The Peak of Sorata and Tiquiripaga, Part 4
Tiquiripaga is a straggling village, about half a mile in circumference, consisting of 28 huts and a small church, which is always open; a priest is supposed to make his round periodically, but there had been none now for two years.
The huts belonging to the head man of the village were all built of stone, on a fairly flat piece of grass ground of about 50 acres. Yellow and white buttercups and daisies grew here in wild profusion, and a stream ran down to the valley, getting gradually wider and deeper as it wound its way through the forest below. The water was frozen over at this height, with pools here and there, where the ice was kept broken by the inhabitants for water. Each morning at 7.30 I used to go regularly to one of these pools for my bath.
The little church stood about a quarter of a mile lower down the valley, and was always full of wild flowers, newly gathered and placed about the steps and the altar. I noticed that no traveller ever passed the church without entering to say a prayer. It snowed or hailed several times a day, with spells of sunshine in between, and froze hard each night; the mornings were generally bright and sunny, until about 10 or 11 a.m.; then came hail or snow, and so on, throughout the day. Behind us was the mighty Ylliapo Mountain, with the lofty Peak of Sorata towering in lonely grandeur above all, white with eternal snow. In front was the long path winding down to the tropical forest below. There were many woodcocks, and I got a few. I also saw a good many condors, with their white collars, some of enormous size; I got several long shots at them on the wing with my rifle. I thought I hit one or two, and one we could distinctly see had been struck on the tip of the wing; the head man, Manuel, said it was sure to be found wounded, and we would be able to secure it, but we were not lucky enough to find it. The eagles have to take a short run before they are able to extend their wings and launch themselves into space, and once they get fairly going they appear to sail along high up in the sky without any apparent movement of the wings. It was a wonderful sight to see a dozen or more of these enormous eagles all soaring along high up in the blue sky between the snow-capped mountains above, and the field of enormous yellow buttercups below, with huts of the Indians and the little church all standing out here and there by themselves in lonely spots, and llamas of all colours feeding with the hardy mountain sheep on the hills.
After breakfast, I generally took the gun or rifle, and after entering the church for a few minutes went out and shot a woodcock or a mountain partridge, or else took pot shots at a condor. The days passed pleasantly enough, and when night came I had a good dinner, wrote up my diary, and slept well till daylight.
These were the summer months on this side, during which there is alternate snow and sunshine on the Andes, and heavy rains in the forest. Manuel told me one day that he believed treasure was to be found near the Peak of Sorata, and I heard that also in Sorata; in fact, the Indians nearly all claim that it is so, but nobody has ever yet explored there for it, and residents in Sorata say that the natives would never allow anyone to do so. Mrs. Gunther told me that the Indians came in thousands to watch from below Sir Martin Conway’s party trying to ascend the peak, and some of them told her he would never be allowed to remain at the top for very long, even if he got there. She said they claim that the great Image of the Sun was taken there and buried in a niche underneath the snow not far from the top. She knew the Aymara language well, and I jotted down several sentences and words in that language from her tuition that served me very well.
An American lady, Miss Annie C. Peak, had also tried to climb the mountain, but old Manuel told me she did not get higher than the top of the pass which I crossed.
At the end of the ten days, old Manuel came to me at 8 a.m., just as I was returning from my morning bath, and very civilly said he would not be able to make a start the next day, as owing to the heavy falls of snow on the mountains the llamas had to be driven some distance off to get their fill of grass, so he asked me to wait on some days longer. He told me his younger wife would continue to attend to me, and begged me to pay him in future for the sheep and guinea-pigs in coca leaves, instead of money, to which I, of course, agreed.
Mrs. Manuel was a very good hand at making extremely savoury stews with guinea-pigs, and now and then I got her to make one. Occasionally I gave Manuel a drink of gin and bitters, which he liked, but he never asked for one. Before I had been here many days the Mama of the settlement had been to see me. The oldest woman in the place is always called the Mama, and if you make a good impression on her you get along well with the whole lot. This old woman was over ninety, and looked it.
Exactly twenty-three days after I had arrived here Manuel came to announce that he would be ready to make a move next day at 9 a.m.