100 Years Ago: October 1921
This is the 81st entry in my series of reviews of a National Geographic Magazine upon it reaching its 100th Anniversary of Publication.
The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Trail and Jungle in Ecuador” and was written by H. E. Anthony. It has the internal subtitle “Indian Head-Hunters of the Interior an Interesting Study in the South American Republic”. The article contains twenty-eight black-and-white photographs taken by the author. Three of those photographs are full-page in size.
Ecuador was a land of great interest to both scientist and layman alike. Whether he studied the people, their customs and traditions, or the natural features of the country, the birds, mammals, forests, and mountains, there was much to explore. The republic occupied a unique geographical position, astride the Equator, extending from one and a half degrees north latitude to almost five degrees south latitude. Within its borders were some of the grandest Andean peaks and a multitude of mighty ranges and deep canyons. On the west coast, Ecuador was the point where the Humboldt Current sheered off to the westward, losing its chilly influence on the climate further north. The eastern boundaries of the republic were in the Amazonian drainage basin, and cut the Napo, the Pastaza, and the Paute, all affluents of the world’s largest river. The topography was extremely mountainous. There were restricted plains in western Ecuador, but the greater part of the republic was in the Andes and their foothills. The drainage of the country included a number of large rivers flowing eastward, as well as several important western-flowing streams. Except for a narrow coastal strip, the country received abundant rainfall. The year was divided into two seasons – the dry season and the wet, or rainy, season. The rains generally began in December or January, and lasted until May or June, the rest of the year having scant rain. On the eastern slopes of the Andes there were heavy rains year-round. In some parts it reached as high as 150 to 200 inches of rainfall. The population of Ecuador was made up of three distinct elements. Most of the educated, upper class were of Spanish descent. The great bulk of the population was Indian, the Quichuas, who were descendants of the Incas. The third element of the population was comprised of the wild and savage tribes of the Oriente, typified by the Jivaros, or head-hunters.
The Jivaros were so far removed and inaccessible that Ecuadorian laws barely touched them. These Indians were much more savage and uncivilized than their brethren of the western Andes, the Quichuas. They came into contact with whites only occasionally, since the country they inhabited was an inhospitable tract of jungle. They lived along the tributaries of the Rio Napo and the Rio Paute, and seldom ventured very far up on the slopes of the eastern Andes, but remained below an elevation of 3,500 feet. The Jivaros waged a constant warfare among themselves, for which polygamy was the direct cause. When a girl reached a marriageable age, her father gave her in marriage to some friend. Most of the wives were, however, were gained by the killing an enemy and the confiscation of the women as the spoils of war. A man might have had five to eight wives. The warfare was against a member of a neighboring tribe, or against a fellow-Jivaro living at some distance. The women and children of the slain man were adopted into the family, and not treated as slaves. These Indians had a pseudo-religion which was based on a belief in a being called el diablo, the devil. He was a super-Jivaro, all powerful in everything he undertook, but not evil for its own sake. No important project was undertaken without first consulting el diablo and getting his views. The Jivaros had no priestly class, they communed with the devil one on one. To do that, they would drink a quantity of a certain extract made from a particular variety of bark. The fluid was dark, like coffee, and contained a powerful narcotic. It produced a stupor and hallucinations. While under the influence of the drug, the devil told the man what to do. That usually happened to be what the man intended to do in the first place. If the devil had properly coached his client, and the raid was successful, the hut of the victim was surrounded, and when the latter stepped out of the door, he was shot by all of the members of the party. The women and children were rapidly captured and raiders sought the safety of their own neighborhood, knowing full well that, sooner or later, they would be raided in like manner by the relatives of the slain man.
The head of the victim was cut off, and later, in the seclusion of his hut, the victor prepared it into a lasting trophy, attaching to it the significance which the North American Indians attached to scalps. The skin was opened up from the base of the neck to the crown and the skull was remove entirely, leaving only the soft, pliant skin. The skin was dipped into a vegetable extract which dyed it a blue-black, and probably help to preserve it. The cut skin was sewn back up and the cavity was filled with hot sand or pebbles. The head was constantly turned and moved so that the drying went on uniformly. When the sand had cooled, hot sand took its place, the process lasting several days before the head was completely cured. An unbelievable amount of shrinkage took place, but it was so regular that the features retained their individuality. The finished head was about the size of a man’s fist. The lips had been sewn shut with a series of long cotton cords. Within about a month, the victor celebrated the event by a ceremonial dance at which there was an orgy of wild drinking. After the dance, it was possible to buy the head from the Jivaro, if his interest was aroused in an object of value, such as a musket. Because of the interest aroused in the outside world, there had been in the past a lively trade in human heads. It became necessary for the Ecuadorean Government to strictly forbid the traffic in those objects. There were many tales about the practice. One story was of a red-headed man who went into the interior with the intent to come out with a shrunken head. A shrunken head came out, but the head had read hair. Contrary to expectations, the author found the Jivaro a good-natured people, and very friendly to his party. They were below medium height, but with splendid chest development. The men wore their hair long, with bangs in front. The men wore slender tubes of bamboo thrust through the lobes of the ears, and the women often had a short piece of cane projecting straight out from the lower lip.
On their own trails, the Jivaros wore next to nothing, but when those Indians visited border settlements, they wore a one-piece garment consisting of a cotton cloth, which they wove themselves, caught up around the waist. The men the author saw appeared to treat their women kindly and showed of consideration. If a woman was found guilty of infidelity, she was thrown to the grown and her scalp was cut with a knife repeatedly. On a second offense, she was pinned to the ground with a lance through the fleshy part of her legs. Given food and water, she would stay there up to a week. On a third offense, the punishment was death outright. The Jivaros were keen hunters and woodsmen, with a natural instinct for knowing direction. They hunted over vast, unbroken stretches of jungle, following paths made by wild animals. They called monkeys down the hillsides by imitating their calls. They hunted with large blowguns. For small game, the missiles were sunbaked balls of clay, while for larger prey, they shot poisoned darts of cane. The poison was apparently curare, and was obtained from traders farther down the Amazonian waters. It was very potent, death resulting in minutes, but it did not spoil the game for consumption. Salt was said to be an antidote. If placed in the mouth of the stricken animal quickly. Animals were sometimes captured alive that way. Another poison used by the Jivaros was barbasco, a jungle vine which was put in the water to secure fish. A pile of the plant was beaten to a pulp on the rocks. The mash was thrown into the river, with Indians stationed downstream to collect the fish. The fish were poisoned and floated downstream, belly up, to be gathered. The Jivaros spoke their own language, very distinct from the Quichua tongue. Only a few individuals spoke Spanish.
The principal cities of Ecuador were the capital, Quito, and the seaport, Guayaquil. The latter was the first port of call for many ships sailing south of Panama. To reach the port, a ship needed to enter the Gulf of Guayas, and then steam up the tidal river of the Guayas. Guayaquil was a large city of 90,000 people. It had an unsavory reputation of being a pesthole. That was due to prevalent yellow fever and outbursts of bubonic plague, which kept the city under perpetual quarantine. The Rockefeller Foundation took in hand the cleaning of that city, with the result that yellow fever had practically disappeared and the bubonic plague was kept well in hand. The quarantine against the port had been lifted, and it was again open to maritime traffic. The Ecuadorean had a reverence and a faith in the “gringo medico” almost a strong as in his religion. Coincident with that improvement in the hygiene of the city, new streets had been built and new buildings erected. Ecuador had, in operation, a railroad from Guayaquil to Quito, with plans for extensions to other points. The tracks climbed up from sea-level to an elevation of nearly 11,500 feet, over much heavy grades and many sharp curves. It was Yankee-built. It took the train two days to climb to the capital, with an overnight stop at the hotels in Riobamba. It lied in a rich, fertile valley and, because of its strategic position on the railroad, it was a rather important place. The most interesting feature of the city was its public market, where groups of Quichuas, and a few Spaniards, sold a great variety of things. In one corner were butchers, with beef and pork on display. Next to them were the millers, women seated on the ground with open sacks of flour before them. The flours were made from wheat, barley, corn, or peas, and were measure out by the dealers in little cups. The scales were a short stick, with suspended pans at each end. The weight was a rock, the size of a fist, which the vendor swore weight exactly a pound. Prices were never fixed; haggling was the rule.
