Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

Up and Down Hill

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 3

On the 2nd May, at the beginning of the dry season, I left Cochabamba with Zambrana, Manuel, his wife and boy; two more men, Mariano and Ricardo, my saddle horse and white riding mule, four cargo mules and a donkey. Zambrana rode his own mule. The first day we got to Anacoraira, below the Turani range of mountains, where I bought a sheep and camped for the night. The road as far as here was an easy one; the surrounding country was flat, with little grass and a few trees, and the scenery was very uninteresting. The next day we climbed a long steep path up the mountain, passing a good many Indians and llamas, also several Indian women tending their sheep, and spinning wool at the same time, with a sling made from llama wool. From time to time they throw a stone at the sheep to drive them on. Half-way up the mountain Ricardo gave out, and I had to leave him with some provisions and tell him when he was rested he had better return to Cochabamba; I was afraid he would not be able to stand going up the heights. We crossed the Turani Pass in good weather at 15,000ft. The height of Mt. Turani is about 17,000ft. We pitched our two tents on the other side at 12,000ft., near some Indians and llamas, who were halting for the night on their way to Cochabamba, with cargoes of wheat. There was plenty of grass about and several pools of clear water, and a running stream. It froze hard all night, and in the morning the pools were frozen over with an inch of ice, which did not, however, prevent me from having my morning bath. Before breakfast I got two partridges. We let the sun warm up the blankets and packs, and we started at 9.30 down the mountain, through a pleasant fertile valley of long flats covered with grass. There were streams running in all directions, and on either side low hills covered with small shrubs and grass. Only a few habitations were to be seen, and near them cattle, sheep, horses, mules and llamas were grazing. At a place called Morochata I hired a mud hut for myself for 2/-, and bought some barley in the straw for the mules and horse. As I wanted to replace Ricardo here, we stayed the next day, and I eventually found and engaged another boy called José. I took the opportunity here of buying flour, got the loan of an oven, and the cook made bread, and we replenished our stock of potatoes and onions, which seemed to do very well here. Everything was extremely cheap. The village consisted of about twenty huts; the land round about belongs partly to the Government, and partly to a gentleman living at Cochabamba, who finds the land, seed, oven, ploughs, mud bricks and thatch for the huts, and keeps a foreman who looks after the property for a small salary, also cultivating his own small piece of land. At harvest-time the crops are divided between the cultivators and the proprietor, who sends in what is wanted from his store at Cochabamba, and takes it out of their share of the crop. I have often thought this system would answer well in other countries besides Bolivia. Next day we continued the journey, and after a few miles came to the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The path up the mountain was a long one, but not too steep, and the ground at the top of the pass was covered with a thin layer of frozen snow. The height of this pass was 16,000ft. There are always large heaps of stones piled up in pyramid shape at the top of every pass, and one or two solitary graves with crosses where somebody has passed away. The path down to the river was long and winding, through partial forest, with very few birds, and not many flowers. I got off my white mule, and led her down the hill, wearing the speedometer, or hexemeter, as some people call it, which registered nearly nine miles from the pass to the river. None of the land on either side appeared to be occupied at all, and we met nobody on the road. We decided to pitch two tents just across the river where there was plenty of grass growing on a wide bank and up the hill the other side, plenty of wood and water near, and no dwellings to be seen in the distance.

The country was now new to old Zam, who had never been further than Morochata, the place we left that morning, and the boy, José, said it was another seven leagues from here to the top of the hill this side of Palca, with a swamp to cross over on the way. On these occasions, as we had no bell mare, my chestnut horse, an old hurdle racer from Santiago, was hobbled, and a bell was tied round his neck with a long rope and a stone at the far end for further security. The mules and donkeys would follow him like a dog, and he was always led to the best grazing ground.

The next day, after two hours and a half’s marching up and down hill, we got to the top of another range of hills. At the bottom was a wide green valley, with several small streams; as we came closer we could see that it was very swampy in places, and I was told afterwards in Palca that during the rainy season these swamps are very often impassable for days together. There was only one place where it was possible to cross, and fortunately the boy from Morochata knew where it was, as nobody else did. Even at this place when one of the mules went a few yards off the beaten track, he began to sink, and floundered back only just in time. Palca was some five leagues further on, in the belt of forest at the foot of a valley, and surrounded by hills. In this valley I saw many bushes and flowers very similar to what is seen in Trinidad, which was rather strange, considering that the height of Palca is 7,500ft. and the highest hill in Trinidad is, I think, only 2,800ft. Near Palca are a good many large farms where wheat, barley and maize are grown, and sheep, cattle, mules and horses are reared. I hired a hut on the banks of the river this side of the village, from a very obliging Indian, whose business was tanning hides with the quebracho bark, and decided to take on from him an Indian who knew Cuti, so remained there for the next day. From here there was no real path between Palca and Cuti, only a few beaten tracks leading over the hills to the different Indian settlements. With the exception of a few large farms owned by seven or eight men, who work them on the share system already described, all these vast lands are quite unoccupied and unexplored: there are just a few Indian squatters here and there living far apart.


One thought on “Up and Down Hill

  1. “Turani” is Prodgers’ misspelling of Tunari.

    It’s unclear what kind of speedometer Prodgers attached to his mule, but it must have been a bit different from the device we now know. The word “hexemeter” can’t have been in use for long, either; it doesn’t even appear in the OED.

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