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Ch. XV.] WOODS OF EVERGREEN O.A.K. 289
that had destroyed most of the maize crop in that province, although in Chontales, on one side of it, we had had rather more rain than usual, and in Segovia, on the other, we had seen that the crops were excellent. Probably the high ranges that bound Matagalpa on every side had intercepted the rains and drained the winds of their moisture. - Having made such an early halt, we intended to have made up for it by an equally early start the next morning, but were detained by our mules having strayed during the night, and it was seven o’clock before they could be found. We had a long day's journey before us, during which we should not be able to buy any provisions, so, over night, Rito's sister had cooked a fowl for us to take with us. She had married one of the Smallest settlers of Sontáli, and, although still young and fresh-looking, had already three lusty children. The great number of children at all the houses had surprised me greatly, as I had been told that the country was decreasing in population. This, I have no doubt, is a mistake, and the inhabitants, if the country should remain at peace, would multiply rapidly. On leaving Sontáli, the road led over mountain pastures and through woods of the evergreen oak draped from top to bottom with the grey moss-like Tislandsia, which hung in long festoons from every branch, and was wound around the trunks, like garlands, by the wind : the larger masses, waving in the breeze, hung down for four or five feet below the branches. The small birds build in them, and they form excellent hiding-places, for their nests, where they are tolerably secure from the
attacks of their numerous enemies. I had often, when U
in the tropics, to notice the great sagacity or instinct of the small birds in choosing places for their nests. So many animals: monkeys, wild-cats, racoons, opossums, and tree-rats, are constantly prowling about, looking out for eggs and young birds, that, unless placed with great care, their progeny would almost certainly be destroyed. The different species of Oropendula or Orioles (Icteridae) of tropical America choose high, smooth-barked trees, standing apart from others, from which to hang their pendulous nests. Monkeys cannot get at them from the tops of other trees, and any predatory mammal attempting to ascend the Smooth trunks would be greatly exposed to the attacks of the birds armed, as they are, with strong sharp-pointed beaks. Several other birds in the forest suspend their nests from the small but tough air roots that hang down from the epiphytes growing on the branches, where they often look like a natural bunch of moss growing on them. The various prickly bushes are much chosen, especially the bull's-horn thorn, which I have already described. Many birds hang their nests from the extremities of the branches, and a safer place could hardly be chosen, as with the sharp thorns and the stinging ants that inhabit them no mammal would, I think, dare to attempt the ascent of the tree. Stinging ants are not the only insects whose protection birds secure by building near their nests. A small parrot builds constantly on the plains in a hole made in the nests of the termites, and a species of fly-catcher makes its nest alongside of that of one of the wasps. On the savannahs, between Acoyapo and Nancital, there is a shrub with sharp curved prickles, called Viena paraca (come here) by the Spaniards, because it is difficult to
Ch. XV.] SITES FOR BIRDS'-NEST.S. 291
extricate oneself from its hold when the dress is caught: as one part is cleared another will be entangled. A yellow and brown fly-catcher builds its nest in these bushes, and generally places it alongside that of a banded wasp, so that with the prickles and the wasps it is well guarded. I witnessed, however, the death of one of the birds from the very means it had chosen for the protection of its young. Darting hurriedly out of its domed nest as we were passing, it was caught just under its bill by one of the curved hook-like thorns, and in trying to extricate itself got further entangled. Its fluttering disturbed the wasps, who flew down upon it, and in less than a minute stung it to death. We tried in vain to rescue it, for the wasps attacked us also, and one of our party was severely stung by them. We had to leave it hanging up dead in front of its nest, whilst its mate flew round and round screaming out terror and distress. I find that other travellers have noted the fact of birds building their nests near colonies of wasps for protection. Thus, according to Gosse, the grassquit of Jamaica (Spermophila olivacea) often selects a shrub on which wasps have built, and fixes the entrance to its domed nest close to their cells; and Prince Maximilian Neuwied states in his “Travels in Brazil,” that he found the curious purse-shaped nest of one of the Todies constantly placed near the nests of wasps, and that the natives informed him that it did so to secure itself from the attacks of its enemies. I should have thought that when building their nests they would be very liable to be attacked by the wasps. The nests placed in these positions appear always to be domed, probably for Security against their unstable friends.
Concordia—Jinotega-Indian habits retained by the people—Indian names of towns—Security of travellers in Nicaragua–Native flour-mill—Uncomfortable lodgings—Tierrabona—Dust whirlwind—Initial form of a cyclone—The origin of cyclones.
SOME of the ranges were very craggy, and one was so steep and rocky that we had to dismount and lead our mules, and even then one of them fell several times. These craggy ranges were covered with the evergreen oaks, and we saw but few pine trees. Now and then we passed over the tracks of the leaf-cutting ants, who were hurrying along as usual, laden with pieces of foliage. about the size of a sixpence. There were but few birds, and insects also were scarce, the bleak wet weather doubtless being unsuitable for them.
We now began to descend on the Matagalpa side of the elevated ranges we had been travelling over, and crossed many small valleys and streams, the latter everywhere cutting through boulder clay, with very few exposures of the bed rock. In the lower lands were many cultivated patches of maize and beans, but the country was very sparsely inhabited. At noon, we reached a small town called Concordia, where the houses were larger and better built than those in the Small towns of Segovia; but the church was an ugly barn-like
Ch. XVI.] - INDIAN NAMES. 293
building, apparently much neglected. The rocks were trachytes, and the soil seemed fertile, but there was very little of it cultivated. Many of the men we met wore long Swords instead of the usual machetes. There is a school for learning fencing at Concordia, and the people of the district are celebrated for being expert Swordsmen. They have often fencing matches. The best man is called the champion, and he is bound to try conclusions with every one that challenges him. After leaving Concordia we had only one more range to cross, and then began to descend towards the plains below Jinotega, and about dusk reached that town and were kindly received by our former entertainers. Doubtless much European blood runs in the veins of the inhabitants of Jinotega, but in their whole manner of living they follow the Indian ways, and it is the same throughout Nicaragua, excepting amongst the higher classes in the large towns. All their cooking vessels are Indian. Just as in the Indian huts, every pot or pan is of coarse pottery and each dish is cooked on a separate little fire. The drinks in common use are Indian and have Indian names; tiste, pinul, pinullo and chicha, all made from maize, sugar, and chocolate. As a rule, whatever was new to the Spaniards when they invaded the country retains its Indian name; as for instance every stage of growth of the maize plant, “chilote,” elote, and maizorca. The stones for grinding the maize are exactly the same as those found in the old Indian graves, and they are still called the “metlate.” All the towns we passed through in Segovia retained their Indian names, though their present inhabitants know nothing of their meaning. The old names of