A typical Indian hut on the outskirts of Bogotá

When we had “made a stake” as Canal Zone policemen, Leo Hays and I
sailed from Panama to South America. On board the Royal Mail steamer the
waist of the ship, to which our tickets confined us, was a screaming
pandemonium of West Indian negroes, homeward bound from canal digging,
and a veritable chaos of their baggage and household goods—and
gods—ranging from tin trunks to pet monkeys, from battered phonographs
to plush-bound Bibles. We preëmpted deck space for our suitcases and sat
down upon them. It chanced to be the same day on which, eight years
before, I had set out on a “vagabond journey” around the world.

Twenty-four hours after our last Zone handshake we marched down the
gangplank among the little brown policemen of Cartagena, Colombia, and
fought our way through a mob of dock loafers to the toy railroad train
that eventually creaked away into the city. Our revolvers and cartridge
belts we wore out of sight; uniforms and nightsticks no longer figured
in our equipment. But the campaign costume we had chosen,—broad felt
hats, Norfolk jackets and breeches of olive drab, and the leather
leggings common to the Zone—were evidently more conspicuous here than we
had suspected. For about us wherever we moved sounded awe-struck stage
whispers:

“Psst! Policía de la Zona!”

The ancient city and fortress of Cartagena—and for America it is old
indeed—squats on a sandy point jutting far out into the blue Caribbean,
with a beach curving inland on either hand. A sea-wall beside which that
of Panama seems a plaything, of massive weather-tarnished, ocean-lashed
stones, brown-gray with age, with stern, dignified old gateways,
encloses the city in irregular form. On its top is a promenade varying
in width from a carriage drive to a manoeuver field. Outside, down on
the languidly garrulous beach, little thatched huts have drifted
together under the cocoanut groves. Inside, the dust-deep streets have
long since lost most of the cobbled paving of their Spanish birthright;
the narrow, inadequate tile sidewalks are far from continuous, and the
rules of life are so lax that only the constant sweep of the sea air
accounts for old age amid conditions that should bring death early and
often.

Long before we reached our hotel we regretted our penuriousness in
scorning cabs and carriers. Not only did the weight of our suitcases
double every few yards in the leaden tropical air, and the labyrinthian
way through the city elude us at every turn, but at least a score of
ragged boys trailed respectfully but hopefully in our rear with the
anticipatory manner of an opera understudy waiting in the edge of the
wings for the principal to break down at the next note. A generous
percentage of the population crowded the doorways and children raced
ahead to summon forth their families to behold what was apparently the
most exciting thing that had taken place in Cartagena in months.
Evidently a _caballero_ bearing his own material burdens was a strange
sight in South America. The populace stared fixedly, in as impersonal a
way as ruminating oxen, and every few yards half-naked children,
evidently abetted by their elders, swarmed out upon us with shrill cries
of “Wan sheeling!”

We were soon reminded that we had left behind our power as well as our
emoluments. The proprietress whose oily Hebrew smile greeted us at the
hotel door was none other than one long “wanted” on the Zone on the
charge of running a disorderly house. The room she assigned us was
enormous, but the furnishings were scant and thin, the beds mere strips
of canvas, as befits a country of perennial midsummer. While we unpacked
and shaved, a ragged brown urchin slipped in with the Barranquilla
newspaper. In a characteristic burst of generosity Hays tossed him
double the price demanded—only to discover just after the vendor was out
of reach that the pauperise little sheet was twenty days old. It was a
“bunco game” so aged it had grown new again. Maria, the chambermaid,
already in the sear and yellow leaf, shuffled in frequently, supremely
indifferent to our scantiness of attire. Now and then several younger
females of decidedly African ancestry strolled by as nonchalantly, one
by one, to inquire whether we had any soiled clothes to wash, and
loitered about in a manner to suggest that the question was meant to be
taken figuratively. This friendliness was the general attitude of all
the town. Outwardly at least we were shown no discourtesy, and there was
little confirmation of the reputed hatred of Americans. Yet almost from
the moment of our landing we noted that Colombians seemed to avoid
speaking to us beyond the requirements of business or the cut and dried
forms of their habitual politeness. Still, with only an anemic candle to
flicker its pale shadows on the enclosing wall of the droning tropical
night, we settled down to the conclusion that Colombia, alleged the
deadly enemy of all things American and “heretical,” was less black than
she had been painted.

[Illustration:

One of the wood-burning steamers of the lower Magdalena, on the route
to Bogotá]

[Illustration:

Along the Magdalena we halted several times each day for fuel, the
villagers looking idly on while the crew carried many a woodpile on
board across a precarious gangplank]

We had reached the land of easy money. Merely to step into a bank with a
$5 bill was to emerge with a bulging roll of $500. We could not repress
a millionaire swagger when we tossed a hundred-dollar note on the
counter to pay for a pair of socks, though it quickly wilted when a few
nickel pieces were tendered in change. Hays dropped into a dingy little
hole-in-the-wall to buy a cigar, but though it was certainly the only $5
cigar he had ever strutted behind, he soon tossed it away in disgust.
The newcomer is apt to be startled when he hears a Colombian casually
mention paying $10,000 for a mule—until he realizes that the speaker is
really talking in cents. The Colombian notes, even those of the
intrinsic value of our copper coin, are elaborately engraved, and the
wonder grew how the Government could afford to print them.

For those who will exert themselves, even in the tropics, there is a
splendid view of all Cartagena from La Popa, a hill standing forth
Gibraltar-like above the inner harbor, on its nose a massive old church
and fortress combined. From it the cruder details of the town, the
startling pink and sky-blue of newer walls and balconies, fade to the
general inconspicuousness of the more age-mellowed houses. The ancient
red-tile roofs blend artistically into the patches of greensward and the
light pink of royal poinciana trees; the whole city, edged by the
landward-leaning cocoanut palms, is framed by a sea stretching away on
either hand to the world’s end.

The half-grown Colombian of forty in charge of La Popa and the telescope
and telephone by which incoming ships are reported, changed gradually
from canny distrust to garrulous curiosity and invited us to inspect his
entire domain. The purely academic dislike of Americans we soon found
was overcome with little effort by those who addressed men of his class
in their own tongue. Conversation at length drifted to sanitation in
Panama, Colombia’s “rebel province,” as he called it. The fort-keeper
listened to our tales in loose-jawed wonder and summed up his opinions
of such gringo superstitions with:

“But here we do none of those things, señores! The mosquitos prick us
every day, yet we are well.”

Our strange notion that disease could be carried by a mere insect was as
absurd to him as was to us his own habit of relying for health on the
plaster saint in the vaulted fortress church.

Even in Panama information on travel in Colombia had been almost as
lacking as trustworthy reports on the interior conditions of Mars. Only
once in my five months on the Canal Zone had I run across even an
ostensible source of knowledge. He was a native of Cali, and his answers
had been distinctly Latin-American.

“Does it rain much in your country?” I had asked him.

“Sí, señor, when it rains it is wet. When it doesn’t it is dry.”

“Is it cold?”

“Sí, señor, in the cold places it is cold, and in the hot places it is
hot. _No hay reglas fixas_—there are no fixed rules.”

“How far is it from Cali to Popayán?”

“Ah, it is not near, señor.”

“About a hundred miles, perhaps?”

“Sí, señor, just about that.”

“Isn’t it rather about three hundred?”

“Pués, sí, señor, perhaps just about that.”

There the matter had stood when we sailed.

Once arrived in Cartagena, however, we found that a toy train left next
day for Calamar on the Magdalena and that a second-class ticket to
Honda, wherever that was, cost $2000! We had barely crammed ourselves
into two seats of the little piano-box car next day when Hays started up
with a snort and thrust the morning newspaper across at me. Done into
English the item that had drawn his attention ran:

“SOME ONE

who merits our entire confidence, informs us that yesterday there
were in the city, taking photographic views of our forts and most
important edifices, two foreign individuals who wore clothing of
military cut of the cloth called _khaki_, and felt hats with wide
brim. This costume, as it has been described to us, is that of the
army of the United States! Can these really be American soldiers, or
has a great outward similarity caused the suspicious imagination to
see that which in reality did not exist? We cannot assure it!”

We had hardly aspired to be taken for a hostile invasion from the
dreaded “Colossus of the North.” It was characteristic of Latin-American
thinking processes for the paragrapher to fancy that spies—for such the
item covertly dubbed us—would appear in uniform. We had yet to learn,
however, that the makers of newspaper, and of public opinion, in so far
as it exists, in South America would often rank in our own land as
irresponsible and poorly trained school-boys.

The miniature train, ambling away in a morning unoppressive in spite of
the tropical sunshine, wound through a thin jungle, sometimes climbing,
more often stopping at languorous, staring, thatched villages, in a
region suffering from drought but of fertile appearance. By and by the
jungle gave way to what might almost have been called prairie, slightly
rolling and used only for grazing. Toward noon, beyond some swampy land,
we clattered into the carelessly whitewashed town of Calamar, drowsing
on the sandy bank of the Magdalena, here a half mile wide. Even before
we jolted to a halt, the car filled with a struggling mob of beggars,
shrill-voiced boys, and tattered men, eager, in their indolent tropical
way, for some easy errand. Such unwonted energy soon evaporated. The
population was of as mongrel a mixture as the yellow dogs that slunk
about in the shade of trees and house walls, and appeared to hold
identically the same attitude toward life.

At length, in the cool of the following evening, the “Alicia” began to
plow her way slowly upstream. She was a three-story craft with a huge
paddle-wheel at the stern, her lower deck crowded with unassorted
freight, domestic animals, engines and wood-piles, with deck hands,
native passengers, pots and pans and unattractive habits. Among the most
conspicuous of the latter were those of an open-air den that served as
general kitchen. Twice a day a small tub of rice, boiled plantains and
some meat mystery, all cooked in a single kettle, was carried out on one
of the barges alongside, where it was fallen upon not only by the
lower-deck passengers but by the even darker-skinned deck hands, dressed
in what had once been trousers and the wear-forever shirts so popular in
this region. A few owned spoons and others a piece of cocoanut shell,
but these were no handicap to the majority, armed only with the utensils
of nature. Little had we suspected the meaning of “second-class” on the
Magdalena!

Luckily the English agent of the line had been so shocked at sight of
our tickets, particularly, perhaps, in the hands of Hays, who was in
appearance the hero of any of our modern romantic novels stepping bodily
forth from the cardboard of any of our popular illustrators, that he had
ordered the steward to overlook the color thereof and treat us as cabin
passengers. On the upper deck the steamer was open from stem to stern, a
dining table stretching along her center and the sides lined by frail,
box-like “staterooms.” The little canvas cots, narrow as the _charpoys_
of India, used alike by passengers and the unlaundered youths that
passed for stewards, were dragged to any part of the craft that suited
the whims of the sleeper. Our drinking water was the native Magdalena,
sometimes carelessly filtered through a porous stone. There was even a
shower-bath—when the paddle-wheel was elevating enough of the
chocolate-colored river water to permit it to “function”—but it
generally took most of the morning and all the stewards to find the
misplaced key.

Frequently for days at a time there were only the two of us to occupy
the cane rocking-chairs that embellished the upper foredeck. Here day
after day we watched the monotonous yellow bank unroll with infinite
slowness, like a film clogged in the machine. The country, flat,
considerably wooded, and characterless, stood only a few feet above the
river, its soil sandy, though not without fertility, with occasional
clearings and many immense spreading trees. Here and there on the
extreme edge of the stream hung a few scattered thatched villages, all
apparently engaged in the favorite occupation of doing nothing, living
on the few fruits and vegetables that grew themselves and drinking the
yellow Magdalena pure.

At such times there was nothing left but to while away the languid hours
in perfecting our plans for the journey ahead. For once I had chanced
upon a traveling companion who had actually started when the hour of
departure came, and who bade fair to pursue the expedition to the bitter
end. Leo Hays had first seen the light—such as it is in Missouri—six
months later than I, but had overcome that initial handicap by
deflecting the sun’s rays in many a varying clime. The schools had early
scowled upon him—or he upon them—and he had retaliated by gathering in
his own way much that schools have never hoarded away in their
impregnable warehouses. The gleaning had carried him far afield, in
social strata as well as physical distance, but it had left him
unburdened with the bric-a-brac of life so dear to the bourgeois soul.
Wasteful of money and the petty things of life, he was never wasteful of
life itself. He was of those who look at the world through a wide-angle
lens. There is a breadth of vision gained in an existence varying from
“hobo” printer and editor in our pulsating Southwest to sugar estate
overseer in the Guianas, from the forecastle to the Moro villages of the
Philippines, that makes a formal education seem cramped and restricted
by comparison. To those who did not know the Canal Zone in its halcyon
days a mere corporal of police demanding of himself the ability to
converse intelligently a half hour on any subject from astronomy to
Norse literature, from heraldry to Urdu philosophy, may seem a fantastic
figure. To the experienced “Zoner” it is commonplace.

On Sunday morning the entire village of Zambrano, headed by its curate
and dressed in every imaginable misfit of sun-bleached gaiety, swarmed
on board and subjected us to a leisurely detailed examination that gave
us the sensation of being museum exhibits. The “Alicia” was soon off
again and we came to the conclusion that the town was migrating en
masse. A few hundred yards beyond, however, we tied up to the bank once
more and waited a long hour while all Zambrano took leave of the priest.
Every inhabitant under fifteen kissed his hand, which each of the women
pressed fervently, some several times over, after which the men
approached him in procession, padre and layman throwing an arm about
each other’s neck and slapping each other some seven times each between
the shoulder-blades. It was only the customary Colombian _abrazo_ and
the formality of seeing the curate a little way on his journey.
Meanwhile our half-Indian boy captain stood smilingly by, twisting the
two tiny sprigs of mustache that gave him so striking a resemblance to a
Chinese mandarin turned river pirate. He was far too good a Catholic to
cut short the leave-taking even had he guessed that anyone on board
chaffed at the delay. The day was much older before we crawled out into
the middle of the stream again. But no man journeys up to Bogotá
hastily. The Land of Hurry was behind us.

When we addressed him, the priest answered us courteously enough, then
dropped the conversation in a manner to suggest that he did not care to
pursue it further. Like his fellow-countrymen in general he seemed to
have no hunger for knowledge, no notion that he might learn from others.
The attitude of all the upper-deck passengers was as if an edict had
gone forth to dislike Americans. Individually none had any grievance
against us, collectively they seemed banded together in a species of
intellectual boycott, which none of them vented to the extent of losing
his reputation for politeness. Their manner suggested pouting children,
unwilling to declare their fancied grievances and fight them out like
men.

