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ALLIGATORS · · · · · ·
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ORE . . . . . . . . . . . 92 SECTION OF SAN ANTONIO LODE . . . . . 94 HUMMING-BIRDS (Florisuga mellivora, Linn.) . . . 1 TONGUES OF HUMMING-BIRD AND WOODPECKER . 113, 114 PITCHER-FLOWER (Marcgravia nepenthoides) . . . 129 FLOWER OF THE “ PALOSABRE". . . . ADVENTURE WITH A JAGUAR . . . . PEÑA BLANCA . . . . INDIAN STATUES . . . PATH UP STEEP HILL . . QUISCALUS . . . . BULL'S-HORN THORN . .
. . : 218 LEAF OF MELASTOMA . . . . . . . . 223
NATURALIST IN NICARAGUA.
Arrival at Greytown — The river San Juan—Silting up of the
harbour-Crossing the bar—Lives lost on it—Sharks—Christopher Columbus — Appearance of the town-Trade-Healthiness of the town and its probable cause-Coinparison between Greytown, Pernambuco, and Maceio-Wild fruits-Plants—Parrots, toucans, and tanagers-Butterflies and beetles-Mimetic forms – Alligators — Boy drowned at Blewfields by an alligatorTheir method of catching wild pigs.
At noon on the 15th February 1868, the R.M.S.S. Solent, in which I was a passenger, anchored off Greytown, or San Juan del Norte, the Atlantic port of Nicaragua in Central America. We lay about a mile from the shore, and saw a low flat coast stretching before us. It was the delta of the river San Juan, into which flows the drainage of a great part of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and which is the outlet for the waters of the great lake of Nicaragua. Its water-shed extends to within a few miles of the Pacific, for here the isthmus of Central America, as in the great continents to the north and south of it, sends off by far the largest portion of its drainage to the Atlantic. In the rainy season the San Juan is a noble river, and even in the dry
THE NATURALIST IN NICARAGUA
months, from March to Jane, 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 Ch. I.]
ARRIVAL AT GREYTOWN.
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