Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, Vol.I/8
Tarapoto — Pongo of Chasuta — Chasuta — Yurimaguas — Sta. Cruz — Antonio — the Paraguá — Laguna — Mouth of the Huallaga.
August 19. — We started in company with a man who, with his peons, was carrying fish that he had taken and salted below Chasuta to Tarapoto. A smart walk of five hours (the latter part of it very quick, to avoid the rain that threatened us) brought us to the town. The road crossed a range of hills in the forest for about half the distance. The aseent and descent of these hills were tedious, because light showers of rain had moistened the surface of the hard-baked earth and made it as slippery as soap. For the other half of the distance the road ran over a plain covered with high, reedy grass, and some bushes; there was a short clump-grass underneath that would afford capital pasturage. The distance between Shapaja and Tarapoto, I judge to be fifteen miles, and the direction westerly, although I could not tell exactly, on account of the winding of the road.
Tarapoto — which is situated upon a moderate eminence near the western edge of the plain before spoken of, and surrounded by hills, which are mountains in the west — is by far the largest town I have seen since leaving Huanuco. The district — comprising the towns of Tarapoto, (which has three thousand five hundred inhabitants,) Chasuta, (which has twelve hundred,) Cumbasa, Morales, Shapaja, Juan Guerra, and Juan Comas — numbers six thousand inhabitants.
The principal productions are rice, cotton, and tobacco, all of which are articles of export, particularly the cloth called tocuyo, woven by the women from cotton. Nearly all the course of the river as far as Egas is supplied from Tarapoto with this article. As much as thirty-five thousand varas is said to be made in this place annually. It is valued here at twelve and a half cents the vara,* and increases in price as it floats down the river, until at Egas it is exchanged for the value of fifty cents in foreign articles from Pará. It also goes inland as far as Moyobamba, where it is exchanged for straw hats and English prints.
- This is its value in barter. It may be bought for six and a quarter cents money. The same is the case with the wax and the balls of thread, which are held at double the price for what they may be bought with coin.
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There is little or no money in this country. Tocuyo, wax from the Ucayali, and balls of cotton thread, are used in its place. The English goods that come from the interior sell in Tarapoto for four times their cost in Lima: for example, a yard of printed calico, which cost in Lima twelve and a half cents, sells in this place for either a pound of wax, four yards of tocuyo, or two pounds, of cotton thread. (It is worth twenty-five cents, money.)
I suppose there is a little money obtained for these articles in Huanuco and Chachapoyas, or left here by travelling strangers. But if so, it falls into the hands of the traders and is hoarded away. These traders are either Moyobambinos, (inhabitants of Moyobamba,) or foreigners of Spain, France, and Portugal. The Moyobambinos are the Jews of the country, and will compass sea and land to make a dollar. I met with them everywhere on the river; and I think that I did not enter an Indian village without finding a Moyobambino domiciliated and trading with the inhabitants. They are a thin, spare, sickly-looking people, of a very dark complexion, but seem capable of undergoing great hardship and fatigue, for they carry their cargoes to marts hundreds of leagues distant by roads or rivers that present innumerable difficulties.
They bear a bad character on the river, and are said to cheat and oppress the Indians; so that when I could not get a yucca for my supper without paying for it in advance, I vented my spleen by abusing a Moyobambino, who had treated the people so badly that they distrusted every body. But I have had reason, once or twice, for abusing other people besides Moyobambinos on this account; for the governor of Tarapoto hesitated about trusting me with a canoe to descend the river because a person representing himself as a countryman of mine had run off with one some years before. I imagine this is the same honest German who “did” Colonel Lucar at Huanuco.
I met at this place my countryman Hacket, whom I had heard spoken so highly of in Cerro Pasco and Huanuco. He is employed in making copper kettles (called pailas) for distilling, and in all kinds of blacksmith and foundry work. He seems settled in this country for life, and has adopted the habits and manners of the people. Poor fellow — how rejoiced he was to see the face and hear the speech of a countryman. I am indebted to him for the following statistics concerning Tarapoto:
“The population of Tarapoto, with its annexed ports of Shapaja, and Juan Guerra, is five thousand three hundred and fifty souls. The births annually are from two hundred and twenty to two hundred and fifty; deaths, from thirty to fifty.
“The principal occupation of the people is the manufacture of cotton
cloth, of which they make from thirty-five to forty thousand varas annually. This article is sold in Chachapoyas at twelve and a half cents the vara. This, tocuyo, and white wax, make the exchange of the place. Gold and silver are almost unknown, but they are articles which the people most desire to have. The white wax of Mainas is worth four yards of tocuyo the pound. A bull or cow of good size is sold for one hundred varas of tocuyo; a fat hog of ordinary size, for sixty; a large sheep, twelve; twenty-five pounds of salt fish of the vaca marina, or paishi, (equal in quality to cod-fish,) for twelve varas; twenty-five pounds of manteca (oil or lard) of vaca marina, twelve varas; twenty-five pounds of coffee, six varas; twenty pounds of rum — of thirty degrees, twenty-four varas; of sixteen degrees, twelve varas; twenty-five pounds of cotton in the seed, eight ounces of wax; a laying-hen, four ounces; a chicken, two ounces; twenty-five pounds of rice in the husk, half a pound; twenty-five pounds of Indian corn, two ounces; twenty-five pounds of beans, four ounces; a basket of yuccas, which weighs from fifty to sixty pounds, two ounces; a head of plantains, which will weigh from forty to fifty pounds, for three needles; or six heads, delivered in the house, four ounces of wax.
