Sunday 20th May 2012 (Letter 3rd October 1880)

GCC decides to stay longer in Central America, samples Chinese food … and iguana

Hacienda William Nelson, San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

Las Mercedes Costa Cuca
October 3rd 1880

My dear Mother,

In his last letter, Mr. Godman said Consignment No.5 had reached them and was giving satisfaction, he says he should like me to finish the two years in Guatemala, then on my way home, to go to Chiriquí and spend six months there; if this programme is carried out, I should not arrive until the autumn of next year.

I now write to him to say that unless anything transpired to prevent it, I at present see no objection to doing as he wishes. I greatly fear you will all be disappointed when you hear this, but as regards myself, a few months more or less in these countries, is all the same but I am afraid you will not think so; of course, my reply leaves the matter in open question for the present. I wrote to you last from San Ysidro, at which place I remained a fortnight, the guest of Mr. Nelson (who was very kind to me). Unfortunately, I was unwell all the time with diarrhoea etc. I suppose the change from the cold to the hot country brought it on.

On September 30th, I started for Mercedes arriving the first day at at Retalhuleu (5 leagues); the next day came on here (10 leagues more) travelling once more over roads in horrible condition from mud, floundering about with mud up to the animals’ bellies almost in places and in a broiling sun from 6 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon… Las Mercedes is the largest coffee estate in this country (they export about 15,000 cwts annually); it belongs to the principal firm of German merchants in Guatemala, they have a very fine house, the best I have seen here, and keep a very good table; the resident partner made me very welcome, so am now in good quarters at the moment, but as usual when there is a good place to stop at, there is little to be found, so leave again on Wednesday for the hot coast region – Reposa, Caballo Blanco etc, but return again in a few weeks.

Retaluleu, Muybridge, 1875

This house of wood with its two balconies and little tower on top with the German flag flying looks like a castle in the distance. Being on a hill, there is a splendid view of the country around – the great range of mountains with the Volcanoes Almolonga, Santa Maria, Chumba and Zunil, the coast region with the line of sea for perhaps 50 miles and the innumerable coffee plantations all round, we are on the slope of the mountains 3200 feet above the sea, about 45 miles from Quetzaltenango and from the port of Champerico and in the centre of the most valuable coffee districts of the Costa Cuca. Today, Sunday, is a busy day as in many parts of Guatemala, the people working on the estate are paid on this day which is market day also. The market is held in an open space close to the house, large numbers of the Indians coming to buy and sell, you get almost all the productions of the country here on Sundays, some of the Indians coming very long distances. Coffee picking has already begun on the estate and they are very busy; they ship in December. Very fine mornings, but still wet afternoons (there is a good time coming though); by the end of this month, the rains will probably get less and less till December when they will probably be over till May. The evenings and early mornings quite cool and pleasant and it gets hotter and hotter till perhaps two or three in the afternoon; then comes the rain often with fearful thunderstorms such as I have never witnessed in England, by five or six it is all over, then comes a very fine evening; we see the sun set on the Pacific Ocean – a splendid sight indeed on a clear evening.

A view of the volcanoes from off Champerico, Muybridge, 1875

The afternoon rain makes it very difficult for me to work out of doors, constantly changing my clothes sometimes almost envy the nearly naked Indians who have so few clothes to get wet, and no bother about boots, going barefoot. My belongings are now scattered all over the country, some here and some there, want to send off another box to Mr. Godman, but it is impossible at present, can scarcely carry enough with me to rub on. In Retalhuleu, I passed the night in a hotel kept by 3 Chinamen, I must say they know how to cook; this is a very hot place (less than 1000 feet elevation, and tropical in appearance, coconuts and palm trees all over the place, I never saw so many in one place here before. Amongst the queer things one eats in this country is lizard (iguana); it is not bad, like a mixture of fish and fowl; here for the first time in Guatemala, have eaten supper, elsewhere never anything but coffee (rarely tea or chocolate), and bread if any in the morning and evening, but a good breakfast and good dinner, about 5 o’clock, though mutton is not scarce in these parts, seldom if ever get any, it is always beef; mutton is looked on as food only fit for Indians. I know not why, it is very tough, it is true. Never fruit pies or puddings, it is usually in these better houses, dulce – that is fruit, peaches, apples, bananas etc., boiled in syrup and served up cold, sometimes custards or rice puddings. I tell you these things, as I know you are interested in cookery matters, eat rice too a good deal with meat. It must be six months or more since I drank beer.

San Isidro, Muybridge, 1875

This letter will not leave the capital till the 15th but am obliged to write now to be sure of catching it. If Mr.Godman sends out another box there is nothing I want at present except a waterproof coat.

With best love to all,
Believe me etc.

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