Thursday 2nd August 2012 (Letter 7th October 1881)

GCC sends off a new consignment of insect specimens, and struggles with ants

October 7th 1881

My dear Mother,

Returned again to this place a few days ago to pack up another collection to send off. I found letters of Mr. Salvin and Godman of dates July 17th and August 16th awaiting me, but nothing from you. My first Chiriquí collection arrived all right and appears to have pleased them very much.

Your last letter bears date of July 1st; shall wait a week or two on the chance of a steamer coming before I go to Bugaba etc – sometimes there is no arrival for seven weeks! Occasional small boats come from Panama, also people by land, but one knows nothing beforehand about these.

There is a change coming to David: in spite of the great heat, one can get a little more variety in the shape of things to eat and drink, though appetite is often lacking. Staying as before with the French family. These people are very clean and do their best to make strangers comfortable. They have a garden with a few coffee and coconut trees and try to plant a few vegetables, but the ants destroy the latter as soon as planted almost. Ants are a great pest in all these hot places – in the gardens, in the house, everywhere. I think I must have eaten some hundreds in my food during the last 2 years, they swarm into everything – into the sugar, bread, meat, etc.; people have to suspend nearly everything in the shape of food by strings from the roof, or keep in dishes in water.

I think you would be astonished if you could see some of the people in these places, though you would not wonder at people going about nearly naked (children entirely so) if you felt the heat. Few wear shoes, these only the strangers or upper ten, men and women alike barefoot, the women with their hair plaited in two long tails, straw hats, and white dresses, men mostly in very thin white things, looks as if they had got up in their nightclothes and forgotten to change them; even in the cooler places up in the mountains, people dress the same way. I received very kind hospitality from Mr. Taylor at El Banco, was there five or six weeks in all.

It will soon be the summer season now, the worst of the rains are over. In the evenings, nearly everybody sits outside in the corridors or balconies, most of the houses are built with one or the other; scarcely a glass window in the place, shutters and doors, nothing more, no frost to trouble about. The town is spread over a great deal of ground, bananas, coconuts and other trees scattered about among the houses, cattle and dogs wander all over the place at will, many of the streets are covered with grass. This being the chief town of the Department, a few soldiers, mostly negroes, are kept on guard, in case of revolutions, which formerly were frequent in Colombia. There are at least 30 shops in the town, where you can obtain anything but strong boots, those they sell are like paper and only last a week or two. Still have a lot of clothes I brought with me. I cannot wear them in this country; they are too thick. I think this town is the dullest place I ever saw, there is not the slightest thing moving; if it rains, as it usually does in the afternoons, the whole place is flooded and one can hardly stir out, though with the hot sun in the morning it soon dries up again. The streets are either unpaved or so badly paved that you can hardly travel in the dark. There is not much for me to do about David, though I make trips about on horseback to places a few miles off across the plains. People here rise very early in the morning, many taking a sleep of two or three hours in the middle of the day. As in Guatemala, coffee and bread about 6 a.m., breakfast 10-11 a.m., dinner 4-6 p.m. Since I left England, have not once taken dinner at our old hour at home, breakfast much the same as dinner, it is like taking 2 dinners a day, shall find the change as great when I return as I did when I left, perhaps greater.

People in the country districts are now busy gathering in the rice crops; a field of rice looks something like oats, the rice after being cut is well dried in the sun, then pounded with a sort pole in a hollow log to take off the husk. I think during the last five or six months I have eaten more rice than during the whole of my life previous, did not much care for it at first, but one has to get used to it. It is boiled with a little lard and salt. Very few vegetables in these countries, a lot of soft pumpkin of many kinds, bananas, a few potatoes, but little else. I expect you sometimes wonder I do not write oftener, but when you know the reason of the difficulty of sending letters, you cannot be surprised. No news they say is good news.

With best love, must now conclude etc.

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