Monday 28th May 2012 (Letter 6th December 1880)

My friend and guide John Cahill has reached 500 species in his “Big Year”, a quest to see as many species of bird in Guatemala in 2012!! Please see his blog in the Links section on the right.

GCC enjoys the luxury at Las Nubes, and Leopoldo gets malaria, but is cured with quinine

The house at Las Nubes, in which GCC felt so welcome

LAS NUBES
MAZATENANGO
COSTA GRANDE
GUATEMALA

Dec 6th 1880

My dear Mother,

I enclose a few lines in a letter I am sending to Mr. Godman in case I should miss the next mail. I left Quetzaltenango on 18th November and once more came on here. Mr. Cuthbert, the Manager, makes me very welcome, he has been a very good friend to me in many ways; fine house and plenty of rooms (the former owner having built this house to live in but he did not live to enjoy it) far more comfortable than San Gerónimo, splendid view of the volcanoes and the sea, though far away. I have been very busy since my return, getting my four months’ work in order to ship from Champerico by the steamer of the 20th.

Looking down towards the coastal plain from above Las Nubes

I leave probably next week for San Augustín on the Volcano Atitlán; this is a coffee estate also, and belongs to the same owners as Las Nubes, shall probably spend Christmas at this place, unless I have to go to the Capital before then. Very fine weather now, the rains are nearly over, and we are getting well into summer – cloudless sky until about noon, later it clouds over as in many mountainous places; in the afternoon, it is like looking under a curtain, beneath the clouds we see the coast region below. Very fine climate here in the dry season, not too hot nor too cold. San Gerónimo is much hotter. Very busy now Sunday and weekdays getting in the coffee crop, they will soon begin to ship. Mr. Cuthbert is a great sportsman, he shoots a deer nearly every week, so we often have fresh venison. I shall be very sorry to leave this place, but there is no help for it, the time is getting very short, March will soon be here, and I have a lot of ground to go over before I leave.

The Volcan Atitlan viewed from the South

There must be letters from Mr. Salvin and you for me by this time in Guatemala, but travelling so much, I often do not get the letters for a long time. My servant has been ill with fever (he does not stand the climate as well as I do) but quinine etc. has cured him, he is alright again now. I have a great many things to send Mr. Godman this time, it is so long since I shipped anything, they fill a large packing case and weigh altogether about 100 pounds. An Indian will go with them tomorrow to Retaluleu; the day after, another will go to Champerico. I thought San Gerónimo was a comfortable place, but Las Nubes is far superior, the worst of it, is that one does not much like roughing it afterwards. Mr. Cuthbert has helped me in every possible way. You must excuse this short letter but I promise a longer one next time. I wish I could bottle up a little sunshine to send you, I dare say you would be glad of it. Wishing you all happy Christmas and New Year,

Believe me, dear Mother,
Your affectionate son,

A farm on the southern slope of the Volcan Atitlan where quinine is still cultivated

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Friday 25th May 2012 (Letter 14th November 1880)

GCC is confronted by a horrific scene on a coffee plantation

Today’s letter, in which GCC arrives back at the finca where he is staying just after a worker has been shot dead, serves to emphasize the violence that riddled Guatemalan society even then, long before the scourge of the drug gangs that are now terrorising both Guatemala and Mexico.

He also mentions his future brother-in-law J J Walker joining his ship H M S Kingfisher, and how he hopes that they will meet while both are in Panama – this did not happen as, although both were in the country at the same time, J J Walker’s ship was stationed in Panama City while GCC was in the Western province of Chiriqui; communication was so difficult in those days that they did not make an attempt to see each other.

It is interesting that he spells the city of Quetzaltenango without the first t, i.e. Quezaltenango. This appears to have been the correct spelling at that time.

LAS MERCEDES, COSTA CUCA, GUATEMALA

November 14th 1880

My dear Mother,

I got your letter of September 16th a few days ago, also the five papers, all of which were very welcome, the same mail also brought me a very satisfactory letter from Mr. Salvin, and some parts of his new book, in which upwards of 40 species are described from those sent by me last year.

