Tuesday 27th March 2012 (Letter 21st October 1879)

GCC sleeps in very primitive quarters, and eats snails

This latest letter sent by my great grandfather George Charles Champion covers his journeys from San Gerónimo to Purulá and Panimá, and describes his food and living quarters in these very isolated, primitive areas.

The Panima River

October 21, 1879

My dear Mother,

While here in San Gerónimo, I can manage to write once a fortnight; you will be glad, no doubt, to get a letter as often as possible. I received your letter of August 30th on October 15th while at Panimá. I left on October 2nd, as I told you in my last letter I intended doing, returning again October 17th, was away 16 days in all, I intended going on to San Miguel, Turucú, but what with bad weather, my clothes giving out, and my man unwell, was obliged to abandon this part of the trip. I first went to Purulá, 8 leagues distant; stopped here a few days, hoping to get less rain, but was obliged to give it up, then on to Sabo, two days here, then finally to Panimá, where I remained nine days. In Purulá, it is very cold early in the morning; it is a place high up in the mountains and at this time of the year, you live as it were in the clouds. Sabo is warmer, lower down and is a clearing in the forest on the mountain-slopes, splendid views from this place, range after range of mountains, and the atmosphere is so clear in the tropics that you can see places clearly at very great distances; there is not the haze we have in the north in England. As I could get nothing to eat but tortillas and snails (something like periwinkles) and a wretched place to sleep in, I soon had enough of it and went on to Panimá.

This latter place is but 1600 ft above the sea, and is by far the hottest place I have yet stayed at, the port of San José excepted. For the place, I got fairly good quarters and lived pretty well on tortillas, fowls, eggs, frijoles and coffee; of course the sleeping accommodation was rather primitive; the house consisted of but one room, partially open all round the sides, a hole for a door, no windows of course; you lived as though in the open air. It was very hot in this place, I believe the heat was over 80 the whole time day and night; the humidity of these places is very great, you can keep nothing dry long together. I was however very well all the time, stood the climate far better than my man, Dubón. I hope to make other similar trips to Tocoy, Rabinal, Cachil etc making the place my headquarters; later on I go to Cobán and other parts of Alta Vera Paz, the Polochic Valley from Tactic downwards. Mr. Morgans arrived here during my absence. He has been exceedingly kind to me and says I am to make this place my home for as long as I like; he will not accept the least remuneration from me, am afraid I shall not work so well for Salvin while he is here, one gets talking instead of working; a good bed, good food and dry house are not easy things to find in Guatemala. Mr. Salvin has at last received two consignments from me; they arrived safely, only very many of the insects were mouldy. He seems very pleased with them, so far that is satisfactory. He has placed another £100 to my credit at the Bank.

Money goes fast enough in the Capital, but here my expenses are very little, in Panimá for 9 days for two of us with two animals also to feed, my entire expenses (I had consumed five fowls in the time) were 20 reales, 10/-. It is a great nuisance not having all my luggage with me, am constantly wanting various things now in Guatemala, but the roads are so bad you are obliged leave heavy things behind, boots go in no time, have not a decent pair to my feet at present. I think I can however get some in Salamá – you can get nothing in the village here. You have evidently had it very wet in England this summer, but not wetter than in Guatemala; we have had rain nearly every day since the latter part of May.

I would have liked father to have seen the tree ferns at Sabo, the forest was full of them, many fifteen feet high; in Panima there were 3 species of flowering begonias, Lycopodiums, many ferns, several palms etc; also coffee, sugar cane, rice, maize, cacao, bananas, oranges, lemons, limes etc – but no vegetables.
Monkeys and other animals also occur in this valley but I have not seen any so far.

No green books, they have gone astray evidently. I received 3 papers with last letter. Mr Morgans receives lots of Bristol and London papers, so get plenty to read.

I do not get on so well in learning Spanish now I have English companions to talk to. I manage at present somehow or other to make people understand me, of course on my last trip it was all Spanish.
Must close this now, cannot think of anything more to tell you.

With best love to all
Believe me,

An extraordinary ant photographed at Chilasco, not far from Purula

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