Frederick Alcock.

Trade & travel in South America online

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EAVING Antofagasta we called at the small
■^ port of Gatico, which is close to Cobija, but were
unable to land. Cobija used to be the port for Bolivia,
but the business has been attracted to Antofagasta by
the railway. The Germans who travelled with us
through the Smyth Channel could scarcely speak of any-
thing but Bolivia, a Republic, which, in their estimation,
offered the greatest inducements in South America for
young men seeking fortune. Strange to say, although
the trade with Bolivia (which, prior to 1825, was
I Upper Peru) is increasing, and the country is rich in
ores, there is no resident British representative there.
J This was not so at one time, and stories are rife as to
i the reason which caused Great Britain to take umbrage
! and to cross the Republic off the list of those to which
it sends representatives. We have nothing to do with
these stories, and in any case, as they are told, they do
not reflect credit upon our nation ; but, whatever may
have been the cause of the severance of 1853, we do
think that the time has come when we should no
longer stand aloof, but should play an acknowledged


part in the expansion of Bolivia's trade. In 1864
there was a British Consul at Cobija, but he was with-
drawn after a brief interval, and since then we have
had no real representation. In 1895, Mr. Alfred St.
John was appointed to inquire into the question, and
he reported in favour of renewed relationships, and
suggested that the diplomatic representation of Great
Britain should be entrusted to the British Minister in
Peru, aided by the appointment of unpaid Consuls at
convenient points in Bolivia. He furnished the names
of British residents qualified and willing to act in this
capacity, and there is, we understand, no lack of
eligible men in La Paz and elsewhere quite willing to
undertake the responsibilities, and competent to dis-
charge the duties of Consuls in the interest of the old
country. On April nth, 1901, the 'Morning Post'
had an article on the subject which concluded as
follows : — * It appears to be high time that something
was done towards placing this country more on a level
with its competitors abroad by an increase of intelligent
vigilance on the part of the Foreign Office, and a first
step in this most necessary reform would be to resume
and regularise our relations with Bolivia.' We are
glad to notice while this chapter is going through the
press that it is publicly announced that ' The King
has been pleased to accredit Mr. William Nelthorpe
Beauclerk, Minister Resident and Consul-General in
Peru and Ecuador, to be representative also in Bolivia
in the same capacity.' This is undoubtedly a step in
the right direction, to be followed, let us hope, by
the appointment of a resident Consul. The Republic



contains about 597,000 square miles, and is naturally
divided into two districts, the Sierra, or high country
to the westward, and the Montana, the great plain
and tropical region of the east. The department
of La Paz, which stands at an elevation of 12,250 feet
above the sea level, contains some of the tallest peaks
on the American continent, and Lake Titicaca — half of
which belongs to Bolivia and half to Peru — is the most
elevated sheet of fresh water in the world. Titicaca
and the city of La Paz are connected with the Peruvian
port of Mollendo via Arequipa, but unfortunately,
when visiting Arequipa, the train service did not fit in
with our arrangements in such wise as to permit of our
going to these most interesting places. An anonymous
writer on the subject of Bolivia says : — 'The highlands
of Bolivia have been
compared with Thibet,
the roof of the world :
but whilst the Asian
tableland consists
merely of mountain
pastures, that of South
America supports
towns and populous
cities, and affords food
for numerous herds of
cattle, llamas, vicunas
and sheep, and is
covered with harvests
of cereals. The mineral
wealth of Bolivia lies




principally in the western districts, which are con-
sequently the most populous and settled, containing
the chief centres of trade at La Paz, Cochabamba,
Sucre, Potosi and Oruro. The eastern provinces
of Beni and Santa Cruz cannot as yet point to
more than their potentialities, which are vividly
suggested in the description of a traveller from the


United States, that the few scattered inhabitants gaze
upon a wealth sufficient to pay the national debts of
the world.' The population all told is about two-and-
a-half millions. There is plenty of indiarubber in the
forest districts of Acre, Beni, La Paz and Santa Cruz,
and the country is rich in minerals of all kinds. In the
temperate and tropical zones everything can be grown,
and there are some 6,000,000 trees in cultivation, from
which the well-known Peruvian bark is obtained.


