Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

Rolling Stones Gathers No Dosh

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 7

After a breakfast of Irish stew at 7 a.m., we walked at once up the hill, which was so steep that no mule was ever made to go up with more than 50lbs. of cargo. The distance was measured by hexemeter as 2,600 metres. Manuel and the men always got to the top before me, but not by much.

During the whole time I did the crowbar work myself, and the others rested while I was moving the big stones to be rolled down the cliff and through the forest to the river below. After working on the south side for two days, I abandoned that end, as I saw no signs of the hand of a man, and began digging down on the north side facing the River Cato. It was soon evident by many indications that the formation here was the work of man, and not of nature. I found the bones of birds, guinea-pigs, some snail shells that are generally found on trees, and stones and pebbles from the river beach below, and when, at the depth of nine feet, I picked up a wooden cork, and, at twelve feet, a yellow altar slab with flowers nicely engraved on it, there was no longer any doubt in my mind. Mendizabal, who had just arrived with the authorities from La Paz, was of the same opinion. Don Tomas, the engineer, told me that the journey back to La Paz would take them eight to ten days, and they wanted meat, so, before the officials returned to La Paz, we organized a hunt for wild cattle, and got two young bulls and a cow, which we made into charque or dried meat, by cutting them into strips, and then salting them out in the sun. I shot one bull and the cow, and Mendizabal the other with my double sixteen bore Holland and Holland. All the cattle without a brand in Bolivia are considered wild, and belong to the Government, and anybody may catch or kill as many as they like, provided they pay the nearest authority £2 a head on behalf of the State. Mendizabal told me that a few years ago, some twenty days’ journey further, he bought two thousand heads in that way down the River Sacambaja near the Brazilian frontier. He made four trips, two each year in the dry season, and drove down two hundred tame cattle to the vast grassy prairies in the interior where the wild cattle were plentiful. The Indians living there make a business of rounding up wild cattle; they first fence in big tracts of land, and drive numbers of cattle into these open savannas, then they round off a certain number into a corral, and the tame cattle are then allowed to mingle with them, and they are eventually driven off to their new home. The Indians always accompany the herds for the first four or six days for about 10/- a head, and in this way very few are lost. Mendizabal drove back one hundred of the tame cattle with each batch of five hundred of the wild. Don Lisandro also told me he bought his big estancia (ranch) at Cuti, from the Government; it is nine leagues wide, mostly grass with plenty of water. The boundary on the north is the River Sacambaja. There are all sorts of climates on this estate, from tropical heat to the intense cold of the Calatranca Range. When he bought the place, there were one hundred and five families of Indian squatters on the land, whom he valued more highly than the land. They all stayed and became Colonists under him, and he has a code of rules which are just and strict. They all look up to him very much, and call him Tata (father). There is no drunkenness and no thieving. When any man wants to marry, he has to show a hut and a plot of ground, ready for sowing, and enough food in the house for one year, and seed for the next. Everything is done on the half share system, Don Lisandro supplying the land, implements and seed. When the harvest comes round all the grain is taken to the estancia house, and equally divided between him and the growers. They are at liberty to go and work outside whenever they like, provided they get his permission, which is always given except in crop time. I had several of his men working for me at various times, but they never stayed very long; they used to say there was no necessity for them to work outside, except when they wanted some money to buy something. Don Lisandro did not keep any stock, but grew maize, barley, wheat, ochres, potatoes and onions in large quantities; he had sheep and llamas feeding on the higher ground, and horses, mules and cattle on the more sheltered ground. He took great pride in his horses, and bred from a pacer and a half-bred Arab; he was a great believer in the Arab strain. The estancia house, stables, wool-shed, granary and other buildings form a square round a large open yard with grass plots in the middle, and the whole is surrounded by a broad walk twenty feet high, and entered by a gate of the same height, opening from within. The climate is good and the scenery grand; there is plenty of shooting, and no neighbours nearer than thirty-six miles. There was a horse and mule-breaker and a carpenter kept on the premises. The farm was not fenced in at all, there were merely a few paddocks near the house for convenience, as the Bolivian law does not, like Argentine law, oblige the owner of an estancia to fence it in within so many years, a very expensive item. He has a church, which he built himself, and he keeps it in very good order; the door is kept open from daylight to dark, as the custom is in these countries, and a priest comes from Palca twice a year, and remains a week or ten days. All the produce is sent to Oruro and La Paz by cargo mules.