Quito was almost as large as Guayaquil. Because of its invigorating climate, it had a far healthier environment, and the citizens seems more invigorated. It was situated on a plain, at the foot of Mount Pichincha. On a clear day, one could see eleven snow-clad peaks from the city. Because of the elevation of Quito, 9,375 feet, some of those peaks did not appear to tower very high, but were nevertheless a beautiful sight. The streets were paved with stone, and were better kept than those in most Spanish American cities. Quichuas thronged the city, doing all the burden-bearing. Dressed in their picturesque ponchos, they gave to the city the aspect of a frontier town. Quito was by far the most attractive city in all of Ecuador. Because of their inaccessibility, the interior towns were apt to be more picturesque and more untrampled by civilization. Such a city was Loja, the modest metropolis of southern Ecuador, with a population of ten to twelve thousand souls. The educated class of the city, the Spaniards, were very particular in their dress. It was common to see a citizen clad in a very proper Prince Albert, with tall hat, cane, and resplendent shoes, rubbing elbows with a scarlet-ponchoed Quichua or crowded by a group of Canari Indians. Two small streams flowed through Loja, the Rio Malacotas and the Rio Zamora, destined to become part of the Amazon. Probably the most important of all those interior cities of the inter-Andean region was Cuenca, to which a railroad was being constructed. There were numerous small towns of only a few hundred people, where the arrival of a traveler from the outside world was a great event.
The people of Ecuador were very religious and most of them were of the Catholic faith. Every little village had at least one church, and the larger towns had several. Even from a distance, they were the most conspicuous edifices, their spires and belfries overtopped all other buildings. There were numerous fiestas observed, because, in addition to the celebrations ordained by the church at large, there were many local saints and virgins for whom the natives were always willing to declare a holiday. There were several important fiestas held annually in the interior cities. Merchants sent wares from long distance to take advantage of the crowds which flocked to the towns on those occasions. Those throngs gathered around the stalls and booths, clad in their gala attire. The men were resplendent in brilliant new ponchos, and the women wore shawls, generally blue or green. The crowd was an ever shifting and mingling kaleidoscope of flaring yellows, deep purples, flaming reds, and starling greens. The crowds scattered when, with a great clattering of hoofs, the gallants of the town came riding along the cobble-paved streets. During the feast of All Saints’ Day, the people drank quantities of unfermented rice wine and purchased bread baked in the shapes of men, birds, horses, and other animals. The majority of people one saw in Ecuador were Quichuas. They were short, sturdy people, well built and stocky. In color, they closely resemble the North American Indians, but their features were less stern and warlike. They did most of the labor of the republic, serving as porters, drovers, farmers, etc. The women labored as well, working the fields. The costume of the Quichua was quite characteristic and picturesque. The main garment of the man was the poncho, which he wore over the shoulders and allowed to hang to his knees. It was worn over a shirt and trousers made of course home-spun material. The women wore a cape-like garment in place of a poncho, and a voluminous skirt. Both men and women usually went barefoot, but had rawhide sandals to wear when in the rocky places.
Those people were hard working, but with the primitive methods that were used, life was difficult. Despite the rich soil, many cultivated fields produced a low yield due to the shallow plowing done by the sticks used to scratch the ground. Planting methods were equally laborious and unsatisfactory. Because of the number of mules, horses, cattle, and goats that roamed the settled areas, the farmers needed to fence their fields. Sometimes they used piled stones or adobe blocks, but a great number of fences were formed by rows of the century-plant, or cabuya. Those fences were a pleasant feature in a landscape which otherwise was often dull and uninteresting. When the cereal was ripe, they were cut by hand and brought into the threshing-floor, a level, carefully cleaned spot. If it was a wheat harvest, the stalks were piled to a depth of one to two feet and domestic animals were driven around and around over them. A poor farmer with a small harvest would have his wife and children trample out the grain. The ripened grain was easily shaken and broken out of the husk and sifted down through the courser chaff. The winnowing was down with the aid of the wind. Bowls of mixed grain and chaff were poured from the height of a man’s head, and the wind whisked the light chaff to one side. Mills for grinding grain were available in the more thickly settled districts, but in many places, wheat, barley, corn, peas, etc., were ground into flour and meal upon flat stones by hand. Practically every step of harvesting of whatever crop was done by hand in rural districts. Almost all the sugar used by the natives of Ecuador was of their own manufacture. The sugar-mill consisted of two or three rollers operated by a long sweep, to which was hitched a yoke of oxen or mules. The juice from the rollers dropped down into a trough which carried it into a receptacle at one end of the shed. Then it as placed in a huge copper kettle to be boiled down and eventually form small brown cakes of crude sugar.
The Ecuadoreans kept many sheep and goats, and most of the Quichua clothing was made from the wool the Indians themselves raised. In the higher Andean valleys, the wool was long and of a fine texture. There was also an unusual number of black sheep seen in the flocks. Every step in the manufacture of cloth from wool was taken by the Indians in the time-honored hand processes. If a Quichua woman was not otherwise occupied, she was spinning. Her distaff was a rough stick and her spindle a fine splinter of cane. The yarn was put onto a hand loom and woven into a close, tight fabric. The ponchos loomed by the Quichuas were beautifully made, warm garments and their coloring was harmonious and tasteful. There was considerable difference in texture of the material made in different sections of Ecuador, the finest, smoothest ponchos being those from the high Andes about Quito, where the best wool was raised. In the warm lowlands, cotton was grown and worked up into textiles, the cotton yarn being spun in finer diameters than wool yarn. Still another fiber was obtained from the cabuya, or century-plant. It was long and strong, and used for making rope, being almost identical to sisal. The Ecuadoreans were very skillful at hat-weaving, and made not only the cheap hats for the laboring class, but the world’s finest Panama hats. The centers for that industry were located at Montecristi and Jipijapa.
Ecuador was rich in animal life. Many of the forms were so similar to those in the States and needed no discussion. There were others that were strikingly different, and aroused the author’s interest. The county had an abundance of a host of insects and invertebrates. In lower elevations, mosquitoes were often a serious menace; fever-carrying genera were common. At any great elevation, the danger from mosquitoes was practically nil. The hot lowlands were also home to a myriad of ants, in numbers seldom found in northern climes. The brilliant butterflies, seen in so many tropical countries, were present in great variety in Ecuador. The brightest bits of color one saw, however, even vying with the orchids, were those produced by the plumage of some of the birds. Probably in no other country of the world were there so many species of humming-birds, and nearly every one was beautifully marked. Brilliant metallic greens, iridescent blues and purples, clearest crimson, and snowy white were all to be found in the plumage of those buzzing, meteoric bits of bird life. When one thought of Andes, the bird which was inevitably associated was the condor, the largest of the flying land birds. While the condor was found in Ecuador, it was a bird of higher elevations, and so was not often seen by the casual traveler. When the author saw one in its native surroundings, sailing majestically up into a stiff wind, he was impressed.