There were a half dozen of us at table that evening, with the priest in
the place of honor at the head. The meal passed without a spoken word,
at racehorse speed. It recalled a placard I had seen in a Texas
restaurant on my journey southward: “Eat first, THEN talk,” and amid the
opening chorus Hays’ memory harked back to a sign that once embellished
a Bowery institution: “Soup should be seen and not heard.” That we
paused for speech between mouthfuls seemed to fill our companions with a
mixture of disgust and amazement. It was perilous, too, for ragged,
barefooted waiters more numerous than the diners, hovered over us, quick
to snatch away the plate of anyone who dared raise his head. How unlike
the sociable meals of Spain was this silent wolfing!

Their own parents could not have distinguished one meal from another.
The soup was always of the general collection variety, the two
vegetables incessantly the same; the beef varied from the hopelessly
tough to the suspiciously tender; for the system on the river steamers
of the Magdalena is to slaughter a steer on the lower deck the first
morning of the voyage and serve it twice daily until passengers are
unanimous in leaving their plates untouched, then regretfully to lead
another gloomy, raw-boned animal forth to slaughter. Yet no one could
have complained on the score of quantity. We no longer wondered at the
sallow flabbiness of those about us in spite of their life in the open
air.

The voracious engines of the “Alicia” required more halting than
movement. Barely had we left the faint lights of Calamar astern when we
tied up for hours before a woodpile in the edge of the jungle, and never
did a half day pass without a long halt to replenish the fuel. The sight
of a bamboo hut or a cluster of thatched shacks crouched in a little
semicircular space gouged out of the immense forest was sure to bring a
shrill scream from the whistle and in the soft air of evening we crawled
up to a tiny clearing where perhaps thirty cords of wood lay awaiting a
purchaser. They were heavy slabs some three feet long, the piles
separated by upright poles into divisions called _burros_, the
conventional load, perhaps, of one ass. On the utter edge of the bank
hung a miserable little hut swarming with dogs and equally unwashed
human beings. There were the usual endless manoeuvers to a mooring, then
the entire crew went ashore on the heels of the captain, armed with his
measuring stick. He and the woodsman, a sturdy, bashful fellow, gave
each other the customary greeting pat on the shoulder, then stood a long
time, each with a hand on the woodpile, discussing the details of the
imminent financial transaction.

But they could not come to terms, and at length the steamer population
returned on board and for ten minutes with much ringing of bells and
screeching of whistles the “Alicia” went through the pretence of getting
under way. The woodsman held his ground, though his wood looked as if he
had already held it several years. At length we returned to the same
mooring and a wash-basin of boiled beef and plantains was carried ashore
as a peace offering. This time we struck a bargain, and the two
populations exchanged places. The countrymen, of all ages and both
sexes, many with evidences of loathsome diseases, one limping on a foot
white with leprosy, swarmed into every corner of the craft, gazing
open-mouthed at her unbelievable magnificence, sitting cautiously down
in the deck chairs, thrusting their fingers into the saucers of dessert
that had been set out an hour or two before meal time to give the flies
fair play, passing from hand to hand anything that caught their fancy.
Their protruding bellies suggested that the hookworm was prevalent. The
men wore over one shoulder a satchel-like pouch called a _garniel_, for
their clothing was not such as might safely have been entrusted with
their minor possessions.

Meanwhile we had taken advantage of the opportunity to stretch our legs
ashore, for whatever their faults these jungle people are not addicted
to thievery. Under the edge of the forest, into the dense green depths
of which we could wander a little way amid a wealth of woodland aromas
and the fitful songs of birds, was planted a little field of corn, the
stalks a full ten feet high, even the ears in many cases well above our
heads, though the jungle was thick between the rows and there was no
sign of other labor than the planting. A bit of sugarcane grew as
luxuriantly, and behind the hut stood a crude _trapiche_, or cane
crusher, a mere stump and lever above a dug-out trough. Palm, gourd,
mango, and papaya trees, the females of the latter heavy with fruit and
the males gay with yellow blossoms, suggested that the spot might have
been one of the most flourishing gardens on earth had the inhabitants
any other industry or desire than to roll about on their earth floors.
From a corner of the patch the stewards cut long reeds and made trumpets
of exactly the sound of army bugles.

The houses of the region are very simply built. Four posts, some six
inches in diameter and rising as many feet above the ground, are set at
the corners of the house to be. Halfway between these are set four
smaller upright poles, giving each wall three supports. Along the tops
of these, saplings about four inches in diameter are tied with green
vines, after which pole rafters are raised. Across these, six to eight
inches apart, are laid strips of split bamboo, also tied with vines. The
roof is then thatched with dried banana leaves, laid lengthwise with the
slope of the roof, those underneath secured by being bent over the
bamboo strips, and layer after layer of them piled on until the thatch
is a foot or more thick. Two poles, tied some distance apart with green
vines, are then thrown over the peak of the roof to keep a sudden gust
of wind from lifting the shelter off the dwellers’ heads, and the
residence is ready for occupancy.

The deck hands, each wearing on his head a grain sack split up one side,
stood in file beside the diminishing woodpile. When his turn came, each
grasped the end of his sack in the right hand and held the arm at full
length while others heaped it high with cordwood. As soon as he had what
he considered a reasonable amount, the carrier threw a rope held in his
left hand over the load, caught it deftly in the already burdened right
and, pulling it taut, marched down some twenty feet of perpendicular
sandy bank and across a wobbly eight-inch plank without a quiver. We
envied them the exercise at every landing, but even to have carried a
stick on board would have been not only to lose our own caste but to
jeopardize that of all our fellow-countrymen.

Nothing would be more futile than to attempt to describe the tropical
sunset, exceeded in beauty, if at all, only by sunrise, as it spread
across this flat jungle and forest country, the curving river and
woodlands. On into the night the languid wood loading continued, lighted
up in irregular patches by the lamps of the steamer and flickering oil
torches ashore. Long after dark, as the last of the _burros_ was
disappearing, the jungle dweller came on board in person and fixed upon
me to figure up how much he had coming, openly putting his faith in a
foreigner in preference to a native. There were 119 burros, for which he
was to receive fourteen cents each. It totalled $16.66, or, as it
sounded to him, $1666, and by and by the purser, who would no doubt have
beaten him a few hundred dollars in the multiplication but for my
pencil, came out of his cabin with an Australian gold sovereign and an
immense handful of Colombian bills. I asked the recipient how long he
had worked to get the pile together and received the expected South
American answer:

[Illustration:

The stewards of the “Alicia” in full uniform]

[Illustration:

Hays catches his first glimpse of the jungles of Colombia]

“Ay! Muchos soles, señor,—many suns,” which of course was as exact as he
could be about it. Strangely enough he resisted the wheedling of the
ragged stewards to exchange his fortune for the cheap straw hats and
brass rings they carried for sale and got safely ashore with the entire
handful of what, in these wilds, could not have been of any great
practical value.

As we pushed off, the captain announced that we had wood enough to last
until the following noon. One would have fancied we had enough to last
to the seventh circle and back. Here we could still “march” all night,
for the river was deep in spite of its great width. As we sat in
solitary glory on the upper deck watching the blood-red moon come up out
of the jungle, Hays suddenly broke off a dissertation on the philosophy
of life of Marcus Aurelius to exclaim:

“We ought to swear off on this. If we’re going to walk along the top of
the Andes we’ll need all the chest expansion we’ve got,” and suiting the
action to the word, he chucked his half-smoked $5 cigar overboard. It
was not until late next morning that I saw him light the next one.

“But I thought you’d sworn off?” I reminded him.

“That’s the great value of resolutions,” he answered, “you make them to
break them and feel the genuine freedom of life. But to-morrow I’ll
swear off in earnest”—which he did, almost daily as long as the journey
lasted. Meanwhile, my birthday making a good date for it, I gave up the
habit definitely myself, none too sure of its effect in the lofty
altitudes before us.

We moved at about the speed of a log-raft towed by a sunfish. Whenever
there was danger of our making a reasonable Colombian distance the
whistle was sure to sound and we drifted inshore to tie up for hours
before another woodpile. Sometimes the flat, disappointing banks of the
river were sheer for miles, with unbroken stretches of swamp grass six
feet high so dense it did not seem that a snake could have wormed its
way through it. The cerulean blue skies were equal to any of Italy, the
light clouds wandering lazily across them sometimes forming in battle
array on the rim of the horizon. Here and there were considerable fields
of sugarcane about a thatched village; but the vast fertile territory
was almost entirely virgin and uncleared. One morning a cry of “Caimán!”
called attention to a point of sand on which lay a score of alligators,
most of which slid sluggishly off into the stream as we approached.
Thereafter we had only to glance along the banks to be almost sure of
seeing several.

For some days Hays and I had made up the deck passenger list unassisted,
sitting through our meals in dignified silence with some half-dozen
waiters to miswait on us—when we could get their attention—headed by the
chief steward, who never tired of boasting that he had once made cigars
in the shadow of Ancon police station. His underlings received six
dollars a month, such food as they could forage, and the right to wear
what the passage of years had left of misfit cotton uniforms, to be
turned in at the end of the trip. They were obliged to pay for all
breakages, and life was indeed slender with only two economical gringos
as passengers. The arrival of a new _pasajero_ was in consequence always
an exciting event. Five days up, in the region known as the Opón
country, there appeared on board a native trapper of wild animals, who
had been shot through the face by an arrow of the savage Opones, but had
performed the rare feat of making his escape. Colombia includes within
her confines several tribes of Indians not only uninfluenced by the
government, but without an inkling of its existence. The Opones live far
back along the tributaries of the Magdalena, descending them only in
certain seasons, and attacking any human beings they come upon. Armed
with a species of arch-bow, they shoot an enormous arrow with a point of
iron-hard black palm barbed both ways, that can neither be pushed
through nor pulled out of the body of the victim. The arrow the trapper
brought with him could barely be forced into his long trunk after being
broken in two, and five cruel barbs still remained after several others
had been cut off and left in the body of his former companion. A few
weeks before, he reported, a harmless fellow fishing somewhat back from
the main river had been made the veritable pincushion of thirty-two such
arrows. The trapper had it that the Opones were cannibals, asserting
that a recent expedition into the Opón country had found a Colombian
woman of good family who was being fattened in a cage of bamboo, but
whom the savages had not yet eaten because of a suspicious sore on her
leg.

Gradually low shadowy mountains began to appear in the far blue
distance, with suggestions of higher ones in the clouds behind them. On
the seventh day a long rugged chain, the Sierra de Peraja in the
Province of Santander, had grown so near that separate peaks and
suggestions of villages could be picked out of the sunlit distance. Next
morning we were half surrounded by deep blue ranges, and the banks were
broad natural meadows with hundreds of cattle knee-deep in rich green
grass. Magnificent spreading trees now stood out against the sky and
ranges. The nights had grown so cool that we took to sleeping in our
“stateroom”—with barely room enough left to sneeze when our cots had
been dragged in. Here we began to go aground frequently, for the
tendency of the Magdalena is to spread out more and more as her sandy
banks keep falling into the river. At our speed the experience was
hardly hair-raising, and generally in the course of a few hours the
“Alicia” worked herself loose again. There were almost no other water
craft, except an occasional _canoa_, a dug-out log crawling along the
extreme lower edge of the forest wall. Now and then we passed large
_balsas_, rafts of hundreds of immense cedar logs, with the Colombian
flag at the prow and the crew camped aft with mat beds, primitive
kitchens, and sometimes their women and a numerous progeny. Great trees,
which the captain called _ceibas_, rose slim and clear more than a
hundred feet, to end in a parasol tuft of branches. Frequently a flock
of parrakeets screamed noisily by overhead. In places we crawled along
between sheer sand banks, gigantic trees of the dense forest hanging on
the brink of miniature Culebra slides as the river washed under them.

Higher still the stream grew so shallow that we could “march” only by
day, anchoring at dark. One night we tied up to the bank on an inner
curve of the river, where the forest cut off the breeze completely and
left us to toss in our cots until dawn. Its first glimmer of light
showed that we had reached Pureto Berrío, where a little narrow-gage
starts—I use the word advisedly, for it never gets there—for Medellín,
second city of Colombia. The “port” itself suspended whatever it was in
the habit of doing to stare at us in long silent rows from the doorways.
Its male population not only wore no shirt but did not even trouble to
conceal that fact by buttoning its tattered sun-bleached jacket. All the
natives seemed obsessed with the notion that, as gringos, we could not
speak Spanish. As often as we addressed one, though our Castilian
vocabulary was as ample and our pronunciation far less slovenly than his
own, he refused to believe his senses until the sensation had been
several times repeated.

We were off again by noon. It had been raining in the highlands beyond
and the visibly rising river was half covered with patches of thick
scum. Now and then it bore by on its swift silent surface a fragment of
forest snatched from somewhere above. We were now some hundreds of feet
above sea-level, and the forest air was fragrant and unfevered. All day
long nothing but forest trailed by. We passed timber enough in a week to
supply the world for a century and rich soil enough to feed a large
section of it permanently. But only very rarely did a little bamboo hut,
roofed with leaves, dot the monotony of virgin nature. The river had
narrowed down to a placid powerful stream; the weather was peerless,
though an almost invisible gnat began to make life less motionless.

In the purple gloaming a forest-built village of some size stood out
more picturesquely than usual on the nose of a land billow jutting forth
and falling sheer into the river, only to have the interminable forest
swallow it up again. Yet there were signs that we were approaching
somewhere or other. Hays sat with his feet on the rail, discoursing on
the relative merits of Turgeniev and Galdós, the point of his “last”
cigar glowing in the darkness, when the captain passed with a package
wrapped in the customary inefficiency of Latin-America.

“Here, I used to be one,” said Hays, reaching for the bundle and
rearranging it.

“Used to be what?” I asked, as he handed it back.

“I was walking along the street of—of—well I don’t remember the stage
setting, but it must have been in the States and a long time ago,” he
began, lighting a second cigar from the butt of the first, “for I know I
hadn’t been to sea or in the army yet, when I saw a sign in a window,
‘Bundle Wrapper Wanted.’ I had to pass up a hundred per as outside man
for a medicine faker to take it, but it was something new and …” and
he rambled off into one of those experience sketches which, jumping
erratically over the face of the globe, frequently enlivened the voyage.

