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.


One thought on “A Note of Warning

Comments are closed.