Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico/Chapter 1








Leave the capital for the coast of Acapulco.—Arrive at the hacienda of Cermina.—Disasters on the journey.

21st April, 1825. The Mexican treaty having been negotiated by the plenipotentiaries, Mr. Morier and Mr. Ward, I set off for the new republic of Guatemala, for the purpose of reporting on the state of affairs in that country. The Mexican government, which had hitherto shewn so much jealousy towards Guatemala, had now come to an amicable understanding with her, which had been brought about chiefly through the skill and attention of my esteemed friend Don Juan de Dios Mayorga, minister from the Central Republic at Mexico. Accordingly, I was informed by Mr. Alaman[1], on asking for my passport, that an embassy was about to depart in a few weeks from his government. He suggested to me whether it would not be better for me to wait a little longer, to enable me to accompany it. Having heard that the Tartar frigate, Captain Brown, was at Acapulco, I resolved not to follow Mr. Alaman's advice. Captain Brown having been applied to with a request that he would take me to some port in Guatemala, he returned for answer that he was going up to San Blas, and should, in about the middle of April, put into Acapulco, from whence he would convey me, in case I should happen to be there, but that the nature of his instructions would not allow him to detain the vessel in that harbour. After some consultation, it was agreed that another letter should be sent by express, pointing out to Captain Brown the urgency of the case, and thus, without waiting for his reply, I prepared to make all the arrangements for my immediate departure; and on Thursday the 21st of April, at five o'clock in the evening, left San Cosme.

My equipage consisted of ten baggage mules, besides two for my servants; one sumpter mule for myself, and three horses, with an escort of ten soldiers. I had made inquiries, some days previous, for any persons who might be likely to be going the same journey, and discovered, to my satisfaction, that a merchant, Don Mateo O—, who was trading alternately between Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia, was about setting off to Acapulco. He joined me just as I was starting, and putting into my hands two papers of gold, each containing eighty doubloon pieces, requested me to lock them in my desk, as he expressed it, for greater security. There was no room for them there, and he therefore put them, with my permission, into a carpet bag, which was the only part of the luggage which was not already packed; and this, together with the money I took for my own occasions, was tied up by one of the muleteers in an estera, or mat of the country. I had just mounted my horse and was starting, when Mr. Mayorga, the Guatemalian minister, arrived to take leave of me. He also informed me that it was his intention to accompany me part of the journey, and that he had sent on his baggage for that purpose. I, of course, entered the carriage which he had provided; a large clumsy machine, drawn by eight mules. I found in it also my particular friend, Don Domingo Saviñon, secretary of the Colombian legation at Mexico.

When we had passed the garita, or gate of the city, it was observed that Mr. Mayorga's baggage had not passed through it, and we turned back to see if it had gone out by another gate, which also led to San Agustin, the place where we proposed to sleep that night. After sitting some time in the carriage at this gate, Mr. Mayorga mounted one of my horses and set off to ascertain whether his retinue might not have passed by another route. A full hour having elapsed without our seeing any thing of him, and it being nearly dark, my companion, Don Domingo Saviñon, and myself, began to be apprehensive that something untoward had occurred. We were too right in our conjectures, for when it was about half-past seven o'clock, we discovered that Mr. Mayorga had been attacked in his way through the suburbs by two armed robbers, one on horseback, the other on foot, who took from him my horse with all its accoutrements, and stripped him not only of his money, but of the greatest part of the cloaths he had on. It was now agreed, as it was absolutely necessary, that he should return to equip himself. He took the whole affair most good-humouredly, for he is a remarkably gentle kind hearted man; but we could not help laughing immoderately, there was something so ridiculous in the whole affair. It was now night, and Mr. Saviñon having had the kindness to purchase for me a new saddle and horse furniture to replace what I had thus lost, we left the garita about ten o'clock, with another escort of ten men, which I had provided for this dangerous journey,—the original escort having proceeded with the baggage.

We arrived at San Agustin about one o'clock in the morning: it was quite dark. We were set down at the gate of an old inn which was now occupied as a barrack, and the court yard was thickly strewed with soldiers sleeping in their cloaths and accoutrements, in the open air. We retreated to a smaller house, where, although there was less accommodation, there were fewer visitors to partake of it. I went up a ladder into a room where I found both my servants fast asleep. I had eaten nothing since two o'clock on that day, and was much fatigued and exhausted by the anxieties I had gone through, but I had some still greater and more vexatious yet to encounter. I partook of a leg of cold fowl, which Mr. Mayorga's servant had brought with him ready cooked, and some cold brandy and water, the only liquor which we could get at, whilst our beds were being arranged in the little apartment which this house afforded.

