Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 3

Llama Wool Socks

Lake Titicaca, La Paz and Sorata, Part 3

At about five in the afternoon we put up for the night just outside a place called Machacamarca, not far from Lake Titicaca, paying the usual 2/- a night for the use of a room with a mud bed and fireplace, and finding food, firewood and other necessaries ourselves. Fowls, potatoes, barley and fresh eggs can always be bought at these places. At this altitude it takes seven minutes to boil an egg, at 15,000ft. it takes even nine to ten minutes. I arranged to rent the accommodation here for two days and bought a double supply of barley fodder for the mules, so that I should have a little time to walk along the shore of this magnificent lake and shoot a duck or two for a change.

Lake Titicaca is full of fish, mostly pejerey, about twelve to fourteen inches long, and very good to eat. Many of the Aymara Indians who live on the shores of the lake, besides growing barley, planting potatoes and looking after llamas, alpacas and sheep, do a good deal of fishing with their small nets from balsas made of reeds that are practically unsinkable. They take the fish twice a week into La Paz, Sorata, Machacamarca and other places, and sell it there. I bathed several times in the lake, but the water was too cold to remain in long. There are geese and duck to be shot on the banks near the shore, and on either side of the lake are stretches of flat lands covered with coarse grass and low bushes. Once a year there is a big fair of llamas, alpacas, sheep and little mules and horses held by the lake on the Peru-Bolivia frontier; another big yearly fair is held at a place called Juare, a few hours away on the Oruro-Antofogasta line. This fair starts on April 7th, and lasts a whole fortnight; all the Indians come from miles around to attend it, and mules are brought to it all the way from the Argentine. I always bought my mules there.

I shot some wild duck and some geese by the lake; the duck are good, but the geese are very coarse. I also shot a guanaco for my Indians; its meat is very rank, and to my mind most disagreeable, but the Indians seemed to enjoy it.

After spending a day on the shores of Lake Titicaca, I went on next day to Sorata, a little town lying in the valley of that name below the Ylliapo range, 8,000ft. high, and some ninety miles from La Paz. There I was put up by Mr. and Mrs. Gunther, who were most hospitable. Gunther is a large rubber buyer with plenty of capital, and the owner of a big rubber estate, also of the largest store in Sorata and the principal brewery in Arequipa. Both he and his wife did their utmost to persuade me not to continue my journey. The first night I was there, Mrs. Gunther told me that Mrs. Villavicencia, who lived opposite, had seen me get off my mule at their house, and had said to the Gunthers’ cook who happened to be over there at the time: “Do you see that big Englishman who has just arrived? He thinks he is going to get to Paroma to spy on the Indians of Challana and report to the Government at La Paz. Tell him they will never permit him to cross the river, and that if he persists they will attack him and kill him.”

When I heard this, I asked Gunther to introduce me to the good lady, which he did next day; he just presented me and then left us to talk together, and I conversed with her for two hours. I told her my object in undertaking this journey, explained to her the proposal I was going to make to the Indians, and begged her to send one of her men to her brother Villarde, asking him to get the necessary permission for me from the Cacique to cross their border and visit him at Paroma. She told me to come back and see her the next afternoon, and she would let me know then what she could do. That night at dinner Mrs. Gunther said to me: “I don’t know what you have been doing, but you seem to have made a very good impression on Villarde’s sister; she says you talked with her and treated her quite differently from all the others who have been to see her about visiting Villarde, and the old chief at Paroma, and she has actually decided to send a messenger for you to her brother.”

Next day, as arranged, I called on Mrs. Villavicencia, who received me in a most friendly way. She told me she was sending a letter on my behalf to her brother, Villarde, by the hand of an Indian whose home was near Paroma. She said her brother had been made a chief by the Cacique, and was also at that time interpreter for the Indians; her husband was there too, working under Villarde. She advised me to let the Indian have a fortnight’s start in case her brother was away when he arrived.

Gunther insisted upon my spending the fortnight with him and his pretty wife, which was very nice of him. While I was at Sorata I used to go down the valley every day and admire the beautiful big cacti that grow everywhere about there, in all colours from pure white to dark purple and bright red; also the brilliant single and double fuchsias, which are much larger than any to be seen at home. This valley is full, too, of rubber vine, a plant that yields an inferior kind of milk.

