Category Archives: GCC’s letters

Tuesday 17th April 2012 (Letter 7th March 1880)

GCC feasts with a portly priest, enters the cave at Lanquín, and wishes he could take photographs (how I wish he had too)

Today’s letter sees my great grandfather George Charles Champion travelling in the company of a well-fed priest, and he expresses with a note of disapproval the quantities of food this man consumes. He also penetrates the cave at Lanquín, which I also entered with Natalia and Marvin in October 2011 (please see my Diary entry of 15th October 2011).

HOTEL ALEMAN, COBAN, ALTA VERA PAZ, GUATEMALA,
March 7th, 1880

My dear Mother,

Returned yesterday to Cobán after an absence of about a month. I wrote to you from Cajabón on the 20th or the 23rd. I left this place from Lanquín, in company with the priest, Don Luis Mejicanos, and remained with him as a guest in the convent in Lanquín till the 28th. He made me very welcome and seemed very glad of a visitor, so few Europeans going to these places; sometimes there is but little to be got to eat in these places, but what little there is I think finds its way to the priest. The Indians bring him all sorts of things as presents; he is a jolly fat priest just like what you read about and is never tired of eating even if it is only frijoles and tortillas. It seemed queer taking one’s meals with five or six nearly naked Indians standing round; on the journey of six leagues to Lanquín he took a number of Indians with him to get breakfast on the road. Lanquín is still very hot, but a little cooler than Cajabón; shall long remember the magnificent moonlight nights in these places; after the hot days it is very pleasant to rest in a hammock in the evening before going to bed, the distant mountains, the village in a hollow below, the convent, the coconut palms, and all looking so strange by moonlight. Here in Lanquín I met a young Austrian plant collector, a Mr. Klabrock, who has been eight years in these countries; together we visited the enormous cave at Lanquín, and spent some time inside, by the aid of candles, and we penetrated a long distance; it was well worth seeing; we found but little inside beyond some land crabs.

The Rio Cajabon as it emerges from the caves of Lanquin

On the 28th I took leave of the priest, and went to Chiacam, where I remained a week on a coffee estate and on March 6th returned here. My negro boy Leopoldo is very useful now, and very willing to do anything; sometimes he gets a little discontented when there is very little to be got to eat (which sometimes happens) but one can excuse this as he is growing something like Chiddles taller and taller every day. My other man, Victoriano, is not so satisfactory, but more than double the expenses, but I only keep him for a short time. I leave Cobán again in a day or two for the north, for Choctun, Cubilguitz, and shall be away several weeks, after this I return once more to San Gerónimo, till then shall probably not get any letters. The road to Cajabón, so frightfully bad when I passed a month ago, is now much better, the mud having dried up, only the rocks to pass over. It is now splendid weather in Cobán, like summer in England, almost a cloudless sky, but pleasantly cool in the evening. Some of the places recently visited were very hot and dry and once or twice I had a slight return of hay fever, but next day I was alright again, one previous slight return of it in San Gerónimo. I had it in Oct or Nov last.

Natalia near the mouth of the Lanquín cave

In Chiacam I had a bad attack of colic, owing I believe to having eaten a small slice or two of pineapple the previous day; it is a very tempting fruit but sometimes bad for the stomach in this climate, you can buy two sometimes for 3d and pick them yourself, you may guess it is hot where they grow. The cacao (cacao or chocolate) tree looks very queer, with the fruit growing out from the trunk or from the branches, there are many in Cajabón and Lanquín. The fruit eaten fresh is not bad, the pulp surrounding the nuts is very juicy. Can generally manage to get two or three sugar canes when out on my excursions. I know nothing better to quench the thirst in hot places, you can chew the inner part of the cane, it requires good teeth, that is all. For a month I have not spoken English, from trips like these it is a treat to get back to a place like Cobán; luckily I had the three last newspapers you sent with me while away, at last I took to reading the advertisements, as a rule except in wet weather, have but little time for reading. Some places in the mountains when you go to bed I was going to say, but to rest is better (for you have not always a bed to go to), you can scarcely bear a blanket (sheets I have long abandoned for travelling) but before morning you wake up shivering and want more clothing and this in places like Chiacam where it is very hot in the day. Have now been as near as possible a year in Guatemala, have been in all sorts of places hot and cold, but never for a single day out of sight of mountains, wherever you go it is mountains and excepting in a place like the plain of Salamá, have scarcely seen a place yet where you could travel more than a league on level ground, but in this part there are none higher than 6000ft, it is on the Pacific side where you find all the Volcanoes. The German hotel is very comfortable though small and very expensive. I enjoy the meals far better here than in the capital, and the people are far more sociable. I would like to get photographs of many of the places I have visited, but of course that is impossible in a country where there are no photographers except in the capital. About Cajabón, Chiacam, etc one of the commonest wild flowers is the Ageratum like we cultivate at home, in the evening the air is quite scented with the perfume, it is one of the few wild flowers with any smell. The wild Dahlia is so different from the cultivated that you would never recognize it.

