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Title: Across the Andes - A Tale of Wandering Days Among the Mountains of Bolivia - and the Jungles of the Upper Amazon
Author: Post, Charles Johnson
Language: English
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            [Illustration: Running the Rapids of the Ratama
                                                                PAGE 217]



                               ACROSS THE
                                 ANDES


                                   BY
                          CHARLES JOHNSON POST

A Tale of Wandering Days Among the Mountains of Bolivia and the Jungles
                          of the Upper Amazon

                      _Illustrated by the Author_

                                NEW YORK
                       OUTING PUBLISHING COMPANY
                                 MCMXII

                          Copyright, 1912, by
                       OUTING PUBLISHING COMPANY
                          All rights reserved

_Thanks are due to Harper and Brothers and to the Century Company for
permission to incorporate as chapters in this volume, articles appearing
in Harper’s Magazine and The Century, and to the latter for the drawings
and paintings accompanying such articles._



                              THE TROPICS


  “The legion that never was listed,”
        The soft-lilting rhythm and song,
      The starlight, and shadowy tropics,
    The palms—and all that belong;
  The unknown that ever persisted
    In dreams that were epics of bliss,
  Of glory and gain without effort—
    And the visions have faded, like this.

    From dusk to dawn, when the heat is gone,
  The home thoughts nestle and throb,
    And the drifting breeze through the dim, gray trees
      Stirs up the fancies wan
  Of the old, cool life and a white man’s wife
      With a white man’s babes on a lawn,
    Where the soft greens please—yet each morrow sees
        The flame that follows the dawn.

    From dawn till eve the hot hours leave
  Their mark like a slow-burned scar;
    And a dull, red hate ’gainst the grilling fate,
      Impulse and fevers weave;
  While the days to come—in years their sum—
      The helpless thoughts perceive
    As an endless state, sans time or date,
      That only gods relieve.

      Rubber or gold—the game is old,
  The lust and lure and venture;
    And the trails gleam white in the tropic night
      Where the restless spirits mould;
  A vine-tied cross ’neath the festooned moss,
      Bones in a matting rolled;
    No wrong or right, the loss is slight,
      The world-old fooled of gold.

  “The legion that never was listed”—
    The glamor of words in a song,
  The lure of the strange and exotic,
    The drift of the few from the throng;
  The past that was never resisted
    In the ebb or the flow of desire,
  The foolish, the sordid, ambitious,
    Now pay what the gods require.



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. Old Panama, Agamemnon, and The Genial Picaroon                   13
  II. The Fighting Whale, and Chinamen in the Chicken Coop            27
  III. Through a Tropical Quarantine                                  46
  IV. A Forced March Across the Desert Of Atacama                     62
  V. Arequipa, the City of Churches                                   76
  VI. Through the Inca Country                                        88
  VII. Out of La Paz by Pack Train                                   103
  VIII. The Back Trail Among the Aymarás                             118
  IX. Over the First Great Pass                                      131
  X. The Toll Gate and Mapiri                                        145
  XI. Waiting for the Leccos                                         159
  XII. Off on the Long Drift                                         172
  XIII. The Lecco Tribe                                              184
  XIV. Drifting Down the Rio Mapiri                                  200
  XV. Shooting the Ratama                                            214
  XVI. Opening up the Jungle                                         224
  XVII. Twenty-Three Days Against the Current                        238
  XVIII. By Pack Mule Through the Jungle                             252
  XIX. The Indian Uprising                                           266
  XX. Ambushed by Ladrones                                           280
  XXI. The Music of the Aymarás                                      289
  XXII. Back Home                                                    299
  XXIII. Off Across the Continent in a Batalon                       309
  XXIV. Through the Rubber Country                                   321
  XXV. A New Crew and Another Batalon                                337
  XXVI. The Falls of the Madeira and Home                            350



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


  Running the Rapids of the Ratama                        _Frontispiece_
                                                                    PAGE
  Announced that a person, a somebody, was awaiting me below          13
  Pointed scornfully to the outside                                   15
  Agamemnon                                                           18
  Those who refused to pay were thrown into the chicken coop          35
  When the end lid was taken off the bodies of eight dead Chinamen were
      taken out                                                       37
  A deserted brigantine at anchor dipped slowly with the long Pacific
      swells                                                          42
  What the diplomat said was direct and voluble                       49
  A wide dusty canal which in the intervals between showers serves as a
      market                                          (_facing page_) 50
  Close resemblance to an army of drunken bugs                        52
  Every day our winches whirred and clattered off some dusty, sand-blown
      port                                            (_facing page_) 54
  Lima, a delightful city of contrasts                                58
  An Arequipa carrier                                                 78
  In Arequipa, the city of churches                   (_facing page_) 80
  Hardly a day without its Saint’s _fiesta_                           83
  An Andean touring car                                               85
  In Pizarro’s day it was probably the same—costume, craft, and barter
                                                     (_facing page_) 100
  Haggled with arrieros over pack mules                              104
  Prisoners along the trail up from La Paz           (_facing page_) 106
  Aymará driver of pack llamas                                       111
  Members of a gang of prisoners                                     112
  The guard for the road menders                                     114
  Rodriguez and his Cholo helpers tightened the rawhide cinches and
      replaced the packs                                             116
  Aymará herders played their weird flutes                           123
  A few streets were still plainly marked, though the village has been
      dead these many centuries                      (_facing page_) 128
  Blizzards blowing from the Andean passes                           133
  Soldering the food in tin cans                                     138
  Scattered in hysterical flight up and down the precipitous slope   141
  Skirted the base of an unbroken cliff                              142
  Toll gate in Mapiri                                                145
  An Andean mountaineer                                              146
  There loomed the big mound of stones with a twig cross on top
                                                     (_facing page_) 148
  Slowly the rafts sank under the weight                             172
  The shrewish, leather-skinned Indian wife                          174
  There were, according to the Lecco standards, no “bad places” yet  179
  Leccos lowering the callapo through shallows                       181
  Lecco of the twig raft                                             182
  These Leccos are among the finest Indians                          184
  Napoleon, a Lecco chief                                            188
  A Lecco type                                                       189
  We seemed to move with intolerable slowness                        203
  But it is those parts of the river that the Leccos fairly love     209
  A rubber picker                                                    211
  On a rope a trolley worked back and forth from which was suspended a
      tiny platform                                                  258
  Never was there such a ride—not even in the Rapids of the Ratama
                                                     (_facing page_) 264
  The Tacana brides, adjusted for themselves comfortable niches in the
      cargo                                                          314
  At the tiller presided a huge Tacana                               316
  Never was such an exhibition in the history of firearms            319
  But it was monkey that furnished them with the greatest delicacy   323
  Often we pass a little shelter of palm leaves                      326
  Night camp on the Rio Beni on the way out          (_facing page_) 328
  It was only the shack of a lonely rubber picker                    330
  In the thin blue smoke, it at once turned a pale yellow            332
  Justice is administered according to the standards of his submissive
      domain                                                         333
  The bolachas of rubber are threaded on long ropes                  348
  Dragging a batalon around the portage of the Madeira Falls         351



                            ACROSS THE ANDES



                               CHAPTER I
             OLD PANAMA, AGAMEMNON, AND THE GENIAL PICAROON


  [Illustration: ANNOUNCED THAT A PERSON, A SOMEBODY, WAS AWAITING ME
                                BELOW.]

It was in Panama—the old Panama—and in front of the faded and blistered
hotel that I met him again. A bare-footed, soft-voiced mozo had
announced that a person, a somebody, was awaiting me below. Down in the
broken-tiled lobby a soured, saffron clerk pointed scornfully to the
outside. Silhouetted against the hot shimmer that boiled up from the
street was a jaunty figure in a native, flapping muslin jacket, native
rope-soled shoes, and dungaree breeches, carefully rolling a cigarette
from a little bag of army Durham. It turned and, from beneath the frayed
brim of a native hat, there beamed upon me the genial assurance of Bert,
one time of the Fifth Army Corps, Santiago de Cuba, and occasionally of
New York; and within my heart I rejoiced. Without, I made a signal that
secured a bottle of green, bilious, luke-warm native beer and settled
myself placidly for entertainment.

A panicky quarantine stretched up and down some few thousand miles of
the West Coast that left the steamer schedules a straggling chaos. For
fifteen dull, broiling days I had swapped hopes and rumors with the
polyglot steamship clerk or hung idly over the balcony of the Hotel
Marina watching the buzzards hopping about the mud flats or grouped
hopefully under the quarter of a slimy smack. Once I had inspected the
Colombian navy that happened to be lying off the Boca and observed a
bran-new pair of white flannels go to their ruin as a drunken Scotch
engineer teetered down an iron ladder with a lidless coal-oil lamp
waving in discursive gestures; once I had met a mild, dull, person who
had just come up Magdalena River way with a chunk of gold that he
assured me—without detail—had been hacked off by a machete, but here his
feeble imagination flickered out and he wrapped the rest in a poorly
wrought mystery until finally he fluttered over to Colon for the next
steamer of innocent possibilities.

           [Illustration: POINTED SCORNFULLY TO THE OUTSIDE]

With these the respectable amusements were exhausted and I therefore
rejoiced as I confronted that cheerful, raconteuring adventurer under
the battered Panama. A ship’s purser, a drummer of smoked hams, a Coney
Island barker, a soldier, a drifter, and always a teller of tales, he
had lain in the trenches on Misery Hill before Santiago in support of
Capron’s Battery with a gaunt group around him as he wove the drifting
thread of adventure from the Bowery to the Barbary Coast in a series of
robust anecdotes. And they bore the earmarks of truth.

Now, in the genial silhouette framed against the tropic glare, I
realized that whatever days of waiting might be in store they would no
longer be dull. A true rumor had put him in a lone commercial venture
somewhere down these coasts and here at my elbow was to be placed all
the shift and coil of petty adventure, whimsical romance, and the
ultimate results of two years of adroit piracy in and out of the Spanish
Main that had ended, as I observed, in dungaree breeches, rope-soled
_alpargatas_, and a battered Panama hat.

Therefore through the ministrations of an occasional bottle of the
native bilious beer and other transactions that shall remain private,
the days sped themselves swiftly and unheeded guided by the adept hand
of Romance. Again, as in the trenches, I viewed the world under Asmodean
influences, but what I heard has no place in these pages; it is worth an
endeavor all its own. Then, one morning, the news spread that at last
the _Mapocho_ lay at the Boca and the hour of departure for the first
stage to the interior of South America was at hand; the night before was
the last I saw of my genial friend. In the morning he did not appear,
and it was strange, for I had expected to do the proper thing, as I saw
it, realizing that dungarees and _alpargatas_ are poor armor and that
our consulates offer but a desperate and prickly hospitality.

In the afternoon I went aboard, crawling down a gangway that dropped to
the deck like a ladder where, in the morning, it had reared itself with
equal steepness against the _Mapocho’s_ sides. Such are the Pacific
tides at the Boca. Agamemnon, the shriveled little Barbadoes darky,
scuttled about importantly, stowing our baggage and giving an occasional
haughty order to some steward in a nondescript patois that passed mainly
as Spanish and that often served, as I learned, better than the purest
Ollendorfian Castilian. Later it appeared that Agamemnon had left one of
these same steamers under a cloud—a trifling matter of a few sheets and
pillow cases—and now to return clothed with trust and authority over “de
fixin’s an de baggage of gent’mens” swelled him with an inarticulate
triumph.

                       [Illustration: AGAMEMNON]

In the long months that followed none could have given more faithful
service or loyalty than this skimpy Barbadoes darky. That is within his
limitations, for he could no more resist liquor than a bear can honey,
but nevertheless when he had transgressed, his uncertain legs would
bring him back to his duties, speechless perhaps, but with arms wavering
in gestures of extenuation.

Also to Agamemnon wages meant nothing; a shilling now and
again—sometimes even the equivalent of a whole dollar—advanced him with
the specific understanding that it was for gambling and not for liquor.
Once, in La Paz, he won a hundred and fifty dollars, Mex, and became an
impossible animal until it had been frittered away. In the same city he
went to the bull fight and joined in the play against the final bull
that is “dedicated to the people” and fought so cleverly that we became
prominent by reflection and gave a party at the _corrida_ the following
Sunday to see Agamemnon’s promised performance.

By this time Agamemnon had become a character and a score of little boys
scrambled over the barrier eager to hold his hat, his coat, and his
cuffs. With a flourish he handed each to its eager guardian and then,
with a coat held as a _capa_, gave a flourish and advanced toward the
bull. The crowd applauded. Agamemnon made a bow and a flourish and
waggled the coat. The bull snuffed briskly and charged. Alas! The hand
had lost its cunning, for Agamemnon shot ten feet skyward, turned an
involuntary somersault at the apex of his flight, and then sprawled back
to earth. A half dozen of the _toreros_ drew off the bull; the small boy
custodians flung his garments at him scornfully, while the Bolivian
audience laughed itself hoarse as the dusty, dishevelled figure hobbled
out of the ring and away from the crowd.

For himself Agamemnon asked but little although where he felt that the
dignity of his position was involved he became a tower of strength. It
was in the same city that he felt the hotel people were not treating him
fairly, as they were not, and his remonstrance was met by a Cholo mozo
who hurled a sugar bowl at his head and followed it up with a knife.
Agamemnon dodged and beat down the Indian with a chair; on the instant a
half dozen Cholos poured at him and the kitchen was in a riot. Backing
away, he denuded the dining tables of service and used it as a light
artillery fire. By the aid of an earthenware jar, some handy crockery,
and a chair he was able to retreat safely across the patio and up the
stairway that led to our rooms. A water pitcher laid open a skull and a
wash-bowl stopped the rush long enough for him to grab a gun from the
pillow when we arrived, together with some stubby Bolivian police and
the bony Russian proprietor; order was restored, fortunately, for it
might have been serious.

Agamemnon explained satisfactorily and incidentally showed only a minor
bump or so, but his Cholo and Aymara antagonists bore most proper marks
of the conflict. That night in the midst of his shoe-polishing and
packing he remarked briefly: “If you gent’mens hadn’t er-come jes’ den I
cer’nly would have licked dem fellers, bahs!” Apparently no victory was
complete to his mind until he had accomplished a massacre.

At another time he waded into a crowd of Cholos in the interior and took
from them their machetes and shot-guns, acting on his own initiative,
because he knew that in that far interior laborers were too precious to
waste by their own fighting. From our tent we heard two shots and the
rising yells of a small riot and then, before there was time to grab a
gun or gather the few white men, the figure of Agamemnon staggered up
the crest of the river bank with his arms full of the commandeered
machetes and trade-guns.

There was the time when a balsa upset in a boiling eddy and Agamemnon
jumped in as a faithful rescuer only to still further complicate
matters; also when—but it is useless, Agamemnon is a story in himself.
Tireless, uncomplaining, honest, loyal, yet of the aimless tribe of
bandar-log, apparently only merely the mouse of a man in a wrinkled
black skin and yet the paragon of retainers. Peace be to him wherever he
has drifted.

At the table that evening on the _Mapocho_ the few passengers looked
each other over in the customary, stand-offish way,—a couple of fresh
faced young Englishmen adventuring to clerkships, a German commercial
traveler—an expert in those Latin countries who makes one blush for the
self-complacent, brusque, greaser-hating jingoes that are only too
typical of our export efforts—three mining engineers, a returning
Peruvian diplomat for whose presence we later blessed him and a couple
of native Ecuadorean families, wealthy _cacao haciendados_, who flocked
by themselves in a slatternly, noisy group.

But by the next evening, drawn together by the prospect of a tedious,
uncertain voyage through erratic quarantines, we were one large family.
We lay back in our canvas chairs under the galvanized iron roof of the
upper deck—so generally peaceful are those seas that the awning is
permanent—and watched the Southern Cross flickering dimly above the
southern horizon. The cigars glowed in silence for, though it was the
hour for yarning, each bashfully hung back. Then an engineer started.
The Philippines, Alaska, the boom camps, Mexico rose in successive
backgrounds and then the talk shifted round to our respective objectives
down this long coast. One was for the nitrate fields, one for the
Peruvian silver mines, and one for the rich placer banks of the far
interior. The one who was bound for an examination of Peruvian silver
mines—a mountain of a man—finally made a confidence:

“Gold,” he remarked as an obvious preliminary, “gold—or silver, I’m a
Bryan man—is generally good enough for anyone, but if I had my choice I
don’t mind saying that I’d rather have a coal mine down here in South
America than either or anything!”

The others sighed enviously. A coal mine in South America where there is
no coal except that from Australia and Wales and where a couple of
hundred miles from the coast it is worth twenty dollars, gold, a ton! A
coal mine—well—it is the stuff of which dreams are made in South
America.

“Yessir,” he went on raptly, “coal is the thing. And I don’t mind
admitting that I’ve got it.”

He hauled a black object from his pocket and held it out. Eagerly it was
snatched from his hand. There it was, hard, shiny, black, varying in no
way from those in the kitchen scuttle at home—a splendid sample of
anthracite coal! It was too good. They laughed.

“Bring it from home?” they asked pleasantly.

The mountainous engineer chuckled contentedly. “That’s anthracite and as
fine a specimen as I ever saw. I don’t mind talking a little freely
since I’ve got it covered in an iron-clad contract.

“You see,” he went on good-naturedly, “I’m always wide awake and the
morning we left the Boca a young chap came aboard—American, too, and
right pleasant spoken—where I was sort of loafing and we got acquainted.
To make a long story short, he’d been wandering around up in the back
country of Colombia and had located this coal. He didn’t have any
special idea of what coal meant down these ways—he was from
Pennsylvania, son of a pit boss or something and coal was as common to
him as water to a duck—but when he pulled out a couple of these samples
you bet I froze fast. He tried to be mighty quiet and mysterious when he
saw I was interested—you know how such a chap is when he thinks he’s got
a good thing, and he was sort of on the beach, down on his luck you
know—but I pumped him all right.

“He had a fool idea of going home as best he could and then taking the
family sock and combining it with other family socks and coming back and
opening up his coal mine.” The big engineer chuckled again. “Why there’s
a king’s fortune in that mine, so your Uncle Jim stepped right in and
tied him up close. I cabled my principals and I’ll get a cable when we
reach Callao. This coal makes their silver look like thirty cents. Of
course, I wasn’t going to take any chances at this stage—it might be
phony—but that fellow is on the level. Said he wouldn’t take any money
down—not that I’d have given it by a long shot—but after I got back he’d
join me and come back into Colombia. He gave me a map of the location in
case of accident.”

“Gave him no money—poor fellow, art for art’s sake?” asked one.

“Well, yes,” the big man nodded good-humoredly, “thirty dollars—enough
to take him back to the States steerage—I felt almost ashamed. Said he
didn’t need any more to get home with—that sounded on the level, didn’t
it? He’d had a tough time all right—fever, grub and etcetery back in the
country—and was down to dungaree breeches, rope-soled shoes, and one of
these slimpsey native calico jackets.”

“And he could roll a cigarette with one hand better than most can with
two?” I asked.

The big engineer paused for an instant’s thought and then suddenly sat
up. No wonder my friend of the Fifth Army Corps and the dungaree
breeches, alpargatas, and battered Panama and muslin jacket had suddenly
disappeared. Thirty large, golden dollars of real money, good at par in
the States or for three pecks of local paper collateral anywhere on the
Mosquito Coast! And all that for one paltry little yarn.



                               CHAPTER II
          THE FIGHTING WHALE AND CHINAMEN IN THE CHICKEN COOP


The hot days drifted by in easy sociability, dividing themselves into a
pliant routine. The morning was devoted to golf on the canvas covered
deck over a nine-hole course chalked around ventilators, chicken-coops
and deck-houses. Crook-handled canes furnished the clubs and three sets
of checkers were lost overboard before we reached the Guayas River, the
little round men skidding flatly over the deck with a pleasing accuracy
only at the end to rise up maliciously on one ear and roll, plop, into
the sea. In the white-hot afternoon, when the scant breeze would quite
as likely drift with us, the hours were sacred to the siesta, and the
evenings were devoted to standardizing an international, polyglot poker.

A rope stretched across the after-deck marked off the steerage. There
was no second class as a thrifty French tailor, a fine young man, and
his soft-voiced Mediterranean bride found out. They had bought second
class through to Lima and at the Boca were flung in aft among the
half-breeds, a squabbling lot of steerage scum, together with a gang of
Chinamen. A line of piled baggage ran lengthwise, on one side of which
were supposed to be the bachelors’ quarters, though somewhere between
decks were hutches where, if one really insisted on privacy, the
tropical night could be passed in a fetid broil.

Through a surreptitious connivance this couple were allowed quarters
forward and evening after evening the little bride would bring her
guitar out and play—and such playing! She had been on the stage, it
seemed, and from opera to opera she drifted and then off into odd,
unheard folk songs, or the vibrant German or Russian songs. Never before
or since have I heard such playing of a guitar or felt its
possibilities. For us the guitar is an instrument lazily plunked by the
end man against two mandolins. Yet there was a time when Paganini deemed
it worthy of mastery.

She was playing late one afternoon and we were all gathered around in
the dining hall. There came a rush of feet overhead and a shrill,
excited chattering. We broke for the deck, expecting a mutiny among the
Chinamen at the very least, and there in full view, not five hundred
yards away, was a battle between a whale and three thrasher sharks. In a
great circle the sea was churned to a foam, boiling with the stroke of
fin and fluke as the sharks outflanked and harried the whale.

In a steady succession the sharks would shoot high out of the water in a
graceful, deadly curve and, as they fell back, suddenly stiffen in a
whip-lash bend that instantly straightened at the moment of impact,
sending a flying mass of spray like that when a solid shot ricochets in
gun practice. A few such blows and even a bulky, blubber-coated whale
would feel it. Sometimes a shark would strike fair, though more often he
would waste his energy on the empty water as the whale dove.

But the steadiness of the battering attack, sometimes all three sharks
in the air as though by a signal, sometimes a steady procession pouring
up from the sea in a wicked arc as regular as a clock’s ticking, and
sometimes the frantic whirling of the whale showed the submarine
strategists at work, while only a single shark shot up in a well-aimed,
whip-lash stroke. In desperation the whale would stand on its head and
beat the air in terrific blows with its flukes while the sharks would
merely wait till the flurry was over and then renew their steady,
wearing, pounding battle.

Off at one side of the circle of beaten foam was a little dark patch
that paddled nervously about and that we had overlooked—a whale-calf.
And now it was apparent why the fight was fought in the diameter of a
ship’s length; always the bulk of the grim old mother was between the
attack and her clumsy baby; there was the reason why she did not make a
running fight of it that would have given her a more even break—for the
speed of a squadron is that of its slowest ship. All the advantage lay
with the sharks; it was easy to see they were wearing the whale down.
Less often she stood on her head to batter the foam hopefully with her
ponderous flukes; the sharks redoubled their efforts until they curved
in a steady, leaping line.

Along the rail of the _Mapocho_ the passengers, deck and cabin, cheered
the battle as their tense sympathies dictated or drew whistling breaths
as some crashing whip-lash went home. The deep sapphire of the sea
rippling under the brisk evening breeze, the turquoise heaven that swept
down to the horizon softly shifting against the sapphire contrast to a
mystery of fragile green, the field of battle boiling and eddying in the
mellow orange glow of the long rays of the setting sun and bursting into
masses of iridescent spray made a noble setting worthy of the cause, and
in it eighty tons of mother-love and devotion measuring itself in
horse-power and foot-tons was slowly drooping under the hail from a
slim, glittering, iridescent arc.

Smaller grew the fight in the distance—a mile—a mile and a half—then
two-thirds of the whale’s bulk shot clear of the surface and she fell
back heavily. Once more the head went down and the flukes raised
themselves, lashing the air in frantic desperation. The curving,
confident line of sharks shot upward in a graceful curve, but this time,
overconfident, they had miscalculated. The great tail caught one shark
and he hurtled through the flying spray with a broken back; the flukes
crashed down on a second as he struck the water. Once only the surviving
shark leaped and missed. Alone he could do no more; the whale in one
lucky stroke had won. Through the glasses we could make out its low mass
slowly swimming off, every now and then spouting a feather of spray from
her blow-hole as though saluting her own victorious progress with a
steam-whistle.

Five days out from Panama and we awoke to find the _Mapocho_ swinging to
her anchor in the Guayas River and awaiting the pleasure of the
port-doctor. On one side a distant shore loomed through the heated,
humid haze, on the other a sluggish tide-water creek disappeared in the
jungle of the bank an easy rifle-shot away. A ramshackle church with a
huge crucifix showed at one side of the port-doctor’s house and here and
there a few houses and thatched roofs appeared above a stretch of white
beach. A few black pigs wandered about, showing the only signs of life.
Somewhere beyond this dismal outpost was Guayaquil. Already in the
captain’s quarters was a conference of the skipper, the young Chilean
ship’s doctor fresh from school and on his first trip, and the port
doctor.

Presently they emerged, the captain feebly expostulating. We were to be
held “under observation” for forty-eight hours as yellow fever and
bubonic suspects. That Guayaquil should quarantine against anything
is—at the least to an ordinary sense of humor—funny, for Guayaquil has
never seen the time that it was likely to catch anything it did not
already have, except a clean bill of health.

We learned for the first time that there were three Chileans abroad who
were being returned to Chile by their consul. They were anemic,
destitute and sick with malarial fever; although the whole coast was in
a panic over yellow fever and the bubonic, yet this time had been chosen
to ship them home some two thousand miles to a Chilean hospital! They
had been stowed between decks and the young ship’s doctor had made the
mistake of attempting to gloss over their existence, or at any rate to
split the difference between truth and expediency, and had succeeded
only in exciting a peevish suspicion in a marooned gentleman who had
some power. He did not even look at the cases—quarantine forty-eight
hours, and then he would return with advices from the government.

A few of us went down to take a look at the _Chilenos_ whose appearance
had held us up. There was no formal hospital on board so a little
compartment had been hastily thrown up between decks. It was built of
the loose planks on which the cattle stand during the voyage; it was
closed on all four sides, windowless, and with but a single opening for
a doorway curtained by a filthy piece of canvas. This black hole,
reeking with filth, was the hospital; a couple of figures lay on the
floor and looked up dully at the sudden flare of a match while, from an
open cargo port, the third was tottering, a shrunken wreck with the
ghastly teeth of a skull and socketed eyes.

At noon the purser presented each first cabin passenger with a little
bill for half a sovereign—two dollars and a half, gold—which amount we
were charged for as demurrage every day in any quarantine. The deck
steerage paid a shilling, gold, each day.

  [Illustration: THOSE WHO REFUSED TO PAY WERE THROWN INTO THE CHICKEN
                                 COOP.]

The purser, a pleasant young Chilean with an Irish name, yet who spoke
no word of English, was the one busy man on the idle ship. In
expectation of quarantine the occupants of the port chicken coop had
been transferred and now the purser appeared with the first officer, the
boatswain, and a few of the crew. They climbed the rope and the purser
jangled a chain and padlock suggestively. One by one the shillings came
out. He reached the Chinamen; some were dragged from below or hauled out
from the partition of baggage in which they had tried to hide, all
protesting sullenly. Those who refused to pay were thrown into the
chicken coop until about a dozen were jammed into its close quarters. It
was too low for even a small man to stand upright, while its condition
made it impossible to lie down so that the Chinamen squatted on the
floor or huddled up on the perches. Then as they decided to pay, if the
purser had nothing on hand more pressing he would come up and let them
out.

Of those who witnessed this wretched steamship extortion the German
really enjoyed it; he clucked and mimicked before the coop with great
gusto and then scuttled below for his camera. He had scarcely focussed
before the free Chinamen who knew a camera were chattering shrilly in
hostile groups, the caged Chinamen clacking angrily back, and the first
officer pounced upon the photographic outfit. This collecting of
shillings from the Chinamen and the method of enforcement is no
light-hearted morning’s pleasure and is likely at any time to end
seriously. Also it could be noted that in the immediate background were
others of the officers and crew following operations, and the arms rack
aft of the chart-room was unlocked.

[Illustration: WHEN THE END-LID WAS TAKEN OFF, THE BODIES OF EIGHT DEAD
                       CHINAMEN WERE TAKEN OUT.]

Much may be said in favor of the chicken coop method for there was one
time, the purser related, that another purser in collecting the
shillings used the fumigating boiler of the upper deck. Eight obstinate
Chinamen were shoved in and the end-lid clamped on. An hour of a dark
dungeon would be better than the airy chicken coop, argued the astute
collector—for the chicken coop has been known to prove so alluring that
Chinamen have begun serving on their second day’s shilling before they
had paid the first—and he was pleased at the frantic scrabbling that
sounded through the iron sides. Then it died down—ah, the sullen apathy
of the race—and when the end-lid was taken off the bodies of eight dead
Chinamen were taken out, suffocated. It was no end of trouble to that
purser for he had to juggle with his passenger sheet and the various
port officials so that the ship wouldn’t be held in quarantine and make
the captain and owners peevish and thereby lose his job. _Caramba_, it
was lucky they were Chinamen!

Slowly the forty-eight hours on the broiling river passed away. In the
morning of its close we looked anxiously to the nearer shore for the
sign of official life. Except for the straggling black pigs, all was
lifeless beach and jungle. The hours passed. It was noon. We breakfasted
at that late Latin hour irritably. Presently the placid captain sent a
string of signals up the foremast. Still the creek, the strip of beach,
and the jungle gave forth no signs of life other than the black pigs.
More time passed and the captain had the whistle blown at intervals. No
result. As a desperate measure he had the capstan turned—a bluff for it
was free of the cable—but as the dismal clank of the pawls carried to
shore, half a dozen figures scuttled down to the creek and tumbled into
the official boat. A few minutes later it was at the companion ladder
and the port doctor was mounting haughtily.

Why this uproar? The sanitary junta had been notified of our
arrival—what could one more? A reply had been received this morning—or
was it the day before?—that the sanitary junta was very busy, but would
consider the quarantine of the _Mapocho_ at a meeting this very night.
In the meantime——! He spoke with a patient, restrained peevishness as to
an unreasonable child.

The august sanitary junta sat augustly at Guayaquil. From this port
doctor’s station to Guayaquil was some distance. To telegraph one made
one’s report, then it was paddled across the muddy tide-water creek in a
dugout; then it was carried on foot across the island—for this strip of
beach and home of the straggling black pigs was but a portion of an
island of some size—and then across more water in a dugout and _there_
was a telegraph station! Naturally all this took time. The port boat put
back and the captain returned to his quarters. From the stern again came
the sickening pop of firecrackers where the Chilean crew resumed their
fishing, hauling in a slender, stupid variety of catfish and then
tossing it back with a well-timed firecracker thrust in its gaping
throat.

We watched the shabby boat run on the beach and the port doctor
disappear in the jungle path. The crew gathered up the oars when
suddenly the doctor darted back, the crew tumbled into the boat, and in
a flurry of ragged rowing they came splashing toward us. Hope revived—a
release from the august sanitary junta! A biscuit toss off they stopped.
The doctor rose in the sternsheets and grandly ordered us out of
Ecuadorean waters; if we did not leave at once we would be fired upon—by
what there was no intimation, it might have been a black pig from a
bamboo catapult for there was nothing else in the way of artillery—but
it sounded formal and terrible. So we left. And with us went five
thousand packages of freight and ninety sacks of mail intended for
Guayaquil, and the furious Ecuadorean passengers.

The Peruvians were complacent. “It is better for us,” they said, “than
to have to put into that wretched Guayaquil. Had we touched that
fever-infected port we would have had much trouble in the Peruvian
ports. Now we have our clean bill of health from Panama.”

It was beautiful optimism. I took another look at the reeking hospital
between decks and wondered if we could ever get into any port and, as I
turned away, two wretched, tottering skeletons passed on their way to
the open cargo port. They were convalescing. I hoped for the third.

Some time during the night we passed over to the Peruvian coast and
anchored off Payta early the next morning. Two miles away a white thread
of slow surf broke on a thin line of blazing yellow beach; beyond rose a
low range of brown-and-yellow bluffs, the hot and arid fringe of the
long dessert that edges the west coast of South America. Back from the
edge of surf spraddled a shabby, sand-blown, flea-bitten town with only
here and there a patch of gay red-tiled roof; nowhere a strip of green
or frond of palm to relieve the arid deadliness of the brown-and-yellow
hills.

Off shore—there was neither bay nor bight in the even line of surf—a
deserted brigantine at anchor dipped slowly with the long Pacific
swells, its yards and decks whited like a leper from the unmolested
frigate-birds and sea fowl that made it home. Beyond, here and there, a
patched sail of no particular size or shape was barely filled by the
lightest of breezes; occasionally, as one crept past, the outfit
developed into a raft on the after part of which was a rough platform of
palm on which were housed the Indian fisherman and his crew or family. A
few abandoned square tins—the well known export tins of Rockefeller—held
the drinking water, an earthen pot their food, and on this flimsy
contraption they would put out miles to sea. In beating to windward a
loose board or piece from a packing case is poked through the crevices
to act as centerboard.

 [Illustration: A DESERTED BRIGANTINE AT ANCHOR DIPPED SLOWLY WITH THE
                         LONG PACIFIC SWELLS.]

Slowly creeping over the ground swells was the port officer’s boat; it
had a uniformed crew and rowed well. The Peruvians watched it
contentedly; _por Dios_, no such stupid work here as in that Guayas
River—_buenos dias, Señor Comandante, buenos dias, Señor Doctor_—and
they stood aside as the captain led the way into his quarters, the
procession closing with the nervous ship’s surgeon and a steward with a
bottle of warm champagne—for there was no more ice.

Presently they emerged amiably and the port officers put back to shore.
We would be _incommunicado_ until that very afternoon and then we would
hear. The little boats that had clustered around the _Mapocho_ with
Panama hats, fruits, and suspicious looking native candy were waved
ashore in a cloud of disappointment. In the afternoon back came the boat
and the young surgeon prepared to meet them ceremoniously at the foot of
the companion ladder. He could have spared himself the trouble; the
little boat stopped fifty feet off while the port doctor handed out a
judgment of five days’ quarantine. Twelve dollars and a half a head for
the first cabin and a dollar and a quarter, gold, for the steerage, and
all additional! Going into quarantine was not, from a purely business
standpoint, without its profits. And also the Ecuadorans and the
Peruvians once more met with a common bond of sympathy.

A barefooted Chileno sailor who had been already to haul down the big
yellow pest flag at the foremast belayed the halliards permanently to
the bridge pin rail and trotted off to help in putting over a small
boat. This boat flying a small yellow flag, was anchored a half-mile
away and during the days of quarantine was the only means of
communication with the shore. Each morning through the medium of this
anchored boat we did the ship’s business with the shore and from it the
steward would return with watermelons, eggs, turkeys, ducks, and
vegetables and quinine for the doctor. Occasionally from day to day the
port doctor, the port captain, or a member of the sanitary junta would
be rowed out in the official boat to look us over and the tottering
wrecks between the decks would be mustered at an open cargo port for a
distant and sceptical inspection. The local steamship agents, through
the daily messages in the anchored boat, kept us interested with the
daily rumors—we were a plague ship, a floating charnel house plying our
way shamelessly from port to port, a leper of the high seas shunned even
by Guayaquil—and one vague and indefinite that seemed to suggest that a
port official contemplated a sea trip in a week or so and was
engineering this means of giving us the pleasure of his company when he
was ready. It was interesting.



                              CHAPTER III
                     THROUGH A TROPICAL QUARANTINE


One morning when the official sanitary junta—the port doctor, the town
druggist, and three shopkeepers, all of whom except the first, were
contentedly selling us supplies—were making their inspection within easy
hailing distance the returning Peruvian diplomat dealt himself a hand in
the game. In a few pointed remarks he demanded that they send a doctor
on board to make an examination. The port captain returned an indignant
oration in which, after paying tribute to the ancestral deeds of the
diplomat’s forebears, he hurled shame at the diplomat for his selfish
lack of patriotism in so distrusting the conclusions and acts of his
countrymen, obviously he had been so enervated by effete foreign
associations that—that—well, it sounded like good oratory anyway. There
was no doubt in their minds that we were concealing yellow fever.

Slowly the five days of quarantine passed with this solemn official
mockery. The Chinamen ceased from troubling and yielded the daily
shilling, the chicken coop was returned to the authority of the
steward—although once, for variety, a Chinaman shared it with a couple
of turkeys for some hours—and then the final day arrived.

Leisurely the official boat rowed out. The passengers for Ecuador, it
announced, were to be transferred to the leprous-looking brigantine
where they would remain in quarantine until they could be transfered to
a northbound steamer. Incidentally they were privileged to pay twelve
sols a day, each, for board. Then the official boat was rowed back; and
that was all.

Indignantly the passengers met and decided to pay no more daily
quarantine charges—it seemed as if the company needed a little
stimulating, perhaps; the purser chuckled sympathetically and then a
self-appointed committee looked over the chicken coop with a speculative
eye. It was heartening, for at least the monotony would be broken. That
night an unofficial boat stole out of the darkness alongside; confirmed
the rumor that the port captain was holding us for a week longer to suit
his convenience; then the messenger disappeared in the night. This was
interesting as pure news matter and that was all.

Came the morning of the sixth day without change. And then the
diplomat’s cables to Lima had effect. A doctor had been appointed on a
cabled order from Lima to make a real examination; he came out
accompanied by a sanitary junta of very sour officials, climbed on
board, and began his work. They pulled away and returned in the
afternoon.

The young ship’s surgeon and the new doctor shouted the report across
the water. Barring the three cases of malarial fever between decks we
had a clean bill of health. The official boat drew a trifle nearer; in
the stern sheets the port doctor scanned a formidable looking medical
volume that lay open on his knees and the druggist bent his head over
the same pages. Solemnly they accepted little test tubes that the ship’s
surgeon passed across to them and examined them gravely. They turned a
few pages of the book and asked a question. The new doctor answered it
promptly. Again they shuffled the pages and came back with another;
another answer, and then more hasty poring.

     [Illustration: WHAT THE DIPLOMAT SAID WAS DIRECT AND VOLUBLE.]

At length came their decision: it was true that the excellent doctors
had described no such symptoms as were standardized for either yellow
fever or the _peste bubonica_, but there was nothing to prevent those
doctors from stating and confirming that which was not true; therefore
be it resolved that we had yellow fever, but were concealing it! They
were the incorruptible guardians of a nation’s health.

What the diplomat said was direct and voluble and carried perfectly
across the calm evening sea: Heaven was a sad witness of his unpatriotic
perfidy for he threatened them with a touch of patriotism direct from
Lima upon the hour of his arrival—however distant or uncertain that
might be. A little conference and they voted on our admission, two and
two—could anything be fairer! Their honest hearts thanked Heaven for the
thought of this simple and adroit deadlock that preserved their official
activities and at the same time kept us in a profitable quarantine.
Tersely it was pointed out by the diplomat that by virtue of the cabled
commission the new doctor was a member of the board—vote again!

