Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 3

The Grand Hotel Guibert

Lake Titicaca, La Paz and Sorata, Part 1

I left Jura at 9 a.m. by the Arequipa Puno train, which set me down at Puno, alongside Lake Titicaca at 8 p.m. or a little earlier; there one of the comfortable lake steamers, the “Puno” or the “Quaqui,” awaits the train for passengers for La Paz. The highest point passed by the train on the way to Puno is Crucero Alto (14,666ft.); the country here is just a high, bleak, sandy desert for miles around. Either here or at Juliaca further up the line, you get off to continue the long journey to the Rio Santo Domingo (Sunday) river. At Juliaca, part of the train goes on to Cusco, the old capital of the Incas, and the other part goes to Puno.

After passing Jura, I saw several herds of guanacos, and sometimes a few deer. Further up, over the 12,000ft. line near Crucero Alto and Juliaca, I could see the vicuñas going galloping off on either side of the line, as the train came near. The guanaco is found from 3,000ft. to 9,000ft. or 10,000ft., the vicuña from 9,000ft. to 16,000ft., and the true condor eagle from 14,000ft. to 16,000ft., except when some animal dies down below, then they seem to scent it and go to as low as 12,000ft. to finish it off. At 16,000ft. perpetual snow generally begins in these parts, and over that altitude nothing is to be seen, not a bird, or a beast, or a tree of any sort.

At first I had the idea of continuing the journey to Challana from Puno and not touching La Paz until my return, but I eventually decided to go and call on Staedlier first, and hear what he had to say about his trip.

At Puno I went to call on the Prefect, who received me very well, and wanted me to stay for a month or two to examine some Inca ruins that he knew of some ten leagues off. He offered to find me ten or twelve Indians and llamas, and lend me a good mule for myself. I thanked him, and told him that after I had finished the job on hand I would certainly look him up again and explore the ruins he spoke of.

There was no boat the night the train arrived, as I had come by the weekly cargo train, or extra, so I left Puno by the lake steamer the following night, and got to Quaqui on the Bolivian side of the lake next afternoon.

Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, is 165 miles long, 65 miles broad, and from 100ft. to 600ft. deep. One half of the lake belongs to Peru, the other half to Bolivia; there are several islands peopled chiefly by Indians and Cholos, or half-castes, who sail all over the lake from the islands to the steamer, in their native balsas, made of grass and reeds, with one sail set, in all sorts of weathers. The lake can be quite rough at times when squalls upset the waters.

This great inland sea, replenished by the melting snow of the Andes, is one of the most magnificent sights in the world, and there is no finer view anywhere than the high Ylliapo range and the Peak of Sorata, and the wonderful pyramid-shaped mountains of Yllimani, close to La Paz, two of the most magnificent ranges of the Cordillera of the Andes, which you see from the deck of the steamer.

From Quaqui I took the train to La Paz Alto, thirty-five miles off, over flat ground all the way; this line passes through General Pando’s big ranch. At La Paz Alto (12,525ft.) there are always several big brakes drawn by six mules or horses, which go down to La Paz at a good hand-gallop along the winding road cut out of the mountain; there is also a steam tram which has recently been constructed in connection with the La Paz and Quaqui line, and which is controlled by the same Peruvian Corporation at Lima that owns the lake steamers.

As you go down the steep mountain road on top of a coach, a magnificent panorama opens before you, and you see the city of La Paz, with its red-tiled roofs, open plazas, gardens, churches and public buildings, and some old ruins on the outskirts, and beyond it, stretching to the foot of the beautiful Yllimani Mountain the rich basin that forms the Yungas Valley.

The city of La Paz (11,000ft. to 10,800ft.) is built in two distinct levels. On the higher ground are the Government buildings, and the Plaza where the fine artillery band plays; and lower down is the big Indian market. Lower down still, just on the outskirts of the city, at 10,000ft. down a beautiful level avenue past the barracks, stands the picturesque house of General Pando, who led the Liberal Party in the revolution of 1898, and succeeded in replacing Alonso for two years as President of Bolivia. General Pando was certainly a man who did more for Bolivia than many others, though he did some good for himself as well. It was General Pando who regulated the rich rubber zone of the Acre with Brazil, and thereby saved his country from war, got a good round sum of money for Bolivia, and undid the work of President Melgarejo, a former President, who had ceded the Acre district over to Brazil, with small compensation for Bolivia. When Pando came into power, he advised Brazil that this was Bolivian territory, and that the former President had no right to barter away land belonging to the country he governed; but as Brazil had policed the district for a number of years, and as it was now peopled largely by Brazilians, the Brazilian Government did not want to give it up. However, they offered to settle the matter by paying Bolivia £2,000,000, and the transactions were carried out in November, 1903. When I got to La Paz, in the middle of that month, General Pando was still absent with his staff in the Acre.