Was glad to hear that Walker had visited you before he left. I saw his appointment to the “Kingfisher” in the papers you sent. I hope I may meet him in Panama or elsewhere, but am afraid there is very little chance. Have just returned from a fortnight’s trip to the ‘Tumbador’ region, close to the Volcano Tajumulco and the Soconusco frontier. Tomorrow, start for Quezaltenango, 12 leagues distant, a few days there, then I descend again to Las Nubes, to get the result of my last 3.5 months’ work in order to ship to England from Champerico.

HMS Kingfisher

I left Champerico the day after I wrote last, arriving in Mercedes on October 23rd; on the 26th, I left again for El Tumbador.
Mr and Mrs Boy (both of whom speak English perfectly) have been exceedingly kind to me in Mercedes, this more than makes up for Mrs. F’s treatment, everywhere I have visited yet on this coast, I have been well received by Americans, Germans and Natives. Mr. Boy is an amateur photographer; he has photographed me and also my servant.

On Sunday October 31st, a deplorable affair happened at an estate called La Union where I was staying; while they were paying the Indians and the place crowded with them, one man was insolent to the Manager Jesús Paloma (a native). This so annoyed him that he took up his revolver and shot the Indian dead on the spot. I shall long remember that Sunday night, the wailing of the women and children of the Indians was heart-rending, none of us dared to go to bed, for we did not know but that they might attempt mischief – next day all went off in a body – the Manager, the Indians etc. to the nearest town, San Marcos, 25 miles away over the mountains; am very glad to say I was out when it happened, but returned very soon afterwards.

Very busy now on all these coffee estates, men, women and children all occupied picking; in December or January, they commence shipping the coffee. The rainy season is now nearly over, beautiful weather (so different to England in November), mornings especially, clouds over in the afternoon, but by evening all is clear again, of course, it is rather hot, but the mornings and evenings are cool and pleasant, thermometer about 78, falling 10 degrees in the night.
Was glad to hear that the cabinet, long looked for, has come at last, the extra charges I don’t mind.

Shipping coffee, Champerico, Muybridge, 1875

The remaining three or four months will soon go, I expect, shall then have to go to Panama en route for Port David, that is, if I carry out Mr. Salvin’s wishes. I am constantly packing and unpacking; have been busy all the morning getting ready for another start tomorrow, want to be off by 6 a.m., if possible, to make the ascent before the sun is too hot. Splendid scenery all along this coast, the sea below, but far away and the volcanoes in the interior, from El Tumbador we see the Volcanoes Tajumulco and Tacaná both very well, being so close, now and then we feel slight earthquakes; the Volcano Fuego has been quiet since July. Ashes fell all along these places during last eruption yet it is 100 miles distant.

A distant view of Tajumulco

Nov. 15. Arrived in Quezaltenango this afternoon after a long ride of about 35 miles. Found a letter from Mr. Godman awaiting me, he says he is very much pleased with Box No. 6, just to hand, containing the things from the Polochic Valley etc. by far the best lot yet sent, he says, so this is satisfactory.

Quite dry and dusty here now in these high regions (7000-8000 feet), rains over, corn, barley and oats just ripening, many mowers at work. Very gay everywhere now with flowers, wild dahlias especially, how different from November at home.

Leave again in two or three days for Las Nubes. It is wonderful the change of country, people etc every few miles in this country; nothing could be more different than Quezaltenango and Mercedes, productions utterly different, Indians different, etc, and so it is all over the republic, one constant change.

Have no time to write to the Entomological Society people about the cabinet, but if any of the members should call, you might say that I am satisfied.

I remain etc.

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Sunday 20th May 2012 (Letter 3rd October 1880)

GCC decides to stay longer in Central America, samples Chinese food … and iguana

Hacienda William Nelson, San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

Las Mercedes Costa Cuca
October 3rd 1880

My dear Mother,

In his last letter, Mr. Godman said Consignment No.5 had reached them and was giving satisfaction, he says he should like me to finish the two years in Guatemala, then on my way home, to go to Chiriquí and spend six months there; if this programme is carried out, I should not arrive until the autumn of next year.