Along the lower slopes of both the Western and Eastern Andes were great expanses of forests. That of the Eastern Andes extended unbroken for many hundred miles. The principal forest trees were large and very tall. Most branched widely, forming a continuous canopy. Most of the tree varieties were unknown to northerners – rubber-tree, wild fig, silk-cotton, and mahogany. Many of the trees had great, wide-flung root systems. Smaller trees established themselves under the forest giants wherever enough sunlight filtered through the canopy above. Over all the trees, large and small, ran a vast and seemingly endless network of creepers and vines, bejucos the natives called them. Those lianas were of all sizes and descriptions, from thread-like filaments to hawser-like vines. Parasitic air-plants, bromelias and orchids, grew in profusion on the limbs and trunks of trees, and mosses and ferns took advantage of every possible foothold. The bromelias served as catchalls for the falling leaves from above, so that the crotches of the boughs supported great collections of humus and miniature forests of orchids and dainty, graceful ferns. The howler monkey, more than any other animal typified those vast, unbroken forest areas. Its bellow left a more vivid impression upon a listener than any other noise in the jungle. It called just before or during a rain, and when the troop was alarmed. Other mammals of interest in Ecuador were the spectacled bear, the only bear in South America; the tapir, the continent’s largest quadruped; the jaguar; the long-snouted anteater; the kinkajou; the coatimundi; and a great variety of opossum. There were many varieties of harmless snakes, from the small grass-snakes up to the large boas. The two principal venomous snakes were the fer-de-lance and the coral snake.
Ecuador might truthfully had been called the land of trails. Aside from one small piece of railroad, almost the whole republic was dependent upon mule trails as lines of communications. That was especially true of the central and southern parts of Ecuador, where the towns were separated from one another by several days travel over terrific mountain trails. Because of the steep slopes of the mountains, there were only two possible places for trails – one up the valley of some stream, the other along the crest of the mountain range. It was not always easy to say which path was better. From Santa Rosa, the author’s party crossed the Rio Santa Rosa twenty-two times in one-half day, when the trail followed up the canyon. On another jaunt, north along the inter-Andean region, the trail kept to the ridge crest, they climbed up to 12,000 feet only to find a deep river gorge ahead, which meant they had to descend to 7,000 and then had the climb to do all over again. The traveler rode mule-back over most of those trails, but occasionally, a short stretch required walking, mostly on steep slopes. Disagreeable stretches of a different nature were found where rains softened the surface of the trail, the feet of the mules cutting it up into a section of furrows. It was over trails as those that all the commerce of interior Ecuador was carried. The mule was the prime favorite as a pack animal, although some horses were used and a number of donkeys seen. About Riobamba, a few llamas were seen; but that animal was almost a curiosity in Ecuador and was not the common animal that it was in Peru. The mule could carry two hundred pounds, and on a good trail, up to three hundred. Pianos had been taken over the Andean trails, requiring one hundred peons and a month to take such a burden to its destination.
The early history of Ecuador was a most interesting and romantic one. Under the Incas, it was part of the great Empire of Peru, and the northernmost stronghold of Indian power was at Quito. Inasmuch as a great deal had been written of Peruvian history in the pages of this magazine, the author would not cover it here. [See: “In the Wonderland of Peru”, April 1913; “The Story of Machu Picchu”, February 1915; “Further Explorations in the Land of the Incas” and “Staircase Farms of the Ancients” May 1916.] The Spaniards, at the earliest opportunity, spread out and overran Ecuador in their search for treasure. The first discoveries resulted in the establishment of the famous mines at Zaruma, in southern Ecuador. Just prior to 1550, men were sent to that region, rich in gold, to dig it out. In the early days, gold was extracted by crude methods. By 1921, it was under an American company’s management. The camp was a model of up-to-date methods, and a demonstration of what Yankee energy and initiative could accomplish in the tropics. A forty-stamp mill ran day and night, treating several hundred tons of ore per day. A large force of natives, under American supervision, brought up the ore from depths as great as 900 feet, or from outlying workings on adjacent hills. Hundreds of mules wound in over the two-day trail from Santa Rosa each month, a continuous train of supplies that kept the camp running. Concrete houses, well screened, shower baths, a swimming pool, tennis courts, distilled water, ice, electric lights, and a hospital, combined to make the mining camp of Portovelo an oasis of Yankeeland in a desert of undeveloped Spanish America. A fabulous sum of gold had been taken from the Zaruma region in the course of the last three and a half centuries.
The evidences of Inca occupation had been for the most part extirpated, evidently much more so than in Peru. Only here and there were portions of the old highways to be seen. It was possible that extensive areas of Inca construction had been so overgrown that they wouldn’t be apparent without extensive clearing. There were said to be Inca ruins not far from Zaruma, on a very steep and heavily wooded mountain. The native said that on the top of that mountain was an enchanted lake. The proof that it was enchanted was that it disappeared whenever anyone climbed the mountain to see it. In 1921, Ecuador was one of the least developed of the South American Republics. That was largely due to the rugged topography of the country. That made constructing roads and railways almost prohibitive. Another reason was the deterrence to outsiders posed by the fevers and plagues endemic to the region. The diseases had, more recently, been mastered to a great extent, but Ecuador still needed foreign capital to help develop its abundant natural resources. In an attempt to keep abreast with the times, there were flights being made across the Andes by airplane. It was not inconceivable that by using airplanes, the difficulties of terrain would be overcome.
The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “Over the Andes to Bogota” and was written by Frank M. Chapman, Curator of Birds, American Museum of Natural History. From 1911 to 1915, the author directed a biological survey of the Colombian Andes for the American Museum of Natural History. His research produced a 700-page Museum bulletin on the “Distribution of Bird Life in Colombia”. That volume was awarded the Elliot gold medal by the National Academy of Science. The article contains nineteen black-and-white photographs, of which two are full-page in size.
The lure of Colombia’s manifold resources had long exerted its influence on the prospector, whose love for exploration was tempered by a desire for some tangible return for the effort expended. Gold, platinum, ivory nuts, rubber, orchids, and more recently oil, had all drawn hundreds of seekers for wealth to her vast and varied territory. But to those who loved travel, who reveled in glorious scenery, who found interest in strange forms of vegetable and animal life, and in the customs of foreign peoples, Colombia was almost an unknown land. Cartagena was occasionally visited by tourist, and Santa Marta was known to those who traveled on steamers, but Barranquilla, Buenaventura, and Tumaco were mostly unknown to travelers. Bogota, her capital city, seemed as remote as Lhasa. The author felt it was time for Colombia’s attractions to be more widely known, and made more accessible. As for risk to life and limb, he knew of no safer country than Colombia. The robberies that occurred daily in major U. S. cities were practically unknown in Colombia. During the six years when parties from the American Museum explored the republic, they lost not one single article of equipment, many of which – utensils, guns, knives, etc. – were highly desired by the natives. Their work brought them into contact with every class, and from high and low alike they received only courteous and hospitable treatment, even though the U. S. was far from popular in Colombia. The author found that an individual was accepted it Latin America on his own merit without regard to his nationality. During the World War, Colombia sympathized with the Central Powers, but the author had no trouble. The traveler could go unarmed, and so long as he was in reach of a habitation, he was assured of shelter and a welcome. Traveling the Andes was, for the most part, safe. There were bits of trail that were dangerous, but there were none on their proposed route.
The climate near the equator was relatively stable. So far as the temperature was concerned, there was essentially no variation throughout the year. Seasons, then, were not marked by changes in temperature, but by the amount of rainfall. Generally speaking, the year was divided into the wet and dry seasons, known respectively as invierno (winter) and verano (summer). There was much variation as regards to the time and duration of those seasons, particularly in mountainous regions. There were also areas where it rarely, if ever, rained, and others where rain fell practically every day. In the Pacific Coast region, the wet season was continuous. There was a recorded rainfall at San Jose of 400.88 inches. The author passed through that saturated area by rail with little concern. As for the rest of Colombia, he visited it anytime between the end of December and early May, finding favorable weather conditions. When preparing for an expedition through Colombia, the author packed both fall and summer clothes, for the tropics of the lowlands and the more temperate climes of the mountains. With personal effects, riding gear, and a raincoat, they were packed in an “army” trunk. That formed one-half of a mule load, the other half being a folding-cot, blankets, heavier clothing, and a mosquito net, all stuffed in a duffle-bag. One mule could carry a trunk, and two sleeping outfits, thus serving two travelers. The author advised a saddle, with cloth and bags; they could be easily sold at the end of the journey. There was no need to take food, but a spirit lamp with solid alcohol, [Sterno], bouillon cubes, tea, and a tea ball were recommended. A first-aid kit, with quinine, a cathartic, an antiseptic, and some pyrethrum powder for mosquitos, completed the items of their outfitting. As to the cost of an expedition, on the author’s second journey, in 1913, he paid 80,000 in Colombian pesos for ten mules. Since the peso was worth a penny, he paid $80 per mule. They proposed to follow routes which had been highways of trade for centuries. That plan made it easy, but he still found it useful to pick up a little Spanish.
