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Iguanas and lizards-Granada–Politics—Revolution - Cacao cultiva
tion-Masaya—The Lake of Masaya—The volcano of MasayaOrigin of the lake basin.
The road passed along a sandy ridge only a little elevated above the waters of the lake, and the ground on both sides was submerged. As we travelled on we were often startled by hearing sudden plunges into the water not far from us, but our view was so obstructed by bushes that it was some time before we discovered the cause. At last we found that the noise was made by large iguana lizards, some of them three feet long, and very bulky, dropping from the branches of trees, on which they lay stretched, into the water. These iguanas are extremely ugly, but are said to be delicious eating, the Indians being very fond of them. The Carca Indians, who live in the forest seven miles from Santo Domingo, travel every year to the great lake to catch iguanas, which abound on the dry hills near it. They seize them as they lie on the branches of the trees, with a loop at the end of a long stick. They then break the middle toe of each foot, and tie the feet together, in pairs, by the broken toes, afterwards sewing up the mouth of the poor reptiles, and carrying them in this state back to their houses in the forest, where they are
kept alive until required for food. The raccoon-like "pisoti” is also fond of them, but cannot so easily catch them. He has to climb every tree, and then, unless he can surprise them asleep, they drop from the branch to the ground and scuttle off to another tree. I once saw a solitary “pisoti” hunting for iguanas amongst some bushes near the lake where they were very numerous, but during the quarter of an hour that I watched him, he never caught one. It was like the game of “puss in the corner.” He would ascend a small tree on which there were several ; but down they would drop when he had nearly reached them, and rush off to another tree. Master “pisoti,” however, seemed to take all his disappointments with the greatest coolness, and continued the pursuit unflaggingly. Doubtless experience had taught him that his perseverance would ultimately be rewarded : that sooner or later he would surprise a corpulent iguana fast asleep on some branch, and too late to drop from his resting-place. In the forest I always saw the “pisoti” hunting in large bands, from which an iguana would have small chance of escape, for some were searching along the ground whilst others ranged over the branches of the trees.
Other tree-lizards also try to escape their enemies by dropping from great heights to the ground. I was once standing near a large tree, the trunk of which rose fully fifty feet before it threw off a branch, when a green Anolis dropped past my face to the ground, followed by a long green snake that had been pursuing it amongst the foliage above, and had not hesitated to precipitate itself after its prey. The lizard alighted on its feet and hurried away, the snake fell like a coiled-up
watch-spring, and opened out directly to continue the pursuit; but, on the spur of the moment, I struck at it with a switch and prevented it. I regretted afterwards not having allowed the chase to continue and watched the issue, but I doubt not that the lizard, active as it was, would have been caught by the swiftgliding snake, as several specimens of the latter that I opened contained lizards.
Lizards are also preyed upon by many birds, and I have taken a large one from the stomach of a great white hawk with its wings and tail barred with black (Leucopternis ghiesbreghti) that sits up on the trees in the forest quietly watching for them. Their means of defence are small, nor are they rapid enough in their movements to escape from their enemies by flight, and so they depend principally for their protection on their means of concealment. The different species of Anolis can change their colour from a bright green to a dark brown, and so assimilate themselves in appearance to the foliage or bark of trees on which they lie. Another tree-lizard, not uncommon on the banks of the rivers, is not only of a beautiful green colour, but has foliaceous expansions on its limbs and body, so that even when amongst the long grass it looks like a leafy shoot that has fallen from the trees above. I do not know of any lizard that enjoys impunity from attack by the secretion of any acrid or poisonous fluid from its skin, like the little red and blue frog that I have already described, but I was told of one that was said to be extremely venomous. As, however, besides the repute of giving off from the pores of its skin poisonous secretion, it was described to be of an inconspicuous brown colour, and
FOOD OF MONKEYS.
to hide under logs, I should require some confirmation of the story by an experienced naturalist before believing it, for all my experience has led me to the opinion that any animal endowed with special means of protection from its enemies is always either conspicuously coloured, or in other ways attracts attention, and does not seek concealment.
About four o'clock we reached the city of Granada, and, passing along some wide streets and across a large square, found the hotel of Mons. Mestayer, where we engaged rooms for the night. The hotel, like most of the houses in the city, was built, in the Spanish style, around a large courtyard, in the centre of which was a flower-garden. Madame Mestayer was very fond of pets, and had macaws and parrots, a tame squirrel, a young white-faced monkey (Cebus albifrons), and several small long-haired Mexican dogs. I was interested in watching the monkey examining all the loose bark and curled-up leaves on a large fig-tree in search of insects. In this and other individuals of this species, a great variety of countenances could be distinguished, and I could easily have picked my own monkey out of all the others I have seen by the expression of its face. I was told that the one in the garden at Mons. Mestayer's did not touch the figs on the tree, and I believe it; the Cebus is much more of an animal than a vegetable feeder, whilst the spider-monkeys (Ateles) live principally on fruits.
Granada was entirely burnt down by Walker and his filibusters in 1856, and the present city is built on the ruins of that founded by Hernandez de Cordova in 1522. The streets are well laid out at right angles to each
other, and there are many large churches, some of them in ruins. In one of the latter a company of mountebanks performed every evening, and the circumstance did not seem to excite surprise or comment.
The streets are built in terraces, quite level for about fifty yards, then with a steep-paved declivity leading to another level portion. One has to be careful in riding down from one level to another, as horses and mules are very liable to slip on the smooth pavement. The houses are built of “ adobe ” or sun-dried brick. The walls are plastered and whitewashed, and the roofs and floors tiled. They are mostly of one storey, and the rooms surrounding the courtyards have doors opening both to the inside and to the street.
There are no factories in Granada, but many wholesale stores, kept by merchants, who import goods from England and the United States, and export the produce of the country-indigo, hides, coffee, cacao, sugar, india-rubber, &c. Many of these merchants are very wealthy; but all deal retail as well as wholesale; and the reputed wealthiest man of the town asked me if I did not want to buy a few boxes of candles. The highest ambition of every one seems to be to keep a shop, excepting when the revolutionary fever breaks out about every seven or eight years, when, for a few months, business is at a stand-still, and the population is divided into two parties, alternately pursuing and being pursued, but seldom engaging in a real battle.
There was one of these outbreaks whilst I was in Nicaragua, and the whole country was in a state of civil war for more than four months, nearly all the able-bodied men being drafted into the armies that