The trade is principally in the hands of Germany
and England, and the following figures will show how
the imports and exports are divided between these

countries : —


1889. 1900.

From Great Britain - ^186,854 ^226,534

= 26 °/ o ofthe whole. = 17% °f tne whole.

From Germany - - 128,377 310,952

= 18 7„ of" the whole. = 23 °/ of the whole.

1888. 1898.

To Great Britain - ^"140,832 ^110,060

To Germany -



Recently Germany and France have appointed
1 Consules Ambulantes," or travelling Consuls, who



go through the country finding out exactly what the I
people require, and what they have to dispose of. I
Great Britain should act similarlv.


Bolivia, however, wants a port of its own, and it
is to be hoped that the near future, through some
friendly and diplomatic arrangement, will record that
Chile — Peruvian protests being withdrawn — has finally
conceded the strip of land to the port of Mejillones del
Norte, alluded to in the treaty of 1895, which will form a


high road for the ready development and progress of this
great country. A territorial transfer of great import-
ance has, we understand, recently taken place between
Bolivia and Brazil, by which the latter has ceded to
the former State a large area of valuable country. The
rivers which the treaty with Brazil incorporates into
Brazil are the Acre and Yacu and their affluents, the
Upper Purus and Upper Jura and their affluents. This
new district is rich in rubber, and the Bolivian Govern-
ment has, it is said, decided to subsidise a line of steamers
to ply between European ports and Para, and will no
doubt send the produce to Para by a native company.
One cannot write about any of these South American
Republics without being reminded of the splendid
empire which was once dominated by the Incas, and
which extended from Quito, the capital of Ecuador,
right over the whole Andean region through Peru and
Chile, with the exception of the extreme south.
' Roads,' says Clements Markham, and his record is
borne out by Prescott, and recently by Dr. Moreno,
' were constructed along the dizzy precipices of the
Cordillera and over the sandy deserts, terraced cultiva-
tion converted the ravines into hanging gardens, and
well conceived systems of irrigation works, both in the
mountains and on the coast, turned barren wastes into
smiling valleys and rich pastures.'

Sir Martin Conway in his ' Aconcagua and Tierra
del Fuego,' says that Dr. Moreno informed him 'that
recent geographical investigations, conducted on be-
half of the Argentine Government, have revealed the
fact that the Uspallata Valley, which joins the Mendoza


Valley some way below Vacas, is the south end of a
long, continuous depression running through no less
than 18 degrees of latitude. This depression, inter-
rupted here and there by unimportant passes, rises
gradually from the south, becomes the Puna of
Atacama, continues as the high Bolivian Plateau includ-
ing the Lake of Titicaca, and stretches on further to
the north to the point at which the Cordillera Real joins
the main Cordillera of the Andes. Right along it there
ran in the days of the fncas' dominion, and doubtless
for many centuries before, the main north and south
route of continental traffic, whereby Cuzco, the capital
of the Inca empire, was kept in communication with
the southern lands, etc. Where the Uspallata Valley
debouches in the Mendoza Valley the long depression
reaches its southern termination, and the road was
compelled to be deflected to the western side of the
watershed. Accordingly it turned up at Mendoza
Valley, crossed the Cordillera by the Cumbre, which
thus derived the name Uspallata Cumbre, i.e., crest of
the Uspallata route, and so gained the fertile valley of
Chile, and continued down that to the southernmost
regions of human habitude. South of the Rio Men-
doza the long depression does not continue on the east
side of the main chain, but the great Chilian Valley on
the western side begins almost where the other leaves
off. The high mountain mass culminating in Acon-
cagua lies between the south end of the one and the
north end of the other, possibly owing its existence to
the same telluric forces that determined them. In
western South America there can be no other line of
north and south communication than this.'


Lake Titicaca, as we have already hinted, lies
across the boundary line separating- Peru from Bolivia,


and is situated at an altitude of about 12,250 feet above
the sea level. It has an area of over 5,000 square
miles. Steamers ply on the lake, and convey passen-
gers from Puno Station to Chililaya, a distance of 90
miles. The native Indians use curiously constructed
reed boats. There are plenty of fish in the lake, and
good shooting to be had around its margin.

