Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 6

I Get No Kick From Cocaine

From Tipuani to Paroma, Part 9

There were many beautiful birds in these parts, mostly gorgeously coloured macaws, parrots, snake birds, toucans, bell birds and tropials, and plenty of good game birds as well, especially wild turkey, poujil, martinette and long-billed snipe. The lovely cattleya superba grew in clumps on the trunks or branches of trees, wherever the ground was of a rocky nature, and parasites and smaller orchids grew everywhere. Butterflies of brilliant colours abounded, but there was also the loathsome berni fly, that lays its eggs and breeds maggots in animals and human beings. If it is not treated at once, this fly works nearly into the bone; my mule was troubled with it, but, fortunately, I noticed it in time.

One night I asked Cortez what wild animals there were about, and he told me, wild cattle, bear, many kinds of monkeys, pumas, panthers, tiger cats, jaguars and tigers. The two last are very plentiful and very troublesome and dangerous, and pits are dug for them everywhere. Besides these, there are tapirs, antas, wild pigs and many sorts of deer. I myself got three sorts of deer while in Challana, swamp deer, pampas deer, which are something like fallow deer and the little peti buck. One day in England I was talking with Bostock of menagerie fame, and he asked me whether I had ever come across what they call a tiger, when I was in the forests of Bolivia. I told him I had, and had got three skins of these beasts, but I thought they ought rather to be called a large specimen of jaguar. He said I was wrong and the natives were right: it was quite a different animal from a jaguar, and up to now no museum or zoological garden had a specimen; it would be very interesting and quite easy to secure a live one.

The weather was beautiful while we were here, but on the day we had fixed for leaving for the Challana headquarters at Paroma the rain fell in a tropical downpour for six hours. It cleared up in the afternoon, but the path was slippery, and the hill very step on the other side. At the bottom there was another settlement consisting of one fair-sized building and six or eight smaller ones; the proprietor had gone to Paroma by Villarde’s orders, to attend the conference which was going to receive me. We camped here that day; the scenery was very fine, with large tracks of pasture land, abundance of grass, a few head of cattle in good condition grazing, several small streams of clear water and one small river called the Mula Muerta, which Cortez told me was a good river for gold washing, and had produced several good nuggets. At this place I saw the coca bush growing, for the first time. The leaf is a small green one and contains five per cent of cocaine; the habit of chewing it grows on the natives until eventually they find they cannot do without it. They claim to be able to travel through the dense forest or over the high passes all day long for weeks at a time as long as they have coca leaves in their pouches to give them endurance. Personally, on the many long journeys I have undertaken while prospecting and exploring in this fascinating country during five years, I never yet took to the habit. The natives also claim that the cinchona bark in Challona gives five per cent of quinine, and they are often seen trotting along with big loads of 50 and 60lbs. weight and even more, a bottle of water with two or three bits of cinchona bark in it, and a buckskin pouch filled with coca leaves.

The men here dress in shorts of drill or cotton, and over these they wear a shirt of the same material. They also carry a poncho, or vicuña rug, with a slit in it for the head to go through, and a short jacket of drill on the top of their loads. The loads are not made to weigh up on the shoulders or the forehead, but are tied across the chest, leaving the shoulders free. Frequently, these carriers have such a heavy load that a friend has to help them on their feet to get started.


One thought on “I Get No Kick From Cocaine

  1. It isn’t clear what a “tropial” bird might be, or whether this is simply a typo for “tropical”. “Martinet” is the French name for a kind of swallow, but it’s doubtful this would make a good game bird, so “martinette” might mean something else. The “berni fly” must be the human botfly.

    As far as Bostock’s claim that Prodgers “was wrong and the natives were right”: these “tigers” may have been a large subspecies of jaguar, Panthera onca palustris, whose range could have overlapped with the smaller Panthera onca onca or Panthera onca peruviana in the jungles of northeastern Bolivia.

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