Page images

and many of the pines completely draped with hanging festoons of the grey moss-like Tillandsia usneoides, or “old man's beard.” Not a bough but had a great fringe hanging down, sometimes as much as six feet long, like a grey veil swaying in the breeze, and giving the trees a strange and venerable look. The ride was delightful after the stagnation at Matagalpa : everything was fresh and new to me. The aspect of the country, the trees, shrubs, and flowers, the birds and insects, the aromatic perfume from the pines, claimed my attention every minute.

After four hours' riding across the pine-clad ranges, we reached a gorge leading up to the heights overlooking the valley of Jinotega. The path was along the steep side of this gorge, often along the side of a precipice, where a few logs were laid to prevent the mules going over, but really increasing the danger, for they were old and rotten. Large boulders, imbedded in dark-coloured earth, lay on the steep slopes, and about these grew small herbaceous ferns in the greatest variety and profusion -a very paradise for a fern-collector. In some parts a light green maiden-hair fern covered the ground with its beautifully tender foliage, reminding me of shady banks in the north of England, covered with the equally lovely oak-fern. Every few yards discovered some new species, filling the mind with delight at their beauty and variety. In dryer and more stony places, a pinnatifid club-moss stood up amongst the stones in crisp tufts, like the parsley fern on mountain-sides at home. A black and blue bird (Cyanocitta melanocyanea), about the size of a jackdaw, flew in small noisy flocks; and I noticed a beautiful trogon, with burnished green back, and rose

Ch. XIII.]



coloured breast. The highest points of the ranges enclosing this ravine were covered with pine trees (Pinus tenuifolia); lower down grew evergreen oaks, and lower still a variety of small trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, reaching to the dry bed of the brook.

After a steep and rocky ascent, we reached the top of the range, and before us lay the upper end of the valley of Jinotega. Here it was very narrow, hemmed in by rocky ranges capped with pine forests. Descending the steep and rocky slope, we soon left the pines and oaks above us, and came down on a narrow alluvial flat,


gradually widening out as we proceeded down the valley. On each side of the road were fields of maize, suffering greatly from the drought. The soil was a fine deep, dark loam, and for the first time in Nicaragua I found they ploughed their land, and made permanent fences. The plough was a primitive implement, not unlike some of those still in use in parts of Spain. It was entirely of wood, excepting that the point was shod with an iron plate. Many of the fences were hedges, amongst which grew the lovely creeper (Antigonon leptopus), with festoons of pink and rose-coloured flowers. The Indian and Mestizo girls bind it in their hair, and call it “la vegessima," “ the beautiful.” It does not wither for some time after being cut, and so is very suitable for garlands and bouquets. It has been carried to Greytown and the West Indies; and wherever it flourishes, it is a great favourite.

About a mile down the valley we reached the small town of Jinotega, and put up at the estanco kept by a very polite and dignified elderly gentleman, who, in the customary phrase of the country, placed himself, his house, and all he possessed, at our service. His wife, a bustling young woman, not more than half the age of her husband, set to work at once to get our dinner ready. There were several women-servants and many children about the house. It was kept cleaner than is usual in Nicaragua, and I noticed in the yard behind that some attempt at drainage had been made. Our host appeared to be in comfortable circumstances. Outside the town he had a small farm where he grew maize and wheat. He complained greatly of the drought, and said it had never occurred before in his recollection that the maize had failed in Jinotega for want of rain. He found us a man who promised to supply us with mules or horses to take us to Ocotal, but as they had to be brought up from the “ Campos ” or plains he could not let us have them early, and it was ten o'clock the next day before we started again.

Whilst waiting for the mules we strolled around the town. In the centre most of the houses are substantially built and tiled; on the outskiits there are small grassthatched huts with high-pitched roofs. Wheat, maize, potatoes, and beans are the principal things grown.



Many of the people have light sandy-coloured hair and blue eyes, and I thought at first they might be the offspring of a number of Americans that settled in Jinotega during the civil war in the States, but afterwards abandoned the place. I found, however, some elderly people with the same distinctive marks of ancestry other than the Spaniards, Indians, or Negroes, and I am inclined to believe that on the breaking up of the bands of buccaneers by Morgan, at the end of the seventeenth century, many of them found a refuge up the Rio Grande and Rio Wanks. They were well acquainted with these rivers, and made many forays up them to harry the Spanish settlements on the Pacific slope. In 1688 a body of about three hundred French and English pirates abandoned their ships in the Gulf of Fonseca, forced their way across the country, and descended the Rio Wanks to the Atlantic. The fair-haired and blue-eyed natives of Matagalpa and Segovia are probably the descendants of the outlaws who made these provinces their highway from one ocean to another.

Jinotega is pleasantly situated, and has many advantages over other Nicaraguan towns. The climate is temperate and moderately dry, the land very fertile. Pine trees on the surrounding ranges furnish fuel and light. Pasture is abundant; for two miles below the town the valley opens out into wide “campos” covered with grass, on which a large number of horses, cattle, and mules are reared.

Our road lay down the valley. On the sides of the enclosing ranges there were many cultivated patches, and we saw whole families, men, women, and children, weeding amongst the maize. A few showers had fallen during

the night and given them some hopes of saving their crops. We passed a village called Apanás and then struck across the plains, and on the other side reached low flat-topped ranges covered with small trees and brushwood, amongst which were many clearings well fenced and planted with maize. Passing over an undulating country, the hills covered with oak forests, the lowlands well grassed, we reached about two o'clock San Rafael, a small town that has used up all its houses in forming the plaza in front of a barn-like church. As usual, the half-breed population were sunk in idleness and poverty.

We stopped at one of the houses to get a drink of “tiste," and were visited by a fussy little man who told us that he was secretary to the judge and keeper of the "estanco," and in fact the ruling power in the town, which he placed at our disposal. We, however, wanted nothing but our “tiste," and to get some information about a cave we had heard was in the neighbourhood. Our friend knew all about it, and got a boy to show us the way for a couple of dimes. Under his guidance we crossed a brook, and passing through a pine forest soon reached the cave, which was on the side of the precipitous bank of a small stream. It was only a small one, extending for about twenty feet back, hollowed out of a sandy conglomerate, probably by the action of the brook when it ran at a higher level. I dug a little into the floor, but had not time to do much, and found nothing. There were signs of its having been recently occupied, the walls and roof were blackened with smoke, and numerous shells of the common fresh-water melania were lying about. We were told that the Indians when travelling

« EelmineJätka »