While I was at La Paz, I put up at the Grand Hotel Guibert, which is kept by a rich Frenchman of that name. The rooms are all well furnished, the food is very good, and the prices of everything, even the drinks, are extremely reasonable. All the servants and waiters are Pongos (Indians), all of them males; they wear woollen nightcaps to keep their heads warm. The only drawback was that there was no decent lavatory, and not a single bath in the place. So the first thing I did on arriving was to go out and buy the largest tub that I could find for my morning dip.

M. Guibert told me that he came to Bolivia with a fair amount of capital, and had made a good deal more, but he complained of having contracted very bad rheumatism. I advised him to give the Jura baths a trial, and to take some saltpetre every day and see how that worked. I have met him several times since, and he tells me he is cured.

The whole city of La Paz is built on a high gold mountain. Many large nuggets of gold have been found on the banks of the river that runs through the city. One day I rode off on one of my mules to visit the gold washing of a French Company, at the invitation of the manager, a Frenchman, who lived at the place with his wife. The employés consisted of a few whites and several Indians, both men and women, and the Company had four large cranes to lift the big river boulders. The day I was there I saw not just a few, but a considerable number of small nuggets, one of them weighing nearly an ounce, picked up by the Indians and handed to the different overseers; this was before the gravel was got ready to wash, and I thought to myself what a rich place it must be. Imagine my surprise to read in a newspaper two years afterwards, that this Company had gone broke.

As I had intended, I called on the Vice-Consul for Belgium, Mr. Staedlier, who had not long returned from his trip. He repeated and confirmed, more or less, what I had read of his journey in the papers, and said the Indians would never permit anyone to cross the River Challana, let alone go to Paroma, and he strongly advised me to abandon the trip.

Before leaving La Paz I also went to see Sanchez, a Spaniard, who had been supplying the Indians of Challana with rifles and ammunition, and receiving payment in rubber, till the authorities caught him and Villavicencia and imprisoned them in La Paz; but, after a year, the gaol was attacked one night, and the prisoners escaped. Villavicencia got back to Challana, but Sanchez, who was suffering with his chest, was recaptured on his way to Sorata, and again imprisoned. He was eventually released on payment of a big fine to the Government, on condition that he promised not to do any more gun-running, and reported himself once a month to the officials in La Paz. He said he would communicate with the Indians through Villarde, to whom he would explain my object in going in, and he sent off one of his Indians with a message to him. He advised me to go in by way of the Tipuani, instead of the Tongo, and told me that Mrs. Villavicencia, Villarde’s sister, lived at Sorata, and that it would be policy to go and see her on the way, which I decided to do.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 2

Morosini’s Treasure

Arequipa and the Jura Baths, Part 2

There are two ways of staying at Jura. One is to put up at the hotel built by Morosini, an Italian, who was given ground and other facilities rent free by the Municipality of Arequipa for twenty-five years, provided he built an hotel with accommodation for ten or twelve guests, and was allowed to charge 6/- a day. The other is to rent one or more of the little stone houses owned by the Municipality for £3 a month each; these consist of two rooms with two chairs and a table in each, a kitchen and veranda, two mud-built beds, a brick oven, and the usual mudrange to hold four or five pots.

Fresh mutton is brought by the Puno train, and fresh meat by the Arequipa train twice a week. The Indians round about always have fowls and eggs to sell. There is some partridge and duck shooting to be got in the neighbourhood, and occasionally some guanacos; but guanaco meat is not worth bothering about when you can get fine mountain sheep for 6/- and 8/- each. Some of the most beautiful cacti grow hereabouts, and there are flowers of all colours, red, or slate blue, yellow, white, purple or pink, all as large as saucers, with several on each stem. There is a good sized stream or river which runs for twenty miles underground near here, and then appears again. Several families of Indians live in this district with their llamas, and fine-looking long-haired donkeys, which have the peculiarity of four holes in their noses, instead of two; they have the ordinary nostrils and then another pair, about half an inch round, two inches higher up.

A llama. Illustration from Adventures in Bolivia.

Morosini told me that some few years ago when he was keeping a rest house at Juliaca, where the line branches off to Cusco, the capital of the Incas, where they built the Temple of the Sun, he knew an Italian who had discovered where some of the Inca treasure was hidden. Apparently he had made his home near that place for two years, and used to disappear every now and then with two mules, provisions and gear, staying away for five or six days, and coming back with bars of gold weighing two to five kilos each, which he took to the bank at Arequipa.

