Tuesday 3rd July 2012 (Letter 25th April 1881)

GCC retraces his own sea route on the Pacific Mail steamer “Costa Rica”, and arrives in the western Panamanian town of David

Today’s short letter describes my great grandfather entomologist George Charles Champion’s journey by sea from the capital, Panama City, to David, in the far west of the country, and which he had passed by offshore only a few days before, the steamer not being scheduled to make a stop there. He mentions the extreme difficulty of travel between the capital and David, the only alternative to the virtually impracticable land route being the irregular shipping along the coast.

I too visited this area recently; please see my diary entries for December 2011 and early January 2012.

Sunrise on the shore in Chiriqui

April 25th 1881

My dear Mother,

A few lines with a letter to Mr. Salvin, to tell you that I arrived here all safe on the 22nd. We left Panama on the afternoon of the 20th and in two days arrived at the port of David, 3 miles from the town; very smooth and pleasant passage, the first day over the very same route just passed over in the ‘Costa Rica’.

There had not been any communication with Panama for about a month so when we arrived there were quite a number of people waiting to meet friends, the captain of the steamer as we passed up the narrow river-like entrance to the port firing a small cannon to let the people know in the town 3 (?) miles away that we were coming. We were about 6 passengers, about half of them, myself included, travelled up to the town in a small cart escorted by 20 or 30 people on horseback.

David is quite a large town and the capital of the department of Chiriquí, but a more dead and alive place I certainly have never seen; it is on a large plain, very low houses, only a few with an upper floor, and except in the main part, the roads are covered with grass, the houses extending right out on to the plain, where there are vast numbers of cattle, the animals grazing in the streets themselves. The heat is fearful, you are obliged to use an umbrella for the sun at midday, no shade scarcely, only a few coconut and mango trees. Cattle is the principal business; every man, woman and child in the place seems to have a horse, except for the richer class, all are barefoot. Horses are cheap, so I shall buy two, and in a few days at most, start off to the coffee plantations on the mountain slope where it is much cooler.

We are 300 miles from Panama, but we might as well be 3000, communication is so uncertain, depending entirely upon departure of a cattle steamer, or sailing vessel for Panama, shall be worse off than in Guatemala in sending and receiving letters.

The people, food, dress and everything are utterly different to Guatemala, only the language is the same; instead of black beans, it is rice in Chiriquí.

Address: David, Chiriquí, Panama, care of British Consul; have arranged with him to forward and receive my letters; there is an English post office in Panama, the Colombians not troubling themselves much about postal matters.

Living in hopes of hearing from you again one of these days and hoping you are all well and flourishing.

With best love,
I remain,

Sunset on the Pacific coast in Chiriqui

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