I now write to him to say that unless anything transpired to prevent it, I at present see no objection to doing as he wishes. I greatly fear you will all be disappointed when you hear this, but as regards myself, a few months more or less in these countries, is all the same but I am afraid you will not think so; of course, my reply leaves the matter in open question for the present. I wrote to you last from San Ysidro, at which place I remained a fortnight, the guest of Mr. Nelson (who was very kind to me). Unfortunately, I was unwell all the time with diarrhoea etc. I suppose the change from the cold to the hot country brought it on.

On September 30th, I started for Mercedes arriving the first day at at Retalhuleu (5 leagues); the next day came on here (10 leagues more) travelling once more over roads in horrible condition from mud, floundering about with mud up to the animals’ bellies almost in places and in a broiling sun from 6 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon… Las Mercedes is the largest coffee estate in this country (they export about 15,000 cwts annually); it belongs to the principal firm of German merchants in Guatemala, they have a very fine house, the best I have seen here, and keep a very good table; the resident partner made me very welcome, so am now in good quarters at the moment, but as usual when there is a good place to stop at, there is little to be found, so leave again on Wednesday for the hot coast region – Reposa, Caballo Blanco etc, but return again in a few weeks.

Retaluleu, Muybridge, 1875

This house of wood with its two balconies and little tower on top with the German flag flying looks like a castle in the distance. Being on a hill, there is a splendid view of the country around – the great range of mountains with the Volcanoes Almolonga, Santa Maria, Chumba and Zunil, the coast region with the line of sea for perhaps 50 miles and the innumerable coffee plantations all round, we are on the slope of the mountains 3200 feet above the sea, about 45 miles from Quetzaltenango and from the port of Champerico and in the centre of the most valuable coffee districts of the Costa Cuca. Today, Sunday, is a busy day as in many parts of Guatemala, the people working on the estate are paid on this day which is market day also. The market is held in an open space close to the house, large numbers of the Indians coming to buy and sell, you get almost all the productions of the country here on Sundays, some of the Indians coming very long distances. Coffee picking has already begun on the estate and they are very busy; they ship in December. Very fine mornings, but still wet afternoons (there is a good time coming though); by the end of this month, the rains will probably get less and less till December when they will probably be over till May. The evenings and early mornings quite cool and pleasant and it gets hotter and hotter till perhaps two or three in the afternoon; then comes the rain often with fearful thunderstorms such as I have never witnessed in England, by five or six it is all over, then comes a very fine evening; we see the sun set on the Pacific Ocean – a splendid sight indeed on a clear evening.

A view of the volcanoes from off Champerico, Muybridge, 1875

The afternoon rain makes it very difficult for me to work out of doors, constantly changing my clothes sometimes almost envy the nearly naked Indians who have so few clothes to get wet, and no bother about boots, going barefoot. My belongings are now scattered all over the country, some here and some there, want to send off another box to Mr. Godman, but it is impossible at present, can scarcely carry enough with me to rub on. In Retalhuleu, I passed the night in a hotel kept by 3 Chinamen, I must say they know how to cook; this is a very hot place (less than 1000 feet elevation, and tropical in appearance, coconuts and palm trees all over the place, I never saw so many in one place here before. Amongst the queer things one eats in this country is lizard (iguana); it is not bad, like a mixture of fish and fowl; here for the first time in Guatemala, have eaten supper, elsewhere never anything but coffee (rarely tea or chocolate), and bread if any in the morning and evening, but a good breakfast and good dinner, about 5 o’clock, though mutton is not scarce in these parts, seldom if ever get any, it is always beef; mutton is looked on as food only fit for Indians. I know not why, it is very tough, it is true. Never fruit pies or puddings, it is usually in these better houses, dulce – that is fruit, peaches, apples, bananas etc., boiled in syrup and served up cold, sometimes custards or rice puddings. I tell you these things, as I know you are interested in cookery matters, eat rice too a good deal with meat. It must be six months or more since I drank beer.

San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

This letter will not leave the capital till the 15th but am obliged to write now to be sure of catching it. If Mr.Godman sends out another box there is nothing I want at present except a waterproof coat.

With best love to all,
Believe me etc.

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