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there on their festivals, and get drunk on the palmwine. The Indians of Nicaragua, when the Spaniards first came amongst them, objected to the preaching of the padres against intemperance. They said “getting drunk did no man any harm.”
The manufacture of aguardiente is a Government monopoly, which is farmed out to contractors. The
contracts are always given to the political supporters of the party in power.
There are many private illegal stills in the mountains. They are generally amongst thick forest, near a small brook, with some dense brushwood close at hand, for the distiller to slip into if any Government officers should come up. One day, when rambling in the woods near Santo Domingo, I came across one of these “sly grog” manufactories. The apparatus was very simple. It consisted of two of the common
earthenware pots of the country, one on the top of the other, the top one having had the bottom taken out and luted to the lower one with clay. This was put on a fire with the fermented liquor. The spirit condensed against the flat bottom of a tin dish that covered the top vessel, and into which cold water was poured, and fell in drops on to a board, that conducted it into a long wooden tube, from which it dropped directly into bottles.
Matagalpa does not rise above the dulness of other Nicaraguan towns; and there is a stagnation about it, and utter absence of aim or effort in the people, that are most distressing to a foreigner used to the bustle, business, and diversions of European cities. A few women washing in the river, or making tortillas or cigars in the houses, was all I saw going on in the way of work. The men, as usual, lolled about in hammocks, smoking incessantly. A few houses were in process of building, or, rather, were standing half finished. Now and then, a little is done to them; and so they take months and years to finish; and men will show you, with the greatest complacency, a half-built house on which nothing has been done for two years, telling you they are so busy with it that they cannot undertake anything else. There are no libraries, theatres, nor concert-rooms: no public meetings nor lectures. Newspapers do not circulate amongst the people, nor books of any kind. I never saw a native reading, in the central provinces, excepting the lawyers turning over their law books, or some of the functionaries in the towns looking up the Government gazette, or children at their lessons. Night sets in at six o'clock. A single dim dip candle is then lighted, in
DIFFERENCE OF CLIMATE.
the better houses, set up high, so as to shed a weak, flickering light over the whole room, not sufficient to read by. The natives sit about and gossip till between eight and nine, then lie down to sleep.
A single billiard-table, in a dimly-lighted room, at which three or four play all the evening, until the closing hour, at nine, and a dozen others sit round the walls on benches; a gambling room, licensed by the Government, where only the smallest sums are staked; cock-fighting on Sundays; a feast day; and perhaps a bull-fight once or twice a year; private gambling carried on to a considerable extent by the higher classes, and aguardiente-drinking by the lower, complete the list of Nicaraguan diversions.
On entering the Matagalpa district, we had found the roads dry and dusty; and we now learnt that whilst at Santo Domingo the season had been unusually wet, near Matagalpa it had been so dry that the maize crops were suffering greatly from the drought. We had been travelling nearly north-west, and were getting gradually further and further away from the Atlantic, into a region where the north-east trade wind, having to travel over a greater stretch of land, gets drained of its moisture.
Our mules and horse were completely tired out; and we expected to have been able, without difficulty, to hire fresh animals to take us on to Ocotal in Segovia ; but we were disappointed. We lost the afternoon by depending upon a man who undertook to get us some. He went away, saying he was going after them. Hour after hour passed, and he did not return. We went to his house; and his wife told us that he was getting the mules for us. Night set in, and still he came not. At last, about nine o'clock, we found him at the billiardroom. He said he thought, when he did not return, we would take it for granted that he had not been able to find the mules. I believe he had never been further than the billiard-saloon looking for them. These people get through the days with such ennui and difficulty, that they have no idea of people economising time. A story is told about them which, whether true or not, illustrates this. When the steamboats were first put on the Lake of Nicaragua, the natives complained that they were charged as much as they were in the bungoes, although they got sometimes a week's sailing in the latter, and only one day in the steamboat. We were in a dilemma about mules. I wished to push on, as I found the journey was a longer one than I expected when I set out; and it was important that I should get back to the mines by the end of the month. At last, our host offered us mules to take us as far as Jinotega, charging us three times as much as was usual ; and we determined to go on there, and seek animals to continue our journey. We got our own mules put into a good portrero of Pará grass just below the town, resisting our host's invitation to leave them with him, fearing he might use them instead of feeding them. He had to send out to his hacienda for the fresh ones; and although he promised them at seven, it was ten o'clock the next day before they arrived; and the delay in waiting for them quickened my appreciation of the laziness and want of punctuality of the people of Matagalpa.
On leaving the town, we crossed the river, and ascended a range on the other side. Here, for the first time, I got amongst, pine trees in the tropics; and they
gave a very different aspect to the country from what I had before seen. No brushwood grows under them, and they stand apart at regular intervals, not shouldering each other, as in the Atlantic forest, where the trees crowd together, each trying to overtop its neighbour. No lianas hang from the trees, and, excepting a few narrow-leaved Tillandsias, no epiphytes nestle on the branches and trunks. Below, instead of shrubby palms, large-leaved heliconias, and curious melastomæ, the ground was bare and brown from the fallen leaves of the pines, excepting that in some places light grass had sprung up; in others the common bracken-fern of Europe. All that I thought characteristic of a tropical forest had disappeared ; and the whistling of the wind through the pine-tops, which I had not heard for years, carried me back in imagination amongst the Canadian forests. The road was rocky, and to the left rose mountains of nearly bare cliffs, up which clung straggling pines, reaching to the summits, relieving, but not concealing, their nakedness. Clumps of evergreen oaks were the only other trees; and these, like the pines, grew in social groups on the hills. In the valleys, the oaks and pines gave place to a variety of trees and brushwood, different species of acacia being the most abundant. Occasionally a tree-cactus appeared, its curious flattened, kite-shaped joints, covered with prickles, looking like great leaves, and its stem, formed of the same, thickened at the bottom into a round filiform trunk, not differing much from the trees around, but in the branches showing all the gradations by which the flat constricted joints thicken out into stems. In some parts, as we travelled on, we found the oak trees