Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 5

A Note of Warning

Over the Quillapatuni Pass to Tipuani, Part 5

When we started Antonio began to drive his animals at about four miles an hour. I told him not to go so fast, but to keep to my pace, which was more like two miles an hour, and six or eight a day. He said we should be more than a week getting to Tipuani at that pace, but it would not matter, as the mules would be fit to take a cargo of rubber back for Perez.

On the way down we heard many toucans, mocking birds, parrots and monkeys, and saw plenty of guavas; we gathered a lot of these, and the mules kept munching at them all the way. At the bottom of this hill there were some beautiful big butterflies with wings half orange colour and half a bright sky blue. I decided to get a few on the way back. On the way up the next hill we saw more butterflies, some light blue, others almost purple, but I noticed that this little valley was the only place, on my whole journey, where the orange and blue winged ones were to be seen, and there were dozens of them. That day, too, we saw several wild turkeys, and came across the spoor of peccary and bear, and occasionally the track of a deer. We made camp that afternoon at 4 p.m., and, as soon as we arrived, I gave the Indians a tot of cheap rum each, and had a gin and bitters myself. Our camp was four sheds of bamboo, with palm-leaf roofs, inhabited by a half-caste and his wife, who were growing sugar cane, to make rum to sell. He told me he was practically a non-drinker himself, and only took a tot in the morning, and another at night, to ward off fever. I hired one shed for myself, and another for the men, at the usual price of 2/-. I managed to get another wild turkey here, quite close to the camp, to take on with us the next day. In the morning we had to go up a very steep hill; the path was cut out of the slippery, red, clayish soil, and was so narrow in places that there was barely room to pass one foot over the other. There were puddles of water all the way up and the trees were so lofty that they often hid the sun from view altogether. We were glad to get to the top of this pass, only to find that the path going down to the river, on the other side, was just as bad and twice as long. The Indian saw two deer on the way down, but I did not spot them. The woods were full of all sorts of gaudy coloured birds, especially yellow and green parrots, which the Indians always take with them to sell, when they go into Sorata or La Paz; they are considered to be the best talkers, especially those with a red patch on their heads. Down by the river there were some fine orchids growing on the trees, and many bright coloured butterflies. After walking up another steep hill and down another long one, we crossed a stream and pitched camp, making use of two small open palm-leaf shelters and putting up a third. Nobody was living there, but there was plenty of long grass about for the mules, which Antonio tied up, and kept shifting to fresh feeding ground. The weather was still fine; in the rainy season, after a good spell of rain, it always holds for a week or ten days. The next day was up and down hill going all the way; the woods were still full of toucans, parrots and mocking birds. Our camp, this time, was in another coffee estate; I found the owner there, and he said he had a farm on the banks of Lake Titicaca, and only came there for a few weeks every year, to load up some small mules with coffee. He did not take much trouble with the place, as though the coffee was very good the transport was difficult. He told me he went to his farm by a different route from the one I had come; it took two days longer, but it avoided the Quillapatuni Pass, and most of the rubber coming from the interior to La Paz and the coast went that way. He thought the Indians would make me turn back when I got to the border. I promised to put up again at his place on my return journey, and he called his wife and his head man, and caretaker, and told her to open his rooms for me when I came back. He advised me, when I came back, to branch off and take the path he had told me of, to avoid the Quillapatuni Pass, but I said I thought it would be much easier walking up that path than down, and would rather return by the same road. The next day our midday stopping place for lunch was a small orange grove, where the owner grew a lot of coffee as well. As soon as he saw me he handed me a note, and said: “This was left by an Indian from Challana, who asked me to look out for you, and deliver it. I knew it was you coming along by your size.”

The note read: “Take the advice of a friend, who wishes no harm to come to you, or any other foreigner. I beg you not to persist in your attempt to enter Challana. The inhabitants say you have been sent by the Government to spy on them and their country, and if you cross the river the same fate will befall you as befell Philip Barbari and his companions. Be warned in time, and turn back.”

It was written in Spanish, and there was no signature. In the afternoon we continued on, over the same kind of ground, through fine tropical scenery, to the banks of another river, where we saw some people were washing for gold. They owned a farm and cattle, and grew maize, bananas and other fruits. At the farm-house on the top of the hill, for nothing they lent me a big palm roofed shed, and sold me some fresh milk and bread. I slept outside that night.

In the morning we walked down a hill, crossed another river, then up and down some more steep hills to the banks of the Tipuani, the great gold river. We camped at a beautiful spot called Gritado, where a man called Ricardo Rodriguez lived, the owner of several small huts of bamboo and palm-leaf roofs. He told me he came from La Paz, and introduced me to his two wives, who were sisters. He was growing sugar and coffee, bananas, oranges, pines and pawpaws; this fruit is delicious and very good for the health, and pepsine is made from the seed of it. He told me there was plenty of gold to be washed out all along the banks of the river near his place; he himself only worked for gold seven or eight weeks in the year, and often got as much as twenty ounces and more in a week. He wanted to go to La Paz when the dry season set in, and offered to let me hire his three small mules, to take my cargo back as far as La Paz, for £3 each, and expenses for food; he said there were some bad Indians about on the road, looking out for travellers whom they could attack and rob. I told him we had met none, but should be very glad to accept his offer for our return journey. From here to the village of Tipuani was only seven hours’ journey, through a forest, mostly easy going by a path that kept near the big river all the way. We passed two small holdings, inhabited by two Barbadian blacks, who had married Indian women; they were growing sugar, chiefly for rum, also maize, bananas and other things. In the afternoon we reached Tipuani.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 5

