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fell again, but this time with his fore-feet over the rock, and on the third attempt scrambled over and landed me safely on the top, but, I confess, much shaken in my
seat. My straw-hat came off in the struggle, and was rolling merrily down the hill, when it was caught in a low bush, much to Rito’s satisfaction, who was anticipating a long tramp after it. We had a fine view from the top of this range over a deep valley, bounded with precipitous cliffs and dark patches of forest. Over our heads floated drifting rain-clouds from the north-east that sometimes concealed the mountain tops, sometimes lifted and showed their craggy summits.
Our beasts were tired out with the rough travelling, and we moved along slowly. About five o'clock we came in sight of the rock of Cuapo, an isolated perpendicular cliff rising about 300 feet above the top of a hill that it crowns. After descending a long, steep range, we reached, near dusk, a small hut, called Tablasón, and here we determined to pass the night, although the accommodation was about the scantiest possible. A man and his wife, six children, and a woman to grind the maize for tortillas, lived in the hut. The greatest portion of it was quite open at the sides, without even a fence to keep out the pigs. At one end a place about ten feet square was partitioned off from the rest, and surrounded with mud-walls, and in this the whole family slept. Both the people and the house were very dirty. The remains of a broken chair was the only furniture, excepting the rough bedsteads made by inserting four sticks into the ground, on which were laid two long poles, kept apart by two shorter ones at the end, over which rude frame a dry hide was stretched. I was offered one of these couches for the night, and accepted it; though if it had not been for the rain I would rather have slept outside, but all around was sloppy and wet; night had set in; our mules and horse were tired; we ourselves were fatigued, and there was no other shelter within several miles. They had no food to sell us, and appeared to have nothing for themselves, excepting a few tortillas and a little homemade cheese. We opened out some of our preserved meats. Whilst I was eating, the whole family crowded around me, apparently never having seen any one eat with a fork before. Fortunately we had brought candles with us, or we should have been in darkness, for they had none; nor did they appear to use them, as they had no candlesticks, and the children and our host himself took it by turns to hold our lights. All wore ragged, dirty cotton clothes, that only half-covered them. They had four cows, and pigs, dogs, and poultry. The land around was fertile; they might take as much of it as they liked to cultivate, and, with a little trouble, might have grown almost anything ; but the blight of Central America—the curse of idleness, was upon them, and
they were content to live on in squalid poverty rather than work.
We were so tired, that notwithstanding our miserable and crowded quarters, we slept soundly, but were up at daylight, and soon ready for our journey again, after Rito had made a little coffee, and I had compensated our host for our lodging. The scenery around was very fine, and the place might have been made an earthly paradise. To the north-east a spur of the forest came down to within a mile of the house ; in front were grassy hills and clumps of brushwood and trees, with a clear gurgling stream in the bottom; and beyond, in the distance, forest-clad mountains. As usual, the family had a pet animal. Before we left, a pretty fawn came in from the forest to be fed, and eyed us suspiciously, laying its head back over its shoulders, and gazing at us with its large, dreamy-looking eyes. The woman told us it had a wild mate in the woods, but came in daily to visit them, the dogs recognising and not molesting it. Our road still lay within a few miles of the dark Atlantic forest, the clouds lying all along the first range, concealing more than they exposed. There was a sort of gloomy grandeur about the view; so much was hidden, that the mind was left at liberty to imagine that behind these clouds lay towering mountains and awful cliffs. The road passed within a short distance of the rock of Cuapo, and, leaving my horse with Rito, I climbed up towards it. A ridge on the eastern side runs up to within about 200 feet of the summit, and so far it is accessible. Up this I climbed to the base of the brown rock, the perpendicular cliff towering up above me; here and there were patches of grey, where lichens clung to
the rock, and orchids, ferns, and small shrubs grew in the clefts and on ledges. There were two fine orchids in flower, which grew not only on the rock, but on some stunted trees at its base; and beneath some fallen rocks nestled a pretty club-moss, and two curious little ferns (Aneimea oblongifolia and hirsuta), with the masses of spores on stalks rising from the pinnules. The rock was the same as that of Peña Blanca, but the vegetation was entirely distinct. To the south-west there was a fine view down the Juigalpa valley to the lake, with Ometepec in the distance, and some sugar-loaf hills nearer at hand. The weather had cleared up, white cumuli only sailed across the blue aerial ocean. The scene had no feature in it of a purely tropical character, excepting that three gaudy macaws were wheeling round and round in playful flight, now showing all red on the under surface, then turning all together, as if they were one body, and exhibiting the gorgeous blue, yellow, and red of the upper side gleaming in the sunshine; screaming meanwhile as they flew with harsh, discordant cries. This gaudy-coloured and noisy bird seems to proclaim aloud that it fears no foe. Its formidable beak protects it from every danger, for no hawk or predatory mammal dares attack a bird so strongly armed. Here the necessity for concealment does not exist, and sexual selection has had no check in developing the brightest and most conspicuous colours. If such a bird was not able to defend itself from all foes, its loud cries would attract them, its bright colours direct them, to its own destruction. The white cockatoo of Australia is a similar instance. It is equally conspicuous amongst the darkgreen foliage by its pure white colour, and equally its Ch. XI.]
USE OF TOUCAN'S BEAK.
loud screams proclaim from afar its resting-place, whilst its powerful beak protects it from all enemies excepting man. In the smaller species of parrots the beak is not sufficiently strong to protect them from their enemies, and most of them are coloured green, which makes them very difficult to distinguish amongst the leaves. I have been looking for several minutes at a tree, in which were scores of small green parrots, making an incessant noise, without being able to distinguish one; and I recollect once in Australia firing at what I thought was a solitary “green leek” parrot amongst a bunch of leaves, and to my astonishment five “green leeks” fell to the ground, the whole bunch of apparent leaves having been composed of them. The bills of even the smallest parrots must, however, be very useful to them to guard the entrances to their nests in the holes of trees, in which they breed.
I believe that the principal use of the long sharp bill of the toucan is also that of a weapon with which to defend itself against its enemies, especially when nesting in the hole of a tree. Any predatory animal must face this formidable beak if seeking to force an entrance to the nest; and I know by experience that the toucan can use it with great quickness and effect. I kept a young one of the largest Nicaraguan species (Ramphastus tocard) for some time, until it one day came within reach of and was killed by my monkey. It was a most comical-looking bird when hopping about, and though evidently partial to fruit, was eager after cockroaches and other insects; its long bill being useful in picking them out of crevices and corners. It used its bill so dexterously that it was impossible to put one's