In the last hours of June we bumped against the wharf of La Dorada,
several hundred yards of tinware building along a sloping river front
with a childish attempt at paving, its main street a forlorn pathway
near the water’s edge, dying away in the forest-jungle on either hand.
Here we took our leave of the “Alicia,” for cataracts make this the end
of the run for steamers plying the lower Magdalena. Next afternoon a
train even more diminutive than that to Calamar wound away in a half
circle into the forest, with now and then glimpses of hazy, far-off
Andean ranges, and three hours later set us down in Honda. To our
surprise we found it a city, the first since Cartagena, as aged and
intricate, as full of its own local color, including many blind and
leprous beggars, as any town of old Spain. Piled close along the
Magdalena, here a series of rocky rapids, it is divided by a gurgling
tributary across which three picturesque bridges fling themselves.
Scores of aged stone buildings, quaint walls, and steep streets of
century-old pavements give it an air reminiscent of Bruges or Nürnberg,
or of some of the ancient towns of Mexico. Its narrow streets are
crowded with laden mules and sunbrowned arrieros of both sexes; its
patios seem primeval forests, and mountain ranges cut its horizon close
off in every direction. A muleteer pointed out to us the ancient trail
to Bogotá where it crossed a high red bridge and climbed steeply away up
one of the natural walls of the town on the way to Facatativá on the
lofty plateau above. But for our baggage we should have struck out for
the capital on this route of centuries.

[Illustration:

A village on the banks of the Magdalena]

[Illustration:

Jirardot; end of the steamer line and beginning of the railroad to
Bogotá]

We went on by rail in the morning. Every woman and girl in the car—not
to mention Hays—was smoking the jet-black cigars of the region. The
little engine with its topheavy smokestack consumed wood as gluttonously
as the “Alicia,” and halted even more often to replenish its supply.
Colombians fancy railroads will work the complete regeneration of their
torpid country, but such as we had seen were only miniature samples of
the real thing, of slight practical value even were they extended all
over the republic. The natives had no notion, however, that the word
train did not stand for the same tiny contraptions the world over as
that to which they applied it.

On all sides were enormous stadiums of mountains, not yet high but
already bulking and rock-strewn. Drought had left the country desert-dry
and fine sand drifted in and deposited itself upon us in shrouds, as in
crossing Nevada. The landscape suggested a cross between the tropics and
a western prairie choking for rain, as did even the towns with their
frontiersman disarray, their burros, mules and broken-down horses
drooping in any patch of shade. Tattered boys and diseased loafers
swarmed into the cars at every stop, drinking from the water jars,
washing in the bowls of the first-class coach, making themselves
completely at home without a suggestion of protest from the trainmen.
Even were there laws against such actions, the languid officials would
have lacked the moral courage to enforce them.

The railway ended at Beltrán, where we boarded the steamer “Caribe.” A
dreary, sun-baked collection of sheds and a few choking huts made up the
town, completely surrounded by desert, with plenty of bushy trees, but a
desert for all that. The wind that swept across the steamer at her
mooring was not the cool one of the lower Magdalena, but one laden with
red-hot sands that stung the cheeks like tiny insects. When the
passengers had gulped their _almuerzo_, the dishes were piled in the
alleyway, where beggars and gaunt boys from the shore came to claw
around in them, after which they were roughly half-washed. There is a
fetching democracy about the road to Bogotá. He who travels it, be he
vagrant or man of wealth, must go through the same uninviting
experiences. It speaks poorly of Colombians that they still endure this
medieval method of travel from the outside world to their capital.
Wealthy _bogotanos_ journey to Europe in luxurious style—once they are
on the ocean. It would seem wiser for them to return steerage and
gradually accustom themselves to what they must endure from the landing
in their own country to the arrival in Bogotá.

All day long we sat in the sand-burning winds of Beltrán while barefoot
and half-naked stevedores dribbled down the steep bank with all manner
of cargo. There was barbed wire from Massachusetts, corrugated iron from
Pittsburg, boxed street-car lines that clattered and crashed as they
fell, and finally, though by no means last, four pianos from Germany
that were rolled heels over head down the long stony bank. Although we
had real cabin tickets this time, neither of us had influence enough to
get a cabin. We dragged our cots out on the open deck and, indifferent
to social rules, marched through the multitude in our pajamas. This
turned out to be entirely comme il faut, for even the son of a recent
president of Colombia soon appeared similarly clad and strolled about
the deck chattering with his fellow-passengers of both sexes, as
nonchalantly as if in full dress.

We were not off until dawn, into which the volcano Ruiz, first of the
long row of snow-clad fire-vents of the Andes which we hoped in time to
see disappear over our shoulders, thrust its aged head. Rock cliffs
along the banks recalled the Lorelei. Fields of corn undulated like
wind-snatched hair on the summits of rounded hills, at the base of which
sweltered the banana groves of the tropics. As the sun was setting we
passed a _chorro_ at the foot of a low range around which the river had
swept in a half-circle so many centuries that its bank was a sheer rock
wall surely sixty feet high. The “Caribe,” with the nose of a washtub,
panted for life against the current, spitting showers of live coals from
her wood fires, seeming several times about to give up the attempt in
despair. But she gained the calmer water above at last and soon after
dark landed us in Jirardot.

We spent the Fourth of July in Jirardot. Not by choice, but because the
train to the capital leaves only three times a week. The town swelters
by day on the edge of the curving river, here hardly fifty yards wide,
where for more than a mile stretches a vista of donkeys laden with kegs
of water, bands of women, all more or less African in ancestry, bathing,
washing, and incessantly smoking immense misshapen cigars, as do even
the children of both sexes that paddle stark naked about the bank in
complete immunity to the blazing sun. The place seemed the headquarters
of contented poverty. At least half the inhabitants either had not
enough sun-bleached garments to completely conceal their dusky skins, or
had laid them away for more gala occasions. Beggars, halt, blind,
misformed and idiotic, were almost as numerous as in similar towns of
India. Even the less miserable inhabitants were dull, neurasthenic,
utterly devoid of energy, anemics with incessant smoking, bad food, and
worse habits, given to living entirely according to their appetites and
never according to will power and reason.

It was not without misgiving that we turned our faces toward Bogotá next
morning. The crowd which the train from the plateau had landed the night
before had been half hidden under the rugs, blankets, and overcoats they
carried, and not a native of Jirardot could speak of the capital without
visibly shivering, some even crossing themselves as often as they heard
it mentioned. The train left at sunrise. By the rules of the line—the
“Ferrocarril de Jirardot”—we were obliged to check our baggage
containing all extra clothing. For the first few hours we were
surrounded by mountains, though still on a slightly rising plain between
them. The land appeared fertile and there was considerable Indian corn,
yet it was surprising to find here in the capacious New World such
swarms of beggars as in Egypt or India. The population along the way,
increasingly Indian in blood, was extraordinarily slow-witted. In a
window near us sat a commercial traveler who tossed at every one he
caught sight of along the way a pictorial advertisement of an American
panacea. The tail of the train was always well past them before a single
one gathered his wits sufficiently to pick up the treasure.

Near noon we were ourselves picked out by a mountain-climbing engine,
made in Schenectady, its boiler well forward and flanked by the water
tanks, a small upright coalbin behind. As we began a series of
switchbacks, I caught a breath of virile white man’s air for the first
time in a half year, and the taste of it was so delicious that the
sensation reached to my tingling toes. Regularly the vista of gouged-out
valleys surrounded by rough-hewn, cool, blue ranges spread to greater
distances. Passengers began to turn red-nosed, to put on overcoats,
blankets, rugs, ponchos, gloves, to wrap towels about their necks. To me
the temperature was delightful, but Hays, who had been long years in the
tropics, took to applying other adjectives.

Now the landscape of meadows and grazing cattle backed by towering
mountains suggested Switzerland. Beyond the one tunnel of the line we
entered an immense valley walled by row upon row of blue ranges. Higher
still, the bleak, stony highlands resembled a more rugged Scotland in
late October, though cultivation was almost general and roads numerous.
It struck us as strange that human beings should shiver and toil for a
scant livelihood in such surroundings when a day’s walk would bring them
to perpetual summer and nature’s well filled larder. A plant must remain
where it chances to be born, but why should man also?

By four, the train had finished its task of lifting its breathless
passengers into the thin air of Facatativá, and scores of half-frozen
barefoot children and ragged adults dismally wandered the stony streets.
A policeman muffled to the ears assured us with what seemed a suggestion
of pride that Facatativá was even colder than Bogotá, for which Hays
gave fervent thanks. Evidently the heat of the tropics was yet in my
blood, for I still felt comfortable.

An hour later we were speeding across a broad plateau by the
“Ferrocarril de la Sabana,” a government railroad equipped with real
trains of American cars. All the languor and ragged indifference of the
tropics seemed to have been left forever behind. The conductor was as
business-like—and as light in color—as any in our own land. We stopped
briefly at towns boasting all the adjuncts of civilized life, somehow
dragged up to these lofty realms. Here was a country built from the
center outwardly; the nearer we came to its capital, the further we left
the world behind, the more modern and well furnished did it become. It
recalled fanciful tales of men who, toiling for weeks through unknown
wildernesses, suddenly burst forth upon an unknown valley filled with
all the splendors of an ancient kingdom.

Yet we could not but wonder why, once they had reached this lofty
plateau, the discoverers had not halted and built their city, instead of
marching far back across it to the foot of the enclosing range. A full
thirty-five miles the train fled across the _sabana_, an immense plain
in appearance like one of our north in early April, intersected here and
there by barbed-wire fences. Broad yellow fields of mustard appeared,
spread, and disappeared behind us. Great droves of cattle frisked about
in the autumn air as if to keep warm. Well-built country dwellings
flashed by, stony and bare in setting, but embellished with huge
paintings of landscapes on the walls under the veranda roofs. The sun
had barely smiled upon us since noon. Now as the day declined I began to
grow cold, bitter cold, colder than I had been since descending from the
Mexican plateau seven months before, while Hays’ hat brim shook with his
shivering. Our fellow-passengers looked like summer excursionists
unexpectedly caught in straw hats by grim, relentless winter. Then as
evening descended the plain came abruptly to an end, and at the very
foot of a forbidding black mountain range spread a cold, smokeless city
of bulking domes and towers. We had reached at last, after eighteen days
of travel, the most isolated of South American capitals.

Our entrance into Bogotá was not exactly what we had planned or
anticipated. The crowd that filled the station and its adjacent streets
in honor of the thrice-weekly linking with the outside world was dressed
like an American city in February, except that here black was more
general and choking high collars and foppish canes far more in evidence.
Wherefore, seeing two men of foreign aspect, visibly shivering in their
strange feather-weight uniforms, descending upon them, the pulsating
throng could be dispersed only with difficulty, and excited urchins
raced beside the horse car that set us down at last before a recommended
hotel. Hays, who was nothing if not self-conscious, as well as tropical
blooded, lost no time in putting on every wool garment his baggage
contained and dived under four blankets vowing never to be seen again in
public.

We seemed to have reached the very center of this incongruous
civilization of the isolated fastnesses of the Andes. Our suite took up
an entire second-story corner of the hotel. There were carpets in which
our feet sank half out of sight, capacious upholstered chairs, divans in
every corner, tables that might have graced a French château, pier glass
mirrors, gleaming chandeliers, lamps with double burners, in addition to
electric lights. Our parlor, its huge windows resplendent with lace
curtains, opened on a balcony overhanging the street, as did also the
adjoining bedroom, as richly furnished and with two old-fashioned
colonial bedsteads heaped high with mattresses, their many blankets
covered with glossy vicuña hides. We were far indeed from the
frontiersman steamers of the Magdalena. When the hunger of the highlands
asserted itself, we sneaked down to a luxurious dining-room to find the
menu and service equal to that of some travelers’ palace on the Champs
Elysées. The sumptuous breakfast that a maid placed beside our beds next
morning was a humorous contrast to those we had endured on the “Alicia.”
Yet all these luxuries, borne to this lofty isolation by methods the
most primitive known to modern days, were ours at the paltry rate of
$1.50 a day. Truly, the cost of high living had not yet reached the
altitude of Bogotá.

It was evident, however, that if we were to live here as anything but
public curiosities we must patronize a clothing store. The Zone costume,
so splendidly adapted to our future plans, was, unfortunately, original
for _bogotanos_; and nowhere does originality of garb cause greater
furore than in the mountain-cloistered capital of Colombia. When we
summoned up courage to venture forth, Hays dodged into the first tailor
shop that crossed his path, and instantly agreed to take whatever
happened to be offered him, at any price the tailor chose to inflict—and
returned to remain in hiding for the ensuing twenty-four hours until the
articles were altered. Meanwhile I sallied forth from a ready-made
establishment, inconspicuous in a native shirt that came perilously near
being born a pajama and a heavy, temporarily black, suit of “cashmere”
with a misgiving tightness across the trousers.

On second thought it was not surprising that this far away city of the
Andes should be so exacting in dress. Virtually cut off from the world,
it was supremely eager to appear cosmopolitan. The result is a tailor’s
paradise. No one who aspires to be ranked among the _gente decente_ ever
dreams of permitting himself to be seen in public lacking any detail of
the equipment, from derby to patent leathers, that makes up the
_bogotano’s_ mental picture of a Parisian boulevardier. At first we took
this multitude of faultlessly dressed men to mean that the city rolled
in wealth. As time went on many a dandy of fashion we had fancied a bank
president, or the son of some prince of finance, turned out to be a
side-street barber, or the keeper of a four-by-six book-stall, if not
indeed without even so legitimate a source of income. It is due, no
doubt, to some misinterpretation of the European fashion sheets that the
main street corners were habitually blocked long before noon by men and
youths in Prince Alberts, who spent the greater part of the day leaning
with Parisian nonchalance on silver-headed canes.

The women of the better class, on the other hand, are never seen
disguised as Parisians except on rare gala occasions. At morning mass,
or in their circumspect tours of shopping, they appear swathed from head
to foot in the black _manto_, a shawl-like thing of thin texture wound
about head and body to the hips and leaving only a bit of the face and a
bare glimpse of their blue-black hair visible. To us the costume was
pleasing in its simplicity. Bogotanos, however, complain that it is
_triste_—sad, and in time we too came to have that impression, as if the
sex had gone perpetually into mourning for the ways of its male
relatives.

The great underlying mass of the population has no requirements in the
matter of dress. In general the _gente del pueblo_—the “men of the
people”—wear shoddy trousers of indeterminate hue, _alpargatas_,—hemp
soles held in place by strips of canvas—without socks, a soiled “panama”
always very much out of place in this climate, and, covering all else, a
_ruana_, or native-woven blanket with a hole in the center through which
to thrust the head. Their women rarely wear black, but simple gowns of
some light color, at least on Sundays, after which its whiteness
decreases. They go commonly bareheaded, often barefooted, and always
stockingless. Every scene from street to Cathedral shrine is enlivened
by the bare legs of women and girls often decidedly attractive in
appearance—to those who have no great prejudice for the bath.

To be nearer the center of activities we had taken a room in the third
story of the municipal building, on the site of the palace of the
viceroys. Down below lay the main plaza of Colombia, Tenerani’s
celebrated statue of Bolívar in its center, the still unfinished capitol
building cutting it off on the right. Across the square we could look in
at the door of the ancient Cathedral—and shake our fists at its
constantly clanging bells. Beyond, much of the city spread out before
us, the thatched huts of misery spilling a little way up the foot of the
dismal black range that filled in the rest of the picture.

