Tuesday 23rd August 2011

First real trace of GCC!

Today we headed back along the shores of Lake Atitlán towards the Reserva Natural. From the entrance we walked back along the access road, and it was not long before we found ourselves butterfly-watching in front of a row of small cabins. Seeing us behaving strangely (wielding a butterfly net and crouching on the ground in order to photograph insects are not usual activities here!), an American lady came out of one of the cabins, curious to know what we were up to.

I explained our story, and the fact that my great grandfather had been here in December 1880….and by chance I added the fact that he had slept overnight in a flour mill. The husband suddenly announced that there was a large, derelict mill a few hundred yards behind the cabins, hidden by trees.

He led us into the vegetation along a barely perceptible path, and pointed us in the right direction. Sure enough, after ploughing through the undergrowth for a short while, there before us was the mill building itself, complete with mill stones and the hop down which the grain would have fallen. The building appeared to have been abandoned relatively recently; I leant in to photograph the interior through the metal bars. So here, for the first time, we had found a PRECISE location visited by George – it was a strange feeling indeed to feel we were so close to him.

The mill, nestling beneath the forested hill

The mill interior - did George climb these stairs to sleep?

We are off tomorrow to the Finca Las Nubes, another location where GCC definitely stayed…..there will be much to tell when we return from there. As there is no internet access at Las Nubes, I shall be out of communication for a while.

Golden-banded Dartwhite, Catasticta teutila

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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.