Cobija is an unimportant port, depending for its
existence solely upon the mining industry of the
vicinity. Copper ores are shipped from it to Lota for
smelting purposes. One part of Cobija is in ruins, the
result of an earthquake some years ago. Gatico is
now more used than Cobija.



Our next port of call was Tocopilla, which is
important as the terminus of the Anglo-Chilian and
Nitrate Railway Company's system. There were
quantities of ores waiting in the port for shipment, and
the separation of the ores is a wonderful business. The
sampling and assaying are most interesting operations,
and frequently, where some of the miners sell the ore
personally, they have, so we were told, to be kept at a
distance to prevent them from ' prilling ' it. This is
another term for falsifying the sample by putting in
richer ore dust, which is carried up the sleeve or in the

The Anglo-Chilian Nitrate Railway Company
have a splendid mole, and tap a number of nitrate
oficinas and mines in the district. There are also two
small private moles at the port, alongside which
lighters can be accommodated. The port itself is a
surf one, though somewhat sheltered, and the town is
a collection of wooden houses surrounded by barren
hills and sandy wastes. Copper mining is the principal
industry, though nitrate of soda forms the chief article
of export. The depth of water alongside the Anglo-
Chilian Company's pier is 25 feet; and about 1,600
tons of nitrate can be shipped by that company in a
day. The other piers together can deal with about 500
tons per day.

The exports during the year 1900 were : —

Nitrate of soda ... 170,000 tons.

Borax !) 44 >>

Copper ores - 9,000 ,,

Iodine 173,530 lbs.


There are about 45 wooden launches in the port,
ranging from 20 to 30 tons in capacity, and also a
small iron tug, the property of the Railway Company.

Leaving Tocopilla we steamed north for Iquique.
The night was a brilliant one — the
sea being illuminated by innumer-
able stars. The Milky Way, or as
the Frenchman translated it, ' Milk
Street,' had all its lamps lit, and we
saw the famous cloud of light known
as the ' Magellan Cloud,' and formed EXMO - SE * OR


by the light of thousands of small President ,,, chile.
stars, themselves invisible to the naked eye.

We arrived at Iquique on the 29th of December,
and were surprised to find so fine a city, lighted by
electricity and gas, and with a system of tram cars.
The town, which is the seat of the Intendente of the
province of Tarapaca, is built on a sandy plain, and is
entirely shut in landwards by a semi-circular range of
hills. There is the customary 'plaza,' or central
square, adorned in this case with a monument of the
naval hero Don Arturo Prat, also a cathedral, a number
of churches, clubs, theatres, etc. The population is
now about 33,000. The city has suffered at times by
fire, tidal waves, and earthquakes, and the last rain
known to have fallen was in 1891. The houses are
principally of wood, and they present a very bright
appearance, in consequence of the law requiring that
they shall be painted once a-year — prior to the 18th
September, i.e., the National Independence Day.

There are four banks, viz., the Bank of Tarapaca


and Argentina, Banco de Chile, Banco Aleman, Trans-
atlantic^, Banco Espanol Italiano, and about fifty
insurance companies are represented, so that there
would seem to be keen competition in that business.

The imports consist of provisions, coal, lumber,
machinery for the mines and nitrate works, merchandise
of all descriptions, sulphur, gunnies, live stock, etc. ;
and the exports of nitrate of soda, iodine, sulphates,
silver and copper ores, bar silver, borax, hides, etc.
All kinds of food and cattle, horses, mules, flour, fruit,
etc., are imported from Arica and Southern Chile.

There are three tugs at the port — register tonnage
50, 96, and 122 tons respectively, — and a large number
of wooden lighters, ranging in capacity from 18 to 25
tons, and principally owned by Messrs. Lockett, Bros,
and Co. There are fifteen moles in the port, all owned,
with one exception, by private firms, so that if we look
at the moles and the number of launches, we can readily
see that a very large quantity of cargo can be handled
at the port. Iquique is protected on the south by
Cavancha Point and Iquique Island, and on the north
by Piedras Point. On surf days, however, the port is
a very bad one, as the island is not sufficient to stay the
force of the swell, and the sunken rocks between the
anchorage and the landing place make boating and
landing dangerous.

