Friday 16th March 2012 (Letter 8th August 1879)

GCC is “Fíjese-ed” by Mr Morgans, and crosses the Choacus mountains

Note: Fíjese is a word frequently used by usually well-meaning people in Guatemala to stall an arrangement they have made with you, not realising that that you too have a schedule, and that every extra day spent waiting and hoping in a hotel adds to your costs…I experienced it myself on several occasions!

Following the disturbing discovery that Guatemalan criminals had copied my Dutch credit card and had started using it to make transactions, but that luckily the bank had realised it and blocked the card, we now return to the letters sent from Guatemala during my great grandfather G C Champion’s stay from 1879 to 1881. This particular letter, dated August 20th, 1879, covers his three-day mule ride from the capital, over the rugged Choacus (Chuacus) mountains, to San Gerónimo, which was to become his base for almost a year. The letter is written in his usual matter-of-fact style, with hardly any allusion to the hardships the journey involved. However, his diary entries reveal more:

Friday 8th August 1879:

Left Guatemala with Mr Hutchinson and a servant at 1.00 P.M., passing Chinoutla (?) and along valley, ascending mountain range to 4,000 feet, with good view of Guatemala. Slept at Carrizal. On way found fresh Chalcolepidius (an Elaterid beetle) and Gymnopleurus (a Scarabid beetle). V. hot and sunny.

Saturday 9th August 1879:

Left Carrizal at 5.30 A.M.; arr. Trapiche Grande at 9 A.M. Breakfasted and left at 11 A.M. Arr. Llano Grande at 5.30 P.M., where remained the night. Arr. very tired, roads frightful. Passed Buenaventura at about 1.30 P.M., about 1,500 feet. Fine all day; heavy rain late in evening.

Sunday 10th August 1879:

Left Llano Grande, 2,600 feet, at 2.00 A.M., for San Gerónimo, 2,900 feet, where arr. at 11 A.M. v. tired and almost worn out, mule also. Started by moonlight at 3.00 A.M. V. dark and heavy rain; nearly 3 hours crossing the mountain range of the Choacus; saw at least 6 fresh Diurni on the way. Much rain in aft.

The Choacus mountains, through which GCC travelled on his mule

Hacienda de San Gerónimo,
Salamá,
Baja Vera Paz

August 20th, 1879

My dear Sir,

After about a fortnight’s detention in Guatemala, I was obliged to leave without Mr Morgans. Took the opportunity, however, of journeying here in the company of a friend of his, a Mr Hutchinson, who is at present living in the hacienda. I should not have remained so long in Guatemala, only as I had accepted Mr Morgan’s invitation to come here, I was obliged in some sense to study his convenience.

I left on the 8th and arrived at San Gerónimo in the morning of the 11th. The roads were very bad from the recent rains, and we were very long on the way. It was a wearisome task crossing the Choacus mountains. We left Llano Grande at 2 AM by moonlight, and did not reach San Gerónimo till nearly noon.

I received your letter of July 16th yesterday; I hope in your next to hear that you have received my first consignment. Have only just received the bill of lading of the second – I enclose it in case it is required. Have not yet received bill of lading for the first. I believe it was sent on to Antigua and that it is now with Mr Wyld; have written to him for it. I hope there will be no difficulty in getting the boxes on this account. Have not yet received the promised pins and additional card.

Am sorry I cannot at present act upon your suggestions of visiting Pacicia (Patzitzia) or Godines. I don’t think the high ground between Antigua and Guatemala (City) would have produced much – there is very little forest. I worked, however, Las Calderas, which is at a similar elevation, 6,000 to 6,500 feet. Had some idea of Quezaltenango (Quetzaltenango) and Las Nubes before I went to Vera Paz, but the rains were so bad, and no signs of a “canicula”. I thought under the circumstances I had better accept Mr Morgans’ kind invitation for San Gerónimo. Perhaps later in the year I may be able to go to Los Altos.

I think of making this place my head quarters in Vera Paz, and working all round. Am told that Purulá, Panimá, Santa Barbara, Panzós and other places near will pay for working. Have at last secured a servant; I think I shall find him very useful. He tells me that you taught him how to skin birds, collect insects, etc. His name is Guillermo Doubon. Mr Morgans has been employing him to shoot and skin birds, and to collect a few butterflies for him. from what I have seen of his work, he has profited greatly from your tuition, and he can really skin birds very well. I think I shall find him a great acquisition.

Mr Morgans’ aneroid (a better one than mine) registers about 200 feet higher than the one I have. I make San Gerónimo about 2,950 feet. Have already collected a great many insects in this neighbourhood. Butterflies on the whole are comparatively rare here; still I have taken about a dozen additional species, including some nice little Lycaenidae strange to me – only single examples, though of course many common Pieridae, Hesperiidae and Heliconidae; there are many fresh Bombyces, Geometridae here; plenty of Hemiptera, especially at Payaque; not many Coleoptera, still perhaps 50 additional species. Not a few Hymenoptera and Neuroptera; Orthoptera very few indeed.

The rain every afternoon prevents me going very far from San Gerónimo. I want to get onto the hills, to Santa Barbara or Matanza, but am kept back by the rain. Was in hopes of getting many additional species on the pine-clad slopes of the Choacus mountains, but have not yet succeeded in getting much. The place, except in the hollows, is very arid.

Did you get Rodriguez’s letter? I enclose one from Mr Wyld.

I trust I am not departing from my instructions in coming so soon to Vera Paz.