Morosini tried hard to discover the hiding-place of this treasure, and once he followed the fellow; but he never succeeded in finding the place. All he could gather was that where this gold came from there was a lot more, and that the Italian had been shown the place by an old Indian whom he had accidentally found coming away from it one day. The Indian bound him to secrecy, and made him promise that he would only take away with him just what he could carry up the steep mountain path. There was nobody living anywhere near the place, and it was extremely well concealed; the Italian made several trips to this place during the two years Morosini knew him, and then went back to live in his Italian home. He had come out to Peru to prospect for a gold concession, and had struck this find by pure luck; he was practically a teetotaller, so there was no chance of his disclosing the secret in his cups.

While I am on the subject of the Jura baths I ought to say something about a few more of the old Inca baths. A couple of years before I went to Jura I visited out of curiosity the Lago Huacachina (which means the lake for incurables). To get you there take the steamer to Pisco, two days south of Callao, and then the Pisco-Ica train across the 40 miles of desert which separates the two places. On the way at a little place where the engine takes in water I saw the most magnificent bunch of heliotrope I ever saw in my life anywhere; a wonderful mass of flower it looked in the middle of this sandy desert. On arriving at Ica you hire a horse or a mule and ride 16 miles, then up a 3,000ft. sandhill at the finish, and then down 1,000ft; and there lies the Lago Huacachina. There is a rest-house there with blocks of two rooms each, mud bed, mud fireplace, and oven, table and two chairs in each, and you pay a rent of 2/- a day to the caretaker and find your own food. There is tropical vegetation all round the lake, which is about 300 yards long and half as wide, with a flat-bottomed boat on it which anyone can use; I took it one day in order to find the depth, which was exactly 17ft. on the average, from about 20 or 25 yards off the shore; the deepest part was in the middle.

I met here one John Robson, a rich brewer, who had come because he had got a stroke all down one side. He told me he had been there just three months and could walk about again as well as ever but the trouble in his arm was not right yet. I suggested he should go in like a dog on all fours and give his arm the same chance as his leg. He said he had never thought of that, and would certainly try it. Two years later I met a man who knew him and who told me that John Robson was quite cured and came back well as ever after eight months on the lake.

Another man, Piccione, an Italian, had had a bad fall from his horse while jumping a fence in Italy, which smashed his head and gave him concussion. He recovered, but ever since then used to suffer from severe headaches, and could find no remedy till he went to this lake, stayed there six months and was quite cured. I met Mrs. Piccione and her daughters at Pisco, and she told me that it was now nearly three years since they left the lake and that he had had no trouble with his head since then.

The baths are free to every one and there is no special course of treatment; you simply bathe in the lake and the waters do the rest. It is advisable, however, not to stay in for more than twenty minutes at a time. The caretaker told me that more than one death had occurred through patients staying in too long at a time. The water contains, among other things, iron potash and sulphur.

In Jura the waters contain magnesia as well as the potash and sulphur, and the Municipality have put up a notice forbidding people to remain more than fifteen or twenty minutes in the No. 4 bath. This one is the hottest and most dangerous, and there is a policeman always on duty there.

Another of the old Inca Baths is Cauquenes near Santiago in Chili. This is a pretty place but the waters are not very strong; it is more of a health and rest resort. Then there are the Chillan baths; to get there you take the train from Santiago to Chillan, an all day and all night journey; then you can drive the remaining ninety miles by coach with frequent change of horses or mules. These baths are owned by the Municipality of Chillan, and are only open for the summer months, from November till March, as they are under snow for the rest of the year. There are three hot vapour baths there called El Toro, Novillo, and Vaca; the first, meaning “bull,” is the hottest, the second means “steer,” and the third “cow.” There is a Government doctor kept at the establishment to see that nobody stays more than eight minutes in the Toro, which is like the hottest room in a Turkish bath, only much hotter. There is a good hotel there open from November till March.

Then there is also the Puente Inca on the way across the Andine Railway from Mendoza to Los Andes and several others. But the best of these baths in my opinion are Lago Huacachina and Jura.

While I was at Jura I met a Norwegian who had just returned a few weeks before from the Tipuani River, on the way to Challana. He begged me not to go and told me I would be killed if I tried to cross the river, but, anyhow, he said I would never get there as I would have to walk on foot over the 17,000ft. Ylliapo range of mountains, and that I would never be able to do. When I asked him why not he said I was too big (I was then still 265lbs.), and told me he himself had been offered £500 to go and make a report on the gold washing on the Tipuani and got so knocked up that it took him two years to recover sufficiently from the journey to walk back; he was staying there for three months to recover his health.