That evening we wandered through the dust and sand of Payta and rode
grandly, and briefly, to the out-skirts of the town in the single
mule-and-rope tram that skirted the beach. It is well in the troubled
times of quarantine on the West Coast always to travel with an
accredited diplomat on board.

   [Illustration: A Wide, Dusty Canal Which in the Intervals Between
                      Showers Serves as a Market]

All next day the whirr and clatter of the steam-winches and the bang of
cargo kept up and again we visited the dusty port, wading through the
lines of Panama hat sellers that lined up to greet the landing of our
small boat. Of hotel runners there were none, this being due to the fact
that there was but one hotel to which the stray custom is bound to
drift. At the hotel we saw a few palms and tropical blooms in tubs and
in a carefully irrigated patio, for Payta is—like all that West
Coast—rainless. As a cold matter of meteorological fact it _does_ rain
sometimes; I accidentally started an acrimonious discussion by a merely
polite remark on the weather as to whether it had been nine, eleven, or
fourteen years since the last rain. In apparent proof of this there is a
wide, dusty canal bulkheaded with piling on either side which in these
intervals between showers serves as a native market. Little red flags
flutter from the _chicherias_ where the opaque, yellow, Indian corn beer
is sold, ranging in flavor and potency from warm buttermilk to the
wicked “stone-fence” of New Jersey.

Back of the town a trail wades through the sand to the crest of the long
bluffs; the feet of countless pack trains have worn a driveway through
the ridge until, stepping through, there are suddenly spread before the
view the endless stretches of a dried and dusty desert that has been an
ocean’s prehistoric bed. The hot airs quiver and boil from the twisting
valleys or ridges of blistering sand and rock and through the pulsing
heat the occasional pack train in the distance turns to a wavering,
shimmering thread. To the imagination a desert rises as a dull, gray
expanse endless in its colorless monotony; here there was a riot of
color, every hue, raw and gorgeous—except green—from the soft purples
and cool sapphire of the shadows to the blazing yellows and reds and
white of the open spaces. And in the garish stretch of a dead ocean
there slowly rises like a parching thirst a longing for a sweep of
tender green.

     [Illustration: CLOSE RESEMBLANCE TO AN ARMY OF DRUNKEN BUGS.]

The little governmental touch from Lima had cleared the path of
quarantine and we began a dot-and-carry-one course down the coast from
Payta; every day our winches whirred and clattered off some dusty,
sand-blown port. Before our anchor had touched bottom in the open
road-stead a fleet of _lanchas_, heavy, double-ended, open lighters of
from ten to twenty-five tons capacity were crawling over the water; the
dozen long oars that were their means of locomotion—and that were
manipulated on an independent competitive basis—spraddled on each side
gave the fleet a close resemblance to an army of drunken bugs struggling
forward on uncertain legs. There was always a race to the _Mapocho’s_
side and the first to get there caught the heaving line.

Once a lancha defeated in a close finish came on and cut the heaving
line so that its rival was left with the useless section while it
hurriedly hauled in on the hawser. Instantly a fine naval engagement was
in progress as the lanchas locked like a couple of old Carthaginian
galleys. By the aid of force peace was established and the rightful and
original award of the hawser sustained; had it not been, as the first
officer explained, they would need a new heaving line at every port.

The bluffs of the coast gave way to hills and these in turn to higher
ones; the Andes were closing in on the Pacific. At times the great
mountain chain towered from the very water’s edge in a succession of
steep cliffs, each receding tier softening in the distance and rising
through the slowly shifting strata of clouds until only the gashes of
white snow picked out the towering peaks. Here and there steep, rocky
islets fringed the coast line and we stood far out to save the chances,
and yet there was no appreciable change in the proportions of the
tremendous mountain range. The sense of proportion and distance was lost
in the comparison of these vast reaches. A rocky islet, a steep
sugar-loaf affair, rose from the ocean perhaps five feet—not much as an
island or a mountain peak. Through the binoculars a tiny unknown speck
at the base developed into a full-rigged bark with tapering masts above
which the sugar-loaf rock rose for thousands of feet in the clear air,
and on it was a wretched colony of guano workers.

Then the coast opened out into level reaches again with occasional lines
of irrigation ditches showing a thread of green. Occasionally—twice I
think—there was actually a landlocked harbor. It was one of these,
Chimbote, that James G. Blaine proposed to use or secure as a naval base
and coaling station. It is perfectly sheltered with a narrow,
bottle-neck entrance guarded by a rocky island in the middle which is
covered with a wriggling film of seals that are perfectly indifferent to
the close passage of ships or men.

  [Illustration: Every Day our Winches Whirred and Clattered off some
                        Dusty, Sand-blown Port]

In this harbor rode the queerest of sea-going craft. In Mexico I had
once seen a Chinaman fit himself up a home from about eight feet of one
end of a hopelessly wrecked dugout, take in a partner, and then the two
of them paddle off up the river in the fishing business, sleeping and
eating aboard the flat-iron shaped thing. Here in this case was a bow
and stern bolted together without a midship section. And both the bow
and stern were those of a fairly full size tramp freighter. The bow was
the ram bow of a war ship and back of it there was barely room to
squeeze in a capstan and a tiny hatch; the foremast shared the bridge, a
funnel and whistle jammed themselves up against the bridge, while the
short distance to the stern rail gave room for a squat cabin out of
which rose the mainmast. A score of Chimbote lanchas were as
big—bigger—and where this telescoped liner would find room for cargo or
coal after providing for engines and a galley is a mystery. Yet it does
carry cargo and ambles along from port to port a tragic marvel of
compression.

The day before, off Huanchazo, where a storm far out had piled up a
heavy, oily groundswell, that even put the racks on the tables, a
wealthy old Peruvian lady had been hoisted abroad in a cask clinging to
her son. She was a garrulous old soul, powdered like a marshmallow, with
three chins and a little moustache, and her son was the very apple of
her eye. Therefore, son was what one might expect. His adolescent and
mature ambition was to be the amorous cut-up of the coast and so far he
had succeeded generously in making a smug, self-satisfied nuisance of
himself. He counted doting mother’s allowance publicly, drank warm
champagne noisily when thrifty mother was not around, and dressed in the
Huanchazo idea of French fashions for men. In the morning he did not
appear. Mother explained fondly—but not the truth. She did not know it.

Passengers are warned not to go between decks after dark, the steerage
hutches and the crew have the freedom of that deck. Son prowled down on
some shifty little romantic project of his own. In the darkness he
suddenly felt two sharp little pricks in the skin of his back and one
sharp little prod in front; they felt very, very much like the points of
knives. Up went son’s hands promptly and in the blackness he felt heavy
hands pulling out his maternal allowance—the beautiful money with which
he was to flaunt his fascinations in Lima. Hence no Limanean gay
life—mother it seemed was a thrifty Spartan in money matters—and son was
in his berth, weeping. A steward told us the latter, confidentially of
course.

Samancho, Chimbote, Salivari, Suppe, and then at last, in the daybreak
of the morning after the last named and in the midst of a soft, clouded
day, Callao. There was the usual customs search of the baggage—a
maddening process to an Englishman, mildly irritating to a Frenchman,
and accepted meekly and placidly by Americans as a matter of course from
a thorough training in our own home ports. I have never passed through
any country that could give as close an imitation of our own thorough
methods of dock robbery and tariff brigandage as Peru. A quarter of an
hour by train through a rich soil that can be worked only by irrigation
and Lima, the first halt on the continent, has been attained.

For two weeks there was nothing to do but to idle in Lima. A delightful
city full of the old contrasts of highly civilized, sybaritic pleasures
alongside of the squalid, aimless poverty of the survivors of a
devastated empire. There is the Bois where fashionable equipages with
cockaded, copper-colored lackeys—possibly in bare or sandaled feet—on
the box, silver-mounted harness and heavy, Chilean bred coach horses
jingle past in procession on Sunday afternoons while some gallant
Peruano lopes alongside with huge silver stirrups and a saddle almost
solid with bullion; the sodden side streets where the buzzard and the
scavenger pig are man’s best friend; the cathedral where lies the
dessicated body of Pizarro in a marble casket like an aquarium, the one
open side covered with glass through which may be seen the remains of
that treacherous old buccaneer, with his head re-fastened by a silver
wire to guard against a repetition of the theft; the cathedral itself
with its murky interior smoked by the votive candles of millions of
conscript converts; its queer carvings where the ecclesiastical memories
of architecture have been freely rendered by the Indian stone-cutters;
the clubs, the cafés—and the ambrosial coffee—chapels with the bullion
covered walls, the wretched tobacco at high tariff—extorted prices—all
these and then the Hotel Maury.

          [Illustration: Lima, a Delightful City of Contrasts]

Peace be to Savarin, to Delmonico, and to Chamberlain. They did well in
their way. But they never served a squid, or cuttlefish, floating like a
small hot-water bottle, tender and delicious in an inky sauce of their
own founding; nor a starfish sprawled in a five-pointed dream of savory,
lobster-like succulence; nor “_señoritas_”—a delicate species of
scallop—each with its tiny scarlet tongue draped across the pearl-white
bivalve bosom and that, steamed or not, melted in one supreme ecstatic
flavor; nor five inch _langostin_ fresh from the cold waters of the
Andean hills, nor compounded or invented a strawberry gin cocktail of
surpassing allurement—cooled by a piece of ice kept in a flannel-lined
drawer and returned thereto after stirring. None of these things had
they and so by just that much they fell short.

In the Hotel Maury there was a written bill of fare for those who could
merely read. But for the expert, the fastidious—or the adventurous—there
was a redoubt in the main room whose flanking bastions and crest were a
solid array of great joints and little joints, steaks, chops, unnamed
fish in platoons and señoritas in brigades, fruits, vegetables and all
of the foregoing—and more—laid out in tiers and terraces whose
foundations were of cool, inviting seaweeds and mosses, and still
further seductively embellished with a variety of paper ribbons and
crests and cockades until one almost lost sight of the pagodas of gaudy,
many-storied cakes and confections that rose like watch towers at
judicious intervals along the battlements. It was a salon.

To the shuffling, woolen-capped, sandaled, or bare-footed Indian at
one’s heels the directions were given, you chose what you would as they
thus reposed in the altogether and then repaired to await in a
sawdust-floored cavern at one side and in a state of serene and
expectant bliss the certain pleasures of the very immediate future. You
waited, it is true, at a warped table with a stained cloth on which a
bent cruet supplied the only note of elegance. And, lest any of the
precious viands be lost in transit or breakage, you knew that you would
be served with a substantial, hard-shell crockery only slightly more
vulnerable than reinforced concrete. Presently your Indian reappeared in
a shuffling trot scattering sawdust from the prow of each sandal like a
harbor pile-driver under full speed—the hard-shell crockery is white
hot, but he has the hands of a salamander—and then with a flourish he
drops an assorted collection of tableware somewhere within reach—you are
served. And what a repast! Peace be to Savarin, Delmonico and—enough.
Comparisons are invidious and the Maury can stand alone in the continent
of his choosing.

Very shortly the sailing day came for, since it was not possible to land
in Mollendo owing to that port being afflicted with a quarantine, it had
been necessary to catch a steamer that would put us through the surf at
Quilca, a hole in a cliff that has its only function in these times of
quarantine. A farewell inspection of the redoubt and bastions, a
recharging of the bottle of salicylic acid and alcohol, which while it
had in no way abated the fleas of the Hotel Maury, yet had mitigated
their consequences, and Lima and Callao drifted into the background with
the closing day. From Quilca in some way we would connect by muleback
and packtrain across the desert to the desert station of La Joya with
the railroad to Arequipa and thence to Lake Titicaca and across to La
Paz.



                               CHAPTER IV
              A FORCED MARCH ACROSS THE DESERT OF ATACAMA


The stand-by bell of the _Limari_ tinkled from her engine-room, our
baggage and freight were safely stowed in the wallowing Peruvian lanchas
alongside, and the Bolivian mail followed. The Captain of the Port and
the Inspector of Customs balanced down the swaying gangway and dropped
into the gig alongside. We followed.

Before us stretched the long, barren line of rocky coast, fading away in
the soft mist of a Peruvian winter. For it is winter here, damp and
chill, in September. Directly ahead is a narrow, ragged break in the
cliffs. Inside is Quilca, the side door to La Paz in days of quarantine.

We cross the barrier of half-concealed rock before us, and soon we are
in the smooth waters of the cañon beyond. On either side the red
volcanic bluffs rise for perhaps two hundred feet, their faces scarred
and seamed or beaten into grotesque forms by the Pacific of ages past.
Up this defile we rowed for several hundred yards, then we rounded a
ragged promontory, and the full glories of the metropolis of Quilca
burst upon us. A broken flight of steps led from the water, and, back of
it all, two thin straggling lines of woven-cane huts bounded the
solitary street. Two houses, more dismally pretentious than the rest,
with mud walls and corrugated-iron roofs, marked the local seat of
government. In the distance rose the red volcanic hills, dull, flat, and
shadowless under the clouded sky of the tropical winter. This was all of
Quilca.

We had cabled from Lima for horses and a pack-train to meet us and bring
us over the desert of San José, where we could get the train to the
interior.

The morning after our arrival we were awakened by the clatter of the
pack-mules as they passed our quarters, and the “_Hola, hola! Huish,
huish!_” of their _arrieros_. It was our train.

In the middle of the lone street the arrieros were busy lashing our
smaller packages in rawhide nets. Scattered about in the sand were the
larger cases of freight—prospecting machinery and mining
hardware—amounting to a little over a ton in weight; and still under the
guard of Agamemnon in our quarters of the night was the personal
equipment—trunks, instruments, rifles, shotguns, cartridges and powder
and shot—making nineteen hundred pounds more. And blocking the only
thoroughfare of Quilca were the twelve pack-mules—long-haired,
disconsolate animals, with pepper-and-salt complexions, save where
patches of bare hide showed the chafing of the pack-ropes. They looked
as though our own regulation army load of two hundred pounds per mule
would be far too great. And they were to divide four thousand pounds
among them.

It was eleven o’clock in the forenoon when the last diamond-hitch was
thrown and the last pack lashed in place. The arrieros swung their long,
knotted rawhide thongs, the saddle-galled bell-mare clanged as she led
the way, and we climbed into our saddles and fell in behind the
straggling mules as they led the way up the dismal street and out into
the desert.

The trail rose sharply as it left Quilca, and then wound around to the
right, where it joined the old desert road used by the Spaniards after
their conquest, and for centuries before that by the Incas in their
barter with the coast. On each side rose white walls of rotten rock,
higher than our heads as we rode by, the path between them worn down by
plodding hoofs for untold ages. Upon this path the rock was ground to a
fine white powder that rose in clouds and covered us until we looked
ahead as through the mists of a fog. Vaguely, over the walls, the ragged
volcanic hills silhouetted against the sky.

We kept on ascending between these winding walls, at length emerging on
a narrow table-land—the top of the cliffs we had seen from the decks of
the _Limari_. A short distance over the level ground, and then from the
farther edge we looked down on the flat, stony bottom of the Vitor
Valley—a ragged gorge that wound a tortuous course through the desert. A
narrow trail with short, sharp angles zigzagged down a steep gully to
the bottom. The mules carefully picked their way down among the loose
stones, halting inquiringly at times to choose perhaps a shorter cut. If
it seemed to their instinct feasible, they gathered their hind legs
under them, their front hoofs sticking stiffly out in front, and slid
down on their bellies, in a cloud of dust, carrying with them a small
avalanche of loose shale as they landed in a section of the trail below.

You sit back in your saddle—all saddles in these parts have cruppers and
breastplates to prevent your sliding over the animal’s ears as you go
down or slipping off behind as you go up a mountain path—and as you
watch the tossing line of packs below, the speculation forces itself as
to the consequences of a mule’s misstep. That it is not all idle
speculation is shown by the scattered skeletons below in the valley,
bleached to varying degrees of dull white.

We do not descend to the pavement of river-washed stones on the bed of
the valley. Twenty yards above, the trail leads abruptly off to the left
into a narrow ditch worn in the face of the cliff, which in places has
been scooped out to allow for the width of the packs, leaving an
insecure overhang of rock above.

For miles we followed the contour of the valley, clinging to the steep
slopes and the sides of the cliffs that hedged it in. Then down a clayey
bank the trail started diagonally across the bottom of the valley to the
farther side. Occasionally we would come suddenly on a little clearing
where two or three Indians, grisly through the ashen grime, were burning
charcoal—little twigs scarcely bigger than one’s finger. We came out at
the farther side of the valley against the cliffs of the mesa beyond. On
the little stony flat before them, three straggling huts of woven cane
with thatched roofs of barley straw marked a lonely hacienda. A few
dirty Indians and their slatternly wives lounged about. A short distance
beyond, the trail led over the steep talus at the base of the cliffs;
then on up through a narrow, wedge-shaped crevice that wound back and
forth in short ascending turns, till it disappeared over the edge of the
mesa a thousand feet above. For miles on either side it was the only
break in the cliff; and as we looked at the stiff prospect ahead of us,
the rocky descent of a few hours before seemed like gentle morning
exercise in the park.

For a short distance the trail ran straight up over the loose shale;
then the real ascent began. Ten yards to the right, then ten to the
left, and steeper with each change. The mules humped their backs and
scratched along on the toe of the hoof, choosing their foothold with the
nice precision of a cat crossing a sprinkled street. Two turns to the
right, then two to the left; then a rest of half a minute, when without
urging they would recommence the ascent. Slowly and tediously we
climbed, and finally rode out on a broad, level plateau that stretched
away and merged with the desert hills of the distance. Below us toiled
our pack-train, tediously weaving back and forth on the zigzag trail. As
each section reached the level ground, the arriero dismounted and went
among his animals, talking mule-talk and easing loads to a better
balance or tightening the stretched cinches. All the unkempt, hairy
sides were heaving with heavy breaths. A few lay down—a bad sign in a
pack-animal. But in twenty minutes every mule was apparently as fresh as
ever, wandering about and foraging on the stiff, wiry bunch-grass of the
arid soil. And when we started they stepped off easily under their
loads, with their long ears briskly flapping. The two small arrieros
left us here and returned to Quilca, for the chief difficulties were
passed, and the rest was but persistent plodding over the desert to San
José.

The trail over the plateau had been worn in parallel furrows like the
thin strip of a newly ploughed field. Each mule chose his furrow and
insistently walked there, resenting the effort of any of the others to
get in ahead of him. When a collision occurred you could hear the rattle
of nail-kegs and the clatter of shovels, picks, and hardware a half-mile
off as they butted and shoved for the right of way. Our two remaining
arrieros rode in the rear, muffled in their gaudy woolen ponchos.
Occasionally a lean arm would shoot out from under its folds and the
knotted thong bite the flank of some lagging mule. These mule-drivers’
thongs are long, braided strips of rawhide spliced into the
curb-rein—they use no snaffle—ending in a heavy knot. Its twelve or
fourteen feet lie coiled in the bridle-hand until called into service.
Then with a twist of the wrist, it feeds rapidly out through the right
hand, humming like a sawmill as it circles round his head, and landing
with a thwack that generally corrects the indisposition for which it is
intended. Often the arrieros imitate its vicious hum, and it will
frequently prove sufficient.

The trail was distinct enough—there was no fear of wandering away from
it—a slender ditch worn in the bed of the arroyo. Here and there a
ragged little hole dug in the soft walls of white rock marked the lonely
home of some desert badger; and again we would ride past whole colonies
of them. In these badger villages the holes fairly honeycombed the sides
of the trail and the bluff walls of the arroyos, and the shuffling
claw-marks of the badger trails scarred the dust in all directions.
There were no other signs of life; not even the scaly windings of a
lizard were to be seen, and the sparse patches of bunch-grass had long
since disappeared.

Mile after mile we pushed up these narrow valleys. The badger-holes
disappeared, and strange desert growths began to appear from time to
time. As we had ascended, the clouds had seemed to lower, and now we
could see on either hand the light mists floating about us.

One more steep loomed ahead. We pushed through the damp strata of mists
clinging to its sides, and came out on the flat land above in the long
level rays of the setting sun. Below us, over the clouds, it cast its
cold, blue shadows and sparkling high lights, transforming those
shifting, unstable vapors into rippling waves of golden foam. To the
east the whole desert glowed with color. The long furrows of the trail
wove themselves in patterns of orange and purple. Rolling shadows, rich
in their changing violets, faded slowly and softly away to the left.
Gorgeous reds and scarlets, madders, oranges, crimsons—every brilliant
color of the palette—spread in glowing masses, changing with each minute
of the dying day. The saddle-stiffness, cracked lips, and parched
throat, dry with the alkaline dust, were forgotten—even the dismal clank
of the bell-mare slowly toiling in the lead mellowed to a far-off
chime—and in those few brief moments of the vanishing day we felt the
subtle desert spell.

The shadows grew colder and merged one into another; the desert dimmed,
a few stars glistened, and, as though a door had closed behind us, we
passed into the night. Twilight is short in the tropics. Down by the
horizon on our right the Southern Cross slowly lighted up—four
straggling points of light that feebly struggled with the blazing stars
about them. We closed in behind the swaying shadow of the mules, from
which came the subdued rattle of packs and creaking cinches, that were
the only sounds to disturb the dark stillness. It was but a little way
now; in another hour we would be in camp.

Out of the shadow ahead came the clash of picks and shovels, the rattle
of a load as it struck the sand, and the swaying shades of the mules
divided around a black mass stretched on the trail. It was the first
note of exhaustion. For twelve hours the mules had plodded at the same
steady gait, rested only by the halt on the cliff, miles back, and the
wonder of it was that, with their loads, none had dropped before. As we
rode up we could see against the faint starlit ground the sprawling
silhouette of the beast, lying as he fell, the long, expressive ears
limp on the desert sand. The arrieros dismounted and pried him on his
feet again, and patiently he hit the trail. In the next half-hour four
more went down. At one time half our mules were down, and we strung out
over the desert for two miles picking them up.

A few minutes later we swung off to the right, stumbling through a
series of broken ditches—the remains of the old Inca irrigation systems
that ran for miles back into the Andes. Then we dropped down steep
winding paths, our shoulders scraping against walls of sand as we turned
to the right or left around the corners. The mules apparently understood
that a camp was not far ahead, and seemed fresher. Soon we rode out on a
flat, sitting straight in our saddles once more, with the hard rattle of
stones underfoot and the cool wet sound of running water just ahead.
Then the noiseless, padded ground of a corral, and the mules lay down
and we climbed out of our saddles. It was the camp at last.

A dried old Indian appeared from somewhere, and by the light of his
tallow dip I made out the time—half past three in the morning. We had
come seventy-six miles without water or rest.

At a little after six we were awake. The sun was rising above the cliffs
that lined the valley, though the chill of the night air still lingered.
Coffee awaited us in the openwork cane hut of the Indian proprietor of
this hacienda, and as soon as we finished it we would start. In the
daylight we could see that we were in a broad level valley. Through the
center of the valley ran a brook—a portion of the same Vitor River of
the day before, but now dwindled to a tiny thread. About us clustered a
few buildings with low walls of broken stone from some Inca ruin. A
short distance off was the mission church of the desert, announced by a
cross of two twigs tied with a strip of rawhide and surmounting an
excrescence of broken stones evidently intended as a steeple. We drank
the thick, black coffee, for which the Indian refused both money and
presents, and at seven o’clock we started.

It was all white sand now, and everywhere the same hot, white glare
hedged us in. There was not a breath of air, and as the sun rose higher
it beat down with a constantly growing heat. Then once more out on the
flat desert above. For endless miles it stretched, quivering in the
heated air of the morning. Away down in the east the long line of the
ragged, snow-covered Andes loomed up, their summits thrust through the
low banks of clouds along the horizon. All signs of a trail had
disappeared. The little furrows left by the passing pack-trains were
filled in by the hot desert winds that blow always from the west. It is
the unvarying steadiness of these winds that causes the curious
crescent-shaped dunes of sand found on this desert. There were thousands
of these shimmering in the long distances of the heated glare, from
little ones just blown into existence and not six inches from tip to tip
up to great banks forty feet high and with two hundred feet between the
horns. Superheated puffs of air blew from them that struck like a breath
from the first run of molten slag. The heat crept between your closed
teeth and dried your tongue. When you spoke it was from the throat, and
the words seemed to shrivel in your mouth.

For twenty miles we plodded over the scorching glare, and then, far
ahead, a small dark patch appeared. Slowly it developed and became a
dull, dusty green—scraggly palms and a few peach-trees; then a railroad
station with a hot galvanized-iron roof. It was San José.

In the half-hour to train-time our saddles were off and stored, the
baggage and freight separated and shipped, and we ourselves stretched
comfortably in the shade of the agent’s thatched porch. The Arequipa
train backed in, and the agent and conductor loaded the one box car, and
we followed our outfit in.



                               CHAPTER V
                     AREQUIPA THE CITY OF CHURCHES


The baking heat of the desert boiled in through the open doors of the
freight car, the blazing sun beat down upon the roof, and, inside, a
thousand essences from its variegated life simmered and blended.
Together with some half dozen of assorted native passengers we had
jammed ourselves in among a jumble of food-stuffs and mining hardware in
transit. The box car banged and groaned and occasionally halted on the
desert at the hail of some wayfarer whom we helped cordially up and
stirred into the odoriferous oven. Sociably we rode in this freight car
up from the desert oasis of San José because this freight car
constituted the whole of the train. Farther on at Vitor there was hope
of a real train.

In the scant space left by the cargo I had wedged myself against a stack
of dried fish while my feet reposed easily on the body of a newly dead
pig on his way to the market in Arequipa joggling in time to the
uncertain swaying of the car; Agamemnon fitted his saddle-stiff joints
into a niche in the freight and went peacefully to sleep, indifferent to
the broken barrel of lime that sifted its contents over him. And so it
was that we pulled in to Vitor, a town that hung on the edge of the
desert from which rose the foothills of the first Andean range to the
eastward. Stiffly we climbed down and out into the heated, but untainted
air and idled in the station shadow until the train should signify its
readiness to receive us.

I was passing through the patio of the station when I was briefly
conscious of a rush, a choked snarl, and in the same instant my whole
right leg seemed to have stepped into a vise clamped to a jig-saw; the
impact spun me half around and I found myself helpless in the grip of a
huge, flea-bitten mongrel that just lacked, by what appeared to be a
mere shadow of a margin, sufficient power to shake me rat fashion. I
judged that it was about eight years afterward when an Indian leisurely
appeared and clattered at the brute. Adroitly it let go and disappeared
before I could get a sufficiently able-bodied rock out of the pavement
for I was unarmed, having packed my gun when preparing to leave San
José.

                  [Illustration: AN AREQUIPA CARRIER]

But it turned out to have been purely illusion after all, as was
apparent on the assurances of the lean buccaneer who had the restaurant
privilege and acted as station master. There was not a dog about the
place no, señor! I pointed to the dorsal facade of my battle-scarred
person. _Caramba_—investigation, _prontissimo_! The lean buccaneer
called and an Indian responded. It was the same Indian who had driven
off the dog. He listened to the buccaneer. Then he replied at length and
with gestures. I listened, but it was in Quechua they spoke, a dialect
that sounds not unlike German interspersed with an occasional vocal
imitation of a brass band. The buccaneer again turned to me:

“Señor, it is as I said. There is no dog,—there has been no dog,—I have
no dog—it is a very great pity,—I sympathize!”

It revealed to me a power of imagination I had not suspected myself of
possessing, though Agamemnon who was pinning up the rents and counting
the punctures still regarded it as an actual occurrence.

The blistering hours on the trail across the desert had left us as
parched as a dried sponge, crackly and dusty and with brittle, peeling
skins ravenous for moisture. Outside the newly made-up train on either
side straggled a collection of grimy, sand-blown Indians—mainly
women—peddling queer, uncertain foods from earthen pots or battered tin
cans that were in great demand among the sophisticated natives while, on
a higher plane of dignity, a fat, placid Cholo sent the first native
urchin on whom his eye fell into the station presently to deliver to you
a bottle of unripe, bilious beer as warm as the hot shadow in which it
had been kept. Its color, foam, and the characteristic shape of the
bottles were means of identification, but, with the eyes closed, it did
not differ materially from catnip tea or any of the old home remedy
stand-bys. And never did an orange look more nobly luscious, for the
round, unripe, green skin of the native product enfolds a heart of
nectar.

From Vitor on we wound through twisting gorges or steep valleys, barren
of all save cactus and the desert shale and boulders. Steadily the train
climbed. Always on one side or the other were the traces of the old Inca
empire and its industrious dominion; here a fragmentary stretch of road
and a ruined gateway, now and again the almost obliterated ruins of some
old town or village, but always, running along the sides of the steep
hills or through the valleys, the dusty remains of a tremendous system
of irrigation ditches. Where once has been a busy land, soft with the
green of growing things, there are the cactus and the badger and the
occasional baked-mud hut of an Indian wringing a dull living from the
desert, Heaven knows how, where his ancestors once farmed and throve in
multitudes.

            [Illustration: In Arequipa the City of Churches]

The contrast stirs the dullest fancy. And on the side of the spoilers
for their gains? Only the dessicated remains of a treacherous old pirate
that may be viewed—for a very moderate tip—through the side of a marble
aquarium back in Lima as a cathedral curio and, in Europe, an asthmatic
and toothless Spain drained to decrepitude by her own remorseless greed
and predaceous piety.

In the long rays of the sunset the train rolled across the level
stretches of the high valley in which lies the city of Arequipa. The
low, flat houses—more or less earthquake proof—and the red tile roofs
were radiant in the mellow glow. Beyond rose the dull, volcanic slopes
of Misti in an immense cone, while best of all, in the one story hotel
of rambling patios in that city of earthquakes we were once more able to
collect sufficient water at one time to accomplish a bath. In Arequipa
the first train stops exhausted; _mañana_, or at the worst only a few
days later, a second train leaves to climb the first high pass and leave
its passengers on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Throughout the city there is scarcely a building that cannot show
patched cracks or gaping cornices that are the scars of earthquakes;
here and there a heap of rock and plaster or fragmentary walls abandoned
to the Indian beggars mark the years of great _temblors_. Rarely does a
private house attempt a second story and the marvel is how the churches
or the cathedral, with their high walls and towers, have been able to
survive at all! Though often cracked and battered, yet in some way they
have weathered the subterranean gales.

And what a city for churches! On every street, on all but every turn,
there rises an ecclesiastical edifice with its grim walls of faded,
peeling kalsomine and its porticos, perhaps ornamented with odd stone
carvings that preserve a strong Indian flavor in spite of the old
monkish guidance. Whole blocks in the heart of the city are bounded by
enormous walls enclosing the sacred precincts of a convent or monastery.
I was informed that out of every twelve inhabitants, men, women, and
children, one was in some of the many orders behind the high walls. Each
day in some part of the city is a fiesta in honor of some particular
saint who is heralded and honored by a vast popping of firecrackers,
squibs, and rockets and a grand procession through the neighborhood.
Often several saints’ fiestas fall on the same day and from all
directions come the rattle of firecrackers and the plop of the daylight
bombs or rockets and any casual stroll will bring one against a
procession heavy with the smoke of incense or uncanny with the thin,
wailing chanting of the celebrants.

        [Illustration: HARDLY A DAY WITHOUT ITS SAINT’S FIESTA.]

The whole city centers around an extraordinarily large central plaza on
one side of which is the ancient cathedral with its tiers of bells in
the bell tower still lashed to the massive beams by rawhide thongs. The
remaining three sides are business arcades of small shops, the pastries,
and cafés; the bullet chipped arches still confirming the earnestness
with which many a civil election has been contested between the liberal
and the clerical elements after the returns were counted—or, quite as
often, during that process.

The chief industry is in a few machine shops and central supply houses
for the mines of the interior. Outside of this there is nothing. A few
small shops with the cheapest and shabbiest of stocks cluster around the
plaza; on Sunday that same plaza is scantily filled with the select of
Arequipa while the stocky police keep it cleared of the tattered urchins
and Indians of the weekdays. There is the dull, oppressive sense of
wretched poverty or genteel destitution. It is in the sharpest contrast
with the general run of other and typical Latin cities; the whole city
seems to have become encysted in a hopeless poverty in which any form of
local energy is permitted to find expression only in ecclesiastical
fireworks or mystical parades of wailing and incense.

The start from Arequipa up to Lake Titicaca is made in the early
morning. The huge cone of Misti—looking for all the world like a vast
slag dump—stands forth with telescopic detail in the high, rare air
mellowed in the cool morning sun. Prickling and glistening on the even
slopes or in the purple shadows, the frost still clings like a lichen to
the barren rocks and there is a thin touch of briskness in the air like
the taste of fall on a September morning back home.

                 [Illustration: AN ANDEAN TOURING CAR]

Down at the station the departure of the train is in the nature of an
event like the sailing of a steamer. Already the train—one first-class
and two second-class coaches—is filled, aisles and seats, with a
shuffling crowd already in the ecstacy of a noisy and mournful, but
interminable leave taking. Their view of the hazards of a journey by
rail may not be so far out of the way for on the steep grades of these
Andean roads a train has been known to break in half and go scuttling
back down hill until the hand-brakes take effect; also, and later, on
the ancient engine I observed with interest the native engineer screw
down his throttle and then, in starting, bang it open with a monkey
wrench.

Presently, as the hour of departure drew near, the conductor appeared
and began sorting out the passengers. _Rebozo_-muffled ladies and
Peruvian gentlemen who failed to show tickets and who had been
picnicking in the seats burst into one final explosion of embracings and
goodbyes before descending to the tracks where they took up a position
alongside the car windows. The second-class were not admitted to their
hard benches except on proof of actually possessing a ticket, but the
stubby trainmen had their hands full in keeping the car door clear for
they were continually choked with Cholo or Indian groups committing last
messages to memory. Their windows were jammed with heads and clawing
arms exchanging or accepting dripping foods wrapped in _platano_ leaves,
bottles of _checha_, or earthen pots containing Heaven knows what.

At last the whistle screamed from the engine, a bell tinkled, and the
train moved out in state to the demonstrations of the populace. The car
was but moderately filled; a couple of _padres_ from Ecuador—one a
political refugee—a tonsured monk, a couple of black-robed nuns, and
three engineers, together with an assortment of Peruvians—the women in
the shrouding, tightly drawn _rebozo_ of funeral black against which the
heavy face-powdering showed in ghastly contrast—and a couple of small
children who turned up at intervals from under the seats, grimed with
train cinders and ecstatically sticky with _chancaca_, a raw sugar sort
of candy. And in every vacant seat was baggage, native, hairy rawhide
boxes shapeless from the many pack-mule lashings, paper bags, and
pasteboard hat boxes and bandanna bundles and somewhere in the
collection each Peruvian seemed to be able to draw on an inexhaustible
supply of the Arequipa brewed, bilious, green beer.



                               CHAPTER VI
                        THROUGH THE INCA COUNTRY


Slowly at first we rose, skirting the great foothills or gently
ascending valleys and always crossing some dismantled relic of the dead
Inca empire. Then we plunged boldly into the mountain chain teetering
over spidery bridges across gorges whose bottom was a ribbon of foam or
where the rails followed a winding shelf cut in the face of the
mountain, where an empty beer bottle flung from the car window broke on
the tracks below over which the train had been crawling a quarter of an
hour before. With the increasing altitude—the summit of the pass was
still ahead and something over fifteen thousand feet above sea level—the
soroche, mountain sickness, began to be manifest in the car in deathly,
nauseating dizziness until it closely resembled the woebegone cabin of a
sightseeing steamer at a yacht race. The engineers had been discussing
the traces of the old Inca works with special reference to their
irrigation systems, of which there was generally a ruin visible out of
one window or the other. Special emphasis had been laid on the total
lack of survival of any instruments or methods by which this hydraulic
engineering had been calculated or performed. There is a trace of one
irrigation ditch something like one hundred and twenty-five miles in
length—a set of levels for such a project even to-day would be a matter
for nice calculation. The Incas simply went ahead and did it, some way.
Their engineering had been turned over and over and compared with the
great engineering works of antiquity.

“Cut and try,” said one engineer in conclusion; “that was the way these
old Inca people made their irrigation systems. Put a gang of Indians to
digging a ditch from where the water supply was to come; then let in the
water as they dug—in a little ditch—and dig deeper or dike it up to the
water level as it showed in the trench. When they had that little ditch
finished there was their level; all they had to do was to dig it as big
and deep and wide as they wanted.”

It looked reasonable; there was no dissent. We swung around a curve and
a vista opened out of a ragged valley, broken by gorges and cañons with
sheer walls of soft rock.

One of the other engineers chuckled. “Look at that!” He pointed up the
valley and his finger followed one of the cañons. “How did they cut and
try on that proposition?”

There, for as far as the eye could follow the turnings of the cañon way
was the line of a ditch, an aqueduct, that hung some twenty to fifty
feet below the edge of the cliff. It had been cut into the wall of rock,
leaving a lip along the outer edge to hold in the current. Here and
there, where the ragged trace of the cañon made projecting, buttressing
angles, the aqueduct had been driven as a short-cut tunnel straight
through. Here and there great sections of the cañon walls had fallen,
while occasionally it appeared as though the outer lip had been
destroyed by man-made efforts—one of the old Spanish methods of hurrying
up a little ready tribute—but never had there been a possibility of
using any “cut and try” method of its construction.

“Well,” remarked the first, “there goes _that_ theory—and it isn’t
original with me either—for I reckon they had to run that level first
and chalk it up on the rock to cut by in some kind of a way.”

It is a trifle staggering, when you think of it, that a nation that was
able to solve engineering difficulties like these, to turn an arid
desert into a teeming farm and to organize and administer a vast empire,
should have been wantonly destroyed all for the lack of a little
knowledge of the combination of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal. And
the wretched waste! Think of that church-benisoned riffraff of the
medieval slums, recognizing only the greed for raw gold, wasting a whole
people in torture to satisfy the rapacious gluttony of a Spanish court.

Sometimes the train crawled along no faster than a bare walk, so steep
were the grades and sharp the turns. There was nothing of the scenic
splendor such as one may get in the railroads among the Alps of
Switzerland and where, as one climbs, one may look down and back into
the green landscape of a panorama. The scale was too great, the sense of
proportion and distance was subdued; a stretch great enough for a Swiss
panorama was one vast gorge twisting its way among the vaster masses of
the Andes. The crest of the pass itself was higher than Mount Rainier.

Sometimes the train passed over high plateaus where occasionally in the
distance could be seen the low house of some hacienda or the grouped
huts of Indians while beyond in the great distance the plain was rimmed
with a jagged line of snow-capped peaks. The winds swept across the
level stretches, raising an assortment of sand-spouts and dusty
cyclones. They were of all sizes, from tiny _remolinos_ that died in a
few puffs to towering whirlwinds that spiraled fifteen hundred feet in
the air with a base of fifty feet that juggled boulders in its vortex
like so many cork chips. They would move leisurely for a short space and
then dart like a flash in an erratic path. Sometimes fifteen or twenty
of these would be in sight at the same time. Herds of llamas grazed over
the plain, sometimes a flock of sheep or an occasional horse, each with
a wary eye on the whirlwinds; if one approached too near they galloped
off. Not infrequently a herd of guanacos would gallop off at the
approach of the train or could be seen grazing in the distance.

From beyond the high plain the grades lessened and the train rolled
along at a fine speed—for South America. At rare intervals there was a
station and a short stop, usually the lonely outpost of some mining
company. Then the grades began to slope our way and in place of the dry
bunch grass there were rolling hills and gentle valleys of soft green
grass. Little lakes nestled in the hills, their cold waters black with
wildfowl that scarcely fluttered up as the train shot by. We were making
the slight drop down to that vast inter-Andean plateau that stretches
from Bolivia on up into Ecuador.

A cold winter sunset sank beyond the cold purple of the western peaks; a
couple of feeble, smoking and smelling oil lamps irritated the darkness
and added their fragrance to the close atmosphere—for in the bitter
winds and biting cold of the high altitude the windows had long since
been closed.

Juliaca was reached, a junction by which one may connect for Cuzco, the
old Inca capital. It showed in the blackness as a few dingy lights. Here
the car emptied itself of all but half a dozen bound for Bolivia across
the lake. Once again we wheezed under way and presently with a grand
celebration from the engine’s whistle the train pulled slowly into the
train yards of the terminal at Puno and as we climbed out there came the
light, musical splash of freshwater surf and the unmistakable smell of
water. Dimly under the starlight there loomed the form of a boat and the
dim reflecting surface of the water was picked out by the dark patches
of the native Indian craft. It was the great Lake Titicaca.

Down at the end of the stone dock lay the _Yavari_ a slim, patched boat,
twice lengthened, whose hull and engines had been packed piecemeal on
the backs of burros, llamas, and mules over the Andes to the Titicaca
shores over fifty years ago. It had taken a year to do it. It was the
first steamer on the lake and wonderful was the amazement of the native
population as they beheld this veritable monster of the seas—some sixty
feet in length—shoot mysteriously through the water at the prodigious
speed of some seven miles an hour.

Forward, on either side, was an array of tiny staterooms, each about the
size of a wardrobe into which penetrated a most grateful warmth from the
boilers. A scrap of tallow candle threw the suspicious looking bunks
into shadow and it was not long before I was in one under my own
blankets. From the little cabin aft came the clatter of the native
travelers over a late lunch served by a bare-legged Quechua sailor; it
was in the main some kind of a hash preparation loaded with _aji_, a
venomous pepper that will penetrate the stoutest stomach. I had tried it
and having been both warned and punished in the same mouthful, I was
glad to seek the wardrobe bunk to weep it out of my system in cramped
solitude.

In the first streaks of dawn the _Yavari_ backed out from the long dock
and swung out upon the crystal-clear, blue waters of Lake Titicaca. On
the other side of the dock at a disabled angle and under repairs lay the
more pretentious steamer _Coya_—literally the _Inca Queen_—with
diminutive bridge and chart-house and all the trappings of a deep sea
liner shrunk and crowded into small compass. Varieties of water fowl
dotted the water’s edge in large flocks busily at breakfast and almost
indifferent to the occasional straw or rather reed canoe of the Indians.

All day the _Yavari_ skirted a coast that rolled back in long hills or
at times came down to the lake in a steep bluff. Very slowly the lake is
receding. Old Inca towns once evidently on the shore line are back from
the water; since Pizarro’s time the distance is a matter of miles. In
the little party on the boat the old tales of the Inca gold and
Atahualpa’s tribute became naturally a leading topic. The country from
the highlands of Colombia down to Chile are filled with legends of
secreted treasure and lost mines or caches, for Pizarro did not wait for
Atahualpa to pay his ransom—he burned him at the stake when he realized
that the Inca emperor could actually get together a council chamber
packed to the ceiling with raw gold.

There were scores of llama trains coming down the Andes from the
uttermost parts of the empire, a veritable flood of gold was on its way
to secure the release of the sacred Inca chief. It never arrived and
somewhere up and down some three thousand miles of Andes there are
legends galore of Inca tribute treasure concealed by the Indians on the
burning of their king. There are legends of monkish parchment maps left
by early missionaries that locate rediscoveries with apparent exactness
up to certain points, of mines relocated by accident; in one case, a
drunken Scotch donkey-engine driver took up and finally married a
wretched Aymará mine-woman, a half-human creature; she finally revealed
to him the location of one of the old concealed mines and the two worked
it together. As the story runs, they acquired fabulous wealth, he longed
for Scotland and went back taking her with him and importing for her use
the _chuno_ and _chalona_ that was her only food. He played fair.
Finally he died there and his widow managed to get back to her own
mountains where she was finally poisoned for her money or her secret.

Legend also has it that around the city of Cuzco—the seat of the
Incas—there was a great golden chain and that this, upon the approach of
Pizarro, was dropped into Titicaca. It is always a steamer discussion as
to how soon the lake will have receded enough to make its discovery a
matter of possibility. At the possible place where it was dropped in the
engineer of the _Coya_ holds that the lake has receded some six miles
since the conquest.

There is also the legend of the immense treasure train coming down in
sections from what is now Colombia and Ecuador which was on the mountain
trails at the time of Atahualpa’s death; evidence is said to exist of
the despatch of this gold which would have more than completed the
ransom. It never arrived, it was never heard of again after the burning
at the stake, but it is a common belief to-day that there are many
Indians to whom these matters are tribal secrets. There are common tales
of odd Indians, neither Quechua nor Aymará, those being the two great
Indian divisions, suddenly appearing from time to time and taking part
in some Indian fiesta of peculiar importance, although evidently all the
fiestas now have been given an ecclesiastical significance—and then as
completely disappearing. There are rumors of tribes and even cities
buried in the eastern slopes of the Andes from which these irregular
excursions come.

Skirting the shore until the late afternoon, the _Yavari_ struck out
into the ocean horizon that stretched away in the blue distance, until
we raised the Island of the Sun and the Island of the Moon. The former
is reputed to have been the summer residence of the Incas and there
still remain the ruins of palaces together with a great basin or
reservoir hewn from the solid rock and traditionally known as the Inca’s
bath tub. To the other island is ascribed the home of the wives and
concubines of the Incas, or perhaps a training school where they were
domiciled until, like an army reserve, they were called to the colors.

From each of them the _Yavari_ took on a little freight, a few sacks of
_cebada_, barley, and chuño, the little, dried up, original, native
American potato, not much larger than a nutmeg. The cargo was on board a
heavy, sluggish reed boat, a big affair in which burros and even
bullocks are carried to or from these lake islands—of which there are
many scattered here and there—and the mainland.

All the western slopes of the Andes are treeless, the high plains are
treeless, and the few poles that are used in the thatched roofs of the
Indian huts are dragged out from the _montaña_, as the interior over the
final Andean passes is called. These skinny little poles are regular
articles of trade. Therefore, the Lake Titicaca Indian has evolved his
reed canoe and boat.

The reed, which grows along the shores of the lake, is bound in round
bundles tapering at both ends; these bundles in turn are lashed together
to form the canoes, from the little bundles to the larger boats that can
carry freight. Sometimes a mat sail, also from these same reeds, is
hoisted on a couple of poles lashed together at the apex and at the base
braced against the inside of the clumsy craft. The steering is done with
an oar made from a pole and a board, while similar oars are used by the
crew who drive a wooden pin for an oarlock at any convenient spot along
the reed-bundle gunwale. In this kind of an outfit they put out on the
lake fishing for the little fish that alone seem to have survived in the
cold waters, or shuffling across the waves from the coast to one little
sugar-loaf island after another in their native trade. In Pizarro’s day
it was probably the same—costume, craft, and barter.

   [Illustration: In Pizarro’s Day It Was Probably the Same—Costume,
                           Craft, and Barter]

One more night in the cramped wardrobe of the _Yavari_—during which my
solution of alcohol and salicylic acid procured in flea-bitten
Lima—against other similar emergencies—did valiant service, and in the
morning we awoke to the clatter of the Indian mate and his Quechua crew
as they made the little steamer fast to the dock at Guaqui. From here a
railroad runs over a continuation of the level high plain and past the
ruins of Tiajuanaca to the edge of the plateau above La Paz. The valley
of La Paz is a vast crack torn in the level plain as by some primeval
cataclysmic blast; on the farther side there is the tremendous peak of
Illomani with a cape of perpetual snow far down its grim flanks; far off
in the ragged valley and some two thousand feet below the railroad
terminal is the capital of Bolivia, La Paz. Once no trolley wound its
way down the steep sides, and in those days there still gathered at the
station every Deadwood and express coach that had ever existed at the
north. A crew of runners would meet the train, pile all the freight and
passengers that were possible inside, lash the rest on the roof, and
then with their four or six horse teams—never an animal free from a
collar gall—on a dead run race for a place at the edge of the mesa in
order to be the first on the winding trail that led downward to the
city. Whips cracking, horses on the jump, coaches swinging and banging,
here a hairy rawhide trunk goes off, and there an Indian hotel mozo is
snapped straight out in the rush as he tries to crawl up on the baggage
rack behind; and then the dropping trail in a whirl of dust over a road
scarcely better than a dry creek bottom until, at last, over the rough
cobbles of La Paz itself, to pull up at the door of the hotel with the
rough horses in a lather and with white eyes and heaving sides. That was
the way it was once. Now it is different; you can ride down sedately in
a trolley car and walk into the hotel with never a hair turned.



                              CHAPTER VII
                      OUT OF LA PAZ BY PACK TRAIN


Here in La Paz were completed the final arrangements for reaching the
interior; this was the last of the easy traveling, from now on it would
be by pack train and saddle, raft and canoe, and to gather them we
advanced from one interior town to another as best we might. It was the
third and last of the Andean series that was to be crossed, and it was
also the highest and hardest. Daily we haggled with arrieros over pack
mules or rode to their corrals in the precipitous suburbs of the city
and between times there were the odds and ends of a big outfit to be
filled in and the commissary to be stocked. It was the last place where
the little things of civilization could be procured, for there was but
one more real settlement, Sorata over the first pass, that could be
counted upon for anything that had been overlooked. And then one day it
appeared as though we were complete.

         [Illustration: HAGGLED WITH ARRIEROS OVER PACK MULES.]

The arriero came around and weighed the cargo and divided it in rawhide
nets, equally balanced, according to each individual mule’s capacity and
then even before daybreak on the following morning we were off.

It seemed like midnight. The dead, still blackness of the night, with
the lighter crevice of gloom that marked the dividing-line between the
curtains at the window gave no indication of dawn, and only the echo of
the little tin alarm-clock, with its hands irritatingly pointing to the
hour of necessity, indicated that at last the time was at hand for the
actual entry into the vague interior of South America. A thin tallow
candle glimmered in the high-ceilinged room and illumed flickering
patches between the areas of cold, uncertain darkness, and by its light
I scrambled into breeches, puttees, and spurs, and buckled my gun under
my heavy, wool-lined jacket. Down in the patio I could hear an Aymará
scuffling about in his rawhide sandals, and as I stepped out on the
balcony above the patio, a thin drift of acrid smoke floated up from
where he was cooking our tin of coffee over a clay fire-pot with llama
dung for fuel.

Below my window, up from the narrow street there came the shuffling
noises of the pack-train—the creak of rawhide cinches, the thud and
strain of the packs as they came in restless collision and now and again
the “Hola! hola!” or “Huish!” of an arriero or more often the long-drawn
hiss of a rawhide thong. Then the pack-train lengthened in file, and the
noise died away up the crooked, narrow street. The few final necessities
of the trail I jammed in my saddle-bag as the last mule was packed; then
had a cup of coffee, steaming hot, although only comfortably warm to the
taste from the low-boiling point of the high altitude, and we climbed
into the saddle and were off.

The city of La Paz was still in darkness, but above the rim of the great
crack in the depths of which it rests there was a suggestion of a silver
haze that dimmed the stars. The streets were deserted except for an
occasional scavenger pig grunting restlessly on its way. Sometimes a
little Bolivian policeman, in heavy coat and cape, and muffled to the
eyes in a woolen tippet, would peer sleepily from the shelter of a great
Spanish doorway, and then, observing our solemn respectability, sink
back into the comfortable shadow. By the time we had rejoined the main
body of the pack-train we were in the shabbier outskirts of La Paz,
where the Aymarás and the Cholos—the latter the half-breed relatives of
the former—live in their squalid mud-brick hovels.

        [Illustration: Prisoners Along the Trail up from La Paz]

The streets were wider now, in fact they were nothing but a series of
ragged gullies, along whose dry banks straggled the grimy dwellings.
Always, in some of them, there is a _fiesta_ of some kind, a birth, a
wedding, a death, a special church celebration, or perhaps some
pantheistic festival that still lingers in their dulled history and has
prudently merged itself with the piously ordained occasions. The orgy of
the night is past, yet from here and there come the feeble tootings of a
drunken flute, an instrument that every Aymará seems to be able to play
as a birthright, whose mournful and monotonous strains drift through the
thin air from some less stupefied celebrant.

The Aymará love of their primitive music is very strong; it is universal
among them and, while their primitive flute, pandean pipe and crude drum
interpret the joy ordinarily, yet they take cheerfully to any new form
of musical instrument, and in some miraculous way learn, in time, to
produce the same series of ragged, droning sounds. The accordion,
concertina and mouth organ are much beloved and once I even heard a
self-taught Aymará band of brass horns, cornet, tenor horn, bass, and a
slide and key trombone, playing the Aymará airs with their own home-made
orchestration. The government bandmaster had drilled a large military
band that used to give concerts twice a week in the plaza and there was
not an approach to a white man in the outfit, it was composed wholly of
Cholos and Aymarás from the little boy drummers to the great horns that
curled like a blanket-roll over the shoulder.

Rapidly the first silver of the morning deepened to richer tints and
glowed above the purple silhouette of the rim of the great gorge, while
Illimani, the perpetually snow-capped mountain that overshadowed La Paz,
burst into splendid prismatic bloom as the first direct rays of the sun
shimmered over its slopes and ice peaks; below, the gorge and the city
slowly lightened and glimmered in detail through the frosty, early
morning mists. The thin bitter air of the night was gone; it was cold
still, but the thin high air held in some indefinable way the promise of
a seductive warmth.

The long line of pack mules climbed steadily upward; the rambling,
hovel-lined streets were gone and only now and then we passed a little
mud hut with its one door as the sole aperture, the headquarters of the
tiny Aymará truck farm. The acrid smoke from their cooking-fire leaked
through the blackened roof and rose in little spirals straight up
through the still air, while the members of the household squatted in
the chill sun, muffled to the eyes in ponchos and with woolen cap and
superimposed hat drawn down to meet the mufflings, squatted in the
chilly sunlight. They muffle themselves in this way at the slightest
suggestion of chill in the air; but from the thighs down they are
indifferent to cold or storm. It makes no difference if they are in a
blizzard blowing over one of the high Andean passes, they will trudge
along with legs bare to above the knees, but with heads and throats
muffled deep in woolens. I have seen them make a camp in a driving
snow-storm and go peacefully to sleep with their heads carefully
enshrouded, and awake at daybreak none the worse for the experience,
though their bare legs were drifted over with snow and their sandals
stiffened with ice.

Along the road that climbed up the side of the great crack in the high
plateau that formed the valley of La Paz, little groups of Aymarás who
had camped there during the night were packing their trains of llamas
and burros for the last short distance in to the La Paz markets. Often,
without taking the trouble to cook, they would gnaw on a piece of raw
chalona—the split carcass of a sheep dried in the sun and cold of the
high plateaus—which has about as much flavor as an old buggy whip.
Sometimes they ate parched corn or _chuño_—the latter the native potato,
shrunken and small after the drying in the high air in the same
treatment as the chalona receives—and tasting very much like a cork
bottle stopper. But always they chewed _coca_, the leaf that furnishes
cocaine. Leaf by leaf they would stow it away, and add a little ashes
and oil scraped out of a pouch with a needle of bone. Among the older
Aymarás, the cheek frequently has developed a sagging pouch from the
years of distention with _coca_. Aside from that, it seems to have no
effect upon them.

The Aymará pack-trains of burros would pass us with indifference, half
hidden in great sheaves of _cebada_—barley—or with chickens slung in
ponchos on either side and with only their heads visible and swaying in
time to the gait of the burro. But the llamas would go mincing past,
crowding as far as possible against the other side of the road with an
obvious assumption of fright. Their slitted nostrils would twitch and
their slender ears wiggle in an agony of nervousness, while their eyes,
the most beautiful, pleading, liquid eyes in the animal world would be
humid with hysterical fear. Yet from their infancy they have seen men
and horses, pack-trains, and all the travel of the mountains and
plateaus. But the apparent gentleness of the llama is purely
superficial; for it can spit with unpleasant accuracy to repel a frontal
approach, while its rear and flanks are guarded by padded feet that are
vicious in their power and uncertainty. To the Aymará the llama is
transportation, food, wool, and fuel. An Aymará child can do anything
with a llama, and with nothing more than her shrill little voice; but in
the presence of a white man it is a creature of hysterical and timid
peevishness.

             [Illustration: AYMARÁ DRIVER OF PACK LLAMAS.]

            [Illustration: MEMBERS OF A GANG OF PRISONERS.]

As we filed by these pack-trains, the Aymará driver would remove his
native hat of coarse felt, leaving the head still covered by his gay,
woolen nightcap with its flapping ear-tabs, and murmur a respectful
“_Tata!_” to which we would politely return a “_Buenos dias, tata,_”
unless the driver happened to be a woman, in which case we would
substitute the corresponding “_Mama_” for the “_Tata_.” The women would
plod along barefooted while they spun yarn from a bundle of dirty, raw
wool held under one arm. As the yarn was spun, it was gathered on a
top-like distaff dangling at the end of the woolen thread. In some
miraculous way it was never permitted to lose its spinning twirl, and at
the right moment always absorbed the additional thread, so that it never
was permitted to drag along the trail. At her little home somewhere on
the inter-Andean plateau, she will afterwards dye the wool and knit one
of those night-caps or weave a poncho, according to some rough tribal
pattern, so tight that it will shed water as well as a London raincoat.
Her loom will be two logs laid on the ground, on which the warp is
stretched; the shuttle will be carved from the bone of a sheep, and the
threads will be beaten into place with the sharpened shin-bone of a
sheep. Weeks may be spent in the patient weaving. Whether she is on the
trail or is weaving, she has usually a pudgy, expressionless baby of a
tarnished copper color held in the fold of the poncho that is knotted
across her shoulders. Sometimes a prosperous Aymará gentleman, with his
pack animals, passed us and then he was apt to be accompanied by several
Aymará women and their assortment of tarnished copper babies, the women
being his wives, who assist in the heavier work of driving and packing
with complaisant domestic affection.

This road up from the great, raw gulch of La Paz was full of life;
pack-train after pack-train passed, loaded with the daily supplies for
that city. All of the trails of the high plateau above converge to feed
it and it broadens out into a real road, no longer a trail, under the
needs of the heavier traffic. A group of sandaled soldiers was
apparently detailed to act as road-masters; and they would stop the
Aymarás and enforce a bit of labor in aid of the gang of prisoners under
their guard. The instant dull and sullen submission of the Indians at
once indicated their position in the Bolivian scale.

            [Illustration: THE GUARD FOR THE ROAD MENDERS.]

Steadily during the early morning hours we climbed, until the rim of the
high plateau itself was only a short distance ahead. Worn through the
rim by generations of plodding hoofs was a crooked trail, so narrow that
the mules bumped and scrabbled along, and we emerged, as through a
trap-door, out on the endless distances of the vast inter-Andean
plateau. Below, losing itself in the distant haze, stretched the ragged
crack that made the valley of La Paz and miles away, quivering in the
slowly warming air, was the city itself, a tiny clutter of gaudy houses
and red-tiled roofs, with the brilliant green of the little park making
a sharp contrast in color. Elsewhere the slopes of the valley were as
destitute of verdure as when they were blown into existence by the
terrific forces of primeval nature. Yet in this desert barrenness there
was no lack of color; in the cool of the morning the shadows were soft
in every delicate variation of purple and amethyst; the bare soil and
the jagged slopes blended and shifted in ochers and vermilions, in
golden tints and copper hues and, scattered here and there, were little
patches of greens where some little, irrigated Aymará truck-farm was
breaking into the world against the moist chocolate-colored soil.
Beyond—and in their immensity there was no suggestion of their great
distance—rose the jagged fangs of the last and most interior range of
the Andes, with their black cliffs and scarred flanks disappearing under
the everlasting mantles of snow; over all, was the clear, shimmering
turquoise heaven of the high altitudes.

   [Illustration: WHILE RODRIGUEZ AND HIS CHOLO HELPERS TIGHTENED THE
                RAWHIDE CINCHES AND REPLACED THE PACKS.]

Down in that valley were the little cafés, the little shops with
imported trinkets, the plaza Sunday afternoons with the band and the
parading élite and all the little functions of civilization, yet this
city is fairly balanced on the edge of the frontier, while beyond were
the high passes and the vague interior of South America, the last of the
great primitive domains, where men still exist by means of bow and arrow
or stone club, and where the ethical right and the physical ability to
survive are yet indistinguishable.

From this edge of the plateau the narrow trails run in all directions
like the sticks of a fan. Trained from many previous trips, the
pack-animals halted or wandered aside, nibbling at the tufts of dry
bunch-grass, while Rodriguez and his two Cholo helpers tightened the
rawhide cinches and replaced the packs that had shifted in the long
climb and scramble through the narrow gully. Then, with the bell on the
leading pack-animal tinkling monotonously, began the steady plodding in
single file along one of the furrowed trails.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                    THE BACK TRAIL AMONG THE AYMARAS


At first the plateau was dotted with the lines of converging burro- and
llama-trains, but, as the morning passed, there was nothing but the
lonely distance of the plateau, with here and there a tiny speck of a
solitary pack-train. The air had warmed rapidly under the sun; the light
breeze had the touch of a northern spring, and I yielded to the
seductive suggestion and strapped my heavy woolen coat to the saddle.
Five minutes later I halted and gladly put it on once more, for the thin
air was treacherous in its allurements.

Somewhere about the middle of the day we halted for breakfast at Cocuta,
a native _tambo_ or wayside inn, though the pack-train pushed on slowly,
nibbling the bunch-grass as it went. The tambo was surrounded by a high,
thick mud-brick wall that inclosed something over an acre of ground, and
inside this fortress were the little mud buildings, granaries, and
corrals. An old Aymará woman cooked our breakfast over a llama-dung fire
in one corner of the room, and it was served on a rough table over by a
dried mud bench that was built against two of the walls. The filthy room
was lighted only by the small, low doors, the high, mud sills of which
still further shut out light and ventilation, and the fetid atmosphere
was rich in its ethnological and entomological suggestion. A chicken
soup, reeking with the mutton tallow of chalona and with the head and
feet of the fowl floating in the grease, made the first course; then
came _lomita_ (the tenderloin of a steak), and eggs fried in mutton
tallow. We produced some coffee from the saddle-bags and the old woman
fluttered about and brewed a pretty fair article. It was at this same
Cocuta, on another occasion, that, in riding to La Paz, I ran into a
band of drunken _ladrones_ and, as some of the band took the trail after
me, it gave a most unwelcome and interesting zest to the rest of that
night ride.

That night we slept in a second tambo, smaller, but also with a thick
mud wall inclosing the collection of mud huts. The mules were turned
loose on the plateau to graze till morning, their hobbled feet a
guarantee of their not straying. At sunset came the piercing cold, when
even the barricaded door of the mud room and the steaming human warmth
inside proved grateful. A wide platform of mud-bricks was the bed—it was
the sole furniture—and on it we piled the sheepskins from the
pack-saddles, and over an alcohol lamp we made a thin tea and warmed up
some tinned things. An old Aymará woman was apparently the sole
caretaker of this tambo, but she viewed us with unlovely eyes and would
furnish nothing. Sullen and surly that night, she was all ingratiating
smiles the next morning when she saw my camera. She scuttled inside her
hut and then reappeared in some hasty finery, in which she trotted
anxiously about with conciliatory grimaces and pleadings in guttural
Aymará that her picture be taken. How she knew what a camera was for
and, further, why she was not afraid of it were mysteries, for
invariably I found all other Aymarás hostile against the evil witchcraft
of the little black box. As it was yet only early dawn, there was not
sufficient light, but I satisfied her by clicking the shutter.

After the heated air in the dark hut, the first moment outside in the
pure, still cold was like breathing needles; the long stretch of plateau
was soft with white frost, every grimy straw in the thatched roofs
glistened like silver with its coating of ice, and the morning ablutions
were performed through a hole broken in the crust of ice in a near-by
brook. A cup of tea boiled over the alcohol lamp was the only breakfast,
and then we started. As we climbed into the saddles the old Aymará woman
hovered in the gateway clucking pleased Aymará benedictions for her
photograph.

For some reason of his own Rodriguez elected to leave the main trail
beyond this tambo and take one of the little-used back trails to Sorata.
It was very much shorter but, as we afterward learned, is little used on
account of the surly, hostile attitude of the Aymarás of that district
and, except for a large outfit, is not considered safe. Here the Aymarás
are more secluded and view intrusion with aggressive suspicion; three
months before they had attacked an outfit and killed the trader. Those
who passed no longer greeted us with the “Tata!” Instead, they would
turn sullenly out of the trail to avoid us as we passed, or stop and
view us with unmistakable hostility. When we halted for a hasty bite by
the side of a cold brook, Rodriguez held the whole pack-train and the
arrieros close by, and did not allow them to go ahead, as on the day
before.

Just before branching off into this unused trail we came upon a large
party of Aymarás carrying, in relays, a stretcher on their shoulders
that was inclosed with cloth, so that it resembled a sort of palanquin;
six of them were carrying it at a time in a ground-eating dog-trot and
about each half-mile they would be relieved by six others, the transfer
of the stretcher being effected without jolt or jar. It proved to be a
wealthy Bolivian _haciendado_ who was ill, and was being carried in this
simple ambulance to the doctors in La Paz by his own Indians. The trot
and the burden were nothing to them; I have seen an Aymará boy carry
forty pounds on his back and trot hour after hour without apparent
difficulty and come into camp at night but little behind the mounted man
he was accompanying. Yet at this altitude, unless one has become
gradually accustomed, even walking is a heavy effort.

       [Illustration: AYMARA HERDERS PLAYED THEIR WEIRD FLUTES.]

On the new trail the dead level of the plateau gave way to more rolling
country, the ragged, snow-capped line of mountains at the horizon came
closer; Huayna-Potosi loomed on our right, and, growing more impressive
every hour, was the great, white mass of Mount Sorata, dead ahead. Then
the rolling country closed in, and narrower valleys succeeded, with the
rugged foot-hills on each side. In this part was an enormous
breeding-ground for llamas; for miles the hills were dotted with them.
Baby llamas, very new, and still blinking at the strange world, huddled
timidly in behind a tuft of bunch-grass or behind some small boulder,
while the queer, goose-necked mother stood near with apparent
indifference; little llamas in all stages of adolescence and awkwardness
gamboled on the hillsides, and herds dotting the slopes looked for all
the world like big, stiff-necked, grotesque sheep. Among them were the
Aymará herders who, like traditional shepherds, played their weird and
mournful flutes or pipes. Over and over again came the same strain,
which carried for miles in the thin, still air.

One of its little phrases curiously reminded me of that chanted taunt of
my boyhood, “Over the fence is ou-oot!”

Rarely does the Aymará make his own flute or pipe, simple though it is;
their manufacture is a native industry by itself. Like a true musician,
the Aymará must have his instrument just so, and up in the higher
altitudes the flutes are made and brought down to be sold in the market
on the days of fiesta. His single weapon, a sling of the pattern made
famous by David and Goliath, is of twisted llama-wool, and will throw a
stone the size of a lemon. They develop a wonderful skill in its use.

On this lonely trail we came upon a castle, a veritable castle of the
story books! Alone, grim and battlemented, it stood boldly outlined
against the landscape. It was not large, but it was, or had been,
perfect in every medieval detail, and was constructed of mud bricks from
outer walls to keep. There was a moat, dry and unkept and now fallen
upon evil days; the high surrounding wall was loopholed, and the fringe
of battlements had been eaten away in places by the driving storms. The
keep was visible rising above the wall, while galleries and overhanging
balconies showed the purposes and possibilities of protection, even
should the outer wall be successfully stormed by some ancient foe; the
single, heavy outer gate in the wall was barred, and not a sign of life
or of a retainer was to be seen. For miles around the country was
deserted and bare, and in the desolate mountains remained this substance
of the past like a grim, dramatic ghost of ancient days. Back on this
unused trail it is but little known; Rodriguez knew of it, but that was
all, except that he had a very positive idea that its owner or occupant
did not care for visitors—but it was occupied.

Monotonously through the afternoon the pack-train wound through the
narrow valleys, and closer came the mountains and more chill the air
sweeping downward from their fields of snow. The melting snows flooded
the slopes and valleys in innumerable brooks; often the trail itself was
lost in wide expanses of icy water. The sun set, and with growing
darkness came the increased bitterness of the piercing cold. Along this
trail there was no shelter except here and there the little mud huts of
the Aymará.

The clouds rolling low overhead left the night pitch-black; a gale of
wind sprang up and hurled itself in our teeth, varying its monotony now
and again with a squall of snow that stung like a blizzard. Without a
stumble the sure-footed mules kept the trail in the darkness up and down
through abrupt gullies or fording some icy stream that left their
bellies a fringe of icicles, while, during some lull in the blast, the
tinkle of the bell on the leading pack-animal would drift back to us.

At last the old, deserted tambo for which we had been aiming was
reached. By the aid of a few matches—for the lantern was carefully
packed on some mule indistinguishable in the blackness—half a dozen
Aymarás were found sleeping in the litter on the floor of the mud room,
for here there was not even a mud bench. There was no barricade to close
the door, and a score of eddies whirled in from the broken thatch
overhead. The arrieros drove the Aymarás out—they were part of a
pack-train, and not natives of that district—and threw the sheepskin
pads over the muddy ground. The alcohol-lamp, screened from drafts by
saddles, sheepskins, and hats, finally furnished a lukewarm tin of soup,
some thin, warm tea, and some eggs, which though warm, could hardly be
considered cooked. The bitter wind swept through the openings, and no
candle could survive, so purely by a sense of touch the frozen spurs and
puttees were unbuckled for the instant sleep that came, clothes and all.

At the break of day we were again in the saddle. The trail the previous
day had been hard and rough, but following a general level; but from now
on it began steadily to rise. Early in the morning we had gained upon
Mount Sorata; in the deceptive distance it loomed apparently only a few
miles ahead, yet its nearest snow-field was thirty miles away. Lake
Titicaca is only a few miles distant, and one of its long arms reaches
back into the country in a vast, shallow lagoon covered with a water
growth through which swim myriads of fearless water-fowls. In some
ancient time a causeway was built over this long arm, solid and
substantial, and on each side, as we passed over, ducks and snipe and
waders eyed us impudently, the length of a fishing rod away, and one, a
snipe, flickered along almost under the heels of the pack-mules. Off in
the distance was the old Aymará city of Achicachi, still surrounded by
the remains of an old mud wall that dates from before Pizarro, where the
frosted thatch and tile roofs glittered in the sunlight against the
distant cold blue horizon of Lake Titicaca.

Beyond the causeway the trail rose steadily to the mountain pass. The
cold mists from Sorata swept down and the line of mules disappeared in
its chill fog. It thins, slender wraiths of eddying vapor drift past,
and we ride through the ruins of an ancient Aymará town where there was
nothing left but the rectangular lines of stone débris; the few streets
were still plainly marked, though the village has been dead these many
centuries. Its name is lost; it is not even a tradition. From under some
ruined rubbish an Aymará head was thrust out, framed in the acrid, thin
smoke from the wretched, make-shift hut; a few sheep were herded within
the ruined inclosures, and other small flocks were grazing near. The
head proved to belong to their shepherd, tending them until the time of
their transmutation into chalona.

  [Illustration: The Few Streets Were Still Plainly Marked, Though the
              Village Has Been Dead These Many Centuries]

Now and again an Aymará shrine loomed through the mist beside the trail,
in its niche an offering of wilted flowers and some cigarette pictures,
and above, in a crevice of the stones and dried mud, a crooked twig
cross. Sometimes we met an Aymará, with a bundle of reeds, sitting in
the shelter of a rough stone wind-break making and testing his reed
flutes. He whittled the reed and tested each finger-hole as he scraped
it larger. He looked up, and again we were saluted with the respectful
“Tata!” for in order to reach the last stage of the mountain pass we had
swung back on the main trail, where the Indians were more sociable. More
stone and mud shrines appeared, each with its offering of propitiation
to the gods of these higher places and each with its twig cross above.

Higher, rougher, and steeper grew the trail, often in a zigzag up some
precipitous gorge. A tiny, scattering Indian village came in sight,
Huaylata, perched on a high, rolling part of this Andean pass. Its mud
huts were smaller, grimier, and drearier, if possible, than those that
we had passed on the great plateau. A few Aymarás appeared and tried to
sell us _cebada_, or barley, for the mules; an old woman, squatting on
the ground, weaving a poncho on her log loom, stopped long enough to
look over our cavalcade curiously out of her bleared eyes red with
smoke. Through the little door of her hut the interior was visible,
stacked with chalona half prepared and waiting for the sun to shine
before it was moved out into the open ground for further drying.

Indifferently she watched me extract the camera from my saddle-bag, but
when the brass lens pointed in her direction, she clattered vigorously
in her dialect and scuttled into the house to hide. The other Aymarás
were instantly hostile, and I worked a scheme that had often succeeded.
I turned my back to them and reversed the camera, with the lens pointing
backward under my arm. This would almost invariably get the picture. If
it did not, I would stand behind the broad shoulders of one of the party
while I adjusted the camera, and then have him step suddenly to one side
as I pressed the button. Otherwise they would scatter like a flock of
Chinamen under similar conditions, and with angry mutterings.



                               CHAPTER IX
                       OVER THE FIRST GREAT PASS


The intermittent fog and mist turned to a cold rain that drove in
stinging gusts square in our faces. Slowly we climbed, and went a few
miles beyond the divide. A huge pile of loose stones marked the spot, a
tribute to the particular god of this high place that had slowly
accumulated with the offerings of Aymarás that had passed the spot. The
pile was larger than an Aymará hut, and on the summit was a little cross
of twigs from which a few strips of calico fluttered in the gale. At the
base were curious little altars made by two flat stones laid edge up,
and with a third long, flat stone across them. They symbolized a house
and were erected by some prospective Aymará bridegroom or house-builder
in propitiation for his enterprise. The cross that surmounted all of
these shrines and piles of stone has been readily adopted by the
pantheistic Aymará, who is only too fearful lest some unknown god may
have escaped his efforts at placation. Around the base of the cairn were
the withered and frost-bitten remains of floral offerings and also the
scraps of cigarette pictures, the latter, from their invariableness,
apparently one of the chief delights of the gods.

       [Illustration: BLIZZARDS BLOWING OVER THE ANDEAN PASSES.]

At rare intervals some eddying rift would be blown in the mists, and for
a brief moment Mount Sorata would stand clear and sharp against the blue
patch of sky, with its great white shoulder scarcely more than five
miles away across a precipitous gorge. High above our world it seemed to
rise, a titanic, bulking, cataclysmic mass, magnificent in its
immensity. Enormous cliffs of snow towered above the scarred, black
gorges of its flanks, glittering in the flash of momentary sunlight and
iridescent in the purple shadows. High against its face clouds were born
and were shredded in the blast of an unseen gale; now and again an
avalanche of snow broke from some slope and was whirled in a feathery
spray into the shadows of a gorge thousands of feet below. It could
blanket a dozen villages, yet it was diminished on the tremendous slopes
until it seemed no more than the tiny avalanche on a tin roof at home;
before it can fall to the depths of the gorge a gale has caught it and
it is blown in a stinging blizzard half way across the mountain’s face.
Vertically, nearly two miles above the trail across the divide, rose the
white fang of the summit, that has still defied all efforts at scaling;
there, according to the Aymará belief, is the chief treasure of the god
of the mountain, a great golden bull. The generous pantheism of the
Aymará has given a similar golden treasure to the summit of Illomani
back near La Paz, but in that case, in order that the balance of
conflicting religions might be kept, it is a huge cross of gold.

The difficulties and inaccessibility of these mountains conveys, to the
Aymará mind, the idea that they are inhabited by the most powerful and
exclusive of the gods. That hint of exclusiveness is enough for them and
only with the greatest difficulty have they been prevailed upon to
accompany the few climbing expeditions, while weird stories still
circulate among them as to the howling and malignant devils that ride
the storms in the great gorges high up. The Aymará is already supplied
with enough lesser deities that require continuous and troublesome
propitiation so that he does not care to go out of his way up into
Sorata and incur another, and possibly hostile and irritated theistic
burden.

After the cairn that marks the divide is passed, the trail leads
abruptly downward. At first it is a relief to lean back in the saddle
and feel the strain come on the crupper while the breast-strap flaps
loosely once more, but hour after hour of constant descent and the
constant straining back in the saddle become more irksome and monotonous
than was the leaning forward on the upward climb. The mists and cold
rains blow in lighter patches and with a softer touch; even occasionally
the deep valleys below can be seen marked out in irregular surfaces of
soft green where the Aymará farms are budding. The descent is rapid; the
pack-train coils about among the buttresses of the mountains along a
broad shelf that is often cut into the steep slopes, and always plunging
downward. We were almost below the line of clouds, and a few moments
later they were drifting past just overhead, and there, far below us,
stretched the deep, crooked valley of Sorata.

It was the very heart of the Andes. In the wedge-shaped channel of the
tortuous valley a slender thread of white torrent narrowed and
disappeared in the haze of depth and distance; the huge mountains swept
upward like the sides of a great bowl, while delicately floating strata
of fleecy clouds seemed to mark off and measure and then accent their
enormous altitudes. Beyond and above them rose other peaks and the
jagged fangs of interlocking mountain-ranges that formed this colossal
Andean maze; there was no sense of distance; even the feeling of space
seemed to be for the instant gone, and under the long, mellow rays of
the afternoon sun, with this vast, shattered universe spread before us,
it was as though we had been suddenly translated and left dizzy and
bewildered in an opalescent infinity.

