Sunday 15th April 2012 (Letter 19th February 1880)

GCC travels through deep mud to Cajabon, and consorts with a priest

This letter details a visit that George Charles Champion made from the very rainy highland town of Cobán, eastwards to the village of Cajabon, situated in a depression in the hills, and known to be very hot and windless. His first stop was at Chiacam, a finca that still exists, but which I was unable to reach during my recent time in Guatemala. From here he travelled on downwards, stopping at Lanquin before making his final push towards his destination. I did reach Lanquin, but left GCC’s trail there, venturing instead to the wonderful series of pools at Semuc Champey instead. For details of my visit, please see diary entry of Sturday 15th October 2011.

The hills close to Chiacam, where GCC spent a night on his way to Cajabon


February 19th 1880

My dear Mother,

I received your letter of January 1st on February 7th, while in Cobán, it having been brought to me by a friend from Salamá; only the day before – that is on the 6th – I wrote to you via Belize; have also received the three newspapers for which I was very glad.

I was very glad to hear that Walker had been to see you; he spoke about it in his letter and said he spent one or two hours very pleasantly with you. Now as to my own doings, I have perhaps a little to tell you. I left Cobán on February 10th after a detention of four days waiting for it to leave off raining. By the time I left the house, you could scarcely stir out of the house for the mud. I was only too glad to get out of it and arrived in Cajabon on the evening of the 12th; though only about 18 leagues from Cobán, it took three days to get here. I thought I had seen roads in this country as bad as they could possibly be, but compared with the road to Cajabon they were very good, mud at times up to the bellies of the animals, narrow places in the forest where the road was only about a foot wide, slippery rocks, in parts the road as steep as a flight of stairs where it was absolutely impossible to pass except on foot – I can tell you it was hard work getting here. For this reason, very few Europeans get to Cajabon, which is certainly one of the queerest places I have yet visited in Guatemala. The first day’s journey from Cobán was to Chiacam, travelling all day through tortuous valleys between mountains, the second day we got to Lanquin and on the third to Cajabon; the last day’s journey was not quite so fatiguing, the road being a little more level, and passing alongside of the River Cajabon for many miles, but scarcely a quarter of a mile of level road for the whole journey. I brought with me my boy Leopoldo, who suits me very well, and a man from Cobán just for this trip.

I am staying here with the priest – the only decent house in the place. Cajabon is a good sized Indian village, the houses of mud and sticks all on little hills or slopes, there is scarcely a level piece of ground in the place excepting the plaza on one side of which is an enormous church in a very ruined condition. The natives go about as near as possible naked and I don’t wonder at it, for it is as hot in the daytime as the nether regions; at night however it is cool, the climate of this part of Alta Vera Paz being excessively humid. We are only 800 feet above sea level, coconuts grow well, also cacao, bananas, pineapples, sugar, coffee, cotton, etc.

But the Indians don’t care to work much and plant only maize, at one time they were averse to strangers, and killed all that came, now they are very different, very timid. The women, instead of wearing the enormous red pigtails as in Cobán, do their hair chignon fashion but on the top of the head and look queer objects, many go about in the boiling sun quite bareheaded and seldom if ever wear a hat.

The priest has been here for years and seems to get on very well with them. But I should think he must find it dull at times, especially as they do not speak Spanish. Eatables are very scarce in Cajabon, it is eggs, frijoles, tortillas for every meal, rarely a little fish, meat or bread, no vegetables or milk, of course coffee. I don’t suppose I shall get further into the interior of Guatemala than Cajabon, am only a few days from Peten, but I see nothing at present to tempt me hence. Shall probably return in a few weeks to Cobán and then make another trip. Am getting very little for Mr. Godman just now but it cannot be helped. The priest seems glad to have a visitor though we cannot talk very much; he has never been out of Guatemala.

With best love to all.

The Rio Cajabon, not far from Lanquin

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