Tuesday 16th August, 2011

First post from GUATEMALA!!

After a long and rather complicated journey (the airline suddenly re-routed us from flying via Dallas to via Miami), we are here in Antigua, Guatemala! The adventures started almost immediately – we (ex-Royal Entomological Society librarian Jacqueline Ruffle and I) were picked up by my friend Luis Montes at 07.00 and driven all the way down to the tropical lowlands near the Salvadoran border to a finca where he is conducting experiments on Jatropha curcas bushes for biofuels. We enjoyed a fascinating tour of the experimental plots, which also provided an opportunity to get to grips with our first Guatemalan butterflies….but as many of them are fast-flying and rarely settle, a net was required for identification purposes. However, a catastrophe soon manifested itself: a vital part of my net, the brass tube that connects the net ring to the bamboo pole, had disappeared, possibly having fallen out of my rucksack in transit. This is a major blow, as butterfly nets are not easy to come by. Creative thinking will be required!!

STOP PRESS!!! 17th August – NET PIECE FOUND!!!!!!! Worries over!!!

After an hour or so in the field, the heat became too extreme and we were all forced to retreat to an air-conditioned restaurant to recover….a luxury that brought home to me just how lucky we are today compared to my great grandfather G C Champion, who travelled on muleback, which did not even offer the cooling breeze provided by the moving car, and he had no light, no fan, no chilled drinks, rarely the possibility to bathe, and even to retreat to the cool of the higher areas took several days. Up till today, I had always thought it strange that he complained so much in his letters home; now I fully understand why. He must have been a brave man, and his feats deserve considerable praise.

We are now back in the beautiful town of Antigua, and have just witnessed the dramatic sight of lightning flashing through the clouds surrounding the peak of the Volcan Acatenango. Tomorrow holds the promise of a tour to many of the villages surrounding Antigua where GCC did so much of his collecting, followed by a proposed visit to the lake of Amatitlan…….

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Sunday 14th August 2011

Last day in UK!!

Keeled Skimmer, Orthetrum coerulescens

Had a great day at Thursley Common, Surrey, one of Britain’s premier dragonfly sites, accompanied by my friends, the Smiths. It is strange how sometimes one searches for a long time for a particular species, and after finally finding it, it reappears soon afterwards, sometimes in large numbers. This was the case today with the Keeled Skimmer, which I had first seen in Scotland this July, and today it was numerous along the boardwalks of this wonderful heath/bog habitat. The photos here were taken by Kemuel Smith, aged 9.5 years.

Keeled Skimmer

Tomorrow….Guatemala!!!

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Monday 8th August 2011

One week to go!!

When I travelled to India in 2006, one of the most visually interesting aspects of my journey was locating the precise spots where my grandfather F W Champion had taken photographs, and then taking the same scene 70 years or so later.

Sadly, during my forthcoming expedition to Guatemala and Panama, I shall not be able to do exactly the same because my great grandfather, laden down as he was with insect-collecting equipment, did not document his journeys photographically.

However, there is a slightly tenuous link with the world-renowned pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who travelled extensively in both countries in 1875 (having recently murdered his wife’s lover – it is a fascinating story!). As there were few hotels available, North American and European travellers tended to stay with hospitable coffee planters and other settlers.

Muybridge stayed with many of the very same people whom my grandfather lodged with only four years later, and he documented his time in both Guatemala and Panama with a wonderful series of photographs, which allow me to see exactly how these places looked at almost the same time that my great grandfather was there.

Finca San Isidro

Finca San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

As well as documenting more general scenes, Muybridge was specifically engaged to provide a photographic record of the coffee-manufacturing process, and two of the coffee plantations in which he stayed, the Finca Las Nubes and the Finca San Isidro, both belonging to American coffee planter William Nelson, were visited five years later by my great grandfather G C Champion, who was also a guest of William Nelson. And perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that it was at the Finca Las Nubes that my great grandfather was staying when he found the butterfly Drucina championi.

Muybridge’s photographs will therefore allow me to gain a remarkable insight into the Guatemala my great grandfather travelled so extensively in, and I shall be trying to find some of the views he took in 1875, and taking comparative shots of these as well.

Finca Las Nubes & Cerro Zunil, Muybridge, 1875

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