The altitude of Bogotá—it stands 8630 feet above the level of the
sea—seldom fails to impress itself upon the newcomer. Many travelers do
not risk the sudden ascent from Jirardot to the capital in a single day,
but stop over between trains at a halfway town. During the first days I
was content to march slowly a few blocks up and down her slightly
inclined streets, and even then found myself with the faint third cousin
of a headache, several mild attacks of nose bleed, and a soreness of all
the body as if from undue pressure of the blood. Until the first effects
wear away, energy is at its lowest ebb and time passes on leaden wings.
The change in mood is as marked as in the character of the permanent
inhabitants. From the moment of his arrival the traveler feels again
that foresighted, looking-to-the-future attitude toward life common to
the temperate zone. All the light, airy, gay and wasteful ways of Panama
and the tropics fade away like the memory of some former existence, and
it is easy to understand why the bogotano is quite different in
temperament from the languid inhabitants along the Magdalena. Unlike
many regions of high altitude, however, Bogotá is not a “nervous” city.
There are lower places in Mexico, for instance, where the nerves seem
always at a tension. Here we felt serene and unexcited all day long as
in the first hours of waking from long refreshing sleep.

Except in the actual sunshine, the air was raw even at noon. The wind
from off the backing range or across the sabana cut through our garments
as if they were of cheesecloth. The thermometer falls much lower in
other climes, but here artificial heat is unknown, and a more
penetrating cold is inconceivable. By night the bogotano wears an
overcoat of the greatest obtainable thickness, he dines and goes to the
theater in a temperature that would make outdoor New York in early
November seem cozy and hospitable. Well dressed men in gloves and
overcoats and women in furs walking briskly across the square below our
window on their way from the electric street cars to the theater or the
“Circo Keller,” gave the scene quite the appearance of a similar one in
an American town in the first days of winter. Yet this was July and we
were barely five degrees from the equator. Beside us lay the latest
newspapers from New York, half way to the north pole, bristling with
such items as: “Wanted—Cool rooms for the summer months.” “Four Dead of
Heat Prostration.” It is a peculiar climate. Flowers—of some Arctic
species—bloom perennially, and the poorer people, inured to it from
birth, seem to thrive in bare legs and summer garb. Frost is virtually
unknown, not because the temperature does not warrant it, but because
what would be frost elsewhere evaporates in the thin air. Once the sun
has set, nothing seems quite so attractive, whatever the plans made by
day, as to read for an hour huddled in all spare clothing, then to throw
open the windows and dive under as many blankets as a Minnesota farmer
in January. The bogotano does not, of course, believe in open windows.
Though he scorns a fire—or has never thought to build one—he has a
quaking fear of the night air, against which he charges a score of
diseases headed by the dreaded pneumonia of high altitudes. Those who
venture out at night habitually hold a handkerchief over mouth and
nostrils. Yet at least this can be said, that nowhere is sleep, if
properly tucked in, more sound and refreshing.

Within a week we found ourselves acclimated—or should I say
altitudinated—and took to exploring the city more thoroughly. The air
was still noticeably thin, but there was enough of it to furnish the
lung-fuel even for the five mile stroll up to the natural stone gateway
where the highway to the east clambers away through a notch and begins
the descent to Venezuela. Looking down upon it from here, the
misinformed traveler might easily fancy the broad sabana the sea-level
plains of some northern clime, never guessing that forty miles to the
west the world falls abruptly away into the torrid zone. For Bogotá is
chiefly remarkable for its location. Taken somewhere else it would be
like many another city of Spanish ancestry. Its streets are singularly
alike, wide, straight, a few paved in macadam, more in rough cobbles,
many grass-grown and all with a central line of flagstones worn smooth
by the feet of generations of carriers. The chiefly two-story houses toe
sidewalks so narrow that two can seldom pass abreast, and for those who
know Spain or her former colonies there is nothing unusual in the
architecture. The streets cross each other at solemn right angles, and
those which do not fade away on the plain fetch sharply up against the
rusty black range that backs the city. The system of street numbering is
excellent, that of the houses clumsy, and the former is marred by the
habit of the volatile government in changing familiar names as often as
some new or forgotten patriot is called to its attention. Thus the Plaza
San Augustín had been the Plaza Ayacucho up to a short time before our
arrival, yet before we left it had become the Plaza Sucre in honor of a
new statue of that general unveiled on Colombia’s Independence Day, July
twentieth. In like manner the Plaza de Egipto was transformed before our
very eyes into the Plaza de Maza. This weakness for honoring new heroes
is characteristic of the whole country. Not only are its provinces
frequently renamed, but in the short century since its independence, the
nation itself has basked under a half dozen titles,—to wit: “La Gran
Colombia”; “Nueva Granada”; “Confederación Granadina”; “Estados Unidos
de Nueva Granada”; “Estados Unidos de Colombia”; and, since 1885,
“República de Colombia”—and there are evidences that it is not yet
entirely satisfied.

It is less in its material aspects than in the ways of its population
that the traveler finds Bogotá interesting. About every inhabitant
hovers a glamour of romance. Either he has always lived in this
miniature world, or he has at least once made the laborious journey up
to it. The vast majority are born, live, and die here in their lofty
isolation. Shut away by weeks of wilderness from the outside world,
alone with its own little trials and triumphs, it seems something long
ago left behind up here under the chilly stars by a receding wave of
civilization. Small wonder its people consider their city the center of
the universe. Those who travel a little way out into the world see
nothing to compare with it; the scant minority that reach Paris are
credited with fervid imaginations, if indeed the picture of what they
have seen is not effaced during the long toilsome journey back to their
own beloved capital. Perhaps no other city of to-day is more nearly what
a newly discovered one must have been to the happy explorers of earlier
times. Now and then there comes upon the traveler the regret that it is
not entirely cut off instead of nine-tenths so. A region fitted for the
development of its own customs, had it been left to its aboriginal
Chibchas it might have evolved a civilization entirely its own,
altogether different, and not this rather crumpled copy of familiar
world capitals.

Bogotá is decidedly a white man’s city. Indeed there is hardly another
of its size south of the Canadian border in which the percentage of pure
white complexions is higher. On rare occasions a negro who had drifted
up from the hot lands below sat huddled in the main plaza in all the
blankets and ruanas he could borrow, but his face was sure soon to be
numbered among the missing. Brunettes predominate, of course, but blonds
are by no means rare. The bootblack who served us now and then was a
decided towhead. Red cheeks are almost the rule. Slight atmospheric
pressure, bringing the blood nearer the surface, no doubt largely
accounts for this, but there are many other evidences of general good
health. At this altitude the violation of most of the rules of
sanitation are lightly punished. The temperature, cold enough to be
invigorating yet not so cold as to require our health-menacing
artificial heat, combined with its simple, placid life, makes Bogotá a
town of plump, robust figures, particularly among the women, unmarked by
the dissipation common to the males. Many of the former may frankly be
termed beautiful, in spite of a wide-spread tendency of the sex to wear
distinctly noticeable black mustaches. Unfortunately the men of the
well-to-do class are not believers in exercise, or the systematic caring
for the body. Scorning every unnecessary physical exertion, letting
themselves grow up haphazard, they are noticeably round-shouldered and
hollow-chested. An American long resident in the city seriously advised
us to “get a hump into your shoulders so you won’t attract so much
attention.”

Even the descendants of the Chibchas, that make up much of the
population of the outskirts and the surrounding country, have a tinge of
russet in their cheeks, and are by no means so dark as our
copper-skinned aborigines. Daily they swarm into the city that was once
theirs. Short, yet sturdy, muscular carriers and arrieros, as often
female as male, pass noiselessly through the streets with the produce of
their country patches. Girls barely ten, to old women, many of comely
features in spite of the encrusted dirt of years, more often so
brutalized by toil as to seem hardly human, dressed in matted rags,
their feet and legs bare almost to the knees, plod past under burdens an
American workman could not carry a hundred yards. Early in the wintry
plateau mornings they set out from their _chozas_, cobblestone or mud
hovels thatched with the tough yellow-brown grass of the uplands, that
are huddled in the mountain passes or strewn out along the wind-swept
sabana, driving a bull—rarely a steer, since the former animal loses
much of his belligerency at this altitude—on its back a load little
larger than that which the female driver, with a strap about her brow,
carries herself. They are all but indistinguishable from the men who
tramp beside them. A patchwork skirt instead of tattered trousers is
almost the only difference in dress, and their manner is utterly devoid
of any feminine touch. Brawny as the men, they march through all the
hardships of life as sturdily and uncomplainingly as our early pioneers,
asking sympathy neither by word nor look. It is a commonplace sight in
Bogotá to see a mere girl in years grasp the nose-ring rope of a bull
and throw him to his knees, or lay hold of a cinch-strap in her
calloused hands and, with one foot against the animal’s ribs, tighten
the girth with the skill of an experienced arriero. Girls and boys alike
are trained from their earliest years to this life of bovine toil, never
looking forward to any other. Of the existence of schools they have
hardly an inkling. To them life is bounded by their cheerless hovels and
the _chicherías_ of the city, numerous as the _pulquerías_ of Mexico. In
every corner of the capital these low drinking shops abound,
masquerading under such misnomers as “El Nido de Amor”—“The Love
Nest,”—and overrun by their besotted votaries of both sexes. Yet the
bogotano Indian drunk is quiet and peaceful compared with the Mexican,
for _chicha_ seems chiefly to bring drowsiness and contentment with life
as it is.

[Illustration:

Bogotá and its _sabana_ from the summit of Guadalupe]

[Illustration:

The central plaza of Bogotá from the window of our room. In the center
is the famous statue of Bolívar by Tenarani; on the right, the new
_capitolio_; in the middle foreground the Cathedral, backed by the
peaks of Guadalupe and Monserrate]

Ever since our arrival Hays and I had been threatening to patronize one
of the two public bath houses with a first-class bogotano reputation
rumor had it existed in the capital. But in a land where the temperature
rarely reaches fifty, and the floors are tiled, it takes courage, and we
had been satisfying ourselves and our duty to humanity by bravely
splashing a basin of icy water over our manly forms each morning on
arising. By dint of strong resolutions often repeated to be up at six
and visit one of the _casas de baños_, we did finally manage one morning
to find ourselves wandering the streets by eight, with towel and soap
under our arms, and stared at by all we met. We discovered “La Violeta”
at last, next door to a blacksmith shop. The keeper we woke up told us
we might have a cold bath, but that the sign on the front wall: “Hot
Baths at all Hours,” was to be taken with a bogotano meaning.

A few mornings later we did actually find the other establishment open.
We entered a large patio, the most striking of several buildings within
which was a round, or, more exactly, an eight-sided house, and in time
succeeded in arousing the place to the extent of bringing down upon us a
youth hugely excited at the appearance of a crowd of two whole bathers
all at one time. It turned out that each of the eight sides of the
strange building was—theoretically—a bathroom of the shape of a slice of
cake, with a frigid tile floor and an aged porcelain tub in which a bath
cost only $10. At the back was a larger, though none the less dreary,
chamber with a _regadera_, or shower-bath. The youth assured us there
was plenty of hot water. I won the toss and was soon stripped. But the
shower was colder than the ice-fields bounding the pole. When I had
caught my breath I bawled my repertory of profane Spanish at the youth,
who could be seen through a hole above pottering with some sort of
upright boiler and firebox and now and then peering down upon me.
Suddenly the water grew warm, hot, boiling, then, just when I had soaped
myself from crown to toe in the steam, it turned as suddenly cold again,
and an instant later stopped entirely. My eyes tight closed, I shouted
at the youth above.

“Es que el agua caliente se acabó,” he droned. “It is that the hot water
has finished itself.”

There being no deadly weapon at hand, I turned on a tap of ice-cold
water and raced to the dressing-room still half soaped. Hays, scantily
clad, was gazing fiercely at the youth through a hole in the door.

“Then there isn’t any more hot water?” he demanded.

“Not now, señor, but there will be soon.”

“Good. How soon?”

“Early to-morrow morning, señor.”

“But I want to bathe now!”

“Ah, you want to bathe?” repeated the youth, with wide-open eyes.

“No, you cross-eyed Son of Spigdom,” exploded the ordinarily
even-tempered ex-corporal, “I came here and stripped to an undershirt
that I might dance in my bare feet on this tile floor in honor of José
María de la Santa Trinidad Simón Bolívar! Get up on that roof and fire
up or …”

The youth was already feverishly stoking armsful of wood under the
upright boiler, and by the time I left for home Hays was shadow boxing
to keep warm, with a fair chance of getting a bath before the day was
done.

As is to be expected from its isolation, the Colombian capital is a
deeply religious, not to say a fanatical, city. An infernal din of
church bells of the tone of suspended pans or broken boilers makes the
early morning hours hideous and continues at frequent intervals
throughout the day. Here, contrary to the custom in most centers of the
Latin race, the men as well as the women go to church. College
professors and literary lights of no mean ability seriously contend that
the shinbone of some saint in this shrine or that “temple” has
miraculous power; but the superstition of isolation hangs particularly
heavy over the uneducated masses. Of late years the Liberals and the
Masons have grown nearly as powerful as the Conservatives, and do not
hesitate to express themselves freely in public, knowing that in case of
attack any representative body of the population includes
fellow-Liberals who will come to their rescue. Every public gathering is
pregnant with possibilities of an outburst between the two divisions of
society. The very school-boys talk politics—here inextricably entangled
with religion—and the foreigner who wishes to hold the attention of a
Colombian for a conversation of any length must have some knowledge, or
at least a plausible pretense of knowledge, of interior political
questions. It was a bare three years since a Protestant missionary had
been stoned by the populace of Bogotá, though he now held his services
in peace in what, despite the lack of outward signs, was really a
church. Policemen armed with rifles liberally besprinkle every meeting
in theater, cathedral, or public square. Shortly before our arrival a
dozen officers and citizens had been killed in a religious riot in the
bullring.

Were they less hump-shouldered, these policemen of Bogotá might easily
be taken for Irishmen, and an absent-minded American fancy himself back
in the New York of a decade ago. The uniform of the day force is a copy
of that of our own metropolis before the helmets were abolished. At
night the scene changes. In every street spring up officers in high caps
and long capes who might have stepped directly from the arrondissements
of Paris, with even the short sword in place of the daytime
“night-stick.” They are a well disciplined body of men, quite unlike the
childish, inefficient guardians of law and disorder so familiar from the
Rio Grande southward. The bogotano officer would no sooner be seen
sitting, lounging, or smoking on duty than would one in our own large
cities. As in all Latin-American countries, however, the chief drawback
to a really efficient service is the caste system. The policemen are of
necessity recruited from the gente del pueblo, and though they have no
hesitancy in arresting one of their own class, the sight of a white
collar paralyzes them with their ingrown deference to the more powerful
rank of society. The result is that a well-dressed person can commit
anything short of serious crime under the very eyes of the police. The
officer may keep the culprit under surveillance, but rarely summons up
courage actually to arrest him until he has definite orders from a
white-collared superior.

