Thursday 14th June 2012 (Letter 13th March 1881)

GCC’s time in Guatemala draws to a close after 2 hard years of collecting

TOROLA, GUATEMALA
March 13th 1881

My dear Mother,

My time in Guatemala is now nearly expired, two days from now shall have finished the two years. Shall probably return to the Capital on 15th or 16th to get ready for the journey to Panama, en route for Chiriquí, in all probability leave by the steamer of April 4th, or, if detained a little longer, by that of the 17th, it depends principally on the letter I receive from Mr. Salvin.

You may get yet one more Guatemalan letter from me, but it is uncertain, if not, I write from Panama. I received a few days ago a bundle of five newspapers from you, but no letter as yet, what a difference, in Guatemala altogether as hot as it is cold at home.

I have been in very hot places in the coast region since I left the Volcano Agua, thermometer in the shade yesterday 92. I left Mirandilla on February 14th for Torola, a large cattle estate belonging to the Belgian Consul, this gentleman also made me very welcome. From this place I have made several long excursions – one of ten days to a place called Paso Antonio, 8 leagues distant.

I accompanied a Scot and a Belgian, who went on a fishing expedition. This place would suit father or Mr. Gee (except for the heat and mosquitoes). They could catch more fish than they could bring away; my companions employed Indians to net in the lagoons adjacent to the Rio Michotoya and they brought in on an average 300 pounds daily, one day 500 lbs of fine large fish, these were then salted and smoked to send to the capital. Very rough quarters in Paso Antonio, and not much to eat beyond fish, shrimps, iguanas and sometimes a pigeon or a parrot. Also made another trip of five days to a mountain called La Gavia, near the town of Cuajimquilapa.

The time has passed very quickly during the past month, the days seem to fly, I shall have a great deal to do in my last fortnight in Guatemala, rather regret leaving for a place where I shall be a total stranger without introduction to anyone, but hope to make my way somehow.
I cannot of course take my animals with me, I shall have to sell them and buy others afterwards, shall be sorry to part with them as we are old friends, but there is no help for it, probably I take my servant with me, expensive as the journey will be. In Chiriquí, I shall not have to travel so much, the country is very small. Mr and Mrs Salvin are so well known in this country that I have had little difficulty in obtaining introductions to any place I wanted to go, but in Chiriquí it will be very different.

As I sit in the verandah in the evening (after a six o’clock dinner) after the day’s work is over, listening to the eternal humming of the insects in the coco, orange and mango trees, my thoughts fly back to England and to you all at home, it seems like a dream instead of reality. I will never forget the tropical moonlight nights; in these hot places everyone goes out into the fresh air in the evening, the heat in the rooms being too great, and sit outside till bedtime and of course rise very early in the morning (the coolest time) and the best time to work; at midday one has to rest a little for the heat. We often feel slight earthquakes in Torola, especially during the night, but not strong enough to turn one out. The Volcanoes now are very hazy, at this season everything seems enveloped in smoke or dust upon the mountains and very hazy in the afternoons. About a month ago, there was a slight frost in Antigua, causing a good deal of alarm for the coffee plantations; of course we had nothing of it on the coast.

This is Sunday morning and as usual they are busy paying the men. Torola is a large cattle estate with great plantations of grass to feed the cattle (oxen, horses, mules etc), no coffee or sugarcane here. Paso Antonio also belongs to the same owner who has been 32 years in this country, this gentlemen knows London very well, but does not speak English, he is a native of Antwerp.

A good deal of timber (mahogany, cedar etc) is cut in the forest on the estate, just now in the dry season they are busy bringing in the logs with carts drawn by oxen to the saw mill belonging to the estate. You only see horses or mules in the diligences or in the capital, always oxen, with the driver walking in front of the animals, and continually poking the poor animals with pointed sticks or else knocking them over the horns. Coconuts are very nice when fresh picked, the milk is very refreshing, some will contain two tumblerfulls, you drink this and throw the nut to the dogs who are always waiting together with vultures. The vultures either in the streets of Guatemala or in the forest, you see them in scores settling on the housetops or the trees or anywhere, some flying round and round in circles, then settling, no one interferes with them so they are very tame, but they are such great fellows, about the size of a turkey, if in the street they will just run or fly a few yards, and then settle again to look at you, there is no shaking them off.

A great many coconut, orange and mango trees in Torola, just in front of the house, one can have as much fruit as one likes. They have a few flowers here, such as balsam, fuschias and geraniums just the same as at home, they appear to be flowering all the year round.

With best love to all
I remain etc.

Sunset on the Guatemalan Pacific shore

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