A Tot of Whisky

Over the Quillapatuni Pass to Tipuani, Part 4

Perez also told me that a fortnight before we got to the Toro an Indian messenger whom he had sent from Sorata with important letters to his son, at the Tipuani, and all the rest of the mail from the Post Office of La Paz and Sorata, fell off the rope seat, as he was being pulled across, and was swept away. All the mail was lost, and some money as well, and the body of the poor chap has not yet been recovered. This is why one of the men shouted to me not to look down. Meanwhile, Manuel and his wife and son were driving the llamas to a ford, three miles further up, where the water was shallow, and they could cross, and Miguel and I waited for them. They turned up at 2 p.m., and we walked on, along a narrow track, near the river for a mile, till we reached the home of an Indian rubber picker, who was then down the river picking. His wife and children were at home, and we camped near their ranches for the night; I fixed my bed up on the balcony. On this ranch they grew maize, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, pawpaw, pineapple and oranges. There was another ranch some hundred yards away, belonging to another family, where they grew sugar. The mistress of the house, a rather good-looking Indian woman, from the Tipuani River, was very good indeed to me, and sold me all the fruit and eggs I wanted cheap, as well as some corn meal, some delicious tortillas, made from maize meal, and the meat of young deer that had been shot by her neighbour, the day before, and nicely seasoned, for the equivalent of a penny each. Next day I shot some young parrots for my stew. I saw several toucans here, gaudy scarlet, black and yellow birds with pelican beaks. Orchids of different varieties were growing on the trees close by. The Indian woman told me that her maize field was often troubled by monkeys and bears, but every now and then they managed to trap a bear. The weather still kept fine, and, in the morning, we started off over the hill, and down again over the other side. At the foot of every hill was a river, which we had to wade across. The best foot-gear for marching through the tropical forest is canvas alpagatas, with strips of hides for soles, and one soft broad strap running from the heel to fasten over the instep, and passing in a loop through another strap, which is attached to the straps on either side of the alpagata. A pair of large strong, hob-nailed shooting boots should also be carried for boggy ground. It may be of interest here to say something about how the traveller can best make himself comfortable on a journey in these parts. Socks should be of llama wool, and pulled well over the bottom of the trousers. No coat or waistcoat should be worn, and all clothing should be taken off, and a towel kept handy, when crossing rivers. It is always advisable to put on one’s coat while sitting down to rest, before getting thoroughly cool. For head gear, a big panama hat or pith helmet is the best, and a large umbrella is very useful. The best way to avoid fever is to change into dry pants and shirt each day, as soon as camp is reached; I was never troubled with fever, I think for this reason. It is quite safe to drink as much water as one likes, on the way, from the streams running over stones. On reaching camp or resting place I advise a tot of whisky, gin or rum. The Indian men never drink water on the march, they always suck coca leaves instead, but I think my way is the best.

Next day we had a rough uphill march nearly the whole time, and when we got to the top of another small mountain, at 3 p.m., the rain began to fall again, so heavily that we were unable to cross the river, and reach the Solis Coffee estate that day, but were forced to spend a very uncomfortable two nights and a day waiting for the rain to stop, and the river to go down. There was no shelter, whatsoever, and we had to make the best of it. When we did cross, we had only three miles to go to reach the coffee estate. I gave the man in charge the letters I had from Solis, and he at once let me have two nice rooms, that were generally kept for the proprietor’s use only, a nice shed and kitchen. I gave his wife plenty of whole meal flour, which she started immediately to make into dough and knead for bread. I was told that I could have the use of Solis House as long as I cared to stay, and could buy eggs for 1/- a dozen, and fowls for 1/- each.

Next day he was going to send an Indian to a man, who had two small mules, and ask him to come and see me, and make a bargain for going the rest of the way to Tipuani. Manuel and his party were returning next day, and taking with them a cargo of coffee to Solis at Sorata. However, it began raining again in the night, and kept on for three days and two nights, so that Manuel could not start back for five days, and the Indian could not go for the mule man either, but it did not matter much, as we were short of nothing, and had plenty to eat and drink, and some nice fresh pines and oranges for fruit.

On the fifth morning Manuel left, and I was sorry he could not go further. He had been very obliging and civil, and most abstemious and unobtrusive, and I shall always look back with pleasure to the weeks spent with him, and his llamas and wives. Two days after he left, the man with the mules turned up, and agreed to come with me, carrying 50lbs. himself and 100lbs. each on his animals, as well as the blankets, and my bed kit, for twenty-eight bolivians (56/-). He told me there were three Indians living near him who were glad to take carrying jobs, when opportunity offered, and one of them had come with him to represent the others. They agreed to come for six bolivians each (12/-), and to carry 50lbs. apiece, but could only be ready to leave in five days time.

While I was waiting for them to arrive, I shot a few parrots and doves; they make a very tasty stew when cooked with plantains and eschalots, with a dessert-spoonful of Liebig’s as a flavouring, and some rice to thicken it. I also did some prospecting here, and panned out a little gold. Nobody appears to have worked on this stream, but there is no doubt it contains gold. It would be quite easy to work, as it runs down at a good gradient to the river below, and there is plenty of grass for animals. Small mules or donkeys could get there without difficulty, and there is plenty of game in the forest, and some Indian families living near. This time we left behind in Solis’s room all the heavy rugs and clothes for mountain wear, and I had a small sack of bread made to carry with us. Antonio and the Indians carried their own food, but, as usual, there was always a little left over from the big stew Miguel and I prepared every night, which they appreciated very much.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 5

Saved by the Fern

Over the Quillapatuni Pass to Tipuani, Part 3

I had heard that an American, called Salter, had a rather exciting adventure at this pass, and when I mentioned it to Manuel he told me he himself had taken him from Tiquiripaga, with his llamas, and gave me an account of the whole thing. Apparently, they had just started to walk down the hill, when Salter got giddy and fell over. He rolled down about thirty yards, and fortunately fell up against a big tree-fern, which saved him. Manuel and his two men tied together a couple of strong llama ropes, and threw them down to Salter, who made one end fast round his body, and was hauled up. After this escape, he refused to go on any further, and returned at once. Salter told me the story himself some time later. He had been engaged by the Texas Gold Mining Company to go to the lower Tipuani and take charge of a gold washing concession for a salary of £1,000 a year, and all expenses. “When I had gone down about fifty or sixty yards,” he said to me, “I got giddy and fell. The tree-fern saved me, and when they hauled me up I said: ‘No money will induce me to go any further down that devil’s road; they must get somebody else for this job. John E. Salter goes not a step further, I’m going straight back to La Paz,’” and he went. The company subsequently engaged a man named Charest, whom I met down at the Tipuani.