We left Iquique by the morning train, our inten-
tion being to cross the 'Pampa' of Tamarugal, which is
about 150 miles long and 50 miles broad, and to travel
along it to Caleta Buena, proceeding thence to Pisagua,
where we were to join the north-bound steamer, and as



our travelling companions .thought the programme a
good one, we carried it out. The ' pampa ' and the
coast, we should mention, run almost parallel. We
held letters of introduction to the managers of several of
the leading 'oficinas', and determined to avail ourselves
of the privilege of staying for a night at the Agua Santa
premises. And it certainly was a privilege and a
pleasure to be received with such cordiality, to find
friends in this out-of-the-way place, and to be so hos-
pitably entertained. The Christmas and New Year
festivities were still in progress, and whilst it might be
said that we arrived at the right time, we can vouch for
it, from all we heard, that any time is the right one at an
'oficina' for a hearty welcome. The railway line from
Iquique ascends some 3,600 feet before getting on to the
vast sandy plain known as the * pampa.' At first not a
vestige of green is to be seen, nothing but barren moun-
tains gleaming in the hot sun, and the discomfort caused
by this is added to by the clouds of dust which the wind
and impetus of the train force into every carriage. Here
and there were small mounds with a cross on each
indicating the burial place, we were told, of some men
or ' peons ' who had been killed. Life at one time was
held very cheap on the 'pampas,' and there was no
serious punishment for crime. Our destination was
Negreiros, where we were to join the narrow gauge
line to Agua Santa, and we stopped at quite a number
of the stations on the way up. At each of these there
was a kind of market, principally conducted by Cocha-
bambinas (Bolivian women), and, of course, there was
the inevitable refreshment bar. The whole of the


occupants of the train — and the number was a large
one — got out to drink at each station, of course not
necessarily strong drinks, though cocktails seemed to
be the order of the day. The fact is, the atmosphere
was so dry that our lips cracked and our throats be-
came quite sore. Once on the 'pampa' we commenced
to pass the nitrate 'oficinas,' which, seen for the first
time, are highly interesting. At one part of the
journey we caught sight of some trees in the far I
distance, and we learned on enquiry that there is a
little water there which flows down from the snow-
capped mountains beyond. As far, however, as the
eye could reach there is nothing, with the slight
exception named, but sandy desert visible, and here and
there the buildings of the oficinas. Now and then a
horseman may be seen galloping over the plain, or
an Arriero with a train of pack mules. Then we
brightened up at observing what we took to be a large
lake in the distance, with the mountains and ' oficina
buildings reflected in it, but this we found to be the
'mirage of the desert,' which has gladdened many a
weary horseman only to disappoint him. No sooner
had we discovered our mistake than another curious
sight presented itself in the shape of a corkscrew r cloud
(rather an appropriate name for this district), which
travelled over the plain touching the ground with its
fine point, and stretching upwards in zigzag form to
an expansive top. This was a whirlwind, and we
saw many of them later travelling about from one point
to another in fantastic shapes, and carrying a large
quantity of sand with them. Fortunately none came


our way, as we were more than satisfied with the
i quantity of dust we accumulated. The first impression
we got on seeing the nitrate grounds was that the
whole place had been thrown up by an earthquake,
huge masses of stone and sand being piled up all over
the fields. Here and there lying on the hill sides could
be seen plenty of salt, but the people for some reason
or other do not collect it, preferring to buy what little
they require of that article in Iquique. In any case
what we saw lying about would not be fit for the table
without undergoing some chemical process, as it con-
tains magnesium. It took us from n a.m. to 4.30
p.m. to get to Negreiros, and on arrival we were
glad to meet the general manager of the Agua Santa
Nitrate and Railway Company, and in another twenty
minutes we arrived at the 'oficina.' This seemed to us
quite a town, there being the houses of the workmen
(some 700), a pulperia (general store), market, school,
a plaza, in which the manager's house with attached
offices is situate, and an extensive corral, enclosing a
large number of mules, horses, cattle, and sheep. Of
course all food, both for man and beast, has to be
brought from Iquique or Caleta Buena. After looking
over the works, we settled down for the evening, which
was enlivened by music and dancing, and we had the
pleasure of witnessing the national Chilian dance known
by the name of ' La cueca.' It is a very graceful
dance, and the music is of a lively kind, time being
kept by the hand-clapping of the whole company.