“A plantain-grove will give in full vigor for fifty or sixty years, without more attention than to clean it occasionally of weeds; cotton gives a crop in six months; rice in five; indigo is indigenous; cattle of all kinds augment with much rapidity.
“All transportation of cargoes by land is made upon the backs of Indians, for want of roads. The customary weight of a cargo is seventy-five pounds; the cost of its transportation to Moyobamba, (seventy miles,) is six varas of tocuyo; to Huanuco, (three hundred and ninety miles,) thirty-two varas, by water and by land; that is to say, eight Indians will receive in Tarapoto eight packages, of whatsoever goods, and carry them on their shoulders to the port of Juan Guerra, where they embark and carry them in a canoe to the port of Tinge Maria; there they shoulder them again, and carry them to Huanuco, (eighty miles.) It is to be understood that the owner of the cargo is to support the peons.
“The ascent of the Huallaga from Juan Guerra to Tingo Maria takes thirty days; the descent, eight. It has dangerous passes. It is easy to obtain, in the term of six or eight days, fifty or sixty peons for the transportation of cargoes, getting the order of the governor and paying the above prices.
“This town is, without dispute, the most important in Mainas, on account of its neighborhood to navigable rivers, united with an extension of
AMERICAN CIRCUS COMPANY. 163
land free from inundations. Its inhabitants are numerous, civilized, and docile.” The people have no idea of comfort in their domestic relations; the houses are of mud, thatched with palm, and have uneven dirt floors. The furniture consists of a grass hammock, a standing bed-place, a coarse table, and a stool or two. The governor of this populous district wore no shoes, and appeared to live pretty much like the rest of them.
August 20. — we spent at Tarapoto waiting for the peons. The governor preferred that I should pay them in money, which I much doubt if the peons ever saw. He will probably keep the money and give them tocuyo and wax. I paid one dollar and fifty cents for the canoe to carry me as far as Chasuta, a distance of about six hours down, with probably twenty-four to return, (that is, twenty-four working hours;) fifty cents to each peon; and a dollar to pay people to haul the canoe up the bank and place it under the shed at Shapaja on its return.
The men who carried us from Tocache to Sion preferred half their pay in money; in all other cases I have paid in cotton cloth, valued at twenty-five cents the yard; (its cost in Lima was twelve and a half cents.) The amount of pay, generally fixed by the governor, is a yard per man per day, and about the same for the canoe.
An American circus company passed through Tarapoto a few months ago; they had come from the Pacific coast, and were bound down the Amazon. This beats the Moyobambinos for determined energy in making dollars. I imagine that the adventure did not pay, for I encountered traces of them, in broken-down horses, at several of the villages on the river. They floated their horses down on rafts.
I spoke with an active and intelligent young Spanish trader, named Morey, about the feasibility of a steamboat enterprise upon these rivers, bringing American goods and taking return-cargoes of coffee, tobacco, straw-hats, hammocks, and sarsaparilla to the ports of Brazil on the river. He thought that it could not fail to enrich any one who would attempt it; but that the difficulty lay in the fact that my proposed steamer would never get as far as this, for that my goods would be bought up and paid for in return-cargoes long before she reached Peru. He thought, too, that the Brazilians along the river had money which, they would be glad to exchange for comforts and luxuries. Were I to engage in any scheme of colonization for the purpose of evolving the resources of the Valley of the Amazon, I think I should direct the attention of settlers to this district of Tarapoto. It combines more advantages than any other I know; it is healthy, fertile, and free from the torment of muscuitoes and sand-flies. Wheat may be had
from the high lands above it; cattle thrive well; and its coffee, tobacco, sugar-cane, rice, and maize are of fine quality. It is true that vessels cannot come up to Shapaja, the port of the town of Tarapoto; but a good road may be made from this town eighteen miles to Chasuta, to which vessels of five feet draught may come at the lowest stage of the river, and any draught at high water.
Tarapoto is situated on an elevated plain twenty miles in diameter; is seventy miles from: Moyobamba, the capital of the province, a city of seven thousand inhabitants; and has close around it the villages of Lamas, Tabalosas, Juan Guerra, and Shapaja. The Ucayali is navigable higher up than this point, and the quality of cotton and coffee seems better, within certain limits, further from the equator. But the settler at the head-waters of the Ucayali has to place himself in a profound wilderness, with the forest and the savage to subdue, and entirely dependent upon his own resources. I think he would be better placed near where he can get provisions and assistance whilst he is clearing the forest and planting his fields. I am told that the governors of the districts in all the province of Mainas have authority to give titles to land to any one who desires to cultivate it. I saw here very fine fields of Indian corn. The stalk grows quite as high as on our best bottom-lands in Virginia, and the ears were full, and of good grain. It may be planted at any time, and it yields in three months, thus giving four crops a year. A considerable quantity of tobacco is also cultivated in the neighborhood of Tarapoto. The tobacco seed is planted in carefully-prepared ground in October. At this time the forest is cleared to make the plantation. In January the seedlings are ready to transplant, when the wood that has been cut down is set fire to, and the plantation cleared up ready to receive the plants. When the plant is about two feet high, the top is cut off, and the lower leaves, which are generally injured by the dirt, pulled off, so that the force of the plant may be thrown into the middle leaves. The crop is gathered, as the leaves ripen, in July and August. They are put under shelter for a few days to turn yellow, and are then exposed for three or four’ days to the sun and dew. After this, they are sometimes sprinkled with a little molasses and water, and rolled out fiat with a wooden roller; the larger stems are taken out, and they are then put up in long masses of about one and a half pound weight, and wrapped tightly and closely with some running vine of the forest. This is the common method; and the common tobacco of Tarapoto is worth twelve and a half cents (money) the mass there. A superior kind, made with more care, and put up in short, thick masses, called andullo is also
FISHING PARTY. 165
made in the province. This is worth twenty-five cents. The best tobacco is made in Xeberos, in the upper mission, and is sent to Lima.
