The 1939 - 1946 Expeditions
Stirling's 1939 letter to Wetmore
January 6, 1939
Dear Dr. Wetmore:
We are finally established in camp at Tres Zapotes and today being a rainy day is a good time for writing letters. Everything on the expedition is now in good order with all permits and other formalities taken care of. Weiant has done a good job in setting up the camp and we are very comfortably situated. Our camp consists of three houses, two small ones for the Weiants and the Stirlings and one large house, one-half of which is a guest room and the other half is storage and work room. A note of luxury consists in cement floors which have been laid, it being found that they are cheaper as well as being more satisfactory than earth or wood. This however is an innovation for these parts.
Our camp is located in a little patch of woods at the eastern foot of the principal mound of the group where the colossal head is located. We can sit on our front verandas with a nice view of the Tuxtla Mountains. Everything here is surprisingly cheap. The peso is now about 20 cents. Labor is 1 1/12 peso a day. In this isolated section the people are quite unspoiled, are good workers, and do not have to be watched. They are all eager to work and are competing with one another for the privilege of being on the job so that in order to keep everyone happy we work the crews in rotating shifts. An unusually fortunate bit of good luck is the fact that the local storekeeper in Tres Zapotes goes in to Tlacotalpan twice a week for supplies. He brings in our mail and any other orders that we care to make. The address that we are using is his home where his wife lives all of the time.
At present we are making a large cross section of the principal mound of the quadrangle and have a fair collection of sherds and figurines. The children are bringing in collections of figurines and other specimens which they find in the milpas nearby and which we buy at a standard of 5 centavos each if they are good ones. We have already quite a large collection acquired in this manner.
The principal reason for this letter is to give you directions as to how best to get here. If you go by train from Mexico City to Vera Cruz, there is a choice of two things for you to do if you wish to proceed immediately to Tlacotalpan without staying over in Vera Cruz.
The night train from Mexico City is supposed to arrive in Vera Cruz at 7:30. The steam train from Vera Cruz to Alvarado with a First Class car which is never crowded (fare 4 pesos) leaves the station at Vera Cruz at 7:15. However it does not leave Las Cocas, a suburb of Vera Cruz, until 8. Therefore you can get off the train from Mexico City at Las Cocas instead of going into the main station in time to catch the Alvarado steam train. However, if the Mexico City train should be late, an autocarril leaves the main station at Vera Cruz for Alvarado at 9:45. This is much more crowded and inconvenient if you have much baggage. If you should take the day train from Mexico City and want to stay overnight in Vera Cruz, it is convenient to stop at the Hotel Terminal which is located in the station building and saves a lot of trouble in handling baggage as the train porter can bring your stuff directly to your room. The other two principal hotels in town are the Imperial and the Diligencias, both of which are located on the Plaza in the middle of town. This, however, is only a matter of about three blocks from the station. There is little to choose from in the matter of accommodations between the three places.
The boat which leaves Alvarado, up the Papoloapan River for Tlacotalpan, sails at 1:00 PM. The boat landing is right at the railroad terminal and your luggage can best be loaded directly on the boat from the train. There is also a hotel and eating place, which is not bad (the Chapultepec), just across from the terminal in Alvarado. The steam train from Vera Cruz arrives there at 11 AM, giving you two hours before the boat sails. The autocarril makes closer connections. You should reach Tlacotalpan on the boat about 2:30 or 3 o’clock. You should then go to the hotel Cuauhtemoc, Jose Silva, proprietor, and he can give you all the information you need about reaching Tres Zapotes. However, before asking him to make arrangements for you, you should go directly to Hidalgo 55, the home of Ricardo Gutierrez, the storekeeper of Tres Zapotes. If he is there, you should by all means let him make all of the arrangements for you as he can do it more economically and efficiently than anyone else.
The trip from Tlacotalpan to Tres Zapotes consists of two stages; a six-hour boat ride to Boca San Miguel and a two-hour ride on horseback from Boca San Miguel to Tres Zapotes. The camp is located about a half mile from town. There are two “regular” boats which make this trip each week. If you are lucky enough to strike a day when they are running, the fare to Boca San Miguel is 1 Peso each. The dates the “regular” boats run however cannot be predicted. If you do not hit the day of a regular boat, it will pay you to charter one especially at a cost of from 15 to 30 Pesos. We hired a very good one for 20 and there is no need to pay more. This is a far more comfortable way of getting there than the 8 hour horseback ride which I made before all the way from Tlacotalpan, unless you wish to see the birds and the overland scenery. However, the second half of the boat trip and the final horseback ride are extremely interesting and scenic and you get a fine idea of the country. I am sure you will find the bird collecting hereabouts very good.
We will be looking forward to the arrival of yourself and Dr. Fisher and for that matter anyone else who may be coming.
With best wishes,
(signed) M. W. Stirling
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