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Ch. I.] ARRIVAL AT GREYTOWN. 3
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 filling up the Once spacious harbour, and cattle wading amongst the long grass, where within the last twenty years a frigate has lain at anchor. Wading and aquatic birds are abundant in these marshes, amongst which white cranes and a chocolate brown jacana, with lemon yellow underwing, are 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 wellbuilt of wood, and painted white with brown roofs. Pretty flower gardens surround or front many of them. Others are nearly hidden amongst palms and bread-fruit, 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 Greytown and around it is perfectly level. The square, the open spaces, and many of the streets are covered with short grass that makes a beautiful 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, and coffee, indigo, hides, cacao, Sugar, logwood, and India-rubber are the principal ex. ports. I called on Dr. Green, the British Consul, and found him a most courteous and amiable gentleman, ever 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
Ch. I.] CLIMATE OF GREYTOWN. 5
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 evilsmells and filth, but, though entirely without drainage it is noted 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 no 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 botanical garden. Great arums are perched 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 (Ramphocaesus passerinii) frequent the outskirts. of the forest, all velvety black, excepting a large patch of fiery-red above the tail, which renders the bird very
Ch. I.] BEETLES RESEMBLING CATERPILLARS. 7
conspicuous. It is only the male that is thus coloured, the female being clothed in a sober suit of greenishbrown. I think this bird is polygamous, for several of the brown ones were always seen with one of the redand-black ones. The bright colours of the male must make it very conspicuous to birds of prey, and, probably in consequence, it is not nearly so bold as the obscurelycoloured females. When a clear space in the brushwood is to be crossed, such as a road, two or three of the females will fly across first, before the male will venture to do so; and he is always more careful to get himself concealed amongst the foliage than his mates. I walked some distance into the forest along swampy paths cut by charcoal burners, and saw many beautiful and curious insects. Amongst the numerous butterflies, large blue Morphos and narrow, weak-winged Heliconidae, stripod and spotted with yellow, red, and black, were the most conspicuous and most characteristic of tropical America. Amongst the beetles I found a curious longicorn (DeSmiphora fasciculata), covered with long brown and black hairs, and closely resembling some of the short, thick, hairy caterpillars that are common on the bushes. Other closely allied species hide under fallen branches and logs, but this one clung exposed amongst the leaves, its antennae concealed against its body, and its resemblance to a caterpillar so great, that I was myself at first deceived by it. It is well known that insectivorous birds will not touch a hairy caterpillar, and this is only One of numberless instances where insects, that have some Special protection against their enemies, are closely imitated by others belonging to different genera, and even different orders. Thus, wasps and stinging ants have