« EelmineJätka »
Ch. IX.] : BANKS OF THE JUIG ALPA. I59
Swallows skimmed past in their circling flights, whilst in the bushes were warbling orange-and-black Sisitotis and many another bird of beautiful feather. One class of birds, and that the most characteristic of tropical America, was decidedly scarce. I did not see a single humming-bird by the river-side. On the savannahs they are much less frequent than in the forest region. Insects were not so numerous as they had been in preceding years. Over sandy spots two speckled species of tigerbeetles ran and flew with great swiftness. I saw one rise from the ground and take an insect on the wing that was flying slowly over. On one myrtle-like bush, with small white flowers, there were dozens of a small Longicorn new to me, which, when flying, looked like a black wasp. It was very pleasant to sit in the cool shade, and listen to, and watch, the birds. There was here no fear of dangerous animals, the only annoyance being stinging ants or biting sand-flies, neither of which were at this place very numerous. Snakes also were scarce. I saw but one, a harmless green one, that glided away, with wavy folds amongst the brushwood. The natives say that alligators are plentiful in the river, but that they are harmless. I saw one small one, about five feet long, floating with his eyes, nostrils, and the serratures of his back only above water. Every one bathes in the river without fear, which would not be the case if there had been any one seized by them during the last fifty years; for no traditions are more persistent than tales of the attacks of wild beasts; anxious parents pass on from
generation to generation the stories they themselves were told when children.
As I sat upon the rocks in the cool shade, enjoying the scene, there came hobbling along, with painful steps, on the other side of the river, a poor cripple, afflicted with that horrible disease, elephantiasis. He crossed the river with great difficulty, as his feet were swollen to six times their natural size, with great horny callosities. One of his hands was also disabled; and altogether he was a most pitiable object. Such a sight seemed a blot upon the fair face of nature: but it is our sympathy for our kind that makes us think so. If the trees were sympathetic beings, not a poor crippled specimen of humanity would have their pity, but the gnarled and half-rotten , giants of the forest, threatening to topple down with every breeze; whilst to our eyes the dying tree, covered with moss and ferns, and, may be, clasped by climbing vines, would be a picturesque and pleasing sight. So the fishes would pity their comrades caught by the king-fisher, the birds those in the claws of the hawk—every creature considering the fate that overtook its fellows, and which might befall itself—the great blot in nature's plan.
The poor cripple told me he was going into Juigalpa. He had, doubtless, heard that a stranger had arrived in the town; for every time I had been there he had turned up. His best friends are the foreigners, who look with greater pity on his misfortune than his neighbours, who have grown accustomed to it.
The blind, the lame, and the sick are the only beggars I ever saw in Nicaragua. The necessaries of life are easily procured. Very little clothing is required. Any one may plant maize or bananas; and there is plenty of work for all who are willing or necessitated to labour;
Ch. IX.] REMARKABLE SINGING-BIRD. 161
so the healthy and strong amongst the poorer classes lead an easy and pleasant life; but the sick and incapacitated amongst them are badly eff. There is a great indifference amongst the natives to the wants of their comrades struck down by sickness or accident; and hospitals and asylums are unknown. I was told that the cripple, lame as he was, often took long journeys, and had even gone as far as Granada. He had been a soldier in one of the revolutions, when John Chamovro was president, and ascribed the commencement of the disease to getting a chill by bathing when he was heated. After he had hobbled off, I had a bathe in the cool river, and then rambled about on the other side, where I found some large mango trees, full of delicious ripe fruit. It was getting on towards noon: the sun was high and hot, and the birds had mostly retired into the deepest shades for their mid-day siesta ; I could have lingered all day, but it was time for me to return, as I had arranged with Velasquez to accompany him in search of some Indian graves he had heard of about three miles away. As I left the river to return, I heard the whistle of the beautiful “toledo,” so called because its note resembles these syllables, clearly and slowly whistled, with the emphasis on the last two. Following the sound, it led me to a deep, thickly-timbered gully, at the bottom of which was the bed of a brook, consisting now only of detached pools, over one of which, on the limb of a tree, sat a large dark-coloured hawk, with white-banded tail, watching for fresh-water and land crabs, on which it feeds. I had a long chase after the toledo. As soon as I got within sight of it, sometimes before, it would dart,
away through the brushwood, generally across the brook, and in a few minutes I would hear its deep-toned whistle again as if in mockery of my pursuit. I had to climb and reclimb the steep banks of the gully: but at last, creeping cautiously, and just getting my head above the bank, I got a shot. There were two of them sitting close together. I brought both down, and they proved to be in fine plumage. The toledo (Chirosciphia lineata) is about the size of a linnet, of a general velvety black. colour. The crown of the head is covered with a flat Scarlet crest, and the back with what looks like a shawl of sky-blue. From the tail spring two long ribbon-like feathers. Its curious note is often heard on the savannahs, in the thick timber that skirts the small brooks; but it is not often seen, as it is a shy bird, and frequents the deepest shades. There were several of the yellow-breasted trogon (T. melanocephalus) sitting amongst the branches, and now and then darting off after insects. This species often breaks into the nests of the termites, and feeds on the soft-bodied workers. Another trogon about here, with red breast (T. elegans), has a peculiarly harsh, croaking voice, very different from the other species, and more resembling the cry of a mot-mot. As I rode back over the Savannahs to Juigalpa, the nearly vertical rays of the sun were reflected from the dry, hot, sandy soil. Not a sound was now heard from the numerous birds; but the shrill cicada still piped its never-ending treble. Not a breath of wind was stirring; and the air over the parched soil quivered with heat. I was glad to get back to my “hotel,” and have break£ast, with chocolate served up in jicaras. After an
Ch. IX.] THE EL SALT0 wafeRFALL. 163
hour's rest, I started with Velasquez in search of the Indian antiquities. We rode up the right side of the river, high up above the stream, as the banks are rocky and precipitous; then down a shelving road to a lower level, and across undulating savannahs thinly timbered. After about three miles, we came out on a small flat plain, probably alluvial, about twenty acres in extent, mostly covered with grass, with a few scattered jicaras trees. On the further end of this plain was a mud-walled, thatched hut, called “El Salto,” from a fall of the river close by. A man was lounging about, and a woman bruising maize for tortillas. The man told us that the “worked stones,” as he called them, were on the side of the plain we had crossed. Before going to look at them, we went down to the river to see the waterfall. Just opposite the house the Juigalpa river, which comes flowing down over a flat bed of trachyte, leapt down a deep narrow chasm that it has cut in the hard rock. This chasm is about fifty feet deep, and only twenty wide. The river was low, and poured all its water in at the end of the deep notch; but when it is flooded, it must rush in over the sides also, and make a magnificent turmoil of waters. Even when I saw it, the water, as it rushed along at the bottom of the narrow chasm, boiling and surging amongst great masses of fallen rock with a steady roar, looked as if it would carry all before it. Deep pot holes, some of them ten feet deep, were worn into the hard trachyte rock, and sections of sea-coal were shown in the sides of the chasm, which could only have been formed when the falls were many yards lower down. The trachyte is very hard and tough; and the sections of the pot-holes are as fresh as if they had been made but yesterday.