The party to a steamer from New York to Cristobal, Panama, in seven days. They would continue their journey to the port of Buenaventura on a west-coast steamer. There, they entered the land of “manana”. The temperate zone energy was lacking in the topics; but that was fully understandable. Latin Americans had long been subjected to climatic and other influences which had profoundly influenced them, both physically and mentally. While in the Canal Zone, the pier was busy with northbound copper from Peru and Chile; cacao and ivory nuts from Ecuador; and hides from Colombia. Incoming goods included automobiles, sewing machines, shoes and dress goods, all headed south. Once through the canal, they entered the Bay of Panama, and then sailed down the coast to Buenaventura. The chief objective of any tour in Colombia was, naturally, Bogota, its capital and largest city. Their expedition took a far more interesting route than the usual one, up the Magdalena River from Barranquilla. Their way was longer, but time was not of the essence of their journey. The plan was that from Buenaventura, they would cross the western Andes to Cali, metropolis of the fertile Cauca Valley. Then they would sail down the Cauca River to Cartago, whence they would cross the central Andes to Girardot, on the Magdalena River. From there, they could take a train to Bogota. They could return the same way, or by mule to Honda, further down the river. From La Dorada, a few miles below Honda, they would begin their voyage down the Magdalena to Barranquilla, within 18 miles of Puerto Colombia and a passage for New York. [Note, Mr. Chapman referenced the Map of South America issued as a supplement with this issue of The Geographic.] The actual travel time from New York and back was fifty days.
Buenaventura, about half-way down Colombia’s Pacific coast, was a distance of 360 miles from Panama, or about two days’ journey. Possibly no port had benefited more from the opening of the Panama Canal. Possessing an excellent harbor and railway connections to highly productive regions east of it, Buenaventura’s future looked promising. Situated on a small island surrounded by a network of mangrove-bordered lagoons, under skies of almost continuous rain, Buenaventura was not a Garden of Eden. Its population of some 3,000 was comprised chiefly of negroes who could endure the climatic conditions. The only resident whites were the cable operator and the agents of the shipping firms. They arrived at Buenaventura by steamer at 4:00 P.M. on a March afternoon. The customs office closed at 5:00 and the train departed 7:00 the next morning, with the next train leaving three days later, they were fortunate that the customs officer, after reading a letter of introduction, assured them that no customs examination was necessary. Their thirty-odd trunks, bags, and boxes were taken to a warehouse for the night. The following morning, the equipment was being transported to the train, when a gentleman informed them that the customs official had changed his mind. Since the official was still asleep, they told the gentleman that they could not stop unless ordered by the official in person. They boarded the train and departed as Yankee push overcame Colombian manana-ism.
The railway from Buenaventura to Cali was only 60 miles, but 40 of those were under repair due to an excess of floods. The line followed the Dagua River as its feeder streams plunged down the mountain slopes. Only the passage of trains prevented the forest from reclaiming the right of way. With the excessive rainfall, the vegetation flourished. There were palms of many species, cecropias, bamboos, ferns, arums, and heliconias, and a profusion of parasitic plants in endless variety. Those rain-soaked, almost impenetrable forests were inhabited by many species of birds found nowhere else in the world. The author, and the artist of the expedition, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, observed then with interest. In March 1911, the railway to Cali, only reached Caldas, 2,500 feet above, and five hours from Buenaventura. Caldas lied in a basin-shaped valley. The western rim robbed the valley of rain, so unlike the lush forests of the climb, the train passed into grass-covered hills with scattered cacti and acacias. A combination of a religious fiesta and a secular circus, so delayed the packing of the impressive array of mules that they departed too late the following morning to reach Cali the same day. The night was spent at Rancho El Tigre. They were no longer in a hurry, and used the location as a base to examine the region. The backs of mules were used for reconnaissance. The pack animal set a pace of three miles an hour. A barometer was used to observer the change in altitude, and they noted the effects on the distribution of life. As they became familiar with the birds, they learned to recognized them by sight and by voice. They could predict when a certain species would appear and when it would be replaced by others. In spite of their mobility, most birds were closely restricted to their respective zones; it was as if they were confined by actual barriers. Those barriers were so sharp that a five-minute walk by the author had completely changed the bird-life surrounding him.
The first 3,000 feet of their ascent from Caldas was made over bare, sunburned hills, but at an elevation of 5,000 feet, they got beyond the rain-shadow of the westerly ridge and entered the lower border of the Cloud Zone. At once the grassy slopes gave way to even more luxuriant forests than those in the lowlands. New birds appeared. They had left the Tropical Zone and entered the Cloud, or Subtropical, Zone, which extended up the mountainsides to an elevation from 9,000 to 9,500 feet. Free from the distractions of fiestas and circuses, they made an early start from El Tigre, and by 10:00 A.M. they had reached the summit of San Antonio pass, and their first view of the Cauca Valley. To their disappointment, it was raining and the half-flooded trail down the eastern slope disappeared into the fog. There was a primitive posada (inn), with an attractive Senora, Apollonia, in charge. She gave them a shy but cordial greeting and an emergency breakfast of sardines and plantains. The small level place in front of the posada was constantly occupied by steaming pack mules with dripping arrieros (muleteers) adjusting packs to meet requirement of a down instead of an upward grade. Over half the male population of Colombia was said to be mule-drivers. That life was one of exposure and hardship. The Colombian mule was small and rarely overfed, but was expected to carry 300 pounds over any grade or condition on the trail. Every arrieros, including one that was twelve years old, sampled Apollonia’s fiery white rum. So far as the author could see, Apollonia’s four-year-old daughter had not acquired a taste for rum, but she was already smoking a large black cigar. Her mother gave her a light, and seemed proud of her offspring’s accomplishment. The weather cleared lifting the curtain of clouds from the scene below, revealing the level floor of the Cauca Valley, with gleaming lagoons and streams, and varicolored areas of marsh, pasture, and forest. The purple summits of the Central Andes stood some 40 miles away. To the south were the three superb snow peaks of Mt. Huila.
The moisture-bearing winds from the Pacific were condensed on only the western slope of the coastal range. As a result, the Cloud Zone forests ended on the summit of that range. The eastern slopes were grass-covered and devoid of trees. The change of vegetation was as abrupt as the change in grade. The Subtropical Zone was home to a remarkable assemblage of tanagers, motmots, toucans, trogons, and many other brilliantly colored birds, while on the arid eastern slopes, few birds were found. It was mid-afternoon when a turn in the trail showed them the attractive little city of Cali. Four stately ceibas formed impressive city gates. As they crossed the picturesque bridge over the Cali River, they experienced a definite sensation of arrival. Cali, a city of 45,000 inhabitants, was the metropolis of the Cauca Valley. There they found excellent quarters and an agreeable, healthful climate. Cali was at an altitude of 3,500 feet, and a moderate, evenly distributed rainfall. The soil was inexhaustibly fertile; there were sugar plantations on which cane had been growing continuously for 120 years without fertilization. Cattle thrived, and once a stand of para grass was established, it would feed one and a half head of cattle per acre without further care. The railroad gave access to the coast, the Panama Canal, and the world; the future prosperity of the valley seemed assured. The mountains which rose through softly molded foothills to wooded summits placed another climate almost within arm’s length. Two or three hours in the saddle took one from the floor of the valley, in the Tropical Zone, to an elevation of 6,500 to 7,000 feet in the Subtropical Zone. At those altitudes, the well-to-do residents of the valley built attractive, weekend bungalows. Two of those bungalows, one in the Western, the other in the Central Andes, were placed at the author’s team’s disposal by their owners. For several weeks they became the headquarters while they explored the surrounding forests.