Most of the Indians living hereabouts are Aymara, and own sheep and llamas. There are some large estancias (ranches) owned by rich Bolivians who spend most of their time in La Paz, leaving their farms in charge of a manager, generally a half-caste, with some Indian shepherds under him. Sheep do well, and give 6lbs. to 10lbs. of wool a head, and 50lbs. to 60lbs. of meat, good mutton and cheap, costing only 4/- to 5/- the head when the wool is off. Alpacas also do well in this district; they prefer the flat ground nearer the lake, while the sheep roam the hills and higher slopes. The sheep are tended by Indian women, who sit near them in sunny places or walk among them with wooden spindles yarning skeins of wool which they pluck from time to time off the sheep’s back. Many of these women make excellent socks and stockings out of this worsted spurn, which they have a special way of treating. I have bought several pairs and always found them far more durable and better in every way than any I have paid good prices for in England; indeed, I am never without them if I can help it. The Indian women sell them in sheep and llama wool at 2/- a pair; they also make them of vicuña wool, but these are more expensive, and run to 4/- or 5/- the pair.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 3

A Most Enjoyable Cup of Coffee

Lake Titicaca, La Paz and Sorata, Part 2

At last I was ready to start. I bought a good, strong mule to carry me, hired three others and two Indians from La Paz to carry my provisions and gear, and started off with my old groom, Miguel Cadez.

I had everything ready to make a start on the Tuesday, only to find that no amount of persuasion could induce the Indians to leave on that day. It appears that they have strong superstitious objections to starting on a Tuesday, like many sailors who object to setting sail on a Friday.

However, the next day we started, and M. Guibert, Major Holt, the manager of the Chicago Bolivian Rubber Company, the Argentine Minister, Senor Cabral, a few Bolivians, and many other English and Americans, came over to bid me God-speed, and wish me luck.

As is my usual custom, we travelled slowly, so as not to knock up the men and animals. After ascending the long hill to La Paz Alto, 12,500ft. up, we marched along the high flats to a place called Acacache, which consists of two huts of mud and stone, one of them a rest-house, where I stopped for the night in a room with a mud floor and a mud bed built up about three feet off the ground. The owner of the huts was an old Colonel, who had fought in the war with Chili and afterwards in the revolution. Unfortunately for him, he had backed the wrong horse, supporting Alonso instead of Pando, and as all his property had been confiscated after the revolution except this farm he had had to retire up here. From him I bought a supply of barley in the straw, sufficient for the mules, and a sheep for myself and the boy, which the Indians killed and skinned in return for the inside except the kidneys. After skinning it, they rubbed in salt and hung it out to freeze during the night. In this way meat will keep quite well in these altitudes, if the carcase is also protected from the sun during the daytime. I also bought enough potatoes and eschalots to make a good stew for every one. Indian mule men and porters are always supposed to feed themselves, and they generally carry a good supply of parched corn, meal and frozen potatoes, which they call chuno, and which is not bad in a stew when you can’t get the real thing. They also carry a supply of coca leaves, which they suck all day long on the road, and very often cocoa slabs as well; without these, no Indian in Bolivia would dream of travelling. Still, I have always made a practice of cooking enough food to leave a fair amount in the pot for them, and in consequence, unlike many other travellers who have written of their experiences, I never had any bother with them.

After a good dinner, and a most enjoyable cup of Yungas coffee, I went out to see that the mules were still feeding. It is absolutely necessary to look into these small matters yourself, for in some places the seller of fodder is quite capable of taking the stuff away from the animals, and then swearing they have already eaten it. I never think of turning in until after 10 p.m., so that I can be sure my beasts have had a good fill.

Next morning, after an early cup of coffee, I went out at 6.30 to see that the mules had the rest of the barley which had been put aside for them, and then took a bathe in the pond close by, which still had a fair coating of ice over it, except round the edges, which were always kept broken for the animals. The old Colonel was astounded when he saw me bathing, and said that if he did such a thing as have a cold bath it would kill him, to which I replied: “Not at all, so long as you can dry yourself afterwards in a beautiful hot sun like this.” I am certain it is a great mistake to leave off your morning bathe in these altitudes, and I have never done so.

Breakfast consisted of bacon and eggs, tea and wholesome bread made in the Bolivian fashion. The Bolivians always crush the best wheat with stone mills, and in this way all the best quality of the corn is preserved in the flour, instead of being lost, as it is in the newfangled process of machine-crushing.

After saying good-bye to the Colonel, who made me promise to come and see him again, I started off at nine o’clock, my usual hour for morning camp at these heights; for by then the sun has had time to warm up the backs and pack-blankets of the mules. In my opinion, the chief reasons why travellers so often find their animals’ backs galled and sore are, first, that they invariably start before the gear is properly cleaned and dried by the sun, and second, that their mule packs are far too heavy and cumbersome. My own equipment consisted of plenty of blankets, two broad thick pads made of straw and soft Capincha leather to cover each, and a broad strap made of the same leather to join the two together. I seldom had trouble with my animals, and I think these reasons had much to do with it.

