Page images


Ch. III.]



the guaté (a kind of gnat) was in that country bad, hence guaté malo," “ bad guaté,"-whereas every student of Mexican history knows that the name was the Spanish attempt to pronounce the old Aztec one of Quauhtemallan, which meant the land of the Eagle. I shall have other occasions, in the course of my narrative, to show how careful a traveller in Central America must be not to accept the explanations of the natives of the names of places and things.

The first people who ascended the Rio Frio were attacked by the Indians, who killed several with their

Exaggerated opinions of their ferocity and courage were in consequence a long time prevalent, and the river remained unknown and unexplored, and probably would have done so to the present day, if it had not been for the rubber-men. When the trade in indian rubber became fully developed, the trees in the more accessible parts of the forest were soon exhausted, and the collectors were obliged to penetrate farther and farther back into the untrodden wilds of the Atlantic slope. Some more adventurous than others ascended the Rio Frio, and being well provided with firearms, which they mercilessly used, they were able to defy the poor Indians, armed only with spears and bows and arrows, and to drive them back into the woods. The first Ulleros who ascended the river were so successful in finding rubber, that various other parties were organised, and now an ascent of the Rio Frio from San Carlos is of common occurrence. The poor Indians are now in such dread of firearms, that on the first appearance of a boat coming up the river they desert their houses and run into the woods for shelter. The Ulleros


[ocr errors]

rush on shore and seize everything that the poor fugitives may have left behind them; but in some cases they have not been able to carry off their children, and these have been brought down in triumph to San Carlos. Their excuse for carrying off the children is that they may be baptized and made Christians; and I am sorry to say that this shameful treatment of the poor Indians is countenanced and connived at by the authorities. I was told of one commandante at San Carlos who had manned some canoes and proceeded up the river as far as the plantain grounds of the Indians, loaded his boats with the plantains, and brought them down to San Carlos, where the people appear to be too indolent to grow them themselves. All who have ascended the river speak of the great quantities of plantains that the Guatuses grow, and this fruit, and the abundant fish of the river, form their principal food. Their houses are large sheds open at the sides, and thatched with the "suiti” palm. As is often the case amongst the Indians, several families live in one house. The floor is kept well cleaned. I was amused with a lady in San Carlos who, in describing their well-kept houses to Dr. Seemann and myself, pointed to her own unswept and littered earth floor and said, “ They keep their houses very, very clean-as clean as this:" The lad and the woman who were captured and brought down the Rio Frio both ran away—the one from San Carlos, the other from Castillo; but neither was able to get back to their country, on account of the swamps and rivers in their way, and after wandering about the woods for some time were recaptured. I saw the lad soon after he was taken the second time. He had been a month in the woods,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

living on roots and fruits, and had nearly died from starvation. He had an intelligent, sharp, and independent look about him, and kept continually talking in his own language, apparently surprised that the people around him did not understand what he was saying. He was taken to Castillo, and met there the woman who had been captured a year before, and had learnt to speak a little Spanish. Through her as an interpreter, he tried to get permission to return to the Rio Frio, saying that if they would let him go he would come back and bring his father and mother with him; but this simple artifice of the poor boy was, of course, ineffectual. He was afterwards taken to Granada, for the purpose, they said, of being educated, that he might become the means of opening up communication with his tribe.

The rubber-men bring down many little articles that they pillage from the Indians. They consist of cordage, made from the fibre of Bromeliaceous plants, bone hooks, and stone implements. Amongst the latter, I was fortunate enough to obtain a rude stone hatchet, set in a stone-cut wooden handle: it was firmly fixed in a hole made in the thick end of the handle. It is a singular fact, and one showing the persistence of particular ways of doing things through long ages amongst people belonging to the same race that, in the ancient Mexican, Uxmal, and Palenque picture-writings, bronze axes are represented fixed in this identical manner in holes at the thick ends of the handles.

We slept on board one of the steamers of the American Transit Company. It was too dark when we arrived at San Carlos to see anything that night of the great lake, but we heard the waves breaking on the beach like

a sea-shore, and from further away came that moaning sound that has from the earliest ages of history connected the idea of the sea with sorrow and sadness. The steamer we stayed in was one of four river-boats belonging to the Transit Company, which was at this time in difficulties, and ultimately the boats were sold; part of them being bought by Mr. Hollenbeck, and used by the navigation company which he established. These steamers are built expressly for shallow rivers, and are very different structures from anything we see in England. The bottom is made quite flat, and divided into compartments; the first deck being only about eighteen inches above the water, from which it is divided by no bulwarks or other protection. Upon this deck are placed the cargo and the driving machinery. A vertical boiler is fixed at the bow, and two horizontal engines, driving a large paddle-wheel, at the stern. The second deck is for passengers, and is raised on light wooden pillars braced with iron rods about seven feet above the first. Above this is another deck, on which are the cabins of the officers and the steering apparatus. The appearance of such a structure is more like that of a house than a boat. The one we were in, the Panaloya, draws only three feet of water, when laden with 400 passengers and twenty tons of cargo.

* « There is sorrow on the sea ; it cannot be quiet.”—Jeremiah xlix. 23.



The Lake of Nicaragua-Ometepec-Becalmed on the Lake— White

Cygnets-Reach San Ubaldo-Ride across the Plains—Vegetation of the Plains-Armadillo Savannahs-Jicara Trees-Jicara Bowls-Origin of Gourd-shaped Pottery-Coyotes—Mule-breeding-Reach Acoyapo-FestaCross High Range-Esquipula The Rio Mico-Supposed Statues on its banks—Pital-Cultivation of Maize-Its use from the earliest times in America-Separation of the Maize-eating from the Mandioca-eating Indigenes of America–Tortillas-Sugar-making-Enter the Forest of the Atlantic Slope-Vegetation of the Forest Muddy Roads-Arrive at Santo Domingo.

As daylight broke next morning, I was up, anxious to see the great lake about which I had heard so much. To the north-west a great sheet of quiet water extended as far as the eye could reach, with islands here and there, and

the central figure in every view of the lake --the great conical peak of Ometépec towered up, 5,050 feet above the sea, and 4,922 feet above the surface of the lake. To the left, in the dim distance, were the cloudcapped mountains of Costa Rica; to the right, nearer at hand, low hills and ranges covered with dark forests. The lake is too large to be called beautiful, and its vast extent and the mere glimpses of its limits and cloudcapped peaks appeal to the imagination rather than to

At this end of the lake the water is shallow, probably filled up by the mud brought down by the Rio Frio.

the eye.

« EelmineJätka »