William Martin Conway.

The Bolivian Andes; a record of climbing & exploration in the Cordillera Real in the years 1898 and 1900 online

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Online LibraryWilliam Martin ConwayThe Bolivian Andes; a record of climbing & exploration in the Cordillera Real in the years 1898 and 1900 → online text (page 15 of 27)
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and yet has yielded milk from the remaining bark during
six picas in six successive years ; the tree still retains a
thoroughly healthy appearance. It is certain that the
life of a tree, though annually tapped, is a long one,
and exceeds the fifteen years which are required for the
growth of a tree from seed, so that the forest may be
perennially tapped and will give a fairly constant yield
when thoroughly opened up and worked. This, how-
ever, implies that the trees are carefully handled; the
yield of a mishandled tree falls off. The average yearly
output of a full-grown tree is variously stated. Some
put it as high as seven pounds ; no one puts it at less
than three pounds of cured rubber (after lO per cent,
has been deducted for drying).

The cost of production, in Bolivian dollars, of lOO
pounds of MoUendo rubber in the Mapiri forest is as
f oUows :

Paid to contractor, per lOO lbs 73-00

Loss in weight, lo per cent 7-30

Freight from the forest to Sorata town 5-00

Commissions and road tolls 6o

Cost of administration lo.oo

Sacking, packing, commission, and freight to Chililaya, on Lake

Titicaca 2.20

Freight, insurance, and all incidental expenses to London 12.00




Or, reckoning the Bolivian dollar equal to i8d., the cost
of a pound of Mapiri rubber put in London is 19.82^.

From the books of two other forest-owners in the same
neighborhood I find a slightly higher cost, 20.l6d. per
pound. The present price of this rubber in London is
about 4s. per pound.

Coming now to a consideration of the possible supply
of rubber to be drawn from the MoUendo forests, we
enter a region of conjecture, for, of course, the trees
have not been counted, nor even the number of estradas.
A part of one estate has been recently proven to con-
tain 6410 estradas (961,500 trees), when, according to
the original estimate, the whole estate contained only
500,000 trees. Twenty million trees may be taken as the
lowest probable limit of the number of trees, while they
may not improbably turn out to reach fifty millions or
even more. Now, in the season 1897-8, the amoimt of
Mollendo rubber exported was 491,087 pounds, which,
at three pounds per tree, represents the yield of only
163,695 trees, and the same number of days' labor at
three pounds per man per day. If one Indian is taken
as working for three weeks, it represents the labor of
only 7795 Indians out of a population of 300,000 in
the Department of La Paz. The possible increase
of output is thus clearly enormous. How is it to be
brought about?

Without going into financial questions concerned with
any possible purchase of the estates and concentration
of them under single management, a few essential feat-
ures of the problem may be pointed out. To begin with,
the first necessity is to make good mule-roads over the
high passes that lead from the town of Sorata and from



the Bolivian plateau to the chief eastern valleys, and
down those valleys to the forests. These roads would,
of course, be very useful to the gold-miners, coffee-plant-
ers, and others whose work leads them to the eastward.
They are, therefore, rather the work of the government
than of the rubber-forest proprietors; but the govern-
ment is poor and can only afford to make them by
slow degrees. If made at all, in the immediate future,
the forest proprietors must make them. The main
roads having been made, it is necessary to cut forest-
tracks from one estrada to another, as only the es-
tradas easily accessible have yet been touched. This
implies additional labor, wise oversight, and intelli-
gent exploration.

At present all the food consumed by the rubber col-
lectors has to be carried into the forest from Sorata or
the plateau — a great waste of labor. It would be per-
fectly easy to raise any quantity of food in the hot valleys,
which are of the richest natural fertility; but such cul-
tivation impUes preliminary colonization. As already
stated, it would be impossible to colonize these low, hot
valleys with Indians from the Tibet-like plateau. Chi-
nese coolies are the class most suited for such work.
They cotdd be obtained very easily from San Francisco.
A nucleus of such men, who would soon become expert
in working the rubber forests, would enable the industry
of rubber collection to be far better organized than it
is to-day, and opportunities of theft would be reduced.
Large areas in these valleys which do not carry rubber
are suitable for coffee plantations, and such planta-
tions as do exist produce the finest coffee of South Amer-
ica and some of the finest in the world, so that here,



also, important future developments may be expected.
What is true of coflfee is true also of coca, for which a
large local market exists among the Indians of BoKvia.
Such developments of the rubber industry imply not
merely concentration or co-ordination of proprietorship,
but skilled administration and scientific experience,
which could only come in the wake of capital. At
present, everything is done experimentally or by rule of