August 21. — We started for Juan Guerra on horseback, in company with a large fishing-party, got up by the padre for his own profit; he seemed to carry nearly the whole town with him. The mounted party consisted of eight. There were two ladies along, whose company added to, the gaiety and pleasure of the canter through the woods. Used as I had become by my travels in various parts of the world to the free and easy, I must confess that I was a little startled to see these ladies, when we arrived at Juan Guerra, denude themselves to a silk handkerchief around the loins, and bathe in the river within forty yards, and in full sight of all the men.
Arrived at Juan Guerra, we embarked upon the Cumbasa, which empties into the Mayo. Half an hour’s dragging of the canoe over the shoals, and between the fallen trees on this stream, and one and a half hour’s navigation on the Mayo, carried us to its mouth, which is only a quarter of a mile above Shapaja, where Morey had the goodness to land us, and then shoved off to join the priest, who was to camp on a beach above.
The fishing-party of the padre was a large affair. They had four or five canoes, and a large quantity of barbasco. The manner of fishing is to close up the mouth of a caño of the river with a net-work made of reeds, and then, mashing the barbasco root to a pulp, throw it into the water. This turns the water white, and poisons it, so that the fish soon commence rising to the surface dead, and are taken into the canoes with small tridents. Almost at the moment of throwing the basrbasco into the water, the smaller fish rise to the surface and die in two or three minutes; the larger fish survive longer; and, therefore, a successful fishing of this sort is a matter of half a day, or till the canoes are filled.
When we left Shapaja for Tarapoto, we placed our trunks, several without locks, in charge of the women who lived in the shed where we slept; and, although they knew that the trunks contained, handkerchiefs, red cotton cloth, beads, scissors, &c., (things which they most desire,) we missed nothing on our return.
August 22. — Two miles below Shapaja is the mal-paso of Estero. A point of rocks, stretching out from a little stream that enters on the left, makes this rapid, which is considered a very dangerous one. The stream, rushing against these rocks, is deflected to a point of rocks that makes out into the river a little lower down on the other side; this turns it aside again, and the waves mingle and boil below. The canoe was unloaded, and conducted by sogas, or ropes of vine, over and
between the rocks on the left-hand side. It took an hour to unload, pass the canoe, and load up again. Three miles further is the mal-paso of Canoa Yacu, (canoe water,) from many canoes having been wrecked here. This is by far the most formidable rapid I have seen. There is a small perpendicular fall on each side, and a shoot of 20° declivity in the middle, down which the water rushes with a velocity of at least ten miles the hour. The shoot looks tempting, and one is disposed to try the rush; but there are rocks below over which the water dashes up some two or three feet in height; and I think no boat could shoot out of the force of the stream so as to avoid these rocks.
The river both here and at Estero is not more than thirty yards wide. The average velocity of the current through the Pongo is six miles the hour. It took one hour and a half to pass this obstruction. Two miles further down we shot the mal-paso of Matijuelo under oar; and immediately after, that of Chumia, where the canoe was let down as before, but without unloading. It took half an hour to do this. A quarter of an hour afterwards we passed the rapid of Vaquero; and at 2 ½ p.m. arrived at Chasuta. We were kindly welcomed and hospitably entertained by the Cura, Don Sebastian Castro.
Chasuta is the port of the district of Tarapoto. The traders have their cargoes carried on the backs of Indians between Tarapoto and Chasuta, and embark and disembark at the latter place to avoid the rapids of the Pongo. The distance by land, according to Hacket, is eighteen miles; and the cost of transportation, half a pound of wax for a cargo of seventy-five pounds. There is from this point no further obstruction to navigation for canoes; and very little labor would enable a draught of six feet to reach Chasuta at the lowest stage of the river.
There were canoes in the port, just arrived from below, with salt fish and wax; and canoes about to start down with the products of the district. The annual value of the commerce between this place and below is fifteen hundred dollars. All articles which can readily be transported on the backs of mules, or Indians, come from Lima, by the way of Chachapoyas and Moyobamba. These are principally articles of wearing apparel, or stuff to make them of. Heavier articles — such as iron, iron implements, copper kettles, (for distilling,) guns, crockery, &c. — come from below. The axes are narrow, worthless things, made in Portugal, and sold in Tarapoto for a dollar in money, without handles. Iron (of which the inhabitants are very careful to buy Swedish only) is worth in Tarapoto twelve and a half cents the pound. A common plate for the dinner table is worth twenty-five cents; a cup and saucer, twelve and a half cents; a glass with handle to drink water, fifty cents;
VACA MARINA. 167
a small glass to drink spirits, twenty-five cents; a small basin to wash the face in, twenty-five cents; looking-glass of one and a half foot long, and a foot wide, seventy-five cents; penknife of one blade, fifty cents; small hand-bells for the churches, fifty cents; a pair of coarse scissors, eighteen and three-quarter cents; a long-pointed, white-handled knife, thirty-seven and a half cents; small slates, with pencil and sponge, one dollar; coarse sabres, with wooden handle, seventy-five cents; jews-harp, twelve and a half cents; horn buttons, six and a quarter cents the dozen. Morey gave for a common Yankee clock, on the Amazon, seventeen dollars and fifty cents. These are money values.