There are curious local customs in Bogotá. Her small shops, for example,
have a system of signs intelligible only to the initiated. A red flag
announces meat for sale; a red flag with a yellow star, meat and bones;
a white flag, milk; a green one, vegetables and grains. A cabbage or a
lettuce-head thrust forth on the end of a stick marks the entrance to a
cheap restaurant; a tuft of faded flowers, a chichería. The bogotano
sees nothing incongruous in a building that announces itself a “Primary
School” above and an “American Bar” below. On week days the pedestrian
slinks through many of the chief residential streets apparently unseen;
on a gala Sunday afternoon the same stroll is to run an unbroken
gauntlet of feminine eyes. For then the señoritas who are seen, if at
all, during the week, hurrying to mass all but concealed in their
mantos, don their most resplendent garb and, with cushions under their
plump elbows, lean in their window embrasures oggling and being oggled
through the iron _rejas_.

A native of Medellín, where envy of the capital and her self-seeking
politicians is rife, had assured us as far away as Panama:

“All they do in Bogotá is study and steal.”

We had only to glance out our windows to find basis for the first part
of the assertion. The plaza below was always alive with students from
the local institutions of higher learning for males marching slowly back
and forth conning the day’s lessons. The fireless houses are cold and
dungeon-like, particularly in the morning, and the city long ago formed
the habit of studying afoot. The racial dislike of solitude and the
eagerness to be seen and recognized by their fellows as devotees of
learning may also have some part in a practice that many a bogotano
continues through life. It is commonplace to pass in almost any street
men even past middle age strolling along with an open book in one hand
and the inevitable silver-headed cane in the other.

In colonial times Bogotá won the reputation, if not the actual position,
of “literary capital of South America.” Her speech is still the best
Castilian of America, with little of that slovenliness of pronunciation
so general from the Rio Grande southward. To this day the city has a
considerable intellectual life, wider perhaps than it is deep.
“Everyone” writes. He is a rare public man who has not published at
least a handful of “versos” in his youth. Poets, writers, painters, and
musical composers are more numerous than in many a far larger center of
civilization. The placid isolation of life in Bogotá, almost completely
severed from the feverish distractions of the modern world, makes this
natural. There is nothing else to do. Then, too, lack of opportunity to
compare their work with that of a wider world no doubt gives the
“literatos” of Bogotá a self-complacency that might otherwise be
slighter. The cheap local printing-presses pour out a constant flood of
five-cent volumes of the local “poets,” those same “cachacos” and
“filipichines” in frock-tailed coats who lean with such Parisian grace
on their canes at the principal street corners. The youth who sees his
smudged likeness appear on the tissue-paper cover of the weekly pamphlet
seethes with ill-suppressed joy at his entrance into the glorious, if
crowded, ranks of the “intelectuales.” It is chiefly a dilettante
literature, rarely of material reward and of no visible connection with
life. But a considerable stream of flowery verse, languidly melancholy
in its temperament and not overburdened with deep thought, flows
constantly, and the boiling down by time has left Bogotá credited with a
few works of genuine worth.

[Illustration:

A _chola_, or half-Indian girl of Bogotá, backed by an outcast of the
“gente decente” class]

[Illustration:

A street of Bogotá. The line of flaggings in the center is for the use
of Indians and four-footed burden-bearers]

A lecture was given one evening at the Jurisprudence Club on the
momentous subject of “The Necessity of a Legal Revolution in Colombia.”
Hays reneged at the last moment, but I accepted the invitation issued to
the “general public.” I was the only foreigner among the hundred
present, yet no American audience could have been more universally white
of complexion. Indeed, the gathering was strikingly like a similar one
in our own country—on a March evening when the furnace had broken down
or the janitor gone on strike. All wore overcoats and kept constantly
bundled up. The solemn whispering of the audience as it gathered, the
unattractiveness of the women, all of whom had long since left youth
behind, the staid mien of the men in their frock coats, gave the scene
the atmosphere of a meeting of “highbrows” in a corner of far-away New
England. But there was superimposed a pompous solemnity and a funereal
tone peculiar to the Latin-American, to a race that lays more stress on
the correctness of its manner than the weight of its matter. A
misstatement or a palpably erroneous fact or conclusion, one felt, might
pass muster, but not a slip in the “urbanities” of society or the
incorrect knotting of a cravat.

It was a “lecture” in the French sense. When the president had taken his
place and all was arranged in faultless Parisian order, the speaker
removed his neck-scarf and began solemnly to read from typewritten
manuscript. He was a man of forty, wearing glasses, with the
perpendicular wrinkles of close study on his brow. A score of countries
could have reproduced him ad libitum. He read drearily, monotonously,
with constant care never to spill over into the merely human. The
discourse based itself on the narrow national patriotism common to
Latin-America. Yet at times the speaker talked plainly, admitting that
Colombia is 88% illiterate and that half the remainder can barely read
and write. The Church he assailed bitterly for its shortcomings, yet
never mentioned it directly. In time, as is bound to happen sooner or
later in any public meeting in Colombia, he drifted into the great
national grievance and whined through several pages on “the wickedness
of taking the rebel province of Panama away from us, a weak and helpless
people”—here I caught several of the audience gazing fixedly at me, as
if they fancied I had taken some active part in that debateable action.
Through all the latter part of the lecture the church bells across the
way kept up a constant jangling that completely swallowed up whatever
conclusions he had gained from his laborious dissertation. It was
strangely as if the voice of religion and superstition were trying by
din and hubbub to drown out that of reason and reflection, as it has
since the first medicine-man danced howling into the circle of elders in
conference in the Stone Age.

On the “Panama question” the attitude of the Colombian man in the street
is not exactly that of the Government. A well-educated native holding a
small post, though clinging to the same convictions on the “taking” of
the “rebel province” as the bulk of his countrymen, expressed himself to
me as follows:

“We ordinary citizens feel that our country should be paid for the loss
of Panama, and the slight to our national honor. But we hope very much
that your United States will not pay our government a large sum of money
in cash, as contemplated by the proposed treaty. For almost all of it
would go into the pockets of the dozen politicians who hold the reins of
government. Give us _obras hechas_,—finished works,—a railway from the
coast to Bogotá, or a perfected harbor with docks and modern
facilities.”

One day soon after our arrival we strolled over to the _Biblioteca
Nacional_ to begin the Colombian reading we had planned. It was wasted
effort. We brought up against a heavy colonial door bearing the
announcement: “Suspended until further notice, by order of the Ministry
of Public Instruction.”

An American resident interpreted it to mean, “Oh, some of the readers
have been stealing books again”—and we recalled the cynical native of
Medellín. Days later, however, when we gained unofficial admission for a
few moments, we found that the 5000 volumes bequeathed by a Colombian
“literato” not unknown to a wider world—Rafael Pombo, who had recently
died in Paris—were being catalogued. Several frock-coated pedants were
smoking innumerable cigarettes and deceiving themselves into the notion
that they were at work arranging the books. But the National Library
remained hermetically sealed to the public as long as we remained in the
capital. It was by no means the first nor the last time we met a similar
disappointment in South America.

We had put it off a long while before we gathered courage and all our
woolen garments and hurried through the wintry night to Bogotá’s main
theater. As in other restricted societies, entertainments are frequently
“got up” here, chiefly with local talent. It is a long way to any other
talent in Bogotá. This one was a _velada_ in honor of that same Rafael
Pombo. Fortunately the audience was large enough to keep the place
moderately warm. Every detail, every movement, the very _toilettes_ of
the distinctly good looking, if mustached, ladies in boxes and stalls
were as exact a copy as was humanly possible of similar scenes at the
opera in Paris, a copy in miniature bearing the earmarks of having been
taken from some novel of the boulevards. Señora la bogotana used her
lorgnette exactly as she had read of her Parisian counterpart doing; the
men, in faultless evening dress down to the last white eyeglass ribbon
about the neck, strove to act precisely as they conceived men did on
like occasions in the wider world. Again all was burdened by the solemn
artificiality of the race. One after another six men burst genteelly
upon the stage and declaimed something or other in that painful,
flamboyant ranting so beloved of the Latin. All the cut and dried forms
of “cultured” society were solemnly carried out. Flowers, some one had
read, were always presented to the performers, and even the podgy,
pompous old fellow who forgot his “piece” several times had solemnly
thrust upon him by a stage lackey in gorgeous livery two immense wreaths
of blossoms.

In one matter at least these bogotanos were at an advantage over
amateurs of other lands. Natural declaimers and reciters from babyhood,
their tongues always eager for utterance, almost devoid of that
bashfulness that works the undoing of the less fluent but perhaps deeper
thinking races, they seemed seasoned actors in those points which called
for strictly histrionic ability. In another theater a few nights later
we saw several Spanish comedies presented by a company of local
amateurs, and were astonished at the excellence of the work. That of a
few of the principals would have won praise on any stage.

Three railways leave Bogotá, though none of them gets very far away.
First in importance, of course, is that to Facatativá, connecting with
Jirardot. Another runs through the flower-decked suburb of Chapinero,
past Caro, with its cream-colored castle on a hill above a cluster of
thatched mud huts, to Nemecón, a sooty adobe town of surface coal mines
where the sabana is cut off on the north. Back along it to Zapiquirá the
excursionist tramps ten miles in autumn coolness, hardly realizing he is
near the equator, between fields of half-grown maize, broad grassy
pastures dotted with white clover, with dandelions, daisies, cowslips,
and brilliant yellow “smart-weed.” Blackberry bushes here and there edge
a field in which scamper plump cattle and horses; others are confined by
fence posts of stone with four holes carefully drilled in each through
which to pass the _alambre de púas_,—barbed wire from our own land.
Zapiquirá is remarkable only for the bulking hill beside it, almost
solid rock salt. The mouths of a score of small tunnels lie in plain
sight somewhat up the slope. The salt rocks are beaten fine, dissolved
in water, evaporated, pressed, and packed into two-bushel bags that are
carried away by toil-stupefied women and girls with a band across their
foreheads.

But the excursion par excellence is that to the falls of Tequendama, the
theme of at least one poem by every bogotano writer. The unholy clatter
of church-bells helped me arouse Hays one morning in time to catch the
early train on the “Ferrocarril del Sur.” Some twenty miles out we
descended at the isolated little station of Tequendama and struck off
through a region wholly unwooded and almost desert dry. As the road
mounted a bit from the bare sabana a hardy vegetation appeared, here and
there a small grove of eucalypti, and a bushy natural growth thinly
covering the sides of the low mountains among which we were soon
winding. Before long we fell in with the narrow Bogotá river, idling
placidly along, little guessing what a tremendous tumble it was due to
get a bit later. Tradition has it that a god or an Inca, desiring to
drain the lake that once covered the sabana, opened the gap through
which the stream drops. By and by there appeared ahead a whirling mist
cloud which grew until we found ourselves completely enveloped in a
great fog out of which rose a dull, never-ending roar of indistinct
location. Directed by a peasant, we descended through a rustic gate and
for some yards down a field of heather and deep-green grass speckled
with white clover blossoms and scattered with massive protruding rocks.
The face of the one of these a Bogotá merchant had disfigured in
impertinent American fashion with an advertisement of his “superior
coffee.” We had reached the “Niagara of Colombia.”

Yet so far as seeing went we might as well have been in our cozy beds
back in the capital. An ordinary brown stream some forty feet wide
flowed down through bulging rocks, pitched over in a short fall on to a
stony ledge at our feet, then off into the mist-blinded unknown. A mere
country brook in which we could dip our fingers here, a foot beyond it
was forever gone. It was as if a whole world of mystery lay below and
about us, yet the curtain of swirling gray mist into which the river
plunged to be seen no more hid all from view.

[Illustration:

Celebrating Colombia’s Independence Day (July 20th) by unveiling a new
statue of Sucre and renaming a plaza in his honor]

[Illustration:

Meanwhile in another square the populace marvels at the feats of
“maroma nacional” of an amateur circus. Note the line of policemen
in holiday attire]

We had shivered through our lunch, finding it difficult to believe that
we were five degrees from the equator in the month of July, when
suddenly the wind rose, and for a moment the mist thinned until we
caught a hint of an immense chasm untold depths below; then closed in
again. The excursion seemed to have been a failure. We strolled on down
the highway in the fog and loafed awhile on a bushy hillside. But as we
turned homeward, the mist was wiped away as suddenly as a curtain drawn
aside and all Tequendama lay before us. I slid down a steep bank to the
edge of the bottomless chasm and sat down where I could remain, as long
as I kept my feet braced in the sod, before one of the finest sights in
the world—or let them slip and drop to sudden death. From the upper
ledge the stream fell a sheer unbroken thousand feet in which the entire
river seemed to turn to spray and whatever was left when it struck was
beaten into mist which, rising like steam from the yawning gorge as from
some immense caldron, hid all the face of the adjacent country.
Immeasurably below, a much smaller stream could be seen picking itself
together again and winding its way dizzily off through a vast rock-faced
cañon on the perpendicular walls of which clung a few hardy plants; and
while we remained in the cold autumn world above, the river flowed away
into the tropics, into the coffee country, the land of bananas, and the
perpetual summer of the Magdalena, to help float Colombia down to the
outer world.

Of the many views of Bogotá the best is that we had at the end of our
stay, from the summit of Guadalupe. A bit of the backing range juts
forth in two peaks, each with a little white church on its top, that
seem almost sheer above the city. We climbed to the higher in something
more than an hour, massed clouds breaking away now and then to flood
with sunshine the ever widening sabana and the hazy, far-away mountains
that seemed to cut off the world completely, and came out at last on a
grassy platform where we could look down, like the astonished
Conquistadores, on all the vast plain, and, unlike them, on the city
they founded. North and south, as far as we could see, stretched the
bleak, treeless range on which we stood. At our feet this fell abruptly
away to the suburban huts of the city and her encircling Paséo de
Bolívar. Every plaza and patio, many green with a clump of eucalypti,
every window and roof-tile, was plainly visible. The people were so tiny
we had to look for them carefully, as for insects on a carpet, before we
could make them out by hundreds crawling along the light-brown streets
and specking the squares. Near the brick-walled cemetery the disk of the
bullring, filled now with the tents of the “Circo Keller,” seemed a
canvas cover on a small squat pail. Factories, as we understand the
word, being unknown, not a fleck of smoke smudged the dull-red expanse
of the stoveless city. Its noises came up to us very faintly, at times
borne wholly away on the wind, and from this height even the diabolic
din of church-bells sounded soft and almost musical.

