Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico/Chapter 28
Hot and moist atmosphere of Encuentros.—Manner of passing the river.—Arrive at Mico.
The inhabitants, who do not exceed one hundred, are poor and miserable: the spot is extremely unhealthy, and, but for the broad and noble river which skirts one of its sides, and gives some idea of space and cheerfulness, would induce you to believe you were thrown all at once into the bottom of a green pit. There is no place of worship, and mass is not performed more than once in a twelvemonth. The principal inhabitant, at whose house all travellers put up, is Doña Maria Barnes: she keeps a posada, or inn, and here we met with a Spaniard named Don Miguel Español, a man well to do in the commercial world, having a considerable fortune: he was a friend of my companion Don Francisco: he had just left Belize; confirmed the news of the arrival of Mr. O'Reilley, but could throw no light on the nature of the Commission. Don Miguel was a gentlemanly well informed man, and we sat down to supper at a sort of table d'hôte, three of us taking possession of a bedstead for seats, and the rest accommodating themselves with boxes and other luggage, a judicious arrangement of which also furnished us with a table. The rain now came down profusely and continued without intermission during the whole night: in a short time the room was filled with frogs, who kept up an incessant clamour, repeated by their out door companions: the noise was so deafening that we could scarcely hear ourselves speak, the sound representing the word agua repeated by a myriad of croaking voices: it will be remembered that agua is the Spanish for water, and, although these amphibious animals were so lustily crying for more, we were of opinion that we were copiously indulged with that element. Notwithstanding the incessant rain, we were suffocatingly hot, and were obliged to leave the hut open, so that the torrent poured into it not only by the door-way but dashed over us in a volume of mist through the open reed work of the walls: if a moist and hot atmosphere was ever encountered to excess, we had the advantage of proving the nature of it on this occasion: when the sun rose, we got up, but seemed to be walking about in a steam-bath: the luggage had been covered up and was kept tolerably dry and was now put on board one of the ferry boats to convey us to the opposite shore.
The mules were driven through the dense underwood to a point about a mile up the river, for the purpose of landing at the proper ford; which they could not have done without this precaution, to counteract the rapidity of the current, which was running at near five knots an hour.
We had embarked with our luggage in two separate boats, the larger one containing not only that, but all the mule trappings. When our boat was half across the river, it was perceived that nothing could induce the animals to take the water: on the opposite shore stood a man with the bell of their leader; but they had sense enough to see that their leader was with them; and would not pay any attention to the summons. We could see the muleteers attempting to shove the leader into the water, and they effected this more than once, but the animal obstreperously took to the nearest land, which was on the side from which she set out: in this dilemma, Murillo requested to be put back on the shore we had left, as he was sure, he said, he could bring them all over. He was accordingly conveyed back in the boat from which we had now landed, and having arrived at the spot where the mules were standing, he attached a rope to the leader, which quietly followed him into the water, and swam after him: the mules followed of course; but they had an arduous job to buffet against the current, and, following the example of their conductor, swam with their heads almost directly up the river: even with this counteracting effort, some of the weaker animals landed a considerable distance lower down than the point which they were attempting to make. To reload them was the business of an hour, and, in the interim, we passed up a gully, the natural landing place, and arrived at a hut on the brow of the hill, where, it now being dinner time, we filled up the interval by making that meal on such refreshments as the place afforded.
The Chinese, who, amongst his numerous qualifications, prized himself on his cooking, had already made great progress in a curry, substituting the Chile pepper for that powder: he proved himself an able artist, and replenished our stores with live poultry, which he unmercifully slung by their legs to his holsters and crupper in such quantities, that he seemed, when in his saddle, to be seated in an open feather bed. As the birds complained of their situation, he kept talking to them with many quaint aphorisms, which excited the universal approbation of the muleteers; indeed, he had previously established his character amongst them as a wag, and there was something altogether so grotesque in his appearance, that the better part of the company could scarcely restrain their laughter at merely looking at him: so that, now, every observation he made, however foolish, was sure to be a palpable hit.
Having been detained two days longer on the road than I expected, I was afraid that the goleta which General Codd, the Intendant of Belize, had been so obliging as to send to Izabal, might return without me, finding that I had not arrived at the time intended; and Don Eugenio undertook to ride forward down to the port to apprize the captain of my coming. He accordingly set off for this purpose; but, on our arrival at Mico, the last stage but one to the coast, I was surprised to find that he had put up there, and was chatting, very merrily, with the niece of the host. An Indian had been very properly sent forward to execute the commission, by the advice of the major domo of this inn, who said it was quite impossible for the youth to make his way over the mountain before night fall; as his mule was none of the best conditioned, and the forest was full of swamps and dangerous ravines: I was glad to find that the landlord had used such proper discretion, and we prepared to make ourselves comfortable for the night.
The young woman, whose name was Doña Juana Toribia Samaya, was the life and ornament of this dreary though picturesque spot. She had excited the interest of other European travellers; and shewed me a Bible which had been given her by the consul from the United States, in which was written her name at full length as I have transcribed it, with the name of the donor. She seemed delighted with the gift, though it was not likely to be very useful, as, I think she informed me, she could not read. In her conversation with Don Eugenio, it appeared that they had previously met, and that it was now two years since they last had that pleasure: nobody could see her without being struck with her beauty; she had also a great share of prudence, for I was indebted to her for some personal advice which at once discomfited and surprised me;—as she cautioned me not to move about the door-ways after dark, without shoes, as there were snakes which sometimes crawled about the door-posts, whose bite was instant death.
The person who keeps this posada is Don Manuel Mansano; and any person landing at Izabal, who wishes to go up the country, must address themselves to him for the purpose of procuring mules for the journey.