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A GRAZING HACIENDA. 393
immense plain, studded with trees in groups and in forest. The ocean was not visible, but we could see the opposite coast of the Gulf of Nicoya, and the point of the port of Colubre, the finest on the Pacific, only three and a half leagues distant. The hacienda contained a thousand mares and four hundred horses, more than a hundred of which were in sight from the door. It was grand enough to give the owner ideas of empire. Toward evening I counted from the door of the house seventeen deer, and Don Manuel told me that he had a contract for furnishing two thousand skins. In the season a good hunter gets twenty-five a day. Even the workmen will not eat them, and they are only shot for the hide and horns. He had forty workmen, and an ox was killed every day. Near the house was an artificial lake, more than a mile in circumference, built as a drinking-place for cattle. And yet the proprietors of these haciendas are not rich; the ground is worth absolutely nothing. The whole value is in the stock; and allowing ten dollars a head for the horses and mares would probably give the. full value of this apparently magnificent estate.
Here, too, I could have passed a week with great sat isfaction, but the next morning I resumed my journey. Though early in the dry season, the ground was parched and the streams were dried up. We carried a large calabash with water, and stopping under the shade of a tree, turned our mules out on the plain and breakfasted. I was riding in advance, with my poncha flying in the wind, when I saw a drove of cattle stop and look wildly at me, and then rush furiously toward me. I attempted to run, but, remembering the bullfights at Guatimala, I tore off my poncha, and had just time to get behind a high rock as the whole herd darted by at
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their full speed. We continued our route, from time to time catching glimpses of the Pacific, till we reached a clear, open place, completely protected from the wind, and called the Boca of the Mountain of Nicaragua. A large caravan had already encamped, and among the muleteers Nicolas found acquaintances from San Jose. Their cargoes consisted of potatoes, sweet bread, and dolces for Nicaragua.
Toward evening I climbed to the top of one of the hills, and had a magnificent sunset view. On the top the wind blew so fiercely that I was obliged to shelter myself under the lee. Behind me was the great range of Cordilleras, along which we had ridden all day, with their volcanoes; on the left the headlands of the bays of Tortugas and Salina, and in front the great body of the Pacific Ocean; and what was quite as agreeable a spectacle to a traveller, my mules were up to their knees in grass. I returned to the encampment, and found that my guide had made me a casita, or small house to sleep in. It was formed by cutting two sticks about four feet high, and as thick as a man's arm, and driving them into the ground, with a crotch in the top. Another stick was laid in the crotches, and against this other sticks were laid slanting, with leaves and branches wound in between them, so as to protect me from the dew, and tolerably well from the wind.
I never had a servant in Central America who was not a brute with mules. I was obliged to look out myself for their food, and also to examine that their backs were not hurt by the saddles. My macho I always saddled myself. Nicolas had saddled the cargo-mule so badly the day before, that when he took off the apparecho (a huge saddle covering half the beast) the shoulder was raw, and in the morning even pointing at it made her
THE PACIFIC AGAIN. 395
shrink as if touched with a hot iron. I was unwilling to put the apparecho upon her back, and tried to hire a mule from one of the muleteers, but could not, and, putting the cargo upon the other mule, made Nicolas walk, and the cargo-mule go loose. I left the apparecho in the boca of the mountain: a great piece of profligacy, as Nicolas and the guide considered it.
We wound for a short distance among the hills that enclosed us, ascended a slight range, and came down directly upon the shore of the sea. I always had a high feeling when I touched the shore of the Pacific, and never more so than at this desolate place. The waves rolled grandly, and broke with a solemn roar. The mules were startled, and my macho shrank from the heaving water. I spurred him into it, and at a moment when I was putting in my pocket some shells which Nicolas had picked up, he ran away. He had attempted it several times before in the woods; and now, having a fair chance, I gave him the full sweep of the coast. We continued nearly an hour on the shore, when we crossed a high, rough headland, and again came down upon the sea. Four times we mounted headlands and again descended to the shore, and the heat became almost intolerable. The fifth ascent was steep, but we came upon a table covered with a thick forest, through which we proceeded until we came to a small clearing with two huts. We stopped at the first, which was occupied by a black man and his wife. He had plenty of corn; there was a fine pasture-ground near, so hemmed in by the woods that there was no danger of the mules escaping, and I hired the man and woman to sleep out of doors, and give me the hovel to myself.
The Floras.—The S«n Juan.—Nature's Solitude.—Primitive Cookery.—Harbour of San Joan.—Route of the Great Canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.—Nicaragua.—Survey for the Canal.—Lake of Nicaragua.—Plan at the CanaL—Lockage.—Estimate of Cost.—Former Efforts to construct the Canal—Its Advantages.—Central American Hospitality.—Tierra Caiiente.— Horrors of Civil War.
I Rose about an hour before daylight, and was in my saddle by break of day. We watered our mules at the River Flores, the boundary-line of the states of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In an hour we reached Skamaika, the name given to a single hut occupied by a negro, sick and alone. He was lying on a bedstead made of sticks, the very picture of wretchedness and desolation, worn to a skeleton by fever and ague. Soon after we came to another hut, where two women were sick with fever. Nothing could be more wretched than these huts along the Pacific. They asked me for remedios, and I gave them some quinine, but with little hope of their ever benefiting by it. Probably both the negro and they are now in their graves.
At twelve o'clock we reached the River St. John, the mouth of which was the terminating point of the great canal. The road to Nicaragua crossed the stream, and ours followed it to the sea, the port being situated at its mouth. Our whole road had been desolate enough, but this far surpassed anything I had seen; and as I looked at the little path that led to Nicaragua, I felt as if we were leaving a great highway. The valley of the river is about a hundred yards broad, and in the season of rain the whole is covered with water; but at this time the stream was small, and a great part of its bed dry. The stones were bleached by the sun, and there was no track or impression which gave the slightest indication of a path. Very soon this stony bed became contracted and lost; the stream ran through a different soil, and high grass, shrubs, and bushes grew luxuriantly up to its bank. We searched for the track on both sides of the river, and it was evident that since the last wet season no person had passed. Leaving the river, the bushes were higher than our heads, and so thick that at every two or three paces I became entangled and held fast; at length I dismounted, and my guide cleared a way for me on foot with his machete. Soon we reached the stream again, crossed it, and entered the same dense mass on the opposite side. In this way we continued nearly two hours, with the river for our line. We crossed it more than twenty times, and when it was shallow rode in its bed. Farther down the valley was open, stony, and barren, and the sun beat upon it with prodigious force; flocks of sopilotcs or turkey-buzzards, hardly disturbed by our approach, moved away on a slow walk, or, with a lazy flap of the wings, rose to a low branch of the nearest tree. In one place a swarm of the ugly birds were feasting on the carcass of an alligator. Wild turkeys were more numerous than we had seen.them before, and so tame that I shot one with a pistol. Deer looked at us without alarm, and on each side of the valley large black apes walked on the tops of the trees, or sat quietly in the branches, looking at us. Crossing the river for the last time, which became broader and deeper until it emptied into the Pacific, we entered the woods on the right, and reached the first station of Mr. Bailey; but it was covered with young trees and bushes; the woods were thicker than before, and the path entirely undistinguishable. I had