Monday 22nd August 2011

January 4th 1881,

“My dear Mother,

On my return to the capital on the 2nd, I found yours of Nov. 15th awaiting me. Another Christmas has come and gone, I must say I spent mine rather dismally, was rather unwell and was with Spanish speaking, unsociable, people, and what with the heat was glad to rest in a hammock the greater part of the day, and read. Christmas is not thought much of by people here; Good Friday, and some other days they observe much more, but except in the towns, weekdays and Sundays are much the same.

Left Las Nubes finally on December 14th for San Agustín, a coffee estate on the slope of the Volcan Atitlán – a very hot, dry place, remained till Boxing Day, then went up into the mountains to a cooler place and spent about a week at San Lucas and Panajachel (Indian villages) and in Godines (7000 feet); magnificent scenery here – the Lake of Atitlán, surrounded by lofty mountains (including the volcanoes), very hot in the day, and equally cold in the night – but all too dry and dusty for my work. The lake seen at sunrise and sunset was well worth a long journey to see; had occasion to cross in an Indian canoe, starting long before daylight, and the sun rose while I was crossing; in daytime in dry season, the mountains look too brown and colourless, they are best seen at sunrise or sunset.”

Orange-striped Eighty-eight, Diaethria pandama

So described my great grandfather George his experience of Lake Atitlán…..and although we did not have the occasion to cross the lake today in an Indian canoe, we did take a full day’s tour by fast launch around the lake, stopping in the lakeside villages of San Marcos La Laguna, San Pedro La Laguna, Santiago Atitlán and San Antonio Palopó, where a most colossal rainstorm broke out, almost preventing our return to Panajachel.

Orange-spotted Skipper, Atarnes sallei

It is interesting how GCC experienced the lake region as being arid; at this season it seems green and lush, whereas he must have seen it at the height of the dry season.

Whatever season it is seen in, Lake Atitlán is undoubtedly, as George says, well worth a long journey to see – and not just at sunrise and sunset.

Lake Atitlan from Panajachel

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Sunday 21st August 2011

Reserva Natural Atitlan, Panajachel

This morning we took a tuk-tuk for the short drive out of the town of Panajachel to the nature reserve on the western outskirts, at first admiring the splendid views of Lake Atitlan, but as we came round one corner, we were suddenly greeted by the sight of an enormous green concrete hotel towering above the trees on the shore. One can only hope that no more similar buildings will be allowed to defile the beauties of this unique lake.

After a slight panic as we both found that we had failed to bring sufficient cash to pay for entry into the reserve, we were relieved to find that Visa cards were accepted – and luckily Jacqueline had brought hers along. We asked at the reception desk for permission to use the butterfly net for identification purposes, which prompted a phone call to the owner of the reserve, with whom I then had a long conversation. He was totally enthusiastic about my journey in the footsteps of my great grandfather, and we have agreed to meet on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of designing some interpretation boards within the reserve describing the journeys of GCC in Guatemala. This sounds an excellent plan!

Waterfall in the Reserva Natural

We then walked the trails in this extremely well laid out reserve, which is a former coffee plantation that is now being allowed to revert to forest. Our route took us over bridges suspended over gorges, past a cascading waterfall and along some canopy walkways. At one point I thought I had spotted a huge bird sailing above the trees, but it turned out to be an adventurous tourist speeding across the sky suspended from a zip-line!

Mexican Yellow, Eurema mexicana

There were not huge numbers of butterflies within the forest itself, but in the open areas near the entrance we were able to add a number of interesting species to the list…..as well as having one of the rescued spider monkeys that live here jump onto our table at lunch, lick the plate on which we had had nachos and melted cheese, and knock over the milk which was intended to go in my coffee!

Mexican Dartwhite, Catasticta nimbice

I have just looked at my great grandfather’s diary, and I see that he visited this very spot, then known as the Finca Buenaventura, on Wednesday 29th December, 1880. I think he would be pleased to know that so much of the forest cover here is still intact, and that concerned people are working hard to conserve, and even increase it.

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Saturday 20th August 2011

Antigua – Panajachel

Today it was time to bid our farewells to the charming town of Antigua, and to follow my great grandfather’s route (in reverse) across the high country to the jewel of Guatemala, Lake Atitlán. Our route took us through a number of places where GCC stayed in 1880, including Chimaltenango, Patzicía and Patzún, all of which must have grown beyond recognition in the 140 or so years since he passed through on his mule. There were hardly any old buildings to be seen, so although it was interesting to see these highland, indigenous towns, we did not feel an immediate bond with George Charles as we travelled through.

We took a back route, known as La Culebrita (the little snake) as it twists and turns so much, through at times spectacular mountain scenery, which we were pleased to see is still quite well forested with pine and oak – indeed I observed a group of Acorn Woodpeckers boring acorns into the bark of a huge tree, at equally spaced intervals, for later use, much as squirrels hoard nuts.

Oh dear, what's happened to the road?

Finally we came to the small village and road junction of Godinez, also frequented by GCC but sadly lacking today in traces of his era, although we did see some beetles that he would have been able to identify at once, and then we had our first glimpses of the wonderful Lago de Atitlán, nestled almost like an inland Norwegian fjord in a basin between the volcanoes.

GCC's dream come true

Our route brought us down to the lakeside town (and tourist mecca) of Panajachel, where we checked into our hotel for the next four nights, before venturing along the shores a little further to the attractive little village of Santa Catarina Palopó, from where we enjoyed splendid views along the lake. Our stay here looks promising!

Lake Atitlan