One will be told that these articles are sold at double these prices; but money, on account of its scarcity, is worth double its nominal value thus a yard of tocuyo, (the most common currency,) which is always valued in Nauta, Pebas, Loreto, &c., at twenty-five cents in exchange for effects, or goods, may be bought there for twelve and a half cents, specie. The traveller should be aware of this, or he may be paying double prices for things.
The salt fish brought up from below is in large pieces of about eight pounds each, cut from the vaca marina — the payshi, a fish of one hundred and fifty pounds weight — and the gamitana, a large flat fish, like the skate. The piece is worth twelve and a half cents, money, in Tarapoto, and twenty-five cents in Moyobamba.
The vaca marina (sea cow) of the Spaniards, and peixe boy (fish ox) of the Portuguese, (also found in our Florida streams, and there called manatee,) is found in great numbers on the Amazon and its principal tributaries. It is an animal averaging, when full grown, about nine feet in length and six in circumference. It has much the appearance of a large seal, with a smooth skin, dark on the back, a dirty white on the belly, and thinly sprinkled with coarse hairs. The eyes and ears (or rather holes for hearing) are very small. The mouth is also small, though it looks large on the outside, on account of a very thick and wide upper lip, which is shaped like that of an ox. In the one I examined, which was a young female, I could discover neither tongue nor teeth, but a thick, rough, and hard, fleshy cushion attached to both upper and lower jaws, which seemed to me very well adapted to masticating the grass which grows upon the banks of the river, and which is its principal food. The tail is broad ad and fiat and is placed horizontally. This, with two large fins far in advance, and very near the jaws, enables it to move in the water with considerable rapidity. It is not able to leave the water; but in feeding it gets near the shore and raises its head out. It is, when feeding, most often taken by the Indians. An
ordinary-sized vaca marina will yield from thirty-five to forty pounds of manteca, which will sell in Tarapoto for three cents the pound, money; besides ten pieces of salt fish, worth twelve and a half cents each. Fifty cents is the common price of the fish where it is taken. The governor general of the missions told me that two men in his employment at Chorococha, on the Amazon, had taken seven for him in eight days. The flesh, salted or dried, is a good substitute for pork. It is put up in large jars in its own fat, and is called michira.
Chasuta is an Indian village of twelve hundred inhabitants, situated on a plain elevated about twenty-five feet above the present level of the river. It is frequently covered in the full, and the people take their canoes into their houses and live in them. The diseases, as all along the river, are pleurisy, tarbardilla, and sarna. The small-pox sometimes makes its appearance, but does little damage. It is a very healthy place, and few die.
The Indians of Chasuta are a gentle, quiet race; very docile, and very obedient to their priest, always saluting him by kneeling and kissing his hand. They are tolerably good boatmen, but excel as hunters. Like all the Indians, they are much addicted to drink. I have noticed that the Indians of this country are reluctant to shed blood, and seem to have a horror of its sight. I have known them to turn away to avoid killing a chicken, when it was presented to one for that purpose. The Indian whom Ijurra struck did not complain of the pain of the blow, but, bitterly and repeatedly, that “his blood had been shed.” They eat musquitoes that they catch on their bodies, with the idea of restoring the blood which the insect has abstracted.
The padre told me that the fee for a marriage was four pounds of wax, which was the perquisite of the sacristan; for a burial, two, which went to the sexton; and that he was regaled with a fowl for a christening. He complained of the want of salary, or fees; and said that it was impossible for a clergyman to live unless he engaged in trade. Every year the governor appoints twelve men to serve him. The commission runs, “For the service of our holy mother church;” but it means the curate. It is an office of distinction, and the Indians crave it. They are called Fiscales. They work the padre’s chacra and trapiche; fish for him; hunt for him; (the fishermen and hunters are called mitayos; this is a remnant of an oppressive old Spanish law called mita, by which certain services, particularly in the mines, were exacted of the Indians; do his washing; wait upon his table; and carry on for him his traffic on the river, by which he gains his salt fish and the means to buy crockery for his table.
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I bought wax of the curate to pay for the canoes and boatmen to Yurimaguas. The men desired money, and I told the curate that he had better let me pay them in money, as to be familiar with its use would tend to civilize them. But he said that they did not know its value, and would only hoard it up or use it as ornaments. I don’t know what else he will do with it, for certainly it never circulates. I have not seen a dollar since I left Huanuco, except those that were in my own hands. That the Indians have no idea of its value is evident. I bought a pucuna of one. He desired money; and his first demand was four dollars; when I shook my head. He then said six reals, (seventy-five cents.) I gave him a dollar, which I thought would pay him for the time and labor necessary to make another.
As we were now clear of the dangers of the river, and were to be more exposed to sun and rain, we had coverings made of hoop-poles, and thatched with palm, fitted to the canoe. The one over the stern, for the accommodation of the patron, covers about six feet of it, and makes a good den to retreat to in bad weather. It is called by the Indians pamacari. The one fitted over the cargo, in the body of the boat, is called armayari. It is narrower than the other, allowing room for the Indians to sit and paddle on each side of it.
August 25. — We left Chasuta in company with two canoes: one belonging to a Portuguese, resident of Tarapoto, carrying a cargo to Nauta; and the other manned by the Fiscales, and carrying the padre’s little venture of salt. We passed the salt hills of Callana Yacu, where the people of Chasuta and the Indians of the Ucayali and Marañon get their salt. The hills are not so high as those of Pilluana, and the salt seems more mixed with red earth. It “crops out” on the banks of the river, which are shelving and rise into gentle hills as they recede, covered with bushes and small trees. A quarter of an hour afterwards we entered a more hilly country; river narrow, shallow, and rapid; its depth fifteen feet, and its current four and a half miles the hour. Soon after we passed between cliffs of dark-red rocks, where the river deepened to forty-two feet. On one of these rocks, appearing like a gigantic boulder of porphyry, were cut rude figures of saints and crosses, with letters which are said to express, The leap of the Traitor Aguirre; but they were too much worn by time and weather for me to make them out. There were more recent cuttings in the rock. One of them were the letters VR, the work, I imagine, of an Englishman belonging to the circus company. The pass is called “El Salto de Aguirre.” We camped on the right bank of the river, having passed the country of the Infidels.