The Aymará huts that clung to the steep slopes with their little patches
of corn were shrunk to miniature; the single bull plowing with a crooked
tree-trunk was a diminutive bug, prodded along the furrow by a
microscopic insect. All the air was filled with the low roar of
cascades; every slope and valley was scarred with the slender, white
threads of torrents from the melting snows above. Far ahead, where the
buttress of a mountain projected like a hilly peninsula into the Sorata
valley, a toy village of scarlet tile and thatched roofs was compactly
lodged on the flattened crest. It was the village of Sorata, clinging
like a lichen to a spur of the huge, overhanging mountain from which it
takes its name.

Late in the afternoon, although the gorge had long since been cool in
the shadows of the inclosing mountains, we crossed the old Spanish stone
bridge that still spans the torrent of melted snows, where an ancient
mill remains to testify to the enterprise of the early Spanish
adventurers. A short climb up the steep promontory to the village, and
we clattered over the paved streets and on into the patio of the sole
_posada_, the old bell-mule leader trotting in with the easy familiarity
of many previous trips.

The proprietress, a plump Cholo lady, made still plumper by the many
skirts of her class, all worn at once, so that she swayed and undulated
like an antebellum coquette, fluttered about in welcome. Her pink
stockinged legs—the skirts come just below the knees—and fancy slashed
satin shoes, with the highest of high French heels, teetered about the
patio and over the rough floors, giving orders to a drunken Aymará cook
and a small Aymará boy, who proved to be the chambermaid. Gracefully she
joined in a bottle of stinging Chilean wine and bawled further orders
for our comfort out into the shuffling kitchen. At supper we had
soup—chicken soup, with the head and feet floating with the chalona and
chuño. There followed a kind of melon, scooped out and loaded with
raisins and scraps of pork and whatever other scraps and vegetables were
at hand, blistered with _aji_, the fiercest and most venomous pepper
known to man.

A real lamp and some flowers graced the bare table and, after the filthy
mud huts and smoke-impregnated tambos, with their acrid smoke ingrained
in the walls and thatch, the tinned food warmed by the futile flame of
an alcohol lamp, this posada glowed with a gaiety and cheer that could
not be duplicated. Damask and cut glass could have added nothing to the
table; even the smelly lamp glowed with a seductive radiance in the
balmy atmosphere, and reminded us, by contrast, of the tallow candles on
the plateau above, where the icy wind blew them to a thin spark of
incandescence.

            [Illustration: SOLDERING THE FOOD IN TIN CANS.]

Here it was necessary to stop and rest the mules for the second and
hardest stage of the journey over this Andean pass. Besides, with the
more difficult trail ahead the loads of the mules must be lessened. More
mules were needed, and more supplies—the staples—corn, chalona, chuño,
and rice, and those to be soldered in tin cans where the storms of the
mountains and the rapids in the cañons of the interior could not spoil
them. Rodriguez pastured the outfit somewhere up the valley until it was
again ready; then one day the arrieros were busy weighing the packs,
balancing them and lashing them in the nets of rawhide for the easier
packing and adjustment.

Again it was in the pitch blackness that precedes the break of day that
we climbed into the saddles for the long pull over this highest and
hardest pass that leads into the great tropical basin, the heart of
South America. Salmon, a huge black who had drifted in from Jamaica and
who baked Sorata bread and attracted the Aymará custom in the plaza on
fiestas by whirling in a grotesque dance of his own devising, shuffled
down the steep street from his oven to see us off. The huge muscles of
his half-naked body rippled in massive shadows in the fading darkness;
heavy silver rings dangled from his ears against the black, bull neck
and matched the brass and silver with which his fingers were loaded.

He spoke no connected language, for his wandering had left him with a
scanty and combined vocabulary of English, Spanish, Caribbean French
patois, and a sprinkling of Aymará. He was nothing more than a pattering
savage, although never for an instant did he forsake the proud dignity
of his British citizenship. Once, as a gift, he prepared for us a salad;
but as there was no oil to be had in Sorata, with sublime unselfishness
he dedicated one of his own bottles of heavily scented hair-oil to the
salad dressing!

He stuffed a bottle of atrocious brandy into my saddle-bag, and added a
pious “Lord bless ye, sar!” for he was a Methodist, and on Sunday
afternoons, in support of his orthodoxy, appeared in the plaza loaded
down with massive silver ornament, a frock-coat, a battered silk hat
balanced on his shaven, bullet-head, a heavy, silver-studded stick, and
a black volume under his arm. As there was no chapel, this illusive
church stroll was purely a surviving symbolism.

The jam of pack animals in the narrow street straightened out under the
stimulus of the arrieros’ rawhide thongs and we clattered by the little
plaza and on up a narrow, rain-washed gully flanked with the thatched
mud huts of the Aymarás, on past the walled cemetery and into the steep
trail that led up the mountains. High above us the peaks were still
hidden in soft masses of clouds that were already golden under the first
rays of the morning sun. The trail wound in and out, following the trace
of the steep foothills that buttress Mount Sorata, but always rising,
sometimes abruptly, and then again in a series of steadily ascending
dips along a succession of narrow ledges.

     [Illustration: SCATTERED IN HYSTERICAL FLIGHT UP AND DOWN THE
                          PRECIPITOUS SLOPES.]

On one of these narrow ledges we came around a corner suddenly on a
large pack-train of llamas and on the instant they scattered in
hysterical fright up and down the precipitous slopes with the
sure-footedness of mountain-goats. An hour later we could still see
their Aymará drivers, far below us, crawling over the slopes with the
slings hurling pebbles at the stupid beasts in their efforts to collect
them on the trail.

         [Illustration: SKIRTED THE BASE OF AN UNBROKEN CLIFF.]

Rapidly the semi-tropical vegetation that flourished in the lower
altitude of the village of Sorata disappeared; more rugged and hardier
shrubs succeeded, and these, too, in their turn disappeared and nothing
was left but the storm scarred patches of high pasture. Above these the
wet, black rocks of the Andes thrust their jagged masses into the air in
sullen cliffs surmounted by snow-capped minarets and pinnacles. Only
once I saw a condor, for they are not common, sailing lazily a couple of
hundred feet below us. It was a distinct disappointment. The white puff
of downy feathers about the neck identified it, but amid these
impressive surroundings it seemed no more than a sparrow flitting about
in a down-town city street.

For miles we skirted the base of an unbroken cliff that rose three
hundred feet sheer from the trail, and then suddenly came upon a ragged
break in the wall that accommodatingly opened a passage where the trail
climbed to meet it. The narrow passageway was as dim as the dusk of
evening; it zigzagged through the cliff in a series of high steps cut or
worn in the rock; the high walls on each side and its tortuous turnings
shut out all light except such as fell from the illuminated strip of sky
above. Here and there tumbled walls of stones suggested the possibility
of ancient barricades, and no more weird a setting could be devised to
set a fanciful adventure afloat in fiction.

That night we made camp in the open in a little gorge, and sheltered
ourselves in the lee of an enormous boulder. The packs were piled in a
wall, and over this the tent was thrown and held down by heavy stones. A
blinding snow-squall roared through the narrow gorge as through a pipe;
later it changed to a stinging blizzard, where the tiny particles of ice
stung like a sand-blast. There was no fuel for a fire, and only by
carefully barricading the alcohol lamp could a little thin tea be
warmed. That, together with cold tinned things and a nip of Salmon’s
effective brandy made shift for dinner.

The tough little mules, hobbled and turned out to graze among the shale
and thin, snow-covered grass, made no effort to seek a lee shelter and
wandered about, indifferent to the gale. An Aymará family, driving a few
burros packed with rubber, spent the night in the lee of a small,
overhanging rock. There was a baby not two years old in the family, yet,
without a fire and with nothing but raw chalona, they made their
customary camp. Their heads were heavily muffled as usual, but the dawn
found their bare legs drifted over with five inches of snow, and
apparently comfortable and indifferent to the fact.



                               CHAPTER X
                        THE TOLL GATE AND MAPIRI


Packing the mules in the bitter winter dawn was slow work. The rawhide
lashings were frozen stiff; our saddles were covered with sleet, before
we could mount and swing into them; two arrieros were drunk together
with Agamemnon, but the latter alone was helpless and useless after the
tender care he had bestowed on a secreted bottle of alcohol. His usual
chocolate grin was lost in the agonies of “de mis’ry in de haid, sar,”
and, utterly dejected, he rode along with his wooly skull naked to the
sleet and with an ice-coated sock as a bandage to keep it within the
normal circumference.

                  [Illustration: ANDEAN MOUNTAINEER.]

Whatever course the trail turned, the blizzard seemed to shift to meet
us again square in the teeth. The shale and débris along the narrow
ledge of trail was treacherous with an icy glare. The saddle buckles
were knots of ice, and every now and then we beat our hats against the
mule to break the ice that encrusted them; on my poncho the sleet froze
in a thin sheet that would crackle with any movement and rattle off. The
particles of ice and snow did not fall as in a self-respecting gale, but
were whipped along in the blast in streaks that never seemed to drop. In
the high, thin air, the bitter cold of the storm seemed to bite like an
acid. Even though the mules were mountain-bred, the rare air of this
high pass affected them and as we climbed higher, they began to halt
every fifty yards for breath, with their icicled flanks heaving in
distress. In a moment they would start on again of their own accord, yet
sometimes in the fiercer blasts of the storm only the constant spur
would keep them in the trail and headed for the pass above.

At last there was the feel of a level stretch under hoof, and there
loomed the big mound of stones, with a twig cross on top and its strips
of calico whipped to shreds; the summit of the pass had been reached.
The small house-builders’ altars at the base were drifted over with
snow; a few twig crosses sticking out of the snow marked the Aymará
graves of some who had been of mark among their people, for it is a
great and desirable honor to be buried high up among the mountain gods.
The lesser Aymarás, dying on the trail, are left, or rolled over a
convenient steep slope. In the lee of the stone cairn a solitary Aymará
was resting; his coarse, woolen trousers rolled above his knees, his
feet bare. His eyes grinned at us from out the poncho mufflings, and I
recognized him as a little Indian who was picked out to carry for us a
long cross-cut saw that was too awkward to be lashed on a mule. He dug
the saw out of a drift to show us that it was still safe, and for less
than two dollars he delivered the saw after a six-days’ journey across
the pass and into Mapiri, his only equipment for the trip being a small
bag of parched corn, a chalona rib, and the invariable pouch of coca.

Late in the afternoon we rode into the Aymará village of Yngenio. There
had been but a slight drop since leaving the summit and the rocky pocket
in which the village exists was covered with a light snow. The Aymarás
here are miners and looked with unfavoring eyes on the outfits passing
through. There was an empty house of dry-laid stones with a tattered
roof of blackened thatch that was used as a public shelter by any
passing party, and a walled corral into which the mules were driven.

 [Illustration: There Loomed the Big Mound of Stones, with a Twig Cross
                                on Top]

In this village the huts were chiefly of stone chinked with mud and
grass; some even rose to the dignity of two stories with a rough ladder
leading above. Three mountain torrents joined in this gulch to form the
Yngenio River. The Aymarás bed these torrents with flat stones in the
dry season and after the next high water has passed, wash the fresh gold
brought down in their wooden pans. But all about were the ruins of
elaborate ancient gold workings that indicated that this was one of the
centers from which the Incas drew their enormous golden treasure. All
along the gulch as we rode in there were the broken openings of tunnels
and drifts high up on the mountain-sides. Some had been concealed by
walling up and this had been torn away by some later Spanish prospector
or had tumbled in during the course of time.

There were the remains of a great flume and of the stone-laid troughs
where the streams were diverted and laid their nuggets in the crude
riffles—even as they still do in other Aymará workings. Near the
junction of the three torrents there was an immense rectangular pile of
carefully laid stones, with carefully constructed ramps leading from one
level to the next. Throughout this district there were also many little,
low, round stone huts that reminded one forcibly of the Esquimaux
_igloo_; they were of great age, their arches had fallen in, and the
stones were black with the centuries of aging.

The present day Aymarás raise a little corn and potatoes for chuño, some
sheep for chalona, while a few muscular pigs make the razor-back seem
fat by comparison. The arrieros foraged among the huts for cebada for
the mules and a chicken or some eggs for us, but the Aymarás either had
none or else surlily refused to sell, but there was fuel and with that a
fine hot tinned dinner was prepared.

The following day the pack-mules filed from one hog-back mountain ridge
to another, crawling up the steep ascents or gingerly picking their way
downward over an intricate system of connecting mountain series. Hour
after hour the bitter winds blew without rest. At times we would be a
long column on some ridge that dropped away on either side in a steep
declivity; the great depths, whenever they became visible through a rift
in the clouds below, gave the valleys beneath the blue haze of distance,
while a glass revealed the heavy vegetation, the palms, and the mellow
glow of warm sunlight. Farther on the trail would cling, a mere ledge,
to the side of cliffs where the melted snow, dripping from the stirrup,
would fall a couple of hundred feet sheer.

On the narrow ledges of the trail there were the most abrupt turns and
sharp angles and often a rough series of steps up which the mules would
clamber in plunging jumps. There was no danger as long as one put faith
in the mule and did not attempt to over-balance him by leaning too far
to the cliff; those sure-footed animals have no desire to kill
themselves or slip carelessly and they may be implicitly depended upon.
In one particularly bad descent known as the “Tornillo” no one rode
down. It was a zigzag trail apparently cut in the face of an almost
perpendicular cliff, and the arrieros took the pack-train down in
sections, so that, in the event of one mule stumbling, it would not bump
half the others over the edge.

Just beyond the “Tornillo” we passed a llama train. One of the Aymarás
came toward us, one arm supporting the other at the wrist and his face
drawn with pain and fright, chiefly fright, out of all proportion to the
simple sprain. He stopped uncertainly, a short distance off, and
repeated, “Tata! Tata!” over and over, plaintively pointing to his
injured wrist. It was a simple matter to bind it up and throw in a few
impressive and magic gestures, and with a distinctly beneficial effect,
for he began to grin cheerfully. The pain was nothing; it was the fact
that he had fallen that had worried him. The Aymará, as sure-footed as a
goat or one of his own llamas, a mountaineer by birth, is worried when
he stumbles and falls; it is one of the very local gods clutching at
him, and every one knows the powerlessness of a mere mortal when a god
gets after him.

Months later, in a little interior village in the _montaña_, I met this
same Aymará. He came forward grinning and beaming and then, about ten
feet off, shuffled from one foot to the other in respectful and
embarrassed gratitude. Evidently the magic gestures had done their work
well and had so far frustrated the peevish god who had been after him.
In bandaging him my hand had slipped over the muscles of the arm and,
although they lay without tension, they were like bundles of steel
cables; in that stubby, squat figure lay the strength of a gorilla. In
La Paz I had seen the Aymará _cargadores_ walk off with three hundred
pounds of flour—sometimes more,—and carry it with ease half a mile in
that rarified atmosphere. Another time, at Guaqui, a _cargadore_ picked
up with his shoulder rope a piano in its case, and carried it across the
tracks of the railroad yard.

That night we camped in a tiny stone hut built by the government on a
high, mountain promontory where the clearest weather known is a dull,
depressing, drizzling rain. An outfit of Aymarás were already crowded in
and Rodriguez hustled them out again, in fact, they were already packing
up their scanty outfit preparing to move when they saw the mules coming.
Outside in the mud, there were the remnants of a human skeleton, picked
clean by the eagles and tramped carelessly in the mud. The skull hung
from a stick jammed into the wall of the hut.

“Aymará!” remarked Rodriguez contemptuously, as he pried it out and
tossed it over into the cañon below. That was his delicate tribute to
the sensitiveness of the gringoes who, he thinks may not fancy a skull
as a wall ornament.

With this camp, the last of the high pass was over and in the gray dawn
we began the long descent out of the clouds, the sleet, the snow, and
the bitter rains. The bare cliffs and slopes gave way, and stunted
shrubs appeared now and then even a gaunt tree reared itself, and,
perched on a dead branch, an occasional buzzard or eagle looked with a
speculative eye at the mules and the steep descents. We dropped through
long distances of sunlight that glowed with a grateful and novel warmth,
and once in a while a brilliant little bird flashed past, while gorgeous
butterflies began to flutter about the mud-holes. The eastern side of
the Andes drop in a succession of forest-clad cliffs; looking up and
back, it seemed at times hardly possible that a trail could cling to the
steep face. Many of the hardest have names—Amargarani, the “hill of
bitterness”—Cayatana-y-huata, the “place where Cayatana fell” are
directly suggestive.

There is no more telling strain than leaning back hour upon hour as the
mule picks his way downward, but it is forgotten in the relief of
basking in the mellow rays of the long afternoon sun, and it was
grateful that night to be able to undress in place of turning in “all
standing,” except for spurs, and in place of the howling gale and the
snow that sifted through the crevices, to hear the soft rustling of the
night-blown palms. An open-work hut of split palm and cane was kept here
by a Bolivian who was under some kind of vague government subsidy, and
under his palm roof we slung our hammocks.

His Aymará wife was stolidly indifferent to our presence, but a little
daughter—a mere baby she would be considered back in the States—had an
unbounded curiosity in the white men—white men especially who wore
queer, transparent stones set in glittering frames before their natural
eyes. A watch was even more mysterious, “Ah,” she announced, “there is a
bug inside!” Following the matter up, she decided that the watch was a
bug itself and marveled greatly that a full-grown man should bother to
carry a bug about on the end of a little string, unless—aha! it was a
magic, and she dropped the watch, nor would she touch it again. Thereat
she showed me a scapular and offered to take me up the trail a bit where
there were some graves and I could see some ghosts, and perhaps talk
with them, as she did. Not among any of the Aymarás was I ever able to
notice any particular interest or fear in regard to their dead. Their
trails are scattered with graves and mountain tragedies, they believe in
spirits, but the almost universal fear of ghosts, dead spirits, or
cemeteries after dark is apparently lacking. In fact, in Sorata, it was
no common thing to hear them drinking and celebrating under the cemetery
walls far into the late hours.

Pleasantly from here the rest of the trail ran on down into Mapiri. The
giant foothills of the Andes surrounded us, but they were covered with
forest and jungle, and for miles we would ride in the cool shade where
the trees were matted overhead by the interlocking jungle-vines. Little
trails opened off now and again from the main road, and often would be
seen the cane hut of some pioneer. Down the valleys were patches of
sugar-cane, with the smoke of a _falca_, alcohol-still, rising close by,
and as we rode closer, the smell of burned sugar where _chancaca_,
something like maple-sugar in appearance, was being poured into molds
gouged out of a dry log.

Occasionally, in the forest, a thin column of blue smoke showed where
some rubber-picker was smoking his morning’s collection of rubber milk.
On all this the sun beat with its full, tropical strength, and the raw
fogs and blizzards of the high pass seemed to be months behind us.
Coffee, tea, and tinned things, but now comfortably warmed or gratefully
cool, were served alongside the trail at the brief noon-day halt and
what was left of a bunch of bananas cut from the patch in the camp of
the previous night added the final touch. In the cool of the early
evening we rode into the village of Mapiri, and the saddles were taken
off and oiled and packed for the last time. From here on the journey
would be by raft and _batalon_ on the rivers. The mountain trail was
ended.

The village has a long, grass-grown plaza on two sides; toward the muddy
Mapiri River the plaza is open, and the entering end is blocked by a mud
church with a mud-walled yard, loopholed and battlemented. Once a year a
priest makes the trip to Mapiri and down the river, performing his
offices as they are needed. He blesses the graves of the dead, christens
the living, and performs canonical marriages for those who desire, and
can afford, the luxury.

A squat Cholo welcomed us; he was the head man of the settlement and
gave us one of his houses for our headquarters. While he talked with us,
a monkey climbed up his leg and coiled its tail affectionately about his
neck. A pink-faced little marmoset, with a black-tipped tail, overcame
his first nervousness and chattered at us from the refuge of the eaves,
while a thin, waving spider-monkey cooed with weird, sprawling gestures
at the end of his tether, and from the high, peaked roof a dozen parrots
shrieked their evening songs to the sunset. The Cholo’s wife, a thin,
shrewish Aymará, viewed us with disfavor; for days she refused to sell
us eggs while we were waiting for the rafts to arrive, and then she
threw away five dozen that had spoiled on her hands. When her Cholo
husband saw this lost profit he said nothing, but that night sounds that
suggested a primitive family discipline arose in his household and
pierced the little village.



                               CHAPTER XI
                         WAITING FOR THE LECCOS


FOR a month we waited in this tiny straggling rectangle of thatched huts
before the _balsas_ or _callapos_ could get up to us to move our outfit
down the river. Somewhere below us on the turbulent river Lecco crews
were toiling up against the current, dragging and clawing their way
through narrow cañons, hanging fast in places to the bare rock, and
again helped by the long, tropical vines that drooped to the swift
water. Twice they had been beaten back by sudden rises in the river; the
third time they got through, although two balsas had been wrecked and
for the past two days they had lived mainly on the berries and leaves
along the jungle banks.

A splendid lot of half-civilized people, tremendous of muscle and
capable of prodigious feats of strength and endurance on their rivers;
ashore sober and diffident, afloat on their rafts, by right of an
immemorial custom they are always drunk and serenely confident in their
intuitive skill.

For twenty-four hours after they arrived on the hot stone beach below
the bluff on which Mapiri lived they drank and feasted and slept and
then their head man, a Bolivian refugee, announced that all was in
readiness. The gang of workmen we had chartered were collected and
counted and then assigned to the three callapos, a queer lot, but in the
main fairly promising for our purposes.

One was a negro who had been a rubber picker down the river before.
During his absence his wife had left him preferring a gentleman of
lighter color, but who had only one eye; some frontier mechanic had
hammered a patch out of a silver coin and then engraved with a nail the
ragged outlines of an eye, which the owner proudly wore as a most
elegant makeshift. Both of these gentlemen were in the outfit and
ordinarily both would boast in the utmost good nature of their
fascinations with the ladies—except when they were in process of getting
drunk. And on the Bolivian frontier getting drunk is recognized as a
perfectly legitimate pastime. There are no games, no concerted forms of
amusement, the montaña offers nothing except these little gatherings
with some childish hopping as a dance and then the tin cans of cañassa
and the ensuing drunkenness.

There was another man in the gang, a stocky, loose-jointed fellow,
Segorrondo, who was never sober, except during his working hours, but
during that time he was worth any two of the other men—and he never
failed to turn up sober for that allotted period. His capacity was
nothing; three times in one afternoon in Mapiri he was sober and drunk,
with the lines of demarcation startlingly distinct. He rarely joined in
the little hoppings to the reed whistle with his face daubed with clay
or charcoal and decorated with bits of twigs or leaves, yet he was
perfectly sociable and never dangerous. Later, in the established camp
down the river, there came a three day fiesta for which he prepared in
advance. There was a _falca_—a still for making the cañassa from a
half-wild sugar-cane—up the river, and he drove his bargain before the
fiesta began. He was, for the sum of one Boliviano—about half a dollar,
gold—to be allowed to drink all he chose during the three days, but was
to carry none away.

Long before dawn on the first day he was at the falca; for three days he
never moved from the litter of crushed sugar-cane, lying in a stupor
from which he only roused himself to reach out shakily for a tin cup of
warm alcohol as it dripped from the still-worm. We expected a wreck to
show up, but on the morning of the fourth day he returned, grinning
cheerfully, and worked as though nothing had occurred.

Also there was Nosario, a stocky boy of about twelve or fourteen, who
had been added as general utility around the cook or camp. He was
worthless and it later developed that his wife, a Cholo lady of some
thirty or forty years, had prodded him into the effort in order to add
to her matrimonial support.

Agamemnon viewed the whole collection with great scorn. “These yer
pipple ain’t noways fitten, ba’s,” he would remark. The other darky was
included in his disfavor.

Agamemnon always swelled with pride at the thought that he was a
Britisher by birth—born in Barbadoes—and he counted Americans as being
too subtly differentiated to be separated; humbly accepting his place as
assigned in their eyes, he looked down with scorn on these shambling,
good natured animals.

During the four weeks of delay in Mapiri we had seen much of a
neighboring rubber baron, old man Violand, whose barraca was a half
day’s ride over the steep trails. The old man was as typically Teutonic
as though he had but just pushed his mild, blue-eyed way into the
jungle. His headquarters—a square of palm-thatched and palm-walled
buildings—was self-sustaining from the coarse flour that a row of Indian
women were grinding between heavy stones in one corner of the patio to
his coffee and also a superior brand of cañassa distilled in a wooden
worm, cooled in a hollow palm log, which really had the flavor of a fine
liqueur. He had been the chief figure in a couple of rubber wars over
disputed territory with his nearest neighbor some thirty miles away and
he showed a spattering of bullet holes in every room of his house with
delighted pride. The dispute was a trifle complicated, but as the
result, his opponent was a fugitive from Bolivia while Violand himself
tiptoed into Sorata or occasionally La Paz with some caution.

Often during the month we rode down to see him—he would have had us stay
there for life. No sooner did our mules round the shoulder of the hill
than we could see some small Indian boy darting off with the news. The
familiar figure of the old man would bulk in the doorway to confirm the
news and then his voice would begin booming out orders; chickens
squawked, sheep blatted, and at once the place was a turmoil of pursuit.
From an outbuilding would come the blue smoke of fresh fires and the
shrill clacking of the well-grimed Aymará cook summoning her family
help. Always were we greeted thus and always there was a ready crowd of
Indians at our heels on the crest of the boom to take the mules when we
arrived and feed and water or put them up for the night.

The formalities over or properly supervised, Violand would seat himself
at a huge table with the top a single plank of solid mahogany three
inches thick and before the ingredients for a gin cocktail. At his elbow
a tiny little girl, one of the daughters of the Aymará cook, took her
position to trot out for anything lacking in the first array. A gin
cocktail is sugar, Angostura bitters, and gin—and I have seen it served
in full goblets. All the rest of the forenoon the host would busy
himself compounding this. It made not the slightest difference whether
anyone else in the party joined him or not, genially he would attend to
it himself in little sips whose cumulative effect was prodigious. As the
midday breakfast hour approached he would roar for pisco, a species of
Peruvian brandy, and then, as the little Aymará maiden announced the
final hour of nutrition, champagne.

And then the dinner, half a sheep, or a whole pig and once the head of a
young bullock to whose cooking the old man had given personal attention,
waddling back and forth from the mahogany table to the cook house
accompanied by the little Aymará girl fluttering in a state of ecstatic
excitement. For the rest there were the chickens and the native foods,
the chalona slowly simmered for a day to make it taste like food, with
the chuña floating in it like so many old medicine corks, the chickens,
the platanos, boiled green and pith-like or better in their black,
melting over-ripeness and to be eaten with a spoon, baked and delicious,
native bread from home made flour, and imported preserves for dessert.
Also there was champagne and whiskey and pisco and cañassa and gin
cocktails again until in final triumph a little beer—everything lukewarm
or tepid from the shallows of the tropical brook.

By and by the old man would venture on a German song or two and then
beckon to the little beady-eyed Aymará girl; off she would dart to
return with a couple of heavy footed Indian women. The host would
rise—with assistance—and trolling some uncertain song march off to his
bedroom to doze. And the rest of the time would be spent with his son
and manager, both fine, pink cheeked young Germans who looked after
affairs. It sounds like a wassail, though as a matter of fact, it was
old Violand who was the chief performer—he was an old man, civilization
was far away, eight days to La Paz over pass and plateaus and blizzard
and after that to Germany—six months for a letter and an answer!

Later he would reappear suddenly, generally clad in a shrimp pink bath
gown, a patent, German Emperor-moustache-shaper over his moustache, and
groping for his spectacles. When they were found he once more settled
himself for a pleasant time, generally having to go through a second
search for a key so that another bottle of bitters could be produced.

The morning after, he would appear, fresh and blue-eyed and solicitous.

“You hef a goot time—yes?” then he would chuckle until he shook in
ponderous ripples and go on in Spanish, “I do not remember much—after
dinner—yesterday—a good dinner—yes? A good dinner is much in this
country of the black gold—the rubber—yes—we drink a little for the
digestion, la, la—yes. Hoi, mozo—” the little Indian girl clattered
inside for the bottles—“just one little cocktail before the saddle—yes?”
His face would beam in its frame of thin whiskers with the proudly
upstanding German-emperor-moustaches the center of their radiations.

In the jungles across the river from Mapiri was another rubber barraca
in which a Bolivian owner held court. Every morning we could see a dozen
thin threads of blue smoke trickling above the forest where his pickers
were smoking their morning collection of rubber milk. Over there the
cañassa was always on draft for all at all times, while half the week
was a fiesta and Sunday a brawling bedlam.

Slowly the days dragged on with an occasional rumor of the progress of
the Leccos and the callapos. Once, as much to furnish a variation as
anything else, I routed out a couple of jars of mincemeat and ventured
on some pies. An oven was heated, a big clay dome, such as our
great-great-grandmothers used, from out of which the fire was drawn and
on a long handled paddle I shoved in a load of pies. Almost instantly
they browned and then passed to a crisp black before the paddle could
maneuver them out again. The native population, however, appreciated
them highly. It was small loss as the manufacture of pie crust is
somewhat of an undertaking—at least in that tropical temperature. The
lard, native or imported, is a beautiful amber liquid that is bought or
carried in bottles and pours with no more deliberation than so much
water.

A little later a general fiesta in Mapiri helped out the dull waiting a
little. We noticed an extra number of candles burning before the altar
in the little mud-walled church and for some days before there had been
the thrumming of hollow-tree drums from the little huts of the village.
The night before the great day, while it was scarcely dark, the big
drums began booming with a typical Indian rhythm; from the line of huts
came the droning wail of the guests that rose and fell in fitful bursts,
while now and again a straggling line of drunken Cholos, men and women,
in a weaving single file, trotted in a staggering hop around the grass
grown plaza. There was feasting and drinking and noise; from the barraca
across the river came a delegation to lend a joyous hand. Toward morning
it died down, slumbered uneasily during the forenoon, and then began
working to a frenzy of excitement as evening approached.

All the drums had been concentrated in the church, tallow dips lined the
walls, attached by their own tallow to the sun-baked clay, and cast
uncertain masses of shifting shadows that flickered in the hot and smoky
drafts; overhead a flood of bats chittered in amazement at the invasion
of their domain. On one side of the church were squatted all of the old
women in Mapiri with dull, cañassa bleared eyes and cheeks distended
with coca leaves hammering out a monotonous rhythm on the drums.

Before the altar and facing it side by side were two lines of the
smaller boys with the tallest at the front and then shading down to the
rear, each naked to the waist but for some cheap necklaces of gay beads.
Each had a forked twig like those we used for our juvenile sling-shots,
and strung on a wire or twisted bark thread that connected the forks
were a dozen little bits of flat tin hammered out of old sardine cans.
Like castanets they jiggled the forked stick in rhythm with the drums
and as they jiggled shuffling in a hopping, dancing lock-step in single
file up to the altar, and then back in the same way half the depth of
the beaten earth floor. As one file advanced the other jiggled back and
so on alternately. For hours they had kept it up and there was no sign
of either a stop or a rest.

The rest of the villagers flitted in or out as ordinary spectators,
still nibbling at portions of the feast or sharing a continuously filled
bottle of cañassa with the drumming old women. It was not until daybreak
that Mapiri dropped into an exhausted rest.

During this fiesta there had been no shooting of dynamite—that is
quarter pound sticks with a short fuse like a fire-cracker. This once
more popular amusement had been dampened by the last really important
fiesta they had celebrated. A Cholo gentleman had, it seemed, zigzagged
out into the grass grown plaza with his stick of dynamite, lighted it
from his cigarette, and then in a drunken effort to throw it away had
dropped it. He did not notice this trifling difference in his program
and swinging dizzily round with the effort of his throw fell sprawling
upon the cartridge. His demise is still spoken of with awe on that
river. Therefore it was that Mapiri celebrated a quiet fiesta.

And then the balsas arrived. Their Lecco crew gorged and slept and drank
for a day and then were as fresh as ever, busy in lashing each three
balsas together with cross logs to make callapos for the down-stream
voyage. Three of these callapos we had and, when loaded with their
freight, crews and workmen passengers, their logs were four inches under
water, the little platforms on which the baggage was piled and carefully
lashed, rising like a little island on stilts above the current.



                              CHAPTER XII
                         OFF ON THE LONG DRIFT


        [Illustration: SLOWLY THE RAFTS SANK UNDER THE WEIGHT.]

A long line of half-naked Leccos trotted across the grass-covered bluff
and disappeared over the edge and down the steep path to the river,
where our clumsy rafts swung and eddied in the boiling current. They
grunted and sweated and laughed as they threw the heavy packages of our
outfit on their shoulders, for they could swing a hundred and fifty or
two hundred pounds as carelessly as you could handle a valise. Steadily
the raised platforms on the rafts piled higher with the accumulating
baggage, while slowly the rafts sank under the weight, until the logs
were entirely covered by the muddy current. As the last package was put
aboard, the Leccos began lashing the cargo in place with our spare rope
and the long vines which they used for towing the rafts up-stream. They
used as much care in throwing and tightening the lashings as though
stowing the pack on a “bad” mule for a mountain-trail, rather than a
cargo raft that was only to drift with the current. It seemed absurd.

“Here, good,” grunted a Lecco, waving a hand toward the mill-race
current; “below, very bad, patrón, _muy peligroso_—yes.”

When later we struck the “bad places,” and waist-deep in the boiling,
angry waters of the cañons, clung to those same lashings, to keep
ourselves from being washed overboard, the need of lashing for the
baggage was plain.

       [Illustration: THE  SHREWISH LEATHER-SKINNED INDIAN WIFE.]

The _intendente_, the jefe _politico_, and the only postmaster for many
leagues of this virgin interior came down to tender us his farewell
embraces; for as a strict matter of fact those three functionaries
resided in the single person of that one short, stocky Cholo half-breed,
who had given all the hospitality in his power during the dreary weeks
of waiting in his little palm-thatched domain, but whose Aymará wife had
viewed us with such sullen hospitality. Officially he noted with
approval that we had already complied with the Bolivian regulations in
regard to navigation, and at the bow floated the green, yellow, and red
flag of Bolivia, and with much curiosity he viewed our American flag
fluttering at the stern. It was the first he had ever seen. It gained,
too, much approval from the Leccos, its decorative scheme of stars and
red and white bars drawing admiring comment, and we could have sold it
many times over as dress goods or as strictly high-class shirting. As a
special mark of favor the shrewish, leather-skinned Indian wife of the
Cholo jefe came down to see us off, and while we patted her lord on the
back in our mutually polite embracings, she fluttered in the background,
clacking unintelligible, but cordial, Aymará farewells.

When first we had dismounted in this tiny settlement of Mapiri this
Aymará woman had borne us a fierce dislike that was kept from literal
and open war only by the strong hand of her Cholo lord. A little later,
unfortunately, one of our men, in making his offering of candles in the
little mud-walled chapel, had ignited a saint. When I saw the saint
shortly after, his vestments were charred shreds, he was as bald as a
singed chicken, and his waxen features had coagulated into limp
benevolence, out of which his sole remaining glass eye stared mildly. He
had been placed on a little table up against a mud wall, and the Indian
women were weeping and wailing before him in abject apology. They were
hastily offering flowers, candles, and libations, but with this last
straw the Aymará lady’s dislike had become even a more fixed, fanatical
hatred.

Shrewish, unattractive, and savage though she was, she was devoted in
her love for her Cholo husband. Some time after the burying of the
saint, one night their son developed a difference with his father in
which each tried to kill the other. The father had just reached his gun
and would have been successful when, being thick-necked, violent, and
full-blooded, he toppled over in a stroke of apoplexy. There being no
doctor, not even an Aymará _yatari_ within three hundred miles, the old
lady turned to us in a panic, and, probably despite our amateur efforts,
the Cholo pulled through. In the meantime the poor old woman fluttered
about in an agony of helpless fear and love, eagerly hanging on the slow
words of translation that came to her, for she spoke nothing but Aymará,
and everything had to be translated first into Spanish and then into her
own tongue. That very night she burned a box of candles before the
charred saint, while in the morning we had for our breakfast a fine
chicken apiece. Her gratitude endured, and in the quivering furnace heat
she had come to see us depart, and as we waded aboard she followed us
and laid on the cargo a pair of live chickens as a final gift.

The Cholo handed us a small sack of mail, asking us to distribute it on
our way down the Rio Mapiri, these irregular trips being the sole means
of mail communication with the rubber _barracas_ of this far interior;
the Leccos cast off the vine ropes that moored us, and a few strokes of
their heavy paddles swung us out into the full, swift current of the
river. As we struck it there was no feeling of speed or even of motion,
but immediately the green walls on each side of the river began flitting
past in a shimmering ribbon of confused green jungle. In a moment, far
behind, came the crackling of rifle-shots. It was the Cholo and his
Winchester in salute; even while we were pulling our guns to reply he
and his wife had dwindled to tiny dots that the sound of our guns could
have reached only as a faint echo. Then a bend in the river hid them
from view, and my river voyage had begun.

The balsas were slender rafts of very buoyant logs spiked together with
heavy pins of black palm; they had a rough bow made by the crooked
center log, which turned up in a snout-like projection, giving the
affair a curiously animal-like and amphibious expression. For the return
voyage three of these balsas were lashed side by side with cross-logs
and strips of the inner bark of some tree. The _callapo_, as this
combination is called, is entirely submerged and except for the cargo
platform and the turned-up snouts, nothing is visible above the muddy
river.

As we disappeared around the bend in the swift current, the hills
against the background seemed to close in upon us, and as they narrowed,
the muddy river snapped and crackled in peevish, little waves. The banks
grew steeper, and the air damp and cool, and although directly overhead
there was the glaring blue sky of the forenoon, yet we moved swiftly
through an atmosphere of evening. Long, trailing creepers drooped from
the overhanging trees into the current near the banks and cut the water
like the spray from the bow of a trim launch; the soft murmur of rapidly
moving water rose, and was broken only now and then by the shrill cries
of parrots flying high overhead; sometimes a pair of macaws, with their
gaudy plumage flashing in the high sun flitted across the gorge. But
though the river doubled and twisted among the hills, there were yet,
according to Lecco standards, no “bad places,” and they passed the
bottle of _cañassa_ sociably around among themselves, inspecting their
passengers with interest and chuckling over their own comments. They had
never seen a man with eye-glasses before, and I was a matter of fine
interest and guesswork. What were those panes of glass for? Cautiously
they would make a little circle with their fingers and thumbs and peer
through it to see what effect of improvement might result. I received my
name, “the four-eyed patrón,” promptly.

 [Illustration: THERE WERE, ACCORDING TO THE LECCO STANDARDS, AS YET NO
                             “BAD PLACES.”]

