Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico/Chapter 3
Pretty Town of Chilpantzingo.—Inn at Acaquisotla.—Widow and daughters at Dos Caminos.—Goître family at Tierra Colorada.—Muleteer family at Alto Cameron.—Well informed host at Dos Arroyos.—Arrive at Acapulco.
Mr. Barcaistegie, who was acting as British Consul at the port of Acapulco, sent me a letter by the courier, requesting that I would forward to him a notice from Dos Arroyos, sixteen leagues from the port, in order that he might come to meet and conduct me to a house which he had prepared for my accommodation. I proceeded on in great spirits to Chilpantzingo, and took up my abode in a clean cottage-like residence. We were waited upon by a decent motherly woman, assisted by her son, a respectable lad of eighteen years of age. Chilpantzingo is a pretty town, with about 1200 inhabitants, and a good parish church, besides chapels. It is by no means a disagreeable or unhealthy place to live in, and there are many spots, in the centre of the town, which is intersected by a deep ravine, at the bottom of which flows a small river, where some villas might be erected, to great advantage.
Having set off about seven o'clock on the 27th, we arrived at a village called Acaquisotla, about three in the afternoon, and put up at a venta which seemed more like a regular inn than any we had met with on our journey from the capital. Three or four persons were halting here, who had come up from the coast, and were proceeding on to Mexico. On the other side of the road, opposite to the venta, was a small sugar-mill, worked by two mules: I understood it was constantly employed, and had been at work from time immemorial. The dinner was served on some fine old pieces of china of different patterns and sizes: they probably formed part of the first importations from Pekin, and were destined for some of the grandees of Mexico, but owing to some, now inexplicable, cause, were lodged for a night at this inn, two or three centuries ago, and have never yet got farther on the route of their original destination. The shed in front of the house being previously occupied by the other travellers, my baggage was disposed in two parallel lines in the road, and, in the middle of this, at one end, was placed my bed: two of the muleteers being stretched on the ground, at the other end, and my servants disposed of as they thought proper; for I had so much doubt of their honesty as to induce me to believe myself as safe without, as with, their protection. In this exposed state, I took the precaution, in addition to my pistols, to put my sword in the bed with me, and, to save trouble against an opportunity when trouble might be most conveniently spared, I laid it by me ready drawn.
Thursday, 28th, by ten o'clock, we had travelled six leagues, and had a good Spanish breakfast at Dos Caminos, at the house of a widow, with two handsome daughters, about eighteen and nineteen years of age. They furnished us with chocolate, broiled fowl, stewed frixoles, or beans, and some dainty slices from a pig which they had just killed. Don Mateo, who was in the habit of travelling this country, seemed to be admitted to all the little indulgences and familiarities with these young damsels which a traveller to Birmingham from St. Mary Axe has indisputable claim to from all the spruce bar-maids on the road. He chucked one under the chin, began waltzing with the other, cracked his jokes with both, and, as he sat upon the table, kicking his legs and smoking his puro (cigar), he seemed, at every whiff, to forget the golden ounces of which he had been plundered, and to be no bad picture of that reasonable kind of being who is disposed to take the world as he finds it.
After travelling six leagues through a picturesque country, and the greater part of the road being over a fine turf, we arrived at an Indian village called Tierra Colorada. The house we put up at was a dismal contrast to the one we had left in the morning. The mother was dirty and decrepit; two or three miserable ill-formed children, all of them affected with the gôitre, or swelled neck, and one child which was dumb and idiotish, were the inmates of this afflicted abode. I do not know how it was, but the latter of these objects, a little girl of five years old, was the only one I could endure to look at, or of whose services I could bear to accept. The child discovered my preference, and called forth all its vigour to do justice to my partiality. I made signs for what I wanted, and rewarded it with small pieces of money as my commissions were severally executed. Sometimes it would stand puzzling and perplexing itself for a moment, and then run off to do my bidding, with an alacrity and energy exceeding its tender years.
