Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico/Chapter 9


Short notice of the Village of Zuaquiniquiniquilapa.—Arrive at the Capital.

To make short of our disappointment, we reached Zuaquiniquiniquilapa, and took possession of a large empty house which occupied one side of the Plaza or grand square. It was a building with a deep viranda in front, ascended by three steps, which ran the whole length of it, and leading into a hall equally long and about half the breadth, which might be about fifteen feet: it was a sort of town hall, and now let out for the accommodation of travellers. The men here wore short white drawers, with a supplementary kind of pouch hanging down behind, below the knees, like a hood fixed on to a regular pair of small-clothes. There seemed to be neither utility nor ornament in this species of dress: the inhabitants, however, were very proud of it, calling it Calzon rajada, which is the Spanish name for it, and means rayed breeches, but the Indians call it Bombache, the meaning of which I could not ascertain. The distance from Los Esclavos to Zuaquiniquiniquilapa is seven leagues, which the traveller may recollect by the number of syllables in the word, which are eight,—subtracting, of course, one league from the name, on account of the length of it.

Although we had travelled twenty-two leagues the preceding day, my companion was up and stirring by four o'clock. Indeed, I was greatly indebted to him for the trouble he took in all the business of the journey; but, although I almost conceived myself bound to submit to his directions in every thing which related to it, I was fain to take another nap, after he had called me: this I could not effect, owing to the noise and bustle occasioned by removing the luggage from the viranda, the clamorous shouts of the peons, as they harnessed the refractory mules, (some of which, perhaps, were of opinion, like myself, that they had not had their due portion of rest,) and, last and not least, on account of the evident, though suppressed, impatience of Don Simon, at my laziness. He was traversing up and down the chamber with a firm step and hurried air: his hands in his pockets, without a cigar in his mouth, alternately whistling or humming a stave of one of his favourite airs. I had just made up my mind to throw off the bed clothes and rise, whilst I was to all appearance fast asleep; when, as he was passing close to my bed-side, his foot happened, fortunately, to catch in a part of them; and as he was walking very quick, drew them all off for me. He was about to apologize for what he had done, when I assured him there was no necessity for his doing so, for I had just determined to get up. He seemed pleased at the accidental coincidence of the affair, and thrusting his hand into the inner pocket of his jacket for his cigar case, and selecting one of the smoothest and best twisted puros he could find, presented it to me whilst he struck a light from materials which he always carried suspended to a silken cord about his neck. They were composed of a dried bark called mecha, peculiar to the country, enveloped in the cord alluded to, and terminated with a silver box wrought into the figure of a lamb, the body of which contained a piece of flint and steel compactly fitted into the apparatus. As I remembered the irritation which I was sure he had been undergoing on my account, and now witnessed the good humour and complacency with which he performed the operation, I could not help apostrophising him, with "You are yoked with a lamb that carries anger as the flint bears fire, which, much enforced, shews a hasty spark, and, straight, is cold again."

We were now on our last stage to the capital of Guatemala; and as I approached it, I felt, at every step, fresh spirit and invigoration. The object of ambition which I had dwelt upon in all the moments left me for reflection, whilst at Mexico, was on the point of being realised: I was about to enter the capital of a country not only unknown to Europeans, but one with which even the South Americans themselves were little acquainted. I was assured by my friend Don Juan de Mayorga, that I should be received by the president and authorities with kindness and attention, and I had the gratifying prospect of, perhaps, being able to do justice to the importance of my commission, and of being the humble instrument of opening the same connexion between that country and Great Britain, which had been just established between the latter power and the republic of Mexico. When the heart is cheerful, there are few objects from which it will not draw some source of enjoyment:—for expectation carries in it the leaven which crowns the excitement of the moment, whilst it sweetens, strengthens, and embalms the prospects of the future.

Wrapped in these reflections, I passed a large drove of pigs; the largest I had ever seen in point of number, but the smallest with regard to size. They were of the narrow-haunched China breed, greatly extenuated towards the loins and tail, or, as Shakespeare says, with "marvellous thin hams", particularly hog-backed and long-snouted, but they looked clean and healthy, and were destined for the market of the metropolis; in which the consumption of them is very great, as mutton is only used as a dainty, on days of festivity; the sheep being preserved on account of their wool, and the swine being thus obliged to supply their place in the shambles. The aversion which the people feel towards Judaism may, perhaps, have influenced them in this propensity to swine flesh, reversing the proverb of "love me, love my cat"; for, whilst they dearly loved the pigs, they as cordially abominated the Jews.