170 RIVER STA. CATALINA.
August 26. — Being in company with Antonio, the Portuguese, who knows how to arrange matters, we get a cup of coffee at the peep of lay, and are off by half-past 5 a.m.
At five miles of distance we passed the lower extremity of the Pongo, which commences at Shapaja. “Pongo” is an Indian word, and is applied to designate the place where a river breaks through a range of hills, and where navigation is of course obstructed by rocks and rapids. The place where the Marañon breaks its way through the last chain of hills that obstructs its course is called the Pongo de Manseriche. This is the Pongo de Chasuta. There is only one mal-paso below Chasuta: it is called the mal-paso del Gabilan, and is just below the Salto de Aguirre. It is insignificant, and I should not have noticed it at all, but that it was pointed out to me, and said to be dangerous for canoes in the full of the river.
After passing the Pongo, we entered upon a low, flat country, where the river spreads out very wide, and is obstructed by islands and sandbanks. This is the deposit from the Pongo. In the channel where we passed, I found a scant five feet of water; I suspect, but could not find out, that more water may be had in some of the other channels.
This shoal water is but for a short distance, and the soundings soon deepened to twelve and eighteen feet. Small pebbly islands are forming in the river, and much drift-wood from above lodges on them. After having stopped two hours to breakfast, we passed the mouth of the Chipurana, which is about twenty yards wide.
This river flows from the Pampa del Sacramento, and affords, when it is full, a canoe navigation of about forty miles, taking four days to accomplish it, on account of shoals and fallen trees. This distance brings the traveller to the port of Yanayacu, where, in 1835, when Lieutenant Smyth travelled this route, there was one hut; there is not one now. A walk over a plain for twenty-five miles reaches the village of Sta. Catalina, which then had thirty families; now one hundred and sixty inhabitants: so that it has changed very little in all this time. Embarking at Sta. Catalina, on the river of the same name, the traveller, in two days of a very difficult and interrupted navigation, enters the Ucayali; ascending which stream a day and a half, he arrives at Sarayacu.
I was desirous of going to Sarayacu by this route, but the river would not, at this season, afford sufficient water for my canoes to reach Yanayacu, and I moreover did not like to miss the lower part of the Huallaga.
River now two hundred yards wide, free from obstruction, with a gentle current, and between eighteen and twenty-four feet of depth.
We saw turtle-tracks in the sand today for the first time; camped on the beach.
August 27. — Saw flesh-colored porpoises; also a small seal, which looked like a fur-seal; got turtle-eggs. The turtles crawl out upon the beach during the night, deposit their eggs, and retreat before dawn, leaving, however, broad tracks in the sand, by which their deposits are discovered. We must have got upwards of a thousand; I counted one hundred and fifty taken from one hole. Since we have passed the Pongo we have encountered no stones; the beaches are all of sand.
August 28. — Arrived at Yurimaguas. This little village, situated upon a hill immediately upon the banks of the river, and numbering two hundred and fifty inhabitants, now appears almost entirely deserted. We could procure neither peons nor canoes. The men were away in the forest collecting wax for a fiesta, ordered by the curate; and the sub-prefect of the province, who had been gold-hunting up the Santiago, had taken all the canoes up the Cachiyacu with him on his return to Moyobamba. I was told that his expedition for gold up the Santiago, which consisted of a force of eighty armed men, had been a failure; that they got no gold, and had lost five of their company by the attacks of the Huambisas and other savages of the Santiago. This may not be true. The sub-prefect (I was told) said that the expedition had accomplished its purpose, which was simply to open friendly communications with the savages, with a view to further operations.
With great difficulty, and by paying double, I persuaded our Chasutinos to take us on to Sta. Cruz, where I was assured I could be accommodated both with boats and men. We could buy nothing at Yurimaguas but a few bunches of plantains and some salt fish out of a passing boat.
An island divides the river three-fourths of a mile above Yurimapguas. The southern branch is the channel; the northern one is closed at its lower end by a sand-bank opposite the village.
We left Yurimaguas after breakfasting. Half a mile below the village is the mouth of the Cachiyacu. This river is the general route between Moyobamba and the ports of the Amazon. It is navigable for large canoes, when full, (which is from January to June,) as far as Balza Puerto, a considerable village, five days’ journey from Moyobamba. It takes nine days for a loaded canoe to ascend as far as Balza Puerto. Lieutenant Maw descended this river in 1827. Communication is also had by the Cachiyacu with many villages situated in the fine country between the Marañon and Huallaga rivers: so that Yurimaguas, situated at the mouth of this river, and having open communication with the Atlantic,
172 THE RIVER.
may be considered as occupying an important position in any scheme for navigation and trade.
We met several canoes going up the river for salt; canoes passing each other on the river speak at a great distance apart. The Indians use a sing-song tone, that is heard and understood very far, without seeming to call for much exertion of the voice. Every year at this season the Indians of the Marañon and Ucayali make a voyage up the
Huallaga for their supply of salt. They travel slowly, and support themselves by hunting, fishing, and robbing plantain-patches on their way.
