The New York Times, October 7, 1888, p.11:|
DAYS IN NICARAGUA TOWNSALONG THE COAST AND ON THE INTERIOR LAKES.
THE CANAL AND THE FUTURE OF TOWNS--
PROPOSED UNION OF STATES.
GRANADA, Nicaragua, Sept. 17.--Owing to unavoidable delays in other Central American ports our steamer did not arrive at Corinto until 5 P. M., which was too late to take the train to Managua.
Corinto is a beautiful harbor, and so small that when one views it from the steamer's deck it seems but a joke played by nature. It is nearly circular, and about one-half of a mile in diameter, surrounded by low, flat country covered with almost impenetrable underbrush. The town is built on a sandspit, and is nothing but an Indian village of thatch houses now and then seen peeping out between the banana and palm trees.
Before landing, and while my ship's papers were being examined, my attention was called to the immense man-eating sharks which were slowly swimming at the ships side. Many were 20 feet in length and horrible-looking monsters. The water was so quiet and clear that fish 20 feet below the surface could be seen distinctly as they nosed about for anything eatable dropped from the steamer.
No sooner had our anchor touched when we were surrounded by many Indians in small boats with fruit for sale. They had every tropical variety, pineapples, oranges, mangoes, and granadias, and, of course, charged the passengers about four times the regular prices, but even then it seemed cheap to one accustomed to more northern rates.
The captain introduced me to the Commandante of the port, and he was good enough to land me in his private boat, which is much preferable to being dumped into and out of the heavy launches to which the other passengers were consigned. The Commandante was a dapper little fellow, a Colonel of the Nicaraguan Army, and about five feet in height. I soon found that his hobby was "army," and when he discovered that I was American and not English he dilated on the superiority of the United States Army over all others. He spoke as if that nucleus of men was 250,000 strong, instead of a bare 25,000. I did not correct him, but let him rattle on, and to this day I do not know whether he thought me a fool or whether he was misinformed.
The heat was intense, and with the steady sea breeze blowing I perspired at every pore. Before going to bed in what was called a hotel I had noticed everywhere precautions against mosquitoes, so I rigged my own mosquito bar and got under it before dark in order to render a light unnecessary. The plan succeeded--the insects found where I was, but were unable to effect and entrance, and during breaks in my sleep throughout the night I could hear with satisfaction their angry and hungry buzz. During the rainy season they are almost an unbearable pest along this portion of the coast, and white men are so bitten as to resemble patients suffering with measles.
After an early breakfast I started on the narrow gauge road at 8 A. M.; it runs due north for some miles along the sand until it joins the mainland and strikes southeast toward Managua, the capital.
After an hour's ride through the swampy coastlands we reached the Indian pueblo of Chimandega. It is built in two or three long streets of ranchos, and its main support is in rubber working and balsam. From this point one sees how bountifully Nicaragua has been supplied with volcanoes, as four are in plain view, i.e., Chonco to the north, and Viejo, Santa Clara, and Telica to the east.
From here on to Lake Managua the road runs parallel to the coast and about 10 miles distant from it, so that one almost constantly has the Pacific in view. We passed the town of Leon at about 12, and reached the lake at 4 P. M. at a town called Moábita, which is the terminus of the road.
Small steamers about 50 or 60 feet in length connect between this point and the capital, about 50 miles further down the lake shore. Early next morning the steamer left, and it seemed to me as if every man, woman and child had come to the wharf to see her off. In any other country than those of Spanish America the terminus of a railroad soon develops into a thriving busy town, but Moábita is as quiet and dead as a cemetary, and the only excitement in the lives of its inhabitants is the departures and arrivals of trains and steamers.
Our little steamer resembled the tugboats seen around New-York City, but was much smaller, and was provided with a high-pressure engine that made one's skin tingle at every stroke, and a whistle so shrill and piercing that it would serve as a fog signal for New-York Harbor. The day was clear and beautiful; there is but one other steamer on the lake; all the pilot had to do was to keep far enough from the shore to avoid rocks, and yet that whistle was blown every 10 minutes. The native passengers seemed to enjoy it, and especially when the pilot rang changes on it and gave a succession of short sharp toots instead of the long shriek.