The whole crew of Leccos was amiably drunk; it is the custom of the
river, and it seems in no way to impair their efficiency. It has become
their right by long custom, and one that it is not prudent to disregard;
for a trader, being of a thrifty turn and not caring to buy the cañassa,
decided to run the river on a strict prohibition platform. Every one of
his callapos was curiously enough wrecked in the same rapids on the day
after he announced his thrifty principles. The general allowances is
about two quarts a day for three men, and perhaps, if the day has been a
hard one, a small teacupful each in the camp. Money to them has no value
compared with cañassa. Once, when trying to buy a fine bead neckband
from a Lecco, I offered him money up to a dollar, Bolivian, the
equivalent of eight bottles of cañassa, and he refused, for his Lecco
sweetheart had made it; then I began to barter all over again by
offering him a bottle of cañassa, and at once he handed me the neck-band
without question.

While the current was swift, from eight to ten miles an hour, we had not
come to the bad rapids. Sometimes the river would open out into broad
shallows, where the callapo would bump and scrape along over the bottom,
and then would close up into another gorge that in its turn would merge
into tortuous cañons with bluff walls of rock. Drunk though the Leccos
were, yet their river skill did not seem to be affected. When we floated
along the quieter reaches, they would play like silly children.
Occasionally one would be tumbled into the river, and would swim
alongside in sheepish embarrassment until he decided to climb aboard,
amid the pleased cackles of the rest.

     [Illustration: LECCOS LOWERING THE CALLAPO THROUGH SHALLOWS.]

One, a young Lecco about seventeen or eighteen years old, who handled
one of the stern paddles, accidentally stepped off backward into the
river. The others shrieked with delight as the Lecco struck out for
shore. We saw him land, pull his machete out from under his shirt, and
start chopping down some saplings. Perhaps fifteen minutes later, in the
next milder stretch of river, down came the Lecco like a cowpuncher on a
pony, only his pony was a bundle of mere sticks lashed together with
vine, and in place of a rope he swung a bamboo pole, using it as a
paddle. He was standing up like a circus-rider on his frail raft,
shifting it with his pole over to where the current was swiftest, and he
coasted down the inclined glissade between rocks, avoiding every little
eddy and catching only the roughest and swiftest places, until presently
he had worked his way alongside and stepped aboard again. His little
bundle of sticks did not number ten, and not one was as thick as your
wrist, while merely two bits of vine at each end held them together.

              [Illustration: THE LECCO OF THE TWIG RAFT.]

I asked what would have happened had the vine lashings broke. When that
was translated to the Leccos, they roared with laughter. That, it was
explained to me, was what they were hoping for, so that then he would
have had to swim. Swim! A fine joke to swim rapids and whirlpools that
looked like sure death or worse mangling. But I found later that any one
of them could have done it on even worse passages. If they are sure to
be caught in a whirlpool, they will dive, and the fury of the rapid
itself troubles them not the least. A Lecco once, to avoid a whipping by
his rubber boss, threw himself into the river and swam six miles in the
worst section of the river without a thought. A German later attempted
to swim the mildest of these, and his broken body was picked up in an
eddy three miles below.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            THE LECCO TRIBE


       [Illustration: THESE LECCOS ARE AMONG THE FINEST INDIANS.]

These Leccos are among the finest Indians, or semi-civilized savages, I
have met. They are sturdy and muscular, with a distinctly Malaysian
suggestiveness, and very superior to any of the surrounding savage
tribes of the interior. Yet they have neither religion nor superstition;
they have no legend or tradition, and their only historical recollection
is from the time when quinine bark was the main river commerce instead
of rubber—the time of the “Great Quina” they call it,—about half a
century ago. They are brave and loyal, although not a fighting race, and
have made but a poor showing against the neighboring tribes. Their life
is on the river, chiefly this Rio Mapiri, and they stick close to its
banks. Their sole work is transportation with these balsas and callapos
up and down the river.

For months in the year the stream is virtually closed by reason of the
rains and the impassable cañons. Down stream is simple and finely
exciting, but against the currents up-stream, portaging or hauling the
balsas through the cañons, where there is often barely a hand-hold on
the naked walls of rock, and often vines must be lowered from above,
drenched during the day and sleeping on the sand _playas_ at night, is
the hardest kind of labor. As had happened while they were trying to
reach me on this trip, the food gives out—it is not a game country—and
unless they are near enough to the goal to live on nuts and berries, as
they did for two days on this occasion, they have to go back, replenish,
and start over again, with all the previous labor lost. And there is
scarcely a free Lecco among them; they are always in debt to the rubber
barracas, who by the sale and purchase of their debts pass them as
veritable chattels. With thriftless, unthinking good nature, they accept
this condition and at the end of each trip will squander their
credit-wages on worthless trifles. A Lecco friend of mine once
squandered the wages of a whole hard trip up-stream on a woman’s straw
hat and its mass of pink-ribbon bows that he wore for two days in great
pride on the drift down-stream until it was lost overboard in one of the
worst rapids. He watched it whirling off in the spray and foam with a
childish pleasure and no sense of loss, but rather with the calm
complacency of a man who had lost a trifle and could with easy labor
earn another.

The Indians whom I had met before were the Quechuas and the Aymarás, the
great tribes of the high plains; heavy-boned, stocky, and powerful
peoples, who, in feature and color strongly resemble our own Sioux and
Apache type. These Leccos, on the contrary, were slender, well-built
men, with a direct, soft quickness of movement that revealed the perfect
strength that lay behind it. In feature they were absolutely Malay—a
perfect reproduction of any of the Malay tribes that fringe the coast of
Asia.

Other rivers have the balsa and the callapo too, and the long rapids
through narrow gorges, but the Indians of those rivers lie down and
clutch for safety when they go through them. Your Lecco goes into the
boiling smother of a cataract with a grinning yell of pure joy, and
keeps his feet like a Glo’ster skipper in a high gale.

The balsa of the Leccos is a raft made of the light, corky wood from
which it takes its name. Eight-inch logs of this balsa wood are pinned
together with palm spikes from the hard, black palm that is also used as
arrow-points and for bows. When floating in the water it looks like some
unwieldy amphibian that has risen to the surface for a fresh supply of
air. It is generally about twenty-five feet long and about four feet
wide. The Leccos lash three balsas together, broadside on, by means of
stout cross-logs tied with strips of bark or vine, and this result is
called a callapo. It is a structure that is capable of carrying some
three tons of cargo—that is if handled by Leccos.

The first thing that impressed me about these Leccos was the
distinctness with which they represented another race. It was not the
mere divergence of tribe; it was more fundamental—it was a racial
difference. There was nothing in it to suggest even a remote relation to
any of the tribes with whom I had come in contact up to that time, or,
for that matter, with any of those that I subsequently met. To begin
with, the Leccos looked clean—a condition that one seldom finds in the
Quichua or Aymará nations; although cleanliness is almost an invariable
condition of all river peoples. Their complexion was of the soft, warm
brown of the Hindu or the Filipino, having no suggestion of the dull
chocolate of the negro or the weather-beaten copper of the Aymarás or of
our own Western Indians.

                [Illustration: NAPOLEON A LECCO CHIEF.]

Their features again are decidedly Malaysian—straight high nose with
thin nostrils; forehead fairly high and well shaped; finely cut thin
lips, and the narrow, though not slanting eyes of the East. The hair is
oily jet-black, thick, and grows to a point on the forehead, in the
style made known by Aguinaldo, and is kept neatly cut in a straight,
bristly pompadour. They do not care for the gaudy feather head-dresses
of their savage neighbors—not even ear-rings—and for head decorations
are content with the brilliant bandanna of the trader, twisted and tied
in a band about the head in very much the same manner as used by our own
Apaches of Arizona. A band necklace of bright beads, strung and designed
in simple patterns by their own women, on threads of wild cotton, is
their only ornament. These are almost invariably worn by the men only
and are tied tightly about the throat.

                     [Illustration: A LECCO TYPE.]

Another striking point about the Leccos, one in which they differ from
all of the “barbaros,” or the savages of the Amazon tributaries, is
their muscular development. The barbaro in this respect is very
deficient. He is strong almost beyond belief, but it is the strength of
sinew and not of muscle. It is like the strength of the monkey, that is
not made visible by the ordinary signs of muscular development. The
barbaro has no apparent deltoid, no biceps, no triceps, none of the
finely developed muscles of the leg and thigh that with us make for
strength. He is built like an undeveloped boy who has suddenly suffered
from too rapid growth. The Leccos, on the contrary, are beautifully
developed physically; knotted muscles shift and play evenly under the
soft skin and suggest a swift sureness of movement and a strength of
endurance that are demanded in their life on the river.

The likeness of these people to the Malays is still further accented by
their costume. They wear rather tight breeches of white _tucuyo_, a
coarse muslin, that taper to the ankle, and above it a short shirt of
gaudy red, yellow, or blue, or even sometimes white, though the red is
popularly regarded as the most aristocratic. The shirt is cut square
with the armholes in the two upper corners. The hole for the head is
emblazoned by a border of crude design cut from varied-colored calicos
and sewed on. In the course of many days’ association with them, I
discovered that the little _chipa_, or bag of native-woven wild cotton,
which every Lecco carries with him on any of his river expeditions, is
filled with clean clothing. The muddy water of the Rio Mapiri and the
Rio Kaka—which the Mapiri becomes farther down—soils everything it
touches, and so the Leccos, who are as much in the water as out of it,
regularly changed their garments daily, only making an exception when
some extra-hard passages would have made it a useless extravagance.

In my contact with the South American Indians, whether among the high
plains of the Andes or among the forests drained by the tributaries of
the Amazon, I received rather the impression of inert, passive races; of
peoples who were patiently hoping for the return of the legendary days
of their fathers, yet who, dimly, in some way felt that the hope was
vain. It might poetically be interpreted as a vague consciousness of
their doom of ultimate extinction. The Lecco is probably doomed to
extinction as well, but he is by no means a despondent specimen. On the
contrary, no more cheery, indeed hilarious, outfit can be imagined than
that with which we embarked on our callapos at Mapiri. Candor compels me
to own that this exuberance of spirits was probably largely alcoholic,
for it is one of the few rights to which he clings tenaciously—that of
being allowed to keep drunk while making a voyage on the river. For the
Lecco will not work to any good purpose if kept sober; they feel that
they have been defrauded and cheated of an inalienable right, and at the
first convenient opportunity they will avenge the injury by running the
callapo on a rock in a rapid, while they themselves will swim through it
like otters and make the shore below safe and unrepentant. Unlike all
other savages, who become treacherous and turbulent under the influence
of liquor, the Lecco becomes even more genial and jovial when in his
cups. He is pre-eminently a man of peace.

From the moment that we shoved out into the stream everything was a huge
joke. If one slipped on the submerged logs of the callapo and floundered
overboard, the rest hailed it with yells of delight, and they dug their
heavy paddles into the water and tried to pull the callapo beyond his
reach. The victim would dive and come up in some unexpected place, where
the effect of the black pompadour and the beady eyes suddenly popping
above the opaque depths of an eddy, followed by a damp, sheepish grin,
was irresistibly funny.

They are perfectly at home in the water, and will swim any rapid and the
dangerous whirlpools that are constantly forming below them, without
hesitation—places that it would be fatal for a white man to attempt.
There is a story of a Lecco who went through the most dangerous of the
rapids with his wife and baby and a mule—the mule and baby inclosed in a
framework of palm amidships on the balsa, and the wife helping with a
paddle at the stern. They made the passage safely, but it was the
survival of the mule that excited their admiration.

Their huts are one-roomed affairs with the floor of beaten clay, upon
which, at night, are laid woven grass mats that serve as beds. The walls
are of _charo_—a kind of poor relative of the bamboo—lashed to a slender
framework of the same material by split strips of the _mora_, the
typical hut of the tropical frontier. Stout posts sunk at the corners
give the strength to support the roof. The huts are about ten by fifteen
feet. The steep-pitched roof is thatched with split palm-leaves that
render it water-proof even in the heavy tropical thunder-storms. A high
broad shelf at one end serves as a second story and a place of storage.
In some there is a low shelf of charo along one side that serves as the
family bed, though these latter are only in the houses of the more
ambitious Leccos. All cooking is done at one end over an open fire, the
smoke escaping as best it may through the interstices between the layers
of charo. A single door is the only opening.

Near by is the little platano or plantain patch, and a few yuccas. A few
scrawny chickens use the house as their headquarters, and are reserved
for fiestas. A pot or two, purchased from the traders complete the
household equipment. Invariably they boil their food, even to the
platanos that are so much better roasted. This is in striking contrast
to the barbaros of the farther interior, who are without the knowledge
of boiling food; they either eat it raw or roast it slightly.

The Lecco women are also as distinctly Malaysian in appearance as the
men. They have fine figures and retain the free gracefulness of carriage
of the nude savage, and, up to the time they are sixteen, if not
absolutely pretty in feature, are distinctly pleasing. One, however,
that I saw in the rubber barraca of Caimalebra, living with a Bolivian
refugee murderer, was an absolute beauty by any standards of comparison.
They were living happily, and on one trip I enjoyed their hospitality
for five days. The single garment of the women is an exaggeration of the
Lecco shirt, reaching nearly to the ankles. It is pleasing in its
effect, and sets off the graceful beauty of their figures in a way that
recalls the simple fashions of the Hawaiian and Polynesian peoples. The
women of other tribes are apt to adopt slatternly skirts after their
introduction to the frontier civilization.

The girls are fully developed at fourteen, and they usually mate a year
or so later with a Lecco boy of about their own age. The boy at that
time is a full-fledged _balsero_ and able to hold his own in the
struggle with the river—their only test of arrival at man’s estate.

Sometimes a mission priest comes down the river, and then, if the family
has prospered, there will be a grand fiesta and a marriage will be
performed according to the rites of the Church. This will cost forty
bolivians—about eighteen dollars—for the priest’s fee, and considerably
more for the drunken orgy that follows. To have been married according
to the ceremonies of the Church is a great distinction, and also a rare
one.

Of any form or ceremonial that the Leccos may have had at one time,
there is not a trace left. All vestiges of their own original
superstitions have long disappeared. Nominally they are Catholics, and
are claimed as such by the padrés, but in reality they are without
religion or belief. The rites of baptism and marriage seem to appeal to
them, but apparently more on the ground of the superior dignity that is
lent to the following fiesta. Baptism is performed by any trader who
happens to be passing on the river, and to their complete satisfaction,
while his crew is impressed as godfathers. I was invited to perform it
once, but declined, to their evident disappointment.

There are no ceremonies attending the death and burial of a Lecco.
During the last illness the neighbors may drop in on a visit of
sympathy, and cañassa will be handed around. When death occurs, one
member of the family, the husband, son, or son-in-law, wraps the body in
a piece of tucuyo, and carries it on his shoulder to a secluded place in
the jungle, and there buries it. The slight mound above the grave is its
only mark, and that disappears after the lapse of a season or two.
Apparently there is no idea of spirits haunting these places, for the
Leccos pass them without hesitation after nightfall—something that the
Cholos do not care or are afraid to do.

The Lecco families are small. Two or, at the most, three babies are the
rule, and it is not at all uncommon to find a childless family. Cañassa
and the frequent drunken fiestas that are their only relaxation seem to
be the means by which they are accomplishing the suicide of their race.
Girl babies are preferred to boys; for when a daughter marries, her
husband will eventually have to support her parents. But with a son it
is recognized that his duty is to his wife and her people. The women are
faithful to their men, if their men care for them and guard them; but if
the men become careless or apparently indifferent, the women regard it
as a tacit relinquishing of the rights of fidelity, and establish such
casual relations as suit them.

With rare exceptions the men are, in effect, in a state of slavery. The
debt system prevails, and they are easy victims. The trader spreads his
gaudy stock of trade stuffs before the Lecco, and the Lecco buys
recklessly whatever attracts him at the moment. The trader gives him
full swing at first, and the Lecco gets himself heavily in debt. And
that debt is allowed to the exact extent of each particular Lecco’s
value as a balsero or rubber-picker. A well-to-do balsero has a debt of
two thousand bolivians; poorer ones less. And the Leccos are valued as
slaves in the terms of the debt. The Lecco never gets free from his
debt.

Of his race the Lecco has no knowledge. He has no written language—not
even primitive hieroglyphs or crude pictures. He is even without a
primitive instrument for making music. To all questions about
themselves, as to where their fathers lived before them, or as to where
their families came from even before that, or to the flattering
questions as to the time when the Leccos “were a great people,” they
have but one date to give. That is the “time of the Great Quina,” when
the bark of the quinine was worth a dollar and ten cents a pound, gold,
on the river. This is their only date, and it was about sixty or seventy
years ago.

They rigidly retain their own dialect, which they call the Riki-Riki,
although they have acquired a Spanish patois in their dealing with the
traders on the river. The Riki-Riki is strongly labial, though with many
guttural sounds, and, like most barbaric tongues, is impossible to
reproduce with our alphabet. The counting reduplicates systematically
and on the basis of five, instead of ten as in our system.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                      DRIFTING DOWN THE RIO MAPIRI


That night we made camp on a sand bar in one of the more open reaches of
water and close to the river’s edge. With their short machetes the
Leccos cut some canes, unlashed our tentage from the platforms, and
rigged a rough shelter. In the balmy air of the sunset there was no
indication that it was needed, but during this season a tropical rain
comes up with the suddenness of a breeze, and pitching a tent in a
driving downpour in the darkness of perdition is no light pleasure. For
themselves, the Leccos simply threw a matting of woven palm-leaves on
the sand and their camp was made. The bank was lined with a fringe of
driftwood, and Spanish cedar and mahogany made admirable fuel, and gave
one at the same time a sense of wanton, extravagant luxury that the
humbler cooking fires of our North never obtain. Presently little fires
crackled into life along the playa while gathering around each were
groups of Leccos in their loose, flapping, square shirts, or else
stripped to the waist in the hot evening air, intent on the small pots
of boiling rice, platanos, and chalona. Quickly the velvet darkness of
the tropics fell, and the high lights flickered on naked skins; slowly
the moon rose above the purple hills of the background, transforming the
muddy surface of the swirling river into a shimmer of molten silver.

The smooth, sandy playa softened in the mellow light, while, in the
foreground, the campfires threw in strong relief the easy play of naked
muscles in the shifting groups of savage figures; beyond were other
figures silhouetted against the night or merged with the bulk of the
callapos, gently swaying at the river’s edge, to the low roar of the
current. The subdued chatter of the Leccos, the crackling of the
driftwood flames, the occasional cry of some morose tropical bird of the
night, and once in a while the far-off, snarling howl of a jaguar in the
hills beyond blended like the carefully studied tones of some painting,
and the peace that passeth the understanding of cities descended.

The very pleasing moon also added to the enthusiasm of the sand fleas
and sand-hoppers; diabolical out of all proportion to their physical
capacity and by the aid of the fourth dimension triumphing over my
netting, they made of sleep a periodic and exhausting labor.

I looked out and envied the impervious Leccos; half naked to the night
they sprawled on their patches of palm matting and only awakened in
response to an itching thirst and then prowled round to locate the extra
ration. Somewhere back in the hills were the savages, the Chunchos and
the Yungus, but they rarely come down to this river. It is too populous,
according to their standards, and precautions against them are rarely
needed. Farther on, when we got into the Rio Kaka and the Rio Beni, some
care was essential; and it was necessary to camp on the largest sand
bars and close to the water’s edge, where the camp could not be rushed
in a sudden dash from the jungle.

      [Illustration: WE SEEMED TO MOVE WITH INTOLERABLE SLOWNESS.]

The next morning, with the first faint trickle of dawn along the rim of
purple hills, the camp was astir. A single fire was stirred into
activity, and in the dim, gray light there was a hasty cup of tea and a
raw platano, and again we waded aboard the callapo and swung out into
the current. The cool gray-green of the early morning had faded to a
delicate sapphire; the purple hills loomed nearer in the soft haze;
above them shimmering waves of amethyst overspread half the skies. A
faint glow as of soft coral flickered over the crests of a stray cloud,
that, close after, flushed with the bolder brilliancy of the ruby and
the topaz. There was no pause; one color after another, exquisite in its
gorgeousness or delicacy, as though from the slowly opening door of a
prismatic furnace—crimson, violet, deep-sea blues, and old-gold—shifted
and coiled above the purple hills. A thread of silver tipped their
crests and then, at their center, there was for an instant the gleam of
molten gold, and a second more above the low morning mist there floated
the glowing mass of the sun. The day had begun.

For hours we drifted down the swift current. Now and then a snake or
perhaps an otter glided silently into the eddies as we drifted by. We
seemed to move with intolerable slowness and yet when we watched the
jungle on each side slipping by, we could see the speed—six, eight, and
sometimes ten miles an hour. The sun rose higher; it beat down on the
unsheltered callapo like the hot blast from a furnace; the animal sounds
in the forests ceased; the faint morning airs died away, and nothing
broke the stillness but the occasional shrill flocks of parrots. The
muddy surface of the river turned to a heated brazen glare, and the long
breakfastless hours of the forenoon crawled past.

Presently as we swung around a bend there appeared a tiny cane-walled
hut surrounded by a few platano and yucca trees. Splashing in the river
were naked little babies, and as our Leccos set up a shout a woman
trotted down to the bank and waved back. We paddled out of the current
and made a landing, while the young Lecco who had run the river on the
bundle of sticks took on a sack of clean clothes.

The Leccos are very particular in these matters; each morning from out
their home-woven cotton sacks they would don clean trousers and shirt,
and at every opportunity, going up or down the river, they would stop
and turn over to the Lecco wife the soiled ones and take aboard a clean
supply. When a trip is too long for a complete outfit, they would get
busy at each midday breakfast and wash their own. The sack they carried
would hold about as much as a small keg, and it was always crowded to
its capacity with their queer, square shirts and tight ankled trousers.
Their only other baggage was a plate, a spoon, and a tiny kettle for
rice. Clean clothes every day is a peculiar hobby for a primitive tribe.

This Lecco woman, or, rather, girl, who trotted down to the water’s edge
was about sixteen, wore only a single long garment, a chula, that came
to above the ankles and had no sleeves. Some forest flower was in her
black hair, and she was a beauty, not by any of the savage standards
alone or by the easy imagination that gives some youthful savages a
certain attractiveness as a matter of pure contrast, but she was
beautiful by any of those standards that obtain in our home countries.
Along with her regular features, delicate nostrils, soft eyes, and
regular, curving lips, with a soft, light-coppery, tawny complexion, so
soft and light that the color came and went in her cheeks like a
fresh-blown débutante, she had the carriage of a queen, though that was
nothing to a race of women who carry burdens on their heads from
babyhood and who can swim like otters. I saw later very many Lecco
women, and while all were superior in type to those of the neighboring
tribes, there was but one that could compare with the features of this
first Lecco girl and the two might have been sisters, so close was the
type of their beauty.

More Lecco homes appeared, and at each some one of the crew received his
new stock of clean clothes and packed his pouch with them. Then Guanai
appeared, or rather we stopped under the river bank close by, for the
straggling collection of huts lies some distance back from the river. A
few rubber-traders, half-breeds, and Cholos live here, and control the
Leccos. Most of them, when I was there, were refugees from the other
side of the Andes, and here are beyond the reach of the Bolivian
authorities. Once in a while some one of them is caught and taken out in
chains by the soldiers sent in for the special purpose, but as a rule
that followed only as the result of internecine difficulty and resulting
treachery.

The head man came down to the bank to meet us with his neck stiff and
awkward in some home-made bandage. He was still half-drunk, but very
hospitable. The night before, it seems, there had been a fight, and when
the candles were stamped out in the little hut it became very confusing,
he explained, hence the stab in the neck and somewhere a couple of men
were nursing bullet-holes. We handed over the few letters from the Cholo
at Mapiri, and he was eager to get news of La Paz and the outside world.
For years he had lived here, a refugee from the law, and unmolested;
some day he will meet with as sudden a death as he had often bestowed,
and another head man will fill his uncertain shoes. A torn straw hat,
cotton shirt, and Lecco trousers were his sole costume, and he hunts
barefoot and runs the river as readily as any of the Lecco tribesmen.

Below Guanai the Rio Mapiri is reinforced by the Rio Coroico and the Rio
Tipuani, clear, cold streams. All along little brooks and mountain
torrents have also been adding to the volumes of our river, so that it
had grown to a goodly size. Below this settlement of Guanai were the
worst and most dangerous passages. Any of the rapids are bad, but they
are less to be feared than the great whirlpools that form below each one
of them. It is these _remolinos_ that are more likely to catch the rafts
and tear them apart. The rough water of the rapid can be watched, and
the callapo can be kept head on in the current, but below there are no
means of judging when a whirling vortex will form that will drag the
callapo under and perhaps later throw it out farther down in scattered
fragments.

[Illustration: BUT IT IS THOSE PARTS OF THE RIVER THAT THE LECCOS FAIRLY
                                 LOVE.]

For fifty miles the hills crowded in, and there were only rarely any
open, slower reaches of river. Huge masses of rock had broken from above
and hurled themselves into the gorges, where the current was choked in
masses of high-flung spray. The Leccos know that on one certain side of
these rocks there was disaster and with their heavy paddles they pried
the raft in the proper currents. At first the water was smooth—smoother
than in the broader reaches—but the banks moved past more swiftly, and
from out of the water itself came a little rattling, crackling sound—the
sound of boulders on the river-bed crashing together as they were swept
down-stream. Then the surface of the river broke up in snapping little
ripples, while under our feet there was the feel of the raft straining
in the eddying thrust of the current. But it is these parts of the river
that the Leccos fairly love; their eyes sparkled and they laughed and
chattered with excitement.

Ahead there was a roaring smother of foam, which curled back in a
crested wave; the paddles, with the callapo snouts as a fulcrum, swung
the course to the right, and a second later there came a rush and a
crash as a mass of boiling water climbed over the starboard cargo and we
careened until the crew on the lower side were breast-deep in the
smother. It was only for a second, and the raft drifted out among the
eddying whirlpools that formed below. One, a fairly small one, caught us
at the stern, and we were drawn under as if caught by a submarine claw;
the waters rose to the breasts of the stern crew, while they, braced
against their paddles, grinned back at us cheerfully. Then the vortex
broke and very slowly the cargo rose dripping into view.

Every rapid, bend, or cataract in this part has its name, an honor
denied the distances up the Mapiri of the day before. We passed the
Conseli, and entered Kirkana—the spelling is phonetic—a magnified
mountain brook that boiled through the tortuous passages for miles.
There was not a mile that did not have its channel choked with rock,
through which we shot in a smother of foam like a South Sea Islander on
his surf-board. Then came a cañon, with walls of gray rock on which were
stains or symbols that in a rough way suggested some of the old Inca
forms, to which the Leccos have given the name of “Devil-Painted”
rapids. Beyond lie the rapids of the “Bad Waters,” and then the Ysipuri
Rapids, where there was a large rubber barraca in charge of an English
superintendent.

                    [Illustration: A RUBBER PICKER.]

The night’s camp was at Ysipuri, a rubber barraca that was complaining
bitterly at the time that it was overstocked with marmalade and snakes.
If you have never lived on marmalade for six months hand-running when
transportation is practically cut off—and a cheap, tin-can marmalade
made mainly for the calloused tongues of a half-breed trade at that—you
do not know what real desolation in a rubber jungle is. Also it was the
hatching season for snakes and there was never a day, even scarcely an
hour, when a few feet or less of snake was not being untangled from the
cane walled thatch of the house. Two were fished out of the kettles in
the cook-shack as the Lecco lady-cook started to prepare the midday
breakfast and even the ordinary security of a hammock was no guarantee
against them. Rarely were they big, some were mere babies and others but
adolescent boas; one of eight feet in length was killed, but this was an
exception, for the general run were juveniles of from a few inches to
two or three feet. Also eight feet was not a big snake, not in a country
where you can hear tales of thirty and forty foot reptiles.

The chief in this barraca was a white man; he had a well kept place with
its out-buildings and little Indian quarters laid out with some system.
There was sweet corn, real sweet corn, and not the _choclo_ of the
Aymará, an unripe ear of common field corn; melons, yuccas, bananas, and
the best attempt at a garden that could be made in a tropical jungle.
Also, before dinner that evening a Lecco boy came in with a log of wood
which he dumped in the cook house; with a machete he chopped it up—for
firewood as I thought. Presently, at dinner there was a most delicious
vegetable, hot and looking like cold-slaw or sourkrout. It was my old
friend the log of wood, the bud of the cabbage palm chopped by a rubber
picker somewhere out in the forest.



                               CHAPTER XV
                          SHOOTING THE RATAMA


At daybreak we left the Ysipuri barraca and emptying our rifles in
salute to the Englishman’s Winchester, we started on for the next
rapids, the greatest rapids on the river—the Ratama.

Two miles above the Ratama the walls of the gorge began to close in
steep cliffs. Here and there shrubs clung on little niches, while from
the high edges long vines hung down and were whipped taut in the swift,
glassy current below. The air began to cool in the deep shadows, and
there was a damp chill in it like the breath from a cavern. The Leccos
were not chattering now, for this place may on any trip prove to be
serious, and the silence of the smooth drifting was only broken by an
occasional kingfisher, which clattered by like a flying watchman’s
rattle.

Slowly a dull roaring, echoing from the distance, steadily obtruded
itself; the current was still glassy, but as it moved it snapped against
the walls of the cañon in angry ripples. Every Lecco in the crew was
poised, with his paddle, as tense as a strung bow. Now we knew who was
the captain of the crew. It was the forward Lecco on the right; he was
the only one who had anything to say. It was no childish joking now;
there were commands. Occasionally he grunted his order, and the paddles
dipped as they held the raft true, bow on, in the middle of the current.
With a grand sweep we swung round a bend between the walls of rock and
there far ahead the white waves of the Ratama were snapping like great
fangs against the dusk of the cañon, while above them hung a heavy mist
that blurred the outlines of the gorge beyond.

The callapo increased its speed; the Ratama seemed to be springing
toward us with each leaping wave; the roaring water deepened, and the
voices were drowned. The Lecco captain dipped his paddle, and the rest
followed the signal, and gently the callapo was held true, with the
three upturned snouts headed straight for the foaming center. The cliffs
had closed in like the walls of a corridor, and they flew past like the
flickering film of a moving-picture; the spray from the trailing vines
was whipped in our faces and floated upward to form rainbows in the
slanting sunlight high overhead. Then for a second we seemed to pause on
the edge of a long slide of polished water, the edge of the cataract.

The Leccos crouched for the shock, and we could fairly feel their toes
gripping the submerged callapo logs, while their paddles were poised
above their heads. Then came the brief coast down the smooth water and
the plunge into the great wave that loomed above our heads, only to
break with a drenching roar over us and the lashed freight. The Leccos
dropped on their knees, gripping a hold as best they might; their eyes
glittered with excitement, and I could see their wide-open mouths in a
yell of wild joy, though every sound was drowned in the crash and roar
of waters. The paddles swung in powerful circles, and at each dip the
paddlers went out of sight, head and shoulders in the smother of foam.

The water was above my waist, and somewhere below the surface I was
hanging on to the cargo lashings, with my feet braced against the logs.
Under the boiling smother of foam I could feel the callapo writhe and
twist in the strain; a keg broke loose, and a Lecco lost his paddle in
recovering it. His paddle was of no consequence, for he could whittle
another, and he fondly believed the keg held the beloved
alcohol—cañassa—though he was wrong, for it held nothing but pickled
beef, and worthless, as I later found.

Sometimes a Lecco’s shoulder would rise above the boiling smother, with
the brown muscles playing in hard knots; sometimes we would slew side on
to the current, and no power could hold us straight until a bursting
wave would throw us back; sometimes for an instant the dripping snouts
of the callapo would be flung high in the air and fall back with a crash
that made itself heard above the roar, and the raft would quiver and
strain with the impact. One saw nothing; we might have been standing
still. There was nothing but the lashing sting of the whirling spray and
the thunder of the cataract. Then, in an instant, the roar and the
tumult were behind, the waves calmed, and the callapo shot out into the
calmer waters below, where the whirlpools and eddies shifted and coiled.

Vortices into which one might lower a barrel without wetting it whirled
lazily past within paddle-reach, and sometimes one would suddenly form
ahead and the Leccos would watch them intently as to their possible
direction, and then paddle to shift our course. These they can generally
avoid. It is when one forms or suddenly comes up from underneath that
there is danger. A few did catch us this way and the Leccos would stand
with braced feet, reading by the straining logs the possible strength of
the vortex, and the callapo would grind and slowly sink, until by sheer
mass it broke the force of the whirl. Often we would go down by the
stern until the after Leccos kept only their heads above water, and even
we, farther forward, would be submerged up to our shoulders. There was
nothing to do but wait until the vortex broke of itself.

In the Ratama the roar and excitement drowned any emotion, but this was
slowly waiting in uncertainty and speculating on how far one could
really swim before being drawn under like a chip. Not far, that was
certain, and the Leccos watched this shifting, coiling passage in a
silent gravity that they had shown nowhere else on the river. It is the
breaking up of the logs and cargo that make the danger, at least to the
Lecco—greater than the power of the river itself—and a white man would
have no chance.

From the Ratama the river and the country back of it opened out, and the
last of the eastern Andean foot-hills were almost passed. A few more
rapids were left—the Nube, the Incaguarra, the Beyo, and the Bala—but
after the Ratama they dwindled to harmless riffles. The Beyo Cañons
resound with a deafening roar, but it is from the thousands of macaws
that have their nests in the soft sandstone cliffs, and it is their
clatter that carries for miles in the soft evening airs.

Presently the chief of the Lecco crew chattered with the others. They
argued each according to his recollection, for down somewhere on this
stretch of the river—it was the River Kaka now since being joined by the
River Tipuani and the Coroico River, mountain torrents both—there was an
old camp that was our objective. The jungle had long since wiped out
every trace and there was nothing to depend upon but the memory of the
Leccos. As a matter of fact, there probably is nothing that could be
more reliable; it is the one thing they know, is this river, and every
turn, every eddy, every tree or drooping vine along the banks is marked
down in their primitive minds with the vividness of painted signs. The
callapos strung out each in the wake of the other drifting around a long
turn of smooth, swift water. The chief grunted, the crew clattered and
grunted back in obvious affirmation. The paddles dipped, and from the
following callapos came a yell as they, too, began to splash and pry
their way out of the current. One after the other they swung round and
bumped into shallow water on the heavy gravel of a playa; beyond rose a
steep bank overgrown with masses of creeper and jungle.

The Leccos chopped a way in with their machetes, and with a grunt a
Lecco announced a find. There was a tent peg, a broken kettle, a broken
bottle neck, and a bit of rope. It was the proof of the site of the
previous camp in its exact location. Five minutes later the lashings
were off the freight and a splashing line of Indians and Cholos were
bringing the freight ashore. Here was to be established the permanent
camp; the long journey from the coast had reached its goal.

The Leccos and the Cholo workmen were still splashing through the muddy
shallows from the grounded callapos packing the freight for the camp
when Agamemnon announced himself as cook. Before this moment he had idly
occupied himself as valet, butler, laundress—at least since leaving La
Paz—faithful adviser, major domo, village gossip, and occasionally the
village drunkard. And now when he announced himself as cook no husk of
humility could conceal the fact that he regarded all other cook
possibilities in that camp on the Rio Kaka with a scornful contempt.

Later it developed that at this particular time his sole knowledge of
cooking was confined to an ability to make guava jelly, an
accomplishment which, in view of the fact that we were somewhere around
five hundred miles by trail and raft from civilization, was of no
service at the moment.

The difficulty over the cook situation had arisen suddenly in the first
hour of making camp. Back in Mapiri there was a certain fat little Cholo
who had sewed a strip of red flannel down his trouser legs in sign of
the fact that under some circumstances he was the Mapiri police force;
what these circumstances might be never developed for during our long
wait he was busy at nothing more official than taking care of the
sugar-cane distillery that belonged to the intendente. Before that,
rumor had it, he had taught school in Guanai down the river with a row
of empty cañassa bottles by means of which he illustrated addition and
subtraction. This was as far as the school went; with that course
completed, it issued its diploma. This little Cholo urged himself as
cook and, as we needed a cook, he was added. As it turned out he was
probably the only man in Bolivia who could _not_ cook, or at any rate
the only one who had never passed the stage of being able to boil water.

When the callapos swung in to the playa and grounded on the shallow
beach the cook started to get his first meal. The water was brought to a
boil successfully in a large kettle between two logs. Presently it began
to exude half-cooked rice and cheerfully the fat Cholo added another
kettle to hold the overflow. Presently, also, both kettles began to
exude half-cooked rice and two more kettles were added to the logs. Once
again the pots seethed and frothed and again came forth the overflow of
half-cooked rice, still swelling, from four interminable geysers.

Dully the Cholo beat at it with an iron spoon and the Leccos grinned at
him as they filled their little pots with the overflow. Heaven alone
knows how much rice the cook started with, but in the end half the fire
was drowned out, every Lecco had his little pot of half raw rice, a row
of big jungle leaves had each their little mound of rice alongside the
fire log, and the hot tropic air was drifting sluggishly with the odor
of burnt rice. And every pot and kettle in camp held remnants of the
salvage. Therefore, it was that Agamemnon became cook.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                         OPENING UP THE JUNGLE


Among the Cholo workmen it developed that each preferred to cook for
himself with his own little pot and over his own individual fire. It was
too great a waste of time and energy to have eighteen men building
eighteen fires three times a day in order to cook their fifty-four
meals. So a compromise was effected. The original Cholo cook—who was
good for nothing—kept up one long fire on which the row of pots
simmered. After each meal enough would be issued to each pot owner for
the next meal. In the early morning the general day’s rations were
issued. The Cholos wrapped them in smudgy bandanas and laid them away
beneath their bunks—their bunk shack of cane, charo, being the first
thing attended to—and then traded back and forth according to fancy, a
little rice for a gristly shin bone of chalona, or some chancaca for a
bit of coffee or chuño. Coca formed a regular part of the ration and was
regularly used by all the workmen.

Agamemnon as a cook developed famously. As to results one could never
properly place the blame upon him. With the exact and retentive memory
of the utterly illiterate he followed directions with absolute fidelity.
He was of the same family as that famous cook who, after having been
instructed by the missus in cake-making, invariably threw away the first
two eggs because in the original effort the first two had proved to be
undesirable citizens. Agamemnon was of this order, yet he never failed
to throw in all the frills of table service he could think of. This came
from his days of stewarding on the Pacific coasters.

Every morning he appeared with a box lid for a tray set forth in fresh
green jungle leaves and on it a species of muffin that he had developed
or the boiled green platanos that took the place of bread, a tin can of
jam, or some turtle eggs if we had been lucky in a trade with some
passing batalon of Leccos. Coffee he served with a flourish and from his
camp fire below the bank on which our tent was pitched he would bring up
a bucket of hot water with which he could keep a continual service of
clean camp plates.