About eight miles below Yurimaguas, an island with extensive sand-flats occupies nearly the whole of the middle of the river. We passed to the right, and I found but a scant six feet of water. The popero said there was less on the other side; but Antonio, the Portuguese, passed there, and said there was more. He did not sound, however. We tried an experiment to ascertain the speed of the canoe at full oar; and I was surprised to find that six men could not paddle it faster than two miles the hour; ours is, however, a very heavy and clumsy canoe. We have had frequent races with Antonio and the Fiscales, and were always beaten. It was a pretty sight to see the boat of the latter, though laden with salt to the water’s edge, dance by us; and, although beaten, we could not sometimes refrain (as their puntero, a tall, painted Indian, would toss his paddle in the air with a triumphant gesture as he passed) from giving a hurrah for the servants of the church.
August 29. — We met a canoe of Conibos Indians, one man and two women, from the Ucayali, going up for salt. We bought (with beads) some turtle-eggs, and proposed to buy a monkey they had; but one of the women clasped the little beast in her arms, and set up a great outcry lest the man should sell it. The man wore a long, brown, cotton gown, with a hole in the neck for the head to go through, and short, wide sleeves. He had on his arm a bracelet of monkey’s teeth; and the women had white beads hanging from the septum of the nose. Their dress was a cotton petticoat tied round the waist; and all were filthy.
We are now getting into the lake country; and hence to the mouth of the Amazon, lakes of various sizes, and at irregular distances, border the river. They all communicate with the rivers by channels, which are commonly dry in the dry season. They are the resort of immense numbers of water-fowl, particularly cranes and cormorants; and the Indians, at the proper season, take many fish and turtles from them.
Many of these lakes are, according to traditions of the Indians, guarded by an immense serpent, which is able to raise such a tempest
THE YACU MAMA. 173
in the lake as to swamp their canoes, when it immediately swallows the people. It is called in the Lengua Inga, Yacu Mama , or mother of the waters; and the Indians never enter a lake with which they are not familiar that they do not set up an obstreperous clamor with their horns, which the snake is said to answer; thus giving them warning of its presence.
I never saw the animal myself, but will give a description of it written by Father Manuel Castrucci de Vernazza, in an account of his mission to the Givaros of the river Pastaza made in 1845:
The wonderful nature of this animal — its figure, its size, and other circumstances — enchains attention, and causes man to reflect upon the majestic and infinite power and wisdom of the Supreme Creator. The sight alone of this monster confounds, intimidates, and infuses respect into the heart of the boldest man. He never seeks or follows the victims upon which he feeds; but, so great is the force of his inspiration, that he draws in with his breath whatever quadruped or bird may pass him, within from twenty to fifty yards of distance, according to its size. That which I killed from my canoe upon the Pastaza (with five shots of a fowling-piece) had two yards of thickness and fifteen yards of length; but the Indians of this region have assured me that there are animals of this kind here of three or four yards diameter, and from thirty to forty long. These swallow entire hogs, stags, tigers, and men, with the greatest facility; but, by the mercy of Providence, it moves and turns itself very slowly, on account of its extreme weight. When moving, it appears a thick log of wood covered with scales, and dragged slowly along the ground, leaving a track so large that men may see it at a distance and avoid its dangerous ambush.
The good father says that he observed, that the blood of this animal flowed in jets, (sali á chorros,) and in enormous abundance. The prejudice of the Indians in respect to this species of great snakes (believing it to be the devil in figure of a serpent) deprived me of the acquisition of the dried skin, though I offered a large gratification for it.
It is almost impossible to doubt a story told with this minuteness of detail. Doubtless the padre met with, and killed the boa-constrictor; but two yards of thickness is scarcely credible. He writes it dos varas de grosor. (Grosor is thickness.) I thought the father might have meant two yards in circumference, but he afterwards says that the Indians reported them of three and four yards in diameter, (de diarneto.) We had a fresh squall of wind and rain from the northward and eastward. The Portuguese, who is a careful and timid navigator, and whose motions we follow because he is a capital caterer, and has a
174 THE CATAO.
wife along to cook for us, pulled in for the beach, and we camped for the night. The beach where we pitched belongs to an island, or rather what is an island when the river is full, though the right-hand channel is now dry; the left-hand channel runs close to the shore, and I could find but five feet water in it, though there was probably more very close to the shore, which was bold. The obstruction is narrow, and could be readily cleared away.
Seventy miles below Yurimaguas is Sta. Cruz. This is an Indian village of a tribe called Aguancos, containing three hundred and fifty inhabitants. The lieutenant governor is the only white man in it. The women go naked down to their hips, and the children entirely so. I was quite an object of curiosity and fear to them; and they seemed never tired of examining my spectacles. The pueblo is situated on an eminence, as most of the villages of this country are, to avoid inundation. It has a small stream running by it, which empties into the river at the port, and is navigable in the rainy season for loaded canoes. The convento is the most respectable-looking house on the river. It is divided into apartments; has ceilings; and is plastered, inside and out, with a white clay. There was a portico in the rear, and it looked altogether as if it had been designed and built by a person who had some taste and some idea of personal comfort.
