Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico/Chapter 24
After the first half hour's ride, the road became steep and craggy: by winding up a shoulder of a mountain, we had attained an elevation of about 800 feet: we passed round a projecting point which afforded a delightful view of the whole town as well as of the surrounding country; and, although we might have been two hours in reaching it, the distance of the city from it did not appear more than two miles, as the crow flies. Of course we could see very distinctly all the separate streets and churches, and by the position of the latter my eye seemed as though it was enabled to discover the exact spot of the hospitable mansion I had left.
The town was environed on the three nearest sides with abundance of foliage, and the farthest quarter swept off into the undulating plains over which I had passed on entering it on my journey from Sonsonate. The present view was preferable to the former, as it was more distinct and comprehensive. The yeco, or white cement, with which all the buildings are covered, when not composed of stone, gave them a lively and neat appearance, and sparkling in the sun, contrasted boldly with the leafy verdure of the surrounding scene. From this point the road turns abruptly from the town, which is no more to be seen upon the journey: on the left, as we proceeded, were appearances of considerable cultivation, as also, a little farther on, to the right; but, as we advanced, they were no longer to be found, and the country put on a more rugged and uncouth appearance: I remember comparing it, in my imagination, to a Brobdignag's ploughed field and ourselves to Gulliverians working our way through the clods, which the broken hills, now forming the whole face of the country, would seem to represent.
About five o'clock a mizzling rain came on which induced me to cover myself with an oil-skin cloak which I had brought from Mexico, and found very useful in my several excursions since the rainy season had begun to set in. It was manufactured of very thin silk, and consequently extremely light and compact; it cost me an ounce (£3 17s.) of gold, but was the cheapest thing, in reference to its utility, of any which I had purchased for my journey.
After riding through the rain for an hour, we came to a small open plain, on the right of which stood two or three cottages in a yard inclosed with an ordinary rustic fence. On one side, was the principal of these tenements, with an open viranda supported by two wooden pillars: it was already occupied by a bed on which a traveller newly arrived was reclining whilst his servant was preparing him some chocolate. I dismounted, was cold, wet, and hungry, and began to wonder where I should find some accommodation, when Don Francisco Salazar, (this was the stranger's name,) politely offered me a seat on his bed, and also insisted on dividing with me the chocolate which had been prepared for him. A dish of fowl admirably dressed with the green Chile sauce succeeded, and with some wine and brandy, also the produce of his canteen, we made a comfortable meal. About eight o'clock my baggage appeared: the bedstead, although it had been packed in a large leather case made for the purpose, had become wet: the wood had swollen, and would not pass the seams of the leather stretchers, which was a part of a complicated process necessary for its erection.
Having invariably experienced fine weather to Acapulco, I had never wanted this bungling specimen of Mexican upholstery, and now I really did require it, found it perfectly unadapted to the purposes for which it was intended. Don Eugenio kindly insisted on my taking his bedstead, which he assisted in putting up, and contented himself with the piece of ticking which was to be united to the stands and stretchers to form my clumsy couch. The air was cold and damp, and having partially defended ourselves from the rain by suspending a mat to the weather-side of the portico, we slept pretty comfortably till six o'clock the next morning; when we renewed our journey.
The gentleman, to whom I had been indebted for such well-timed hospitality on the preceding evening, was the younger brother of Don Gregorio Salazar, the gefe politico, and I continued to find that I had made a great acquisition in so respectable a travelling companion. He was going to Belize on commercial business. He might be about twenty years of age, was tall, manly and very sedate: all his movements were like clock work; his words were also regulated by the utmost precision and decorum: he spoke little, but what he did say was uttered with such affability and kindness, and always so much to the purpose, as to make one regret he was not naturally more sociable and communicative: he was in fact a gentlemanly, shy man.
We had, yesterday, travelled nine leagues, and the present day, the 14th, about six, reached Omohita, which is the respectable hacienda, or farming establishment, of Doña Morales: here we of course remained the night, making up our beds in the large hall, after supper had been removed, and to which the whole of the inmates of the farm-house, from the mistress to the upper servants, had in succession sat down. Against one of the doors of this hall was suspended an almanack whereon was printed, as memoranda, the leading events of the Guatemalian revolution, and also a compendious abstract of the periods of emancipation of all the separate republics of the New World: as I had not seen the document before, I transcribed it, as follows:—
TABLE OF THE CONQUEST AND LIBERTY OF AMERICA.
|Names of the States.||Years of Conquest.||Days of declaring Liberty.||Duration of Slavery|
|Venezuela||1526||19 April, 1810||283|
|Buenos Ayres||1516||25 May —||293|
|Santa Fe||1538||20 July —||271|
|Cartagena||1520||18 August —||189|
|Chile||1535||18 Sept. —||274|
|Peru||1531||15 July, 1821||289|
|Mexico||1520||24 August —||300|
|Guatemala||1524||15 Sept. —||297|
|Panama||1518||28 Nov. —||302|
Two things appear remarkable in this statement; one that so many of these countries should have renounced their allegiance to Spain in two different periods as it were by a simultaneous movement, and the other is the tone of feeling the document itself expresses and is so calculated to inculcate, ascribing to the period of the Spanish dominion the opprobrious term of the "Duration of Slavery." A document of this sort exhibited in the eating-room of the haciendas of any country in South America is sufficient of itself to revolutionize any given portion of it: it cannot, of course, be suspended there without the approbation of the parish curate, who is, in nine cases out of ten, liable also to be the interpreter of its meaning.
About two leagues before we came to the hacienda, on passing through a beautiful wood of stately trees, I espied, by the road side, a small log, freshly trimmed and rounded with the hatchet, about a yard long, and a foot diameter. Concluding that it had been inadvertently left in this out-of-the-way place, I dismounted to recognize it: the grain was so hard and close as to resist all efforts of my penknife, which might as well have endeavoured to make an impression on iron. It was very dark coloured, but fancifully streaked and variegated, and, considering that it might make very nice despatch boxes, I was determined to bring it home by way of a specimen of the fine wood with which the country abounds, and to present samples of it to the Foreign Office. I told Don Eugenio I should like very much to take this piece of wood with me to England, and he obligingly offered to convey it for me on his own mule, and to walk, himself, to the resting place to which we were going. With exceedingly great difficulty we raised it upon the mule, and with still greater contrived to bring it to the hacienda. Once or twice we were about to abandon the project, for, not having the proper requisites for making it fast, it rolled about upon the back of the poor animal, which seemed even more inclined to part with it than ourselves.
The next morning, when we were on the point of starting, the bailiff informed me that he was sorry I had taken the trouble to bring home the log: it was the property of Señora Morales, but had been found too heavy to bring away without a sledge. Having told him that I had conveyed it for myself, he retired to consult with the hostess, and informed me the price of it was eight dollars. It was intended for a crushing roller of one of the mills which were at work on the premises:—it had arrived at its right destination, and I was glad to get rid of it upon so plausible a pretext.
Previously to my quitting the capital, I had been recommended by Don José de Valle to take with me specimens of the different woods of the country: I had accordingly ordered to be made a despatch box inlaid with all these several specimens, which amounted to thirty-seven; but the cabinet-maker was engaged in building a new pulpit, and could not execute my wishes within the time of my departure:—it was the recollection of that disappointment which had resolved me to meddle with this wholesale article in the cabinet line.