On reaching Los Arcos, which is an hacienda within seven leagues of the capital, we came in sight of the three great mountains: they stand in a triangular shape, and from this spot, two of them nearest to us formed the base and the other the apex. We travelled on three leagues farther, and arrived at a small village, after clambering up the side of a long steep hill, which in many countries would be considered a mountain, and stopped to refresh ourselves at a poor hovel. The name of the place is Frayjanes; and I remember nothing more about it than that we lunched and took our siesta under a tree before the hut, and that there were a great quantity of dirty children and a few little pigs.

The country began, from this place, to take the appearance of some considerable degree of civilization. Gates and inclosures manifested the division and estimation of property. As we approached still nearer to the city, we passed some small country villas and gardens, with tracts cultivated with cochineal, and surrounded by small dikes or mud walls. It was about four in the evening, the air was fresh and balmy, the climate resembling a bright English day in the beginning of June. The tract over which we passed was varied with hill and dale: the turf, green and tender, seemed sprouting under our feet as we advanced. In the front, lay the city, with its white domes and spires glittering in the sun, and appearing larger than it really was by the interspersion of the shade and foliage of the fine trees with which it was, on all sides, intersected and environed. On the right, were shaded groves, and cultivated slopes, and knolled hills, rising upon each other in progressive grandeur, till their summits became, as it were, the base of the tender gray streak which marked the distant outline of the Andes;—whilst on the left, the country was a series of table lands and valleys, formed by wide and bold undulations, and terminating with the three mountains, clad with foliage to their summit, and looking like gigantic warriors upon the pigmy multitudes by which they were surrounded. The sight was so beautiful and replete with interest, that I had stopped behind to enjoy the contemplation of it alone, and at leisure.

As I was taking up my reins to continue my route, I saw a fawn sporting on a rising ground, within ten yards of me. It stamped its foot, advanced, stopped short, frisked, then stopped short again, and stared at me. I had, mechanically, drawn one of my pistols from the holsters, and had cocked it whilst I was witnessing these manœuvres. The little animal, still, stood staring at me; with its large black eyes, innocent and unsuspecting, and its little black glossy nose and chin perked out in impudent defiance. It stamped its foot again, as offering wager of battle, gave another frisk, and darted off.—What a fool I was, thought I:—why didn't I pull the trigger?—I dashed my spurs into the sides of my little horse, who never wanted that encouragement, and was up with my companions, in a twinkling. He continued fretful and gaysome till we had passed the theatre for bull-fights, about a mile out of the town; but, as we entered it, his spirit, most unaccountably, began to flag, his strength and energy seemed, in a moment, to have left him: neither whip nor spur would keep him in a moderate walk; he staggered down the long street which led to the abode whither we were going, and, as I alighted in the court yard, had hardly strength to resist the effort of my dismounting.—I was sorry for the poor animal, for he had brought me safely to the place of my destination.

The late Mr. Secretary Canning, in his letter of the 3d of January 1825 to Mr. Morier, instructed me, after the signing of the Mexican treaty, to proceed to Guatemala, there to ascertain "The present state of its political government, and the disposition of the people, its resources, financial, military, commercial, and territorial, the amount of its population, the number and wealth of its towns, its principal means of communication with itself and with the exterior;"—and "that I should draw up a report upon those heads and upon any other points, on which I might be able to obtain information, respecting Guatemala, of interest to his Majesty's Government."—I revolved in my mind the importance of these subjects, at the breakfast which I took with the hospitable family, whose house I had entered, and of whom I shall have occasion to speak more hereafter. I had made inquiries about a house; but, finding that I could not obtain a respectable one, without taking it for a fixed period, and, even then, paying 6,000 dollars as a traspaso, (a good will repayable by the next tenant,) in advance, I renounced the idea, and became domiciliated with the family in question. The consul from the United States of North America, who had arrived two months before me, was not so fortunate as myself: there was not an inn or hotel in the town; he was sitting in the grand Plaza with his baggage, when he was invited to partake of the hospitality of a native merchant, a respectable gentleman of the name of Castro, who saw him in that situation; and I, therefore, concluded I was right in the dispositions I had made. I think it but justice, to say, to the parties who received me, that I was entertained with the greatest hospitality, and had no reason to repent of my resolution.