Don Lisandro said he had often been looking for the Jesuit treasure during the last twenty-five years. He once found a lot of skulls and bones near the convent, and opposite on the hill called the “Negro Muerto,” where the men were buried that died in the fever epidemic. He never found any treasure, but the Indian owner of the Caballo Cunco Hill, that I denounced, had found over £20,000 worth, and he had bought large tracts of land and many cattle and sheep with the money. Just before I left Sacambaja the owner of the soil sent his wife to say he hoped I would be lucky enough to get something, and, as far as he was concerned, he did not wish to participate.

The dry season was now at an end. I left Manuel at the hill, with provisions, as caretaker, and returned in the middle of October to Cochabamba, going on from there to Oruro by the same way by which I came. I disposed of the mules at an advantage. I stayed a few days there, and went on by train from Oruro, which takes two days and two nights, travelling only by day, down to the important town of Antofogasta, the nearest port to Bolivia—and so home.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

Egg Marks the Spot

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 6

José Maria, Zam and Manuel’s wife were waiting down below, and we pitched camp there for the night. Next day, after nine miles of fairly level going up the river, we got to the foot of the Caballo Cunco Hill, where José said the treasure was buried. I pitched my two tents and kitchen on the level river beach which is about half a mile wide, and extends all the way up and down the Rivers Cato and Sacambaja, and Manuel ran up a rough shed for the mules to feed in, and another for himself. There was plenty of wood all over the beach, and the forest all around was full of fat wild cattle. Near the camp just inside the forest was a clear stream of water with some deep pools, and there were plenty of guava trees in the forest. The big Rivers Cuti and Sacambaja were only two hundred yards away, but their water is not very good to drink, as the broad sandy beach is full of nitrate. José Maria told me that in the rainy season, which starts down here in the middle of October, these two rivers form one big sheet of water; the Caballo Cunco Hill becomes an island, and the water is so deep and the current so strong that no one can cross for weeks and months at a time.

The camp at Sacambaja and the Caballo Cunco hill. Illustration from Adventures in Bolivia.

José Maria was too old to walk up the very steep path which could be seen leading up to the top of the hill where the big stone was. Next day I went up with Manuel, Zambrana and the two boys, all carrying machetes to clear the way. At the top I found the big stone shaped like an egg, and on looking to right, left and behind we saw the Rivers Cato and Sacambaja down below, running into one main stream. The scenery was exactly as described by the paper in my possession. I took the exact position of the hill, and at once sent Zam to inform Don Lisandro Mendizabal, who lived at Cuti, twenty-seven miles off. The nearest house was José Maria’s, eighteen miles off. Through Don Lisandro I sent my application to the Government in La Paz, who two months later sent down one of their officials with six soldiers to give me the documents of formal possession. These documents still hold good, and are in my possession, signed by the Minister of Mines, and witnessed according to law.

It may be of interest here to give the rules issued by General José Manuel Pardo regarding tapadas (hidden or buried treasure).

A tapada shall be the property of the finder provided he comply with the following conditions:

The finder must not absent himself from the spot even for a day until he has been given formal possession. He must notify the owner of the soil, if it has an owner. The finder on finding buried treasure must at once notify the authority appointed by the Government of La Paz, who will at once inform the supreme authorities in La Paz; they will despatch a detachment of soldiers and one or more mining engineers to take out the buried treasure, which will be divided up in La Paz, 25 per cent going to the Government and 75 per cent to the finder.

The owner of the soil may participate in one half of the finder’s share, provided he comply with the following conditions. Six weeks or forty-two days after the authorities have been notified, he must present himself at La Paz, and give information. He must then within the time specified render assistance to the finder by providing, paying and maintaining thirty men to uncover the tapada. If he fails to comply with these conditions within the time allowed, namely, forty-two days, he loses all rights.

