Thursday 27th September 2012 (Letter 19th September 1882)

GCC meets a Boa Constrictor, and feels uncertain about his future movements

BUGABITA, CHIRIQUI, ESTADO DE PANAMA, U.S.COLOMBIA

September 19th, 1882

My dear Mother,

I wrote last I think about a month ago from David; since then I have been at Vivala, the Rio Chiriquí Viejo and other places near the sea, returning here about a fortnight ago. The rivers are now so deep with the heavy afternoon rains that it is difficult to travel; have had no chance of sending to David for some time so have heard nothing from you or Salvin. The last letter from him spoke about my returning some time at the end of the year, but I think only from necessity it is likely you will see me before the spring. I care very little to return in mid winter.

Possibly I shall go to Panama (City) some time in November for the Pearl Islands, where I may remain about a month or six weeks. After this work is finished it is very uncertain as yet what I shall do in the event of remaining to the spring, whether I shall remain in these Islands, return to Chiriquí, or pass a short time in the West Indies, it will all depend on circumstances; my engagement with Mr. Godman will probably terminate when I have finished this work in the Pearl Islands; the remaining time will in all probability be at my own expense.

The broken down tub of a cattle steamer doing duty between Panama and Chiriquí we hear is laid up for repairs, not likely to run again for some months, so when I go to Panama, I expect it will have to be in a small sailing vessel, these often take a fortnight for the journey. I of course find it a little dull at times during the rainy season, should probably have left long ago if there had not been these few foreign settlers in Bugabita. I get precious tired of the everlasting rice and salt beef, bananas so abundant and cheap in the dry season are not to be got now, chickens and eggs the same, vegetables we seldom if ever see, the ants swarm so in these hot places that it is almost impossible to plant anything of this kind. I fared very much better in Guatemala. A Frenchman has recently succeeded in growing potatoes at a place high up in the mountains; he sent them however nearly all to Panama. I bought a few in David at 5d a pound. Have not tasted a fruit pie or pudding for more than eighteen months. All the ports of this State are free; for this reason wines, beer etc are pretty cheap in David, but I cannot bring these things so far, so have to put up with salt beef and rice.

I think people in England would be rather astonished to see the way they pick rice, imagine picking with the fingers, without knife of any kind, and the time spent in picking, but these people are never in a hurry, so if it takes a week or two to pick a small field, they are quite satisfied. A rice field looks very like oats, it does not grow so high perhaps. Last week while returning through the forest, came across an enormous Boa Constrictor, curled up and asleep on the ground; this is the first I have seen in these countries, though the people say they are not rare, sometimes coming into the houses to steal chickens etc., they are quite harmless, still at the same time, I cannot say that I care to go very near them, fancy a creature as thick round as the fleshy part of one’s arm and more than ten feet long.

I do not go out so much in the rainy season; about every other day; the mornings are almost invariably fine, but often in the afternoons we have a deluge, the rivers rise several feet in a few hours, the water going down again next day. I don’t suppose we have six wet mornings in a year, the rains always come in the afternoon, the hotter and finer the morning, the heavier the rain.

Require very little clothing as you can imagine. The people get up very soon at daylight, about 5.30/6 AM. I go off as early as possible, as by 9 or 10 AM the sun is very hot indeed. Have only once felt the effects from the sun, and that was a year ago. (Of course I keep in the shade as much as possible).

I hope at the very latest to be home before my next birthday (have already spent 4 in Central America). Should, however, anything very urgent arise, I should return in the winter. You of course should address me care of the British Consul, Panama.

With kind returns to all old friends, and best love to all.

I remain….