After staying at Jura for three weeks or a month, I had reduced my weight from 265lbs. to 235lbs.; so I sold my horse back to the original owner for £16, and left for Puno.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 2

Marvellous Waters

Arequipa and the Jura Baths, Part 1

I left Lima in September, 1903. Mr. Leguia did his best to persuade me not to start, as since he had made arrangements with me Mr. Beauclerk, the British Minister, had called on him and asked him not to let me sign the agreement. He had read and heard of Staedlier’s expedition and its result, and had come to the conclusion that it was far too dangerous for anyone to go in alone. I told Leguia I had already notified the various Chilian horse owners, whose horses I had been training, and had sublet my stable there for the time I would be away; and I said I was prepared to undertake the journey, agreement or no agreement, provided he would agree to abide by the terms if I succeeded in reaching Paroma and getting the information required. He assured me he would do so and expected all the others to do the same.

So in September I left Callao for Mollendo by the S.S. Columbia of the P.S.N. Co. (which, by the way, was lost in a fog on the rocks off the Lobitos Islands the very next year). At Mollendo the landing is generally very rough and the rollers very heavy till you get right in near the jetty; sometimes passengers have to be lowered down in baskets and occasionally they cannot be landed at all, but on this occasion the sea was calm. I put up at the Hotel Ferro Carril where the rooms are large, the food and drinks quite good, and the charges moderate, from 4/- to 6/- a day. There is another hotel in the Plaza, but when I was there the owner was down with bubonic plague and the place had been put in quarantine. Next morning I took the train to Arequipa, 7,500ft. up, a whole day’s journey, and put up at the Hotel Maloni, the best in the place, paying 6/- a day. At this altitude in these parts the atmosphere is the purest and the climate the finest in the world; in fact, all along the Andes Range, from 3,000ft. to 10,000ft., the climate is hard to beat, in my opinion. Over 10,000ft. is rather too high.

In Arequipa itself the streets are well-paved and kept; outside the town there are no roads at all, but just well beaten tracks. The cathedral is one of the finest outside Lima. The police regulations are quite excellent. All policemen are armed with rifles, and at night one of them is posted at every square. Every half-hour throughout the night he blows one sharp call on his whistle which is answered by the next one, and so on; when two sharp calls are blown the men on either side come up to see what is the matter. The inspectors ride round periodically during the night to see that all is well. All the windows are fenced in with stout iron bars built into the masonry so that they can be opened without the risk of thieves breaking in. I went to the Prefect to register my gun, rifle and revolver, and he gave me a special order of permission to use it in self-defence if necessary. Without these documents nobody is supposed to carry arms in Peru.

In this town there is a constant coming and going of Indians, with their strings of llamas; these animals serve them as beasts of burden and food, and their skins provide them with clothes. The town possesses two good clubs where strangers are always made welcome, also a small racecourse. The ladies of Arequipa are justly famous throughout Peru for their beauty.

My next concern was my weight, which was 265lbs., and I thought it was well to reduce this before starting on my long march over the high Andes into the forests below. So I drove over to have a look at the hot springs 21 miles from Arequipa, and the next day I took the train to the famous springs of Jura, 9,000ft. up, which used in former days to be a favourite resort of the Incas of Peru. I decided to remain there till I had reduced my weight to 235lbs.

The regular train from Arequipa to Puno runs twice a week, leaving at 8 a.m. and stopping at Jura to take up water and set down passengers at 9.30 the next morning. The baths are a mile from the station by a stone footpath. The waters are marvellous; they can and do cure almost any disease, and are a remedy for ailments that baffle the cleverest medical men. It is worth while relating here a few cases of almost miraculous cures, that came to my personal knowledge on the several occasions I stayed there. One was the daughter of a well-to-do man, a very pretty girl, who had lupus on one ear. Her father took her to Jura, hired a house from the Municipality of Arequipa, who run the baths, and left her there for nearly a year with her mother, sister, a cook and Indian boy. In three months he told me she was practically cured, but he let her stay a little longer to make certain. I saw her myself shortly after she arrived at Jura, and again nearly a year afterwards, when her father arrived to take her away.