The Captain wore enough gold lace to fit out a militia Brigadier, and he walked his 10-foot deck as proudly as if he was in command of a vessel of Great Eastern size. About the middle of the trip the course turns around a point where the wind blows a little, but I have heard that sometimes the waves ride very high. This day, as soon as we reached that point, every female passenger got seasick, and there was no more rolling than one sees in the Central Park lakes.
Lake Managua is about 55 miles long and about 16 wide, and is a beautiful sheet of water; it is connected with Lake Nicaragua by the Tipitapa River, and then with the Atlantic by the San Juan River, which will be used in building the Nicaragua Canal. The shores of Lake Managua gave as varied a picture as the shores of the central New-York lakes. Sometimes the steep lava sides of extinct volcanoes reached the water's edge, and in other places the rise from the shore was so gentle as to resemble the rich meadows of the United States and to make one wonder why no cattle were grazing there. Then again where small rocky points jutted out, for a fisherman's eye, were lurking places for bass, and groups of rocks for fly casting.
The lake has many excellent varieties of fish, but the climate is so warm that they must flop from the water into the frying pan to be good. The natives catch them and "sun dry" and salt them, but to one used to better things this variety of salt fish is a poor dish.
We arrived at Managua at 1:30 P. M., and here again had the whole town at the wharf to welcome the steamer. The city is built close to the lake, and the ruins on its outskirts recall to memory its destruction 12 years ago by the immense volume of water that came down upon it from the mountains in the rear. In situation it differs but little from that of Cincinnati, with hills encircling it at the back and water in front, and during an unusually heavy rainy season it was simply engulfed and washed into the lake.
This catastrophe rendered real estate owners cautious, and the new town bears no comparison with the old in point of beauty and massiveness. The population is about 9,000, but an observer would imagine that figure too high. To me it seemed a city of idlers, and judging from their expressions they did not enjoy their idleness.
There is but one decent hotel, but that is enough, because Managua, commercially speaking, is on the down grade, and would long ago have ceased being the capital had it not contained the public buildings.
Granada, on Lake Nicaragua, is a larger and busier place, and will eventually be the seat of power. The main theme of conversation here is the canal. They "bank" heavily upon the advantages it offers and the benefits they will reap. For a lazy, indolent population, quite a speculative mania has developed itself among them. Some time ago the point called Brito was thought to have been selected as the western terminus. Instantly two or three companies were formed who bought adjoining lands, laid out plans of cities, and sold lots as long as the boom lasted, but the bubble shrunk somewhat when it leaked out that the Bay of Salinas, 40 miles south, might be the point.
In nearly every respect Nicaragua is inferior to its northern neighbors. The Cordilleras lessen in height, giving a lower country, hotter and more unhealthy than one finds on the plateaus of Guatemala. The drop in altitude may be conceived when it is understood that the highest point on the surveyed line of the canal is only about 400 feet above the sea, and the river San Juan, which is navigable for vessels of five feet draught, flows quietly over the backbone of the continent on its course to the Atlantic.
Leaving Managua early one morning, I went muleback the 30 miles to Granada. The direct rail line between the two points is given up to banana and rice planting and rubber growing, but back in the foothills of the mountains, through which my path led, there was a succession of coffee and cacao fincas, corn fields, and Indian villages.
The country seems to be inhabited in spots; the people do not spread themselves over it. Two or three times during the day I passed small but well-built adobe towns, separated only by a street from thoroughly Indian pueblos 10 times larger.
These natives, or Indigenas, as they are called, are the remnants of the aboriginal race found by the Spaniards when they arrived in the country. They own much valuable land, and to them selling a piece is like cutting off a limb. They are very clannish, and regard every other race with suspicion. They desire no intercourse without their own circle, and the half-breeds of the country in their eyes are as bad as, if not worse than, a foreigner. This race prejudice undoubtedly arises from their unwritten history of the Spanish conquest.