That afternoon I went to have a look at the pass; it was just like an endless succession of narrow stairs hewn out of the solid rock. The ledges were only two or three feet wide, with a sheer perpendicular drop down to the river on the left of a terrifying depth. Perhaps a faint idea of this path may be given by saying that it was much easier to go up than down.

We stayed here for three days. I went out at sunset each day and stalked some bush chickens as they went to roost; and two or three times a day I walked down to feast my eyes on the lovely fields of amaryllis and enjoy the wonderful view. We started on the fourth day at 8 a.m. Manuel said it would be too risky to let the llamas carry the cargo down, so he asked me to engage four other Indians whom he had met walking up with 50lb. loads of coca leaves, which they were going to sell in exchange for barley, matches, and other things. I took them on for 2/- each, and they helped us to transport all the cargo to the foot of the pass on the banks of the Toro River that day. I left them there that night with Manuel’s son to look after the cargo, and walked down myself next day with Manuel and his wife, and Miguel and the llamas. The animals went down one at a time with nothing on their backs, a very pretty sight. Manuel pointed out to me the place where Salter slipped and fell; if he had not struck the big tree-fern he would certainly have been killed. I made the height where the amaryllis were growing about 4,000ft., and the Toro River below about 2,600ft.; the pass itself was half a league. Miguel and I crossed the Toro on a cable made of steel wire, which the Government had placed there for the benefit of travellers. You have to sit on a thick short rope made fast to two pulleys on either side and hold on very tight, while you are hauled across, one at a time, by four or five Indians or other passengers. I went over first, and one of the men shouted to me from the other side, in Spanish, not to look down at the water, or I would get giddy and fall over, thirty feet below. However, I was not a bit giddy, and looked down all the way at the raging torrent of water. The rapid ran at about nine or ten knots an hour; there was a big whirlpool further down, and a huge rock protruding in the middle of the stream. Miguel was hauled over next. He told me he did not look down, and did not like the transit at all. After him all the cargo was transported, and then one of the men, on their way to La Paz, was pulled across by Manuel and his wife and son to their side. At the crossing there were also ten Indians, and twelve small mules, under a Bolivian foreman, on their way to La Paz with rubber and Chinchona bark, belonging to a rich Spaniard, Mr. Perez, who had a concession between the Tipuani and Challana Rivers. I had met Perez at Sorata, and he told me he had not been to the Tipuani for twenty years, owing to the shock of fever he once got there. He said he was able to ride on a small mule nearly all the way, as he was not very heavy, but I was too heavy for a mule, and as I would have to walk all the way he thought I should not be able to manage it, and would soon have to turn back.

He was quite mistaken, as I never felt better in my life. Of course it must be remembered that walking behind llamas only meant going two miles an hour, and six hours a day, with forced delay in between.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 5

A River Crossing

Over the Quillapatuni Pass to Tipuani, Part 2

Next morning we left, in fine weather, at 9 a.m. The path was now all up and down and took us up a very steep hill, then down about twice the length the other side. We saw many birds on the way, several martinettes and some bush chickens, dark, coffee-coloured birds, the size of a fowl, which are very good eating, and easily secured. I did not try to shoot anything, as we already had the small bear’s ham for lunch, and plenty of fresh meat left. At 3.30 old Manuel branched off and led us a little way up an Indian trail to an empty shelter he knew of, where we camped near a stream. He drove his llamas off to a feeding ground, while I pitched my tent outside, leaving the shed to the Indians and Miguel. My tent was no more than a small canvas lean-to, as the llamas could only carry 35lbs. or 40lbs. each. However, my kit mattress was enclosed in a tent, and when this was put up it gave sufficient room for me to lie down and sleep comfortably.

Next morning, about an hour after we started, a heavy rain came on, and continued all day until 3 p.m., when we got to the top of a hill, where we had to make a camp as best we could on two or three acres of grass. I put up my tent bed, and gave the men the sheet of canvas, and soon we got a fire going, as we had taken the precaution of bringing some dry wood with us, which we had distributed among the llamas, and protected from the rain. It was a good thing we had thought of this, as otherwise we could have cooked nothing.

The evening turned out fine and the night also.

In the morning Manuel went down the hill before breakfast to see the river we had to cross, and came back with the information that it would not be possible to cross that day, so we should have to make the best of it and stay here, and if it did not rain again we might go on to-morrow. After breakfast I went down myself to look at the river, while the others were busy putting out all the gear and stuff to dry, getting more firewood and laying it out in the sun. They also started to dig trenches round the shed of poles, and began roofing it in and siding it with plenty of branches in case of more bad weather. Meanwhile, I shot two bush chickens near the camp. At 2 p.m. it looked like another deluge, so we had the things brought into the shed and Manuel cut some long grass, and fastened the big canvas fly over the branches with llama rope. By the time the storm burst things were pretty well arranged. It rained all night and all the next day till early the next morning; then we had lovely weather, but it took two more days for the river to go down sufficiently for us to be able to cross, and it was not until the third day after the rain that we could do so. The road was, as usual, very rough, and there was only room to walk in single file. For the first three hours we were marching up a very steep hill and then down a much longer one, and then, after crossing another river and going up a very steep incline through thick forest, with begonias and many other flowers growing in wild profusion everywhere, we came to the only piece of flat ground that we saw during the whole journey from Sorata. It was a sort of park in the centre of a great forest, with steep hills all round, about 150 acres in extent, and here Manuel branched off along a narrow trail for a couple of hundred yards, and brought us to another small green spot near a stream with a big open palm leaf shed and two smaller sheds, which he said would do for the camp. He told me we had some very stiff climbs to do further on, and that his llamas, which had scarcely had any food for five days, must be rested after the big storm, and allowed to feed for three days. As the fourth day happened to be a Sunday, I suggested stopping there for four days, especially as everything we could possibly want appeared to be at hand; there was wood, water, plenty of bush chickens and wild turkeys, plenty of grass, lovely flowers and beautiful scenery.