Another was a merchant from Iquique, who arrived so racked with rheumatism that he could not even crawl, and had to be dumped down in the water in a blanket. In six months he left quite cured and restored to his normal weight and more; Morosine, the hotel-keeper, who was my informant, told me that he wrote to him two years after he had left and said that up to then he had not had a single ache or pain. Here is another case: After I had been there a couple of days a gentleman, who was staying in one of the little houses he was renting from the Municipality, came up to me and asked me whether I would mind doing him a favour. He had brought his wife there from Lima, to try the baths for a spinal complaint; he had been told of them by a doctor in Harley Street, London, whom he consulted and who said that he believed they could do more than any medical man. He told me she screamed out with pain when he and his servant carried her down, and asked me if I would mind carrying her down for him while I was there, as he thought it would be easier for her to be carried by one person. I did this for a few mornings, till she could manage to walk down the steps herself with my support, and in three weeks from the time I met her she was able to walk down by herself, and up too; after six months she went away cured. I met the man in Arequipa nine months after his wife’s treatment at the baths, and he said she had been out of pain for months; and a week or two after I had left Jura she was actually able to wait on herself. Yet another case was that of a man whom I met there, an engine driver on the Arequipa-Puno Railway, who was suffering from malignant ulcers which he had got while gold washing in the stream near the Santo Domingo Mine. He had been at Jura two months when I saw him, and had practically been cured, simply by drinking the waters from one of the several springs, and bathing in the baths twice a day. He told me he now had his cocktail, martine or gin and bitters before his lunch and dinner, just as he always did. I could mention many other cases.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 1

The Challana Rubber Concession

In July, 1903, I was engaged by the Challana and Tongo Rubber Company to go and find out the conditions on which the Indians of Challana would tap rubber for them. It was freely given out at the time that no white man had been to Paroma, their capital, and returned safely since 1845; and my plan was to go to Paroma and see the chief of the Indians and his head men, and hear what they had to say.

The Challana Tongo Concession was originally bought from the Bolivian Government by the father of Colonel Nunez del Prado, who paid them a sum of money in cash, and a yearly rental. When he died, he left the concession to his son, who turned it over to a Company in return for a sum down, and a rental of £1,000 a year.

The last expedition into the interior by this Company to pick rubber had turned out a complete failure. Of the three white men in charge, two were murdered by the Indians; the manager, Filippo Barbari, an Italian, had had his hands and feet cut off, and was then thrown into the river, and Rodriguez, the storekeeper, had his head cut off. The third, Donovan, the book-keeper, got away by hiding in the day-time, and following up the river at night, till he got out of the Indian territory; he was the only one who came back to tell the tale. All the rubber and stores were stolen. The Government at La Paz then thought it necessary to despatch an expedition of 200 soldiers under Captain Cusicanque, with orders to punish the Indians, and also to find out what had happened to Captain Lorenzo Villarde and his lieutenant, Macedonia Villavicencia, who had been sent back as an escort with the Cacique of Challana, after his visit to the authorities at La Paz. Some of the soldiers fell sick with the puna or siroctre (mountain sickness), and others were attacked in the forest by terciana (malarial fever), after crossing the Ylliapo range; however, the rest arrived safely with their captain at the Challana River, which the natives regard as their boundary. To their great surprise, they were met there by Indians armed with rifles, and ready to resist them, under the leadership of Villarde, the very man they had come to rescue. Cusicanque gave the order to fire, but the soldiers refused to obey him, saying that they could not fire on their old captain; most of them actually abandoned Cusicanque, and he was compelled to return to La Paz with 50 men, without their arms. Plans were made to send another expedition at the expense of the Challana Rubber Company, and the Bolivian Government promised to lend 200 soldiers; but it was found that the expense would be too heavy, and it was finally decided to get some one to go in and find out the facts personally, and try to discover what kind of a bargain could be made with the Indians for tapping the rubber.

The Company then made preliminary arrangements to sell the concession to an American Company for £100,000, to be paid half in cash, half in shares, but they stipulated that before anything could be done it would be necessary to send in some reliable man to see what terms could be made between the Indians of Challana and the Government of Bolivia. They realized from the first that to secure such a man a good offer would have to be made, and they promised expenses and £6,000 commission, if the concession was taken over within two years.

The first person to undertake the job was a Mr. Staedlier, the Vice-Consul for Belgium in Bolivia. His mother, who was living with him in La Paz, went to considerable expense to supplement his equipment for the trip.

Accordingly, he started off on his perilous journey. When he got to the boundary, he was met by an Indian with a letter of warning for him on a stick, telling him that his party would not be permitted to cross the River Challana—that they must return at once, and that they must leave behind them all their tents, gear, goods, their diving apparatus, and pipes for gold-washing and their two Kodak cameras, also all their clothes, coats and other garments, with the exception of a shirt and a pair of pants each. They were given till midday the next day to move.