A recent census sets the population at 122,000. Looking down upon the
City from Guadalupe, this seems at first an underestimation. But
gradually one realizes that not only are its houses low, often of a
single story, but largely taken up by interior patios. Then there are
more than a score of churches, innumerable chapels, eight large
monasteries, several seminaries, and many residences of the Church
authorities. Add to this the many government buildings, and bit by bit
the traveler grown skeptical from experience with Latin-American
figures, begins to wonder if these are not inflated. There is not a
wooden building in town. Treelessness governs the architecture, for the
surrounding country is above the timber line, though the imported
eucalyptus rises in groves here and there and flanks roads and railways.

A distinct line divides the city from the sabana, spread out like a rich
brown carpet, cut up into irregular fields by adobe wall-fences often
roofed, like the houses, with aged red tiles. In many places the sheen
of shallow lakes recalled that the Zipa of the Chibchas built his
Teusaquilla here on the lower skirts of the range to escape the winter
floods of the plain. Off across it were dimly seen several flat towns,
and here and there a farm-house or a cluster of them in a grove of the
slender Australian gum-trees which merely accentuated the treelessness
of the vast expanse of world. Six highways sally forth from the city, to
march waveringly across the plain, mere threads lost at last in the
enclosing range, broken, gnarled, pitched and tumbled into every manner
of shape, bright peaks and valleys standing sharply forth where the sun
strikes, great purple-black patches marking the shadows of the clouds.
Beyond all else, at times lost in clouds, at others plainly visible, lay
the central range of the Cordillera over which we must pass on our
journey southward. Though more than a hundred miles away, it bulked into
the sky like some vast supernatural wall, the broad snow-capped cone of
Tolima piercing the heavens in the center of the picture.

The people of Bogotá refused to take seriously our plan of walking to
Quito. It was not merely that the Ecuadorian capital was far away; to
the inhabitants of this isolated little world it was only a name, like
Moscow or Lhassa. Those who had gone to school as far as the geography
lessons had a nebulous notion that it lay somewhere to the south, and
that no sea intervened; but their imaginations could not picture two
lone gringos arriving by land. To seek information was simply to waste
time. The nonexistent cannot be described. The best we could do was to
pore over a page map in a foreign atlas, whereon a match, according to
scale, was 300 miles long. Quito lay nearly three match-lengths distant
“as the crow flies,” without considering the very mountainous nature of
the country between. Yet the hardy Conquistadores had somehow journeyed
thither, and in other parts of the world we had both traveled routes
that the natives considered “impossible.”

As far away as Panama the horrors of this proposed tramp had been
impressed upon me. At dinner one evening a typical, stage Englishman,
accent and all, and an incurable monopolist of the conversation, proved
to be the owner of mines in Colombia, and I managed once to cut in with
a query about travel in that country.

“When the steamer lands you in ——,” he began, “you buy your mules, ten
or twelve, hire your mozos and carriers and….”

“But I plan to walk.”

“Walk!” exploded my fellow-guest, “Why on earth should a man wish to
walk?”

“It keeps the girth reduced,” I might have replied.

“It cahn’t be done,” dogmatized the monopolist. “Absurd! Why—why—a man
cahn’t travel on foot in Colombia. His social standing depends on how
fine a mule he rides. If he walked, he’d be taken for a bally peon, lose
his caste entirely, y’ know, and all that sort of thing.”

“Horrible!” I gasped.

“Besides, you’ve got to have a mule-train to carry your tent and bed and
supplies and…. Why, what on earth would you eat?”

“Huts …” I began.

“Eh? Of the natives? Of course, but they haven’t a blessed thing to eat,
y’ know. They live on corn cakes and beans, and bananas and bread, and
that sort of thing. Now and then a chicken perhaps, but you’d starve to
death. And if they saw a white man coming, they’d know he had a lot of
money and rob him. Bandits and that sort of thing, y’ know. And how are
you going to cross the rivers—?”

“Swim—” I tried to say, but the sentence was drowned in his cataract of
words.

“And the mud! Why, bless me, one time a party was going along the road
in Colombia and they saw a hat, an English hat, lying in a mud-hole. One
of them started to kick it, when a man’s voice shouted:

“’Ere, stop it! That’s my bally ’ead!’

“‘What on earth are you doing down there?’ said the party.

“‘Sitting on my mule, to be sure,’ said the voice.

“Why, bless me, I wouldn’t go on foot in Colombia for all the gold in
the bank of England!”

It was the end of July when I tiptoed out of the American Legation of
Bogotá, bearing at last a letter from our magnificent chargé
d’affaires—a splendid representative of Harvard, but not, thank God, of
the United States—and carried it over to the government building
opposite. The Minister of Foreign Affairs to whom I made my way through
a line of typewriters on which cigarette-clouded officials were pounding
out great international matters with two fingers, was one of those rare
persons who know why a man should wish to walk, though, being a
Colombian, he had never dared do so himself, and was, moreover, certain
that Quito could not be reached by land. I was soon armed with a
gorgeous, if misspelled, document in which the Government of Colombia
permitted itself to recommend los señores americanos therein named to
the authorities along the way—should any such turn up.

[Illustration:

SOUTH AMERICA]

The genuine traveler sets out on a journey by tossing a toothbrush into
a pocket and strolling out of town. But even Hays had suffered somewhat
from that softening of the vagabond’s moral fiber that is the penalty
for dallying with the bourgeois comforts of civilization. We both had
the American hobo’s disgust for the “blanket stiff” who “packs” his own
bed; yet the Andes offer no proper field for orthodox hoboing. The
journey of unknown duration and possibilities before us was sure to have
variations in climate making extra clothing indispensable; moreover, we
could not take the photographs along the way unless we carried with us
means for developing the negatives. Our first plan was to buy a donkey
and drive him between us down the crest of the Andes. Among the many
reasons why this fond dream could not be realized was the certainty that
we should have chased the animal off his feet within a week. Observation
and reflection suggested that we should do better to follow the ways of
the country and hire a human beast of burden. For one thing, if the
latter ran away or dropped dead we lost nothing, except perhaps our
tempers; if the donkey came to a like end, we would be out ten or twelve
dollars. Hays abandoned the plan with double regret, for with it went
the hope of some day reporting the journey under the arresting title,
“Three Uncurried Asses in the Andes.”

With hundreds of animated bundles of rags trotting about the city ready
to lug anything from a load of hay to a chest of drawers for a mere
five-cent piece, we were certain there would be scores of native
carriers eager to see the world and to substitute a dismal and
intermittent hand-to-mouth existence for a steady job. We quickly
discovered, however, that we were wrong in ascribing our own
temperaments to the Chibcha Indian. There was not a youth among the
swarming _cargadores_ of Bogotá who had the faintest desire to see the
world; the bare thought of getting out of sound of the clanging
cathedral bells filled them one and all with terror. For the first time
we had struck the basic economic fact that the South American aboriginal
prefers to starve at home rather than to live in comparative opulence
elsewhere. In prehistoric times the Indians worshipped the natural
phenomena about their place of birth; each village had its cave or tree,
its stone or hill, on which it depended for protection; and the dread of
getting out of reach of these still courses through their primitive
minds.

By dint of repeated packing and throwing away, we reduced our
fundamental necessities to little more than the contents of two swollen
suitcases. Word of our nefarious project to contract a carrier to bear
these to some far-off, unknown world reached the last hovels of the
suburbs. But the cargadores we approached quickly named an exorbitant
wage and fled at the first opportunity. It was not a question of load,
but of road. Hays inticed a sturdy fellow upstairs one day and pointed
out our baggage on top of an enormous chest. The Indian calmly picked up
chest and all, murmuring cheerfully:

“A little heavy, señores, but I can do it. Where to?”

When we suggested a long trip, however, horror crept into his eyes,
though his unemotional Indian face showed none of it, and naming an
impossible fee, he slowly and silently slid backward through the door.

To our surprise, a man captured late on the day before we planned to
start did not show this customary fear. He proved to be a native of the
_tierra caliente_, eager to get back to his tropical home, and asserted
his ability to carry four _arrobas_ (100 pounds) day after day. Our
baggage weighed far less than that.

“Why not take a contract to go with us by the month?” I suggested.

“Cómo qué pagarán los señores?” he queried reflectively.

“We’ll pay you,” I answered, setting the sum high so that Hays, to whom
money was always a minor detail, could not charge me with losing this
eleventh-hour opportunity, $1200 a month, and food.

We could see that he “fell for it” at once, and was merely
procrastinating in the hope of getting more. That dream vanished, he
announced that he must have a new hat and _ruana_ for “so important a
journey.” We agreed to supply these—when he turned up at six in the
morning ready to start.

He did not turn up. When we had shivered into our clothes and gone to
hang over our _reja_, cargadores male and female were already plentiful
in the wintry, mist-draped plaza below, squatted inside their ruanas or
wandering aimlessly about with a rope over one shoulder. Out of regard
for the proprieties we beckoned to none but the men. It was some time
before one—who, perhaps, had not yet heard our plans—appeared at the
door. We were careful to mention only the first town, a short day’s
journey away, and offered fifty cents, at least twice what he averaged
in daily earnings. Convinced we would give no more, he accepted. This
time we took good care he should not escape. When he had bound the load
with his rope—the cargador’s one indispensable possession—we put him
outside and went to breakfast.

On our return we found him waiting—naturally. He prepared for the
journey, not as we of the north would expect, by balancing the suitcases
on opposite sides, but by slinging them both on his back, the rope
cutting deeply into his shoulder, and set off bent so low, with the
weight chiefly on his hips, that he seemed some deformed creature
shuffling along behind us.

At last we were off, marching out of the main plaza of Bogotá at eight
on the morning of August first. In our flannel shirts, even with our
coats still on, we set all the capital staring as we passed. Hays
carried a kodak in one pocket and Ramsey’s Spanish Grammar in the other;
my own apparatus and the overflow from my suitcase swung from a shoulder
in a _mochila_, or woven hemp bag. Even our “One-Volume Library,”
consisting of a few favorite bits in a half-dozen languages bound into a
single book, we had been forced to pack away on the carrier’s back. We
had exchanged instructions to cover any unexpected outcome of the
journey, those which Hays had handed me consisting chiefly of the
command, “In the event of death with boots on, do not remove the boots!”
The morning paper that overtook us near the statues of Colombus and
Isabel announced that we had left for Quito the day before, but failed
to specify on foot. Readers would have taken it for a printer’s error,
anyway.

Hays volunteered to shadow the carrier for the first day. Both
experienced enough to know that the pleasure of traveling together is
enhanced by traveling apart, we each set our own pace, letting our moods
take color from the landscape, drifting together now and then when
hungry for companionship, or often enough to assure ourselves of each
other’s welfare. Epictetus says, “As the bad singer cannot sing alone,
but only in chorus, so a poor traveler cannot travel alone, but only in
company.” Hays, having a mind of his own to feed on, was by virtue
thereof an excellent traveling companion.

At first the way was lined with houses of sun-baked mud, and peopled by
dull-eyed, respectful Indians and haughty horsemen. A bright sun,
frequently clouded over, made it just the day for tramping in full garb.
The Indian crawled along so slowly that I soon forged ahead. Beyond the
outskirts the broad upland plain was cut into irregular fields by adobe
walls or fences, often tile-roofed, with massive adobe gate pillars.
Fields dense with green Indian corn alternated with yellow stretches of
ripening grain. Here and there potatoes were being planted. Masses of
big red roses, of geraniums and daisies and unfamiliar flowers,
frequently beautified the scene. Two hours away I caught the last view
of Bogotá, backed by her black, mist-topped range; then the cloistered
city sank forever from our sight as the road dipped down from the
slightest of knolls on the all but floor-flat plain.

We had not set out to rival champion pedestrians. When appetite
suggested, I stretched out at the roadside with my pocket lunch, reading
Swinburne the while and scattering him page by page on the gusty winds
of the sabana. Hays and our baggage drifted languidly past. All the day
we followed a massive stone highway, built by the Spaniards of colonial
times, now raised well above the flanking dirt roads preferred by the
soft-footed travel of to-day. A large stone bridge of clumsy lines
lifted us over the little Funza river which waters the sabana, and not
far beyond we entered the ancient town of Mosquiera, on a main corner of
which stood a statue of the Virgin, unusual only for the fact that she
was jet-black of complexion as any African chief. To the South American
the color line is not sharp, even in his picture of the after world.
Some time later, having drifted together again, we met an ox-cart headed
for Bogotá. The half-Indian driver, struck suddenly wide-eyed at sight
of our strange garb and the burdened carrier behind us, cried out in
consternation:

“Cómo! No hay más función en Bogotá?”

We appreciated the implied compliment. He had mistaken us for performers
in the “Keller Circus,” a little fourth-rate affair playing in the
capital. Having, no doubt, saved up his billetes for weeks and started
for town at last with the price of admission to this wonderful
“function,” he was quite naturally dismayed to meet what seemed to be
the show trekking southward before he arrived.

At three we strolled into Serrazuela, officially named Madrid. Hays’
pedometer registered seventeen miles. In the little one-story “hotel,”
gaping with astonishment at our appearance, we were assigned to a
mat-carpeted room opening on the patio, and furnished with two wooden
beds exactly five feet long, with very thin reed mattresses over the
board flooring that took the place of springs. In this climate there was
little gain in traveling leisurely and arriving early. Except for a few
hours near noon, it was too cold to lounge along the way; once arrived
we could only wander aimlessly about among stupid villagers,
uncommunicative as their baked-mud walls. By dark it had grown too
wintry to sit reading with comfort, even had there been any other light
than the pale flicker of a small candle. There was nothing left but to
go to bed, and that had little of the pleasure the phrase suggests to
American ears. When Hays set his feet against the footboard, his lips
nearly reached his miniature pillow. He complained of feeling like the
victim of a “trunk mystery.” Sometime in the night I awoke to hear him
growling, “No wonder these people are crooked!” My own was a folding
bed—in that I had to fold up to get into it.