We left on the fifth day, and crossed the river at the foot of a long, steep hill. The water was well over the legs of the llamas, and all the cargo had to be taken off and carried across big boulders, which served as stepping stones, and then reloaded on the other side, which took a considerable time. The climate was getting much warmer, and we now saw many beautiful tree ferns as well as begonias and arums. Besides a few bush turkeys and martinettes, we saw two beautiful golden and silver pheasants, a cock and a hen; they were very tame and much too pretty to disturb, so I shot a martinette and a turkey. The narrow, winding path now led us up a hill. It was full of puddles and so overgrown and entangled with branches and creepers, that we each had to carry a cutlass and trim them as we walked. Along the road at different spots we came across small empty sheds, without owners, which are used by all travellers; they generally mend them up a little before they leave, often adding another for their own accommodation. After stopping to rest for half an hour in a cool spot at the top, we continued down the hill again, and met twenty-two mules, loaded with rubber, in charge of a Bolivian and five Indians. We saluted him, and offered him a drink of rum, and he told us that he had made a camp at the bottom of the next hill, near the river, and had rigged up his bed in a sort of cave there, but had to clear out and make up his bed afresh in the open because the cave was full of ants. He said it took three days for himself and his mules to get up the Quillapatuni Pass: he had crossed the Toro River just before the rains had flooded it, and told us we should find two sheds of poles with palm-leaf roofs on the top of the pass, which he had mended and made rainproof. I told him we had done the same where we had camped for five days, and he said he would use our camp to rest his animals and let them feed for a day or two.

We soon passed the cave he spoke of, crossed the river, and walked up a zigzag path. From the top of the hill we looked down on one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever beheld. On the left, at the foot of an almost perpendicular incline, ran the raging torrent of the River Toro, its steep banks covered with tall, graceful tree-ferns and long grass; on the left of the Toro were high hills, covered with dense tropical forest, and five cascades pouring great volumes of water 800ft. or 600ft. down into the river below; in front were high hills, deep valleys and dense forest as far as the eye could see. On the right, for two or three acres at least, stretched an easy slope covered with grass and hundreds of beautiful amaryllis in flower; a gorgeous mass of bloom of scarlet, yellow, blue and every imaginable colour. Round the bend, a couple of hundred yards further on, was a small stream of clear water, about three feet deep, running over big boulders, and on the other side of the stream a little higher up were the two sheds recently occupied by the rubber transport man, on the only piece of flat ground. It was now 4 p.m., and we made up our minds to stop there, and not even attempt to go down the pass until we saw that the river had fallen considerably.

I took possession of one of the sheds for myself, and cut some long grass to put under my mattress.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 5

A Young Bear’s Ham

Over the Quillapatuni Pass to Tipuani, Part 1

Next morning we loaded up the fifteen llamas, amongst other things with half a fresh sheep and six challonas. These last are sheep salted, dried and frozen, which keep a long time. All cargo was tied on with ropes made of llama wool, quite the best kind of rope to use in a tropical forest. Manuel took with him the elder of his two wives and one of his sons, a boy about fourteen or fifteen. The first part of the journey was all easy going and downhill all the way; after the first two hours, the path became a slush of melted snow and the air began to be warmer. We saw no birds and scarcely any trees until 12.30, when we reached a level spot where the forest started on either side. Here we rested for half an hour, without taking off any of the cargo except a billy to make hot water. Miguel and I had some tea and a scratch meal and gave Manuel and the others some coca leaves to chew and two cakes of cocoa and some sugar for themselves; they stirred the cocoa with a wooden spoon and enjoyed it very much.

We started off again, the boy in front leading one of the llamas, old Manuel in the middle and his wife behind him, then the llamas and Miguel carrying my guns and his own pack, and I, bringing up the rear, carrying some cartridges and my flask. The path was still downhill and slushy with recent rains, but the day was fine and the sun was shining. Occasionally we saw a few common looking birds. By this time the forest was beginning to appear, and we were traversing patches of long coarse grass; on the hills round about a little snow could still be seen.

At 3.30 we got to the clearing and saw the owner, who grew barley and had a flock of sheep there. I saluted him and gave him a drink, and he let me have an empty stone hut and mud bed for myself, and another one for Miguel and the cooking, for a Bolivian dollar, which was about 1/10. Miguel went to get firewood while I went to a clear pool in the stream and had a bath and a change, and put on a dry pair of socks made of llama wool, which I had bought from the Indians. Then I changed my shooting boots for alpagatas, unstrapped my kit mattress, fixed up my bed comfortably and helped Miguel to make a good Irish stew. We made an excellent meal, starting with gin and bitters, followed by the stew, rice pudding, sterilized milk and jam; with plenty of good water and a cup of Yungas coffee afterwards. There was some stew left over, which I gave to the owner, in exchange for which he gave me four fresh eggs.

In the evening, after dinner, the owner came over to my hut and we had a smoke and a yarn. He told me that he came from La Paz and that his father had a store there, but he preferred an open air life, so his father had bought him a concession of land here and sent him regular supplies of flour and other things, as well as money to pay the three Indians that worked for him, and llamas to carry the barley to La Paz. The spare hut I occupied, he always kept for travellers at a Bolivian dollar a night, and I was evidently lucky to find it unoccupied.