I obtained at this place the sap of a large tree called catao, which is said to be very poisonous. It appears to be acrid, and acts like a powerful caustic. The man who chopped the bark, to let the sap run, always turned away his face as he struck, for fear of its getting into his eyes. The Indians employ it for the purpose of curing old dull sores. The tree is generally very large; has a smooth bark, but with knots on it bearing short thorns. The leaf is nearly circular; it is called in Brazil assacu and is there thought to be a remedy for leprosy. We gathered also some leaves and root of a running plant called guaco, which, steeped in spirits, and applied internally and externally, is said to be an antidote to the bite of a snake. I think it probable that this may be a fancy of the Indians, originating from the fact that the leaf has something the appearance and color of a snake-skin. There is a great abundance of it all over the Montaña. We found difficulty in getting canoes at this place. The only one that would accommodate ourselves and baggage belonged to the church, and, like its mistress in Peru, it was in rather a dilapidated condition. We bargained for it with the curaca, (chief of the Indians, and second in authority to the lieutenant governor;) but when the lieutenant returned from his chacra, where he had been setting out plantains, he refused to let us
THE PARAGUA. 175
have it, on the ground that it wanted repairs. We were, therefore, obliged to take two small ones that would barely carry the trunks and boxes, and embark ourselves in the canoe of the Portuguese.
We have found this man, Don Antonio da Costa Viana, and his family, quite a treasure to us on the road. He is a stout, active little fellow, about fifty years of age, with piercing black eyes, long black curls, a face burned almost to negro blackness by the sun, deeply pitted with the small-pox, and with a nose that, as Ijurra tells him, would make a cut-water for a frigate. He is called paraguá, (a species of parrot,) from his incessant talk; and he brags that he is “as well known on the river as a dog.” He has a chacra of sugar-cane and tobacco, with a trapiche, at Tarapoto. He sells the spirits that he makes for tocuyo, and carries the tocuyo, tobacco, and chancaca to Nauta, selling or rather exchanging as he goes. His canoe is fifty feet long and three broad, and carries a cargo which he values at five hundred dollars; that is, five hundred in efectos — two hundred and fifty in money. It is well fitted with armayari and pamacari, and carries six persons — Antonio, himself, his wife, and his adopted daughter, a child of ten years; besides affording room for the calls of hospitality. My friend is perfect master of all around him; (a little tyrannical, perhaps, to his family;) knows all the reaches and beaches of the river, and every tree and shrub that grows upon its banks. He is intelligent, active, and obliging; always busy: now twisting fishing-lines of the fibres of a palm called chambora; now hunting turtle-eggs, robbing plantain-fields, or making me cigars of tobacco-leaves given me by the priest of Chasuta. Every beach is a house for him; his peons build his rancho and spread his musquito curtain; his wife and child cook his supper. His mess of salt fish, turtle eggs, and plantains, is a feast to him; and his gourd of coffee, and pipe afterwards, a luxury that a king might envy. He is always well and happy. I imagine he has picked up and hoarded away, to keep him in his old age, or to leave his wife when he dies, some few of the dollars that are floating about here; and, in short, I don’t know a more enviable person. It is true Doña Antonia gets drunk occasionally; but he licks her if she is troublesome, and it seems to give him very little concern.
I sometimes twit him with the immorality of robbing the poor Indians of their plantains; but he defends himself by saying, “That to take plantains is not to steal; to take a knife, or a hatchet, or an article of clothing, is; but plantains, not. Every body on the river does it. It is necessary to have them, and he is perfectly willing to pay for them, if he could find the owners and they would sell them.” The old rascal is very religious, too; he has, hanging under the pamacari of his boat, a
silver Crucifix and a wooden St. Anthony. He thinks a priest next of kin to a saint, and a saint perfection. He said to me, as his wife was combing her hair in the canoe, “A bald woman, Don Luis, must be a very ugly thing: not so a bald man, because St. Peter, you know, was bald;” and I verily believe that, although he is very vain of his black curls, were he to lose them, he would find consolation in the reflection that he had made an approach, in appearance at least, towards his great exemplar.
We shoved off from Sta. Cruz at sunset, and camped on the beach a mile lower down. It is very well to do this, for the canoe-men are taken away from the temptation of the villages, and are sober and ready for an early start next morning.
August 31. — Started at 6 a.m.; camped on-the beach at a quarter past 5 p.m.
September 1. — Heavy clouds and rains both to the northward and eastward and southward and westward, with an occasional spit at us; but we set the rain at defiance under the palm-thatched roof of Antonio. At half-past 3 p.m. we arrived at Laguna. This town, the principal one of the district, and the residence of the governor, is one and a half mile from the port. The walk is a pleasant one through the forest at this season, but is probably mud to the knees in the rains. It contains one thousand and forty-four inhabitants; and the productions of the neighborhood are wax, sarsaparilla, copal, copal, and salt fish. I have seen all these in the hands of the Indians, but in small quantities; there being so little demand for them.
The Cocamillas, who form the largest part of the population of Laguna, are lazy and drunken. They are capital boatmen, however, when they have no liquor; and I had more comfort with them than with any other Indians except those of Tingo Maria.
September 2. — Waiting for boats and boatmen. There are no large canoes, and we are again compelled to take two. I was surprised at this, as I was led to believe — and I thought it probable — that the nearer we got to the Marañon the larger we should find the boats, and the means of navigation more complete. But I have met with nothing but misstatements in my whole course. The impression I received in Lima of the Montaña was, that it was a country abounding not only with the necessaries, but with the luxuries of life, so far as eating was concerned. Yet I am now satisfied that if one hundred men were to start without provisions, on the route I have travelled, the half must inevitably perish for want of food. Of meat there is almost none; and even salt fish, yuccas, and plantains are scarce, and often not to be had; game is
TRAVELLING MERCHANTS. 177
shy; and the fish, of which there are a great number, do not readily take the hook; of fruit I have seen literally none edible since leaving Huanuco.
