rubber, the development of which trade he was one of the first to encourage.
Behind the town there is a long lagoon, and for several miles back the land is quite level, and interspersed with lakes and ponds with much marshy ground. Perfectly level, surrounded by swamps, and without any system of drainage, either natural or artificial, excepting such as the sandy soil affords, Greytown might be thought a very unhealthy site for a town. Notwithstanding, however, its apparent disadvantages, and that for nine months of the year it is subject to heavy tropical rains, it is comparatively healthy, and freer from fever than many places that appear at first sight better situated. Much is due to the porous sandy soil, but more I believe to what appears at first sight an element of danger, the perfect flatness of the ground. Where there are hills there must be hollows, and in these the air stagnates ; whilst here, where the land is quite level, the trade winds that blow pretty constantly find their way to every part, and carry off the emanations from the soil. As a similar instance I may mention the city of Pernambuco, on the eastern coast of Brazil, containing 80,000 inhabitants. It is perfectly level like Greytown, surrounded and intersected with channels of water, above the level of which it only stands a few feet. The crowded parts of the town are noted for their evil smells and filth, but, though entirely without drainage, it is celebrated for its healthiness; whilst a little lower down the coast, the town of Maceio, situated about sixty feet above the sea, surrounded by undulating ranges
and with a good natural drainage, is much more unhealthy, fevers being very prevalent. As at Greytown so at Pernambuco, the trade winds blow with much regularity, and there are neither hills nor hollows to interfere with the movements of the air, so that miasmatic exhalations cannot accumulate.
Surrounding the cleared portions around Greytown is a scrubby bush, amongst which are many guayava trees (Psidium sp.) having a fruit like a small apple filled with seeds, of a sub-acid flavour, from which the celebrated guava jelly is made. The fruit itself often occasions severe fits of indigestion, and many of the natives will not swallow the small seeds, but only the pulpy portion, which is said to be harmless. I saw another fruit growing here, a yellow berry about the size of a cherry, called “Nancito” by the natives. It is often preserved by them with spirit and eaten like olives. Beyond the brushwood, which grows where the original forest has been cut down, there are large trees covered with numerous epiphytes—— Tillandsias, orchids, ferns, and a hundred others, that make every big tree an aërial garden. Great arums perch on the forks and send down roots like cords to the ground, whilst lianas run from tree to tree or hang in loops and folds like the disordered tackle of a ship.
Green parrots fly over in screaming flocks, or nestle in loving couples amidst the foliage, toucans hop along the branches, turning their long, highly-coloured beaks from side to side with an old-fashioned look, and beautiful tanagers (Ramphocælus passerinii) frequent the outskirts of the forest, all velvety black, excepting a large patch of fiery-red above the tail, which renders the bird