Keeping my saddle mule down here to use when wanted, I sent Manuel with the horse and the other animals up the valley where the grass was good, telling him to come down in a week’s time for more provisions. José Maria wanted to make himself useful, so I gave the old man the job of bringing down a 4/- sheep and 2/- worth of potatoes every Saturday. One day I asked José how old he was, and he replied he did not exactly know, but was certainly several years over one hundred. He said his father told him the convent was completed in 1705, but in 1745 the Jesuits abandoned Sacambaja, knowing they were going to be expelled from Peru. The remains of the convent, several other buildings, some stone mounds, and the great mud and stone wall still exist.

I started off the excavation by blowing the big, egg-shaped stone to pieces with dynamite. The stone was exactly ten feet high above the ground, five feet below, and fourteen feet wide round the middle. The roof of the cave was covered over by earth and grass for eighteen inches or two feet, except at the end where the big stone was, where it was covered rather deeper. The roof itself was divided into three equal squares, each twenty-five feet long, and the whole roof was, as far as could be judged, seventy-five feet long and thirty feet broad; it was covered all over with stone, cut and shaped like bricks, and large slabs of big slate stone. The partitions were divided by stone bricks, six inches high. All the work was very well and carefully done. After we had exposed the roof, the question was, which side to tackle first. Eventually, I decided to make a start on the south side. Mendizabal, who always took, and still takes the greatest interest in the uncovering of the top of this hill, had sent me a reinforcement of three Indians, or colonias as they are called, whom I paid 1/- per day, and their food, and I replaced Manuel’s son by Manuel himself, letting the boy tend the animals. This made four men and a boy, and myself for the work. We started at 7.30 every morning, and dug away for all we were worth until six o’clock at night, knocking off only from twelve o’clock to one o’clock for the cold lunch and water which we carried with us.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

Miracle Cures

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 5

I spent most of the fortnight doing prospecting work on Mount Sapo, and shooting bush chickens, which were so plentiful that I got them whenever I wanted. One day I winged a big condor at long range, but failed to get him. In the valley just outside the forest, I several times saw beautiful golden and silver pheasants; there were never more than two at a time, and they were always at the same place. They were far too pretty for me to fire at, and exceedingly tame, as were the bush chickens; all that was necessary was just to go to the roosting trees at dusk, and take a chance shot. Two days after Zam got back, I sent him down the valley, to get half a bag of flour crushed by a water-mill, which only cost 3/6, 2/6 for the wheat and 1/- for the crushing. He returned in the evening with a tall, well-made Indian, who asked me to come down and see his boy, aged fourteen, who had a bad attack of malaria. I promised to do so next day, and the Indian returned to his home. The following day I took Zam to lead his mule and my chestnut horse, and the boy to carry my gun, as there were plenty of fat pigeons on the lower ground where the Indian lived. We walked leisurely down the valley along a good Indian path for about nine miles, taking three hours, and got there at 11 a.m. I saw the boy, and gave him some pills, and told his mother and father before I left to give him hot boiled cow’s milk and stop cramming spoonfuls of pearl barley and boiled maize down his throat, which I found they were doing. I shot six pigeons there, and they gave me some cabbages, young onions and a pine. On the way back, I enjoyed the lovely scenery on both sides of the valley. Next day I went to see the boy again, taking the white mule to ride back on, and the red roan mule to bring back two bags of potatoes. I found the boy improved, put him on weak tea and toast, and hot milk, and gave him a dose of quinine, leaving another dose for his mother to give him two hours after dark. I shot four pigeons, and the Indians gave me six fresh eggs and another cabbage. Next day I went down again with the horse, and found the boy much better, and sitting outside. I gave him some quinine, and made him some hot Liebig’s Extract, giving his mother a big pot, and telling her to make him drink three cups a day for four days, and then come up and let me know how he was. I also left a tin of tea and some sugar for her, and two pigeons to grill for the boy. They were very grateful, and wanted to give me all sorts of things; I accepted a young kid, and had it done on the spit next night for dinner.