At Chasuta I was assured that I should find at Yurimaguas every facility for the prosecution of my journey; yet I could get neither a boat nor a man, and had to persuade my Chasuta boatmen to carry me on to Sta. Cruz, where the Yurimaguas people said there would be no further difficulty. At Sta. Cruz I could get but two small and rotten canoes, with three men to each, for Laguna, which, being the great port of the river, could, in the estimation of the people at Sta. Cruz, furnish me with the means of crossing the Atlantic if necessary. I had been always assured that I could get at Laguna one hundred Cocamillas, if I wanted them, as a force to enter, among the savages of the Ucayali; but here, too, I could with difficulty get six men and two small canoes to pass me on to Nauta, which I expected to find, from the description of the people above, a small New York. Had it not been that Señor Cauper, at that place, had just then a boat unemployed, which he was willing to sell, I should have had to abandon my expedition up the Ucayali, and built me a raft to float down the Marañon.
We found at the port of Laguna two travelling merchants, a Portuguese and a Brazilian. They had four large boats of about eight tons each, and two or three canoes. Their cargo consisted of iron, steel, iron implements, crockery-ware, wine, brandy, copper kettles, coarse, short swords, (a very common implement of the Indians,) guns, ammunition, salt fish, &c., which they expected to exchange in Moyobamba and Chachapoyas for straw-hats, tocuyo, sugar, coffee, and money. They were also buying up all the sarsaparilla they could find, and despatching it back in canoes. They gave for the arroba, of twenty-five pounds, three dollars and fifty cents in goods, which probably cost in Pará one dollar. They estimated the value of their cargoes at five thousand dollars. I have no doubt that two thousand dollars in money would have bought the whole concern, boats and all; and that with this the traders would have drifted joyfully down the river, well satisfied with their year’s work. They invited us to breakfast off roast pig; and I thought that I never tasted anything better than the farinha [wheat flour], which I saw for the first time.
Farinha is a general substitute for bread in all the course of the Amazon below the Brazilian frontier. It is used by all classes, and in immense quantities by the Indians and laborers. Our boatmen in Brazil were always contented with plenty of salt fish and farinha. Every two or three hours of the day, whilst travelling, they would stop
178 MAKING FARINHA.
rowing, pour a little water upon a large gourd-full of farinha, and pass around the mass (which they called pirao) as if it were a delicacy.
The women generally make the farinha. They soak the root of the mandioc (Iatropha Manihot) in water till it is softened a little, when they scrape off the skin, and grate it upon a board smeared with some of the adhesive gums of the forest, and sprinkled with pebbles. The white grated mass is put into a conical-shaped bag, made of the coarse fibres of a palm, and called tapiti. The bag is hung up to a peg driven into a tree, or a post of the shed; a lever is put through a loop at the bottom of the bag; the short end of the lever is placed under a chock nailed to the post below, and the woman hangs her weight on the long end. This elongates the bag, and brings a heavy pressure upon the mass within, causing all the juice to ooze out through the interstices of the wicker-work of the bag. When sufficiently pressed the mass is put on the floor of a mud oven; heat is applied, and it is stirred with a stick till it granulates in very irregular grains, (the largest about the size of our No. 2 shot,) and is sufficiently toasted to drive off all the poisonous qualities which it has in a crude state. It is then packed in baskets (lined and covered with palm-leaves) of about sixty-four pounds weight, which are generally sold, all along the river, at from seventy-live cents to one dollar. The sediment of the juice which runs from the tapiti is tapioca, and is used to make custards, puddings, starce, &c.
September 3. — Our boatmen came down to the port at 8 a.m. They were accompanied, as usual, by their wives, carrying their bedding, their jars of masato, and even their paddles; for these fellows are too lazy, when on shore, to do a hand’s turn; though when embarked they work freely, (these Cocamillas,) and are gay, cheerful, ready, and obedient. The dress of the women is noting more than a piece of cotton cloth, generally dark brown in color, wrapped around the loins and reaching to the knee. I was struck with the appearance of one, the only pretty Indian girl I have seen. She appeared to be about thirteen years of age, and was the wife of one of our boatmen. It was amusing to see the slavish respect with which she waited upon the young savage, (himself about nineteen,) and the lordly indifference with which. he received her attentions. She was as straight as an arrow, delicately and elegantly formed, and had a free, wild, Indian look, that was quite taking.
We got off at a quarter past nine; the merchants at the same time; and the padre also returns today to Yurimaguas; so that we make a haul upon the population of Laguna, and carry off about seventy of its
MOUTH OF THE HUALLAGA. 179
inhabitants. Twenty-five miles below Laguna, we arrived at the mouth of the Huallaga. Several islands occupy the middle of it. The channel runs near the left bank. Near the middle of the river we had nine feet; passing, towards the left bank we suddenly fell into forty-five feet. The Hullaga, just above the island, is three hundred and fifty yards wide; the Amazon, at the junction, five hundred. The water of both rivers is very muddy and filthy, particularly that of the former, which for some distance within the mouth is covered with a glutinous scum that I take to be the excrement of fish, probably that of porpoises.
The Hullaga, from Tingo Maria, the head of canoe navigation, to Chasuta, (from which point to its mouth it is navigable for a draught of five feet at the lowest stage of the river,) is three hundred and twenty-five miles long; costing seventy-four working hours to descend it; and falling four feet and twenty-seven hundredths per mile. From Chasuta to its mouth it has two hundred and eighty-five miles of length, and takes sixty-eight hours of descent, falling one foot and twenty-five hundredths per mile. It will be seen that these distances are passed in nearly proportional trines. This is to be attributed to time occupied in descending, the malo-paso for the current is more rapid above than below. The difference between the times of ascent and descent is, on an average, about three for one. It is proper to state here that all my estimates of distance, after embarkation upon the rivers, being obtained from measurements by the log-line, are in geographical miles of sixty to the degree.