Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 6

Miguel’s Fever

From Tipuani to Paroma, Part 4

A little after 11 p.m. began a regular tropical downpour of rain which never ceased till about 6 a.m., when the sun came out in all its warmth. The air was delightfully fresh, the birds began to fly, and everything looked bright again, but we were both soaking wet, and the stream had turned into a torrent. The water had risen about five feet, nearly to the top of the bank on the side we had camped, and the green patch on the other side where the tiger and tapir had appeared was entirely submerged. It had been an uncomfortable night, and for a few minutes we had been in a real funk. I stripped naked and put all my things out to dry in the sun, and after drying some wood we soon got a fire going. Although the matches were carried in a tin, and that again in another tin, they still had to be sundried first. We had filled our kettle, pot and water-flasks with water after dinner the night before, and it came in very useful now. It is always advisable to procure water overnight for the next morning, especially in the rainy season; I always did this and got my firewood as well. We soon had a wholesome challona stew and some hot coffee ready, which made a welcome breakfast.

Miguel had now a severe dose of fever coming on; in fact, this was the start of his Tipuani terciana, and from this time on he had it constantly for the rest of the journey. It was partly owing to his own perverseness, as instead of keeping pace with Manuel, myself and the llamas, he would often walk off quickly up the hills, and sit down on the top grinning and waiting for me; and he did not take his wet clothes off and hang them out to dry, as I did. My clothes soon dried in the sun, and Miguel thought better of it, and began to dry his. The river began to go down again, and at three in the afternoon the Indian came walking up the stream, with the water up to his middle nearly, probing the bottom with a long, thick stick. He sympathized with us very much over our bad luck the night before. I told him I would not like to go back without another try for the man-eater, and he said there was a rubber-picker living not far from his place who had a rifle, though not as big a one as mine, and he would send his boy with a note from me for the loan of it. As I had not yet discovered what was wrong with my rifle, I was glad to accept his offer, and so we walked, or rather waded, along the edge of the stream to his place, I carrying my pants and boots, and wearing alpagatas to shield my feet from stones.

When we got to the bend, we found that the river was full of a good volume of water running down at nine or ten knots. I could see by the banks that it had risen fifteen feet as a result of the storm, and the Indian said more than that. It had been my intention to go over to Charest’s place, but no balsa could have lived in that turbulent stream. So I put up at the Indian’s place. His wife had just killed and plucked a fine fat fowl, which she gave me with some maize tortillas, and a pineapple, refusing all payment. Her husband told her I had walked twenty miles to his place to try and rid them of the man-eater.

The rubber-picker soon came over with his rifle and mauser and five cartridges. He looked pretty sick with fever, and was out of quinine and coca leaves. I told him I would be very glad to give him a little of each, as I had a good supply, and a bottle of Noboa’s rum as well, if he would send some one with me to bring them back; he was very thankful for the offer, and I was also grateful for the use of his boy, who could carry back my rifle and gear for me. Miguel was sick and, although the two days’ rest would probably freshen him up a bit, he would have quite enough to do to walk back the twenty miles with nothing to carry.

Next morning, after an early breakfast, I started off again along the stream to the dead mule, with the Indian, his son, and three other Indians, and six mongrel dogs. I went first, about an hour ahead of them, to the spot opposite the green patch, and waited there while they walked through the bush on the other side, beating the trees with sticks, and making a good noise.

The first thing that came out and crossed the long narrow gully at the back of the green patch in front of me was a small bush buck, then soon afterwards a good-sized tapir, and finally a young swamp deer, but no jaguar; I could have got each of these easily, but wanted to keep my shot for the man-eater. When the Indians came out and had had a rest, I sent them up the stream on my side, and told them to walk on for an hour or two, and then beat down the other side. I promised them to get a deer for fresh meat if another was driven out. After another two hours, a second tapir crossed the narrow gully further up, about two hundred yards from the green patch; I did not see him until he was just entering the bush on the other side, so did not fire. Half an hour later came another small bush deer, and at the same time I heard a rustling in the bushes on the other side, close to the stream, and out came a fine swamp deer, which I secured for our lunch.

The yelping of the dogs now announced the approach of the beaters. They said they had seen the tracks of the jaguar, evidently made quite freshly that morning or the night before, and had gone on over the hill on the way to Challana. If we had beaten this side first, instead of the other, we might possibly have caught him, though he might have gone on quite early in the morning. Anyway, he had not touched the mule, which was now beginning to smell, and to attract a dozen or more vultures, which were hovering round about waiting to finish it off, as soon as the coast was clear.

In the morning we went back to Tipuani village. Miguel was better, and the rubber-picker lent me his rifle to take on to Challana with me in case I could not repair mine. I eventually found out what was wrong, as has already been explained. On the way back we saw the same pretty green, purple and scarlet birds as we saw coming; they were in exactly the same place, and were flying to and fro near the same cotton tree.

On the way back I looked in at Noboa’s, and he told me no Challana men had come yet, so I asked him to try and get me five or six men from the neighbourhood to go on with me. He said he would, and promised to come over and let me know the result in a couple of days’ time. Perez was still down with fever, and during my absence three men had come in with rubber; one of them, a half-caste, was pretty sick with fever. I noticed that many of the rubber balls were sliced down the middle, and was told this was done now and then to see that there was not a good round heavy water stone put in the middle to make weight, as some Indian pickers are very crafty.

When I got back I found Mackenzie was going to wash up next day, so I asked him to lend me a pan, and let me help him. I was anxious to see how much gold came out of the heap of dirt and gravel, dug out of the mine tunnel by the two men in three days. Mac and I panned it out next day, and it gave 3ozs. 6dr. 1scr. of beautiful straw-coloured Tipuani gold. There were no nuggets of any size, and no rough gold, which showed that it had travelled far, and, in my opinion, that there was no reef near at hand. They said on the Saturday that they were not going to work again until Tuesday, and as a matter of fact they did not start till Wednesday.


One thought on “Miguel’s Fever

  1. “3ozs. 6dr. 1scr.” translates to 3 ounces, 6 drams and 1 scruple, which seems to be mixing up the troy, apothecaries’ and avoirdupois systems of weights. Either way, Mac and Prodgers found just shy of 100g of gold, worth something like US$3,500 at today’s prices.

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