Monday 27th July 2012 (Letter September 2nd 1881)

GCC apologises for having the blues, and laments the lack of good boots!

September 2nd, 1881

My dear Mother,

Have just received your letter of July 1st; must not write such dismal letters again as that of May 12th, had a fit of the blues, I suppose at the time, am almost sorry father took the letter to Mr.Godman; however, perhaps it was for the best.

Have received also a few lines from Mr. Godman, and a letter from Walker, who is still on the Peruvian coast, but he expects they will go very soon to Panama. Harry has been appointed to the “Briton” and has left England for West Coast of Africa. It is still raining very much, but only in the afternoons; the mornings are fine, however there is a good time coming, the dry season (or summer) begins in December; the worst part of the rains are now over.

Left David again on July 13th and have since been stopping at various places on the slope of the Volcano, and elsewhere – at Elvira, Caldera, Boquete, Potrerillas, and at the present am staying with a countryman who has been here many years planting coffee, sugarcane &c. Return again to David in a few weeks to send off another box, after I go to Bugaba and other places to west and nearer to Costa Rica frontier.

Owing to the great rainfall, the rivers are now very much swollen and it is very difficult to travel on account, there are no bridges, scarcely roads in this country; if I don’t take a guide I lose myself in no time. Am not nearly so “dull” here, someone to talk to and books to read if I require them, rough quarters it is true but preferable to me, still close to my Swiss friends but no town nearer than Dolega, 6 leagues away.

With the letters also received six newspapers (dates May and June), and a friend in David sent me some Panamá papers so have something to read. Early to bed and early to rise in Chiriquí, the sun is often very hot by 7.a.m. so have to be out – by 9 or 10 begins to cloud over, and often by noon the rain begins, clearing off again by night; we only see the mountains early in the morning. At Elvira I stopped on a coffee plantation belonging to a native of Ecuador, in Caldera with a Scotchman.

I find it very difficult to get good boots in this place, no demand for strong boots I suppose for nearly everybody who has to go into the forest goes barefoot. Here as in Guatemala the planters scarcely ever walk; if they only have a few yards to go they go on horseback. I don’t blame them, in places where there are so many streams and so much mud; my boy of course is barefoot; he is getting rather homesick, but I think will remain another six months, he will return quite rich for I don’t suppose his clothes cost him a lot a year. The Chiricanos drink very much (rum is so cheap, about 9d a large bottle!) and when drunk they take to fighting with their large knives – you meet people with bad scars from this cause.

All these people as in Guatemala carry an enormous knife, without which they never stir; in the forest it is very necessary, often you find a tree blown down across the road, and you cannot pass till you clear away some of the branches.

Am glad to hear that you and Allie are going to have a change at the seaside and I trust your feet will be better before long. I wonder what has become of the sack of coffee, must write to Guatemala about it soon, it is too good to lose, you ought to have received it long ago. There are several Germans here who ship orchids occasionally to London, they can only be sent in dry season, I wish I knew something about them, don’t know a good one from a bad one. There are plenty in the forests but you very rarely see them in flower, to get them you have often to employ men to cut down or climb the trees, perhaps in dry season if I meet with any nice ones, will try and send some.

Sometimes the steamer comes twice in a month and sometimes it does not come for six weeks, there is not the least certainty, when they require cattle in Panamá, they send: my last letters came by land from Panamá.

With best love to all,

I remain, dear mother
Your affectionate son
George C. Champion

A fast-flowing river near Boquete


Monday 23rd July 2012

Ants in Panama

Panama is a land of ants! Even in urban zones, they are everywhere. This clip features leaf-cutter ants, which cut and carry bits of leaf over long distances, as well as the predatory army ants, which are often accompanied by antbirds, ready to eat any insects disturbed by the ant columns. An amazingly brightly coloured ant I photographed in Guatemala also features.


Sunday 22nd July (Letter 2nd July 1881)

GCC comes down from the mountains, and broils in the heat

This brief letter from my great grandfather George Charles Champion covers a short visit he made to the capital of the Province of Chiriquí, David, in order to send off a consignment of his insect captures to his employers Godman and Salvin in London. He clearly suffers greatly from the heat of the humid tropical lowlands.

Self at the entrance of Caldera, where GCC stayed with the Buergi family

July 2nd, 1881

My dear Mother,

I have just returned from the mountain slope to David, to pack up a collection to send off, spent a whole month with a very hospitable Swiss family, named Buergi, settled there planting coffee etc; here it is hot enough to melt one, 80-95 degrees, but up on the mountain it is much cooler; remain a week or two in David waiting for the steamer, then return to the higher ground. Climate not so bad, still raining however most of the time, but infinitely preferable to Panama (City), pretty well used to the heat now. It is very fortunate I have brought my able attendant (Leopoldo) with me; we are pretty well used to one another by this time, many people here would like to take him away from me.

Have obtained fairly good quarters here and made the acquaintance of nearly all the coffee planters on the mountain slope; on the whole have got on better in my first two months in Chiriquí than in Guatemala, of course owing to knowing a little of the language and ways of the people. Have already made a large collection in Chiriquí, enough to give them (employers Godman and Salvin) plenty of work for several months, the humid climate however is a great drawback; nothing will dry properly.

The town of David is very green, trees everywhere about the houses and most of the streets covered with grass, plenty of coconut, breadfruit and other trees, amongst which you see numerous small parrots and other birds, at night there is a continuous humming noise from the insects, frogs etc.; most of the houses have a verandah in front where the people sit in the evening to get a little cool, the rooms inside are too hot, fortunately there are very few mosquitoes and one can sleep without netting. There is a river near for bathing and good water to drink, things you do not find in dirty Panama. Though we are out of sight of the sea, and a few miles off, we hear the boom of the surf.

This is my 8th letter, so now must close,

I am etc.

A Cerambycid (Longicorn) beetle, Boquete, Panama