The temperature ranged from 60 to 70 degrees daily; there were no flies or mosquitos, the grandeur and diversity of the scenery was exquisite. Whether naturalist or artist, those subtropical mountain resorts were invaluable. They were tempted to linger there indefinitely, but were already behind schedule. Time-table itineraries were the bane of travel. The next stage of their journey could have been taken by steamer or by mule. They chose the former. The straight-line distance from Cali to Cartago was 100 miles, but by river it was nearly twice as far. The Cauca was a small, intimate river. From the steamer, the details of both banks could be easily seen. Their voyage was in May, so the river was bank full and running about five miles an hour. They wound through savannas with grazing herds and marshes with birds of many kinds. The birds of the tropical forests were not easily observed, but they did see a large number of marsh- and savanna-inhabiting species. There were wood, white, and “cocleet” ibises, lapwings, jacanas, kingfishers, and ducks of several kinds, including muscovies. One of the ducks, the rare Nation’s duck, was rediscovered near Cali by the party. Cormorants were nesting by hundreds in the upper limbs of the bamboos, and giant black-and-yellow orioles occupied their four-foot-long nests swinging from branches high above the river. There were little gray herons, night herons, while large white egrets dotted the savanna, or flew in the distance. Pigeons and doves of several species, and green parakeets frequently passed overhead. A flock of roseate spoonbills crowded the limbs of a leafless tree so that it seemed to be a mass of pink blossoms. Occasionally, they passed a family of howling monkeys asleep in the treetops, or a capybara staring at them from the shore.
The passengers on the Cauca River steamer were attentive and cordial. The social features of life aboard ship formed no small part of the attractions of the voyage on that beautiful river. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Within an hour of sailing, the author and Fuertes were invited to a merry house-boat party. With regrets, the bade adios to their friends, one after the other, as they donned spurs and ponchos and mounted horses waiting to take them to their estates. Mules for the journey from Cartago to Girardot were engaged before leaving Cali. If one arrived early in the morning, one could make a start the same day. Their stopping places in crossing the Quindio depended on the time they left and the rate they traveled. They left Cartago at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and only reached Piedro Moller before putting up for the night. On successive nights, they stopped at Filandia, Salento, Volcancito, El Pie de San Juan, El Eden, Ibague, and Chicoral, taking eight days for a journey which could have been made in four. The Cauca Valley was much wider at Cartago than at Cali. It was not until Filandia that they first saw the Central Andes. A fierce thunderstorm turned the plaza of the little town into a lake. The real ascent of the range began at Salento, the last town before Ibague, at the eastern base of the range. Due to the recent rains, the trail was muddy and the mules traveled in single file, stepping in the tracks of the animal ahead of it. That made a succession of ditches and ridges. It was slow and painful progress. An hour before reaching Salento, they looked down upon the picturesque Quindio Valley, with its winding river and groves of palms. The air soon became perceptibly cooler; there was a marked change in the vegetation; birds of species they had never seen before became common; and at an elevation of 9,500, they passed from the Subtropical Zone to the Temperate Zone. It seemed like they entered a new world.
The stunted, close-limbed, small-leaved forests extended to an elevation of about 12,000 feet, above which, up to the lower level of snow, was the bleak, open Paramo, constituting a fourth zone of Andean life. Climbing those equatorial mountains was like traveling from the equator to the pole. To summarize: the Tropical Zone extended from sea-level to about 5,000 feet, the Subtropical from 5,000 to 9,000 feet, the Temperate from 9,000 to 12,000, and the Paramo, or Alpine, from 12,000 to 15,000 feet, or to the snow-line. Each zone had species of plants and animals which were restricted to it. Between 5,000 and 9,000 feet, they found 230 species of birds not observed anywhere else. The Pass of the Quindio had an elevation of 11,200 feet, therefore, they did not enter the Paramo. They passed the night at Volcancito, where the author used the two pairs of double blankets he had brought. The trail from there descended into valleys and climbed intervening spurs. At times they crossed rippling streams, at others they had far-reaching views of the Toche Valley. The Toche Valley was, in truth, the heart of the Andes, and there they spent the night at the little inn known as El Pie de San Juan. From there, Ibague could be reached in a day. The railroad from Girardot connected that ancient city at the foot of the Central Andes with the Magdalena; their mule ride was over. Girardot, with an elevation of 1,056 feet, was at the head of the larger steamship navigation on the Magdalena, and a point of departure for the train to Bogata. Although only 82 miles long, the railroad made an ascent of nearly 8,000 feet in reaching the tableland, and took the better part of the day to make. At Facatativa, they changed cars for the 25-mile run, over level savanna, to Colombia’s capital.
The Savanna of Bogota, lying in the Temperate Zone, had an elevation of 8,700 feet, and a mean temperature of 60 degrees F. There was a fair rainfall, and the ground was productive. Where not devoted to grazing, the whole savanna was given over to the cultivation of corn, cereals, and potatoes. Streams and ponds, and in the rainy season, lakes, furnished homes for water-fowl, some of which were residents all year round, while others came from North America for the winter. As a naturalist, the author felt he was not qualified to write about city life. He noted that Bogota was in the Temperate Zone, and had little or no blacks living there. In their place were the descendants of the Chibcha, indigenous to that region. Bogota was a city of strong contrasts – the market-place was swarming with natives, while the streets of the financial section was just as crowded with white men. Bogota was a well-ordered, clean city with a large and effective police force. It had an opera house, polo, football, and tennis clubs, museums, a national library, and a charming social life. From Bogota, the traveler could visit the haciendas on the savanna, the Falls of Tequendama, and the coffee plantations of Fusagasuga. Those journeys were made in part by train, in part by horseback. Cars for horses were attached to all passenger trains, and a passenger would by tickets for both himself and his mount. On the return trip to the Magdalena the author recommended and alternat route – by mule train to Honda. Honda was a hot town, and seemed doubly so after the cool air of the tableland. It was a relief to board the train for the 18-mile run to La Dora. From there, they embarked on a steamer for Barranquilla. Once underway, the speed of 10 to 12 miles an hour gave them a grateful breeze. The voyage down the Magdalena was an enlarged edition of their cruise down the Cauca. The river was broader, the fauna of the shores and playas was more varied, and the passengers were more numerous. There were monkeys, sloths, macaws, parrots, pigeons, toucans, and many other wood-loving creatures; herons, screamers, jacanas, and jabiru storks in the marshes; capybaras on the shores; and rafts of crocodiles on the playas. The four-day voyage to Barranquilla passed quickly. Arriving there, they were again within touch of ocean-going steamers; their tour of Columbia had ended.
I need to mention here that I suspect that this article was the inspiration for the parody National Geographical Magazine article “Across the Andes by Frog” by Knud Svenson. But more about this elsewhere.
