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Great range composed of boulder clay—Daraily—Lost on the savannahs—Jamail^— A deer-hunter's family—Totagalpa—Walls covered with cement, [and whitewashed—Ocotal—The valley of Depilto— Hawks and small birds—Depilto—Silver mine— Geology of the valley—Glacial drift—The glacial period in Central America—Evidence 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 islands—The Malay Archipelago—Easter Island—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 1,200 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 Heliconise and Melastomse were again abundant. In these forests, I was told, the a Quesal," the royal bird of the Aztecs (Trogon resplendens), is sometimes found.
After descending about 1,000 feet, we issued from the forest and passed over well-grassed savannahs surrounded by high, ranges, on the eastern slopes of which were forests of pine-tjiees. The ground was entirely composed of boulder clay, and not until we had travelled about five miles did we see any rock in situ. This boulder clay had extended all the way from San Rafael, and ranges of hills appeared to be composed entirely of it. The angular and subangular stones that it contained were an irregular mixture of different varieties of trap, conglomerate, and schistose rocks. In the northern states of America it would be unhesitatingly ascribed to the action of ice; but I was at the time^unprepared to believe that the glacial period could have left such memorials of its existence within the tropics, at not greater elevations above the sea than 8,000 feet.
Riding on without stopping, we passed through Tales, a small village of scattered huts, and reached a river flowing north through a fine alluvial plain almost uninhabited. After crossing the river three times, we turned off to the north-west, and passed over low grassy ranges with scattered pine-trees, and in the hollows a few clearings for growing maize, wheat, and beans. At noon we halted for an hour to let our mules feed on a small alluvial flat, for they had had nothing to eat the night before on the bleak mountain summit.
Continuing our journey, we arrived at Daraily, where was a fine large clearing, with stone walls and a sugarmill. The house was about half a mile from the road, at the foot of a hill covered with scattered pine-trees, forming a fine background to the scene. The farm was well cultivated, and kept clean from weeds. Altogether the scene was a most unusual one for the central provinces of Nicaragua, and reflected great credit on
Ch. XIY.] LOST I3ST THE HILLS. 240
the proprietor, Don Estevan Espinosa. Had Nicaragua many such sons they would soon change the face of the country, and turn many a wilderness into a fruitful garden.
Passing over a stony range, we descended hy a steep pass into the valley of the Estely, and followed it down to the westward across low dry hills with prickly bushes and scrub. About five o'clock we reached an extended plain covered with prickly trees and shrubs, and pressed on to reach the village of Palacaguina, where we proposed to pass the night. There were many paths leading across the plain, and there was no person to be seen to direct us which to take; whilst the scrubby trees interrupted our view in every direction. Bito had once before been in the neighbourhood, and thought he knew the way, so we submitted ourselves to his guidance; but, as it proved, he took a path which lead us past, instead of to, the town. Night set in as we were pushing across dry weed-covered hills, destitute of grass or water, every minute expecting to meet some one who could tell us about the road. Bito was still confident that he was right, although both Velasquez and myself had concluded we must have got on the wrong road. The only animal we met with was a black and white skunk, with a young one following it. The mother ran too fast up a rocky slope for the young one, which was left behind, and came towards us. It was very pretty, with its snowwhite bushy tail laid over its black back; but we were afraid to touch it, fearing that, young as it was, it might have a supply of the foetid fluid that they discharge with too sure an aim at any assailant. The skunks move slowly about, and their large white tails render them very conspicuous. Their formidable means of defence makes for them the obscure colouration of other dusk-roaming mammals unnecessary, as they do not need concealment.
Hour after hour passed, and we reached no house, nor met any one on the road; and at last, about nine o'clock, we determined to stop at a spot where there was a little grass, but no water, as the poor jaded mules had been ridden since daylight, excepting for an hour at midday. We spread our waterproof sheet from the branch of a tree, and lay down dinnerless and supperless, having had nothing but a little sweet bread and native cheese all day; we were now too thirsty to eat even that. Hearing some frogs croaking in the distance, Yelasquez went away in the direction from whence the sound came, hoping to find some water; but there was none, the frogs being in damp cracks in the ground. About eleven we heard the noises of men talking; and holloaing to them, our shouts were returned. We ran across the plain, through the bushes, and found two Indians, who were returning from some plantations of maize to their home, several miles distant. Both were nearly naked, the youngest having only a loin-cloth on. When talking to us, they shouted as if we were many yards distant; and as soon as one began to answer a question, the other went on repeating, in a higher key, what the first said.
They told us that we had come two leagues past Palacaguina, and were on the road to a small town called Pueblo Nuevo, and directed us how we should find the right track in the morning for continuing our journey to Ocotal. They were highly amused at our misadventure, and laughed and talked to each other
about it. Bito also laughed much at the mistake he had made, and though disposed to he angry at his obstinacy in bringing us several miles out of our course, we knew that he had done his best. All the native servants, when they make a mistake, or do any damage accidentally, treat it as a joke; and it is best, under such circumstances, to be good-humoured with them, as, if reproved, they are very likely to turn sulky, and do some more damage. They are very independent, and care nothing about being discharged, as any one can live in Nicaragua without working much. Eito was an active, merry fellow, and might every now and then be observed laughing to himself; if asked what it was about, he was sure to answer that he was thinking about some little accident that had occurred. I once, when trying to loop up the side of my hammock, fell out of it, and next day Eito could not control himself, but was continually exploding in a burst of laughter; and for days afterwards any allusion to it would set him into convulsions. When we returned to Santo Domingo, it was one of his stock stories. He used to say he wanted very much to come to my assistance, but could not for laughing.
Next morning we started at daylight, and soon found the path the Indians had told us about, which took us to a place called Jamaily (pronounced Hamerlee), where was an extensive Indigo plantation. About 100 men were employed weeding and clearing the ground. No fences are required for Indigo growing, as neither horses nor cattle will eat the plant. A mile beyond Jamaily we saw, amongst some bushes, a poor-looking, grassthatched hut, with the sides made of an open work of