[Illustration:

A section of the ancient highway, built by the Spaniards more than
three centuries ago, leading from the _sabana_ of Bogotá down into
the hot-lands of the Magdalena. It was not designed for wheeled
traffic, hence is laid in steps, with a slope to carry off the rains]

[Illustration:

Fellow-travelers at the edge of the _sabana_ of Bogotá]

Though we were afoot at chilly six, at nine we were still seeking a
cargador. The one from Bogotá had fled during the darkest hours.
Moreover, he had evidently spread startling reports of our plans. In a
town swarming with gaunt and ragged out-of-works we were a long time
finding a man who admitted that he sometimes plied the vocation of
carrier. His attitude was that of an heir to unlimited wealth whiling
away the days until he came into his own by an occasional choice and
easy task. After an endless oration in which he assured us times without
number that he was “poor but honest,” just the man required for our
“very valuable baggage,” which the “expensive leather boxes” proved it,
and which in his hands would be perfectly safe among the robbers that
swarmed in the road ahead—providing we walked close beside him—he
admitted his willingness, as a special favor, to accompany us to La
Mesa, eighteen miles away, for the paltry sum of $200. We offered fifty,
and he left in well-feigned scorn.

At the alcalde’s office that official had been due only an hour or so,
and naturally had not yet arrived. We spread our resplendent document
before his hump-shouldered secretary, demanding a cargador at once.
That’s the way the haughty traveler always did in the accounts we had
read of journeys in the Andes. But Serrazuela was evidently ill-trained.
The secretary stepped to the door and beckoned a few haughty
rag-displays nearer, suggesting in a soft voice that perhaps, as a great
favor to him personally, one of them would go with los señores and carry
a “very light little bundlet.” One by one they replied in as solemn
tones as if they fancied we believed them, that they were already
engaged for the day, that they had a lame knee, or a sore back, or an
exacting spouse, or were in mourning for a mother’s third cousin, and
faded silently away. Among the last to go was our original “poor but
honest” applicant, who paused to ask whether the offer we had made was
$50 paper or $50 gold, because if we meant the latter he….

Just then the alcalde’s perfume gladdened our nostrils, and one of the
men, rounded up by a soldier, having accepted what was still an
exorbitant day’s wage, we were off at last. The day was bright and
sunny. Behind, across the sabana, masses of white clouds hung over
unseen Bogotá and her distant black range. I could keep pace with “Rain
in the Face,” as Hays had dubbed our new acquisition, only by holding
each foot a second or more before setting it down. If I paused to let
him get a bit ahead, he was sure to wait for me a few yards beyond. Ten
cents spent in a little wayside drunkery gave him new life, but only for
a short half-hour. Once he fell in with a friend driving an “empty”
donkey, and for a space we moved a little less slowly. Then the friend
turned off toward his village and with a groan “Rain in the Face” took
up his burden again and crawled snail-like behind me.

Soon after we came to the edge of the world. The sabana had ended
abruptly. Before us lay only a great swirling white mist into which
disappeared the old Spanish highway that led in broad, low steps down
and ever down into an unseen abyss. The carrier began to tremble
visibly. The year before, he confided in a choked whisper, he had been
held up here by bandits, who had killed and robbed his employer. Only
when one of us went close in front and the other at his heels could he
be induced to move forward and downward.

Now and then a group of Indians, men and women as heavily burdened as
their pack-animals, loomed forth from the clouds and toiled slowly
upward past us. An hour down we came upon a rock grotto into which
bareheaded arrieros were crawling with lighted candles.

“It is,” explained one of them, “that San Antonio once appeared here,
and all caminantes stop to pray, because he aids, protects, and betters
us.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, curious to hear his answer.

“Sure?” he cried, staring at me with startled eyes, “Señor, I have been
arriero on this road since I was a boy, always bringing a candle for San
Antonio; in all those years I have been robbed only three times—and then
I had no money.”

He crossed himself thrice in the intricate South American manner and
sped noiselessly away into the clouds after his animals.

It may have been our failure to offer tribute to the saint of the grotto
that all but brought our expedition to grief thus early. The mist had
thinned and the landscape that opened out became more and more tropical.
A single palm-tree, then clusters of them, grew up beside me. Banana
plants and clumps of bamboo, like gigantic ferns, nodded sluggishly; a
spreading tree pink with blossoms added the needed touch of color.
Suddenly I realized that my companions were not with me, and sat down to
wait. A half-hour passed. I strolled back along the road, then hurried
upward at sharper pace. Fully a mile up I sighted Hays, driving the
wabbly-kneed Indian before him. They had already tiptoed on the edge of
an adventure. Barely had I passed from view when there had fallen in
with them, one by one, four evil-faced fellows carrying sugarcane
staffs. As thirst came, each fell to peeling and munching his cane.
Hays, lost in some problem of Urdu philology, was suddenly recalled to
the material world by a throat gurgle from “Rain in the Face.” He looked
up to find the four wayfarers, long sheath-knives in hand, still
ostensibly engaged in peeling sugarcane, but closing in around him and
the shivering cargador. Hays had taken for fiction the stories of
dangers on the road, and his automatic was packed away on the carrier’s
back. But he had been too long a soldier to betray anxiety in the face
of danger. The quartet continued their innocent occupation, crowding
ever closer, but had not quite summoned up courage to try their fortunes
against so stern-featured a gringo when they fell in with another group
of travelers, and the four gradually faded away behind. Thenceforth we
took care to wear our weapons in plain sight.

“Rain in the Face” had with great difficulty been coaxed to his feet
again. When darkness fell, he was still wheezing slowly onward far from
the day’s goal. The abrupt, stony descent was broken now and then by
sharp rises, and we stumbled and sprawled over uncounted loose stones
and solid boulders. At length white huts began to stand dimly forth from
the night; the voices of unseen groups in the doorways under faintly
suggested thatch roofs fell silent with astonishment as we passed; and
in a climate in pleasant contrast to that of night-time Bogotá we
entered at last the little hotel of La Mesa. “Rain in the Face” set down
his load for the last time with a stage groan, grasped his fee after the
customary plea for more, and with the parting information that he was
“poor but honest,” raised his wreck of a straw hat and disappeared to be
seen no more.

Morning found us in a long town on a shelf-edge overhanging a great
tumbled valley, still a mile above sea-level, again facing the problem
of how to make our baggage get up and walk. When we had tramped a hot
and stony half-day without getting a yard further on our journey, we
returned to the hotel. Hays stretched out on—and over—his bed and drew
out his faithful Ramsey, bent on drowning his worldly troubles in study.
The first sentence that stepped forth from the page, inviting
translation into Spanish, asserted:

“In South America are many arid regions through which travel and the
transportation of baggage is difficult.”

Yet there are those who hold that text-books are not closely related to
practical life!

Well on in the day, however, we did get two feeble youths to agree to
carry a suitcase each to Jirardot for $180 and third-class fare back to
La Mesa. At this rate we could soon have better afforded to build a
railroad. Indeed, we had already reduced to an absurdity the experiment
of trying to mix the tramp and the gentleman. “A sahib,” said Kim, “is
always tied to his baggage.” It dominates every movement and is, after
all, of scant value in proportion to the burden it imposes. Hire a
carrier and he is always intruding upon your dreams and meditations, and
with all the expense and trouble no article of the pack can you lay
hands on during all the day’s tramp. Moreover, I am not of that kind
that can make a beast of burden of my fellow-man. I soon found that a
cargador toiling under my load behind me made me far more weary than to
carry it myself. We decided to revert to type at the next halt and play
the “sahib” no longer.

The road, now chiefly _deshecho_ (“unmade”), descended swiftly into the
genuine tropics and the next afternoon we sweated into Jirardot on the
Magdalena, a month from the day we had left it to ascend to Bogotá. For
all our resolutions, however, neither of us contemplated with pleasure
the prospect of turning ourselves into pack-animals. We set afoot word
that we would pay a high monthly wage to any lad with a stout back and
no particular grade of intelligence who would consent to leave home. But
the youths of Jirardot were even less ambitious than those of the
capital. We set a time limit, advanced it, and at last fell upon our
possessions with the rage of despair. What we did not succeed in
throwing away we made into two bundles of the maximum weight allowed by
parcel-post and sent them down the Magdalena to Panama and Quito. We
were forced to sacrifice even the “One-Volume Library,” which did not
matter, for we had found it more convenient to buy native novels and
toss them away leaf by leaf, thus daily reducing our load. Moreover, we
had resolved to read thenceforth only the literature of the country in
which we were traveling. Even then there swung from our shoulders some
fifteen pounds each, besides the awkward developing-tank filled with
films and chemicals with which we alternately burdened ourselves, when
we crossed the little toll-bridge over the Magdalena and, leaving the
department of Cundinamarca behind, struck off into that of Tolima.

[Illustration:

Approaching the Central Cordillera of the Andes. A typical Andean
_camino real_, or “royal highway,” with a pack-train bound for the
capital]

An extensive plain, half desert with drought now, blazing hot and sandy,
spread far away before us. At first, mud huts were frequent, and many
country people passed driving drooping donkeys. Curs abounded. Here and
there a leper, squatted beside the trail, languidly held out his
supplicating stumps. Everywhere were the rock-hard hills of termite
“ants,” sharp-pointed as the volcanoes of Guatemala, while trains of
stinging red ones crossed the road at frequent intervals. Fields of
tobacco and corn stood shriveled beneath the unclouded sun; troops of
horses and mules laden with the narcotic weed, rolled into _cigarros de
Ambalema_ and wrapped in dry plantain-leaves, shuffled past in the dust
before their shrieking and whistling arrieros, bound for Jirardot and
modern transportation. The _camino real_, still a “royal highway” in
spite of its condition, passed now and then through clumsy swinging
gates that marked the limits of otherwise unbounded haciendas. We met
several haughty horsemen in ruanas and the conventional wealth of
accoutrement, and once a cavalcade of men and women, the latter lurching
uncomfortably back and forth on their high side-saddles. The half-Indian
peon dog-trotting behind them carried on his back a large chair with a
sheet over it, only the squalling that accompanied him suggesting what
it concealed. The caste system was noticeable even here on the broad
plain. When we had carriers behind us, natives afoot raised their hats
and horsemen gave us friendly greetings. Now, with our possessions on
our own backs, we received only frozen stares, except from an occasional
peon who grunted at us as equals. A few miles beyond the Magdalena we
came to the parting of the ways. One sandy trail led south to Neiva and
Popayán; the other, with which we swung to the right, struck off for
Ibagué and the Quindío pass over the Central Cordillera of the Andes. We
took this longer route to Quito that we might traverse the great Cauca
valley.

The pedometer registered a mere ten miles when we halted at an adobe hut
that to the natives was a “very fine posada.” A bedraggled old woman
pottered nearly two hours over a stick fire in the back yard before she
brought us two fried eggs and a small dish of fried plantains, as
succulent as wooden chips. Our “bed” she prepared by throwing a reed mat
on the hardest earth floor known to geography, and by no means as level
as the surrounding plain. My shoes and leggings did poor service as
pillow, and Hays charged Ramsey with lack of foresight in not binding
his grammar in upholstered plush. We were awakened from the first nap by
the hubbub of a group of fellow-travelers, nearly all women, who piled
their bundles in a corner and stretched themselves out on such
floor-space as we had left unoccupied. Yet the ethics of the road are
such in Spanish-America that we felt no misgiving in leaving our
unprotected possessions on a bench at the door.

With the first hint of dawn our fellow-lodgers stole silently away. Hays
was still abed when I struck off in a gorgeous morning across a sea of
light-brown bunch-grass, surrounded on all sides by far-off mountain
ranges. Behind, blue-purple with distance, the face of the plateau on
which sits Bogotá in its solitude, stretched wall-like across the
eastern horizon, high indeed, yet how slightly above the earth as a
whole. Ahead, the snow-clad rounded cone of Tolima stood sharply forth
above a nearer range that cut off its base, while a tumbled mountain
landscape beyond promised less monotonous if more laborious days to
come.

A native carpenter working on the new toll bridge over the brawling
Collo river assured us he would much rather be on the road with us, but
that “unfortunately,” he was contracted. For a time broken ground and
rocky foothills cut down our progress. Soon we were back again on a
level plain of vast extent, a bit higher than the preceding, a garden
spot in fertility, though largely uncultivated, with mountains on every
hand and Tolima close on the west. As I had already found in Honduras,
these upland plains, perfectly level, covered with grass but for a
threading of faint paths all following the same general direction,
afford the finest walking in the world. Never hard, always high enough
to catch a cool breeze, often shaded, generally winding enough to avoid
the monotony of a straight road, they make the journey like strolling
across an endless lawn or through some vast orchard. Now and then we
passed a tinkling mule-train, a horseman, or an Indian short-distance
pedestrian, but never a vehicle to disturb the reflective peace of a
perfect tramp. Every hour or two we drifted together, generally at a hut
selling _guarapo_, a half-fermented beverage of crude sugar and water,
tasting mildly like cider and extremely thirst-quenching. Every species
of pack-animal appeared,—mules, horses, donkeys, steers, bulls, women,
children, and even men, all toiling eastward. Often a dozen horses
marched in a sort of lockstep, the halter of each tied to the tail of
the animal ahead. Many had one or both ears cropped short, not by some
accident or gratuitous cruelty, as we at first imagined, but as a system
of branding. Now and then a shifting load brought an arriero running to
throw his ruana over the animal’s eyes, blind-folding it until it was
prepared to go on again. One mule-train of more than forty animals was
loaded with large boxes marked “Ausfuhrgut; Antwerpen, Colon,
Buenaventura.” German goods consumed in Bogotá often make this
roundabout journey,—to Panama, by ship to Buenaventura, by train over
the western range, and more than half way across Colombia on pack
animals, all to avoid the exorbitant rates of English-owned steamers up
the Magdalena.

The haciendas of this region, producing chiefly tobacco, are owned by
absentee landlords and managed by _mayordomos_. The peon laborers are
paid twenty cents a day with food. Arrieros on the road average fifty
cents a day and “find” themselves. A few of the latter paused to inquire
our destination and otherwise satisfy a fathomless curiosity. Our usual
answer,—“Al Cauca,” always brought forth a startled,—“Cómo! Por tierra?”
(By land?). In the Andes the expression is used with no thought of the
sea as an alternative, but as the opposite of “A caballo” (On
horseback). Occasionally we purposely astounded an inquirer by telling
the whole truth. After a speechless moment in which his face clouded
over with an unspoken accusation, he usually answered that though we
might perhaps fancy we were walking to Quito, we were misinformed, and
hurried on after his animals without even the customary “Adios.”

Now and then we met a lone arriero, “singing his troubles to the
solitude,” as a Colombian poet has it, and once I was overtaken by a man
who cried breathlessly as soon as his voice could reach me:

“Ha visto, señor, un muchachito con un burro vacío,” to which I could
only reply:

“No, I regret to have to tell you that I have not seen a small boy with
an empty donkey,” and watch the distracted fellow race on over the
horizon.

We early discovered the uselessness of asking countrymen of the Andes
that simple little question:

“How far is it to—?”

Ramsey himself could not have catalogued all the strange answers we
received, even in the first few days. A few of them ran:

“Perhaps an hour, señor.”

“Only an hour?”