A sweaty self in the Lanquín cave entrance

I enclose a few pieces of a leaf of a maiden-hair fern, not rare in some places, have tried several times to get seed from this and other ferns but have not yet succeeded in getting leaves in right condition for seed, probably from ignorance.

I now close this long rambling epistle. I expect you often think I might find something more interesting to write about; Walker would, I know, and send such a letter as this to me, but it is not in me; I wish it was.

It is getting dark and as I cannot think of anything more to tell you, must now close this.

With best love to all,
I remain dear Mother
Yours affectionately
Geo .C. Champion

Marvin emerging from the Lanquín cave

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Sunday 15th April 2012 (Letter 19th February 1880)

GCC travels through deep mud to Cajabon, and consorts with a priest

This letter details a visit that George Charles Champion made from the very rainy highland town of Cobán, eastwards to the village of Cajabon, situated in a depression in the hills, and known to be very hot and windless. His first stop was at Chiacam, a finca that still exists, but which I was unable to reach during my recent time in Guatemala. From here he travelled on downwards, stopping at Lanquin before making his final push towards his destination. I did reach Lanquin, but left GCC’s trail there, venturing instead to the wonderful series of pools at Semuc Champey instead. For details of my visit, please see diary entry of Sturday 15th October 2011.

The hills close to Chiacam, where GCC spent a night on his way to Cajabon

Cajabon

February 19th 1880

My dear Mother,

I received your letter of January 1st on February 7th, while in Cobán, it having been brought to me by a friend from Salamá; only the day before – that is on the 6th – I wrote to you via Belize; have also received the three newspapers for which I was very glad.

I was very glad to hear that Walker had been to see you; he spoke about it in his letter and said he spent one or two hours very pleasantly with you. Now as to my own doings, I have perhaps a little to tell you. I left Cobán on February 10th after a detention of four days waiting for it to leave off raining. By the time I left the house, you could scarcely stir out of the house for the mud. I was only too glad to get out of it and arrived in Cajabon on the evening of the 12th; though only about 18 leagues from Cobán, it took three days to get here. I thought I had seen roads in this country as bad as they could possibly be, but compared with the road to Cajabon they were very good, mud at times up to the bellies of the animals, narrow places in the forest where the road was only about a foot wide, slippery rocks, in parts the road as steep as a flight of stairs where it was absolutely impossible to pass except on foot – I can tell you it was hard work getting here. For this reason, very few Europeans get to Cajabon, which is certainly one of the queerest places I have yet visited in Guatemala. The first day’s journey from Cobán was to Chiacam, travelling all day through tortuous valleys between mountains, the second day we got to Lanquin and on the third to Cajabon; the last day’s journey was not quite so fatiguing, the road being a little more level, and passing alongside of the River Cajabon for many miles, but scarcely a quarter of a mile of level road for the whole journey. I brought with me my boy Leopoldo, who suits me very well, and a man from Cobán just for this trip.

I am staying here with the priest – the only decent house in the place. Cajabon is a good sized Indian village, the houses of mud and sticks all on little hills or slopes, there is scarcely a level piece of ground in the place excepting the plaza on one side of which is an enormous church in a very ruined condition. The natives go about as near as possible naked and I don’t wonder at it, for it is as hot in the daytime as the nether regions; at night however it is cool, the climate of this part of Alta Vera Paz being excessively humid. We are only 800 feet above sea level, coconuts grow well, also cacao, bananas, pineapples, sugar, coffee, cotton, etc.