As I rode along over the high flats on an easy-paced mule, in the finest atmosphere in the world, the blue sky above my head, behind me the magnificent view of the pyramid-shaped Yllimani mountains, and in front the lofty peaks of Sorata and the Ylliapo, with the whole extent of the immense inland sea of Titicaca spread below me, I thought that nothing could be more wonderful. As on the day before, we passed hundreds of llamas, each with the load of 50 to 75lbs. that they are accustomed to carry on journeys over the flats. The llamas are of all colours, from pure white to black and white, brown or yellow; beside them walk the little Indians in shirt and coloured pants; red and yellow, and black and grey seem to be the favourite colours. They are all barefooted, and each one carries his “poncho,” which is a rug of guanaco or vicuña-skin with a hole cut in the centre for the head to go through; vicuna-skin is much the most expensive and is only worn by the well-to-do. The Indians always take their wives out with them on all their trips, and sometimes they are accompanied by all their women; for an Indian may marry as many women as he can afford to keep during his life and provide for after his death. Before he can marry, he must first of all provide for each wife a hut or materials for building one, corn and meal for one year, seed for the next, the owner finding oxen, ploughs, water for irrigation purposes, if necessary, and land, usually on the share system, also grazing for his llamas. Most Indians have a few llamas, and some have large herds; there are no wild llamas, for, in the time of the Jesuits, Peru, as Bolivia was then, made a law that all these animals were the private property of the Indians. I once met a German who told me that while he was visiting Lake Titicaca he went out shooting and, among other things, killed five of these harmless animals; but when he got back to La Paz he found that the Indian owner had complained, and he had to pay seventeen dollars for each. Of course I told him it served him right, as he ought to have known, and they were no good to him in any case. I also told him of another German, a first-rate shot, who, when we were on a guanaco and vicuña hunting trip with dogs and rifles, actually shot and killed a wild donkey!

An Indian woman of the Bolivian interior. Illustration from Adventures in Bolivia.

This coffee, grown in the Yungas Valley, near La Paz, is famous all over the world for its excellence and flavour. It should be toasted with sugar and ground up the same day; when mixed half and half with Costa Rica, it is hard to beat.

‡N.B. This is one of the old Inca Laws, and still in force with all Indians who are colonials, that is, who belong to an Estanciero, and work for him on shares.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 3

The Grand Hotel Guibert

Lake Titicaca, La Paz and Sorata, Part 1

I left Jura at 9 a.m. by the Arequipa Puno train, which set me down at Puno, alongside Lake Titicaca at 8 p.m. or a little earlier; there one of the comfortable lake steamers, the “Puno” or the “Quaqui,” awaits the train for passengers for La Paz. The highest point passed by the train on the way to Puno is Crucero Alto (14,666ft.); the country here is just a high, bleak, sandy desert for miles around. Either here or at Juliaca further up the line, you get off to continue the long journey to the Rio Santo Domingo (Sunday) river. At Juliaca, part of the train goes on to Cusco, the old capital of the Incas, and the other part goes to Puno.

After passing Jura, I saw several herds of guanacos, and sometimes a few deer. Further up, over the 12,000ft. line near Crucero Alto and Juliaca, I could see the vicuñas going galloping off on either side of the line, as the train came near. The guanaco is found from 3,000ft. to 9,000ft. or 10,000ft., the vicuña from 9,000ft. to 16,000ft., and the true condor eagle from 14,000ft. to 16,000ft., except when some animal dies down below, then they seem to scent it and go to as low as 12,000ft. to finish it off. At 16,000ft. perpetual snow generally begins in these parts, and over that altitude nothing is to be seen, not a bird, or a beast, or a tree of any sort.

At first I had the idea of continuing the journey to Challana from Puno and not touching La Paz until my return, but I eventually decided to go and call on Staedlier first, and hear what he had to say about his trip.

At Puno I went to call on the Prefect, who received me very well, and wanted me to stay for a month or two to examine some Inca ruins that he knew of some ten leagues off. He offered to find me ten or twelve Indians and llamas, and lend me a good mule for myself. I thanked him, and told him that after I had finished the job on hand I would certainly look him up again and explore the ruins he spoke of.

There was no boat the night the train arrived, as I had come by the weekly cargo train, or extra, so I left Puno by the lake steamer the following night, and got to Quaqui on the Bolivian side of the lake next afternoon.

Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, is 165 miles long, 65 miles broad, and from 100ft. to 600ft. deep. One half of the lake belongs to Peru, the other half to Bolivia; there are several islands peopled chiefly by Indians and Cholos, or half-castes, who sail all over the lake from the islands to the steamer, in their native balsas, made of grass and reeds, with one sail set, in all sorts of weathers. The lake can be quite rough at times when squalls upset the waters.

This great inland sea, replenished by the melting snow of the Andes, is one of the most magnificent sights in the world, and there is no finer view anywhere than the high Ylliapo range and the Peak of Sorata, and the wonderful pyramid-shaped mountains of Yllimani, close to La Paz, two of the most magnificent ranges of the Cordillera of the Andes, which you see from the deck of the steamer.

