Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 9

King of the Condors

The Third Attempt, Part 3

One day while walking up the long steep path to work, I was stung on the back of the neck by a big black ant, called tucanderos. The sting was very painful, and swelled up as big as a walnut, but I cured myself by hot fomentations, and the application of young castor oil leaves, which grew everywhere about. The ants measure an inch or more; the males are black, and the females brown; they are fortunately not common.

On one part of the Treasure Hill just where the big egg-shaped stone blasted out, there were also dozens of big scorpions, of which I preserved a few. No one was stung by them. A few days after Mendizabal left, one of his mountain Indians, who came down with a sheep, eggs, butter and other provisions, told me that there was a Condor Real (King of the Condors) which lived up the mountains near his shepherd’s hut.

He said there were several common condors with the Condor Real, which was much bigger than any condor he had ever seen before. This man had lived all his life in the high Andes, and was, therefore, competent to judge.

It will be interesting here to quote what Baron von Humboldt says about these birds in his book Earth and Sea:

The condors of the Cordilleras are the biggest birds that fly. They are black with a white collar; the females are just as large, but are a coffee colour brown and have no collar. They live at a height of fourteen to sixteen thousand feet and measure anything from tip to tip from 7ft. to 14 ft. The Condor Real or King of the Condors is a pure white bird, and measures as much as twenty to twenty-five feet from tip to tip. In the whole range of the Andes, I do not think twenty-five exist.

I arranged to go to the home of the Indian the following week, and he agreed to sell me a llama for 28/-, which we would kill and leave near the place where he had seen the big bird, and then I would try to get him with a rifle. I gave him a note to Mendizabal, telling him about it, and asking whether I might go to his shepherd’s hut in eight days. He readily gave me permission, and very kindly sent down his favourite Arab grey to bring me up to his place, so that my saddle mule could be kept for the mountain climb. He also said he would come with me both for the sport, and also to see his sheep feeding in the mountains.

Six days later I left on Mendizabal’s horse, starting after breakfast at 7 a.m. It was nine leagues to Cuti, and all uphill. At about 7 p.m., when it was just dark, and the stars were out, but not the moon, I got off my horse to walk down a few yards for a drink of water, and not taking sufficient care and notice of the path I stepped over the side, and slid right down the steep bank, dragging the horse with me, till I fell up against a big rock with the horse against me. I helped him to slue round, and scramble up again, and, by hanging on to his tail, I got dragged up again. I found that I had hurt my back and side so much that I could not mount, and I had to sit there in my white tropical clothes, with my big poncho over me, for the whole night. In the morning, at daylight, an Indian came along, and, with his help, I mounted and rode the three miles down to Mendizabal’s place. This piece of stupidity kept me on my back for four weeks, and the worst of it was that I had to give up the Condor Real, and it was six months before I could do without plaster or bandage. Three weeks previously a man fell over this same spot, and when picked up dead his body was in a pulp.

While I am on the subject of the Condor Real I will relate what I was told by C. Franc, whom I met with his wife and sister at Jura. His father who was a very good shot, and extremely fond of sport in the Andes, heard from the mountain Indians that there was a big white bird far larger than any condor living in the mountains, at the back of Inquisivi near some old abandoned mines. There were several white-necked condors guarding the King of the Condors, and bringing him food. No house was near and nobody was working there. The father, who had a fine collection of birds in his house in Italy, knew at once that this bird was a specimen of the Condor Real. He got two of the men to accompany him and his mule men, and started off with provisions for a fortnight. They camped near some of the abandoned mines, killed two llamas they had brought for the purpose, and abandoned the carcasses about half a mile from his camp. The next day the white-necked condors began to fly down and circle round the dead llamas. His father and the men remained watching, quietly, in the camp, and on the third day the big white bird was seen feasting on one of the dead llamas, with some of the other condors sitting at a distance, and others hovering overhead. He started, very carefully, to stalk the white bird, so as to get a sure shot, but, when he got a little less than three hundred yards away, the big bird looked as though it were disturbed, and fearing he might miss his chance he fired, sighting the Winchester at three hundred yards, and was lucky enough to kill the bird stone dead. But as soon as the other birds saw what had happened to their King they began to circle round over him, making angry noises and flapping their wings, so fiercely that, though he saw the big white bird lying still, he was afraid to go nearer, and thought it prudent to return to the shelter of his camp in the mines. The condors came flying round his camp, flapping their wings angrily against the entrance of the mines. All that afternoon and the whole of the next day, the condors kept flying about the mine close to the entrance, flapping their wings and shrieking. On the third day everything seemed quiet, and they ventured out again, only to find that all the white-necked condors had gone, and the big white bird had disappeared too. He said there was no doubt that the condors had carried away their King. This was in July, 1903, and the next year he made a special trip out from home to try and locate the bird again, but was unsuccessful. A Condor Real is worth a good sum, I should say about £500 or more.


2 thoughts on “King of the Condors

  1. No book by von Humboldt of that title appears online, but he talked about condors in his widely translated 1808 volume Ansichten der Natur (Views of Nature).

  2. Incidentally, this is the only entry so far where I have had to break Prodgers off mid-paragraph. The next entry deals with quite a different subject, but leads directly on from the last sentence of this one. He could go on a bit at times.

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