The bag which contained the doubloons was placed under the head of Ignacio, my valet, a smart active young man, and as honest, I believe, as most of the Mexican servants. It had a snap-spring lock, which closed of itself by pressure, but opened with a key. When I had unlocked it, he took out of it my sleeping-gown and night-cap, and one of the papers of doubloons fell, unexpectedly, upon the floor; but with all our search, the other paper, amounting to nearly £300 sterling, was not forthcoming, neither could I ever ascertain what had become of it. I was sorely vexed at the circumstance; but as I had made many objections, in the first instance, to take the money amongst my luggage, and only consented to do so under a strict injunction to my unfortunate fellow traveller not to let the bag which contained it out of his own sight, I did not feel myself bound in any way to make good to him the loss. This, I must say, he bore with great fortitude and resignation. He was a jocose and pleasant, and also a well informed, companion, but, at times, the recollection of his misfortune did not fail to press heavily upon us in our journey, which had thus so disastrously commenced.

The next morning, the 22d, was clear and fine. We set off at eight o'clock, and began immediately to ascend out of the Mexican plain. The road for about five leagues was very rough, all along the side of the mountain of Ajusco, which forms so beautiful an object from San Cosme. We passed over the remains of a fine stone road, leading to the hacienda of the late Don Miguel de Borda, who was one of the grandees of Mexico in the commencement of its greatest pitch of prosperity; he was extremely rich, but died about fifty years ago, and I could not recollect having heard, in the capital, any vestiges of his family. The road, which is decaying fast under the repeated effects of the mountain torrents, will keep his memory alive as long as any portion of it exists: had it not been for its relics, neither I nor any of my readers would have heard any thing of the once opulent and magnificent Borda.

We arrived at Cuernavaca about six o'clock in the evening, after passing, for the last three leagues, through one of the most beautiful countries that can be imagined. At this distance from the town there was encamped a requia, or drove of mules, to the number of 140 or more, conveying China goods to Mexico from the South Sea. The beauty and splendour of these articles, consisting chiefly of crapes, and the richest silk velvets of the most extraordinary and beautiful patterns, together with gold and silver embroidered muslins and worked silk counterpanes, can hardly be conceived. I have never seen such things from the China market introduced into Europe; they fetch a good price in Mexico, but it is necessary to bargain with the merchants who deal in them, for I have known them to take one third of what they originally might ask. The town of Cuernavaca would be an agreeable place to reside in; its population is about 10,000 souls; it is well wooded and watered; the houses are clean, and have a comfortable appearance; it is something like the village of Carshalton, near London. The houses are tiled after the English fashion. Here the commandant called upon me, at my inn, to offer his services. I invited him to supper, which he partook of with Don Juan Mayorga and myself,—my companion Don Mateo, and the landlady's little daughter, about eight years old, making up the party.

Previously to my leaving Mexico, I had got fitted up in a hurry, a small canteen, furnished principally with tin and brass articles which I had obtained from the warehouses of the European merchants. I asked the child what metal the tin was: she answered, as I expected, Plata; I then asked her, shewing her a brass saucepan, what she thought that was: she answered, Oro. Although my little friend had this matter-of-course notion of the elegance and splendour of life, there was nothing in her mother's dwelling to correspond with the magnificence of her ideas. A long, dirty, wooden table, so high that, when seated, you were enabled to eat off your plate without raising your hand or stooping, and a bench to correspond, formed the whole of the furniture of the apartment.

Two or three dishes well dressed in the Spanish fashion, some excellent fruit, and a bottle of English port-wine, made the evening pass off very pleasantly; when the table and form were each of them cleared to perform the office of bedsteads.

After breakfast I took leave of Don Juan de Dios de Mayorga, who returned to Mexico by way of Toluca. He parted in the highest spirits at the prospect of the benefits which would arise to his country from the report I might make on its political condition; and he gave me several letters of recommendation to his private friends, as well as to his government,—to the interests of which there never was a minister more ardently and devoutly attached than appeared to be this excellent man.