Next morning, while I was preparing my breakfast, he came over again and advised me to give up the idea of going to Challana, as he had heard it was a very rough and dangerous journey. We loaded up the llamas and started at 9 a.m.; before we left I made a note of the height registered by my aneroid; it was just 12,350ft. After walking for about three hours, we rounded a bend and came suddenly on some of the finest rhododendron bushes I ever saw, growing on both sides of the path, in full bloom, and continuing for two miles or more. At 12.30 we rested for half an hour among the rhododendrons for our usual lunch. In the afternoon the path continued downhill, past banks of fuchsias, roses and flowers of the geranium type. There were also many hardy ferns, and long stretches of bracken and brambles of wild raspberry as large as acorns. The ground was swampy in places, and the path very slushy after the recent downpour. My host of the night before told me it had rained without a break for three days, except for some sleet and hail, but that the weather would probably hold now for some days.

That afternoon we saw several partridges, and some martinettes, a bird the colour of a partridge and the size of a hen pheasant; like the hen pheasant too it tastes well cooked with bread sauce in the same way. As we still had the remains of half a sheep we did not require fresh meat, so I satisfied myself with one martinette. They are easy to shoot, as they sit very close and then run along in full view sometimes for eight or ten yards without getting up to fly, unlike the red-wing partridges which go in pairs, and so fast that they require a pretty good shot.

At 3.30 we camped at an Indian clearing that Manuel knew very well; there were several small sheds of stone and thatch, of which I hired one for myself and one for a kitchen at the usual price of a Bolivian dollar. The owner begged for some coca leaves, as no Indians had come down with any for some time, so I gave him a double handful, and he at once presented me with a young bear’s ham, which he had trapped in a garden where he had a lot of green corn growing. He told me there were plenty of them about, and said that if I went down to the cornfield I might perhaps get one. After I had bathed and changed my boots, I took my rifle and went down to the field. I had told Miguel to make plenty of ashes to grill the leg over, so that we could have it cold next day for lunch, and also to prepare the Irish stew in the usual way, but not to put it on until I got back. The field was not far off, but after waiting about for an hour or more, and seeing nothing, I went back empty handed.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 4

Guinea-Pig Stew

The Peak of Sorata and Tiquiripaga, Part 4

Tiquiripaga is a straggling village, about half a mile in circumference, consisting of 28 huts and a small church, which is always open; a priest is supposed to make his round periodically, but there had been none now for two years.

The huts belonging to the head man of the village were all built of stone, on a fairly flat piece of grass ground of about 50 acres. Yellow and white buttercups and daisies grew here in wild profusion, and a stream ran down to the valley, getting gradually wider and deeper as it wound its way through the forest below. The water was frozen over at this height, with pools here and there, where the ice was kept broken by the inhabitants for water. Each morning at 7.30 I used to go regularly to one of these pools for my bath.

The little church stood about a quarter of a mile lower down the valley, and was always full of wild flowers, newly gathered and placed about the steps and the altar. I noticed that no traveller ever passed the church without entering to say a prayer. It snowed or hailed several times a day, with spells of sunshine in between, and froze hard each night; the mornings were generally bright and sunny, until about 10 or 11 a.m.; then came hail or snow, and so on, throughout the day. Behind us was the mighty Ylliapo Mountain, with the lofty Peak of Sorata towering in lonely grandeur above all, white with eternal snow. In front was the long path winding down to the tropical forest below. There were many woodcocks, and I got a few. I also saw a good many condors, with their white collars, some of enormous size; I got several long shots at them on the wing with my rifle. I thought I hit one or two, and one we could distinctly see had been struck on the tip of the wing; the head man, Manuel, said it was sure to be found wounded, and we would be able to secure it, but we were not lucky enough to find it. The eagles have to take a short run before they are able to extend their wings and launch themselves into space, and once they get fairly going they appear to sail along high up in the sky without any apparent movement of the wings. It was a wonderful sight to see a dozen or more of these enormous eagles all soaring along high up in the blue sky between the snow-capped mountains above, and the field of enormous yellow buttercups below, with huts of the Indians and the little church all standing out here and there by themselves in lonely spots, and llamas of all colours feeding with the hardy mountain sheep on the hills.

After breakfast, I generally took the gun or rifle, and after entering the church for a few minutes went out and shot a woodcock or a mountain partridge, or else took pot shots at a condor. The days passed pleasantly enough, and when night came I had a good dinner, wrote up my diary, and slept well till daylight.

These were the summer months on this side, during which there is alternate snow and sunshine on the Andes, and heavy rains in the forest. Manuel told me one day that he believed treasure was to be found near the Peak of Sorata, and I heard that also in Sorata; in fact, the Indians nearly all claim that it is so, but nobody has ever yet explored there for it, and residents in Sorata say that the natives would never allow anyone to do so. Mrs. Gunther told me that the Indians came in thousands to watch from below Sir Martin Conway’s party trying to ascend the peak, and some of them told her he would never be allowed to remain at the top for very long, even if he got there. She said they claim that the great Image of the Sun was taken there and buried in a niche underneath the snow not far from the top. She knew the Aymara language well, and I jotted down several sentences and words in that language from her tuition that served me very well.

An American lady, Miss Annie C. Peak, had also tried to climb the mountain, but old Manuel told me she did not get higher than the top of the pass which I crossed.

At the end of the ten days, old Manuel came to me at 8 a.m., just as I was returning from my morning bath, and very civilly said he would not be able to make a start the next day, as owing to the heavy falls of snow on the mountains the llamas had to be driven some distance off to get their fill of grass, so he asked me to wait on some days longer. He told me his younger wife would continue to attend to me, and begged me to pay him in future for the sheep and guinea-pigs in coca leaves, instead of money, to which I, of course, agreed.