The third article this month is entitled “The Society’s New Map of South America”, and has no byline. This three-page editorial is an introduction to the “Special Map Supplement – South America (Size 36 x 26 inches)” advertised on the cover:
Supplement Map courtesy of Philip Riviere
While the editorial has one small black-and-white photograph embedded within the text. The cover, however, states that the article comes with “17 illustrations”. The remaining sixteen illustrations are full-page, black-and-white “photographs” as a set entitled “Scenes in South America” (Pages 375 to 390). I placed the word photographs in quotes because that, even though they a captioned as being photographs, I suspect that they are, instead, engravings, or photogravures as the were once called. The reasons for this were the fact that the ink used for this set is different than the one used in the rest of the magazine (it had a greenish hue). Also, the paper does seem to be a different grade. A list of their caption titles is as follows:
Columbus in Bronze Overlooking Caracas, Venezuela’s Capital of Perpetual Spring
A Romeo-and-Juliet Balcony Scene in Barranquilla, Colombia
Indians Bringing Their Produce to the Market of La Paz: Bolivia
Studying the Land of the Inca from the Deck of a Passing Steamer: A Glimpse of Mollendo, Chief Seaport of Southern Peru
Mt. Salcantay, an Andean Jungfrau
Grapes of Tacna, Northern Chile
Farm Life in Central Chile
Ecuador is Justly Proud of Its Unique Capital, Quito
Fur-Clad Indians of Southern Argentina
The Square and Monument in Buenos Aires Which Commemorate the Independence of Argentina
Most Argentine Gauchos Plat the Guitar and Improvise Words for Popular Airs
A Rancher’s Farm in Prosperous Uruguay
Family Travel in the Province of Parana, Brazil, is Reminiscent of Our Forty-Niners
This Paraguay Indian’s Powerful Bow Belies His Reputation for Timidity
She Lives in British Guiana, But Her Home is India
Near the End of the Continent: Balmaceda Glacier, Chile
The map of South America that accompanied this issue of the National Geographic Magazine portrayed a continent which had many characteristics peculiar to itself. It was the most southerly of all the continents. Where Africa reached 36 degrees south latitude and Australia 38 degrees, South America stretched into the austral seas until Cape Horn touched 56 degrees, 1,200 miles nearer the South Pole than any other continent. The continent had twice the area of Europe, but less than two-thirds the population of France and Italy combined. Twice as large as the U. S., plus Alaska, it had only half the people. On general outline it was not unlike Africa, but more symmetrical. The three southern continents were similar in their unintended coastlines. The vast basins of the Amazon, the Rio de la Plata, and the Orinoco were in many parts so low-lying as to be swampy, yet the Andes Mountains were towering and extensive. South America was distinguished among the continents for the absence of clearly defined watersheds between its great river basins. The great length of the navigable reaches of the principal rivers of South America and their major tributaries more than compensated for the lack of indented coastlines. The Mississippi and its tributaries had seventeen thousand miles of navigable water, the Amazon and its tributaries had twice as many miles. Ocean going steamers could ascend 2,300 miles to Iquitos, in a territory disputed by Peru and Ecuador. In 1899, the U. S. gunboat, Wilmington, went up the Amazon to Iquitos. If the Mississippi were as long, one could sail from the Gulf of Mexico to the Hudson Bay. The anchor shown on the map beside the various rivers indicated the head of steam navigation on each major stream.
In the number of its conflicting boundary claims, South America reminded the editor of Europe during the Peace Conference. Colombia and Venezuela had rival claims to some 40,000 square miles; Colombia and Peru both claimed an even larger area; Bolivia and Paraguay contended a vast territory in the Chaco region; Chile and Peru had fought over nitrate lands for many years; and Argentina and Chile had both claimed islands around Cape Horn. Argentina was also in dispute with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, which on her maps were called the Malvina Archipelago. Europe was the land of monarchies, Asia was the land of empires and colonies, America was the home of self-governing colonies and republics, Australia was a self-governing colony, Africa had only two independent countries, but South America was the home of ten self-governing republics. There were only three colonial possessions, of modest extent: the Guianas – British, Dutch, and French. The three inset maps include a Physical Map, showing the mountain, valleys, and river basins; a Mean Annual Temperature Map, showing the effects of the Humboldt Current on the western coast; and a Products map, showing the valuable exports from each country. Exports shown on the last inset map includes – cattle, hides, mutton, wool, nitrate, coffee, sugar, cocoa, silver, copper, gold, iron, and tin. The U. S. had always commanded a large share of South America’s foreign trade. Argentina was buying three-eighths of her imports from us; Brazil, one half; Chile and Peru were equally good customers; more than two-thirds of Venezuela’s trade was with the U. S.; Ecuador’s was 45%; only one-fifth of Bolivia and Uruguay’s goods came from America; and only an eighth of Paraguay’s were from us. In turn, we bought more than half of the exports of Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, nearly half of those of Brazil, and nearly a third of those of Argentine.
The editor lists the articles in the National Geographic related to South America for further reading – “The First Transandine Railroad from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso” May 1910; “A Visit to the Brazilian Coffee Country” October 1911; “Explorations in Peru” April 1912; “The Countries of the Caribbean” February 1913; “In the Wonderland of Peru” April 1913; “Some Personal Experiences with Earthquakes” January 1915; “The Story of Machu Picchu” February 1915; “Further Explorations in the Land of the Incas” and “Staircase Farms of the Ancients” May 1916; The Awakening of Argentina and Chile” August 1916; “Peru’s Wealth-Producing Birds” June 1920; “Kaieteur and Roraima, the Great Falls and the Great Mountain of the Guianas” and “Rio de Janeiro, in the Land of Lure” September 1920.
The four, and last, article in this month’s South America Number is entitled “Buenos Aires and Its River of Silver” and was written by William R. Barbour. It has the internal subtitle “A Journey Up the Parana and Paraguay to the Chaco Cattle Country”. The article contains thirty-eight black-and-white photographs, of which twelve are full-page in size.
The author’s ship steamed up the majestic Rio de la Plata, and he saw the white buildings of Buenos Aires low in the west. Buenos Aires revealed itself little by little, until he was completely charmed. His first sight was the grain elevators along the shore, with one skyscraper looming up behind them. The great size of the city was not evident, for the land was flat, and the warehouses and office buildings close to the docks hid all that lied behind. He was impressed at how clean the capital of Argentina was. The industries of the city were confined to port activities and trading. Partly for that reason, and partly because Argentina had no coal, and hence no hideous chimneys and smoke-grimed factories, there were no slums. There were districts of poverty, but there were no tenements. In even the poorest quarters, such as the “boca”, the streets were clean and well paved, and the houses, one or two stories, all had patios behind them. One drawback to the older part of the city was the narrowness of the streets, especially the sidewalks. The newer streets were much wider, often with a ribbon of shrubbery and grass down the center. Buenos Aires was roughly circular, covering some seventy-five square miles. Two of the sides were formed by the Rio de la Plata, so wide that it seemed a muddy sea, and a small stream, the Riachuelo. Along both were numerous docks, basins, and warehouses. Avenida Rivadavia, starting at the waterfront and running almost due west divided the city into roughly two equal halves. Over the greater part of the city, the streets intersected at right angles. None of the streets were numbered, they all had names. Much of the city was uninteresting, just block after block of low, plaster-covered brick buildings and innumerable groceries, beer saloons, coffee-houses, and cigar stores. The chief artery of the city was Avenida de Mayo, stretching from the President’s home to the Capitol. The Casa Rosada (Pink House) corresponded to our White House. Its entrance faces the Avenida de Mayo, which was named for May 25, 1810, Argentine Independence Day. A subway ran below the avenue, and it was lined with hotels and fine shops. Another interesting thoroughfare was Calle Florida, the street of restaurants and jewelry stores.