The Bolivian government would certainly favor any
such enterprise, provided that road -making and col-
onization were an essential feature of it. With their
help the business of recruiting Indian laborers would be
greatly facilitated, for the village corregidors have
much influence over the Indians, and can promote or
hinder their enlistment, or turn them in one direction
or another, very much as they please. Under any cir-
cumstance, however, the future of this region of tropical
valleys descending from the eastern face of the snowy
Cordillera Real of BoUvia is certain to be prosperous,
and its development will soon attract much attention.


I HAVE been tempted to write thus at length about
the india-rubber forests beyond Sorata because the
subject is one of general interest at the present
time. It is, however, as portal to a great gold region,
not improbably as rich and important as the Rand, that
Sorata is destined to attain world-renown sooner or
later. From the slopes of Mount Sorata and its neigh-
bors there descend to the north and east four important
valleys — the Mapiri, Tipuani, Challana, and Coroico.
These four valleys have long been known to be very
rich in gold. At the head of the Tipuani Valley is
Yani, of which I shall have something to say here-
after. These valleys are all relatively steep. They
are traversed by torrents, which rise very rapidly
in the rainy season and which carry along immense
bowlders. In the rains also great landslips fall down
the sides of the valleys. Between the landslips, the
floods, and the bowlders, gold-washing on a large
scale with the necessary machinery has never been
a great success in these valleys. Canals made to
carry a head of water to a point above a placer-mine
have been made more than once, but nature has de-
stroyed them before they could be used. Bowlders
have been blasted and areas of gravel cleared for wash-
ing, and then a flood has come and rolled in a new



lot of bowlders before the washing could be accom-
plished. Machinery has been carried over the Cordil-
lera and installed, and then some landslip has buried
it or flood overwhelmed it. Add to these difi&culties
the fact that in a region where gold does in fact exist
in great richness, and where it has been known and
worked since prehistoric times, there exists no yard
of gravel that does not belong to some one. As there
does not exist any accurate detailed map, the claims
are all ill-defined and frequently overlap. Then many
claims have lapsed and new denouncements have been
made of the ground. As soon, however, as any one
tries to work such a new denouncement, the former
owner's representative arises with a law-suit and dis-
putes the new-comer's title. Pending the suit, work
has to stop. For these and other reasons it seems
improbable that any foreign company is likely in
the near future to do much profitable gold-washing
on a large scale in any of these four valleys. The
gold that is produced from them will continue to be
produced by small groups of native workers, operating
without machinery in the crudest of old-fashioned

The four valleys mentioned unite near Huanay
to form the relatively slow-flowing and navigable
Rio Kaka. The gravel and sand-banks that exist
along the margin of the Kaka have recently been
found to be immensely rich in gold. A company has
been formed, which has obtained possession of these
banks, and is now introducing machinery to work
them. There is no trouble about titles; there are no
bowlders and no serious floods. Much gold will prob-



abl3" be derived from these banks during the next
few years. The gold in question is a flake gold, and
has evidently come from a secondary formation in
which it has been submitted to pressure. All the gold-
bearing rivers tributary to the Kaka flow across such
a formation, slate underlying conglomerate. Both
the slate and other conglomerate were picked at by the
Spaniards, and manj^ small tunnels may be observed
cut into them. The probability seems to be that both
the slate and the conglomerate are auriferous, and
not unlike the Johannisberg Rand. The application of
modern methods of working is about to be applied
to these beds, and, if the present showing is confirmed,
the whole of the belt of foot-hills formed of them will
presently become the scene of a great mining indus-
try. When that comes to pass Sorata will wake up as
an important transit station. Puerto Ballivian, near
Huanay, will be the Bolivian Johannisberg, the Ama-
zonian port of the Bolivian Rand.