With earnest work, these people would be wealthy, but the soil is so rich and their needs in the warm climate so few that the end of the year finds them with as little as in the beginning, and, like the Indian of the Balsam coast, he is satisfied with a hat and a banana.
People who have been over this ground had told me that travelers could apply at their ranchos in vain for anything to eat, but everywhere I tried a plenty was offered in return for silver. Toward the evening I drew near to Granada, and the contrast between it and Managua is like that between New-York and Brooklyn.
Granada is a larger and more bustling town, and much resembles Tucson in Arizona. The city is built on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, which at this point is about 25 miles wide. Looking south, on an island about 25 miles away, the twin volcanoes Ometepe and Madera are in easy sight. They are old and now extinct, and long ago must have shoved themselves up from the lake bottom just as the volcano of Slopango did in the lake of that name in San Salvador only 10 years ago. For miles around, and until one gets up too high into the hills, the country is a garden of tropical fruits.
The city was founded by Pedro de Alvarado in 1524, and was named by him Granada on account of the surrounding forests of trees bearing that fruit, and called by us the pomegranate. To form some idea of the hardships undergone by Alvarado's band in its march south overland from the City of Mexico, one need only walk or ride a few miles through the hot country on the coast. With nothing on but clothes made of the lightest materials, any exertion brings perspiration out at every pore, and yet these Spaniards wore armor to protect themselves from showers of Indian arrows received from every hilltop as they marched along, and almost daily pitched battles with the jealous aborigines.
This strip of land, forming the Pacific shore and the western side of Lakes Managua and Nicaragua, is where the filibuster Walker did most of his work, and I have met several gentlemen in Granada who had seen him, and one old army officer who was present when Walker surrendered at Rivas, further south on this strip of land, in 1857. This officer was a young Lieutenant at the time, and was in command of the guard put over Walker. Seeing much of each other, the Lieutenant and the prisoner became much attached, and tears came to the old Colonel's eyes as he described the execution.
Coming from colder Central American countries to Nicaragua, one is immediately impressed with the difference in dress of the Indians. In the rubber fincas the women wear only a short, thin petticoat of gaudy colors reaching to the knee. Children of both sexes run around naked up to 12 years of age, and the men wear a cloth around the loins. On "feast" days Granada is filled with the surrounding Indian population, and on such occasions the women wear a native, sleeveless, loose-fitting shirt, and with this on they feel well enough dressed to promenade on their Fifth-avenue. Many wear complete suits of a coarse white material called manta, which at first sight gives the wearer that cool, clean appearance so much desired in a hot climate.
One immediately imagines what splendid laundresses these Indian women must be, and sends his clothes to be washed. When they return he finds them looking as if they had had a mud bath, without starch, and he begins to realize that the apparent spotlessness of Indian garments is due only to the contrast with their copper-colored skins.
Throughout Central America, and especially in Guatemala, San Salvador, and Nicaragua, there is a strong growing sentiment in favor of a union of the five republics into the United States of Central America, which had a political existence from 1824 to 1839...
For the purpose of allowing tourists to see something except the bare coast of Central America, the Pacific Mail Company is now arranging with the railroads running into the interiors to stop long enough in port to allow those who wish it a short run inland. This will doubly increase the interest of a trip from California to New-York via the Isthmus. A few days ago a whole shipload of people were able to pass the 15th of September, which is Central America's Fourth of July, at Guatemala...
The mozo labor of Nicaragua is more resident in nature than that of Guatemala, i. e., more of the families make permanent homes on their employer's plantations, which is a great advantage in every way. Very many of the women and older girls during seasons of light work employ themselves in making hammocks, and that class of hat known as the "Panama." These hats, according to the fineness of the pita, or vegetable thread of which they are made, sell on the spot anywhere from 25 cents to $40, gold, apiece...