Tuesday 24th April 2012 (Letter 19th March 1880)

GCC’s mule has an accident and he nearly starves

Today’s letter, sent from the Finca Cubilguitz, details my great grandfather’s northernmost venture during his two years of insect-collecting in Guatemala, and he recounts (as usual in understated words) how his mule cut its legs badly when trying to ford the Rio Satchichá, a mishap that was to cause him considerable hardship and difficulty in the months to come. I think it is a tribute to the man that instead of killing the mule and eating it (and he was after all very short of food), he gave it a holiday and nursed it back to fitness.

I too had the opportunity to visit the Finca Cubilguitz, thanks to my friends the Cahill family and to a direct descendent of the family who bought it from the then owner, Herr Reuter, Seth Hempstead, who most kindly arranged for us to stay overnight in the accommodation block of this now sadly crumbling but once prosperous farm. Please see my diary entry of Sunday 2nd October 2011 for a description of my visit and my findings in the Cubilguitz area.

Looking towards the dilapidated barn at Cubilguitz

near Dolores
Alta Vera Paz
March 19th 1880

My dear Mother,

I received your letter of January 31st yesterday after it had been re-directed three times. I scarcely hoped to get letters here so was agreeably surprised. I heard from Mr. Salvin also and am sorry to say that the consignment sent in October last has not yet arrived and then there is reason to fear the box has been lost on the road. I hope not as it contains the result of very much labour. I left Cobán on March 9th with a German – a Herr Reuter – for this place, nine leagues on the Petén road, and am staying on his ranch, but he is the dullest and most unsociable fellow I ever met with; here at times, you learn what it is to be hungry, and have nothing to eat! I like Cubilquitz very much, though one has to rough it in a way you can scarcely imagine; it is all mountain and forest, very hot, as in Cajabón, but one gets used to that.

Some buildings in disrepair at Cubilguitz

Coming here from Cobán, had a bad accident with my mule in fording the river Satchichá – she cut one of her hind legs very badly on the rocks and I am afraid will be unfit for work for some time; this leaves me in a fix; I want to get back to San Gerónimo in a few days, may hire an animal in Cobán, here there are none to be obtained. My boy Leopoldo is very useful, in fact I don’t know what I should do without him; he cooks for me as well when I have any eggs or plantains to cook. It is cool towards sunrise, but in the middle of the day it is excessively hot. I sleep in my hammock here, luckily there are no mosquitoes.

The Rio Satchicha, in which GCC's mule cut its legs

You must have had a wretched winter in England – what a difference to Guatemala, here now we have very fine weather indeed, so hot that I am always glad of a bath when near a stream.

March 20th. I am starting today to return to Cobán, but owing to the mule being unfit to mount, cannot go in one day, only go to Satchichá today, the road being very bad indeed, the rocks are so numerous that they are difficult to walk over on foot, let alone mounted. I would have liked to have gone on to Las Salinas or Petén even on foot, but there are at present too many difficulties in the way, so turn to San Gerónimo where I am afraid from what I heard that I shall not find things as comfortable as before; Mr. Morgans is leaving on the 22nd for England and Mr. Hutchison is also going to Belize. There are several strangers now in the hacienda, still I know the principals very well. The Frenchman M. Blancaneaux, whom I met in Guatemala etc left some time ago for Belize, but before he went he forgot to pay many debts, he came here once to Cubilguitz and as usual borrowed money.

The Rio Dolores, the barrier preventing the now mule-less GCC from travelling further north

A jaguar was seen more than once near this house a few weeks before I came but he has not again put in an appearance, they come after the young calves. I have found about a dozen species of swallowtail butterflies here, some very beautiful, but beyond these have not been very successful in Cubilguitz. We are almost by ourselves here – there is not a town or village nearer than Cobán, here and there a few scattered ranchos of the Indians, that is all. This is but a forest clearing, wherever we look, we see forest, the mountains also are covered with this perpetual green, shall not like San Gerónimo where now everything is dried up by the sun and but little green is to be seen, but I want to send more to Mr. Godman for my first ten months work they have, up to June 30th only received two boxes, though I have sent four.

My friends and guides Rob and John Cahill by the Rio Dolores

My boy now is busy frying plantains (cut in slices and fried in pig grease); this and tortillas make my breakfast today. The plantains I like very much in this country, they are very cheap and very good.

March 21st. Arrived once more in Cobán, left Cubilguitz yesterday morning, walking to Satchichá (12 miles) where I passed the night. This morning we left early and arrived about 1.30 p.m., the whole journey of 27 miles is through woods and forests. I should not like to hazard a guess at the number of hills and mountains that have to be crossed on the road, the whole time you are going up and down. Here in Cobán it is 3000 feet higher and quite cool, after Cubilguitz. I hope to get back to San Gerónimo, about 30 miles distant, in a few days, that is if I can find an animal, have indoor occupation for several weeks, the result of two months wandering. The natives are busy now getting ready for the “Semana Santa”, or Holy Week; it commences in a few days, very few people will work during this time.

When I return to San Gerónimo I shall send Mr. Godman my account of expenditure etc, for the first year completed on March 15th. I hope when everything is reckoned up that there will be £200- £250 to my good, it will be well earned, I can tell you, though I must say they will have very little to look at for their money, especially if the 3rd consignment is lost; but they chose Guatemala not I, there are many countries where with the same or less labour you would get ten times as much.

With best love to all, Believe me etc.

Vanilla pods drying near the Rio Dolores

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *