Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 8

A Queer-Looking Animal

The Second Attempt, Part 4

It was now the middle of September, and the nights and early mornings began to get warmer, but the thermometer still registered seven degrees or four degrees below zero. The first week in October the cold spell ceased, and the nights became more pleasant, and one could sleep comfortably with three blankets on instead of six. The nights continued to get warmer, but not too warm, and the mosquitoes now began to appear, of all varieties, spotted ones and big black ones. I hung up my big net on the hooks in the centre of the tent, and the larger net as well on the inner side of the tent to cover table, bed and other things, and they did not disturb me.

On October 23rd, Mendizabal, his son and several attendants arrived at the camp. He told me Zambrana had died a few weeks after he left here, also the assistant cargo man, and that one of the other men was so bad with fever that when he felt better he started back to Cochabamba, and had taken six weeks to get there. As soon as Mendizabal heard about the four Indians, and the poisoning, he told his son to return to Cuti, take six of the native police with him to the village where these men had said their home was, and bring them down here. He told me he was sorry I had let off the Indian thief, but said it would do him a lot of good, as he would probably think he had been lucky to get away. I had not been troubled with the poison symptoms for some weeks, but the day after Mendizabal arrived I had another attack which was, however, not nearly so bad as the others had been, and only lasted a day and a half. Three days after he had left, his son came back with the news that he had found the huts where the men lived, but they were not there, and had not been to their homes for over four months. The head man of the village had been told to have them arrested and brought to Cuti, when they were found.

I told Mendizabal that the best way, in my opinion, to uncover this big tapada was to work systematically, and uncover the whole of the side I was now working on, up to the end of the roof, as indicated by the formation; it would take six months and require twenty-five workmen. He kindly arranged to provide me with twenty-five of his own good Indians for the next season, I to find wild cattle meat, and he the rest of their food. I was to pay them 6/- every Saturday night, and whenever one wanted to return to his home he was to do so at the end of the week, and another would be sent to replace him. If we succeeded in finding the treasure, it was agreed that I should, at my own expense, go to Arabia, buy him the finest Arab stallion that money could procure, bring him over myself, and deliver him to Mendizabal at Cuti. If we did not succeed next dry season, he said he was willing to go on every year till we gave it up or found the treasure. We started for Cuti on November 1st, just as the wet season showed signs of coming on, leaving Manuel and one of Mendizabal’s men as caretakers. I left Cuti two days after getting there, and went home, intending to return and begin the work again next April on the terms agreed upon. On the way I met a coloured man on the shore at Guayaquil, who was hawking round a queer-looking animal about two feet high, or rather longer, with a tail some eighteen inches long, and paws like a bear. It was stuffed with long grass, and cost me 10/-, turning out eventually to be a bear with a tail. In his book on wild animals, Rowland Ward says, “Amongst the rarest of animals is a bear with a tail; this animal is known to exist, is very rare, and only to be found in the forests of Equador,” and this was where the man who sold it to me said he got it. When I told Mendizabal, he said there were several in the forest near where we were working at Sacambaja.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 8

The Black Panther

The Second Attempt, Part 3

One morning soon after daylight, a fine-looking mule came and stood outside my tent, I put a rope halter on him, and tied him up to a tree, and a few hours after, the owner came up on another mule with two Indians. He thanked me profusely for catching his mule, but asked me how I managed to put the halter on. I told him it had been quite easy, as I had found him standing outside the tent early in the morning. He then told me that the mule had never yet been handled, and was one of a hundred mules and horses he had bought for his farm, at the yearly sale of animals, held on the shores of Lake Titicaca. This mule and another one had strayed away from his camp three days ago, and he said he was sure the other one had been killed by a jaguar, and this one, seeing my camp, came and stayed for protection. After taking some refreshment, he and his men left the mule I had caught with me, and followed up its spoor to look for the other. Next day about 2 p.m. they returned, having found the second mule killed, and partly eaten, in the forest to the north of the River Sacambaja. Two nights after this occurrence, I was awakened in the night by a stampede of cattle in the forest, the other side of the stream, where my drinking water came from. In the morning I counted twenty head of cattle on the beach, the other side of the Cato River, which showed that jaguars or pumas had come up from the forest below. The following day I was gathering wood near the camp, and just as I got to the tent I looked up, and saw a magnificent black panther, or puma, walking slowly along the beach on the south side of the river Sacambaja. I rushed into the tent and got my rifle, and just managed to fire a hurried shot at the beast as he was entering the forest. I put the sight at three hundred yards, and missed him; the bullets seemed to strike the ground some few yards behind. I was sorry, for he was rather a rare specimen of the black panther, I think. He was too big for a puma. I examined the beech for signs and saw the spoor of three or four jaguars or pumas, and came across a big fat cow which they had killed near the forest, close to my fresh-water stream on the other side. As it was just then clear moonlight every night, I sat up and watched on this side of the stream, just opposite the cow, for five nights. The only thing I saw was a big brown fox, with a splendid brush, which, one night after I had been waiting for an hour, appeared, stopped, looked at me for a minute and trotted off. He was certainly the biggest fox I had ever seen, and could easily have been shot, but I let him go for two reasons: first, because I was waiting for larger game, and second, because no one who had ridden with the Duke’s pack would have thought of doing such a thing. After five days, the cattle left the beach, and returned to their feeding ground, which showed that the jaguars and pumas had gone too. I was now more careful about my two big fires, which were kept going night and day, one in front of my tent door, and the other near the kitchen; they served two purposes, to frighten off any wild animals, and to keep the camp cheery and warm at nights. One morning after breakfast, I was on the edge of the cliff, half-way up the Treasure Hill, taking a look at the surrounding country, to see if anyone was coming my way, when I saw an Indian come out of the forest on the south side of the River Sacambaja, walk along the beach, and cross the river to my side. Thinking he had come from Mendizabal with a message for me, I did not hurry back, but walked slowly down. When I got to the stream, I saw the Indian calmly walking off with a big load of my charque (dried beef) on his back. I shouted to him, but he took no notice, and hurried on faster across the first arm of the river; so I took my rifle from the tent, and fired two shots at him. I did not want to kill him, and deliberately fired a few yards wide of the mark, which answered the purpose. He dropped the charque and a good long llama wool rope as well, and when I fired two more shots for luck he ran as hard as he could along the beach, and disappeared into the forest at the other side, while I carried back my beef and his rope.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 8

Enough to Kill Twenty Men

The Second Attempt, Part 2

One night two men, on their way to La Paz, camped down near the convent, with five mules loaded with coca leaves. During the night one of the mules strayed away, and, in the morning, one of the men left to look for him. His companion remained with the other mules, and, while there, began to uncover one of the numerous tapadas near the north bank of the river. Two days afterwards the other man turned up with the lost mule. They said that as the mules and cargo belonged to them they would stop and finish uncovering the mound of earth and stones, which they did in eight days. The day after they had left, which was Sunday, I rode over on my mule to their camp, about a mile and a half away; and found all the cargo left, and covered over, so that it was clear they had been successful in their search. Some weeks afterwards I heard that they had found the hole full of old silver plate, which I understood they sold for £1,500.

Some days afterwards Manuel arrived with the stores, also Mendizabal, who joined him at Cuti. He told me that when he heard strange Indians had come down to work for me he felt very uneasy, as he did not know them. His wife was also alarmed, and begged him to tell me to be careful not to take anyone who was not sent with a note from him. He also said that three days before, one of the Indian girls on his place had come and told his wife that they had heard that strange Indians had gone down there, and that they were up to no good. She sent me a letter by her husband, begging me to return to the house with him. To my regret, Mendizabal said that though he would have liked to have stayed for a few days he did not dare, for fear of ague. I told him that the weather was the same, beautiful sunshine all day, and very cold at night. I promised him to be careful about the Indians, and wrote to his wife, thanking her for the interest she was taking in me. He then went back with Manuel, who was to leave the mules and horses at Cuti with Mendizabal’s animals, and return to do the camp work and cooking.

The following day I saw José Maria from the top of the hill, crossing the river, and at 2 p.m. he turned up with the usual weekly sheep. He told me Manuel was at his house with a bad attack of malaria, and would come on when he was better.

The four strange Indians had now been with me nearly three weeks; they all worked well, and there was no trouble, and nothing amiss to my knowledge. One morning a few days after Mendizabal left, I went round as usual, after I had got up, to the kitchen fire, which always burned night and day, and was never allowed to go out. To my surprise I found nobody there, and the fire nearly out. All their clothes had gone too! After breakfast, on looking round, I discovered all their food of the night before in the bush about fifty yards off. About two hours after this, I began to feel very queer, and soon my right leg went numb, and then my arm. I at once looked up the symptoms in Doctor Andrew Wilson’s Symptoms and Treatment of Poisons which I had with me, and soon discovered that I was poisoned. This lecture went on to say, “When your finger nails become blue, you must make yourself vomit quickly for the time is short.” My finger nails were now turning that colour, so I promptly took some hot tea with salt, which fortunately had the desired effect. The feeling came back to my leg and arm, and I felt all right again. This went on several times a day for eight days, and then every three or four days for two months or more; later these attacks would only come on every fortnight or so, and I did not get properly well for a year or more. When I got to La Paz in November, the doctor said I had had enough poison in me to kill twenty men, and the prompt measure I took every time the attacks came on had saved me. At La Paz they gave me strychnine, which made me worse instead of better, and sometimes I was very ill. In England the treatment was altered to arsenic, and I at once began to pick up. Nobody knew what the poison was, but all were convinced it was poison, and not fever. Next year, however, I found out that it was the Aba de San Ignacio, or the Saint Ignatius Bean, which is very much like a Lima bean, and grows on a vine. On the way home in November of that year, I met a fellow passenger, who told me that three years before he had been poisoned in exactly the same way, with the same symptoms as myself, and that some Indians who saw him showed him the bean, and told him it contained strychnine. I found later that this was quite correct; the remedy is arsenic.

The Indians left the camp on July 5th, leaving their last week’s pay behind them; I never saw them again. From the day they left until October 23rd, the start of the first rains, nobody came to the camp, for I had told old José Maria not to bring down any more sheep until I advised him by messenger, as I had nearly a whole bullock hanging up both fresh and dried. During these weeks, I generally pottered round the camp, and now and then went up the hill for a change, when the poison fits would allow me. I shot several doves, which were very tame in the mornings before the sun melted the frost. The temperature twice touched forty degrees below zero, and the average from the beginning of June to the middle of September was twenty-two degrees below zero at 7 a.m., and eighty degrees above at 1 p.m.

Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 8

A Powerful Smell

The Second Attempt, Part 1

In March of the next year I started off again for the hills to renew the search. I got to Oruro at the end of the month, bought four mules for cargo and a saddle mule for myself from an Argentine trader, and went on to Sacambaja via Cochabamba and Palca. At Cuti I stayed for five days with my old friend Mendizabal, who came on with me to the hill. The first two days were spent in going for wild cattle, as Mendizabal wanted to make some charque for his own use, and I wanted some for my camp; we got four cattle, and divided up the meat.

On the third day I started uncovering the top of the hill, working downwards in a “V” shape from where I had left off. Exactly fifteen feet down I came to a solid mason work, one big square stone; and then a slab of slate stone; this formation went on for twelve feet down. Then I came on a stone cobble path, which I concluded was the bottom of the cave, but there was no sign of any door, so I decided to drill a hole between two blocks of stones. I consulted Mendizabal, and he thought with me that this was the work of man, and not a natural formation. He brought his son and five Indians to lend a hand. Before we started to drill, one old man said we ought to offer up a gift of a cock, some wine and bread, and leave it there for the night. Mendizabal said we must humour these people. So the offer asked for was duly left. In the morning the things had gone! They had probably taken them themselves but swore they had not done so. We pretended to believe them.

We drilled a hole for three feet and a half, and then pushed a thin bamboo twelve feet long through; it appeared to touch nothing except in one corner where it seemed to prod something soft.

Suddenly a very powerful smell began, so strong that it made us all feel bad; it smelt like oxide of metal of some sort. Mendizabal and his son both went home feeling bad, but he got over it in two days, his son felt unwell for a week, but I got over it in a few hours. Three of my men left feeling bad and never returned. The other three men I had went up with me again two days after, and when we were near the top we saw over a dozen big condors, hovering about quite close to the works. Zambrana and Manuel both told me that the three Indians said this was a sign there was something buried inside; they all seemed rather funky, so I said I would give it a rest for a fortnight to let it get well ventilated, bearing in mind what the paper said about there being enough poison inside to kill a regiment. This was on June 3rd, 1906.

On the night of June 4th, the weather completely changed, and at 8 p.m. the thermometer stood at four degrees below zero. In the morning at 7 a.m. it was seven degrees below zero, but at 9 a.m. it began to get warm again, and at 12.30 it was eighty-seven above zero, going down again after sunset quite suddenly. At 8 p.m. that evening it was fourteen degrees below, next day between 12 to 1 p.m. eighty-six degrees above. This was a phenomenal year; there was a black frost every night, and a lovely blue sky all day. On the sixth night after the change had begun, the thermometer actually went to twenty-seven degrees below zero, and in the morning was twenty-eight degrees below. Zambrana said he could not stand the cold nights even with good food, a tot of rum and a good fire, and would have to go home; he promised to return in a month. The three Indians also said they had had enough, and left the camp two days after Zam, also promising to return. I had already sent Manuel to Barber’s at Cochabamba for some provisions, so I was now left quite alone. I made it a point never to let the two fires go out. One night, at about 10.30, I had turned in with a big log fire burning outside my tent door, when I heard a rifle shot, then another and yet another, as though some one was firing a rifle, and the bullets were whistling over my tent. I got out of bed and lay under the bed with my good double-barrel rifle loaded and my colts as well. I counted seven shots, and then came to the conclusion that it was somebody trying to scare me, but with no intention of shooting me. So I got back to bed and shouted out, “Who is there?” Two more shots came in quick succession, and then they ceased. The next morning nothing was to be seen. That night the same performance took place from eight to ten, but this time I did not bother, being convinced it was a case of trying to scare me to leave. This was four days after my men had gone.

After this, I heard nothing further and never found out who fired the shots. Two days afterwards I was very pleased to see four likely looking Indians with their packs come into the camp asking to be taken on. I took them on gladly at 1/- a day, and their food, which was the price they asked. Next day I left one in the camp to attend to the kitchen, and took the other three with me. I decided not to disturb the stones any more, but to go working away to the left, leaving the stone path as a starting point.

The weather continued the same and was even colder at nights, and in the early morning, with tropical sunshine all day. I kept in good health and enjoyed it although it was rather too cold at nights.