More of Trollope’s journey to San Jose


“That night, or the next morning rather, at about 2 A.M., we reached a wayside inn called San Mateo, and there rested for five or six hours. That we should obtain any such accommodation along the road astonished me, and of such as we got we were very glad. But it must not be supposed that it was of a very excellent quality. We found three bedsteads in the front room into which the door of the house opened. On these there were no mattresses, not even a palliasse. They consisted of flat boards sloping away a little towards the feet, with some hard substance prepared for a pillow. In the morning we got a cup of coffee without milk. For these luxuries and for pasturage for the mules we paid about ten shillings a head. Indeed, everything of this kind in Costa Rica is excessively dear.

Our next day’s journey was a very long one, and to my companions very fatiguing, for they had not latterly been so much on horseback as had been the case with myself. Our first stage before breakfast was of some five hours’ duration, and from the never-ending questions put to the guide as to the number of remaining leagues, it seemed to be eternal. The weather also was hot, for we had not yet got into the high lands; and a continued seat of five hours on a mule, under a burning sun, is not refreshing to a man who is not accustomed to such exercise; and especially is not so when he is unaccustomed to the half-trotting, half-pacing steps of the beast. The Spaniard sits in the saddle without moving, and generally has his saddle well stuffed and padded, and then covered with a pillion. An Englishman disdains so soft a seat and endeavors to rise in his stirrup at every step of the mule, as he would on a trotting horse at home. In these Hispano-American countries this always provokes the ridicule of the guide, who does not hesitate to tell the poor wretch who is suffering in his pillory that he does not know how to ride.

With some of us the pillory was very bad, and I feared for a time that we should hardly have been able to mount again after breakfast. The place at which we were is called Atenas, and I must say in praise in this modern Athens, and of the three modern Athenian girls who waited on us, that their coffee, eggs, and grilled fowl were very good. The houses of these people are exceedingly dirty, their modes of living comfortless and slovenly in the extreme. But there seems to be no lack of food, and the food is by no means of a bad description. Along this road from Punta-arenas to San José we found it always supplied in large quantities and fairly cooked. The prices demanded for it were generally high. But then all prices are high; and it seems that, even among the poorer classes, small sums of money are not valued as with us. There is no copper coin. Half a rial, equal to about threepence, is the smallest piece in use. A handful of rials hardly seems to go further, or to be thought more of, than a handful of pence with us; and a dollar, eight rials, ranks hardly higher than in estimation than a shilling does in England.

At last, by the gradual use of the coffee and eggs, and by the application, external and internal, of a limited amount of brandy, the outward and inward men were recruited; and we once more found ourselves on the backs of our mules, prepared for another stage of equal duration. These evils always lessen as we become more accustomed to them, so that when we reached a place called Assumption, at which we were to rest for the night, we all gallantly informed the muleteer that we were prepared to do another stage. “Not so the mules,” said the muleteer; and as his words were law, we prepared to spend the night at Assumption.

Our road hitherto had been rising nearly the whole way, and had been generally through a picturesque country. We ascended one long severe hill, severe that is as a road, though to a professed climber of mountains it would be as nothing. From the summit of this hill we had a magnificent view down to the Pacific. Again, at a sort of fortress though which we passed, and which must have been first placed there by the old Spaniards to guard the hill-passes, we found a very lovely landscape looking down into the valley. Here some show of a demand was made for passports; but we had none to exhibit, and no opposition was made to our progress. Except at these two places, the scenery, which was always more or less pretty, was never remarkable. And even at the two points named there was nothing to equal the mountain scenery of many countries in Europe.

What struck me most was the constant traffic on the road or track over which we passed. I believe I may call it a road, for the produce of the country is brought down over it in bullock carts; and I think that in South Wales I have taken a gig over one very much of the same description. But it is extremely rude; and only fit for solid wooden wheels-circles, in fat, of timber-such as are used, and for the patient, slow step of the bullocks.

But during the morning and evening hours the strings of these bullock carts were incessant. They travel from four till ten, then rest till three or four, and again proceed for four or five hours in the cool of the evening. They are all laden with coffee, and the idea they give is, that the growth of that article in Costa Rica must be much more than sufficient to supply the whole world. For miles and miles we met them, almost without any interval. Coffee, coffee, coffee; coffee, coffee, coffee! It is grown in large quantities, I believe, only in the high lands of San José; and all that is exported is sent down to Punta-arenas, though by travelling this route it must either pass across the isthmus railway at a vast cost, or else be carried round the Horn. At present half goes one way and half the other. But not a grain is carried, as it should all be carried, direct to the Atlantic. When I come to speak of the road from San José to Greytown, their post on the Atlantic, the reason for this will be understood.”

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