Tuesday 17th April 2012 (Letter 7th March 1880)

GCC feasts with a portly priest, enters the cave at Lanquín, and wishes he could take photographs (how I wish he had too)

Today’s letter sees my great grandfather George Charles Champion travelling in the company of a well-fed priest, and he expresses with a note of disapproval the quantities of food this man consumes. He also penetrates the cave at Lanquín, which I also entered with Natalia and Marvin in October 2011 (please see my Diary entry of 15th October 2011).

HOTEL ALEMAN, COBAN, ALTA VERA PAZ, GUATEMALA,
March 7th, 1880

My dear Mother,

Returned yesterday to Cobán after an absence of about a month. I wrote to you from Cajabón on the 20th or the 23rd. I left this place from Lanquín, in company with the priest, Don Luis Mejicanos, and remained with him as a guest in the convent in Lanquín till the 28th. He made me very welcome and seemed very glad of a visitor, so few Europeans going to these places; sometimes there is but little to be got to eat in these places, but what little there is I think finds its way to the priest. The Indians bring him all sorts of things as presents; he is a jolly fat priest just like what you read about and is never tired of eating even if it is only frijoles and tortillas. It seemed queer taking one’s meals with five or six nearly naked Indians standing round; on the journey of six leagues to Lanquín he took a number of Indians with him to get breakfast on the road. Lanquín is still very hot, but a little cooler than Cajabón; shall long remember the magnificent moonlight nights in these places; after the hot days it is very pleasant to rest in a hammock in the evening before going to bed, the distant mountains, the village in a hollow below, the convent, the coconut palms, and all looking so strange by moonlight. Here in Lanquín I met a young Austrian plant collector, a Mr. Klabrock, who has been eight years in these countries; together we visited the enormous cave at Lanquín, and spent some time inside, by the aid of candles, and we penetrated a long distance; it was well worth seeing; we found but little inside beyond some land crabs.

The Rio Cajabon as it emerges from the caves of Lanquin

On the 28th I took leave of the priest, and went to Chiacam, where I remained a week on a coffee estate and on March 6th returned here. My negro boy Leopoldo is very useful now, and very willing to do anything; sometimes he gets a little discontented when there is very little to be got to eat (which sometimes happens) but one can excuse this as he is growing something like Chiddles taller and taller every day. My other man, Victoriano, is not so satisfactory, but more than double the expenses, but I only keep him for a short time. I leave Cobán again in a day or two for the north, for Choctun, Cubilguitz, and shall be away several weeks, after this I return once more to San Gerónimo, till then shall probably not get any letters. The road to Cajabón, so frightfully bad when I passed a month ago, is now much better, the mud having dried up, only the rocks to pass over. It is now splendid weather in Cobán, like summer in England, almost a cloudless sky, but pleasantly cool in the evening. Some of the places recently visited were very hot and dry and once or twice I had a slight return of hay fever, but next day I was alright again, one previous slight return of it in San Gerónimo. I had it in Oct or Nov last.

Natalia near the mouth of the Lanquín cave

In Chiacam I had a bad attack of colic, owing I believe to having eaten a small slice or two of pineapple the previous day; it is a very tempting fruit but sometimes bad for the stomach in this climate, you can buy two sometimes for 3d and pick them yourself, you may guess it is hot where they grow. The cacao (cacao or chocolate) tree looks very queer, with the fruit growing out from the trunk or from the branches, there are many in Cajabón and Lanquín. The fruit eaten fresh is not bad, the pulp surrounding the nuts is very juicy. Can generally manage to get two or three sugar canes when out on my excursions. I know nothing better to quench the thirst in hot places, you can chew the inner part of the cane, it requires good teeth, that is all. For a month I have not spoken English, from trips like these it is a treat to get back to a place like Cobán; luckily I had the three last newspapers you sent with me while away, at last I took to reading the advertisements, as a rule except in wet weather, have but little time for reading. Some places in the mountains when you go to bed I was going to say, but to rest is better (for you have not always a bed to go to), you can scarcely bear a blanket (sheets I have long abandoned for travelling) but before morning you wake up shivering and want more clothing and this in places like Chiacam where it is very hot in the day. Have now been as near as possible a year in Guatemala, have been in all sorts of places hot and cold, but never for a single day out of sight of mountains, wherever you go it is mountains and excepting in a place like the plain of Salamá, have scarcely seen a place yet where you could travel more than a league on level ground, but in this part there are none higher than 6000ft, it is on the Pacific side where you find all the Volcanoes. The German hotel is very comfortable though small and very expensive. I enjoy the meals far better here than in the capital, and the people are far more sociable. I would like to get photographs of many of the places I have visited, but of course that is impossible in a country where there are no photographers except in the capital. About Cajabón, Chiacam, etc one of the commonest wild flowers is the Ageratum like we cultivate at home, in the evening the air is quite scented with the perfume, it is one of the few wild flowers with any smell. The wild Dahlia is so different from the cultivated that you would never recognize it.

A sweaty self in the Lanquín cave entrance

I enclose a few pieces of a leaf of a maiden-hair fern, not rare in some places, have tried several times to get seed from this and other ferns but have not yet succeeded in getting leaves in right condition for seed, probably from ignorance.

I now close this long rambling epistle. I expect you often think I might find something more interesting to write about; Walker would, I know, and send such a letter as this to me, but it is not in me; I wish it was.

It is getting dark and as I cannot think of anything more to tell you, must now close this.

With best love to all,
I remain dear Mother
Yours affectionately
Geo .C. Champion

Marvin emerging from the Lanquín cave

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