With best respects to Mr Godman and yourself,

I remain, Yours truly,

Geo. C. Champion

P.S. I presume I shall be doing right when the £100 placed to my credit at the bank is exhausted in drawing upon F. Huth & Co. for additional sums of £50 when required. At present of course I have plenty to go o

The type of "road" GCC would have had to travel on

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Wednesday 14th March 2012

WARNING, GUATEMALAN CREDIT CARD FRAUDSTERS!!!!

Today’s post does not have any direct link with the story of my great grandfather’s journeys in Central America, but rather concerns something far more modern. It has come to light that a copy of my Dutch credit card was made in Guatemala, and that numerous transactions have been made SINCE I left Guatemala on 15th January, using an exact copy of my credit card. LUCKILY, the bank noticed (how, I do not know) and blocked the card for me. I had heard stories of these copies being made automatically when the victim uses an ATM. The ATMs I used the most were in the Parque Central in Antigua, so, if anyone who might be intending to use those ATMs reads this…..BE WARNED!!!!

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Monday 12th March 2012 (Letter 6th August 1879)

G C Champion still delayed in Guatemala City

Today’s entry contains the next of my great grandfather’s letters from Guatemala. He is still detained in the capital, and clearly the frustration is building. Mr Morgans, to whom he refers several times, is the manager of the sugar cane/aguardiente liquor factory in San Gerónimo, in the province of Baja Vera Paz.

GRAN HOTEL, GUATEMALA,
August 6th 1879

My dear Mother,

I am still detained in the capital, but hope to get away tomorrow or next day. Shall have to go without Mr Morgans after all – his business is not yet finished, have been expecting to leave almost every day for the past week. I hope to have the company of a young Canadian (a Mr. Hutchison, of Montreal) on the journey to San Gerónimo, Mr Morgans will follow in a few days. It is very expensive living here in the hotel especially when you have an animal to feed also, and the idle life does not suit me at all, so shall be only too glad to get away. Have been driven nearly crazy with neuralgia, for the last two or three weeks, and unable to sleep at night, but am a little better now, went yesterday to see a dentist, and he told me that I ought to have three wisdom teeth extracted but I don’t care to have this done unless absolutely necessary.

Have made many acquaintances in Guatemala, so generally have someone to talk to. Mr Morgans, though he only came out two months before me, seems to know everybody in the place. I went with him and others to the theatre on Monday evening, to see “La fille de Madame Angot”; it was very good indeed. The performers were all Mexicans and some of them sang very well, the theatre was crowded.

We are still having a great deal of rain, every day more or less, and the roads are in consequence in very bad order; in fact, the road to the port of San José is said to be almost impassable and the diligences have stopped running; what they will be like in another month I don’t know, for there is a lot more rain to come yet. This season is said to be the wettest for many years past.

Last Sunday there were processions in the streets, men carrying images, candles, etc, and, with a lot of priests and others, they held short services in the streets, finishing up by letting off a lot of fireworks, rockets, crackers, squibs, etc and in broad daylight! They would then go to another street and repeat the process, many of the houses were draped with red cloth for the occasion. The people are very bigoted indeed, though the President has put down many of these processions. Every day we see soldiers marching about the town, the place is full of them, and I think they make all the display they can to prevent revolution. There are several watchmakers here (Swiss, and Germans). I see a good deal of the managers of the principal shop here, kept by a Swiss named Widmer (who is now away in Europe), he tells me trade is very bad; we must not grumble much about high rents, they pay 50 dollars a month or £120 a year for the shop only, the upper part of the house is part of the Gran Hotel, they have a good stock, but all inside on the counter and at the back, nothing whatever in the window, very little English work, mostly French, Swiss or American, they charge an enormous price for everything, as do all the other shops here. The import duties are very high, then everything has to be brought up by road (90 miles) from the port; this of course makes a good deal of difference in the costs; luckily I am not obliged just yet to buy much in the way of clothing, and though have had to purchase a few things, many necessaries supplied by Mr Godman I cannot use because they are so heavy, and every pound extra in weight is of great consideration when travelling in this country.

Mr Morgans came out by way of Belize, he tells me that the country is much finer on the Atlantic side, than on the Pacific, where I have been all along so I hope to get on better bye and bye. San Gerónimo is about midway between.

The European mail came in on Sunday evening. I went to see if there were any letters for me, but there were none, have only received one newspaper as yet, I believe you have sent more.

There is a great deal of talk about the Panama canal project in Guatemala, many think it will end in failure.

I get on better now with the food in the hotel, but am obliged to avoid their green peas, beans, cabbage, and all of which they serve up mixed with evil smelling, oily liquids, which do not agree with me. There are plenty of different sorts of fruit about now, such as pineapple, mangos, oranges, limes, bananas, apples, cactus fruits and very many other sorts, some of which are very good but no better than our English strawberries, cherries, pears, and I often walk into the market when I have nothing else better to do; it is well worth visiting.

It astonishes me how people can afford to drink, gamble and enjoy themselves as they do, they must make plenty of money somehow or other; all those who can afford it keep horses, and very many go out riding on horseback in the evening; very few carriages or vehicles of any sort are to be seen in the streets, almost everything from a piano downwards is carried either by mules, or Indians.

There is a sort of park in the town, it is very gay just now with dahlias and other flowers, there are a lot of palms also. The band plays occasionally in the evening.

Must now close this, cannot think of anything more to tell you, with best love to all and hoping you are all well.

Believe me dear Mother,
Yours affectionately,
George C. Champion.

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