In this same country, elevated about 2000 feet above
the rubber forests, there is a large area of fine grazing
land, ranged over by herds of cattle gone wild. These
cattle will attract the attention of stock-raisers when
the gold rush begins. The surrounding country con-
tains any amount of land suitable for the produc-
tion of all kinds of food for man and beast. All it
requires is population. When the people come, the
wealth that they may take out of the ground is almost
limitless. There hardly exists in the world an area
by nature richer, or more beautiful, or better adapted
for colonization by white men than this splendid belt
of the northeastern foot-hills of the Cordillera Real.



Having exhausted the time I could afford for Sorata
and its neighborhood, we set off to return over the pass
to Achacache. The bad weather still continued. As
we rose to the col, we entered the cloud, sweeping up, as
usual, from the Mapiri Valley and pouring over on to
the Puna, a part of that warm drift of damp air from the
eastward to which the bad weather owed its origin. All
hopes of surveying the north face of the Sorata moun-
tain group being thus postponed, there was nothing
to be done but to ride down to the town. Rain-storms
pursued us; the energies alike of man and beast were
devoted to making headway as fast as possible. The
mules, evidently well acquainted with the road, re-
quired no urging ; as soon as the rugged portion of the
track was left behind, and the margin of the plain
reached, off they went at a gallop, devouring the way.
On arrival at Achacache bad news was encountered;
the Indians of Umapusa refused to return to the moun-
tain without some escort that would secure them against
the vengeance of their hostile neighbors. It was uni-
versally believed that we were responsible for the bad
weather, which, coming at this unseasonable time,
interfered with farming operations. The sub-prefect
was still absent from his post, so that a visit to La Paz
could not be avoided. As a matter of fact, the time
was not wasted, for the bad weather lasted on until
our return, and climbing would have been impossible
for that reason alone.

I decided to enlarge my knowledge of the Puna
by taking the northern and more direct track, which
goes from Achacache through the town of Peflas,
a place that derives its name from the crest of peeiked



rocks intervening between it and the main high-road
from Chihlaya to La Paz. To the summit of these
rocks we afterwards ascended, as will be described
in its place.

The track we had to follow led between the hill of
Achacache and a neighboring sandstone and con-
glomerate mound named from Abichaca, a village at
its base. This point was decided upon as one of the
principal stations for the triangidation which I was
to make after the climb of Mount Sorata had been ac-
compHshed. Little, however, did we guess what com-
pUcations this choice was destined to involve. Other
sandy and stony hills succeeded on both sides, and
for hours we wound about among them, along desert
valleys, with seldom any distant outlook towards the
Cordillera. The stones, plentifully strewn over these
hills and in the valley bottoms, were rounded and obvi-
ously water-worn, but the majority of them, I believe,
have been weathered out from the conglomerate, and
not shaped by recent water action. The summit of
Abichaca Hill and of several other similar hills were
occupied by small buildings of the type called chulpas,
most of them being edifices of pre-Spanish erection, built,
as the natives say, in " the times of the Gentiles." One
simmiit bore a much larger ruin, whereof a row of piers
of considerable size was visible from a great distance.
At the foot of the slope there now stands a large church,
which has supplanted its loftier predecessor in popular
veneration. The policy of the Spaniards appears to
have been to consecrate to Christian purposes the sites
of ancient superstition.

The corregidor of Penas sheltered us for an hour or



two in the middle of the day, so that we avoided visiting
the inn, of whose existence, indeed, we were ignorant. I
afterwards learned that the place has a very bad reputa-
tion, for the Pefias Indians are some of the worst on the
Puna, and the inn had been the scene of terrible trage-
dies. It had been noticed that several travellers, known
to have passed along this road, were seen no more.
Inquiries were instituted, and suspicion fell upon the
innkeeper of Penas, who was observed to be unusually
prosperous. The tanibo was carefully examined. Ex-
cavations were made in the floor of one of the rooms,
with the result that the bodies of a large number of
murdered men were found buried beneath it.