From Quaqui I took the train to La Paz Alto, thirty-five miles off, over flat ground all the way; this line passes through General Pando’s big ranch. At La Paz Alto (12,525ft.) there are always several big brakes drawn by six mules or horses, which go down to La Paz at a good hand-gallop along the winding road cut out of the mountain; there is also a steam tram which has recently been constructed in connection with the La Paz and Quaqui line, and which is controlled by the same Peruvian Corporation at Lima that owns the lake steamers.

As you go down the steep mountain road on top of a coach, a magnificent panorama opens before you, and you see the city of La Paz, with its red-tiled roofs, open plazas, gardens, churches and public buildings, and some old ruins on the outskirts, and beyond it, stretching to the foot of the beautiful Yllimani Mountain the rich basin that forms the Yungas Valley.

The city of La Paz (11,000ft. to 10,800ft.) is built in two distinct levels. On the higher ground are the Government buildings, and the Plaza where the fine artillery band plays; and lower down is the big Indian market. Lower down still, just on the outskirts of the city, at 10,000ft. down a beautiful level avenue past the barracks, stands the picturesque house of General Pando, who led the Liberal Party in the revolution of 1898, and succeeded in replacing Alonso for two years as President of Bolivia. General Pando was certainly a man who did more for Bolivia than many others, though he did some good for himself as well. It was General Pando who regulated the rich rubber zone of the Acre with Brazil, and thereby saved his country from war, got a good round sum of money for Bolivia, and undid the work of President Melgarejo, a former President, who had ceded the Acre district over to Brazil, with small compensation for Bolivia. When Pando came into power, he advised Brazil that this was Bolivian territory, and that the former President had no right to barter away land belonging to the country he governed; but as Brazil had policed the district for a number of years, and as it was now peopled largely by Brazilians, the Brazilian Government did not want to give it up. However, they offered to settle the matter by paying Bolivia £2,000,000, and the transactions were carried out in November, 1903. When I got to La Paz, in the middle of that month, General Pando was still absent with his staff in the Acre.

While I was at La Paz, I put up at the Grand Hotel Guibert, which is kept by a rich Frenchman of that name. The rooms are all well furnished, the food is very good, and the prices of everything, even the drinks, are extremely reasonable. All the servants and waiters are Pongos (Indians), all of them males; they wear woollen nightcaps to keep their heads warm. The only drawback was that there was no decent lavatory, and not a single bath in the place. So the first thing I did on arriving was to go out and buy the largest tub that I could find for my morning dip.

M. Guibert told me that he came to Bolivia with a fair amount of capital, and had made a good deal more, but he complained of having contracted very bad rheumatism. I advised him to give the Jura baths a trial, and to take some saltpetre every day and see how that worked. I have met him several times since, and he tells me he is cured.

The whole city of La Paz is built on a high gold mountain. Many large nuggets of gold have been found on the banks of the river that runs through the city. One day I rode off on one of my mules to visit the gold washing of a French Company, at the invitation of the manager, a Frenchman, who lived at the place with his wife. The employés consisted of a few whites and several Indians, both men and women, and the Company had four large cranes to lift the big river boulders. The day I was there I saw not just a few, but a considerable number of small nuggets, one of them weighing nearly an ounce, picked up by the Indians and handed to the different overseers; this was before the gravel was got ready to wash, and I thought to myself what a rich place it must be. Imagine my surprise to read in a newspaper two years afterwards, that this Company had gone broke.

As I had intended, I called on the Vice-Consul for Belgium, Mr. Staedlier, who had not long returned from his trip. He repeated and confirmed, more or less, what I had read of his journey in the papers, and said the Indians would never permit anyone to cross the River Challana, let alone go to Paroma, and he strongly advised me to abandon the trip.

Before leaving La Paz I also went to see Sanchez, a Spaniard, who had been supplying the Indians of Challana with rifles and ammunition, and receiving payment in rubber, till the authorities caught him and Villavicencia and imprisoned them in La Paz; but, after a year, the gaol was attacked one night, and the prisoners escaped. Villavicencia got back to Challana, but Sanchez, who was suffering with his chest, was recaptured on his way to Sorata, and again imprisoned. He was eventually released on payment of a big fine to the Government, on condition that he promised not to do any more gun-running, and reported himself once a month to the officials in La Paz. He said he would communicate with the Indians through Villarde, to whom he would explain my object in going in, and he sent off one of his Indians with a message to him. He advised me to go in by way of the Tipuani, instead of the Tongo, and told me that Mrs. Villavicencia, Villarde’s sister, lived at Sorata, and that it would be policy to go and see her on the way, which I decided to do.