Sunday 18th March 2012 (Letter 19th August 1879)

GCC travels to San Gerónimo, and settles into his new quarters

Today’s letter, covering much the same ground as the previous one I posted, is this time to his mother rather than to his employer, and describes my great grandfather George Charles Champion’s mule-ride from Guatemala City to San Gerónimo, where he was to base himself for almost a year. I visited this place myself on 30th August, 2011, and although the actual former monastery adjoining the church of San Gerónimo, in which GCC slept, no longer stands, the church is still there, as are the sugar-cane processing buildings and some of the original equipment. The complex is now a museum. When I visited, the staff were on strike, but by jumping over a fence with the aid of my enthusiastic guide Eduar, I managed to explore the area and get a feel for this place, which hosted my great grandfather for so long (please see my diary entry for 31st August 2011).

The church next to which GCC lodged for nearly a year

Hacienda de San Gerónimo
Baja Vera Paz

August 19th 1879

My dear Mother,

I received your letter of July 15th yesterday, it having been forwarded to me from Guatemala.

I left Guatemala on the 8th instant, in company with a young Canadian – Mr. Hutchison, of Montreal, who is at present living here. Mr. Morgans could not get through his business in time and is still detained in Guatemala. I was very glad to get away from the hotel, the lazy life there did not suit me and one’s expenses are very heavy there. We started about midday on the 8th and spent the first night at Carrizal, where I tried sleeping in a hammock, but though a hammock is very comfortable indeed for an occasional rest in the daytime, I cannot say I liked it very much for the night; next morning at daylight, we were again on the road, rested a short time at Trapiche Grande, spent the second night there, then on again for a long spell till nearly dusk when we arrived at Llano Grande, starting again at 2 a.m. the next day for San Gerónimo, the mules and ourselves being nearly worn out with this long journey of 70 miles. The road and mule track all the way kept ascending or descending ranges of mountains, crossing rivers (some difficult to ford), some places very bad indeed to pass, the road occasionally up to our animals’ knees. I shall long remember the last stage of the journey: we started by the aid of a little moonlight, but this soon failed and we almost had to feel our way over the most fearful roads I have ever seen; between Llano Grande and San Gerónimo we had to cross the high mountain range of Choacus. We were over three hours passing this place, getting to the top soon after daylight, and to make matters worse, it commenced to pour with rain; as we descended the other side, we had the broad green valley of Salamá at our feet, and on the opposite side more ranges of mountains; at the extreme end of this valley San Gerónimo is situated.

Some of the original sugar-cane processing buildings

Mr. Morgans kindly forwarded my luggage, and one of his servants accompanied us on the road. I am very comfortable here once more with civilised people, the food is also very good and everything is more comfortable. This place is about midway between the Atlantic and the Pacific, much hotter than Guatemala but not so hot as Zapote, the thermometer in the house is usually between 70 and 80; we have all our meals in the verandah, which is much more pleasant in a tropical country, all round the view is backed up by mountain ranges on three sides quite close in; only the upper part of house is used for living in, so everything is very dry. This house was formerly a monastery, consequently is very large with many rooms.

There are many negroes in San Gerónimo (the house servants are negroes also) formerly brought from Belize to work in the cane fields, also Indians and half-breeds. The village is far superior to Dueñas, here houses with plaster or mud bricks walls and tiled roofs, in Dueñas only ranchos of sticks and thatch; still it does not bear close inspection, and looks far better at a distance, pigs swarm all over the place. The sun is very powerful in the morning, in the afternoons we almost invariably have heavy storms, with much thunder and lightning. One can only depend on the morning being fine.

Have at last met with a servant, who will, I think, quite suit me, he is recommended to me by Mr. Morgans and is now with me on trial, he has been about with me a good deal near the “finca”.

Living in the house, there is Mr. Hutchison, then the manager of the estate, which belongs to English people, continual lawsuits are however swallowing up all the profits. Mr. Morgans was appointed by the Court of Chancery to come out to superintend the management – a Spaniard, who speaks English, an Italian connected with the estate and myself. We form a party of four in all. Mr. Morgans will probably be here soon, then we shall muster five. The estate is very large, they have a great quantity of sugar cane, coffee plantations etc. and plenty of maize also. I hope to make this place my headquarters for some time, making journeys all round in the neighbourhood, and returning again to San Gerónimo till the rainy season is over; shall endeavour to remain as I have an open invitation to stop as long as I like. San Gerónimo is but a small village (about 3000 feet above the sea) at the foot of the Choacus mountains; our nearest town is Salamá, two leagues distant. They cook everything better here and put less of the everlasting fluids with the food, which agrees with me very well and does not upset one’s stomach; am very well in health here except that I am still troubled a good deal at night with neuralgia. I have received but four letters from you, but from reading your last, I seem to have missed one; have, however, I am sorry to say, received but one newspaper, have not received the books. I cannot understand it, newspapers must be posted for abroad within I think a week of publication, but for books there is no limit of time, perhaps it would be as well to send the newspapers via San Francisco, I believe they are detained for some reason or other at Panama, a perusal of the postal guide as to foreign postage regulations may set things right; there being no postal treaty between England and Guatemala often causes delay or loss of letters etc. I have read good deal about the Prince Imperial’s death in the Illustrated London News, while at Dueñas, also in the Graphic here at San Gerónimo.

A road along which GCC undoubtedly rode on his mule, looking down towards San Geronimo

You seem to be having a queer sort of summer in England. I cannot say I have find it very cold here, quite the reverse but have never seen such a quantity of rain before as in the last 3 months, sometimes after the rain here the rivers are impassable for a time till the water goes down again. Our new tramway cars with awning on top and drawn by three mules must appear very strange to Londoners; out here and in the West Indies you see mules used far more than horses. I should like you to see how some of the negroes dress here, they are fond of wearing a white shirt but they never tuck in the tail, always leave it hanging out so as to show it all, this and a pair of shorts constitute their costume. I find my clothes too heavy for this country. Mr. Hutchison kindly lent me some white things (I could not get any ready made in Guatemala). When the sun is out, it is very hot indeed, but morning and evening there is always a cool breeze and it is very pleasant in the verandahs; at night, too, here in the mountains can always beg a blanket on the bed. I found it much hotter in the night in Jamaica and also on the steamer on the way out than here. I should like to send some ferns at home for father but at present don’t see how I can send them alive, am obliged to keep the collections I send to Mr. Godman (have sent 2 lots) as dry as I possibly can, and living plants could hardly be sent with them. Ferns are much rarer here, the soil is more sandy, and perhaps not so suitable; instead we have many Cacti, Agaves, a sort of wild pineapple and other spiny plants of this nature. Zapote was far more prolific in vegetation.

I must now bring this rambling epistle to a close with very best love to all and hoping you are all enjoying good health.

An amazing spider we found near San Geronimo

A mating pair of grasshoppers near San Geronimo

An "airplane grasshopper", photographed near San Geronimo

A brightly-coloured froghopper, found near San Geronimo

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