Pushing on, as soon as the mules had been fed, we
struck away along the foot of the precipitous face of
Pefias Hill, with the long slopes leading up to the
clouded Cordillera on our left. Clouds and storm had
gathered over the mountains and s\^■ept down upon the
Puna ; black columns of tempest, stretching out from the
great mountains, reached over on to the plain, trailing
black veils of rain or gray sldrts of hail. When Pefias
Hill was passed we came out on the open Puna, and found
the dust whirlwinds dancing about it in countless mul-
titudes. A violent and wide-spreading storm seemed
about to break, but, as no shelter was at hand, there
was nothing to be done but push forward on our way.
We passed the Tambo de Perez, an inn often mentioned
in descriptions of travel in Bolivia, and came to the
old tambo of Patamanta, just at the foot of the Villaque
Hill, which was destined to be our second principal sur-
veying station. The mules were so fatigued that an
hour's halt had here to be uaade. Then forward again


in the growing night, along the foot of the hill, and
across the wide, almost dry channel of the Vilahaque
torrent, where black night overtook us.

Now the thunder-storms, through which we had
threaded our way as through the trees of a forest, were
raging in every quarter of the heavens. By good
fortune, they always passed over the road either before
our coming or after our passage. An almost unceasing
coruscation of electric fire was playing in the great
cloud that covered lUimani. Directly ahead was an-
other storm behind Okomisto. Three more storms
flashed their great strokes of light, apparently on the
crests of the low hills bounding the Puna to the west.
Through a hollow in the overcast sky the moon came
out and shone upon the plain. Not a creature was
encountered, even after we had joined the carriage-
road and were approaching Okomisto ; not a light shone
in the scattered cottages of the Indians. Between the
booming of the thunder absolute silence reigned all
around. The tired beasts plodded slowly forward. At
last, still far ahead, the lightning showed the peaked
outline of the row of stacks that marked the post-house
at Okomisto. The cold was bitter, and we were all
suffering from an utter numbness, so that from time
to time each had to dismount and bring back feeling
into his limbs by tramping along the road.

At last the welcome sound of barking dogs showed
that the post-house was near; we began to promise our-
selves supper and the reward of bottled beer to wash
it down. Without the barricaded gate I shouted for
admittance, but only the barking dogs replied. We
shouted and hammered away for ten minutes, with

p 225


sinking hearts, but still there was no voice, nor any
that replied. When at last we were on the margin of
despair, the gate gave way, and we could advance to
the door of the house. But that also was barred, and
the man within refused admittance. He said : "Let me
alone ; my children and I are in bed ; we cannot take you
in." Presently his heart melted, and he admitted us
to the mud hut where the post-travellers dine. " Here, ' '
he said, "you may pass the night, if you please." But
the beer was all exhausted, the food all eaten, and the
only condiment of any sort that remained was half a
bottle of that universal commodity of South America,
which no remotest hut seems ever to be without —
Worcestershire sauce. The crazy table still bore the rem-
nants of the last traveller's food, dirty plates, and crimi-
bled bread, but there was not so much as a biscuit to be
had. The filthy floor had not been swept since the place
was built, but on it we had to sleep as best we could.
Our host absolutely refused to receive the mules, but
he directed the arriero to an Indian's farm, half a mile
away, where they could be fed. Such as the shelter was,
we were glad enough to reach it, for we had ridden more
than fifty miles since morning, and fifty miles at a slow
jog-trot behind baggage -mules continually straying
from the way and having to be brought back is a fa-
tiguing day's work.

Next morning at peep of day we found great areas of
the Puna covered with fresh-fallen snow. Leaving the
baggage-mules to come on at their leisure, we cantered
off, and were in La Paz by nine o'clock. The bad
weather continued during the time of this visit, and
great thunder-storms raged even over La Paz itself,



so that when we returned to Achacache the mountains
and the upper slopes of the Puna were all alike whitened
with thick, new snow. It was, indeed, as though the
elements had combined against the possibility of any
high ascents. For years past no such weather was
remembered at this time of year.

Early in the morning of the 5th of October we were
again at Umapusa, hoping to go up that same day to
Hiska Haukana camp, for means had been taken to qmet
the hostile Indians, and the way seemed again open
before us. But we had reckoned without knowledge
of the Indian calendar, for this day, as well as the mor-
row and the day after, were f^tes, when every self-
respecting Indian at Fraskiya must be properly drunk.
The delay proved to be unimportant, for the weather
was worse than ever, and snow fell down to our level with
Kttle cessation. I filled the time by shooting geese on
the swamp below the village and reading a two months'
collection of English newspapers backward, which is
a remarkably entertaining way to become acquaint-
ed with reports of the doings of the world. On the
7th of October the bad weather culminated ; snow lay
thick down to the margin of Lake Titicaca. Then the
sky cleared and the sun shone out on a white earth,
in the midst of which gUttered the fiery blue surface of
the lake. Our projected attack on Mount Sorata was
become a forlorn hope.