Mrs. Manuel was a very good hand at making extremely savoury stews with guinea-pigs, and now and then I got her to make one. Occasionally I gave Manuel a drink of gin and bitters, which he liked, but he never asked for one. Before I had been here many days the Mama of the settlement had been to see me. The oldest woman in the place is always called the Mama, and if you make a good impression on her you get along well with the whole lot. This old woman was over ninety, and looked it.

Exactly twenty-three days after I had arrived here Manuel came to announce that he would be ready to make a move next day at 9 a.m.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 4

The Head Man’s Hut

The Peak of Sorata and Tiquiripaga, Part 3

We got to Tiquiripaga at 3.30 p.m. My Aymaras took us to the house, or rather the hut, of the head man, who kindly gave me a hut and the use of a shed for cooking, for 1/- a day. This man was about 60, tall and active, and was always very civil to me. He had two wives much younger than himself, one of them not at all bad looking; they were both very good to me, and could not have treated me better all the time that I was there with them. The day after I arrived, the old man told me I had better return to Sorata with the mules, as it was a long way and the roads were very rough, and down in the forest it was so hot that none of his tribe was ever able to live there. In fact, he said that when they went down to exchange challonas and salt and flour for cocoa, coca and tobacco, it was always arranged between the parties that at certain times of the year the forest Indians would march up to a meeting place in a clearing in the forest near the River Tipuani, some two days’ march from Gritada, the first hut on the river bank, and there do the exchanging, the mountain men returning to their homes on the Ylliapo Range, and the forest Indians down again to the Tipuani, Beni and other tributaries of the Amazon.

The old man also stated that the path from now on was in places so narrow that nothing larger than a very small mule or llama could travel, and then only in single file. So that I should have to continue on foot for the rest of the journey down, besides which the Indians of Challana would allow nobody to enter their country unless the Cacique ordered them to do so, and nobody had ever been able to enter without his permission. When I told him that Villarde’s sister, Mrs. Villavicencia, had sent in a messenger a fortnight ago, he at once said he could hire me some llamas, and he would go with us himself as far as this side of the Toro River; on the other side, we should find a few families of Indians living in the forest, and a coffee estate owned by a man I met at Sorata, also a man who owned two small mules, which I would very likely be able to hire with Indian carriers to continue the journey as far as the Tipuani River. The proprietor of this coffee estate, a man called Solis, had already given me a letter to his manager, a half-bred Indian. The old Indian arranged to go with me, with one of his wives, and two of his sons, and got me 15 llamas for 7 bols a llama, about 14/- a head, each animal to carry 35lbs., and we arranged never to start before 9 a.m. each day, and to camp every afternoon between 3 and 4 p.m., resting the animals for half an hour at midday. He said the reason he could not allow his llamas to go further down was that it would be too hot for the beasts, and, besides, it was the rainy season in the forest and they would not be able to cross the Toro River; I myself would have to be pulled over on a maroma or wire cable, which is placed there by the Government for the benefit of passengers to and from the Tipuani. He told me if that arrangement would suit me he could start in ten days’ time, not sooner, as his animals had only just returned from La Paz, where they had been with cargo; meanwhile I could have this stone hut for myself, and another smaller one for my man Miguel, and a kitchen for 1/- a day; he would let me have as many fowls as I wanted for 1/- each, guinea-pigs at 1/-, eggs at 1/- a dozen, and sheep at 4/-, the skin to be returned to him; I also used to give him the inside excepting the kidneys: eschalots for 3d. a bunch of twenty, and all the potatoes I wanted at 6d. a measure, which is equal to a big basketful.

I accepted this offer and the next day despatched the hired mules and my saddle mule back to Sorata, after they had eaten a good fill of barley. At 8 a.m. I paid the muleteers their due and gave them a small gratuity each, and some coca leaves to chew on the way. They were profuse with their thanks and gratitude, and said any time I wanted to employ them again they were always ready to come.

The old man called one of his wives, the youngest one, and told her she was to get all I wanted every day, which she always did. He took me to another shed which was full of long dried grass, and said I could use as much of it as I liked to make my bed soft to lie on; so Miguel and I got a whole lot and piled it up three feet high at one end of my hut, and fenced it round with big stones, placing some sheepskins on top, and then my old military valise; this with sheets and blankets made a very comfortable bed. I told Miguel he was to stay in camp all the time to look after everything, and he was to be careful to have lots of hot ashes always ready to keep the fire-hole full in my hut. By keeping this up and leaving the door open all day, it was quite comfortable at night. The first night, before the fire warmed it up, it was 8 degrees below zero.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 4

Atahualpa’s Ransom

The Peak of Sorata and Tiquiripaga, Part 2

There are two paths over the mountains, one by a pass of 16,000ft., and the other by one of 17,000ft. I chose the latter, for the reason that it was quite close to the Peak of Sorata; in fact, not many yards from the top of this pass. To the left, on the way up, was a rough, natural kind of shelter, where Sir Martin Conway had made his last camp on his expedition to try to reach the summit of Sorata.

In his report, Sir Martin said that he could not manage to get to the top, and he did not think anybody ever had, and thought it doubtful if anybody ever would. He estimated the height of the mountain at 23,500ft., and based his opinion on the fact that he was carrying the same instruments as he had used in his successful climb to the top of Aconcagua, when he found the height to be 22,500ft. Going up Sorata, his instruments ceased to mark, and he calculated there was still another 1,000ft. to go.

Yet another reason for my taking this pass and climbing the extra 1,000ft. was that, not far from the top at 16,200ft. by the aneroid, a little way off to the right in a hollow, lies a small lake where tradition says, and the Indians firmly believe, that some of the great Inca treasure was thrown when Pizarro had Atahualpa murdered.