By eleven o'clock the next morning we had reached a spot called Alto Cameron, with a solitary house on the side of a steep conical hill. It was composed of one good sized apartment built of reeds, and two others detached, one serving as the kitchen, the other as the bed-room: the family, which was very large, consisted of two sons, and five daughters. One of them had been lately married, and the four others, all marriageable, were likely to follow the example, for they were very comely, and had each got a lover. There were two swinging cots in the front apartment, one formed of open mat-work, the other of string-net. A recumbent posture being the most desirable, and this couch admitting on all sides the free circulation of the air, there is hardly a hut, however mean, that has not this accommodation: it is generally occupied by the elder branches of the family; but as there are no seats of any kind, it is always tenanted by some portion of the inmates. The usual method of availing yourself of this indulgence, on arriving at any of these simple hospitable abodes, is to untie your leggings or stamped leather boots of the country, generally to take off your jacket, either woollen or cotton, and having lighted a cigar, to put yourself in full swing, smoking and swinging till you fall asleep. I had gone through all but the latter part of this ceremony on the present occasion. Whilst the girls were preparing the repast, Don Mateo was keeping up his traveller's privilege; he seemed to be free of the kitchen, and shewed his good nature by helping them in their culinary offices, which they appeared to acknowledge with hilarity; indeed, my ears were, every now and then, assailed with such bursts of laughter and good humour, as to make it impossible for me to sleep.
Don Mateo was a handsome well-made man, about forty-two years of age, and five feet eight in height, with remarkably piercing black eyes and dark olive complexion: his nose was aquiline, and his beard and hair, which were black and curling, were slightly tinged with white: he had entered his autumnal quarter, but had all the raciness of spring in his habits and disposition: this accounts for his making himself so agreeable with the softer sex; who generally prefer a man of maturer years, with a pleasing cheerful address, to an insipid young one. The breakfast proved quite as good as that we had the day before, at Dos Caminos.
Before we had departed, the father of this happy family came home, with one of his sons. He was a master muleteer by profession, and was considered passing rich. Many of the Mexican Creoles owe their fortunes and respectability to the same origin; and, indeed, there is hardly any safer or more certainly lucrative calling that can be followed in the country, particularly when, as in this instance, the proprietor is also the chief conductor of the business.
The family of General Guerrero, to whose military personal prowess the independence of Mexico is, perhaps, more owing than to that of any other individual in the republic, owed their fortunes to the large requas, or droves of mules which they employed in this carrying trade.
At Dos Arroyos, we put up at a peon's, or day-labourer's house. He had just returned home in the evening to partake the domestic comforts prepared for him by a tidy young wife and three little children. As he was my humble host, I invited him to be my friendly guest. His ideas of political economy and regal governments were strikingly limited. With regard to the former, all that he knew was that, under the old régime, he used to pay eight dollars for the shirt which now cost him but two, and that the mita, or capitation tax, he no longer paid at all: but, when I told him that there were other kings greater than the king of Spain, he shook his head with a doubtful air: to be sure, he had lately heard something of the English, that they were very clever people, and could find out gold and silver in the mines which the Spaniards had given up as exhausted; but then said he, "what a pity it is they are all Jews."
I left the domicile of my well-informed host as soon as four o'clock the next morning, the 30th, being desirous, by entering early in the day into Acapulco, to prevent the complimentary reception which I had understood Mr. Barcaistegie, the acting consul, was preparing for me. The journey now was a rapid descent towards the sea coast: the banana trees were flourishing on all sides with a vigour peculiar to this climate: the Indian corn or maize was growing to a gigantic height, and the face of the country presented as different an aspect to what I had for the three or four former days been accustomed to behold, as the abrupt shifting of a dramatic scene could present. At twelve o'clock we stopped at Venta Vieja, a tolerable village and one of great importance in former times, when the Spanish galleons arrived at Acapulco, being, as it is, the first resting place for the cargoes destined for the capital.
Don Mateo having business to transact with a merchant here, I left this place in company with a friend of the latter, who offered to conduct me to the port. I do not recollect that I was gratified with a glance at the ocean during these eight miles. I was anxious to see the waste of waters, although on the wrong side of the continent, which might bear me home to England; and the first notice I had that I was approaching it was the distant roar of the beach of Acapulco. I spurred my horse on down a steep and dangerous stone road, which my companion's mule, whether by his master's excitement or my example, was preparing to encounter in the same manner, when unfortunately it fell, and precipitated the rider. I hastened back, and was glad to find that he was not materially hurt, and out of complaisance to him, but sorely against my own wishes, I continued to slacken my pace till we arrived at our destination.