Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 6

Bathing with Piranhas

From Tipuani to Paroma, Part 7

That evening Miguel had another attack of malaria, and so we had to remain here the next two days, and I had to cut firewood, cook, look after the mule, and do everything. The first day the man referred to by the Indian rubber-picker passed the camp with his two mules. I got another bush turkey at close range with the six-shooter in the evening at sundown. On the third morning at 7 a.m. we left: the first eight or nine miles took us up and down hill through the beautiful park-like scenery, then came dense forest again, downhill all the way for seven miles, to the big River Challana. The road was pretty good, and I had no cutlass work to do. At the bottom of the hill, a couple of hundred yards along the bank, there was a clearing and a fair-sized shed, open at the two ends; it was closed up on the forest side with palm leaves and bamboo and open on the river side.

As soon as we got to the river, I fired off two cartridges in the air, as a signal to the inhabitants on the other side. A few minutes afterwards three men came over in a balsa; by poling for three hundred yards close to the bank on their side, and then crossing over with the long poles as fast as they could, they brought up the balsa to within a few yards of the hut. One of the men, who was a half-caste, a middle-aged man, and spoke Spanish, had a rifle, and took a letter from his buckskin bag, and handed it to me. It was from Villarde, and read: “I am glad to welcome you in our country and have ordered my lieutenant, Thomas Cortez, to prepare a house for you at his place, where you had better stop for ten days and rest after your long rough journey; in the meantime, I shall call a meeting of the chiefs and principal Indians, to receive you at the Court House in Paroma in fourteen days from the day you get this letter. You must cross over and come by yourself, and not bring any followers with you. Cortez has orders to provide you with a servant. With salutations, I remain, your attentive servant, Lorenzo Villarde.”

In any case Miguel, with his continual breakdowns of fever, was not of much use as far as serving me was concerned; and I decided it would be best for him, on the whole, to go slowly back to Tipuani by the regular path, which the rubber-pickers would direct him to, at the place where we had met them.

The man with the note, whose name was Jose, said he would now return to tell Cortez, who would despatch a messenger to Paroma. I asked them to return again next day for me, and he said he would bring over a big balsa of five stout poles for me, and a platform with seat attached next morning after breakfast. All that night the mule was very restive and kept on coming into the shelter, which made me think that some jaguar was about, so we put plenty of wood on the fire, and made a big blaze and kept the lamp burning in the shed; I always carry a horn lantern for a candle. I sat up near the fire with my rifle till close on eleven. No animal appeared, but I distinctly heard movements in the forest, and the mule fed very close to the shed. In the morning I had a good bathe, being careful to keep my eyes on the bottom most of the time, as in most of these tropical rivers there are man-eating fish, called pirauhas, only eighteen inches long, but very ferocious, with teeth like a saw, which attack you and bite lumps out of you on the slightest provocation. In some rivers in these parts, when a balsa has been capsized and its occupants have been thrown out and got cut about on the sunken rocks, these little monsters seem to come from all around, attracted by the sight of blood. They will often snap a finger or a toe off, and have been known to strip a dead body of every particle of flesh, leaving the bones bare. Another of the dangers to beware of in bathing in tropical rivers or streams of South or Central America is a kind of slimy leech, three or four inches long, called Kandiros, which get up the rectum. They are as thick as a worm, and have a small dorsal fin that acts as a barb. The only way to get rid of them is to have them cut out.

The Rivers Tipuani, Challana and Beni contain a good many fish, most of them good to eat, and some very large, but, like most of the fish in tropical rivers, too full of bones.

After my bath, while Miguel was preparing breakfast, I found tracks of a big jaguar, evidently the disturber of the mule the night before. The marks showed that the beast had made for the pampas we had passed the day before.


One thought on “Bathing with Piranhas

Comments are closed.