ON a brilliantly fine morning we set forward. " In
nombre de Dios!" the arriero cried, "for we
Peruvians pray to God at the beginning of
every enterprise, since He has power in all things."
Sorry looking, indeed, were the Indians of Frasldya,
who were gathered in a body to meet us in the court-
yard of the farm. Most of them had broken heads, for
the entire village had concluded its holiday with a free
fight, described by the combatants as having been per-
fectly splendid. It had left behind it many apparently
unhealed quarrels, which Caesar was called upon to
settle. The women were the great talkers; one old
and toothless dame waxed eloquent, and harangued
him for nearly an hour, while the men stood sadly
round and occasionally protested against her words.
Ultimately, affairs were settled, and our old porters
agreed to come with us, though Jose for a while hung
back. He said that he had pains inside his head, as
well as the great visible gash that everybody could see
outside it. We told him there was no medicine for a
headache like a visit to higher altitudes. His old wife
went and fetched him a warm blanket, and he resigned
himself to his fate.
The ascent to the camp was diversified by the fall



of a baggage- mule, which unfortunately broke ovir
spirit-bottle into the salt and sugar, but, as a set-off,
I presently flushed a small covey of gray partridges.
Next morning we climbed early to the higher camp,
accompanied by three porters, the weather being still
fine. The same little bird that had fluttered around
oiu" tents when we were there before was still flying
about, uttering a shrill cry ; I had no heart to shoot it.
The Indians went back, leaving us halted for lunch
by our baggage reserve. We then lay for an hour
asleep in the hot sunshine. Before sunset we had com-
pleted the next stage of the ascent, and were standing
beside the tent, sledge, and baggage, which remained as
we had left them. The amount of new snow that had
fallen could easily be measured by the deep hollow
wherein the tent lay, while the sledge was so buried
that it had to be dug out. The minimum thermometer
inside the tent only registered 12^ ° Fahr., not a se-
vere amount of cold for a fortnight's stormy weather
in early spring at nearly 20,000 feet above the sea.

The tent was soon set in order ; the petroleum stove
turned the melted snow into soup, coffee, and even
punch, with the needful ingredients. In the sleeping-
bags we were as warm and comfortable as in beds
at home; yet sleep would come to none of us, prob-
ably because we had exchanged a moderate for a high
elevation so suddenly. When we were here before,
all slept well ; but we had come up by 2000-f eet stages ;
this time we came up by one 4000-feet stage, and we
could not sleep. The secret of how to gain a very high
altitude is to ascend by short stages, and to stop a night
at each stage. Above 17,000 feet, 2000 feet a day is



enough. You can do more, but the loss in rest and re-
habilitation outweighs the apparent gain in time. I
have slept for four nights at about 20,000 feet, and am
satisfied that this is by no means the limit of height
where a man can sleep. Probably 23,000 feet is not
an impossible camping altitude, if it is reached by
stages of 2000 feet or less.

The night was very cold. At one in the morning,
when we began preparations for the climb, there were
30° Fahr. of frost. In the polar regions this would be
a trifle, but polar explorers work at sea-level, and fill
their lungs, each breath, with a supply of oxygen suffi-
cient to keep the fires warmly burning within them.
If their supply of oxygen were halved, they would find
Arctic cold insupportable. At 20,000 feet the air is so
thin that the supply of oxygen drawn in at a breath
is only about half the sea-level supply.

Before two o'clock in the moonless night, we quitted
the tent on our upward way. The glittering canopy
of stars was disfigured by patches of drifting cloud of
evil augury. A single candle was all the illumination
to our dubious way over the hard-frozen snow-slope

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Online LibraryWilliam Martin ConwayThe Bolivian Andes; a record of climbing & exploration in the Cordillera Real in the years 1898 and 1900 → online text (page 15 of 27)