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.