Thursday 17th May 2012 (Letter 9th September 1880)

GCC samples some luxury at Las Nubes, and enjoys locally shot venison

Today’s letter finds my great grandfather George Charles Champion at the Finca San Isidro, having trekked from the highland town of Quetzaltenango via the wonderful Finca Las Nubes, which I also much enjoyed staying at as a guest of the Castillo family in August 2011 (please see my original diary entry of 29th August 2011). Las Nubes is a truly remarkable place, still a working coffee farm, but also welcoming groups of birdwatchers who come to experience its rich cloudforest habitats. The finca had been visited in 1875 by pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who was a guest of the the then owner William Nelson, who also owned the nearby Finca San Isidro, which sadly I was not able to visit. Muybridge’s photographs allow me to see what the place must have looked like at almost the same time as my great grandfather’s visit, only five years later.

The house at Las Nubes, Muybridge, 1875

The house from approximately the same angle in 2011

SAN YSIDRO, MAZATENANGO, COSTA GRANDE

September 9th, 1880

My dear Mother,

I wrote to you last from the town of Quetzaltenango, which place I left on August 19th for Las Nubes (The Clouds) and aptly so called on the slopes of the Volcan de Zunil and five leagues from this place; have spent about three weeks in Las Nubes, coming on here this morning, once more in hot country. Was fortunate enough to meet the manager of the Las Nubes coffee estate in Quetzaltenango and travelled down with him. Las Nubes is about 30 miles from Quetzaltenango and is 4000 feet above the sea, and a very nice place, not too hot, nice house and nice people, quite a treat after roughing it so much; from the house on one side we see the coast region for an immense distance and beyond in clear weather, the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles away. On the other side, we look up to the Volcano of Zunil, with the Volcano Santa Maria to the north and the Volcanoes Atitlán and San Pedro to the south. Spent a very pleasant three weeks in Las Nubes, thanks to the kind hospitality of Mr. Cuthbert, and am now the guest of a Mr. Nelson (the owner of Las Nubes) and stopping on a coffee and cacao estate, one league from the town of Mazatenango.

Volcan Atitlan as seen from Las Nubes

Coffee picking has already commenced here, large numbers of Indians (especially women) are at work picking, who as usual in hot country wear very little clothing; we are only 1600 feet above the sea in San Ysidro and very hot in consequence. The house is of wood and very comfortable, in place of glass windows, Venetian blinds for the heat, and as usual an open corridor or verandah all round. Many coconuts planted in this place and the country looks very tropical.

Coffee harvesting at San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

I remain a week or two in San Ysidro, then go to Retalhuleu, Las Mercedes, Reposa, and possibly on to the Department of San Marcos on the Mexican frontier. We get beautifully fine mornings, but in this rainy season, wet afternoons. Often in Las Nubes the clouds descended on the Volcano and we were surrounded by mist for a time, then it would clear off, and we would have a fine evening. Have tried to get my letters sent on from San Gerónimo but have received none since I left, am getting anxious to receive news from Mr. Godman or Salvin; my last letter from them arrived about the middle of June, nearly three months ago. Shall probably get on much better for accommodation in this part of the country – there are many English, Americans and other foreigners hereabouts who have coffee, sugar and other estates. San Ysidro is in about the centre of the chief coffee estates of Guatemala. From Las Nubes alone, the coffee crop is about 4000 quintals (a quintal is about a cwt); most of this goes to London. Mr. Nelson has three estates in Guatemala and is very wealthy, he also has been very kind to me.

Original coffee bags at Las Nubes, marked William Nelson

No more return of the intermittent fever (Malaria?) thank goodness, have enjoyed very good health indeed since I left Cubulco. I liked the climate of Las Nubes very much indeed, was almost sorry to leave, have picked up again in weight (147 lbs now) and have first rate appetite. I wish I could get letters more regularly, but while rambling about so much, there is only one thing to do – wait. Mr. Cuthbert is a great sportsman; he often went out shooting before breakfast and seldom failed to get a deer, so we often had fresh venison in Las Nubes. This makes my 38th place this year, always on the move. This constant change of climate requires change of clothing also, am now back to white things. There have been several more eruptions of the Volcán de Fuego, but none so severe as the first – but have always been too far away to see anything of it; have felt several slight earthquakes, nothing more. Would like to hear from you that you are all very well. It is getting late and I am tired from the journey, so must end now.

Mario Castillo and Jacqueline Ruffle at Las Nubes

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