Next morning we went over a nitrate field, and
were shewn how the nitrate is discovered. First, a



hole is made in the ground with a crowbar, and then a
spoon bar is let down, or a boy with a measure to
ascertain the thickness of the 'caliche,' or crude nitrate.
If nitrate fit to work be found, then operations are com-
menced. The surface covering of the ground is called
'chuca.' Underneath this is the ' costra ' or crust, —
next comes the 'caliche,' then salt, and beneath this
gravel or 'coba.' The 'caliche' is generally from 3 to
6 feet beneath the surface, and it is got out by blasting.
A hole is made after this fashion : —





A boy is let down into the hole with the blasting
powder, which he puts into the ' taza,' or cup, as shewn
in the sketch. He then attaches a long fuse, which is
lighted when he gets to the surface, and then everyone
makes for safety. In a few minutes an explosion
takes place and tons of material are thrown up into the
air, looking in the distance just like one would ex-
pect a mud geyser to do. The ' caliche ' is then picked
out and carted to the works. It is there crushed by
machinery and run into boiling tanks, where it remains
for from eight to ten hours. This dissolves the 'caliche,'


and the sand and all insoluble matter (ripio) drops to
the bottom of the tank, which is formed with trap
doors, through which the tanks are later cleaned of the
'ripio.' The liquid, known as 'caldo,' containing
nitrate and salt, is then run off into vats, where it is
allowed to crystallise.

Any liquid remaining is run off and forms the
mother water, or ' agua vieja,' as it is called, and is
used over and over again. The nitrate, after drying on
the 'cancha, ' is then bagged and sent by rail to the port
for shipment. The salt, precipitated, is used by some
' oficinas ' and thrown away by others.

Nitrate of soda, up to standard, should not con-
tain less than 95 per cent, of pure matter. The drying
process does not remove all the moisture, and there is
in consequence some small loss in weight during a long
voyage. l Raw nitrate of soda, spoken of as 'caliche,'
says Captain W. M. F. Castle, in his 'Sketch of
Iquique, ' 'is only found on the south-west coast of
America, between the parallel of 20 and 27 degrees S.
latitude. It is invariably situated in beds of not less
than 2,000 feet above sea level, and from 50 to 90 miles
from the coast. It is met with in the thickest layers
and of the best quality upon the sides of basins which,
in pre-historic times, formed undoubtedly inland seas,
or were caused by the subsidence of the ocean. It is a
mineral deposit, formed chiefly, it is believed, by decayed
animal vegetation and sea weed matter mingled with sea
salts. This theory is borne out in some measure by
the fact that skins, also skeletons of animals, birds,
shells, seabirds' eggs, fish, feathers, and guano are


found constantly under the caliche some fifteen feet
below the surface.'

Iodine is also made from the ' mother water ' by
several processes, one of which is the passing - of steam,
impregnated with sulphur, through it ; and it forms an
excellent bi-product, yielding- a good monetary return.
The iodine floats to the top, and has the appearance of
mud. This is collected and compressed into cheeses.
It is then sublimed in retorts, and appears subsequently
in flakes, peacock and grey in colour, and before being
used medically has to be mixed with another chemical
or spirit.

The whole process of the manufacture of nitrate
is extremely interesting and instructive, as are also
the numerous appliances for the saving of manual

The ' pulperia ' is quite an institution on each
4 oficina, ' the men being paid in 'fichas,' or tallies, — -


gutta percha discs, with the name of the ' oficina ' and
value on face, — which are, as a rule, only received as
cash at the general store. Any ' fichas ' not so spent
may be changed into cash when leaving the 'oficina.'
I It will thus be seen that the store is a profitable institu-
| tion, and tends in a way to reduce the total amount of
wages paid. After inspecting the store, we witnessed
a very lively scene caused by the branding of about

Online LibraryFrederick AlcockTrade & travel in South America → online text (page 27 of 34)