That night they were surrounded by many fires, and when Staedlier saw that he was encompassed by so many armed Indians he thought it only prudent to return. When he got back to Sorata, he had to send a boy back to his mother, asking her to send him some clothes for his journey back to La Paz.

I was told all about this by Mr. Leguia, then Minister of Hacienda, and afterwards President of Peru, and when he asked me if I would care to undertake the trip I accepted at once. An agreement was drawn up whereby I was to be paid all expenses, and a sum of £10,000, if the U.S.A. or any other government took over the concession within two years of my return.

I had several reasons for undertaking this journey. Firstly, I was anxious to visit Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, and I wanted very much to get up close to one of the highest mountains in the world, the Peak of Sorata. Then there was the long and interesting march through the tropical forest to Paroma, the capital of Challana, and getting back again, a thing which no white man had done since 1845. Last, but not quite least, there was the £10,000.

Adventures in Bolivia, Preface

To Riders in High (and Lower) Altitudes

This book, that exudes sincerity, just as a pine tree drops its rosin, serves a double purpose. It reveals a curious personality that might have stepped straight from the pages of Purchas or of Hakluyt, and at the same time, all unknown to the writer, helps to dispel some of the mist of ignorance and prejudice that for so long has hung over the lives and actions of the Spanish Conquerors.

Judged by an alien Tribunal, brought before the bar of an opinion adverse to them by religion, race and interest, they have been vilified before the world with scarce a word raised in their defence. To-day their exploits are judged upon their merits. The ancient jealousy, that gave Gondomar the right to brand even the great Sir Walter Raleigh with the stigma of “Pirata,” has long died down. We know that our own withers are not quite unerring. Thus, by degrees and in the hard school of experience, we are learning not to condemn men who acted by the standards of their age by our own code. Take both codes away, and drop me an impartial judge down from the moon, he might not find much real difference between the Spaniards of the age of Charles V and ourselves, the sons of progress and of light. Still, there are fellows of the baser sort, your piffling traveller with his bad jokes, contempt of anything not forged upon his Peckham anvil, or registered so many degrees north, east or west from the meridian of Balham, with clichés from old books as if the course of time changed nothing, and no fresh matter ever came to light, to tell us all the Spanish conquerors were cruel rogues and thieves. He lets us know that in their thirst for gold and zeal for their damned Papism, they exterminated all the Indians, leaving not one alive. He is read, commented on and reviewed by men as ignorant and prejudiced as he himself, and so the ball rolls on, ever increasing like a mass of snow set trundling down a slope. To read or listen to such antiquated bombast one would think that kindly well-disposed and Christian men meticulous in all their dealings with the Indians, such as were Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, had never lived and striven to do good. Of the great Las Casas and the innumerable Jesuits and Franciscans, who gave their lives so freely for the conversion of the Indians, it is unnecessary to speak.

This little book comes as an antidote to all this poison gas.

Written in the language that men speak round the camp fire, with rifles ready to the hand, with ears attuned to catch the slightest rustle in the grass and eyes always a-watch upon the horses where they feed close at hand, hobbled or picketed, it lets fresh air in on the question. The writer tells us, bluntly and in the way a sailor writes his log book, quite without comment, but with circumstance, that he slept in an Ancient Inca Temple on some pass or other of an altitude of 17,000 feet and with a temperature of 8° below. He lifts unwittingly the corner of a page that Protestant historians have always kept dog’s-eared. He jots down at haphazard that he bought a llama, some frozen potatoes, or the carcass of a sheep, from the owner of the hut, who was an Indian. Then further on he comes upon a band of Indians driving llamas; stops in another Indian hut, and by degrees it dawns upon us that his whole journey from the time he left La Paz was amongst Indians. One million Indians, as he tells us, are settled in the republic on the same lands that their forefathers owned, under their Inca princes when the Pizarro brothers burst on their Arcady. Besides this million, that apparently has fluctuated little since the conquest, still in the forests of the Tipuani and the Beni, that Beni of whose wonders I had heard so much from my friend, Colonel Don Pedro Suarez, there still roam, free, naked and unashamed, for shame was brought into the world under a dispensation they had no share in, three hundred thousand of these autochthones.

How the author came to set out on the strange, romantic quest, to reach a lone community of Indians, on the Tipuani, living far from the world, in curious huts much as I have seen in remote capillas in Paraguay, and well depicted by the author in a not ineffective, neo-Japanese style of art, is most curious. Established as he was with a large racing stable, somewhere in Chile, an occupation as one would suppose as little likely as any in the world to furnish an explorer, for diplomats and race-horse trainers are perhaps the men above all others wrapped in conservatism and bound in prejudice.

