Wednesday 24th April 2012 (Letter 5th May 1880)

The disreputable-looking GCC’s horse is strangled in the Polochic Valley!

Today’s letter concerns a dramatic accident involving a horse that GCC had borrowed (sadly it seems that Leopoldo, his servant-to-be for the coming three years, was at least partly to blame). He states that the cost of his recent accidents would be 220…but I am not sure what currency he is referring to here. Clearly it would have been a substantial sum though.

Sadly I was unable to visit the Polochic Valley during my recent travels in Guatemala, due both to the security situation and to floods that had washed out many of the bridges – I wonder whether the iron bridge built by the Germans he was staying with in La Hamaca still stands today.

LA HAMACA,
POLOCHIC VALLEY,
GUATEMALA

5th May, 1880

My dear Mother,

I had no opportunity of writing by last mail; this letter I give to a friend to post in Cobán. I left San Gerónimo with my boy Leopoldo on April 13th, and very likely may not return till later part of June, till then shall probably not get any home letters. Have had rather a rough time of it lately, stopping in most wretched places – spent my birthday in Sabo, but rather miserably, was a little sick, had not much to eat beyond bananas and tortillas, and the day before had a very heavy pecuniary loss. The horse I borrowed (my mule still being unfit for the road) managed to strangle itself in the night with a lasso, and was found dead in the morning, this was partly through the carelessness of my boy; of course, I shall have to pay for it. I spent several days in Purulá, Panimá, and Sabo, then came on here, where I shall probably remain for a week or two, then go on to Senahú and Panzós. In Senahú and Sabo it is comparatively fresh, and cool, both places being high in the mountains, but in Panimá and here, the heat is fearful. I am staying with two Germans, who are engaged in putting up a new iron bridge over the Polochic River; more to eat here, but the accommodation is of the roughest, but they make me welcome. Being so long in Vera Cruz, I now know nearly everybody, so am not a stranger. It is now the height of the dry season (or summer). Very soon the rains will commence, in a few weeks, I expect, already we have had heavy showers in the nights; it will then get a little cooler, but at the same time here in the low country, more unhealthy. In some of these hot places (like Panimá), the noise of the insects is almost deafening, day and night, noise enough to give me a headache. Fireflies are common now in these hot places and are very beautiful objects, with their two green lights.

I keep my health well enough, so far, but lose a great deal of sleep; in Purulá, could not sleep for the cold, here it is the reverse. Am writing now on a bench outside the rancho, tables, windows, chairs etc. have yet to be introduced in these places. In Panimá, the people go about as it were in their shirts (just as if they had forgotten to dress themselves). I find shirttails outside instead of in is a comfortable arrangement for the Tropics. Altogether just now, I look so disreputable, that I think if I were to meet any English friends, they would not care to recognise me, but in these out of the way places, what does it matter? It is only 30 miles from here to Panzós, whence all the coffee of Vera Paz is shipped in small boats to Lívingston, the Atlantic Port for Europe and the United States. Daily, mules, carts and Indians pass carrying coffee for Panzós; I suppose when I return, shall come by Panzós, it is so much nearer, and without the long detour of San José, and Panama, in a week at the outside you can go from here to Belize.

Had to send to San Gerónimo to hire yet another horse – this morning, both are missing, they have got away in the night, constant worry and trouble with the animals. My recent accidents will cost about 220 and by my agreement, all this will have to come out of my pocket. Leopoldo is a good boy, but he is rather thoughtless, perhaps because I let him have his own way a little too much, but if I discharge him (as most people would) shall probably not get another as good. Most servants have a rough time of it in Guatemala. People as a rule treat them almost as slaves; for a man-servant, you have bother with the authorities in getting permission for every trip, all the men have to attend drill etc. on Sundays (military service being compulsory in this country) and if absent without leave, when the list is called over, are severely punished afterwards; a foreigner has far more freedom than a native in Guatemala.

Must close now with very best love,
I remain etc.

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