We passed this small lake at about 11 a.m. I had been told that about two years previously a Company had proposed to drain this lake, which could easily be done with the labour of Aymara Indians and the necessary provisions. The head of the Company offered the Government a deposit of £20,000 as a guarantee that they meant business, which the Government was to return after they had let out the water, whether there was anything there or not; whatever they discovered at the bottom was to be divided between themselves and the Government. The authorities thought the proposition a very good one, but the reason it was never undertaken before was that they feared a rising of the vast Indian population would take place; indeed, it might have caused a general rising of the Indians throughout America, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, and the biggest massacre the world has ever seen, and this was why they refused consent. Evidently, many people think there is truth in the legend that some of the lost Inca treasure is still in existence. It is also a well authenticated fact that some few years ago an American Company had the idea of looking for the immense Inca chain, formed of links of gold, of 1 kilo each, which was to have been part of Atahualpa’s ransom. It is believed by many that the chain was cast into the Lake Titicaca, near the sacred Island of Tia Guanaco. They eventually came to the conclusion that the water was far too deep, and no proposition was ever made. Up to now this chain and nearly all the treasure of the Inca still remains hidden.

On the top of the pass is a cairn of stones, placed there by the Indians to mark the spot. On the way up we passed, at different places, a lonely grave of stones and a wooden cross, showing where some poor chap had passed away. Nearly all the morning the weather was a constant succession of bitterly cold wind and hail, and then a spell of hot sunshine. Often I found it too steep in places for my mule to carry me, and then I removed my thick poncho and walked. I noticed that during the constant blizzards my Aymaras, to prevent frostbite, put on their vicuña face protectors, which just left holes for eyes, nostrils and mouth. I always made my man put on his, and I did the same.

On the top and for a thousand feet before getting there, nothing was to be seen but snow. There was no vegetation of any sort, and not a single bush or bird. About half an hour after leaving the shepherds’ hut in the morning, I shot a female condor eagle with my large Winchester rifle, but, although it was a fine, large specimen, I was forced to leave it behind, because there was really no room on the cargo mules to carry it. I wanted to wait an hour or more to skin it, but the Indians said the delay of nearly two hours might be dangerous at this height and at this season of the year, and we might yet be caught in a blinding snowstorm and get benighted; if we had been returning now, and going downhill to the shepherds’ hut, they said they would have been able to carry it down between them. It was a great pity.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 4

Red Flags and White Flags

The Peak of Sorata and Tiquiripaga, Part 1

The day after Christmas we left Sorata, I on my sturdy saddle mule, two Indians of the Aymara breed, with three other mules I hired for carrying the provisions and baggage, and my man Miguel, who walked.

The Peak of Sorata. Illustration from Adventures in Bolivia.

The day was fine, with a lovely blue sky, and as we marched up the long steep Ylliapo Mountain we could see the magnificent Peak of Sorata in the distance. Before we started, Mrs. Gunther had said to me: “I shall expect to see you back to-morrow night; for when you see the awful climb ahead, and find that the mules will not be able to continue the journey, I am convinced you will have to turn back.” The path was fairly good, but only wide enough for us to go in Indian file; the cargo animals walked in front and the two Indians and myself brought up the rear. We were now passing through a forest of small trees and bushes, profusely covered with bright flowers indigenous to the temperate zone, such as roses, daisies, buttercups and fuchsias. The luxuriant bushes and geraniums and fuchsias were especially fine. Every now and then we met Aymaras with troops of llamas coming down the slope, each with their load of 50lbs. When we passed, the Indians always stopped their llamas and cornered them in any available space to allow us to go by, and they one and all bid us a very civil good day. I have always been given to understand that when they greet one it is a sure sign that they are of a friendly disposition, but when they pass without paying any attention it is not a good sign, and means that you should proceed with care.

It is also common knowledge that when travellers pass through a native village and find all the doors shut, it means, “Go on, don’t stop here, we wish to have nothing to do with you,” and it is then prudent to go on further. This I have proved several times, as when I have pulled up at any of these huts, which often have some one inside although they are shut up, and asked them to sell me some barley for the animals or fowls, the reply has always been: “No, we have nothing,” in spite of the fowls I saw running about, and big stacks of barley straw piled up everywhere.

I have often heard and read of prospectors passing these habitations, who have received that reply, and nevertheless proceed to knock over a few fowls and help themselves to the amount of barley straw they need, leaving payment at the usual current rate on the doorstep; but this, in my opinion, is not at all a good plan. Some travellers have been known not to leave any payment at all, and that has occasionally led to trouble. If a village is found with no inhabitants to be seen, but with some of the doors open, it means: “We are willing to sell you what you want, if we have it, but prefer you to camp outside our village.” When doors are open, and a few men and women are about, it signifies: “We are ready to sell you what you want, and you are cordially welcome to stop in the village as long as you like.” Then the usual thing is to ask for an empty hut, which is willingly offered, generally one of the best they have got, for one shilling a day, and you get another corral and shelter for your mules and men for another shilling. I have nearly always been fortunate in finding the latter, and have sometimes stayed like this for months on end in a village while prospecting and examining old mines close by.

After marching for about three hours, we had occasional hailstorms, but they did not last for more than half an hour or so, and it was quickly fine again. These hailstorms marked the beginning of the rains in the forests and snow and hail in the mountains on this side. Up to about 11,000ft. we passed a few stray huts made of stone. Sometimes I saw a red flag flying on a long pole beside a hut, which means that chicha, a refreshing drink made from corn, is to be had there. At another would be a white flag, which is meant to show travellers that fresh meat could be bought there. After 12,000ft. to 13,000ft. it got very cold, and no other hut was to be seen except one or two isolated huts belonging to Indian shepherds tending sheep or llamas.

At 5 p.m. we reached a height of 15,000ft. (by my aneroid). The sun had disappeared behind the mountain, and it was getting dark, so we decided to stop. I gave the Aymara shepherds a drink of rum each, and they hired a stone hut for my use, another smaller one for the men and the cooking, and a corral for the mules, for 2/-, the usual price for accommodation in these parts. I exchanged some coca and matches for some eschalots, potatoes and eggs; I make it a rule never to trade strong drink with the natives anywhere, and it would be a good thing if all South America would do the same as Guiana does, that is, prohibit the sale of rum to the Indians.