Buenos Aires was founded in 1580, after colonization efforts in 1534 and 1542 had failed. Handicapped by Spain, which prevented direct commerce between Buenos Aires and Spain, the city had to ship goods overland to Bolivia and Peru, and on to Panama, across the isthmus and on to Spain. Because of that abuse, the port grew slowly. It came of its own only fifty years before the Spanish yoke was thrown off. In 1910, the hundredth anniversary of independence, the city’s population was over a million. Much of the city’s beauty dated back to 1910, when many countries presented Argentina with commemorative statuary. The gift from Spain was conspicuous, a great white pillar crowned with an angel of victory. It was in the center of the Avenida Alvear, the city’s loveliest promenade. France’s contribution also stood beside the Avenida Alvear; it was of rose-colored granite, with exquisitely carved figures. America’s gift stood in a rather obscure corner of one of the parks. It was a bronze, life-size figure of George Washington on a plain pedestal of pink Vermont granite. England’s gift was a great brick clock-tower, in the center of the beautiful Plaza Britannica. Germany’s gift was a broad white marble fountain, while Italy gave a large equestrian statue of Garibaldi. Throughout Argentina, in every city and in many towns, there were equestrian statues of San Martin, Argentina’s greatest national hero. Among the best was the one in the center of Plaza San Matin. All about the city were suburbs, with good communications by frequent trains. Of those residential districts, Belgrano was closest and the best known. It was popular with many British residents. The city, with its suburbs had nearly two million inhabitants, nearly a quarter of the population of the country. It was the third largest city in the New World, and sometimes called “The New York of South America”. It was also the second largest Latin city, and called “The Paris of the New World”. Its buildings and parks were beautiful; while its social life was very cosmopolitan. At popular restaurants, one could hear diners chatting in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and English, and sometimes even in Russian, Swedish, and Portuguese.
Like New York, Buenos Aires was a city of opportunity for immigrants. Many of the largest businesses were owner by foreigners who landed with their belongings on their back. In no other country except the U. S. did foreigners so soon became assimilated. Generally speaking, there were no foreign quarters. It was true that there were many Italians in Rosario, and in the wine belt around Mendoza. Germans had settled largely in the province of Santa Fe, and the Welsh in Patagonia. The second generation was Argentine, heart, soul, and language. Only the English were exceptions to that rule. They kept their tongue and customs generation after generation. While Buenos Aires was thought of as a Spanish city, true Spaniards were not in a majority. The capital of Argentina was a city of wealth and pleasure. Unlike U. S. cities, where the wealth work but live in the country, the wealthy landowners of Buenos Aires owned thousands of acres but lives in palatial homes in the city. Buenos Aries was the city for the gourmet. No matter what one’s taste or nationality, there was a restaurant made to his order. On a Sunday or fiesta, it was interesting the visit one of the great cemeteries. Visitors were forbidden to take photographs there. A visit to the Historical Museum was well worthwhile. Buenos Aires was a city of parks and plazas. Seldom was one out of sight of a tree or fountain. There were some sixty plazas occupying a block or more. Few places had such fertile soil and temperate climate. Palms and pines, guavas and geraniums, cypresses and cedars, and oaks and oleanders grew side by side. It was in Palermo that a belt of parks and gardens along the shore of the Plata that many of the finest scenic effects were found. Located there was the huge Parque de las Tres de Febrero (Park of the Third of February), with its lagoons, bridal paths, and winding driveways. In that park, over five thousand named species of roses were grown. In Palermo were also found the Jardin Botanico and the Jardin Zoologico. The garden, Jardin Botanico, stood as a finished jewel of verdure and bloom. The Zoological Garden adjoined the Botanical Garden but, due to a prevalence of foot and mouth disease, most of the cages were empty. The birds were so tame that they wandered about the lawns and groves at will.
Almost since the days of Columbus, the great waterway of the Rio de la Plata had been one of the most traveled trade routes of South America. Hardly had the Spanish explorers entered the estuary, in the early sixteenth century, and founded the towns of Buenos Aires and Montevideo on its banks, before they pushed on up the river, seeking a passage to the Indian Ocean. The great river, which in volume was second among the rivers of the earth, was, for the last four hundred years, the main artery of traffic for Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. From Buenos Aires to Asuncion, the picturesque old capital of Paraguay, ran an excellent line of riverboats, twice a week. Sailing time was four days upstream, three and a half days returning. The author left Buenos Aires on a showery morning in December (early summer) on the side-wheel steamer, Berna, and after being out of sight of land for hours, in a muddy sea, his party reached the confluence of the Uruguay and Parana rivers. They turned northwest up the Parana. The stream was miles wide and the color of coffee with cream. It was broken by countless marshy islands, and the shores on the left were covered with plantations of poplar and willow. The next morning, they made their first stop at Rosario, the second largest city in Argentina, and a notable shipping point for grain and flaxseed. It had a population of 250,000, many of them Italian. In the afternoon, they came to Diamante, lying east of the Parana, in the Rich province of Entre Rios. Around sunset, they came to Parana, capital of the province of Entre Rios. It was a town of upward of 50,000 people. A wonderful, moonlit night followed. The river slipped quietly by, its ripples reflecting the winking of buoys. When day came, the character of the country had changed. On each side of the river stretched endless, partly inundated country, densely wooded with strange tropical trees, interspersed with the occasional palms. Camalotes, river plants resembling floating islands, began to drift by. Occasionally, their boat swung abruptly to avoid a large one. They made their appearance in times of high water, and they always harbored many snakes. In 1905, a great flood brought many of those “islands” to the banks near Buenos Aires, with thousands of snakes, constituting a public menace.
Just before noon, they anchored offshore opposite the mouth of the Rio Corrientes, which flowed in from the east, while a small tug delivered a few passengers from the small town of Esquina. The Rio Corrientes helped drain the mysterious Lake Ibera, a great unexplored body of water in the interior of the province of Corrientes. During the second afternoon, the palm trees more numerous, and the forest more tropical in aspect. By the third morning, the territory of the Chaco laid to the west of them. In the forenoon, they reached Corrientes, capital of the province of the same name. It was a typically Spanish-looking, sleepy old place, with one-storied, whitewashed brick homes, and dirty, narrow streets. Immediately above the city, the river was very wide, but thanks to high water, they stayed near the west shore. Fresh-water gulls, small cranes, and large kingfishers vied for interest with the alligators basking on the sunny banks. Soon they reached the confluence of the Parana and Paraguay rivers, and continued up the latter. The “Alto Parana”, as it was called above the junction, came from the east, and was much larger than the Paraguay, but less important, as it was shallow and hard to navigate. It formed the boundary between eastern Paraguay and Argentina as far as the Brazilian frontier, near the Iguazu cataract, higher and wider than Niagara. To reach Iguazu, one transferred at Corrientes to a small steamer, which ran up the Alto Parana, passing Posadas, the ancient Jesuit town in the semitropical territory of Misiones. Down the Alto Parana came lighters of cedar logs, cattle, and yerba mate’, or Paraguay tea. The first sight of Paraguay, which was to their right from now on, revealed flooded islets and vast grassy prairies. Humaita, the first Paraguayan town to which they came, was famous as the scene of an important battle between Paraguay and a coalition of her neighbors. Early on the fourth morning, they passed Formosa, a town of some 3,000 people. It was capital of the territory of Formosa, with the size of Pennsylvania and a population of 19,000 people, mostly living in a narrow belt along the river.
During the morning, the mouth of the Rio Pilcomayo appeared on their left. Rising far away in the tablelands of Bolivia, it formed, for hundreds of miles, the boundary between Argentina and Paraguay. One hundred miles above the mouth of the Pilcomayo was stopped by a giant morass, two hundred miles long and fifty miles wide, in which the river entirely disappeared. Soon their course bent westward, and on a low hill to their right appeared a wireless tower. Then a bend to the north, past a brewery, and to the east laid their destination, the old, old city of Asuncion. Sloping up from the docks, the white, tan, and pink walls of the houses, the old red tile roofs, and the green of the parks and plazas presented an attractive picture. They took a taxi to the Hotel Cosmo, and were introduced to the Paraguayan currency. The peso was worth around four cents at the time of their visit. As the same dollar-mark was used, cigarettes cost $3.00 per pack, a taxi ride cost $15.00, and a night at the hotel was $80.00. Paraguay had no gold reserve, so their currency fluctuated from day to day. Founded nearly four centuries prior, Asuncion was a flourishing city, and capital of a vast region, when the Pilgrims landed. It had endured Spanish intrigues, the Inquisition, the rise and fall of Jesuit power, the overthrow of Spanish rule, tyrants, dictators, revolutions, wars with Argentina and Brazil, continual turmoil and confusion. The last revolution occurred only a few years prior to the author’s visit. The cobblestoned streets had run red many times. There were a few modern touches. A few automobiles bumped over the cobbles; there were moving pictures and streetcars; and corrugated iron was beginning to take the place of the red tiles. But they had little effect on the atmosphere of the place. In early summer, the vivid scarlet blooms of the flamboyante trees lent a beautiful touch of rich color to the city. There was also another tree, a species of guava, covered with golden yellow flowers. During the hot months, work hours started very early. The town was wide awake at 5 o’clock in the morning. Soon after mid-forenoon all industry stopped and for several hours the city seemed deserted.
