Page images

dones of Guatemala, and the Mayas of Yucatan, who were probably much more nearly affiliated to the Nahuatls of Mexico than the Lencas.

We reached the top of the dividing range, and now left the main road, talking a path to the left, that is very rocky and narrow. We began rapidly to descend, and found an entire change of climate on this side of the range. It had been raining for weeks at Libertad, and everywhere the ground was wet and swampy, but two miles on the other side of the range the ground was quite dry, and so it continued to Juigalpa. Dry gravelly hills, covered with low scrubby bushes and trees, succeeded the damp grassy slopes we had been for hours travelling over. Prickly acacias, nancitos, guayavas, jicaras, were the principal trees, with here and there the tree whose thick coriaceous leaves are used by the natives instead of sandpaper. The beds of the rivers were dry, or at the most contained only stagnant pools of water, until we reached the Juigalpa river, which rises far to the eastward ; the north-east trade wind in crossing the great forest that clothes the Atlantic slope of the continent, gives up most of its moisture; and this range, rising about three thousand feet above the sea, intercepts nearly all that remains, so that only occasional showers reach Juigalpa.

On one of the low gravelly hills that we passed, not far from the path, we saw a troop of the white-faced monkey (Cebus albifrons) on the ground, amongst low scattered trees. Their attitudes, some standing up on their hind legs to get a better look at us, others with their backs arched like cats, were amusing. Though quite ready to run away, they stood all quite still, watching us, and looked as if they had been grouped for

Ch. IX.]



a photograph. A few steps towards them sent them scampering off, barking as they went.

Soon after this, I got severely stung by a number of small wasps, whose nest I had disturbed in passing under some bushes. About thirty were upon me, but I got off with about half-a-dozen stings, as I managed to kill the rest as they made their way through the hair of my head and beard, for these wasps, having generally to do with animals covered with hair, do not fly at the open face, but at the hair of the head, and push down through it to the skin before they sting. On this and on another occasion on which I was attacked by them, I had not a single sting on the exposed portions of my face, although my hands were stung in killing them in my hair. It is curious to note that the large black wasp that makes its nest under the verandahs of houses and eaves of huts, and has had to deal with man as his principal foe, flies directly at the face when molested.

Without further adventure we reached Juigalpa at dusk, and took up our quarters not far from the plaza, in a house where one large room was set apart for the accommodation of travellers. We found we should have to stay for a couple of days before our business was concluded ; and whilst waiting for some law papers to be made out, I determined to try to see some of the Indian antiquities in the neighbourhood. We had hard leather stretchers to sleep on, the use of mattresses being almost unknown.

Next morning I was up at daylight, and, after getting a cup of coffee and milk, started off on horseback on the lower road towards Acoyapo. This led over undulating savannahs, with grass and jicara trees, and

small clumps of low trees and shrubs on stony hillocks. Wild pigeons were very numerous, and their cooings were incessant. On the rocky spots grew spiny cactuses, with flattened pear-shaped joints and scarlet fruit. I reached the Juigalpa river about two miles below the town. Near the crossing it ran between shelving rocky banks, with here and there still reaches and pebbly shores. Shady trees overhung the clear water; and behind were myrtle-leaved shrubs and grassy openings. The morning was yet young, and the banks were vocal with the noises of birds, that chattered, whistled, chirruped, croaked, cooed, warbled, or made discordant cries. I doubt if any other part of the earth's surface could show a greater variety of the feathered tribe. A large brown bittern stood motionless amongst the stones of a rapid portion of the stream, crouching down with his neck and head drawn back close to his body; so that he looked like a brown rock himself. Kingfishers flitted up and down, or dashed into the water with a splashing thud. At a sedgy spot were some jacanas stalking about, and, when disturbed, rising, chattering their displeasure, and showing the lemon yellow of the underside of their wings, contrasting with the deep chocolate brown of the rest of their plumage. Parrots flew past in screaming flocks, or alighted on the trees and nestled together in loving couples, changing their screaming to tender chirrups. Numerous brown and yellow fly-catchers sat on small dead branches, and darted off every now and then after passing insects. A couple of beautiful mot-mots (Eumomota superciliaris) made short flights after the larger insects, or sat on the low branches by the riverbank, jerking their curious tails from side to side.

сь. ІХ.]



Swallows skimmed past in their circling flights, whilst in the bushes were warbling orange-and-black Sisitotis and many another bird of beautiful feather. One class of birds, and that the most characteristic of tropical America, was decidedly scarce. I did not see a single humming-bird by the river-side. On the savannahs they are much less frequent than in the forest region. Insects were not so numerous as they had been in preceding years. Over sandy spots two speckled species of tigerbeetles ran and flew with great swiftness. I saw one rise from the ground and take an insect on the wing that was flying slowly over. On one myrtle-like bush, with small white flowers, there were dozens of a small Longicorn new to me, which, when flying, looked like a

black wasp.

I saw

It was very pleasant to sit in the cool shade, and listen to, and watch, the birds. There was here no fear of dangerous animals, the only annoyance being stinging ants or biting sand-flies, neither of which were at this place very numerous. Snakes also were scarce. but one, a harmless green one, that glided away, with wavy folds amongst the brushwood.

The natives say that alligators are plentiful in the river, but that they are harmless. I saw one small one, about five feet long, floating with his eyes, nostrils, and the serratures of his back only above water. Every one bathes in the river without fear, which would not be the case if there had been any one seized by them during the last fifty years ; for no traditions are more persistent than tales of the attacks of wild beasts; anxious parents pass on from generation to generation the stories they themselves were told when children.

As I sat upon the rocks in the cool shade, enjoying the scene, there came hobbling along, with painful steps, on the other side of the river, a poor cripple, afflicted with that horrible disease, elephantiasis. He crossed the river with great difficulty, as his feet were swollen to six times their natural size, with great horny callosities. One of his hands was also disabled; and altogether he was a most pitiable object. Such a sight seemed a blot upon the fair face of nature: but it is our sympathy for our kind that makes us think so. If the trees were sympathetic beings, not a poor crippled specimen of humanity would have their pity, but the gnarled and half-rotten giants of the forest, threatening to topple down with every breeze; whilst to our eyes the dying tree, covered with moss and ferns, and, may be, clasped by climbing vines, would be a picturesque and pleasing sight. So the fishes would pity their comrades caught by the king-fisher, the birds those in the claws of the hawk-every creature considering the fate that overtook its fellows, and which might befall itself—the great blot in nature's plan.

The poor cripple told me he was going into Juigalpa. He had, doubtless, heard that a stranger had arrived in the town; for every time I had been there he had turned up. His best friends are the foreigners, who look with greater pity on his misfortune than his neighbours, who have grown accustomed to it.

The blind, the lame, and the sick are the only beggars I ever saw in Nicaragua. The necessaries of life are easily procured. Very little clothing is required. Any one may plant maize or bananas ; and there is plenty of work for all who are willing or necessitated to labour;

« EelmineJätka »