But the Indians don’t care to work much and plant only maize, at one time they were averse to strangers, and killed all that came, now they are very different, very timid. The women, instead of wearing the enormous red pigtails as in Cobán, do their hair chignon fashion but on the top of the head and look queer objects, many go about in the boiling sun quite bareheaded and seldom if ever wear a hat.

The priest has been here for years and seems to get on very well with them. But I should think he must find it dull at times, especially as they do not speak Spanish. Eatables are very scarce in Cajabon, it is eggs, frijoles, tortillas for every meal, rarely a little fish, meat or bread, no vegetables or milk, of course coffee. I don’t suppose I shall get further into the interior of Guatemala than Cajabon, am only a few days from Peten, but I see nothing at present to tempt me hence. Shall probably return in a few weeks to Cobán and then make another trip. Am getting very little for Mr. Godman just now but it cannot be helped. The priest seems glad to have a visitor though we cannot talk very much; he has never been out of Guatemala.

With best love to all.

The Rio Cajabon, not far from Lanquin

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Saturday 14th April 2012 (Letter 23rd January 1880)

GCC complains of the high prices in Guatemala City, circumnavigates the Lake of Amatitlán and prepares to set off for rainy Cobán

The letter here provides a little information about the high prices of goods and services George Charles Champion found in the capital (prices are in UK shillings), and shows how he tried to keep his visits to the city to the minimum.

HACIENDA DE SAN GERONIMO, SALAMA, GUATEMALA,
Jan 23rd, 1880

My dear Mother,

I am writing to Chancey (???) and enclose a few lines for you. I received your letter of Nov 27th on Jan 18th, a few days after I had written to you. I was sorry to hear that father had been so unwell. I hope by the time you receive this you will both be better and that you will have lost your cough. Business must be dreadfully bad.

I keep very well though there is a good deal of sickness about just now, as usual at end of rainy season. I was detained in Guatemala eleven days, could not leave till I got the box up from the port. I left on the 18th, leaving Mr. Morgans behind and arrived here on following evening; was between nine and ten hours each day in the saddle. Am bringing out most of my luggage to San Gerónimo; don’t want to go to the capital again in a hurry – a man need be made of money to go there.

Very hot and dry here now and nothing to be got in my way. I leave on 25th for Alta Vera Paz; shall probably make Cobán headquarters for five or six weeks, and travel all round, then return again here. Am sorry to leave comfortable quarters but it is absolutely necessary. There will be quite a break up in the establishment, Mr. Morgans going to England and Mr. Hutchison to Belize. An American and his wife are coming from Guatemala to take charge in Mr. Morgans’ absence. I know the gentleman very well so shall get on all right with him.

I am leaving a note for Mr. Morgans to take to England with him, in case he has a chance of calling to see you; he promised me to do so if possible.

To give you some idea of price of things in Guatemala:
- boots soled and heeled 8/, – a new pair 26/-, hair cutting 1/-, beer only by bottle – a small bottle holds about a glass and a half 2/-, a larger bottle 3/6 or 4/-, felt hat 18/-, hotel expenses at least 10/- a day, large necktie 7/-, small 3/-, and so on.

There are only two ways of living, very high or very low, there is no medium. One thing, if you stay at Gran Hotel, you meet all the people worth knowing, and always English-speaking people.
I went to see Mr. Graham, the English minister (the ministers are not going to Costa Rica after all, it was only a rumour), and he afterwards came to see me at the hotel. On the 13th I made a flying trip to the Lake of Amatitlán (distant 6 leagues), returning to the capital in the evening; had previously travelled here but never round the lake, the view was very fine indeed.
The bright blue water of the lake and the very lofty mountains (with the two volcanoes Agua and Pacaya) on every side, seen under a cloudless sky, made a splendid picture.

I have not seen the mountains so clear of clouds for many months. Often the sun sets in a cloudless sky and as it goes down behind the distant mountains, we get magnificent views, the mountains gradually changing in colour, till very suddenly we find it dark, but as a set-off against all this we have the heat and the dust, which make travelling very unpleasant.

I now go to a place where it is always green and verdant, here probably shall get plenty of rain, though only 50 miles distant.

With kindest regards to all,
Believe me,
Your loving son,
George .C. Champion

Lago de Amatitlan