Monday 7th May 2012 (Letter 20th May 1880)

GCC reaches the tropical lowlands, suffers in the tropical heat, and observes insects in natives’ hair!

Today’s letter details my great grandfather entomologist G C Champion’s intrepid journey down the Polochic valley towards the Lago de Izabal (which he later reached). As usual, he appears to complain a good deal, but considering how he had to rough it, travelling by mule and sleeping in very unhygienic quarters, this is perhaps justifiable. I did not reach this valley on my recent visit – it will be high on my list if I reach Guatemala again.

A Howler Monkey near the Lago de Izabal

May 20th, 1880

My dear Mother,

I take the advantage of a friend leaving for the United States and give him a letter to post on his way in Belize; from here you can only send letters by the very roundabout way of Cobán & Guatemala. Am only two or three days by water here from the Atlantic Ocean; it is one day to Yzabal and another two days to Lívingston. I left La Hamaca on the 12th for Telemán where I remained till the 18th, then came on here.

For the last 3 weeks I have been in places excessively hot, in fact so hot at midday that one is obliged to rest for a few hours, and unless rain in night, which in this place at end of the dry season is usually the case, it gets hotter and hotter till you are almost stifled, then comes a heavy thunder storm with a great deal of sheet lightning, and this cools the air till morning – you cannot sleep.

In Telemán, a little Indian village, I could not sleep from mosquitoes, here also the mosquitoes are a plague, though as yet not many indoors. You cannot stir without getting wringing wet with perspiration, my clothes fall to pieces and wear out in no time from this cause; knives, keys, etc. all get very rusty.

This place is very little above the level of the sea, not very far from the Lake of Yzabal and at the mouth, so to speak, of the long Polochic Valley; higher up the mountain ranges come in closer, here they are rather distant. This is by far the most tropical country I have yet seen, would like to transport Father here for a short time (though I expect he would soon want to leave for the heat and mosquitoes) to see the palms; the forest is full of them, the long leaves arch over the road, making a pleasant shade, they are like enormous shuttlecocks and are worth a journey to see; here in Panzós, there are a few coconut also. In the forest, there are trees of enormous height, they grow right above all the palms etc. without sending out a single branch, from 60-80 feet, they begin to send out branches; in forest also many acacia trees, on the ground Lycopodiums and sensitive plants. Here you hear howling monkeys (but they always keep out of sight). This, with the chattering of the small parro toucans and other birds lets you know you are in the Tropics.

Panzós is but a small village, but one fares a little better, though it is usually eggs, tortillas, and frijoles for every meal, sometimes a little meat, but meat we should not care for at home, and bread. However, a decent bed here, the first for the last five weeks.

In these places, ants swarm in the houses, and indeed, everywhere, so that unless people are careful, they get in everything, have no end of trouble to keep them away from my collection, scorpions also, and many other objectionable creatures. The Tropics are all very well, but unless you can live as the better class live in the West Indies, a little more comfortably, one is far better off in England. The natives here are very fond, especially on Sundays, of doing a little insect collecting in one another’s heads, feet etc. and often when you are eating. If this does not spoil your appetite, I don’t know what will.

Having now been so long in Vera Paz, I seem to know a great many people; wherever I go, am almost sure to meet somebody except in very out-of-the-way places. The coast road passing through the entire length of the Polochic Valley, there are constantly people passing up and down.

All being well, I leave in a few days for Senahú, San Juan etc, working back slowly to San Gerónimo; would like to make a trip down to the lake, but don’t think I shall be able to do so. Have made an attempt to get my letters from San Gerónimo, but until I return some time in June, it is doubtful whether I shall get them. Till then must wait, I am afraid.

I hope all is going well at home and that you are all well.
You are now looking forward to summer, here we are expecting the rainy or winter season; last June I spent very miserably in Dueñas, hope to spend this better.

Must now bring this to a close, my friend is waiting for the letter. With very best love to all,

I remain etc.

The Bocas del Polochic reserve

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