Beautiful as the route was yesterday, it was to-day, the 23d, greatly surpassed in every thing that could make it charming: the country was undulating and picturesque. About midday, we passed along the verge of a prodigious ravine, through the bottom of which flowed an abundant stream of water brilliantly pure; and two leagues farther on we came to a large sugar plantation belonging to the family of the Yermos. The crops were in different degrees of ripeness, and some had been just gathered and cleared with great nicety and diligence. The irrigation, effected by sluices from the stream just mentioned, and which also turned a powerful mill, was conveniently and effectually managed. We were on the borders of the Tierra Caliente: the agave was not here to be found with its refreshing beverage, the pulque, but, instead, the sugar-cane was luxuriating in the moist soil and hot atmosphere.

The first notice I perceived of the change of climate, was the effect it had upon our poor animals. The mule I rode was a little thick in the wind, and I believe very old; but she was nevertheless a fine animal, and I was surprised to find her, towards three o'clock in the afternoon, after having travelled about twenty miles, come to a stand-still. She was what they here call soleadod, or sun stricken. About two leagues farther on, we halted. One of the soldiers proposed to bleed her for me, and picking up a bit of stick, he cut it with his sword into a sharp point, and thrust it up the poor animars nose. A moderate flow of blood from the nostrils, perhaps half a pint, was the consequence. After this, he took a quarter of a pint of brandy and poured it into the animal's ears, which seemed to distress or to please it, I could hardly tell which, exceedingly. He then let go her head, which she stooped and shook violently, and then remarking to me, "está buena," she is all right, he was about to replace the bridle and saddle, which, however, I would not permit, but left her to come on with the baggage which was behind us a small distance on the road: this animal never suffered any inconvenience during the rest of the journey. The phleme used upon the occasion was, it appears, as efficient as it was calculated for the contingencies which travellers are likely to experience in a country so thinly peopled. The application of the brandy in the ear I was the less surprised at, as it is used in Mexico as a constant, and, I believe, specific remedy for the most violent pains in the head, especially those arising from tooth-ach. In this case it is inserted by a syringe, or more frequently by the mouth of the operator, into the ear opposite to that side of the face where the pain lies, and is suffered to remain in till the pain leaves the patient, which I have always perceive it do, however violent the attack may have been, in the course of three or four minutes: the whole effect is doubtlessly produced by what is called counter-action.

Early in the evening I arrived at a sugar water-mill, one of the largest haciendas in Mexico. It was built about half a century ago, by Don Carlos Cermina. Here they made weekly 2,000 arrobas, of 25 lbs. each, of molasses, selling for fifteen dollars per carga of eighteen arrobas, also 2,000 arrobas of sugar, besides fifty barrels of brandy. There might have been employed about 1,000 hands; but the works were not in full operation. They belonged to the same owners as the sugar estate and mill of S. Gabriel, which I passed in the middle of that day. The bailiff or steward seemed to keep an open house for the benefit of travellers: a temporary meal was immediately provided; and, afterwards, a handsome supper in one of the upper apartments, at which the family attended. There was a great choice of rooms, and my bed was made up at a distance from the more inhabited part, at the end of a long suite; my servants were accommodated in a room at a little distance, but after the doubts and perplexities I was suffering under respecting the unaccountable abstraction of the doubloons, I hardly knew whether to consider myself the safer for their company. The under-servant had been one of the grooms at San Cosme, a fine athletic fellow, but exceedingly demure and almost stupid in his demeanour; he had so often and so anxiously requested of the Major Domo permission to accompany me, that I at last assented. I thought, this evening, on my retiring to rest, that he evinced something impudent in his manner. He came up to me without the slightest symptom of the respect commonly shewn by servants, especially in that country, and which with him had usually been manifested even to a degree of disgusting obsequiousness: I rated him soundly for his conduct, and, after looking at the priming of my pistols, proceeded to place them, whilst he observed me, under my pillow. As we had a long journey to travel the next day, we rose very early; but, as I expected, the escort was not ready to accompany us. My bed was close to a window that looked out in the farm-yard of the hacienda: partly from distrust at my situation with my servants, and partly from a constant noise of shouts and exclamations of the soldiery kept up till past midnight, I slept indifferently. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and I had the curiosity to step to the window to see what was going on: I was not a little surprised to find that the escort who had complained in the day of the length of the march, were repaying themselves for their over-fatigue, by carousing and playing at monte, a game of odd or even, during the whole night: much money seemed to be sported; there was also some drinking going on; and the shadows which were thrown upon their countenances and postures, as they sat ardently engaged in their intoxicating pursuits, blended with the soft rays of moonlight, would have afforded a group worthy of the pencil of a Salvator Rosa.

  1. The Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs.