Friday 10th August 2012 (Letter 16th December 1881)

GCC ascends to high up the volcano, experiences the wettest wet season for many years, and prepares for his third Christmas away from home

A forest trail high on the volcano


DAVID, CHIRIQUI, Estado de Panama
December 16th, 1881

My dear Mother,

I wrote a few hurried lines by the land post only three days ago; yesterday the steamer unexpectedly arrived, so write again, very likely you will receive this first, may not have an opportunity of writing again for some time. The steamer brought me a great number of letters, papers (3 more from you), letters from people in Panama (the British Consul and others) asking me to send them Orchids, a letter from Mr. Godman saying he wishes me to return in May or June next, letter from Walker who is still at Panama etc. I hear that it is all confusion now in the Post Office at Panama, the English having given up the management owing to the Postal Union Colombia having joined the Union a few months ago, the great wonder is to get a letter at all, you ought to see the Post Office in David, it is a fair specimen of the way things are managed in this country. The long expected summer has at last set in, it is splendid weather now, very hot, of course, but cool in the very early morning, rains appear to be over, we have had eight months rainy season, now we shall probably have 4 or 5 months dry.

Now know most if not all the foreigners in the place. On the whole I think I like Chiriquí better than Guatemala, you meet the coffee planters and other settlers every day in David and I already know all of them – Germans, French, Swiss etc. Shall return to Bugaba again next week perhaps before Christmas. Mr. Godman seems very satisfied with what I have done, in fact I think I have sent them already from Chiriquí more than they know what to do with; he leaves it now almost entirely to me. I took a guide with me, as well as Leopoldo the other day up the slope of the Volcano, took one of my horses loaded with provisions (dried meat, lard, coffee, sugar, bananas and rice), a pot, etc to cook with and went myself on horseback, the guide and my boy going on foot – the journey was about 28 miles through dense forest. It took a day and a half to go. Set my Bugaba man, the guide, to work hunting while I and the boy collected, my guide one day shot two large boar (about 100 lbs weight each) so we very soon had plenty of good meat, lard etc. He also shot several other animals and birds, so we had plenty to eat during my stay of a fortnight, should have remained longer up there but the weather was very unpropitious, either wet, foggy, or such a wind that you could scarcely stand against it. Sometimes at night I almost thought we should be blown away, ranch and all; shall probably go up again before I leave the country.

I know all the places you mention in Guatemala. Volcanoes Agua, Fuego, San Pedro, Atitlán etc but I expect Mr. Oswald exaggerated a great deal like most writers, though I must say I have never seen anything to equal the view of the Lake and Volcano of Atitlán at sunrise and at sunset, seen either from the road between Godines and Sololá, 7000 feet above the sea, or upon the waters of the lake itself.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, in the dawn

This has been the wettest season known in Chiriquí for very many years, the rivers rose to such a degree that for 10 days people could not pass from David to Bugaba, such a current as to carry everything before it, enormous trees, cattle, animals of the forest, monkeys, tapirs etc, and enormous stone, all these rivers are full of great stones and the current very strong, the mountains coming from the mountain range and running into the sea. Now write a second time to Guatemala about the coffee; it is too good to lose – I paid £4 for it.

The principal theme of conversation here is about the steamer (or ‘el Vapor’ they call it) and about the coffee crop, this is very small indeed this year, the rains of October and November having done a great deal of mischief. Now the summer has set in we begin to see more flowers and fruit, the orange trees are now full of ripe fruit, very nice they are too when fresh picked. Up on the Volcano there were plenty of blackberries! The Natives here think more of them than they do of pineapples or oranges, wretched sour things, not to compare with our own.

Walker seems delighted with his first view of the tropics. Everything being new to him he finds it plenty warm enough apparently.

I hope to hear that you will all have spent a good Christmas. Christmas Eve is thought more of in these Catholic countries than the day itself, the people are not nearly so fanatical in Chiriquí as in Guatemala; the Indians are all civilised here; the letting off of fireworks at the doors and on the tops of the churches, the procession with images through the streets by the Indians, singing in their own language etc in Guatemala, you do not see here; shall never forget Xmas Eve – or rather New Year’s Eve – in Cobán 1879, the procession of the Indians with their images, candles, etc through the town, it made a great impression on me.

You will now have received 2 letters written within a few days of one another, so you must not worry if you do not receive another for two months. With very best love to all and hoping to hear that you are at least a little better,

I remain etc.

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