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Ch. XIII.] BENIGHTED ON THE MOUNTAINS.
used it, and that during the last revolution the inhabitants of San Rafael hid their valuables in it, though what they consisted of I am at a loss to say,
On leaving the cave our guide put us on the wrong road, and we did not discover the mistake until we had travelled a couple of miles. We then arrived at some huts in the pine forest, where we were told that the road to Ocotal was half a mile distant, across a stream and a high steep range opposite. We had either to return to San Rafael to take the right road or to cross the range. The latter looked rather formidable, but we determined to try it. It was very steep and rocky, but amongst the pines there was no underwood, so, after some stumbling and slipping, our beasts managed to scramble to the top, and we soon after regained the road.
We now travelled over steep ranges, composed of great moraine-like heaps of clay, with large angular boulders. Pine and oak trees covered the heights, shrouded with long fringes and festoons of the mosslike Tillandsia. Many epiphytes grew on the oaks, amongst which the mottled yellow flower of an orchid hung down in spikes six feet long.
Five miles after regaining the road we reached the top of a high range of hills, and found a single hut on the summit. Night was coming on, it was raining, and we were told that there was a very bad road before us over mountains, and no other house for three leagues. We determined to stay at the hut, although the prospect of our night's entertainment was a most cheerless one. The hut was about twenty feet square, with a small attached shed for a kitchen. The floor was the natural earth, littered with corn husks and other refuse. There was not a bit of furniture, excepting some rough sleeping-places made of hides stretched over poles. There was not a stool nor even a log of wood to sit down upon. In this miserable hut dwelt three families, consisting of nine individuals; men, women, and children.
The land around appeared to be poor. A patch of the forest in front of the house, sloping down the side of a steep valley, had been cleared, and planted with maize and wheat. We were told that there were a few other houses down this valley. The people in the hut seemed miserably poor. I said to Velasquez that they must have been born on the settlement, as I could not imagine any one coming from outside the mountains to live at such a spot, and on inquiry we found that every one was a native, born within a mile of the hut. It was perhaps bleaker than usual that evening, a continuous rain was falling, and a high wind whistling through the pine-tops. Pigs, dogs, and fowls were constantly in one's way, and the only cheering sign was the bright blaze and fragrant smell of the burning pine splinters. I asked one of the men if he preferred this place to Jinotega, where the fertile slopes and grassy plains had so pleased our eyes. He answered he did, the air was fresher and there was less fever.
They made for us some tortillas, and we had tea with us. The only ingenious thing about the place was a sort of stove, dome-shaped, made of clay, with two holes through the top like a cooking-stove, on which they put their earthenware cooking vessels. I turned into my hammock early, with all my clothes and my boots on, and my coat buttoned tightly round me,
THE UPLAND INDIANS.
as the bleak wind found many à crevice to whistle through, and the open network of the hammock, agreeable enough in the warm lowlands, was too slight a protection against the cold of the mountains. A few poles placed across the doorway partially closed it, but some of the smallest pigs got through, and were rooting and grunting amongst our baggage all night.
As soon as daylight broke next morning we were up, stiff, chilled, and cramped, and got some hot coffee made, which warmed us a little. We then had a better look round than we had had the night before. It was a most desolate spot, with scarcely any grass; and a poor half-starved horse came up to get a small feed of maize.
The people of the mountain regions of Europe cannot, if they would, take up land in the fertile lowlands, as they are already occupied, but in the central provinces of Nicaragua the greater part of the land is unappropriated, and these people might, if they liked, make their homesteads where, with one-half the labour they spend on their barren mountain ridge, they might live in abundance. But they have been born and bred where they live, and knowing how strong is the force of custom and how attached the Indians are to their homes, I do not wonder that they stay from generation to generation on this bleak range. I can imagine that if removed to the lowlands they would sigh for their mountain home, to smell the fragrance of the pine trees, and to hear once more the wind whistling through their branches. I have already noticed how the Indians cling generation after generation to the same spot, even when a short removal would be manifestly to their
advantage. I fear there is a more ignoble reason that has as much to do with this as their love of home, their confirmed and innate laziness. They shrink from any labour that they are not forced to undertake. As an instance, no one during at least two generations that the house had been occupied had brought in even a log of wood for a seat, and a table would, I fancy, be beyond their wildest dreams of comfort. An Avocado tree grew before their door, the only fruit tree to be seen, and it was nearly destroyed by being deeply cut into. I asked why they had injured it, and they said they fired at it as a target, and, lead being scarce, they dug out the bullets with their knives; yet within thirty paces of their hut there were plenty of pine trees that would have done equally well as a target, but then they would have had to walk a few yards from their door.
How was such a spot first chosen for settlement ? All the names of the places around are Indian, and probably in the old times when there was continual warfare amongst the tribes, the remnants of one, conquered and nearly extirpated, fled to the mountains, and occupied a locality from necessity and for safety that they would not otherwise have chosen. Afterwards when a new generation arose they looked on the pineclad hills as their home and birthright.
Great range composed of boulder clay—Daraily-Lost on the savannahs
--Jamailý-A deer-hunter's family– Totagalpa — Walls covered with cement, and whitewashed-Ocotal-The valley of DepiltoHawks and sinall birds—Depilto—Silver mine-Geology of the valley-Glacial drift—The glacial period in central AmericaEvidence that the ice extended to the tropics-Scarcity of gold in the valley gravels—Difference of the mollusca on the east and west coast of the Isthmus of Darien-The refuge of the tropical American animals and plants during the glacial period—The lowering of the sea-level—The land-shells of the West Indian islandsThe Malay archipelago—Easter islands-Atlantis-Traditions of the deluge.
BIDDING adieu to our hosts, we mounted our mules and descended the ridge on which their hut is built. The range was very steep, and fully 1200 feet high, composed entirely of boulder clay. This clay was of a brown colour, and full of angular and subangular blocks of stone of all sizes up to nine feet in diameter. The hill on the slope that we descended was covered with a forest resembling that around Santo Domingo, though the trees were not so large ; but tree-ferns, palms, lianas, and broad - leaved Heliconiæ and Melastomæ were again abundant. In these forests, I was told, the “Quesal,” the royal bird of the Aztecs (Trogon resplendens), is sometimes found.
After descending about 1000 feet, we issued from the forest and passed over well - grassed savannahs