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.