Four days afterwards, the Indian came with a large bunch of bananas, his wife with two bottles of milk and a fowl, and his little girl with some pines and eggs. I remonstrated with him, but he said I had cured his boy, and so long as I was here it was his duty to bring me supplies, a sure proof that these people are grateful and easy to get on with if properly treated. At the appointed time, we started off to the home of José Maria Ampuera, getting there early in the morning on the second day. The old man told me he would show the hill to anyone coming from a daughter of General San Roman. He said his father had told him that this was the place, and that his grandfather had been with the priests, Gregorio and San Roman, when they hid the treasure. His grandfather and father had been very well off, and owned land and cattle, and he himself had inherited land and cattle from his father. The Bolivian Government took away his land, and eight hundred of his cattle, leaving him only with his present holding and fifty head; this was in Malgarejo’s time, and for that reason, when President Malgarejo came down to the River Sacambaja with half a regiment of soldiers to dig and hunt for the treasure, he refused to show them the place. He showed me afterwards where President Malgarejo prospected for it; they were not very far off, but on the wrong side of the river. José told me how fifty years ago he and his sons found a gold bell weighing 40lbs., which they sold, and bought land and cattle, but in uncovering the tapada some rocks fell and killed one of his boys; he and his other son took this as a bad omen and never tried to find any more. He promised to show me the place where they found it. The reason he had not sent in for his money from the agent of Father San Roman was that after the priest died he did not know to whom to apply, and he thought the family in Lima would be sure to send something in to him.

José thought it advisable that we should go separately to the place where the treasure was, as if people were to see us travelling together they might suspect something and follow us and the law of treasure is very stringent. So he suggested I should go a roundabout way along the valley of the Calatranca Range, cross over the highest pass, and make for the River Sacambaja below, and he would go by a more direct and easier path and meet me down below on the banks of the Sacambaja. I left the cook to go with the old man, and sent Zambrana to Cuti to get a sheep for 4/- and follow on with the old Indian in two days’ time, while Manuel, his boy and the two other men went the other way with the mules and donkey and horse. We camped that night near the path over the mountain, but soon after we had pitched the tents and let loose the mules, with the chestnut horse as bell mare, Manuel brought me the news that there were other travellers evidently going the same way as we were, and that he could see their fire behind us, but he thought it did not matter, as they would now follow us over the high pass. Where we camped there was no forest, only a few hardy trees and bushes growing in the gully; we were 15,200ft. up, very near the snowline. There was a light layer of frozen snow near the camp on either side of the gully, plenty of long tufty mule grass growing all about, and a stream of very cold water with ice and snow on the edges. After the sun went down it got very cold; but we had a good Irish stew for supper, and plenty of everything, and with two big fires going, one near my tent, the other near the men’s, we passed a comfortable night. Next morning after a bath in the cold stream I dressed in front of a big fire, made a good breakfast and started off at 9.30, riding my mule, but getting off at steep places. The path was one of the Inca tracks, broad and well made, cut out of rock, with very gradual inclines, and I was able to ride most of the way. At 11 a.m. the aneroid registered 17,000ft., and at 1 p.m. we got to the top of the pass; the last hour and a half going over frozen snow. I wrote down 19,000ft. in my diary for the height of the pass, and was probably not far off the mark, as the aneroid does not register over 17,000ft., and Lisandro Mendizabal, the wealthy owner of Cuti and the Alcalde of the district, afterwards told me that was very likely the height as the top of the mountain was 21,500ft., and always covered with snow. We were not followed any more. From the cairn of stones on the summit we saw an immense expanse of country; nobody was to be seen, no dwelling and no living thing, except some big white collared condors sailing magnificently in the clear air without any apparent movement. Down the hill we followed the broad Inca and Jesuit road, which is cut out of the rock and in places runs along the extreme edge of the precipice, and after ten miles, of which the last few miles were through forest, reached the River Sacambaja.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

The Lost Mines of Sapo

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 4

The town of Palca consists of a few houses and has a church and a priest. It is noted for its excellent brew of chicha, which makes a wholesome and refreshing drink.

The tanner’s wife, a pleasant, civil Indian woman, asked her brother to take me to the ranch of a very old Indian, who lived on a sheep and maize farm at the foot of the Sapo mountain, and who, he said, would know all the old men in the district. He took me there the next day, and I put up at the old man’s house. His name was José, and he claimed to be 99 years old; he knew José Maria well, and said that he was some years older than he was himself. He was a strong, healthy fellow, and had lived all his life in this pure atmosphere. The scenery round here was very fine; the lands for leagues around belonged to a man at Palca, and were worked by several families of Indians, who grew maize, wheat and barley on the share system, and had flocks of sheep feeding on the extensive grass lands between the River Cori Mayo and the forest. José sold me sheep whenever I wanted one for 4/- each, rented me two huts, one for myself and the other for a kitchen, and lent me the oven for 2/- a day. By his advice, I sent Zambrana down the river to José Maria Ampuera with a present of tea, sugar, cocoa, tobacco, matches, biscuits and cheese, and a few pounds of coca leaves, with a note, telling him I had come to look for the treasure with the data supplied by Corina San Roman, and wanted to visit him. Mariano was sick just then with a sort of cholera, which had been brought on by his own greed. On the way to Palca, I had bought half a sack of apples at a farm with an orchard, and he had eaten too many. He wanted to return to his home in Cochabamba, so I paid him off, gave him provisions for ten days, and took the Indian boy from Palca in his stead.

José told me that the Sapo Mountain, as far as he knew, had never been visited for thirty-five years, that there were several abandoned socabons (mining tunnels) there, and that the settlers occasionally washed gold out of the Cori Mayo, so I decided to explore this mountain while waiting for Zambrana to come back. The next day, after breakfast, I rode off on the white mule up a path which José showed me, which led to a dip in the mountain where he said I should find a big socabon. I took Juan and the Indian from Palca with me to clear the path when necessary, leaving Manuel to look after the horse, mules and donkey, and his wife to make bread and attend to the kitchen. It was not more than two leagues to the hollow, but it took from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to get there, as we had constantly to clear the track, which was overgrown in most places, so we went down again, intending to go and look at the tunnel next day. I saw lots of bush chickens in the forest on the way up, and decided to take the gun with me next day. Next morning I took Manuel’s son, Juan, and the Indian boy with me, and rode off with the white mule to explore the socabon. It was situated at 14,200ft. just above the forest line, which stops at about 14,000ft. The view from here was quite magnificent; a vast expanse of country could be seen for miles around, entirely unoccupied except for three or four isolated huts. The socabon was thiry-five [sic] yards long, fifteen yards wide, and fifteen high; there was no dump to be seen, and everything had been taken away. The rock was so hard that no timbering up was required at all; in fact, there was not a post to be seen, although there were many hard wood quebracho trees in the forest below, ready to hand. The roof was ventilated in six parts. In the left-hand corner near the entrance it appeared to be hollow on sounding. I took some samples of blue quartz rock and lime from the lode, where the Jesuits had left off. There was no doubt that this was one of the old Jesuit mines, which had been lost to sight and abandoned for many years. There were several other old workings in the vicinity on the mountain, all showing the same clear work, and no dumping. Another big tunnel ran underneath the hill about a quarter of a mile from the first one. This mine had no supports, or timbering of any kind. I saw another tunnel of the same sort high up on the top of the mountain, of the same blue rock quartz. I took samples from the first mine; some of them gave indications only, others which I had essayed later in London by Mix, a mining engineer, gave 2ozs. 3dwt. of gold, and 3ozs. 6dwt. of silver to the ton. The priest at Palca told me afterwards that the lapis lazuli sent to Rome by the Jesuits and the famous chain worn by the Archbishops of the La Paz Province of Ayacucho, called Upper Peru in those days, had come from a mountain called Mount Sapo, but that nobody had ever been able to locate the place, until I found it. On my return to Cochabamba I took up the concession and denounced two hundred per tinencias, which was about five hundred acres. Mr. J. O. Gentry, of Kansas City, a partner of Haggin & McEwan, and the owner of the Cerro Pasco, Peru, told me that if I put on eighty men, got out quartz during the six months’ dry season, and left it there, they would then send one of their mining expert engineers to report, and if the report was favourable they would take it over, putting on as many stamps as the mine would carry, and giving me one-third of the profits. There was plenty of water and wood near and good grazing ground all around, at the foot of the mountain, but up to now I have never been able to get any Company to take up this proposition.

Zambrana returned soon after with an answer from old José Maria, saying that if I would come and see him in a fortnight he would take me to the foot of the hill, where the bulk of the treasure was supposed to be buried.

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.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

Murders are Not Uncommon

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 2

After a stay of two weeks, I started for Cochabamba, riding the horse on the first day, and next day a good little white mule. The journey of 190 miles took eight days’ easy travelling. We started each morning at 9 a.m., and camped every afternoon at 3 p.m., renting an Indian hut for the night. Each evening, after buying fodder for the animals, eggs and mutton, and whatever else was wanted, I generally took the gun for an hour or two, and shot some doves and other birds, which we ate cold for lunch next day.

The first day’s journey was over the high flats, a sandy desert, with little feed for the animals. Indians with llamas, each carrying a small load, passed us frequently on their way to Oruro, and now and then we met long strings of mules, led by their bell mare. The bell mare carries nothing; her job is to lead the mules, and they follow her in single file, stopping only when the bell stops.

Llamas outside the town of Caxamalca. Illustration from Adventures in Bolivia.

The rest of the way was through a more fertile district, which bred sheep, llamas, cattle, donkeys, mules, and even a few horses. I saw Indians ploughing the fields with the same wooden ploughs as were used hundreds of years ago. Occasionally we passed small wooden carts drawn by oxen, with heavy wooden wheels made of one piece.

The crops in these parts are barley, wheat, potatoes and, further on near Cochabamba, maize, ochres and yucas. Fresh mutton can be bought, the usual price being about 4/- to 5/- a sheep; also home-made bread, fowls, eggs, and guinea pigs, ochres, chuno, potatoes, onions, barley in the straw, green barley and alfalfa. The native drink of chicha, made from corn, can also be bought quite cheap every few miles.

The weather was fine the whole time, warm in the day-time, and cool at nights, and the journey was a much more enjoyable one than going down by diligence. There were several rivers to be crossed on the way; between November and April, they are difficult to get over, and people don’t travel much from Oruro to Cochabamba during those months.

Cochabamba stands 8,200ft. high, with a climate which is one of the best in the world; it is never too hot in the day, and cool at night. Rents and living are very cheap. The market master regulates the prices of all meats, beef, mutton and pork. Vegetables are plentiful, and fruit of all kinds may be purchased on the market. There are no hotels to speak of, and no street cars or cabs for hire. The streets are all well paved with stone with a gutter down the centre. All the houses have heavy iron bars to the windows, and big, solid bolts to the doors as well. Murders are not uncommon, and the criminal is seldom caught, which is due not so much to the negligence of the police as to the number of hiding-places where the criminal can easily conceal himself for a time. When a murderer is caught he is made to undergo a public trial in the square of the Court House, and if he is found guilty he is taken to the spot where the crime was committed and shot there. I saw one such trial in Cochabamba. A bad Cholo had asked and received the hospitality of a man and his wife for the night, and while they were asleep had killed them with an axe, and stolen a sum of money he knew was in the house. His bloodstained clothes convicted him, and he was shot. I was told by a man who knew that this was the first occasion for a long time that a murderer had been caught. The cathedral, which is built of stone, faces the big square and garden; the Hall of Justice, military barracks, and police station are on the opposite side. Six hundred priests live in the town. Chiquitos, where the Jesuits found a lot of gold, is twenty days’ journey by mule, and the famous Espirito Santo gold mine worked by them is ten days by mule. There is bear shooting three days away. I rented a nice little house on the outskirts of the town near the river, with large garden and open air concrete bath. Only a very few houses contain proper lavatory accommodation; otherwise they are very well built and quite comfortable. I made this house my headquarters for three years, while prospecting for old mines and looking for the Jesuit treasure. In front of my place were the Municipality grown alfalfa fields for the Government animals; they were guarded day and night by two armed watchmen, to prevent them being cut by thieves. It costs little to keep animals here; barley and alfalfa can be bought by the load, one mule cargo for about 4/-, and two cargoes, one barley and one alfalfa, served for my horse and four mules a day.

Opposite Cochabamba, on the other side of the river, a German Company had a large brewery, and made very good beer; a dozen large bottles cost 2/-, and the bottles cost as much as the beer. Imported Bass beer cost 2/- for one big bottle, a bottle of good whisky 10/- or 12/-, and Three Star brandy 16/-.

After a considerable amount of trouble, I located Zambrana, who lived a day’s ride from Cochabamba. He had not seen old Jose Maria for many years, and the priest, Father San Roman, who used to pay him, had died, but he said he knew Jose Maria lived near a place called Cuti, which was thirty-five miles from Palca. Zam, as I always called him, had never been to either of these places, but knew the way as far as a mountain village sixty miles from Palca. He agreed to join my expedition as campman and butcher, get water and wood, and help the cook, so I took him on; he was to find his own mule.

I had two tents made here, one for myself 16ft. by 12ft. and 9ft. high, and the other was 10ft. by 10ft. and 9ft. high; also a strong folding-up canvas catre 3 and a half ft. broad and 7ft. long, which, with a horse-hair mattress, made a most comfortable bed. I also got together provisions for four months: sugar, rice, biscuits, jams, tea, cocoa, coffee, and some tinned meats, salt, ship’s biscuits and other things. Zambrana told me that round about the department of Palca both sheep and flour were plentiful and cheap. The Indian wife of Manuel, the mule man, made splendid bread, and at the different stopping places we often borrowed the use of a bake-oven, and stayed a couple of days to make bread. It is well worth the extra trouble to get good, wholesome bread made with flour that retains all the good ingredients of the wheat, which is always possible if it is crushed by the stone mill process. I also took two dozen bottles of rum, one dozen of the best for myself, and a dozen of a stronger, but inferior, quality for the men. With the exception of the things I brought out with me, such as Liebig’s Extract, a thing I never travel without, everything was bought from Barber & Co., who traded goods for rubber up the Beni, by advancing money and goods to traders for rubber to be delivered in two years’ time. Alfred Barber was the manager for this firm in Bolivia; in London and Hamburg the firm was Brandt & Co. Of course all the traders who dealt with the firm on the two years’ credit system had to show substantial guarantees in the form of unmortgaged property, otherwise such firms would soon come to grief. Barber himself had to put up a guarantee of several thousands of pounds (a legacy left him by his godmother) to be made managing partner in Bolivia.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 7

There’s Gold in Them There Hills

The Caballo Cunco Treasure: First Attempt, Part 1

While I was stopping for a week at Jura baths, on my return from Challana, Morosini, the proprietor of the hotel, came up to me one day and told me there was a lady staying there who wanted to have a talk with me—Dona Corina San Roman, daughter of the late General San Roman, a former President of Peru. Morosini presented me, and after a few minutes’ conversation she showed me an original document left by Father San Roman to his brother, the Prefect of Callao, and handed down to her by her father, which gave particulars of a large treasure that had been hidden by the Jesuits. She told me that as I had been into Challana, and got back safely, I would be just the man to go and look for it, if I cared to do so, and she made me two alternative offers. If I tried to find the place with the help of the data she would give me, she would pay me £80 per month for the six dry months of the next year, which was as much as I was getting from Mariano Penny for training his racehorses, and if I found it she would pay all the expenses of unearthing it, and give me ten per cent of the full value found. The other suggestion was that I was to take the copy of the document, and go myself, paying all my own expenses, and give her ten per cent of the treasure if I found it. I accepted the second proposition without hesitation.

The document gave no indications as to how to find the place, but simply described the kind of place, and mentioned that it was near the banks of the River Sacambaja. It ran as follows: “If you find a steep hill all covered with dense forest, the top of which is flat, with long grass growing, from where you can see the River Sacambaja on three sides, you will discover on the top of it, in the middle of the long grass, a large stone shaped like an egg, so big that it took 500 Indians to place it there. If you dig down underneath this stone for five yards, you will find the roof of a large cave, which it took 500 men two and a half years to hollow out. The roof is seventy yards long, and there are two compartments and a long narrow passage leading from the room on the east side to the main entrance two hundred yards away. On reaching the door, you must exercise great care in opening. The door is a large iron one, and inside to the right near the wall you will find an image made of pure gold three feet high, the eyes of which are two large diamonds; this image was placed here for the good of mankind. If you proceed along the passage, you will find in the first room thirty-seven large heaps of gold, and many gold and silver ornaments and precious stones. On entering the second room, you will find in the right-hand corner a large box, clamped with three iron bars; inside this box is $90,000 in silver money and thirty-seven big heaps of gold. Distributed in the hollows on either side of the tunnel and the two rooms are altogether a hundred and sixty-three heaps of gold, of which the value has been estimated at $60,000,000. Great care must be taken on entering these rooms, as enough strong poison to kill a regiment has been laid about. The walls of the two rooms have been strengthened by large blocks of granite; from the roof downwards the distance is five yards more. The top of the roof is portioned off into three distinct esplanades, and the whole has been well covered over for a depth of five yards with earth and stones. When you come to a place twenty feet high, with a wall so wide that two men can easily ride abreast, cross the river, and you will find the church, monastery, and other buildings.” Corina San Roman told me that the monastery spoken of in this document was built by the Jesuits in 1635 and abandoned in 1735. The treasure, accumulated from eleven years’ working of the famous gold mines of El Carmen, and the Tres Titilias, and from the gold and diamond washings carried on near Santa Cruz by 2,000 Indians under Fathers Gregorio and San Roman and seven other priests, who died, was all hidden under the hill indicated in this document with the exception of £70,000 for each of the priests. Out of the 500 Indians employed in burying the treasure 288 died of an epidemic of fever in the last three months of the work.

Corina San Roman also told me that her father used to send £25 every Christmas to an old Indian named Jose Maria Ampuera, who, he said, knew where the hill was. He used to send Macedonia Zambrana, one of his own men, who lived near Cochabamba, with this money and several pounds of tea, sugar and other things. The Indian was paid this to keep the secret, to visit the place from time to time, and to notify him if anybody started exploring there. He used to say he had a good enough income himself, and did not care to risk getting malarial fever in looking for it. He kept the paper himself and gave it to his daughter shortly before he died; she put it inside one of the books in the library, and after his death she could not find it, but her uncle, the brother of the General, who was a priest and lived at Cochabamba, had a copy, which is the one I saw! Many expeditions had been fitted out to look for this treasure. One had been sent by Malgarejo, the President of Bolivia, another was fitted out at Valparaiso in 1895, but both were unsuccessful. Dona Corina told me that her uncle had died in 1896, that Zambrana had not been heard of for the last eight years, and that if the Indian was still alive he must be over 100.

The first thing to be done was to find Zambrana, so in March, 1905, I left La Paz on my way to Cochabamba to look for him. I went first to Oruro by the Diligence Mail, which does the journey of 180 miles in two days, starting at 6 a.m., and changing the five mules and galloping horse every nine miles. The coach stops for half an hour at 9 a.m. for breakfast, and for lunch at 1.30, reaching the rest-house at 7.30 p.m. for dinner, leaving again next morning at 5 a.m., and reaching Oruro at 5 p.m. After La Paz Alto they go full gallop all the way; the driver has a long whip, and a box full of stones to throw at the mules, and an Indian boy, who sits on the step behind, gets off every now and then to flog them. The coach carries nine passengers, eight inside, at $25 each, and one on the box seat for $35, which I took. Luggage and mails are strapped on the top; only 35lbs. of luggage was allowed to each passenger, and the heavy gear leaves the day before in a big mule waggon, and is charged for per 100lbs. Riding on the box seat beside the driver, and driving at a hand gallop across the level high flats 12,500ft. above the sea, through the pure and exhilarating air, under a wonderful blue sky, I found the journey most enjoyable.

The highest place registered on the road was 13,200ft. Oruro is 12,800ft. up.

At Oruro I found that Mariano Penny, the owner of the rich San Jose silver mine, was away in Chili, and J. B. Minchin, who owned rich tin mines, was also away, but Dr. Shrigley kindly lent me his place on the outskirts of the town, where there was a big walled-in grass field. There I engaged an Indian called Jose, with his wife and boy, the man to look after my animals, the boy to fag and wife to cook, with another Indian to help with the cargo, and bought four good mules, two donkeys and a horse.