The mules had carried their own fodder for the day’s journey, as we knew that none was to be had on the way. There was plenty of long, coarse grass a little way down the mountain, and the careful Indians took them there to feed for two hours as soon as they got the gear off, while Miguel and I prepared the supper. The thermometer registered 6 below zero inside the hut, at 8 p.m., but that was soon altered when I had a lot of embers brought in and the door well closed.

Next morning, after a cold bath and a good breakfast, I started off at 9.30 a.m.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 3

Llama Wool Socks

Lake Titicaca, La Paz and Sorata, Part 3

At about five in the afternoon we put up for the night just outside a place called Machacamarca, not far from Lake Titicaca, paying the usual 2/- a night for the use of a room with a mud bed and fireplace, and finding food, firewood and other necessaries ourselves. Fowls, potatoes, barley and fresh eggs can always be bought at these places. At this altitude it takes seven minutes to boil an egg, at 15,000ft. it takes even nine to ten minutes. I arranged to rent the accommodation here for two days and bought a double supply of barley fodder for the mules, so that I should have a little time to walk along the shore of this magnificent lake and shoot a duck or two for a change.

Lake Titicaca is full of fish, mostly pejerey, about twelve to fourteen inches long, and very good to eat. Many of the Aymara Indians who live on the shores of the lake, besides growing barley, planting potatoes and looking after llamas, alpacas and sheep, do a good deal of fishing with their small nets from balsas made of reeds that are practically unsinkable. They take the fish twice a week into La Paz, Sorata, Machacamarca and other places, and sell it there. I bathed several times in the lake, but the water was too cold to remain in long. There are geese and duck to be shot on the banks near the shore, and on either side of the lake are stretches of flat lands covered with coarse grass and low bushes. Once a year there is a big fair of llamas, alpacas, sheep and little mules and horses held by the lake on the Peru-Bolivia frontier; another big yearly fair is held at a place called Juare, a few hours away on the Oruro-Antofogasta line. This fair starts on April 7th, and lasts a whole fortnight; all the Indians come from miles around to attend it, and mules are brought to it all the way from the Argentine. I always bought my mules there.

I shot some wild duck and some geese by the lake; the duck are good, but the geese are very coarse. I also shot a guanaco for my Indians; its meat is very rank, and to my mind most disagreeable, but the Indians seemed to enjoy it.

After spending a day on the shores of Lake Titicaca, I went on next day to Sorata, a little town lying in the valley of that name below the Ylliapo range, 8,000ft. high, and some ninety miles from La Paz. There I was put up by Mr. and Mrs. Gunther, who were most hospitable. Gunther is a large rubber buyer with plenty of capital, and the owner of a big rubber estate, also of the largest store in Sorata and the principal brewery in Arequipa. Both he and his wife did their utmost to persuade me not to continue my journey. The first night I was there, Mrs. Gunther told me that Mrs. Villavicencia, who lived opposite, had seen me get off my mule at their house, and had said to the Gunthers’ cook who happened to be over there at the time: “Do you see that big Englishman who has just arrived? He thinks he is going to get to Paroma to spy on the Indians of Challana and report to the Government at La Paz. Tell him they will never permit him to cross the river, and that if he persists they will attack him and kill him.”

When I heard this, I asked Gunther to introduce me to the good lady, which he did next day; he just presented me and then left us to talk together, and I conversed with her for two hours. I told her my object in undertaking this journey, explained to her the proposal I was going to make to the Indians, and begged her to send one of her men to her brother Villarde, asking him to get the necessary permission for me from the Cacique to cross their border and visit him at Paroma. She told me to come back and see her the next afternoon, and she would let me know then what she could do. That night at dinner Mrs. Gunther said to me: “I don’t know what you have been doing, but you seem to have made a very good impression on Villarde’s sister; she says you talked with her and treated her quite differently from all the others who have been to see her about visiting Villarde, and the old chief at Paroma, and she has actually decided to send a messenger for you to her brother.”

Next day, as arranged, I called on Mrs. Villavicencia, who received me in a most friendly way. She told me she was sending a letter on my behalf to her brother, Villarde, by the hand of an Indian whose home was near Paroma. She said her brother had been made a chief by the Cacique, and was also at that time interpreter for the Indians; her husband was there too, working under Villarde. She advised me to let the Indian have a fortnight’s start in case her brother was away when he arrived.

Gunther insisted upon my spending the fortnight with him and his pretty wife, which was very nice of him. While I was at Sorata I used to go down the valley every day and admire the beautiful big cacti that grow everywhere about there, in all colours from pure white to dark purple and bright red; also the brilliant single and double fuchsias, which are much larger than any to be seen at home. This valley is full, too, of rubber vine, a plant that yields an inferior kind of milk.

Most of the Indians living hereabouts are Aymara, and own sheep and llamas. There are some large estancias (ranches) owned by rich Bolivians who spend most of their time in La Paz, leaving their farms in charge of a manager, generally a half-caste, with some Indian shepherds under him. Sheep do well, and give 6lbs. to 10lbs. of wool a head, and 50lbs. to 60lbs. of meat, good mutton and cheap, costing only 4/- to 5/- the head when the wool is off. Alpacas also do well in this district; they prefer the flat ground nearer the lake, while the sheep roam the hills and higher slopes. The sheep are tended by Indian women, who sit near them in sunny places or walk among them with wooden spindles yarning skeins of wool which they pluck from time to time off the sheep’s back. Many of these women make excellent socks and stockings out of this worsted spurn, which they have a special way of treating. I have bought several pairs and always found them far more durable and better in every way than any I have paid good prices for in England; indeed, I am never without them if I can help it. The Indian women sell them in sheep and llama wool at 2/- a pair; they also make them of vicuña wool, but these are more expensive, and run to 4/- or 5/- the pair.