All the common people were barefooted, the men smoking cigarettes, and most of the women puffing on short, black cigars. Surprisingly, the cigars were very strong but the cigarettes were unusually mild. When the bloody war with Argentina and Brazil finally ended, the male population of Paraguay was almost exterminated. As late as a generation prior, there were twelve Paraguayan women for every man. Even in 1921, the ratio was three to one. The men were not fond of exertion. American meat-canning factories in the country reported that almost all of their employees were women. The only work done by men was cutting up the carcasses. A large majority of Paraguayans had a percentage of Guarani Indian blood. They had dark complexions, slightly flattened noses, and straight black hair. Living by the river, they were the first to be subjugated by the Spanish. By 1921, the Guarani did not exist as a separate people. The tribes of the interior were of a different stock and tongue. The Guarani language was still spoken by the lower classes as generally as Spanish. Most of the geographical names of Paraguay, and a majority of the names of trees, plants, animals, and birds were in that language. From Asuncion, a line of small steamers ran on spasmodic schedules up the Paraguay River, far into Brazil. Their boat proved to be a filthy little side-wheel tub, the lower deck swarming with third-class passengers. It was hot, and mosquitoes were numerous. After passing Villa Hayes, named in honor of U. S. President Hayes following his decision of a boundary dispute with Argentina in favor of Paraguay, they made their first stop, at a high bank, to drop off some passengers. Here they saw the Paraguayan gaucho in all his glory. His shirt was bright-colored and about his neck was a loosely knotted silk handkerchief. Tight-fitting white cotton trousers extended almost to his armpits. About his waist gridded a six-inch-broad leather belt, to which were sewn small leather pockets for carrying money, cigarettes, and personal belongings. Always the belt supported the sheath of a long night. Though barefooted, he wore spurs, and sometimes loose leather leggings. A fringed leather apron hung to his knees, to protect from thorns while on horseback. Usually he carried a silver-handled riding whip.
When the boat stopped long at landings, they would fish off the stern. Three species of fish were common in the Alto Paraguay. The pacu was a fish resembling a bass, attaining a weight of several pounds, and very good eating. The armado was like a catfish, but with bony back plates like a sturgeon. It grew several feet long, and was edible, though soft and tasteless. The most interesting fish of the three was the piranha, which reached a length of only six to eight inches, and was built like a sun-perch. Its jaws had a set of keenly sharp teeth, which meshed like a steel trap. They gave the creature’s mouth the effect of a fixed grin. Piranhas were found in immense quantities in all the streams of northern Paraguay, and were ravenous for blood. If a wounded animal or person fell in the water, they appeared in great swarms, and in a few moments, left nothing but a skeleton. Swimming was not popular in Paraguay, and in some places, it was unsafe to even wash one’s hands in the streams. Because of the piranha, when they fished for pacu and armado, they used a half orange for bait. Around sunset, when the heat of the day had worn off, the river was beautiful. Palm dotted plains, the occasional lone native hut in a grove of bananas, and especially the bird life delighted them. There were ducks and gulls, but also cormorants and great grey herons. The white heron had been hunted to near extinction for its plumage. The next morning, they reached the Topic of Capricorn and stopped at the old town of Concepcion. A few of them went ashore to the Hotel Frances. They rested on the patio under a blooming flamboyante tree. For a few miles above Concepcion, the river was dangerous, with a shallow, rocky bottom and twisting currents. They went through at half speed. By morning, they had passed Puerto Pinasco and San Salvador, and the country had changed character. Low, wooded, limestone hills appeared on the right, with high cliffs and grottos. To the left, the Chaco swamp remained as before. The river was the dividing line, even the plants and animals differed on its two sided.
Their destination was Puerto Casado, some three hundred miles north of Asuncion, and only a few miles below the Brazilian frontier. They reached it the next noon, leaving their ship to plow on several hundred miles farther, to Corumba, Brazil. They would catch it on its return trip. Puerto Casado was the site of an extraction plant and a sawmill, and their employees. They were welcomed by the major-domo and his assistants. The author was told that he was the first American to visit the town. To supply the extract plant with quebracho logs, a thirty-inch gauge logging road had been built due west into the jungle. A canvas-covered railway motor car was put at their disposal, and they made several trips to the end of the line. While most of the quebracho had been cut down, a dense forest of other trees remained. Near the end of the line was a small settlement of Indians. They were living in rude brush-covered shelters and sleeping in hammocks. The adults of both sexes wore cloths doubled around their hips, supported by thongs over their shoulders. These Indians had become semi-civilized, and three other tribes – the Lengus, Suhins, and Savapanas – lived further south and had been nominally converted to Christianity. The Tobas, who lived in the great swamp, and the Matacos, who roamed further northwest, were still wild and fierce savages, who had destroyed or driven back the few expeditions which had entered their territory. Four hundred years prior, a band of Spaniards travelled from near Concepcion northwestward and reached the settlements in Bolivia, but that feat had not been duplicated.
A Scandinavian cattle foreman named Knutson invited the author to accompany him on a cattle round-up, or rodeo, some seventy miles west of the river. So, after his visit to Puerto Casado, the author went down the river to Puerto Pinasco and joined him. A narrow-gauge logging road extended westward some thirty-five miles. They loaded up their ponies in a car and headed west. For the first few leagues extended a plain scattered with palms and paratodo trees. Further west, the forests began, interspersed with small prairies. At the end of the road was the logging camp, whose buildings were all made of palm logs. It was noon when they reached the camp and started their long horseback ride. About mid-afternoon, they reach a camp of gauchos and found a dance in progress. The dance had started the night before and (they heard later) did not break up until the following morning. West of the village, the country changed for the better. They had passed the swampy zone, and while the forests and prairies still alternated, the open areas were larger. Soon the country became gently rolling pasture land. As the sun sank, it became pleasantly cool, and about dark, they reached the ranch. It was the last outpost of civilization. The author was given a cot protected by a mosquito net. For a couple of days, Mr. Barbour hunted the big Paraguayan deer with Antonio, an old Indian guide. The great round-up was held thirty-miles west, on Christmas eve. They left at daybreak and, along the way, they met a small band of Indians on the march. Knutson told the author that those Indians were nomads, moving their camp every few days. The scene of the rodeo was an open plain with a brushy-banked creek looping around two sides. A few gauchos were already on hand, guarding some two thousand head of cattle which had been driven up from the south the night before. It was an hour or more before the last of the herd arrived. By that time the total number was nearly ten thousand. The gauchos lassoed the running calf from horseback. A mother cow wouldn’t attack a man on horseback but would a man on foot. Finally, all the cattle had been inspected. The gauchos drove them off in small bands, and so the plain was deserted. They rode back to the ranch for a belated lunch. The next day, they returned to Puerto Pinasco, and there the author bade farewell and embarked on the long journey down river to Asuncion and Buenos Aires.
At the bottom of the last page of the final article in this issue (Page 432) there is a notice regarding change of address. If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month. If a member wanted the December issue redirected, the Society needed to know by November first.
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