Still, somewhere in his being he must have had the true Elizabethan spirit that makes a man sell his own land to visit that of other people, for without preface he informs us that in July 1913 [sic—1903] he was engaged by the Challana and Tongo Rubber Company to go and find out if the Indians on the Challana river would tap rubber for them. The proposition seemed a tough one, as he might have said himself. The Indians, knowing that to allow white people to settle in their territory must be the ruin of their race, had set strict guards upon the passes of the river.

Twice or three times they had defeated expeditions sent against them, and were now all well armed, having supplied themselves through the good offices of a Bolivian officer, one Captain Villarde, who had originally been sent against them from La Paz. Captain Villarde, and one Sanchez, had thrown their lot in with the Indians and lived half in the capacity of traders, half as military advisers, in Paroma, the mysterious Indian capital, a town that no one single white man had ever seen except themselves.

Like a good trainer, the first thing was to see about his weight. As he weighed two hundred and sixty-five pounds (avoirdupois) one might be pardoned in supposing that as De Quincey said about the Poet Coleridge, he was a little stout for active virtue. Nothing more false. Had he weighed twice as much, it would have been the same.

Three weeks of hot baths reduced his weight by thirty pounds, and he was ready for the road. Every one having advised him against going to Paroma, telling him as they told Columbus, and have told everybody since the beginning of the world who wanted to go anywhere, that the journey was impossible, he thought of what he ought to have hit upon at once, seeing he was a race-horse trainer. Near to Sorata, a little town close to Lake Titicaca, there dwelt “un matrimonio” as they would call it in Bolivia, of the name of Gunther. Next door there lived a lady, one Señora Villavicencia, sister to the Villardes, who had become, either by adoption or by grace, a personage amongst the Indians. The writer, most likely as the old Scottish story goes, either by sophistry or knowledge of the gospel, got the soft side of her. How many times he must have slipped the “Tapujo” over the eyes of a wild mule, an operation that, experto crede, has its difficulties, and yet gives one experience with other animals. This lady, having marked, heard and inwardly digested all that the writer had to say, was pleased to send a letter, by an Indian runner, to her brother at Paroma, thus opening an Eden, making this book possible, and incidentally removing from her sex the slur that Eve cast on it when she was instrumental in setting up the board in that fair garden by the Tigris, with “To let” inscribed upon it. Riding a stout mule, and with his old chestnut hurdle racer to serve as bell mare, and well supplied with rum and whisky, sterilized milk, two or three horn lanterns, Liebig’s extract, a nail extractor, and other trifles useful on the road, though as a liberal minded man he does not dogmatize upon a traveller’s needs, for in a qualifying clause he says, “anything else you think you need,” the writer set out towards his Eden in the wilderness.

Much did he see and much set down, as when he stayed with the headman of Tiquiripaga, himself an Aymara. This worthy, called Manuel, was wedlocked to two wives, one of them not bad-looking, who took good care of the writer during his sojourn in the place.

Little by little, passing along the edge of precipices; swung over torrents on a rope, and witnessing the wondrous change of fauna, flora, sky and temperature, that riders from the high Andes see slip beside them in a day’s ride toward the Tropics, the writer gradually advanced towards the unknown.

He saw (he tells us so) the Alpine flora slowly give way to palms and tree-ferns, begonias, white and purple creepers, orchids and parasites spring from the distorted trunks of Ceibas and of Bongos, and butterflies, light and dark blue, purple and yellow, flying about in flocks. Parrots darted high above his head, chattering and shrieking, and flights of green and red macaws glided like hawks about the clearings of the woods. All this he saw and must have smelt the dank and spicy odour rising from the masses of decaying vegetation, seen the snakes hanging from the trees, and heard the monkeys howling, sights, sounds and odours that always make me feel as if I was returning home during such kind of rides. At last he reached the Tipuani and camped upon its banks, being well received by one Noboa, an ex-slave, and startled, though he should not have been so, by the apparition of a tall sun-burned man, stricken with fever, who introduced himself by the name of Mackenzie, and formed of course a unit of the all conquering legions that Scotland sends out to subdue the world. Long did he wait in Tipuani for news from the mysterious Indian capital, for, though he was only a few days’ journey from it, the frontiers were so strictly guarded that a wayfaring man, even although endowed with average intelligence, could just as easily expect to enter heaven without a passport. So in Tipuani he waited, shooting occasionally a man-eating jaguar, bathing, drinking new rum, and no doubt mightily refreshed by the conversation of Mackenzie, the young Spaniard, Perez, who had left the military school in Madrid on a “paseo” to the Tipuani and had been fever stayed for years, and the companionship of other waifs and strays, whose talk is always interesting, as it runs wholly on themselves and things that they have seen, and in such places as Tipuani these kind of men are sure to congregate. When the long wished for order to proceed arrived at last, in three days’ march he reached Paroma, a village set, like some cities of the Scriptures, high upon a hill. A river ran through it and huts were scattered here and there, midst clumps of palm trees. The view extended over miles. Right in the middle stood the Court House, a “long high shed of poles and palm leaves,” and not far off the church, neat, swept and garnished, although there was no priest, nor had been for a long while. Captain Villarde received the writer well, though with anxiety, for it appeared the Indians thought he was a spy.

Early next morning the tryst was set within the Court House, and on raised seats sat Captain Villarde, the two Fernandez, Portugol, and “old man Jones,” who had lived forty years amongst the Indians, and forgotten English. Three hundred Indians thronged the Court House, and the situation was so critical that Villarde advised the author to get up and speak to them. He did so for two stricken hours in the most choice Castilian that he had at his command. The result was magical, for, curious to say, the speech convinced his hearers, a thing that possibly has never happened in a Christian parliament.

All was plain sailing and, his business finished in Paroma, nothing remained for him but to get upon his mule and strike the homeward trail.

Well, well, he had a glorious journey, and one that in the days when joints grow stiff and mules impossible to mount will still console him for all he underwent.

I, having read the book, am glad of his success; but hope when he is asked about Paroma that he will have forgotten both its longitude and latitude, and treat it as a dream. Long may it flourish, just as an unknown orchid flourishes in Colombian everglades, or a fine undiscovered jewel in a mine, quite uncontaminated by the thing that we call progress, and pride ourselves upon, as justly as a man might pride himself upon an ulcer in his leg, a fine harelip, or any other malformation.

I hope the chief will not forget, when the false dawn streaks all the sky with red, to rise up from sleep, and taking down a calabash fill it with chicha, then, winding his poncho round his neck, will make his way through the wet grass, leaving a trail, with his short inturned feet as of a plantigrade, in the white dew. Then in the middle of the square, whilst the God of his forefathers is born again into the world, that he will pour the chicha on the grass, praying, as the Incas prayed in that great temple that they raised in Cuzco, to the sun.

Let him pray on; for prayer is to the soul what most divine tobacco is to the senses, deadening and comforting. For after all it is but giving up oneself unto oneself, and waiting dumbly for something that may come from nothing, or again may never come; but as he prays the sun will rise for all that, just as it rose in Atahualpa’s time, and will continue rising.

R. B. Cunninghame Graham

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Adventures in Prodgers

When I first moved to Edinburgh in 2001, I spent a lot of time in its second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, which were more prevalent then than they are now. On one visit I found a small hardback with a title and author that seemed to come from one of those “awful books” compilations, and picked it up for a pound on a whim.

Back at home, I started reading what turned out to be a ripping yarn of the first order. C. H. Prodgers was an Edwardian adventurer who had gone to South America in search of rubber and gold, and returned with a memory full of anecdotes and landscapes that make surprisingly compelling reading today. It’s no coincidence that he got a mention in a Biggles story.

After devouring Adventures in Bolivia (1922), I looked online for more about the man, discovered the sequel, Adventures in Peru (1924), and bought and read that too. Sadly, Prodgers died before he could complete a promised third volume on his adventures in horse racing, but what he left behind is more than most of us manage.

I always thought it would make a good online project to scan and post Prodgers’ tales, illustrating them as I went. When a few years later I decided to make a start, I discovered that someone had already uploaded the first volume to, and went a bit cold on the idea. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that a scan in a giant repository of out-of-copyright books, where nobody would ever notice it, was doing the man a disservice. His tales of derring-do deserved something better.

After locating another public domain version of Adventures in Bolivia online, I compared the two in a text-editor to locate and correct their OCR errors, then compared the results against my print copy to produce a clean version. Now, at long last, the time seems right to start posting it here. As the chapters unfold in coming weeks, I’ll include some of my own comments, the original illustrations, and maybe some new ones. You can follow along via the RSS feed or on Twitter. If Bolivia goes well, I’ll move on to Peru.

Settle in, then, for Cecil Herbert Prodgers’ Adventures in Bolivia, in ten thrilling chapters.

Rory Ewins