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BOAT JOURNEY CONTINUED.
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, which they do not wear during the day but keep stowed away under the cargo that they may be dry to put on at night; their bronzed, glistening, naked bodies, as they ply their long poles all together in unison, and chant some Spanish boat-song, is one of the sights that lingers 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 here, at which 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 one. 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. The first view of Castillo 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 McCrae, 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 naturalized Nicaraguan, he has filled with great credit for some time the post of deputygovernor 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 uninhabitable forests of the Atlantic slope. They remain for several months away, and are expected
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 specimen 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 another 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 : anyone 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. There was but little change in its banks. We saw many tall graceful palms and tree ferns, but most of the trees were dicotyledons. Amongst these the mahogany (Swietonia mahogani) and the cedar (Cedrela odorata) are now rare near the river, but a few trees were pointed out to me. High up in one tree, underneath which we passed, were seated
REACH THE LAKE.
some of the black Congo monkeys (Mycetes palliatus) which at times, especially before rain and at nightfall, make a fearful howling, though not so loud as the Brazilian species. Screaming macaws, in their gorgeous livery of blue, yellow, and scarlet, occasionally flew overhead, and tanagers and toucans were not uncommon.
Twelve miles above Castillo we reached the mouth of the Savallo, and stayed at a house there to breakfast, the owner, a German, giving us roast wari, fowls, and eggs. He told me that there was a hot spring up the Savallo, but I had not time to go and see it. Above Savallo the San Juan is deep and sluggish, the banks low and swampy. The large palm, so common in the delta of the river, here reappeared with its large coarse leaves twenty feet in length, springing from near the ground.
Our boatmen continued to paddle all day, and as night approached redoubled their exertions, singing to the stroke of their paddles. I was astonished at their endurance. They kept on until eleven o'clock at night, when we reached San Carlos, having accomplished about thirty-five miles during the day against the current. San Carlos is at the head of the river, where it issues from the great Lake of Nicaragua, about one hundred and twenty miles from Greytown. The mean level of the waters of the lake, according to the survey of Colonel 0. W. Childs, in 1851, is 1071 feet, so that the river falls on an average a little less than one foot
mile. The height of the lowest pass between the lake and the Pacific is said to be twenty-six feet above the lake, therefore at that point the highest elevation between the two oceans is only about 133 feet; but even allowing that an error of a few feet may be discovered when a thorough