In the intervals at meals he stood back and fanned off the wild bees
that flocked to the jam and condensed milk tins. Two little holes
pricked in the milk tins guarded them, but with the jam it was
different; often a half tin of jam had to be thrown away, the contents
solid with reckless, greedy bee suicides. They would light on the jam
while it was on the way to your lips or stow away on the under side of
the jammed muffin, compelling the utmost vigilance on the penalty of a
diet of raw bees. With all the reckless handling they received, not one
of them stung.

It was the ant that was the irritable, hot-weaponed party who went out
a-jousting from the sheer lust of battle. They were infinite in variety
from the sluggish white-ant that left the table a hollow shell of
sawdust on up to the leaf-cutters and army ants to whom nothing was so
precious as the straight line in which they were going. But the worst,
the most vicious and accursed was the large black variety one of whom
made a murderous attack upon me in the darkness.

He is nearly an inch in length. To the Leccos he is known as _buno-isti_
and they also assert that he lives in very small communities in holes in
the ground, not building the ordinary nests. Agamemnon had been stung
and had promptly, darkey fashion, tied a rag around his head and stayed
in his tent all night groaning. A Cholo boy was stung and he too tied a
rag around his head and groaned throughout the night. It seemed absurd
for a mere sting to have that effect and I looked upon them with a
proper scorn. I have been stung by hornets and scorpions and the latter
seemed to me, at the time, as the ultimate of all stinging sensations. I
was wrong.

For some reason these buno-istis seemed to have a love for passing
themselves in review up the guy rope, along the ridge pole, and down the
other guy rope of the tent. By observing I noticed that no sooner did
the buno-isti reach the bottom of the guy rope than he started back to
the front guy and began another tour. One evening I stepped out in the
darkness, my foot caught on a root and I stumbled; I clutched for the
guy rope to save myself and the instant my hand touched the forefinger
connected with a high voltage current that gave all the sensations of a
red-hot sausage grinder. I had caught a buno-isti on his way up the guy
rope.

A delayed lantern revealed a crippled buno-isti and a finger with an
almost invisible sting on the first joint. There was no swelling nor did
any follow at any time. Yet the pain was intense; I could feel it
spreading from the finger to the hand and then, slowly with an acute
torture that brought no relieving numbness up to the shoulder. There it
halted. But for hours, as the camp watch showed, there was no sleep
possible, not until the exhaustion from pain paved the way. For three
days the effects lingered in the form of a bruised sensitiveness that
made that arm all but useless. A scorpion sting is a gentle tickle
compared with the buno-isti.

Slowly the camp grew. A patch of jungle was cleared on the high bank
above the river beyond the reach of any sudden freshet. In the early
days of the camp one of these freshets descended from the Andean
foot-hills and before the last of the outfit had been carried to the
high bank the Cholos were struggling in a current up to their belts or
portaging by the aid of poles held out to steady them. Where the first
hasty camp had been was a torrent of muddy waters and a tiny island cut
off from us by a creek torn in the bank by the flooding river. The water
rose five inches a minute for about eight feet and then slowly went back
during the night a few inches.

For something like eleven miles down this river there was placer gold.
Wherever a sand-bar or a sand bank showed it was of black, gold-bearing
sand. Anywhere you washed you got a trace or color in the pan and
sometimes thirty or forty bright flecks of gold glittering against the
rusty iron bottom. But with that current, the uncertain rise of
freshets, the distance from civilization and main supplies, only an
Indian could wash out dirt and make a living at it. The plan was to
prospect the placer area extensively and establish a basis for the
permanent working camp that was to follow. The gold was there, but how
deep to bed rock or hard pan, whether it were best to work by dredge or
shaft or open workings, these were the questions that had arisen back in
the world of civilization and were solved on the basis of the results of
this first camp.

From the bank at the water’s edge there stretched back a mass of matted
jungle, creepers, vines, and underbrush and above, a mass of vines that
tangled the treetops in great patches of aerial islands. Paths had to be
cut, some kind of a working map made, the natural difficulties and
conditions set forth, and the beginnings of the permanent camp put in
form.

The eighteen men were swallowed up in the jungle. The clearing was
scarcely made and burned before the jungle was again closing in and
rising from the ground like sown dragon’s teeth. And slowly progress was
made and up and down the river the camp became known and voyaging rubber
traders and crews stopped as at a port of call.

One expedition passed the midday breakfast with us. Its head was an
Englishman, a wiry, frontier hardened man who was on a punitive
expedition at the head of his men, rubber pickers, balseros, and
headquarters men from his barraca. Somewhere in the hundreds of
thousands of acres that represented the rubber domain of which he was
chief there was a boundary dispute. His trees had been raided and here,
like a feudal baron—or rather like a salaried feudal baron, the fief of
a plush-cushioned, rocking chair lord of a board of directors the half
of seven seas away—he was at the head of his two callapos and fourteen
Winchesters and a scattering of twenty bore, miserable trade-guns with
their trade powder in gaudy red tins and a month’s rations for the
expedition.

Again, a couple of Englishmen who had drifted down to Rurrenabaque, the
last settlement of the frontier from this side of the continent, stopped
as they were slowly poling up the river with a couple of new dugouts.
Their crew was of Tacana Indians and these dugouts were the first known
on the river. In effect these men had independently invented the
“whaleback.”

The endless series of rapids made the callapo with its baggage platform
a poor freighter. In their mahogany dugouts they had a series of deck
hatches that, when the cargo was on board, were bolted down over rubber
gaskets—rubber pure as it came from the tree and spread with a bundle of
parrot feathers over a sheet of coarse muslin and then smoked in a hot,
blue palm smoke. With a couple of these dugouts lashed together they
proposed to shoot the little cañons and the Nube, the Incaguarra, the
Diablo Pintado and the Ratama. And they did, too, dropping paddles and
clinging with tooth and claw to the bare wet decks on which they had
omitted to put cleats or rope holds. But it was an eminently successful
venture and they slowly chipped away with adze and ax until on their
next trip they had a fleet of seven dugouts, each some thirty-five to
forty feet in length, and from a single log of _caobo_, mahogany, or
_palo-maria_, with which they could run the river in either the dry or
wet season. With balsas and callapos, as our long delay in Mapiri
showed, only under the pressure of emergency was it possible to get up
the river.

As the work progressed it became evident that our original outfit was
not sufficient to make any adequate preliminary development. It was not
possible to get to bedrock without some machinery, a pump, and some
means of sawing lumber for sheet piling. The Cholos were perfectly
useless at whip-sawing a log. We tried them and the work was too
gruelling. They were curiously inefficient in any line outside of their
narrow experience. A block and tackle was an unsolved riddle, although
they recognized its power. They would take it along cheerfully in the
morning and then later send for some one to come up and work it; they
could never fathom which rope to pull. Main strength and awkwardness
were their reliance and when these failed—_carramba_, what more could be
done?

According to the custom of the montaña they had been contracted for six
months before a judge, an intendente, and amid all sorts of mystic
ceremonials of red tape without which Bolivian law and custom looks
askance. Five weeks had been a dead loss in Mapiri and two weeks more
for gathering them and the time of actual transportation and then almost
two months of work in camp came perilously near the expiration of their
contracts when it was considered necessary to bring in a new gang. These
were hungry to get back to their little villages and join in the high
class carnivals and drunken dances. Some of the Cholos were worthless,
while others would come back again after a rest on the other side of the
Andes. Segorrondo, the squat little drunkard, was one of the best men in
the gang and he had added a new adornment to his peculiarly unattractive
exterior. In a fight with the major domo he had had his head laid open
with a machete from over his right eye to almost the back of his neck.
It was a mere scalp wound, fortunately for Segorrondo as the machete
glanced.

It took six men to hold him while he was stitched up with six stitches.
Beauty was to him no object compared with the pain of stitching, and
when our surgical job was over, the effect of only six irregular
stitches in a twelve inch cut may be imagined. Then we bandaged him
securely, gave him an extra drink of cañassa, and once more he grinned
cheerfully. Later he and his antagonist appeared for another drink, each
affectionately embracing the other. Without the slightest difficulty the
wound healed, leaving an interesting scalloped pattern that was a source
of much pride to its owner.

But it was obviously necessary to get out to the coast for machinery,
supplies and another gang of workers. A _proprio_, a messenger, was sent
overland up the river to notify the Lecco rivermen a few miles above and
a week later four balsas and ten Leccos swung around the bend under the
bank in the dawn and we started.

The crew of a balsa is two men, one fore and one aft of the platform
with poles or a jungle vine for a drag rope. It is not safe for more
than one passenger to each balsa for the narrow raft of a wood almost as
light as cork is lightly balanced as a canoe. There is no freight worked
up river, except rubber, and of that the big bolachas are wedged in
under the stilts of the platforms.

Slowly the little fleet of balsas hugged the shore, poling against the
current. Then across the river appeared a stretch of narrow beach and
the poles were dropped and the balsa swung out across the current to the
other side. Here the vine drag rope would come in use with one Lecco
pulling and the other poling, and fairly rapid progress could be made.
There was a short stop at a tiny Lecco settlement at Incaguarra where
the chief Lecco, the cacique, lived. He was a shy, bashful, good natured
old man who invited us into his hut where we gave him the customary
drink.

On a grass matting was an old woman, a very old woman, his mother, the
cacique explained. She was past all intelligence and in the last stages
of senile dissolution; huddled up in a corner, she murmured and clucked
to herself, meanwhile playing aimlessly with an empty pot and a few bits
of grass. The dulled eyes gave no signs of interest or understanding
when the old man spoke to her; she suggested more an animal, an aimless,
warped little monkey rather than a human being.

A few months later she died of old age and the old cacique, her son,
came with her body wrapped in a frayed matting and borrowed a pick to
dig a grave. He obviously was deeply grieved in the subterranean Indian
way, and yet there was not the slightest vestige of ceremonial or belief
connected with her death. She was dead, a hole in the ground was
necessary, and there alone and by himself and full of grief the old man
dug it in the remote jungle without any more curiosity in death or
religious expression than he would have felt in digging a post-hole for
a new hut.

We bought a few platanos and yuccas from this place and made our
breakfast there. Two hours after leaving a freshet from the rains in the
mountains ahead suddenly made itself felt and we were forced to camp
till it went down a little. We did not move until the next morning.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                 TWENTY-THREE DAYS AGAINST THE CURRENT


The next day the river was harder and steeper and the banks offered more
difficulties either for poling or dragging. From one side to the other
we shifted, losing hundreds of yards in crossing as we swept down with
the muddy current. And yet these crossings were never made until the
last moment when the poles could find no bottom and the steep bank came
down like a cliff into from fifteen to fifty feet of water. The little
rapids that were nothing more than riffles coming down—that is, in
comparison with the real cañons and rapids—were slowly poled and dragged
through with double crews, inch by inch around some jutting, strategic
rocky point and into the upstream eddy beyond. Boils of water burst from
under the balsas until you balanced with the Leccos on the straining
raft like rope dancers on the same strand.

Once—and no one would suspect a clumsy looking balsa of tippiness—an
extra heavy boil of water burst under the balsa ahead and shot Agamemnon
and the Leccos into the water. Fortunately it was at the edge of an eddy
and no serious consequences resulted except that it kept the Leccos
diving in ten feet of opaque, muddy water, for half an hour to recover a
rifle. And it took a half a day to get the rifle in shape again.

That night we reached Caimalebra, a rubber pickers’ shack, where was
collected the rubber from a still further sub-divided picket line of
rubber pickers, and here we camped, exhausted. The Ratama was just ahead
and this could only be made if the river was below a certain stage. It
was curious to watch the Leccos read every river sign; by this bush and
that boulder they knew the height of water in any rapid above. Here in
Caimalebra they announced that unless the river went down at least the
span of a man’s hand, six inches, it would not be possible to get
through the Ratama cañon and rapids.

That afternoon they shook their head against going on, the six inches
made it impossible. By morning it would be lower as they read the
weather signs. A little stick was stuck in near shore to measure. In the
dawn the river had risen six feet and was raging past the camp, carrying
the usual collection of swirling dead driftwood and newly uprooted
trees. Food was running low for we had taken nothing from the main camp,
as they would need it all before we could get back. The Leccos had a
little rice that was giving out, here and there we could get platanos
from a rubber hut along the river, but the main reliance was to be on
the country between these points. The day before a wild turkey, shot
with a rifle for the shot cartridges swelled so that a shot gun was
useless, was delicious but scanty. This day I took a balsa across the
river to try for pig or parrot or turkey, or monkey if we were lucky, or
something anyway, for the Caimalebra place was vacant of platano or food
except for the small family there.

All day I tramped over the hardest kind of country with four of the
Leccos, swinging down ledges by the jungle vines or wriggling through
the masses of tangled growth in the trail of a Lecco with a short
machete. And as a result—nothing. Once there was a parrot motionless in
the fork of a tree high up and across an impassable gully and not worth
while.

The river had dropped two feet and risen three later; all day it had
been playing at this game and the heavy clouds in the hills made the
prospects discouraging. It was a scanty meal that night. After darkness
had settled a tropical downpour came up that showed no signs of abating.
Steadily it poured until after daybreak and all hands slept as best they
might, soaked to the skin. The shelter tent was in a thin, widespread
brook that the upper trenching did not stop or divert. As fast as one
built a little protecting dam it was washed away and the bank poured a
steady stream into the river as from the eaves of a roof. And the river
rose ten feet in the night. It seemed impossible that we could ever get
around the Ratama, but there was not a half day’s rations left in camp.

It seemed as if it was useless to wait for the river and essential that
we should get to the big barraca of Ysipuri where there were ample
supplies for our party. There was no overland trail, it was through a
jungle, six, ten, fifteen miles, you could take your choice of the Lecco
guesses. So with a couple of Leccos we started. The others were to try
the cañon when they would, and reliance was well placed in them; there
are no finer rivermen to be found anywhere in the world.

The hunting of the day before had seemed hard going, but it was nothing
to this; up and down over gullies and waist deep in the tumbling brooks
at their bottom; down sheer cliffs where the tropical vegetation grew so
rank that a natural ladder would be formed by the tangle of interlaced
roots or hanging mora, and skirting the face of ravines clawing a hand
and foothold step by step. I carried only a rifle and twice I had to
pass it to a Lecco and then had no easy task left. As for the two
Leccos, they carried somewhere around a fifty pound pack each and
barefooted swung along among the vegetation as easily as might a couple
of monkeys.

Perhaps the river went down suddenly, though it is more likely that it
was the removal of the diffidence that our presence entailed; at any
rate, the Leccos themselves pulled through that night and reached
Ysipuri with the balsas. For thirteen days we were held in Ysipuri, the
river persistently refusing to lessen its height, while a succession of
rains sent down a series of heavy freshets. It was not a dull time.

A Lecco was held as a prisoner by the agent on a charge of attempted
murder. I saw him as in the dusk of evening he sat in the doorway of his
prison hut taking the air. His wife and small boy sat with him and kept
his legs muffled in an old poncho so that the heavy iron shackles
riveted upon his ankles would not show. He was a fine looking Lecco and
obviously of enormous strength. It seems that another Lecco was found
with his back cut to ribbons, apparently from one of the twisted bull
whips of that country, and with his breast beaten in.

The victim lived and this Lecco had disappeared. Presently he was
captured and held in leg shackles, waiting for some indefinite
arraignment. However, while we were at the barraca he escaped, leg
shackles and all, and was not heard of until, some months later, he
turned up below at our camp and we became good friends. There was the
gravest doubt as to his guilt, the Leccos are most peaceful, and the
whole affair was the result of a drunken fiesta of mixed breeds in which
not one was fit to remember anything.

In addition there was a serious fight among the Cholos, Leccos, and
rubber pickers one Sunday evening in which shots were fired, a dog
killed, and a couple of men wounded slightly, while numerous others
nursed unseen sore heads and bruises. An appeal for help was sent over
the little creek that ran through the barraca and the agent called on
us; so our little party of three white men, a half dozen of the more
reliable employees, and the messenger splashed back through the darkness
with our guns in our hands—in addition my heart was in my mouth—and
reestablished order. It was a drunken fight over the favors of an old
Lecco lady, a bleared old party of some fifty coquetting years.

In one day in the main shack two snakes were killed, one in a room and
the other in the kitchen, both of the deadly German-flag species.
Beautiful, slender reptiles they were, with broad bands of black broken
at regular intervals with narrow bands of cream and vermilion stripes,
and of exceeding venom. That same night as I threw open my blanket
preparatory to turning in a third German-flag made a graceful letter S
on the blue wool. Alarmed he darted off through the cane walls into the
next room, the store-room. Two successive rooms were emptied before the
snake was at last killed. There was not a man in the place who would
have gone to sleep with that snake in the place, if it took all night to
get him.

Then, just as we were about to start, a young boy was brought in, half
Lecco and half Cholo, the son of a man who had been murdered while
working in his little yucca patch up across the Uyappi River. He had
been shot from behind through the stomach and had lain helpless until he
died, although this boy, from his own account, was in the hut less than
a hundred feet away all the time. The boy, he was not twelve, stuck to
his story that he had heard no shot, nothing out of the ordinary. The
chief agent in the barraca consulted with the Lecco crews who had
brought him in.

“He did it,” they responded; “make him tell.”

He was flogged with a knotted rope’s end and though he still clung to
his palpably false story—and also he had been heard to make threats
against the old man. After the flogging he was locked up to face another
later unless he should have repented.

Up here in nicely civilized and sensitive surroundings the flogging
reads like the brutality of a savage tribe. It was revolting and
yet—what would you have done? The intendente would have had him flogged
with a twisted bull whip—do you know what that is or what that means? A
twisted thong of rawhide whose blow, drawn skillfully in the delivering,
cuts a strip from the flesh; where fifty lashes properly laid on are
equivalent to death. And to have turned him over to the legal
authorities—the legal authorities east of the Andes! They are there in
name—but their functions are a joke. The best the boy could have hoped
for would have been to march wearily day after day in leg shackles and
chained to his guards or to any other adult prisoner, over the snows and
blizzards of the high passes and then to rot dully in a Bolivian jail.
Probably he could not have undergone the rigors of the march, and lucky
for him if he could not.

As it was, he had the benefit of a civilized doubt and received only
what the sentiment of his own people demanded. And he was not too old
but what he could profit by it. By strict adherence to legalized forms,
or those of them that would have been applied, he would have been killed
by slow, indifferent inches.

At last the river went down enough and we were off. We poled steadily
along through an unending series of rapids, crossing from one side to
the other through cañons and losing in the crossing all and more of the
hard won ground. In one place in three hours we did not gain one hundred
yards. And then came the rains again.

We barely made the farther side of the Uyappi when the river laid siege.
It rose twelve feet in the night and held us three days in a little hut
at the junction of the two rivers, raining for two of them. The agent at
Ysipuri had joined with us as he too was going out on business, and his
balseros combined with ours made a very respectable expedition. The tiny
hut was built by one man for himself and into it each night crowded some
twenty Indians. They held a dance, a queer, shuffling trot with dull,
droning mumbles that passed among the Leccos as song, one night and the
next day they spent in celebrating the birthday of one of the crew. Cane
platforms were built in the hut until there were three floors, or tiers,
to the eaves and on these we all crowded sociably.

Their shy diffidence gave way, they laughed and joked openly and with a
childish innocence over any man being able to see out of glasses. They
asked me questions of my home, my tribe, and my rivers, but the answers
were Greek to them. They had no means of knowing the outside world. They
answered my questions cheerfully, through an interpreter each way, of
course. They taught me to count in the Lecco tongue, the Riki-riki as
they call their dialect:

  One—Bera
  Two—Toi
  Three—Tsai
  Four—Dirai
  Five—Bercha
  Six—Ber-pachmo
  Seven—Toi-pachmo
  Eight—Tsai-pachmo
  Nine—Ber-pela
  Ten—Ber-beuncay
  Eleven—Beri-beuncay-ber-hotai
  Twelve—Beri-beuncay-toi-hotai, etc., etc., etc.

Twenty is simply Toi-bencai and beyond this few Leccos could go with
certainty, while some were at sea even up to this point. Yet they had no
difficulty in actual counting; it was simply over names for the higher
numbers that they stumbled.

Once more we began the poling and dragging. This stretch of the river
had given us no concern coming down, yet it was one of the hardest we
encountered on the long pull up. One rock that jutted from the shore
took my balsa an hour and a half to pass. Time and time again the vine
parted and my Lecco and I were swept down with the current and around in
the eddies, to repeat the process after we had paddled ashore and tried
again.

In another place we had to work the balsa up into the very spray from a
cataract only four feet high, but over which the river poured in a
thunderous volume, then cast loose with one mighty shove, and paddle for
the opposite bank, while in the meantime the balsa was being tossed in
the bursting boils of water at the surface or spun and dragged like a
chip by the whirlpools that floated with the current. Three times this
swept my balsa half a mile below—only one balsa made the crossing at the
first try—and it looked more than once as though we would be upset for
an uncertain swim.

That night we made camp at Tiaponti. Here a new cane shack had just had
the triumphant finish to a palm thatch roof and everyone in that little
finca was already drunk. From somewhere we got one precious chicken for
ourselves and the Lecco crews laid down to sleep, scarcely bothering the
cook; they were so exhausted. It was the only time I ever saw any of
them decline the opportunity for one of these festal drunks.

Early the next morning we started. One more day that was a little easier
and for hours we poled upstream against a gentle current along the bank
and picked wild guayavas from the overhanging trees. It is a delicious
fruit—although never since have I been able to find its kind, even in
the cultivated tropics. This wild guayava looked somewhat like a small,
gnarled quince on the outside; on the inside it had a most delicate pink
pulp beyond a little rind, a delicious pulp that combined the melting
flavor of the strawberry with the texture and modifications of a
superior watermelon. It was good.

That night we landed in Guanai,—twenty-three days of baffled progress
against the same river and the same current that had flicked us down
from this same Guanai in two days.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                    BY PACK MULE THROUGH THE JUNGLE


It was useless to attempt to battle with the river further. Above,
before Mapiri could be reached, were narrower cañons where there were
only handholds and often not that, where the cañons were often nothing
more than a polished flume of rock. It had taken the Leccos two failures
and over a month of the most gruelling work when they finally reached us
before in that village, and then they had been living on berries and
roots and palm-nuts for the last two days. So we decided on the overland
trail to Mapiri. There we could get our saddles and outfit for the trail
over the high passes.

Up to Guanai there was no trail, not even a Lecco foot-path, and it was
a relief to give the orders for mules and see the sure-footed,
flop-eared brutes come ambling to our doorway. For a saddle there was a
wreck, a dried leather cast-off that would go after some piecing with
rope. An arriero, dressed in a suit made from old flour sacks with the
brand still showing in faded blue, had a pack train that was just going
out with some rubber and it was his cargo mules that we hired. His
ordinary route lay through the Tipuani country and he charged us some
outrageous sum—something like five dollars apiece, silver—for going out
via Mapiri over the worst trail in Bolivia and some sixty or eighty
miles out of his way.

Officially, both Mapiri and Guanai recognize that they are connected by
a land trail yet we had not left Guanai a half hour before the last
vestige of a trail was gone and the mules plunged into a wilderness of
low scrub and tall ferns. The Andean foothills twisted themselves in a
maze of huge convolutions through and up and down whose great gullies
and jungled ravines we slipped and scrambled. By intuition or obscure
landmarks the Cholo arriero found his way and presently we zigzagged
down a slope where once more appeared the overgrown remains of a trail.
Then that too disappeared and we followed up the bed of a mountain
brook, struck off to one side, again plunged into the brook, climbed a
hill, struck another foaming torrent and skirted its banks or followed
its windings—the ravine through which it flowed being impassable in any
other way—and at last struck a tiny, grass grown, level glade. It was
not late, yet overhead the tops of the trees were matted in jungle
growths until but scant light filtered through, there was the cool
dampness of evening and the perpetual sound of the creaking chirping
bugs that, in the open world, only tune up for night concerts.

The rains had left the jungle dripping with water; we ourselves were as
wet as though we had been out in a storm, and even the blankets from the
tent pack were clammy and damp. By morning they were wringing wet and
all hands were soaked to the skin. A night storm and a hasty camp were
responsible, although how a camp could be made on a spongy soil up
against a mountain that shed its waters like a roof on your camping bed,
and for one night in a march, is a matter of engineering and not of
travel.

In the morning all the wood was too wet to burn and a cold breakfast of
leftover tea from the night before, some soggy _galletas_, crackers, and
chancaca added no zest to the opening day. Like the day before this was
spent in climbing through the jungle-matted hills or taking advantage of
occasional brooks. Here and there the trail reappeared, generally in a
series of steps cut in a slippery clay hill, steps three and four feet
high and with their tread banked by a log to keep it from washing away.
It was killing work for the mules and generally we dismounted and
climbed alongside. They would go up in a series of goat-like jumps,
throwing the watery mud in a shower with every plunge. Walking up such
places was safer for they were really of about the pitch of a ladder and
a single slip on the wet, greasy clay would have sent both mule and
rider in a broken mass to the bottom of the gully.

Early in the afternoon—it was not two o’clock—we were blocked by the
Mariapa River; it was a creek, broad and shallow and turbulent and
swollen with the recent rains. The only ford was impassable, so once
more we sat down to wait for a river to go down. It rose instead and
that night we camped by the ford, wet from the afternoon rain and caked
with mud.

There was no wood dry enough to burn and a cold supper with a tin of
Chicago’s most famous clammy beef stew—“roast beef”—purchased in Guanai
set forth the camp banquet log. It was already dusk above the tree tops
when we made camp and darkness below so that the Cholo arriero had not
noticed where we hung the shelter tent from the bushes and lay down
together. In the morning we awoke covered with a multitude of scurrying,
inquisitive ants of some large red species. They did not bite and were
inoffensive so far as that was concerned, but our belts, our holsters,
our shoes, our gauntlets, everything of leather, looked as though it had
broken out with small-pox. Tiny disks, perfectly round, had been cut out
of the surface of the leather; and in some apparently choice spots where
the surface leather had become exhausted they had started cutting out
disks in deeper layers. One gauntlet was worthless and the upper of one
shoe was on the verge of dissolution.

By morning the river had gone down enough to make it possible to attempt
it. The cargo mules were packed with their packs high on their backs and
driven in. As the pack mules took to the water, our riding mules—who had
always carried cargo with the others—came scrambling down the bank and
before they could be stopped were out in the ford. Thereupon we
undressed, cut long stout poles, hung our clothes about our necks, and
started for the farther bank.

The water was from the mountains, cold and icy, and the river bottom was
rough with boulders. With the pole we groped along after the cautious
fashion of a tripod while the cold current rose and chilled rib and
marrow and made the matter of balance one of delicacy. There was no
danger of drowning, but to be swept off one’s feet meant broken bones
among the white waters below. Not until it was too late to retreat did
these phases loom up clearly. Often one stood poised and balanced by the
pole with its hold down stream while the current boiled around the up
stream armpit, not daring to grope for the next step lest the pressure
of water would carry one off. It was different with that tough old
arriero; he cut himself a pole, hung his clothes around his neck and
came briskly across the water through which I had been teetering
uncertainly for twenty minutes.

Another camp, high and, for a wonder, in the open from which we could
see the rolling Andean foot-hills stretching like a billowing sea to the
horizon. Three months of steady traveling would not bring one to those
farther hills that were within vision.

The smoke of a rubber picker’s hut drifted up from a little gully below
us and the arriero came back with a chicken, a bunch of platanos and
some onions. The grub box was empty and for that day we had been going
on a handful of rice for breakfast, and parched corn and Indian
cigarettes. Not a sign of game had been encountered since leaving
Guanai, not even a bird big enough to eat. The mules were thin and
gaunt, for them there had been only what they could forage in the jungle
or here and there along the trail.

From here on there was a fairly defined trail. There was also a
continuation of small rivers and half the time we seemed to be fording.
An occasional rubber picker’s hut was in plain view and the late morning
smoke from their curing fires rose from many points in the forest. A
sugar-cane finca with its distillery alongside for cañassa spread beyond
a broad, muddy river. The mules forded this river, as did the arriero,
but there was a bridge there, a rough tower and platform on either side
of the river and a rope stretched across. On the rope a trolley worked
back and forth from which was suspended a tiny platform for the
passenger to straddle. On the farther platform an Indian ground the
windlass that produced the ferriage. It cost four cents, gold, to be
hauled across high in the air, over this affair.

 [Illustration: On the Rope a Trolley Worked Back and Forth from which
                     was Suspended a Tiny Platform]

The old Indian at the distillery sold us some real bananas, some
platanos, and three eggs. This latter is one of the rarest of articles
in any Indian or Cholo’s shack, for always there is a pet monkey and the
monkey is more fond of eggs—quite as much for the delicious thrill of
breakage as for their flavor—than the Indian; also he is far more adept
at finding them and it is a very vigilant hen indeed that can guard her
full original setting of eggs once the monkey’s agile suspicions are
aroused. One more camp in the hacienda of Villa Vista, a place very
similar to the hacienda of old Violand, where at last we had real beds,
or those saw-buck cots of native make. I recalled how clumsy these same
cots had looked as we had come into the montaña and left civilization
behind us. Now they seemed to our sophisticated eyes like the most
alluringly æsthetic devices for inducing and encouraging sleep that were
ever invented.

From the comforts of Villa Vista it was but one day into Mapiri, and
here we got out our own saddles, rubbed the mould off, saw that bread
enough was baked to last us out to Sorata, and started. It had been
exactly one month since we stepped on board the balsas at the camp down
the river. And that same distance from Mapiri to the camp had been made
on rafts on our voyage with the current and shooting the rapids and
cañons, in three days—a day’s travel down the river being equal to ten
days’ slow work against the same current.

Again the slow, killing climb over the high pass; the toll gate with its
queer little Indian child, the drizzly promontory of Tolopampa, Yngenio,
and then the final blizzards and snows at the summit of the pass. From
this summit it is less than a half day’s ride into Sorata, a trail that
takes the best part of two days’ climbing to make the other way.

At Sorata we changed mules and took the regular trail, not this time
that rarely used, but shorter back trail where the sullen, hostile
Aymarás have their homes, and on the third day were once more above the
valley of La Paz. We looked down on its warm red roofs and the little
green patch of its park with the masses of low dobe houses through which
there ran the feeling of rectangular streets with pavements and the
lazily drifting throngs with actual stiff, starched collars and shoes
with soles and laces instead of the patch of leather with a pucker
string around the top, and thick crockery plates instead of enamelled
tin, and pastry and roasts, and twice a week a real band in the
plaza—all the effete accomplishments of civilization. It is no wonder
the Bolivians solemnly assure you that La Paz is the Little Paris of
South America. When you approach it from the eastern slopes of the
Andes, it is a little Paris, a little London, a little old New York.

Two weeks later I was on my way back into the montaña while the chief
engineer was on his way to Iquiqui or Callao after machinery. A Mr. and
Mrs. Jackson had their headquarters in Sorata where the former
represented a rubber company and they, together with Drew, a wiry little
Englishman, who had packed into the country with nothing but a blanket
and the ragged clothes he walked in, and myself, combined to charter a
tiny stage-coach, the “_mosquito_” as it was known. This, with six
horses to haul it to the top of the alto and then with horses in relays
at each tambo would bring us to Achicachi on the southern shores of Lake
Titicaca in one single day of from before dawn till sunset. From there
it would be muleback over the first pass and down the trails into
Sorata.

The mosquito was just big enough for four and a tight fit at that. This
was fortunate for the little coach—from the outside it looked more like
a packing case—with slits of side windows slung above a pair of axles on
top of which perched two barefooted Aymarás, one to drive and the other,
a boy, to sling the long thonged whip pitched and tumbled in the steady
gallop over the rough trails of the plain like a motor boat in a choppy
seaway.

At the mud walled tambo of Cocuta the first change of horses was made.
Before we reached Machicomaca, the next tambo for new horses where we
ate breakfast in a mud walled, windowless room, the brake broke or fell
off and had been lost somewhere on the rough trail. The steady gallop of
the tough, rough mountain horses kept time to the steady singing and
punctuating crack of the whip. And yet rarely was a horse struck. An
Aymará will drive a crippled animal or leave it to die of starvation on
a lonely trail without a thought, but it is rarely that he will abuse a
beast with actual violence.

After the change of horses at Copencara there came a steep descent
something under a mile long. The driver stopped just over the crest and
pointed to the broken brake. Drew spoke a little Aymará, but the sight
of the broken brake and the steep hill was enough. We began untangling
ourselves to descend. Drew climbed out stiffly and was followed by
Jackson, this freed his wife, but she had scarcely put her foot to the
step when the mosquito gave a lurch forward and we were off. There had
not been even time to jump. It happened in an instant; the door was
banging with the plunging coach; Mrs. Jackson was thrown in one corner
and above the noise of flying stones and rattling of the coach could be
heard the Aymará yelling at his horses and the crack of the whip.

Unused to breechings, these mountain horses, half wild—at least as far
as harness was concerned—had felt the mosquito press forward against
them. They were off in a flash and jumping down this hill with an
unbraked coach bouncing at their heels. If the horses could not outrun
the coach we stood a certain chance of piling up in a wreck, horses,
Aymará, coach, and two perfectly good and useful Americans. So it was
that the Aymará held his horses at their top speed.

Never was there such a ride—not even in the rapids of the Ratama. In one
instant of lurching we looked fairly down upon the swift, blurred ground
over which we sped, and in the next there flashed past the rim of
snow-capped mountains and then the cold, deep blue of the high heavens.
The flying stones from the horses banged against the mosquito in a
vicious storm. Inside my voice could not be heard above the uproar. I
had somehow wadded all the ponchos and blankets and wedged Mrs. Jackson
in one corner of the mosquito in very much the same way as one packs
china; if we smashed the wadding might help a little. Then I braced
myself with my feet against a corner of the roof with all the purchase I
could secure and pushed against the bundle I had made. It was the only
thing I could think of, and at any rate, it held us both firm against
the terrific bouncing.

  [Illustration: Never Was There Such a Ride—Not Even in the Rapids of
                              the Ratama]

Presently,—though it seemed an hour—we could feel that the bottom of the
hill was reached and then came the slow lessening of speed as the Aymará
brought the horses gradually to a stop. We climbed out, the Aymará got
down off his perch and looked over the horses curiously, and waved his
hands in expressive pantomime at the mosquito and back at the hill, a
steep water-worn trail of ruts on either side of which the ground
dropped in rough slopes. Luckily it was straight, the lightest curve, at
the pace we had gone, would have shot the outfit halfway across the
gorges before we struck the ground. One horse was lame and the others
sagged until we made the last change at Guarina, another old time Aymará
village.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                          THE INDIAN UPRISING


It was in the cold dusk of the high altitude and tingling with the chill
winds that blew from Mount Sorata when we clattered through the streets
of Achicachi. Little crystals of ice were already forming in the
stagnant pools and little flurries of snow stung as it whistled through
the dull streets of this ancient town. On the edge of Lake Titicaca,
this ancient town of Achicachi is the home of petty smugglers who can
run their contraband in the native straw boats across from the Peruvian
shores. The remains of the old mud wall that surrounded it in the days
of the Incas are still fairly preserved in places and its population is
still practically Aymará, with only a sprinkling of half-breed Cholos.

On fiesta days the little police are held in their barracks on the big
open plaza and sally forth only in parties. The Aymarás gather in great
numbers from a score of tribal divisions and unite in the typical
drunken dances and festivities. Factions forget and renew old
differences and toward evening little battles break out in the streets
or the plaza. The streets are unsafe and the few white Bolivians and
better Cholos stay within. Always there is the danger of an Indian
uprising and that occasionally takes form. Between times in the fiestas
the Aymarás are handled without regard, at the first word—or less—they
are clubbed and for but little more shot.

The dusk of fiesta is filled with drunken, sullen Indians among whom
wander here and there dishevelled creatures with clotted wounds.
Occasionally the sullen buzz rises, a little restless movement begins
from some section of the big plaza, and in a moment a knot of Bolivian
police are plunging in to come back with bloody carbine butts. Always
there is the dull hatred of the Bolivian by the Aymará which comes
easily to the surface at these times. And there is not a Bolivian
statute governing the sale of liquor to an Aymará; if he gets dangerous
when drunk, beat him; if too dangerous, kill him.

In the “hotel” in Achicachi the rooms are windowless and range around
the four sides of the patio. You furnish your own bed and bedding and
each holds a heavy log with which to bar the door. In the patio and in
and out of the open rooms some native razor-back hogs wandered at their
will and off on one side, more exclusive, was a friendly peccary who
would sidle up and grunt sociably in return for a little back
scratching. Over by one of the rooms and tied outside was the queerest
animal; from across the patio it looked like a very small bear with
heavy, long fur yet with queer indefinable difference that explained
itself when a closer approach developed a monkey! He was a capucin, the
most friendly and delightful of the monkey tribe, and here he was, miles
from his warm, tropical home, cheerfully chattering by the side of a tin
can that was already filmed with ice and sticking out his pink tongue to
lick off the flakes of snow that gathered on his fur—a fur that had
grown to enormous length and thickness and left him peering with a
brown, quizzical face out from it like a shrivelled winter-clad
chauffeur of some stock broker’s quean.

The next evening we arrived in Sorata—and from there on the difficulties
began to pile themselves, one on the other. A big, abrupt and surly
egotist had been carefully chosen by some Board of Directors back in the
States to manage a rubber proposition—in a frontier country like that
every one depends for countless things on neighbors, though neighbors
may mean separations that measure hundreds of miles—yet this gentleman
had left a trail of hostility from the coast, besides a record for both
Scotch and rye whiskey that could hardly be surpassed. He wore khaki
clothes and a Colt with a nine inch barrel on his strolls in Sorata and
he published conspicuously in bad Spanish and English, which he ordered
translated, his opinion of all, Bolivian, Cholo, Aymará, or American.

His company had committed unutterable follies from a leather director’s
chair seven thousand miles away and he proposed to see those follies
carried out to the letter. Sometimes we have wondered why our efforts in
South American trade and development have met with such scanty success.
He was one of the reasons. Rumors came that he had become hostile to our
camp down the river, that they encroached on his privileges or were
using men whom he had contracted, though we were miles from his
properties or influence. As a matter of fact the leather chair directors
had made a contract for callapos at a figure below cost to the
balseros—and for an advance payment—and had been swindled. The leather
chair directors had merely swindled themselves in what was at best an
oversharp Yankee bargain—and in a country where the law does not run
east of the Andes and only primitive justice prevails! In default of
either of the latter, he proposed to dictate to any one who went into
the montaña and down the river when and how they might or might not use
callapos offered by balseros. But I had at that time other things to
think of.

A pack train of some fifty mules with supplies had come in from La Paz
for our camp. Also some fifteen Cholo laborers, and a mechanic for the
camp and among them a Jap, a queer, silent, pink-cheeked Jap. He was
immaculate in appearance and always dapper; how or why he ever drifted
into that part of the world was a mystery. He had a little baggage in a
nice little lacquered box which, as was revealed later in the rainswept
stone hut of Tolopampa, contained the secret of his pink cheeks. In that
dull dawn he had out a little mirror and a bit of carmine and charcoal
with which he was adding beautifying touches. On down the river in camp
he always appeared the same; but he was a fine workman and could go
teetering along on the ridgepole of a house as easily as a Lecco could
run along the river bank. And this outfit arrived with no money to pay
for itself, money that the company should have, and had promised to send
in.

The agent left by the engineer in La Paz had sent no money and the
outfit promptly began eating its head off. The single wire that
irregularly kept La Paz in touch with Sorata was down—very likely one of
the times when an Aymará had needed some wire in wrapping his iron
ploughshare fast to the crooked tree trunk or for tying on his roof
tree—and I could not reach the agent. Another day and no wire fixed. On
the third came the news from the village of Illabaya, some fifteen miles
away that the Aymarás had broken loose and there was an Indian uprising.
From the valley of Sorata we could see the mountains with tiny fires
flickering at night, apparently as signals, and occasionally an Indian
driving a string of cattle into hiding along some far off Andean trail.
The householders in Sorata began storing water in ollas in their patios
and rifles and cartridges tripled in price. And still there was no wire
to La Paz by which either I or the intendente—who wanted soldiers—could
get a message through from Sorata.

The men were boarded out and money was absolutely essential to keep
their rations going and to pay any more bills that might come in with
more pack trains. Once let the slightest suspicion get the air that
there was no money at hand and the workmen would have fled like quail
and it would have been a matter of the utmost difficulty to secure them,
or any others, again. It meant a very serious emergency for the camp.
What had happened in La Paz I did not know, but it became imperative to
find out, Aymará outbreak or not. The only man available to go with me,
Skeffington, was a great tall man, proportionately built, and a splendid
fellow, whose weight would be a handicap to a horse in any emergency. So
I decided to go alone.

I started at dawn on a little, tough mountain-bred horse and had passed
the divide early in the afternoon. At Huaylata I stopped for breakfast—a
tin of salmon and some cakes of Aymará bread—a little outside the
sprawling collection of mud huts, and an Indian woman came out and sold
me a sheaf of barley for the horse. There were no signs of Indian
trouble here. The horse ate and then drank and as he finished drinking
he threw up his head and the blood trickled in a heavy stream from his
nostrils and he trembled.

If the horse was frightened he was not more so than I. To be horseless
and on foot in an Indian plain and with the uncertain rumors of Aymará
outbreaks that might have spread like a flame among that dull, hostile
population was the most unpleasant situation I have ever faced. The
little Indian towns where I expected to camp, Copencara and the tambo of
Cocuta, were safe enough, but the thought of getting even to
Achicachi—where I might be able to get a fresh horse—gave me five
minutes of cold and clammy quivers of panic at the pit of my stomach.
The horse stood with the blood dripping in a steady patter on the cold
ground while a puddle slowly grew into a great red blot; he looked at me
with what, to my understanding, appeared to be his final vision from
dulling eyes; the straggling population of the scattering huts of
Huaylata seemed to have become raised to the final power of sinister
hostility; there was no doubt that I was frightened. I took a box of
cartridges from my saddle bags and distributed them in my pockets so
their weight bore evenly and waited. There was nothing else to do. There
was no use in starting on foot till the horse was surely dead.

Presently the horse went back to the spring, took a little drink, and
then turned to the cebada and began nibbling. I felt better for no
seriously deranged animal would eat in its final moments. The trickling
of blood grew less and the animal showed in better shape. If he could
only last to Achicachi, that was all that I wanted.

I did not think it wise to start on foot and leading the horse—that
would advertise the fact that I was crippled—while I could wait in
Huaylata without betraying anything more than a sluggish and lazy
disposition. I tried mounting at last and the horse grunted and then
started slowly. How I nursed him those miles; out of sight of Huaylata I
walked; the bleeding had stopped, but he seemed weak; I took his
temperature with my hand, I petted him, I gave him a bite of chocolate,
and when any Aymará huts or little parties hove in sight I mounted and
rode by.

Steadily the horse improved and at times responded to a test trot
without difficulty so that I rode through Achicachi without stopping.
Only once had I had the sign of trouble and that was a little group of
Aymarás near the beginning of an old Inca causeway that cuts across one
arm of Lake Titicaca. They were drunk and I could hear snatches of their
thin, wailing songs while they were still dots in the distance. As I
rode by they were at one side of the trail where an old mud building
held forth as a _chicharia_ and struggling in that aimless drunken
fashion that seems so common to all topers and that divides all
wassailing bands into those prudent souls who are already drunk enough
and know it and those who won’t go home until morning or till daylight,
or the day after, doth appear. They started for me uncertainly, one
reached for a stone, but an Aymará rushed out of the house and knocked
it from his hand. Some of the more sober came, too, and again the
wrangling started, apparently as to whether they should rush me or not.
And in the meantime I had ridden out of reach.

There was nothing to fear in that incident, at least so far as my
immediate safety had been concerned. But the critical point lay in
avoiding trouble; no one Indian or similar group would have had a
chance, unarmed as they were, against any man with a gun, but in a
peculiarly abrupt Indian fashion the countryside is aroused and trouble
is apt to close in on the trail ahead in a particularly congested and
fatal manner.

I had planned to camp in Copencara, but the delay left me plodding along
in the cold darkness and I was glad when I reached Guarina. In the
blackness I rode into a pack-train of sleepy llamas before they knew
it—or I either for that matter—and on the instant I could hear the
patter and thud of their padded feet as they scattered in a panic
stricken flight, while from out of the night came the hissing herd-calls
of the Aymará drivers trying to hold them together. Off from the highway
that led through the town and from somewhere beyond the walled streets
there came the dull beating of many Aymará drums and the mournful
tootling of their flutes. Now and again there was the bang of a dynamite
cartridge and the pop of firecrackers. An Aymará flitted by in the
streets and I called to him for the way to the house of the
corregidor—the chief official. All I could get of his reply was the
respectful “Tata” as he disappeared.

There was not a light that gleamed through a chink in any window or
door, the wretched streets were deserted, and only the noises of the
fiesta and the occasional glow from a big bonfire down some alley showed
where the only signs of life existed. It was possible that the
corregidor was barricaded in his house as in the very recent affair at
Illabaya and I had no mind to intrude on any collection of Aymarás
beating tom-toms and raising drunken memories of their abused ancestors.
It looked ominous.

Presently another dim figure pattered through the darkness and again I
asked for the way to the corregidor. The Aymará gave explanations that I
could not have followed in daylight and then started off to lead the
way, straight down an alley to the plaza where were the bonfires and the
drums and the dancing and the explosions. Along one side we skirted
until the farther side was reached. It was a big plaza—almost as big as
the town—and it was filled with Aymarás from miles around. A mass of
shifting groups shuffled in their trotting dance around the fires and
hundreds of unattached guests wandered drunkenly about or lay stupefied
as they fell with their faithful wife—or wives—taking care of the bottle
of alcohol till they should revive afresh and athirst.

At one end of this plaza my guide stopped, he was a tattered ragged
Aymará—a pongo—a carrier of water and of the lowest caste, and left me
at the headquarters of the corregidor to whom I had the customary right
of the country to appeal for shelter. When there is no corregidor you go
to the padre. He was a Cholo, a heavy, thick-set man with a strong face,
dressed in the ordinary clothes of a white man, whose peculiar dull
complexion alone marked him as Cholo. A couple of tattered police
lounged in the doorway and a half dozen Cholos were idling around this
headquarters. A Winchester leaned against the corregidor’s chair, some
of the others carried theirs as they shuffled about, and back in the
dimness of the room could be seen extra carbines leaning against the
walls, and from every belt there was the bulge under the coat that
indicated a revolver.

The corregidor looked at me curiously; a lone traveler at night on the
high plateaus in these uncertain times and speaking bad Spanish was
something of a novelty. One of the ragged policemen took me in charge
and once again I was back in the dark alleys. Before a door in a long
wall we stopped and then a rusty key squeaked and both horse and I
walked through into the walled patio around whose sides opened the
windowless rooms. The policeman brought in a bundle of cebada for my
horse and a bowl of native Bolivian soup-stew, stinging with _aji_ and
grateful in its warmth. For the food and forage I paid, but for the
house and shelter the corregidor would accept nothing. There was no bed
nor did I need any, with my saddle and blankets. After the door had been
barricaded with the log used for the purpose, I was asleep at once to
the lulling of drums and flutes and banging dynamite.



                               CHAPTER XX
                          AMBUSHED BY LADRONES


Early in the morning I was off; some of the celebrants of the night
before were strewn along the streets, still drunk, and among them the
sociable hogs rooted or wandered. The horse I looked over anxiously, but
he was sound as a dollar and even a little frisky in the keen air. Once
in a while an Indian was to be seen plowing a tiny patch of the Andean
plateau with a bull and a crooked tree trunk or here and there a single
figure plodding the trail. In the afternoon I caught up with a Spaniard,
the manager of a gold mine back in the mountains he said, and together
we rode comfortably along. Until we met I had no idea of the enormous
craving for companionship that can develop in the human mind. Bolivian
fashion, he had galloped and exhausted his horse in the early morning
and now it could not be urged off a tired walk.

At Cocuta we stopped and had a little supper, some fried eggs and a hot
stew, mainly of aji, while the horses rested with loosened girths. La
Paz was only some twelve miles distant and to the edge of the high plain
from which its lights could be seen even less. I was going on so that I
could get in that night. The Spaniard’s idea was to stop in one of the
mud rooms of the tambo and ride in, freshened, foam-bedecked, and
prancing in the morning. The mud rooms, acrid with llama-dung smoke from
the cooking fires and infested as well, made no appeal to me. My
companion went outside to look over his horse and came back in a state
of suppressed excitement. He beckoned me over in one of the mud rooms:

“There are here a gang of ladrones—highwaymen,” he said. “We must go on
at once I know them. They killed the mail carrier on the trail last
month. We dare not stop here—we will saddle slowly and ride on as if we
had not noticed them. Then we can see if they follow.”

We tightened the girths and the Spaniard’s Indian boy picked up his
bundle and swung alongside on foot—he could keep up with the horse at
the end of a day’s march on the trails. As we rode out of the corral
there was a group of Cholos and Bolivians mud spattered and dusty who
had evidently just arrived. Their animals wandered around while their
riders with a bottle of alcohol and some bottles of native beer were
getting drunk as rapidly as possible. One of them had on an old style
blue army overcoat of the United States and, so far as looks went, they
easily lived up to the reputation of brigands that my Spanish friend had
just given them.

The interesting question for us was whether they would follow and
overtake us. The cold afterglow of sunset was almost at our backs and we
carefully watched the long, level horizon on which Cocuta long remained
in sight for signs of horsemen. The Spaniard was for covering ground as
fast as possible, but I insisted on keeping to a walk; his horse was
played out and needed to be saved up to the last minute if we were
really in for a bad time.

It grew dark, and the thinnest possible silver of moon gave only an
accent to the night. No following horsemen had appeared and we were
feeling quite relieved when the Indian boy spoke to the Spaniard. Off on
our right, perhaps a couple of hundred feet from the trail furrows, rode
a little group of horsemen. There were four or five, in the night it was
uncertain, but they were off the trail—for nothing that one could
imagine except of a sinister purpose since everyone follows the
trail—and suiting their pace to ours, were walking abreast without
closing in. We had dismounted to ease our horses and now we climbed back
into the saddles. The figures did not close in nor did they give any
sign.

“They are trying to count us,” said my friend, and then he added, “have
you another pistol, señor, one that you could lend me—I have not one.”

I had not. And I remember to this day the cold, clammy undulations of my
spine as I realized that the only gun between us belonged to me and that
whatever responsibilities the situation developed the field of action
was also to be wholly mine.

The hold-up in these parts is not practiced with the gentle chivalry of
the “hands up” or stand-and-deliver method; you are first shot up and,
if the aim has been successful from the chosen ambush, your remains are
searched. Spanish—or the surviving Bolivian procedure—places a very high
value on the testimony of surviving principals, so much so that one of
the effects of any form of hold-up is to see that there are no surviving
principals.

The little figures off the trail kept pace with us and gave no sign.
Presently they gradually quickened their gait and disappeared in the
darkness ahead. The Spaniard laid his hand softly on my arm:

“They have gone ahead to await us in an arroyo, señor,” he said. “Be
sure that your pistol is in order.”

These arroyos are gashes in the high plateau, sometimes only six or
eight feet deep and more often deep gullies with a dried watercourse at
the bottom into which one rides in steep zigzags like the mountain
trails, and by reason of having the only gun it became my part to ride
ahead. Presently we came to one—deep and as dark as the inside of a cow.
There was nothing else to do so I cocked my gun, a forty-four, Russian
model, and shoved the spurs in so that my horse would take the trail,
down into the arroyo first. There was not a sound except the rattle of
stones from my horse’s feet; there was not a thing that could be seen in
the darkness; I was on edge for the slightest sound.

“If you hear a sound, señor, shoot!” said my fellow traveler as I
spurred ahead.

It seemed an age before I rode out on the plain on the other side—and it
was only a little arroyo. And there were some eight or ten more of these
ahead. How many we passed I do not remember, but it was from the
opposite bank of one deep gully that I heard the rattle of displaced
gravel and I swung my gun into the direction of the sound and blazed
away. Down the last slope of the near side my horse slid and then in a
rattling gallop stumbling and pitching over the dried watercourse on up
the opposite side while I banged away in the direction of the first
sound. More gravel poured down and then there came the sounds of
scurrying and of hoof beats pounding on hard ground. Close behind me
came the Spaniard in a clatter of flying stones and still further behind
the noise of his Indian boy scuttling down the bank and trying to keep
up.

On the farther bank we halted and took stock. To this day I do not know
how many shots I fired for I broke the gun, dumped out all the shells,
and reloaded without taking stock of expended ammunition. But the
tension was gone; we looked at each other in the darkness and the rest
of the trail seemed easy.

“They will not likely appear again,” he said. “But there are one or two
bad places yet.”

There were narrow zigzags with sharp turns guarded by jutting rocks
where a man could be hidden until the horse pivoted for the sharp turn
and this constant riding with a cocked gun into a black gash that maybe
contained something that never appeared wore on the nerves. How much I
did not know until, as we rode into the outskirts of La Paz, a couple of
fighting bulls broke loose in the streets and a loose fighting bull is
very dangerous. A man on horseback was perfectly safe, but at the
shrill, terrified cries of “_los toros! los toros!_” and the low bellow
of the bulls, I spurred on a law-breaking gallop through the streets of
La Paz and did not stop until I had clattered into the patio of the
hotel. My nerve was gone.

The trouble over the lack of company funds was soon located. Our agent
in La Paz, a hard drinking old man of many exaggerated politenesses and
a teller of tales that began with a British commission in a Bengal
lancers regiment and drifted through Sioux and Blackfeet raids, a man
who was utterly delightful across a club table, had been seized with a
madness for power. The poor old fellow, as honest as he was shiftless, a
genteel drifter for years, had become an appointed and accredited
resident agent and with a full company cash box felt for the first time
in years the thrill of responsibility as “agent” and had been for days
shifting from club to hotel and back to the club maudlin with boasts and
Scotch-and-sodas. It did not take long to straighten out affairs and
soon I was headed for the interior.

Once more I was back in Sorata. One of the men, our only mechanic, an
Englishman, was quarantined in a little house on the outskirts, down
with the smallpox. We had shared the room in the Sorata posada together
before I started across the high plain, and he had become sick
twenty-four hours after I left. The intendente of Sorata was irritated
at him, he was some trouble with his smallpox. They had locked an old
Indian woman in the house on the outskirts to which he had been removed
and kept a guard at the door so she could not escape. She was cook and
nurse.

The queer official government doctor who ran a queer medicine shop and
barely kept alive under the government subsidy, shuffled up to the house
each day and called inquiries through the window that were answered by
the sick man. Fortunately he was not very ill, and he pulled through.
While the peeling or shedding process was on we would go up and sit
across the alley from his window and smoke some pipes with the patient.

At night he used to be annoyed while he was helpless, by the Aymarás,
who would hold little dances and celebrations under his windows, tooting
the doleful flutes and beating the drums. While he was sickest he was
helpless; one of his first messages was to the intendente to chase off
the Indians. It had the usual result—nothing. His first convalescent act
was to crawl over to the window one night with his gun and open fire.
Two muffled echoes from the night proved that he had punctured two drums
and he was left in peace. True, the Aymarás complained but the
intendente came back with the information that a crazy smallpox patient
was a free agent and they had better keep away. Thereafter no more drums
or flutes broke the night’s peace.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                        THE MUSIC OF THE AYMARÁS


This Indian music is interesting and I was fortunate in being able to
have some preserved in musical form for repetition. In the remains of
the vast Indian nation shattered by Pizarro, the Empire of the Incas,
every man and boy, almost from the age when he can walk, is an adept on
their simple reed flutes and Pandean pipes; the drum he merely thumps.
They are a musical race; there are songs and airs for each season, for
the planting, for the harvest, for the valorous deeds of the vanished
caciques, for their gods of old to whom a new significance has been
given by a pious Church, and the long-drawn chants by means of which, at
their yearly gatherings, they pass down the history of their race. As
there is no written language, there is no written music; it is handed
down from generation to generation by the ear alone.

Their national instruments are but three in number: the flute—a reed
about eighteen inches in length, with six holes, and a square slit at
the end for a mouthpiece, played after the manner of a clarionet; the
Pandean pipes—a series of seven reed tubes that, in the large ones, are
four feet in length, and in the smaller ones scarcely as many inches;
and the drum. The last is the universal instrument of all peoples; there
are few races so low in the scale of human society as not to possess it.
The Pandean pipes are in a double row, and at the time of preparation
for the Indiads, or the intertribal wars, the outer series is filled
with cañassa, the native liquor, and the player receives the benefit of
the intoxicating fumes without the delay incidental to drinking from the
bottle. Only the men play, the women and girls never; their part is in
the chanting and in the hand-clapping that measures the weird rhythm,
although before marriage the girls are allowed to join in the dances and
the drinking that goes with them.

In the cities and villages there are the constant beating of the drums
and sound of the flutes. Every community or group has its special
festival days. Now it is a wedding or a christening with the hosts of
“compadres”—godfathers—or the Church day of some obscure saint
celebrated by the mission padre, then a village fiesta or house-raising,
and from day to day the sounds of barbaric strains stretch in an endless
chain throughout the year. In riding over the high plains in the Indian
country one is seldom beyond the sound of the thin flutes. Every llama
and sheep herder passes the monotonous hours with his playing. In the
still air it carries for miles and softens in the long distances with a
weird pleasing effect. The strain is short, but one bar, and for hours
it is repeated with unvarying exactness.

[play]

Even in the bitter cold and snow of the trails of the high passes the
presence of the Indians is announced long before their appearance by the
echoing flutes. They plod along in single file, muffled in their
ponchos, driving the llamas or burros before them; one of them supplies
the music, but as the air is thin in these high altitudes and breath is
precious, they relieve each other at frequent intervals. There is no
marked cadence to the music; it is a weary minor air unlike the sturdy
measures we associate with marching music, but it undoubtedly stimulates
its audience in some mysterious way with an inspiring effect.

[play]

But it is in the great fiestas that one has the best opportunity of
hearing the Indian music. I was waiting in the Indian town of Achicachi
for the arrival of my mule to carry me over the pass to the village of
Sorata. The fiesta was for the birthday of the town and in honor of the
ancient gods of the place; at daybreak the Indians gathered within its
walls from miles.

With the light of dawn the streets began filling with dancing bands of
Indians in their gaudy festival attire. They were there in thousands.
The plaza was a weaving mass of brilliant ponchos and feathers; Indians
with contorted masks, and jaguar-skins trailing from their shoulders,
performed dances in the cramped spaces cleared for their benefit; silver
and gold bullion decorations glinted in the clear atmosphere along with
cheap tinsel and tin mirrors; and above all rose the sound of the
Pandean pipes, the flutes, and the drums, filling the air with a
confused discordant roar.

Often several groups of Indians would band together and in single file
follow the pipes and drums in a little jerky, dancing step. Sometimes
they went through simple evolutions, figure eights and circles, or
divided and came together in the pattern of the “grand march” of the
East Side balls. The players would dance as well, and occasionally some
inspired individual would halt the line while he whirled dizzily around
in one spot to his own music. The others would watch these performances
with approval, chanting in a high wailing key and clapping their hands
in accompaniment.

With the darkness of the night the dancing and playing in the plaza
became less and less. The groups withdrew to their ’dobe huts and
squatted on the mud floors. A tallow dip or a smoky wick floating in a
dish of grease furnished what light there was. The wind from Lake
Titicaca blew fresh and keen, but in the lurid gloom of their squalid
huts the air was foul with the crowded Aymarás. The chanting took the
place of the dance, and the flutes and pipes led in the air; the drums
were silent. With the finish of each verse or section the note ended in
a prolonged maudlin wail that continued until it became the opening note
of the succeeding stanza.

[play]

This song is also popular with the Cholos—the half-breeds. They hate the
whites, and sing it with either Spanish or Aymará words of foul
denunciation. In Sorata one time they marched past below my window,
singing it for my benefit. Between verses they cursed the “gringos” in
vulgar Spanish.

It was in this same village of Sorata that I was present at its greatest
Indian fiesta. It is the fiesta of the harvest and generally lasts for
an entire week. The mission padre pronounces it the feast of Todos
Santos, but to the Indians that is a matter of indifference. The maize
and the “choque” (potatoes) have been gathered, and the “chalona”
(frozen mutton) prepared for the ensuing season; the year has ended; it
is the fiesta of the harvest. They go to confession on the morning of
the first day, but the remainder is spent in their own customs.

The little parties organized themselves after the early-morning visit to
the ’dobe church and paraded with their odd trotting dance-steps through
the lanes of the town. There was the usual collection of thin drums and
shrill flutes, with here and there the mellower tone of a Pandean pipe.
One band stood out conspicuously in the crowding throngs. This band had
been carefully trained by its host, who did not play himself, but with a
proud dignity directed its evolutions. A huge Aymará headed the party;
he played Pandean pipes with tubes four feet in length. A great drum
swung by a rawhide thong from his shoulders. Its shell was from a log,
the core of which had been burned out. Following him was the line of
Indians in a reducing scale, each with a smaller set of pipes and a
smaller drum.

Each Indian contributed but a few notes to the air; the range of the
pipe was limited. The drums never rested; they marked the sonorous
rhythm of the measures. The training was perfect; there was never a
break in the succession of notes; the effect was much like that of a
calliope, but more mellowed and pleasing. They played but two airs, and
these seemed to be reserved for that peculiar form of orchestra.

[play]

This they would play for hours before changing to the other, as follows:

[play]

White squares of cloth hung from the shoulders of the players like the
capes of the old Crusaders, and with their brilliant new ponchos and the
bright green of the parrot-feather decorations they made a most
picturesque effect. The weird and barbaric music was rather attractive
at first as it rose from the distance and swelled in volume while the
procession came nearer, but after eight or ten hours it palled, and the
prospect of a week more of it was not cheerful. But an outbreak in the
Indian town of Illabaya, ten miles off over the mountains, brought it to
a close much earlier.

To Mrs. Arthur T. Jackson, of Boston, the wife of a prominent
rubber-dealer in Bolivia, who was in Sorata at the time, the only white
woman within hundreds of miles, I am indebted for the transcript of the
Indian music. An accomplished musician, she was much interested in the
subject, and at different times during her months on the Indian
frontiers she had gathered and noted the airs as she heard them in the
fiestas.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                               BACK HOME


More difficulty developed when I, in an amiable frame of mind bought a
chance in a watch from a Sorata man, for when a man moves from a village
he raffles off all his household goods and his own and his wife’s
jewelry. This raffle was made famous by the fact that I won something. I
won the watch; and the next morning was arrested by the intendente on
the complaint of a thrifty Soratañian that the whole machinery of the
raffle had been undermined and debauched, and Bolivia dishonored in
order that the dice might give me this marvelous watch. The watch, by
the way—I will keep it for years as proof that I am Fortune’s
favorite—_did_ strongly resemble gold in a dim light and when wound
would tick for quite a while, but in its general aspect was on the order
of those given as a premium with two cakes of scented soap for a quarter
by the slick corner spieler of a gang of pickpockets.

At last we were to start the next day over the pass to Mapiri with our
outfit and men. The surly American with his ever-present extraordinarily
long barrel Colt sent a messenger to me to announce that his home
office, easy chair, contract on the Mapiri River happened to cover all
of the available balsas and callapos and that I could not use any.
Presently we met in the plaza and he remarked with a suggestive
emphasis, “You got my message about my callapos?” I replied briefly that
I had and that I would act as my judgment dictated when I arrived in
Mapiri. “Very well,” he said suggestively; “then you know the
consequences and can take them.”

That night a friend came to our party with the information that this man
had shipped in to his barraca recently some dozen Winchesters and
considerable ammunition and that he was arranging to ship more. That
gave their barraca some twenty-six rifles—a pretty heavy armament for
merely a peaceful rubber company. His ignorance of the country and his
truculent vanity and the carelessness with which he talked “fight,”
drunk or sober, made it a matter of no little concern. And he neither
knew nor respected the rights and customs of river travel, although he
attempted to dictate them.

Like many patriots he was willing to fight as long as he could hire his
fighting done for him—an absentee bravo.

We bought four Mausers and a thousand rounds of ammunition and started
back to our camp, with five white men and some thirty-five Cholo workmen
and three pack-trains of supplies.

Once again we climbed sleepily into the saddles at daybreak and began
crawling up to the final pass over this third and last great range of
the Andes. The first night’s camp was hardly below the snow line in a
little sheltered cove on the mountain flank; the next morning a slippery
climb in a blizzard that coated every mule in ice as though with armor
brought us to a ragged, narrow cleft in a long fin of rock through which
we passed as through a gateway. It was the summit of the pass. There was
on the farther side the usual votive cairn of stones built by the
Aymarás with the twig cross at its apex while, leaning against the fin
of protruding rock as far as the eyes could penetrate the blizzard, were
narrow, spear-head pieces of shale placed on end as further efforts in
worship or propitiation of the great god of the mountain.

From the pass the trail dropped a trifle and we crowded for that night
into the tambo in Yngenio. They were a surly lot and viewing with a
hostile suspicion—doubtless with causes inherited from the remote past
of the conquistadores—any outfit of wayfarers.

Again followed a day of sleet and snow-squall with an occasional rift in
the clouds when, thousands of feet below, could be seen the soft greens
and the waving palms of inviting tropical warmth and dryness. The narrow
trail zigzagged up the bare mountain steeps, followed for a distance the
wanderings of the crest, and then dropped in another series of zigzags
to lower levels. For hours there was this constant rise and fall. In a
cold rain we camped in a stone hut, Tolopampa, a place that has the
reputation of perpetual mud and rain where the skull of some deserted
Aymará packer still kicked around in the cold mud outside.

And then at daybreak began the drop into the warmer zones where there
was sunlight and a riot of tropical color. For two days it was one
unbroken descent while the back grew weary and exhausted leaning against
the cantle and the stirrups interfered with the mule’s waggling ears.
The clayey mud of the wallowing trails rose up and wrapped us in its
welcome until boot-lacings, spur and puttee buckles blended in
shapeless, indistinguishable masses. And then, five days after leaving
Sorata, we plodded into the straggling line of palm thatched huts that
is credited on Bolivian maps with being the town of Mapiri. For two days
the mules were rested while the arrieros passed the time in keeping
mildly drunk. Below the high bank on which the town stood, the River
Mapiri boiled past in muddy eddies; here in a cane hut we camped and
oiled and packed the saddles; from now on it would be rafts, callapos,
until we again reached the main camp.

In Mapiri the callapos were waiting and we embarked. One camp on a sand
bar, one camp in Guanai and the next day we shot more rapids and came
into the country of the truculent one with the long barreled Colt. The
barraca lay just around the bend where the river broke in some small
rapids and then saved itself in miles of smoothly coiling eddies for the
grand smother of the Ratama. It was here at this chief barraca of his
company that there might be trouble—we had been warned that if we
attempted to round this bend in any unapproved, uncensored callapos we
would be fired on. The four Mausers had been issued and the case of
ammunition unscrewed. There were four callapos with the white men on the
one in the lead. It was rather exciting, this uncertainty, but it was
accompanied by the invariably clammy spinal undulations and the strong
desire that I was somewhere else or that what that jungled river bed
held for us was an incident of the past rather than of this imminence.

As though casually the freight had been loaded on the callapo platforms
so that it made an informal breastwork and quite as informally we loafed
behind it. And then the callapos drifted silently around the bend—we had
not fired the salute that is ordinarily made when approaching a barraca
at which one is going to stop and call—and the clearing with its
collections of huts and palm thatched roofs broke into view. A little
figure scuttled across the clearing and disappeared. The edge of the
clearing on the bank was within a stone’s throw and not a sound broke
the stillness. A word to the Leccos and their heavy paddles began
working us over to the bank where a little path ran down to the water’s
edge. If the two camps were in for a frontier war, a feud, it might as
well be found out at once. Before there had been only the threats of a
foolish man—here was the place and here were the men under his control.
How far would they back his stupidities?

In single file we climbed the steep path to the clearing; at the top the
head man came forward cordially.

“What’s this about firing on us as we came around the bend—you getting
in Winchesters by the crate?”

He laughed cheerfully:

“Oh, phut! If it amuses that old fool outside to send them in I don’t
mind, but if he wants to start any fighting let him come on in and do it
himself.”

We told him of the rumors and the threats that came from Sorata.

“Sure, I know,” he said; “that old cuss didn’t do much else but talk
fight with me when I was out; how many rifles, how we’re going to run
things—you know him—and I’ll bet he’s never heard anything more than a
firecracker go off in his life. He’d fire me if he thought I had you at
my table. Bring up the hammocks and come on into grub!”

And so like most other really serious things it faded away on a close
approach. But it had held all of the serious elements.

The next morning we swung out into the river and again shot the rapids
of the Ratama and drifted out where the whirlpools drew the callapos
under neck-deep. As we approached the site of our camp we turned loose
the rifles and shortly came the answering pop of guns. The callapos
grounded on the shallows at the foot of the bank, the old Cholo workmen
swarmed around the new comers and waded ashore with the new freight.
Where we had left the beginnings of a palm thatched roof was a long
bunk-house; a patch of young platanos was opening its long leaves with
its promise of our own base of supplies; a hen clucked around with one
lone chick—the rest having succumbed to snakes—the result of some
trading with the cacique; under a palm thatch there drifted the blue
wisps of smoke from a bank of charcoal burning and a well defined trail
stretched through the jungle to a clearing farther down where the placer
workings would be finally located.

It was like the Swiss family Robinson—it was coming home. The Cholo with
the one silver eye, the drunken shoemaker with the scalloped scar, and
all the others crowded around and chattered in a happy excitement. The
proper native custom is to celebrate so according to formula a tin of
alcohol was ordered for the night and the workmen decked themselves with
leaves and shuffled round in what passes for a dance until exhausted.
The next day the time expired ones started up-river with the callapos.

It had been five months since I left the camp and we began that slow,
heart-breaking struggle against the current. It was with all the
feelings of having at last reached my restful home that I turned into my
hammock that night. Rapidly the camp grew under the influx of the new
men; the song of the whip-saw rose in the forest and long clean timbers
began piling themselves along the trail; now and again the roar of some
huge tree shook the air as it mowed a swath of jungle in its fall; a
tiny store was opened and now and again Leccos came to trade—out from
the original jungle of the year before had come a tiny, fragmentary
community hanging on to the frontier.

And three weeks later I started on a callapo down the river to cross the
interior basin of South America, over the Falls of the Madeira and then
down the Amazon and to London. Two days and two night camps with a
callapo and a crew of Leccos and one forenoon we drifted and scraped on
the gravel beach of Rurrenabaque. Here was the last touch of a town, or
of a straggling settlement that I would sleep in for many days.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                 OFF ACROSS THE CONTINENT IN A BATALON


A clumsy cart, with its two wheels cross-cut from a single mahogany log,
and slowly dragged by a pair of mud covered oxen, crawled across the
open space before the settlement that had been left, after the Spanish
custom, in crude reminder of a plaza. Under the midday tropic sun the
quivering heat-waves boiled up from the baking ground and through them
the straggling line of high-peaked, palm-thatched, cane houses shimmered
in the glare. Under the torrent of heat the jungle sounds were silenced,
and only in the distance, from the river’s edge, came the splashing and
clatter of the Tacana woman, with the happy shrieks of the sun-proof,
naked babies.

The wooden axles of the cart cried aloud for grease as a ragged Tacana
prodded the lumbering oxen; on the raw hides in the cart lay a tiny sack
of mail and beside it the tawny mottlings of a fresh stripped jaguar
skin. The cart stopped before the cane house of the intendente and that
functionary rolled lazily from his hammock and signed a paper; the
half-breed roused himself from the corrugated floor of split palm logs,
and disappeared in the jungle paths of the scattered settlement to
gather his crew, and by that I knew that at last my time for embarking
on the muddy, swirling current of the Rio Beni had arrived.

Eight hundred miles back, through cañon and mountain torrent, over the
giant passes of the inner Andes, lay the Bolivian capital of La Paz, the
last civilization from the Pacific shore. Two thousand miles to the
eastward from this little frontier nucleus of Rurrenabaque lay the
civilization that groped its way westward from the Atlantic, while
between were long reaches of desolate rivers, and primitive jungle.

The few whites—refugee mostly; two, I knew, had a price on their heads
on the other side of the Andes—popped out of their cane shacks to see me
off. Even in these remote parts, where distance is counted in so many
days’ travel, the long river-trail to the Atlantic is reckoned out of
the ordinary. My big canoe would take me only to the Falls of the
Madeira, and yet it would be three months before the crew would return
to Rurrenabaque on their slow trip against the current.

My Rurrenabaque host, a dried-up little Englishman who had packed alone
on foot over the high passes to this interior, and whose reckless nerve
will pass into ultimate legend, flapped about in half-slippered feet as
he supervised the loading of my baggage on the _batalon_ that was
sluggishly swinging to its vine moorings in the current. His Cholo wife
with her flaring skirts, high-heeled, fancy shoes, and pink stockings,
fluttered amiably about, while a green macaw and its inseparable
companion, a big, gaudy blue-and-yellow macaw, crawled affectionately
over her shoulders. Such idle Tacanas, Mojos, or Leccos who incautiously
and curiously approached were pounced upon by my host, whose reckless
Spanish was somehow intelligible and efficacious. He impressed a little
Tacana man to carry my cartridge-belt.

“Wot ho, _chico_, ’ere you are, grab ’old! Wot ho, _sokker el_ rifle _y
los balas_, ’urry hup—_pronto_, _de prisa_, _vamonos_!” And the naked
little Tacana baby—for he was scarcely more than that—trotted proudly
along under the little load. “Abaht t’ leave us, wot ho, yus! Goin’
’ome—I’m goin’ ’ome myself, next year.”

Next year! Wherever you go, however far off the main traveled trails you
may drift even into those unmapped spaces where the law is carried in a
holster and buckled on the hip, you will find them, American or English,
those who are scattered on the fringe of the world—and always they are
going home, and always next year! Home! Their home is where they are;
their lives, their affections, and the loyal little interests that
intertwine and make the home are all about them. And they realize it
only vaguely, when they have finally set a date for departure and it
begins to loom in the future like approaching disaster in the multitude
of little separations. Like my friend they may be
_compadre_—godfather—to half the river; little disputes are laid away
unto the day of their arrival, and their word is righteousness to the
simple Indian mind; in the land where there is no law they are ready in
emergencies to carry justice in the breech of a rifle; they have earned
the trust of the weaker, white or native, and stand forth in the full
cubits of their real stature—and always they are looking forward to
going home, next year! Born from out of poverty and the slums, with a
pathetic loyalty they dream of the land in which they have neither ties
nor friends and where a fetid alley in some sweated city is hallowed in
their vague desire.

  [Illustration: THE TACANA BRIDES ADJUSTED FOR THEMSELVES COMFORTABLE
                         NICHES IN THE CARGO.]

Down on the gravel beach the Tacana crew was gathering. Each had his own
paddle, a light, short-handled affair, with a round blade scarcely
larger than a saucer and crudely decorated with native forest dyes. The
paddle, a plate, a spoon, a little kettle, a short machete, bow and
arrows, or perhaps a gaily painted trade-gun and a red flask of feeble
powder, constituted his entire equipment for the many weeks on the
river. Indifferent to the white-hot gravel, they pattered in bare feet
and tattered clothes—for unlike the Lecco, his near neighbor, the Tacana
is careless in his dress—and dumped a bunch of fresh-cut, green
_platanos_ in the bow. The soldered tins of rice, strips of _charqui_,
and the boxes of _viscocha_—a double baked bread as hard as cement that
does not mould in the tropic humidity, had already been stored. Two
Tacana girls, still children in years, but brides of two of the boys of
the crew, waded out and climbed aboard the canoe; the half-breed threw
aboard the little sack of mail; I waded out; the vine moorings were cast
off, and with a splashing of paddles and the last clattering farewells,
we swung out into the Beni’s muddy current. The lonely little group of
aliens on the beach fired their rifles in salute, their diminishing
figures quivered and blurred in the heated air that boiled up from the
hot gravel shore as I emptied my magazine rifle in response, and then
they turned and plodded slowly back to their cane shacks.

The sun blazed down on the open canoe, and on each side the heavy jungle
dropped to the water’s-edge without the ripple of a leaf, and only our
progress fanned the air with a thin, hot zephyr. The Tacana brides
adjusted themselves to comfortable niches in the cargo, and chattered
gaily with the crew. Once in a while there was a tortuous passage choked
with snags that required careful work on the part of the helmsman while
the crew, perched on the thwart six on a side, hit up a rapid stroke to
fifty-five and once to sixty. The half-breed and I swung our feet over
the tiny deck aft and broiled.

         [Illustration: AT THE TILLER PRESIDED A HUGE TACANA.]

The batalon was a huge, heavy canoe, thirty feet in length, with a beam
of about ten feet while the bow and stern were blunt, giving the canoe
the effect of a pointed scow. At the stern was a rudder with a high
rudderpost, and at the tiller presided a huge Tacana upon whose face
were the traces of the painted stains from some recent celebration.
Every stick in the batalon was heavy, hand-sawed mahogany. The cargo was
piled high amidships, with a view to its possible use as a breastwork in
the event of an encounter with savages, and it was not lashed in place,
for there were no more rapids, and the excitement of shooting them was
past.

The first day was short, for to make an actual start was most important,
and then on succeeding days the daily work from dawn to sunset flowed
easily along. We stopped for the night at Alta Marani, where two
Englishmen had a little headquarters of their own. They had a fleet of
dugout mahogany canoes with which they shot the river between Mapiri and
Rurrenabaque. Four canoes were lashed side by side, the cargo was bolted
under the decks, so that in principle, independently invented here and
by them, they were diminutive whalebacks like those of the Great Lakes,
and the gaskets and cargo tarpaulins were of pure rubber.

The years of frontier life had browned them like Tacanas; they spoke
half a dozen native dialects; barefooted and half naked, they could run
the river or hunt with any Indian, and their toughened skins were
indifferent to sand-fleas and mosquitos. One, a mighty hunter, painted
his face in ragged streaks after the manner of the Tacanas when on the
hunt. Wild animals, he claimed, seemed to have less fear of him, and in
some way he believed it blended the man with the flickering sunlight of
the forest. It may be, for I have seen the brilliantly mottled jaguar
skin flung on the ground in the forest become merged to practical
invisibility fifty feet away.

Half the night they sat naked to the waist in clouds of mosquitos and
insects, talking. The single tiny candle flickered in the cane-walled
darkness of their shack; the glittering eyes of the Mojo and Tacana
retainers gathered in the doorway to listen to the peculiar noises made
by white men in conversation. Here and there on the walls was some
splintered arrow—the idle souvenir of some little fight, a tapir
wallowed through the jungle across the river; and the occasional wail of
a wandering jaguar came to us as we talked for hours of Thackeray,
Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Kipling, and “Captain Kettle!”

The last was first in adventure, but least in charm. “That fellow,” they
said, “’e certainly did know a ship!” A few tattered books were there,
their covers long since gone, for they had been traded about over
hundreds of miles of this interior, and among them were Laura Jean
Libbey and Bertha Clay. Naïvely they asked me about the latter. “They’re
books all right—but there don’t seem to be much to them.” And they were
pleased to learn that their prejudice was rather shared by the academic
standards of the distant outer world.

The lives, of these men, as they looked at the matter were filled with
trivial routine; romance, character, adventure—were the things bound in
books. “After the Ball” and “Daisy Bell” still lingered as great popular
triumphs of ballad and the Indians shuffled and grinned as these
calloused ditties quavered through the darkness. If I would stay, I was
promised all kinds of hunting—jaguar, tapir, monkey, wild hog, big
snakes, and, as an additional lure, only half a day’s march back from
the river a brush with the savages! The palm roof of these men was the
last that I was to sleep under for many days.

[Illustration: NEVER WAS SUCH AN EXHIBITION IN THE HISTORY OF FIREARMS.]

Before dawn the next morning the little campfires of the crew sprang up
along the bank; the Tacanas shivered in the soft, cool morning air as
though it were a biting blast, and then, with the first rays of the
rising sun, we waded aboard once more and were off. Well into the
forenoon the Tacanas suddenly stopped paddling. “Capibarra, patrón!”
they whispered excitedly. On the bank, not forty yards away, stood the
capibarra, an amphibious, overgrown, long-legged guinea-pig sort of
creature, which blinked at us with startled eyes. From the steady
platform of the drifting canoe I fired, and missed. The second shot also
missed. In brief, I emptied the magazine while the capibarra darted
about in a panic, attempting to climb the steep bank. The bullets
spurted dirt above, behind, below, and before him.

The ninth shot at last laid him out dead. Never was there such an
exhibition in the history of firearms. The crew in the meantime had
unlimbered their shotguns and arrows, and were also pouring in a heavy
fire, and with equally unsuccessful results; it sounded like a
fair-sized skirmish. At noon, when we tied up to the bank, the crew
quietly departed into the jungle for game while I was busy; they would
take no further chances with the larder with me along.

“Why did you not tell me?” I spoke sternly to the crew chief, but he
only shuffled uneasily on his huge bare feet; it was later that I
learned it was believed that my eye-glasses were the evil influence that
made my rifle useless.



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                       THROUGH THE RUBBER COUNTRY


As we tied up, the next day, I saw the crew quietly sneaking their bows
and arrows and feeble shot-guns out of the batalon. I stopped them, and,
buckling on my cartridge-belt, prepared to go along. We all went, though
it was a very hopeless party of Tacanas; but my luck had turned. Not a
hundred yards from the bank we ran into a troop of six big, black
spider-monkeys, and I got the entire troop; only one needed a second
shot. It was pure luck, for shooting these monkeys is virtually
wing-shooting with a rifle. They dash over their arboreal paths faster
than a Tacana can follow them on the ground, and one’s only chance is
when they pause to swing from one branch to the next. Never again was I
able to approach the record of that morning, but after that the Tacanas
always left their own weapons in the batalon when we hunted for the
larder.

They could pick up game-signs as they paddled, and read the indications
of animal life as though it were writ large in the silent forests. When
we went ashore, they would string out in a long, silent line of
skirmishers, and presently there would come the grunting coo of a
monkey, the scream of a parrot, or some long-drawn animal-call. The big
Tacana helmsman, who kept near me, would say, “There are three
spider-monkeys over there, patrón,” or perhaps a red roarer monkey,
whose bellowing love-song at sunrise and sunset carries through the
still air for miles. Always it was as the Tacana said. The line of
Tacanas could fairly talk with one another in an animal language that
did not alarm the forest and would deceive any but a Tacana ear.

Sometimes there would be a wild hog, sometimes wild turkey, or a big,
black bird very much larger and more delicious in flavor; but it was the
monkey that was the standard diet for many days. With seventeen
able-bodied appetites in the outfit, the hunt was a necessity, and
monkey the most accessible game. If there ever seemed to be a trifle too
much, the Tacana crew would rouse themselves during the night and have
additional feasts, until by dawn the supply was gone. On sand-bars they
would forage for turtle-eggs, and every day they usually collected a
bushel or two of these. But it was monkey that furnished them with the
greatest delicacy and the keenest pleasure in the hunt.

 [Illustration: BUT IT WAS MONKEY THAT FURNISHED THEM WITH THE GREATEST
                               DELICACY.]

Though monkey-shooting was necessary and there was for the moment, the
thrill of skilful shooting, yet the element of pathos dominated. A clean
shot stirs no thought, but to wound first, as must happen in many cases,
gives a queer little clutch at the heartstrings that can never be shaken
off. The little monkey, the frightened, hopeless agony of death stamped
on its tiny, grotesque features, dabbles aimlessly with little twigs and
leaves, stuffing them at the wound; sometimes it feebly tries to get
back among the branches that make his world, and, as you approach, there
is never any savage, snarling stand where he meets extinction with the
cornered heroism that seems for the moment to balance the scene.
Instead, he pleads with failing gestures of forlorn propitiation, and
with hoarse, cooing little noises, for the respite that would be far
less merciful than the _coup de gráce_.

Never will I forget one; it was a question of seconds only and as he lay
there on the ground he waved the little hands at me as if to motion me
back, he turned the little twisted face away with an appealing,
deprecating coo from which, in this supreme moment, even terror was
subdued. I have watched men on the field of battle with the death
sickness upon them and where, even under these surroundings, while a
spirit is struggling into the great mystery there comes the inevitable
awe that lingers like a vision in the recollection.

That was human. Yet even here, before this sprawling, almost human
figure, the feeble gesture, and the soft, caressing coo of final request
I felt an emotion rising with a solemn dignity; it was life itself that
was passing from the pathetic little body. I held back the Tacana who
rushed up and the picture is still vivid of the flickering sunlight in
the jungle forest, a few fallen leaves flecked with a mortal red, while
a full grown white man and an Indian stood back silently in response to
the fading appeal of a little, dying monkey.

For the daily hunt the canoe was moored where the jungle met the river,
but every evening at early sunset the camp was made at the edge of some
broad, sandy playa as far from the forest as possible. Long before
camping the Tacanas had kept a shrewd lookout for recent signs of
savages, and after chattering among themselves would indicate a playa
that seemed proper and secure. The savages, primitive and nomadic,
scarcely more than animals, offered no menace by daylight, but in the
darkness lies their opportunity. With instinctive adroitness they can
crawl through the jungle without a sound and be in the midst of a camp
before it is awakened; but in the open spaces they are timid. They will
line up fifty yards away and open with an ineffective volley of
screeches and arrows.

   [Illustration: OFTEN WE PASSED THE LITTLE SHELTER OF PALM LEAVES.]

Secure in this custom, the Tacanas set no watch, and we all slept
peacefully depending on any savages that might come to furnish the alarm
for their own attack. Though signs of them were all about, we were never
molested. Often we passed a shelter of palm-leaves by the shore that had
been used by some party that had come down to the river to fish; for
only in the interior and on the smaller and absolutely virgin rivers and
tributaries did they have their headquarters. Sometimes there would be a
tiny dugout against the bank, and their camp-fire would send up a thin,
blue column of smoke against the purple jungle shadows. The Tacana
helmsman would throw the canoe beyond arrow-range, while the crew would
cease paddling and call “Ai-i! ai-i!” across the river, the recognized
call of amity. Sometimes there would be the glimpse of a timid, naked
figure darting from one shadow to the next, a head peeping from behind a
tree, and perhaps a wailing “Ai-i! ai-i!” in response, but rarely more.

Once we came upon a little party working their way in a dugout against
the current under the bank. The Tacanas looked to their arrows and put
fresh percussion-caps on their shot-guns, but the instant the savages
spied us they scuttled up the bank and remained in its shadows till we
drifted past.

Day after day passed in the slow monotony of routine. The low, flat
country never varied; the hot, brazen glare of the Beni’s muddy current
rambled in a twisted aimless course ever to the eastward. Always at the
dawn the viscocha, or hard biscuit, was soaked to edibility in hot tea,
and then we started in the soft, cool stirring of early sunrise. Slowly
the cool breeze disappeared, the chatter of the parrots died away, the
water fowl aligned themselves in motionless, drying groups, incurious
and fearless as we paddled past their sand-bars and, like the opening
door of a furnace, there came the fierce heat of the tropic day. The
muddy river gave no hint of its depth or channel, and sometimes the
canoe would run aground and the Tacanas would tumble overboard, laughing
and splashing, to ease her off and then line out, with wide intervals,
as skirmishers, to locate a channel that would pass us through the maze
of submerged sand-bars. Not a thought was given to the alligators that
infested the river, and the Tacana who located the channel would swim
carelessly about with huge enjoyment. Again would come the steady
splashing of paddles and the double line of rhythmic, swaying Tacana
backs; then at noon the daily hunt and the drowsy resting in the forest
shade while the Tacana girls busied themselves with the breakfast where
a pig, a capibarra or a row of monkeys were slowly roasting on the hot
coals.

      [Illustration: A Night Camp on the Rio Beni on the Way Out]

Rapidly the afternoon wears away until cooler, more mellow glow
announces the approaching sunset and then the chatter among the Tacanas
as they discuss the signs for the night’s camp. The little _tolditas_,
the mosquito nettings, would sway from their poles in the gentle breeze,
a quick supper would evolve from the remains of the noon breakfast and
be followed by the issue of the cane-sugar alcohol. Sometimes after dark
the Tacanas would paint their faces in streaks with the berries foraged
at noon, and grimace and hop about the glowing embers of the fire with
shrieks of joy. Any odd grimace or ridiculous streaking caused a riotous
outburst, for their minds were as simple as infants’. Once—and it gave
them delirious pleasure for a whole night—they set fire to an island of
_charo_, the cane from which the walls of their shacks are made, and all
through the darkness it crackled and burst in little explosions, as
though a nervous picket-line were protecting our flank.

    [Illustration: IT WAS ONLY THE SHACK OF A LONELY RUBBER PICKER.]

Slowly the days passed, and it was with the most cheerful emotions that
we at last picked up the first signs of the frontier toward which we
were working. It was only the shack of a lonely rubber-picker, and the
poorly made hut was bare to the verge of destitution. Its whole outfit
was scarcely more than that of one of the Tacana crew; there was a cheap
shot-gun, some powder and ball, yet the bow and arrows were his hunting
mainstay to save the expensive use of the other. Near by there was an
uncultivated patch of rice, corn, a few yuccas, bananas, and some
tobacco-plants. Under the cane bunk was a pair of primitive rubber
shoes, made of the pure rubber mixed with a little gunpowder, and smoked
on a block of wood roughly hewn to the shape of a foot. I often saw
these curious rubber shoes, which apparently can serve no purpose with
their callous-footed wearers except that of stylish ornament. In one
corner were a few, brown _bolachos_ of rubber, which would be valued at
twelve or fifteen hundred dollars in the market, but for which the
picker would receive from his patrón not enough to free him from debt
for his past and future supplies meager as they are.

As we tied up to the bank, he and a boy helper had just gathered the
rubber sap and were busy smoking it. A huge tin basin, a giant
counterpart of the tin basin that sits on the wash bench outside every
American farm-house, was half full of a white fluid that looked for all
the world like a rather chalky milk; before it, in a little pit, was a
tin arrangement something like a milk can with an open top out of which
poured a thin, blue, hot smoke; and above the pit was a frame on which
rested a round stick that held a globular mass of yellowish rubber
previously smoked and cured. The round stick was rolled over the basin,
a cupful of the new rubber was ladled over the mass as it was rolled
back into the smoke, and there held and manipulated until the whole
surface was thoroughly smoked. In the thin, blue smoke it at once turned
a pale yellow.

Layer by layer the _bolacho_ is built up with each day’s gathering of
sap, and months after, when it is cut open and graded, the history may
be read in the successive layers; this day’s sap was gathered in the
rain, the paler, sourer color showing that water had trickled down the
bark and into the little cups; the dirt and tiny chips show that this
day was windy; and there in the darker oxidization of the layer, is
revealed the fact of a Sunday, a fiesta or drunken rest before the
succeeding layer was added.

[Illustration: IN THE THIN BLUE SMOKE IT AT ONCE TURNED A PALE YELLOW.]

Sometimes as the batalon of the patrón makes its regular trip for
collection, nothing will be found but a gummy residue of burned rubber,
a rectangle of black ashes where the hut had been, and near by broken
and mutilated remains of the picker; for the feeble trade-gun is only
one degree better than the enemies with which the rubber-picker has to
contend. In such an event the patrón curses the savages and, when these
losses become too frequent, may return on a punitive expedition; for
labor is scarce in these remote districts, and the loss is economic, not
sentimental.

  [Illustration: JUSTICE IS ADMINISTERED ACCORDING TO THE STANDARDS OF
                        HIS SUBMISSIVE DOMAIN.]

Farther down the river is the barraca of the patrón, a large clearing in
the forest back from the bank of the river. Here survives feudalism, and
justice is administered according to the rough standards of his
submissive domain. Somewhere you will find the stocks, with the rows of
leg-holes meeting in a pair of great mahogany beams. A pile of
chain-and-bar leg-irons lie in a near-by corner, and a twisted bull-hide
whip hanging from the thatch above. In an open, unguarded shed beyond
was piled thirty thousand dollars’ worth of rubber,—it is only a
fraction of the crop,—awaiting shipment, and in the early moonlight we
sat with the patrón himself, a bare-footed, cotton-dressed overlord who
was scarcely distinguishable from his own debt-slaves. And he, in his
turn, was in almost hopeless debt to the commission-houses, who hold him
by their yearly advances in trade.

Rarely now did the _tolditas_ swing from their poles in a night camp on
a _playa_; on down the river it became a series of visits—sometimes the
daily voyage was longer in the darkness—but vigilance was now no longer
needed in choosing a camp, and every night the Tacanas carried our
outfit up the bank, where we slept serenely in a rubber-shed. Coffee
reappeared, and the Indian wife of the picker or patrón served it at
once on our arrival, and then rolled cigarettes from home-grown tobacco.
Rubber was the talk—rubber and savages. There was no outside world, and
I was a curiosity. The Brazilian boundary was yet a month’s journey with
the current to the east, and Rurrenabaque, against the stream, was six
weeks of hard travel to the westward. To them La Paz was a vague name,
the metropolis of the world, perhaps, if their primitive existence has
ever stirred to the idea of a metropolis.

Rubber and savages made their universe! Were the savages bad coming
down? Well—they are bad this year down the river farther—a picker was
killed last week only a half day’s march from the river. One of his men
shot another the other day among the cattle, but two more got away! What
will be the price of rubber? The last known price is already three
months old in the quotations in Manaos. Money, real money, it was
useless. Never had a gold coin looked so feeble and futile as on this
river, where merchandise was needed. I bought a big rubber sheet and a
rubber bag, and I paid a box of cartridges, a package of pencils, and a
fountain-pen such as are peddled on the streets of New York; I was
supposed to have the worst of the bargain!



                              CHAPTER XXV
                     A NEW CREW AND ANOTHER BATALON


One night we made no camp at sunset, but steadily paddled in the
darkness; for the journey was nearly over for the Tacanas, and their
paddles dipped in happy, eager rhythm. Then the canoe was beached under
what, in the dim starlight, appeared to be a cliff; the crew carried the
cargo up the high bank, and there, in scattered groups of twinkling
lights, spread the settlement of Riba Alta. It is purely a
trading-center where the big rubber houses have their headquarters in
widely scattered, high-fenced compounds. There was a church of mud, with
a tiny bell; a small detail of Bolivian soldiers and their officer, who,
wonderful to relate, spoke English; there were enormous warehouses
stacked with goods at startling prices, with French, German, and English
clerks who could chatter with the natives in half a score of primitive
dialects, and then, in the cool evenings, sip huge gin cocktails from
high tumblers and indulge in local slanders. In the room of each was a
huge pile of accumulated newspapers from home that they carefully read,
one each day, following the successive dates—and the latest was three
months old! It was as isolated as a Hudson Bay post of a century ago.

I presented my letters and had a room, a hammock, a shower bath, and
filtered water to drink in place of the coffee colored river, and I was
disappointed, for the clear, crystal fluid was insipid and tasteless
after the long weeks on the Beni. The Tacanas were to rest there a few
days and then begin their long slow return to Rurrenabaque and, during
that time, I arranged for the last stage of this interior journey on
down over the Falls of the Madeira where a river steamer was to be met
and the actual frontier had its beginning, or ending. From Riba Alta the
Beni becomes the Madeira River, by the addition of the Madre de Dios,
the Orton, the Mamoré and the Abuna. And a day’s journey beyond Riba
Alta are the first of the Falls of the Madeira. There are fourteen of
them scattered along the river for two or three hundred miles, and
ordinarily only two can be run, the others being weary portages, and
fourteen portages with a heavy mahogany canoe is no light, frivolous
trip.

The last canoe that had come up over the falls reported that a steamer
from Manaos would arrive and leave the village of San Antonio, at the
foot of the last falls, in less than a fortnight, and every effort must
be strained in order to make it. If I missed that, there would be six
long weeks in that unkempt Brazilian village before the next transport
from civilization would arrive. A railroad has now been built around the
falls, starting from near San Antonio, and steamers are a little more
frequent. Now that road is completed it opens up one of the greatest
virgin territories of rubber in the world.

A German rubber-trader in Riba Alta was fortunately leaving for Europe,
and we were to join forces. He hunted up a little canoe, about fifteen
feet long, but with a disproportionately wide beam that made it look
like a coracle. It was as heavy as a scow, and we stowed a block and
tackle to drag it over the portages. We needed four paddles and a pilot,
for speed and safety cannot be secured without a pilot. His wages were
equal to those of our whole crew, a bonus of the cargo space for the
return trip, a rifle, and cartridges and also the amount of alcohol
necessary to get him into this amiable frame of mind. He knew the
cataracts and their condition in the varying stages of high and low
water like a book, he could take advantage of the speed of the current
and then swing into the portage at the last moment; he shot the possible
passages and chose the right bank for a portage; to miss the latter and
then work slowly up stream far enough to make a crossing and not get
caught in the falls is slow work; while an error of skill in choosing
the cataract that may be run may fairly be considered as fatal.

The crew had to be rationed for a six weeks’ trip, down and back, while
the persistent rumors of savages made a rifle and cartridges a necessity
for their return. The traders in the settlement regarded it as hazardous
for us to attempt the trip over the falls with so small a party, but my
German friend felt that in the speed with which we could pass each
cataract with a light boat there was security, and the crew were
indifferent, or confident in the presence of white patróns, and so we
started.

In Riba Alta there were two young savages that had been captured in a
recent raid far up one of the tributary rivers. One was an Araona and
the other was a Maropa. Reared in the dim twilight of the jungles, their
eyes were unaccustomed to the brilliant tropic light of the open, and
since their capture they would hide in the houses by day and venture
forth only in the evening. Their skins were rough and calloused from the
jungle growths, and clothing was a delightful novelty, though only a
toy. They would array themselves in any garments they could for short
play-spells, and then discard them and step blissfully forth in their
comfortable nothing.

The tribes of this part of South America are among the most primitive in
the world. Though they had no knotted muscular development, each of
these savage children already possessed the strength of a man, and in
their aimless play could shift boulders that would tax the strength of a
Lecco or Tacana. They could scale any one of the branchless trees in the
compound like a monkey, and with as little apparent effort. Sometimes
when they were not watched too closely, they would use bow and arrow
with native skill; like a flash the arrow would be loosed and a lizard
would be split as it ran, or a fleeing chicken skewered. I was told that
after a savage child is captured, the greatest care must at first be
used in feeding it, as it is totally unaccustomed to salt, and even the
slight amount used in bread has a poisonous effect upon it. The Maropa
had ulcers that were attributed to this fact. The food, _platanos_, is
rubbed in ashes to slowly accustom them, and after about six months
there is no further difficulty.

The night before we left Riba Alta an Indian was brought around to tell
me an experience. He was a rubber scout who hunted up possible new areas
of rubber trees; he corresponded to a “timber cruiser” in our own
Northwest. Somewhere, about a couple of hundred miles back in the
interior from this settlement, he had come across the trail of an animal
unfamiliar to him—and from his savage infancy such forest lore had been
his sole academic curriculum; it was a trail “like a snake—but not a
snake.” It was approximately three feet in width judged by his gesture
of measurement, and there were feet marks on either side of the trail
like a turtle’s flippers—but only two. He had not followed it for he was
afraid. About a week later in the shallow lagoon of one of the great
lakes that are known to exist in that part, although no white man has
yet penetrated to them, he saw a long neck raise itself out of the
water—a long neck! And it had a head on it. A snake’s neck, he was
asked. No, he insisted it was not a snake, he knew snakes, it was a neck
with a head on it, something new. Then he fired at it, and it
disappeared—and that was all.

He had described, in the combined circumstances, a possible plesiosaur.
What he saw I do not know, but when an Indian wants to romance, his
animals have the regulation iridescent eyes and spout flames. No
combination of two overlapping trails could deceive him, he was adept on
animal trails, nor would such a common place incident as an overlapped
trail stir his imagination. He had never seen a circus poster, or an
illustrated treatise on paleontology, but he indicated the existence of
some animal closer, at least, to the plesiosaur than any known and
distant descendant.

The crew had been gathered that same night and slept on the beach beside
the monteria so that we were able to start with the dawn. Our first day
was unlucky. The heavy canoe, with scarce eight inches of freeboard, was
swept on a snag that started one of the planks. The inner bark of a tree
that is used for calking, and which is always carried for such
emergencies, could not keep the water down, and we were forced to beach
the canoe for repairs. This delay, with the constant vision of a lost
steamer below the falls, kept the German and myself toiling in the
blazing sun by the side of the crew emptying cargo, patching and then
reloading. The canoe still made water, but we hoped farther down the
river to exchange it. That night we had to camp on a sand-bar, and it
was not until the next day that we made the first of the falls,—or
_cachuelas_, the Falls of Esperanza.

At this cataract is the headquarters of the largest single rubber
{baron} in South America. His _batalones_ and even tiny river steamers
ply from Esperanza throughout the enormous watershed gathering the
rubber and sending it out over the falls in large expeditions. Here he
has little machine shops, a fair sized village of employees all under
his control, while off in one corner by the edge of the jungle is a
marble shaft surrounded by a little rusted iron railing that he has
erected to the memory of his wife. The shaft and its pedestal have been
slowly dragged around the portages in a labor that lasted months, and,
as it stands, the tender tribute represents somewhere near its weight in
silver bullion. A little tramway of his runs around this cataract and by
its use we saved many hours of portage; even the monteria was hoisted
with borrowed labor on the tiny car and hauled around.

At this Cachuela Esperanza I observed that it was not a falls such as we
picture in connection with the word, a veritable Niagara or Victoria
where the water drops sheer in a mass of foaming thunder; it is a gorge
or a series of little cañons channeled through mountains of buried rock
lying at right angles to the course of the river. The series of the
Falls of Madeira seem to be all of this character—parallel
mountain-chains of rock at irregular distances from one another, which
come near enough to the surface to act as dams until the ages of
insistent current have worn their narrow channels. In high water the
rock is often entirely covered, and nothing shows but the shift and coil
of great eddies and whirlpools to mark the choked gorges beneath. Each
main cataract is guarded by a smaller one above and a second one below,
often quite as dangerous, and making an average of twenty portages
necessary.

In three days we reached Villa Bella, a tiny settlement on the peninsula
formed by the Mamoré River joining the Madeira. In this little
wilderness town, a sort of half-way between Riba Alta and San Antonia,
the few streets were already laid out with rectangular primness, each
house was compelled to keep a light burning outside until the late hour
of 9 P. M., and there was a street-cleaning department of one, whose
duty included keeping the weeds out of the streets. There were also
rudimentary sidewalks.

The night of our arrival there was a dance given in the cane-walled
house that combined the functions of club, café, billiard-room, and
hotel. The sole music was by an accordion, and stately, shuffling,
swaying dancers simpered and coquetted and performed all the polite
maneuvers to its jerky rhythm, while the dust rose from the corrugated
floor of split palm-logs, and the smoking kerosene lamps and tallow
candles battled and triumphed over the soft evening atmosphere. Every
chink and crevice and window held its glittering, enraptured Indian eye,
and even the élite caught their breath at the reckless pop of warm
imitation champagne at ten dollars a bottle. Truly it was a grand
affair. Ice for the champagne had been hoped for, and the gentleman who
owned an ice-machine, as he fondly believed, showed it to me and asked
my assistance in operating it. Naïvely he had bought an ice-cream
freezer, but so far it had proved obdurate to his labor, and had brought
forth no ice.

We exchanged our leaking canoe for a sound one, a trifle larger, and
pushed on. A few hours below over the Falls of the Madeira proper—a
minor one of the series guarding the little rapids at the head we ran,
while a short portage brought us into the clear river again. Three
_batalones_ were running their cargo of rubber through the gorges at the
side of the cataract. The _bolachas_ of rubber were threaded on long
ropes, like a string of beads; one of the crew would take the end of the
rope in his teeth, and, swimming or wading, guide it through the eddies
near shore. Often he would have to let go, and with a rush it would be
sucked into the cataract like a long, knotted, water-snake, while others
of the crew would swim out and recover it below.

   [Illustration: THE BOLACHAS OF RUBBER ARE THREADED ON LONG ROPES.]

At this cataract the lightened batalones themselves could be run
through, and the whole of three crews would be concentrated in one for
the passage. Out into the eddies it would sweep with thirty paddles
straining over the high freeboard, giving it, in the distance, the
appearance of some huge and absurd water-bug. Six weeks it would be
before they would land in San Antonio, and then two, perhaps three
months more with their cargo of merchandise working back against the
river. With the killing work in the blazing sun, swimming or portaging
from the crack of dawn until dark, and a palm mat thrown on the sand-bar
at night, it is small wonder that rarely a crew comes back from a trip
with its full roster. Even their rugged animal physique is not proof
against the continuous exposure and hardship. In addition, there are the
savages. One expedition is still talked of where out of three batalones
that started with their crews, only three men returned.



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                   THE FALLS OF THE MADEIRA AND HOME


Slowly cataract after cataract was passed Madeira, Misericordia,
Riberon—with three long portages that consumed a day and a half—Araras,
Tres Hermanos, Perdonera, Paredon, Calderon de Infierno (“Kettle of
Hell”), which was a series of cool, shaded channels among a multitude of
islands, and finally resulted in but a single portage around a tiny
cascade, although in high water the Calderon de Infierno lived well up
to its name; then came Geraos and Teotonio, two cataracts that
challenged comparison with the rapids below Niagara, though shorter.

  [Illustration: DRAGGING A “BATALON” AROUND A PORTAGE OF THE MADEIRA
                                FALLS.]

Between two of the cataracts from up a little tributary river there had
been reports of newly discovered rubber forests; the frontier had blazed
as though over a bonanza gold field; tremendous tales of the daily pick
were told, thirty, forty pounds of pure rubber a day! Expeditions
outfitted for a long stay were following one another to claim territory
and we knew at the mouth of that river was a rough headquarters where
there would be company in the night’s camp and the pleasant interchange
of rumor. So we made no camp at sunset, though the crew murmured. It was
pitch black, the overcast sky shrouded even the faint starlight. We
literally felt our way close by the high bank, while the paddles slipped
through the water with scarcely an audible drip. The little animals of
the night scuttled on the bank, and out of the darkness would gleam
tiny, scared eyes.

Suddenly from near the bow came the heavy lap of a tongue upon the
current not a paddle’s length away. An Indian dashed a paddleful of
water at the sound, and with a startled crash against the brush there
was a heavy leap to the bank above, and there came the low, rippling
snarl of a jaguar and the sound of scattering leaves as its angry tail
whipped the undergrowth. With cocked rifles we waited for the gleam of
eyeballs—to have fired without that much chance would have made the
spring certain—and motionless the crew let the canoe drift past. It
seemed an age!

An hour more, and we came to the mouth of the little tributary. A dozen
batalones were moored along the narrow beach vaguely outlined in the
camp-fires along the bank, and back of them were the rough huts that a
Brazilian had already erected at this point. Here and there the feasting
crews were gorging themselves on monkey and half-burned strips of tapir,
while a tin can of alcohol and a gourd dipper were free to all. A short
distance up the river the savages had appeared that morning, and one of
their men lay dead back in the jungle, while another was in one of the
huts with an arrow-hole through his breast. In the main shack a few rods
off was a woman, white, pure Brazilian, who spoke in the low, soft
modulations of a far-off civilization, and who, by any of the standards
of all the ages, was a beauty. She wore the simple, single gown of the
frontier, with an undergarment; her black hair was coiled in a flowing
mass that curved low over her forehead, and over one ear was the
brilliant blossom of some jungle-flower. She was playing a guitar,
swinging with white, slender bare feet in an elaborate hammock against a
background of rubber-traders, native adventurers, and half-breeds, where
the smoking candles dimly outlined their rifles and belted cartridges. A
drunken, half-savage woman, her maid probably, whined a maudlin,
gibberish, and over all rose the pungent smell of rubber from the
bolachas piled in the farther shadows of the hut. It was like the touch
of fantastic fiction.

At the cataract of Geraos a Brazilian rubber-trader was trying to
portage his batalon and cargo with a half-mutinous, lazy crew of
Brazilian negroes. A couple of the crew would work shiftlessly while the
rest dozed in the shade; it was the last hard portage, and we offered
the Brazilian our block and tackle if his crew would help us.

“Look at them!” he said hopelessly. “Talk to the head-man. If they will
do it, I shall be glad. Two days have they loafed like this, and it will
be two days more.” He swore fluently in Portuguese. “If I beat them or
shoot one, they will have me put in jail in San Antonio. I am losing
money, but it is better than jail.” Obviously we were nearing
civilization; up-river no lazy mutiny was possible.

The head-man refused surlily unless we would stop and loan _them_ our
crew.

One of the idling crew—it was not a strike; they were just tired and
wanted rest—sauntered over to me. He was a powerful negro, with the
smooth, supple muscles rippling under a skin of oiled coal. He was a man
without a language, although he could be barely intelligible in three.

“Me ’Melican, bahs, _tambien_.” He thumped his naked bosom like a
war-drum, but he was friendly; to his mind we were two fellow Americans
greeting in an out-of-the-way place. He pointed to his companion: “Him
B’itish, ho, yaas.” Then, like a chieftain chanting, he recounted their
voyage on the river: “Ribber him belly bad. _Muchas_ wark—belly ha’d. Me
bahs him belly ha’d; go far topside ribber. Me seeck; you got him li’ly
rum, cañassa? Wanee catchem li’ly d’ink.” And his British confrère added
also a pleading for a “li’ly d’ink.”

He insisted that he was an American, although born in the Guianas, but
he admired America so much he had adopted it; and he would translate the
heated gibberish of unknown patois with his friends as his noble defence
of our superior America and wind up with a plea for a “li’ly d’ink.”

At this same cataract, in a wretched hut, lived some kind of a broken
down, human derelict, blear eyed and worthless and nondescript, whose
desolate fortunes were shared by a poor, wretched Frenchwoman and their
unkempt, pitiful children. Between them they stood off the savages from
time to time and in the intervals squabbled drunkenly with each other.
Six weeks before a battle between two crews at this portage had been
fought around their shack. One of the crew had stolen a woman belonging
to an Indian of the other outfit and when the trouble died down twelve
men had been shot, together with the woman who was the cause of the
friction. A new crew had to be sent down to help out with the batalones.

But the cataract of Geraos is one of the finest of the whole system. The
buried mountain system of rock lies open to the sky; it has been
channeled in deep cañons, above which the waves are lifted in angry
fangs. Their roar carries through the jungle on each side like the
steady thunder of a storm; whole trees that have lazily swept
down-stream are caught in the clutch of the great cañon, and are tossed
high above the cañon walls as though they were only straws caught in a
thresher.

At the Falls of Teotonio we paddled up to the very brink of the cataract
and beached snugly in a little eddy at the side. Here a broken-down
contractor’s railway made the portage an easy matter, even though it was
done in one of the hardest tropical rainstorms that I have ever seen.
The lightning and the thunder were continuous, and the rain drove in a
steady, blinding sheet, like the deluge from a titanic nozzle.

The little news that came up from San Antonio drove us to greater haste
to catch the steamer; the steamer was there, stuck on a mud-bank; it had
gone; it was coming. Every uncertain rumor added to our haste and
desire. We had not stopped to hunt, and supplies were running low.
Coffee was gone, the viscocha can almost empty, platanos and charqui
were running low and it was necessary to keep the crew well fed for
their hard and steady work. Twice we had scared a capibarra from the
bank, each time beyond possible rifle shot, and now we were looking for
even a cayman, for a big meal of baked alligator tail would go a long
way toward helping out the commissary.

Knowing our need, apparently, the game was perverse in its determination
to annoy us by its absence; and then at last, on a playa, far down the
river, the crew made out a little group of three capibarra. It was the
only time I ever knew of the necessity of stalking that simple animal,
and when the capibarra fell, kicking, and the others darted off to seek
the bottom of the river, the problem of our larder was solved.

The rapids at the Falls of Macaos we ran and then below there remained
but the last. We had expected to portage about the Falls of San Antonio,
but as we scanned the distance below, there, against the brilliant green
of the forest, was the rusty funnel of the river steamer, with a
slender, wispy feather of steam rising beside it. Steam was already up,
and how much time had we to portage? If we portaged, it might mean six
long weeks of dreary waiting in a frontier village that had none too
pleasant a reputation. Should we run the rapids? The pilot shook his
head doubtfully, but said he would try. As we paddled along in the
swifter current it did not look bad—a few curling waves crested with
spray and then long, oily stretches of coiling, boiling water. It seemed
possible, and it was worth the chance. We would try, and the pilot swung
the canoe for the crested wave and the channel.

We threw off our shoes, unbuckled our belts, and stripped, to be ready
to swim in an emergency. We emptied our rifles and revolvers in a
fusillade, hoping to attract the steamer’s attention and hold it, but no
answering whistle came back. An instant later we struck the long plunge
down the glassy slope of water at the entrance to the rapids, and a
foaming cataract burst over the bow, drenching us with spray. Then came
the slower strain and wrestle with boiling waters that burst upward from
below, while the crew paddled like mad, with the pilot braced in his
cramped quarters aft and chattering at them for still greater effort.
The boiling water threw us broadside on, and the whirlpools caught us in
a grip that the frantic paddling could not seem to break. It seemed as
though we were standing still in the turmoil, and yet a glance at the
rocky, boulder-strewn sides showed that they were shooting past like a
train.

Broadside on we darted for a second glassy slope of water, and only in
the last moment did the canoe swing round so as to take it bow on, while
the wave that broke over us half filled the canoe. Had we been heavily
loaded, we would have had our swim. It was the last of the rapids, and a
second later we drifted out into the calm current, where before us
loomed the high decks of the river steamer. We could have made a portage
without risk, and with ample time, for she did not leave until the next
day.

With San Antonio village fading behind us in the soft, blue distance of
the tropic morning, civilization began slowly to reconstruct itself,
though still side by side with the most primitive. Brazilian ladies
teetered foolishly over the gangplank that was run out to the mud-bank
shore with their high heeled shoes radiant with suggestion of the highly
cultured centers of fashion; again I beheld silks and fancy parasols and
_poudre de riz_ and heard the _frou-frou_ of real garments, immaculate
and bristling with frills. Sallow gentlemen of wealth and haughtiness
came aboard with their retinue of family who, in turn, had their retinue
of half savage servants, to escort their rubber shipments and sling
their hammocks from the stanchions of the cool forward deck along with
mine.

All day we broiled sociably together and in the nights—when we anchored
in the river—slept softly in the balmy night airs. Together we listened
to the Madeira pilots swear as they ran us on a mud-bank and then
clattered aft bossing the dumping of the anchor from the steamer’s
dinghy in order to warp us off again. In perfect harmony we used the
bathroom together and splashed in the overhead shower early in the
morning, for later the sun warmed the tank above to a stinging heat, and
threaded our way among the score of turtles that were herded there until
sacrificed to our appetites. Closer we moved to the equator and hotter
blazed the sun. And then, at last, early in the dawn we swung steadily
out of the great mouth of the Madeira River and into the greater waters
of the Amazon, hugging the shore. The little river steamer breasted the
current up to Manaos, while on either side the little dugouts of the
Indians dotted the river in the cool morning shooting turtles with a bow
and arrow for the market at Manaos. And then in that city, still almost
a thousand miles from the Atlantic, there was civilization at
last—trolleys, electric lights, little cafés, with their highly colored
syrups, a theater and gay shops with all the gimcrack luxuries and
necessities, a band and the shimmering, swaying endless parade that
encircled it weaving in the dense black shadows and on into the luminous
mosaics cast by the arclights in the leaves overhead. Dim, in the
background, the chaperons purred together but with an unrelaxed and
rigid vigilance. It was civilization—all but the vernacular.

La Paz seemed half the world away, for it had been three months and
twenty-one days since I climbed the long trail to the high plateau above
that Bolivian capital.


                                THE END



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

--In the text versions only, italicized text is delimited by
  _underscores_.

--Corrected some palpable typographical errors; restored apparently
  missing words are delimited by {brackets}

--Note that one illustration listed in the contents is missing from the
  book as printed.





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