“No more, señor, but because there is much cuesta (ascent or descent)
perhaps it is two or three hours.”

Or the reply came:

“How far? On foot or on horseback, señor?” Or, more often, “By sea or by
land?” Some, tossing their heads toward the sun, replied:

“At evening prayers you are there,” or shook their heads with: “No
alcanzan—you will not arrive, señores.”

“Todavía ’stá lejos—It is still far.”

“How far, more or less; an hour, or three days?”

“Between the two, señores.”

“Three leagues, then?”

“Ma-a-a-a-a-ás, señores,—Much more.”

“Sigue no más—Just keep on going; Al otro ladito—On the other little
side; A la vueltita no más—Around the little corner no more; Arribita—A
little above; No más bajita queda—Just down below it remains”—and so on
through all the gamut of misinformation; never a simple “So-many miles.”
Above all, it was fatal to ask a leading question. The misinformant was
sure to agree with us at all costs, evidently out of mere politeness.
One might fancy the ancient rulers of the Andes demanded an affirmative
answer from their subjects on penalty of death; and the supposition
would account for many of the stories of miraculous appearances, of
place names and the like, gathered by the Conquistadores. At best, we
were assured:

“No hay donde perderse—There is no place to lose yourselves”—and were
almost sure to strike, within ten minutes, a misleading fork in the
trail.

With fifteen miles behind us I slipped gratefully from under my awkward
thirty pounds before one of a cluster of thatched huts called “Hotel Mi
Casa,” on the earth floor of which two broken-legged cots were placed
for us. Water to drink was doled out grudgingly; washing was a luxury
none indulged in. Hays was busy consuming six home-made cigars, called
“tobacos comunes,” that had cost him a sum total of one cent. As we sat
before the hovel watching the sunset throw its reflections on the red
cliffs of the range behind us, the day went out like an extinguished
lamp and the stars came suddenly forth in striking brilliancy. The north
star of our home sky was now below the horizon, and many a long month
was due to pass before we should see it again.

[Illustration:

Hays, seated before the “Hotel Mi Casa” and behind one of his $5
cigars, watching the reflection of the sunset on the dull-red,
broken range we had climbed during a long, stiff day]

[Illustration:

A bit of the road by which we mounted to the Quindío pass over the
central range, with forests of the slender palms peculiar to the
region. The trail is more prone to pitch headlong up or down the
mountainside than to follow a flank in this orderly manner]

The plateau ahead was even vaster than it seemed. I had walked hours
next morning by one of those easy haphazard upland trails, and still it
lay endless before me. Clumps of short, squat trees flecked it with
shadows here and there, but for the most part it was bare alike of the
planting of nature or man. Cattle grazed on every hand, and mule-trains
went and came frequently. In every direction stood row upon row of
jagged mountain ranges, fading away into the haziest distance. They
seemed of a world wholly cut off from the whispering stillness of the
broad brown plain. Turning, I could see untold mile upon mile behind me.
The blue Central Cordillera that shut off the valley of the Cauca lay
piled into the sky ahead. Like a hair on a colored glass, I could make
out our sharply ascending trail of the days to come crawling upward
toward the Quindío.

On the rim of the mountain lap that holds Ibagué, spread about a bulking
church at the base of the first great buttresses of the chain, I came
upon Hays in the shade of a leper’s hut. Before the marks of his ailment
came upon him the outcast had climbed with his mules for many years back
and forth over the great barrier, and something like a tear glistened in
his eye as we turned our faces toward the land of his youth. The “Hotel
Paris,” in the town below, looked a century old with its quaint wooden
rejas of colonial days to peer out through—and also in at, as a
half-intoxicated ibagueño demonstrated by thrusting his face in upon us
while we were battling with the stains of travel. When I took him to
task, he answered wonderingly, “Why, every one does it, señor,” and
refused to take any hint short of a basin of water.

Ibagué, capital of the province of Tolima, claims 2300 “souls.” The
count takes much for granted. It is a peaceful, roomy little town on a
gentle, grassy slope where every resident has ample space to put up his
chalky little straw-roofed cottage, yet all toe the street line, as if
fearful of missing anything that might unexpectedly pass.
Square-cornered, with almost wholly one-story buildings, its _calles_
are atrociously cobbled, the few sidewalks worn perilously slippery and
barely wide enough for two feet at once. A stream of crystal-clear water
gurgles down each street through cobbled gutters, lulling the
travel-weary to sleep—and furnishing a convenient means of washing
photographic films. We drank less often, however, after we had strolled
up to the edge of the mountain and found three none-too-handsome ladies
bathing in the reservoir.

On a corner of the grass-grown plaza the nephews of Jorge Isaacs,
greatest of Colombian novelists, run a clothing store. But it was our
misfortune to find them out of town. On another corner I made my way up
an aged stone stairway of one of the rare two-story buildings of Ibagué
to the alcalde’s office. It was lined with dog-eared documents, all
hand-written, each batch marked with a year, before which lounged clerks
incessantly rolling cigarettes. When he had read our government paper in
a stage whisper, the youthful mayor at once put the town entirely at our
disposal. I suggested schools.

“Señor Ministro de Instrucción Pública!” he called out, with long,
oratorical cadences.

Instantly there tiptoed into the room a long, tremulous man of fifty,
almost shabbily dressed, though of course with what had once been a
white collar, with a pedagogical cast of countenance and a chin barely
an inch below his upper lip. He bowed low at the alcalde’s orders and
answered that the matter would be attended to at once—mañana.

Toward ten next morning the Minister of Public Instruction, who had
evidently laundered his collar during the night, left a long line of
people waiting and set off with me.

“They are only teachers, waiting for their appointments or salaries,” he
explained.

We halted before a large building. The Minister knocked meekly with his
cane on the heavy _zaguan_, the door to the patio, and was finally
admitted by a square-faced, muscular, unshaven priest, who listened to
our request at some length and at last led us to an older churchman,
suave, slender, outwardly effusive, and of that perfectly polished
exterior that marks the Jesuit. He was also French. When time enough had
elapsed to give warning of our coming, he led the way into a room of
first-grade pupils,—all boys of six or seven, except two full-grown
Indian youths. An exceedingly young priest, giving an excellent
imitation of surprise at our appearance, snapped a sort of wooden
hand-clapper, and the entire class rose to their feet bowing profoundly.
Some other formality was imminent when I begged the teacher to go on
with the lesson just as if I were not there. He exchanged a glance with
his superior at this extraordinary gringo request, then lined the class
up in military ranks and set them to reading aloud. The theme was
strictly religious in nature and most of the words of four or five
syllables. As often as the clapper sounded, the boys changed to “next”
and read with such fluency that only the tailend of a phrase here and
there was intelligible. The priest made no corrections or criticisms
whatever, “taught,” indeed, as he might have turned a hurdy-gurdy
handle. I fancied the pupils extraordinarily well-trained—until I
strolled down the room, to the evident horror of the adults, and noted
that almost none of them had the book open at the page they were
“reading.”

In a higher-grade room I was asked to choose the lesson, and suggested
geography. A youth passed a pointer swiftly over a wall-map, spinning
off a description, learned by rote, of the principal cities, the
youthful priest lifting him back on the track whenever he forgot the
exact language of the original and came to a wordless halt. Little
helpful hints accompanied each question. A boy stood before the map of
Colombia, on which the capital was printed in enormous letters.

“What city did Quesada found in 1538?” asked the priest.

Blank silence from the boy.

The priest: “Bo—bogo—”

“Bogotá!” shouted the boy.

My fellow-visitors smiled complacently at his wisdom.

“And what place is this?” quizzed the teacher, pointing to a strip of
land that curved like a tail up into a corner of the map, “Pa—Pana—”

“Panamá” shrieked the boy, “A province of Colombia which is now in
rebellion. The….”

He was evidently going on with still more startling information when the
all but imperceptible twitching of an eye of the Jesuit superior turned
the pointer to other climes.

The teacher never lost an opportunity to give a religious twist to the
proceedings. A boy whose pointer hovered over the Mediterranean mumbled:

“And another of the cities is Nicea….”

“Ah,” cried the priest, “And what celebrated event in the history of
mankind took place in Nicea?”

“The great Council of the Church in which …” began the youth, and
rattled on as glibly as if he had been there in person.

When we had turned out into the street, the shabby little Ministro
became confidential, explaining that the colegio toward which we were
headed had once held a large student body, “but now, señor, owing to
political changes….”

“Before the priests interfered I had an excellent experienced normal
graduate in charge of that first class,” he sighed as we parted, “and
now we have that boy in a cassock. Bah!”

We left Ibagué by taking the wrong road and had to crawl for miles along
the steep bank of a mountain stream almost back to town before we were
set right. Then began one of the greatest climbs of our joint careers.
Round and round, in intoxicated zigzags, went the trail, as if dizzy at
the task before it, down into several gullies until at last, finding no
other means of escape, it took to clambering laboriously upward. At
first the weather was hot, then gradually cooled as far-reaching views
of Ibagué and its surroundings spread out below us. The buttresses of
the range ahead were enormous, as if nature, planning to build here such
a mountain chain as never before, had started the outcropping supports
on her most gigantic scale. Toward nine I realized that I was out of the
sunshine and no longer sweating, despite the swiftness of the ascent; at
ten I paused to pick wild strawberries along the way. It did not seem
possible to mount much further, for there was nothing higher visible.
But like Jack of the Beanstalk, I climbed on entirely out of sight—into
the clouds that wholly shut off the world below. At noon, when I
stretched out on a swift slope to read a few pages of “María,” immense
reaches of mountains and cloud-stenciled valleys, half-hidden by masses
of snow-white mist, like drapery that concealed yet revealed their
plump, feminine forms, lay everywhere below and about me. Over all the
tumbled view were scattered little huts of mountaineers, each in a
setting it seemed possible to have reached only on wings.

The hovel where we planned to spend the night refused us posada, and, as
dusk fell, we faced an all but perpendicular mountain wall, up the
stony, half-wooded face of which the trail staggered. The few groups of
men we met carried ancient rifles loosely, as if constantly ready for
action. At dark I toiled to a summit to find Hays standing before a mud
_rancho_ arguing with the crude mountaineers who would have sent us on
into the night with the threadbare Spanish prevarication, “Only a little
further on there is another house all ready to receive you.” In its
utter lack of comfort the place resembled the mountain hamlets of
northwestern Spain. The people were shy, yet, once won over,
kind-hearted. “There is no bed,” they explained, “but there is perhaps a
leather you can sleep on.” By and by the woman called us into the
kitchen for a bowl of _caldo_, hot water with chunks of potato and an
egg dropped in it, served with coarse corn-bread. Then the man led the
way into a cell made entirely of mud, even to the bench along the wall,
on which he laid a hairy, sun-dried cowhide. Fortunately he returned a
little later with several aged gunny-sacks, a tiny girl lighting the way
with a rope-like native candle, or we should not have slept even the bit
we did.

Streaks of pale day were beginning to steal through the chinks in our
chamber when the woman appeared with black coffee and a stony corn
biscuit, and we were off for another day of stiff ups and downs.
Stalking down a knee-breaking descent, I heard a shout of astonishment
from Hays ahead. What looked like an ordinary mountain stream cut across
the trail at the bottom of a sharp little gully. But the water, coming
from the bowels of Tolima that stood somewhere above us in the mists of
morning, was almost hot. We had both been on the road in many a clime,
but never before where nature was kind enough to heat a morning bath for
us. We lost no time in stripping for a luxury rare to the traveler in
Colombia.

Not far beyond we came to the edge of the valley of the Toche. Away
below, like a miniature painting, reposed a peaceful little vale wholly
shut in by sheer mountain walls, a thread-like stream meandering the
length of it. It took us an hour to make the swift, stony descent. Not
all get down so safely, as the skeletons of a horse and a mule, their
shoes still on, testified. The valley floor, watered by the
rock-broiling stream, was a fertile patch of earth, and the steep
mountain flanks were planted far up with little perpendicular patches of
corn. All the scene seemed as far removed from the wide world as if on
another sphere.

A rocky trail climbed abruptly up out of the valley again from the
further end, higher than ever, past rare houses, built of the red boards
of a tree called _cedro_, from the doors of which stared shy,
half-friendly people in bedraggled tatters. The Quindío pass lies only
11,440 feet above the sea, but that by no means represents the climbing
necessary to surmount the Central Cordillera of the Andes. What is so
called is really a long series of ranges, and no sooner did the road
reach some lofty summit than it dived as swiftly and roughly down again.
It was not a planned road, like the highways of the Alps, but one grown
up of itself. A jaguar once wandered over the Cordillera, a man
followed, and to-day the route holds to the same course. Toiling like
draft-animals, gasping for breath in the rarefied air, we fancied a
score of times that we had reached the summit, only to see the trail
take another switchback and disclose the perfidious fact that it had
found another ridge to surmount.

A few hundred feet above the Toche began clumps, then entire forests of
a tall, slender wax-palm, a species named by Humboldt on his journey
over the Quindío. Having only a tuft of branches at the top, these were
often torn off by the winds that rage down through the gullies, leaving
a thing as unromantic as a telegraph-pole. The valley below opened out
until half a world, dull-brown with a tinge of green, lay below and
around us. Words are hopelessly inadequate to describe this bird’s eye
view of range upon range, climbing pell-mell one over the other, as if
in terror to escape some savage pursuer, and fading away into the
dimmest misty-blue distance.

The sun was low when we came out on as far-reaching a view ahead and saw
the morrow’s task laid out before us in the form of a thread-like road
twisting away out of sight over a great mountain barrier draped in
clouds, the “puro Quindío,” or chief range, at last. As night descended,
we entered “Volcancito,” an unusually large adobe building on a bleak
slope. The dining-room, which was also the back corredor, was overrun by
a large family, chiefly small girls, each in a single, thin, knee-high
cotton garment, despite the wintry mountain air. Chickens, dogs, and
gaunt, self-assertive pigs wandered everywhere without restraint. In a
corner slouched a woman sewing garments too small for the smallest child
in sight. Our plea for lodging she treated with scorn. “Volcancito” was
a posada, not a hotel, the difference between the two in Spanish-America
being that in a hotel the traveler is permitted to expect certain
conveniences while in a posada he accepts with smiling gratitude
whatever fortune chooses to furnish him.

“We have only two guest rooms,” snapped the woman, when we persisted, as
if the mere giving of the information was an unusual favor. “One this
señor has with his wife and baby. The other belongs to the arrieros.”

The successful guest was an actor on his way from the Cauca to Bogotá, a
handsome fellow much over-dressed for such a journey, with a strikingly
beautiful young wife, as we noted at a glance through the door.

“But there are five rooms on this side of the house,” I suggested.

“Family rooms,” shot back the woman.

“And this little room in the corner?”

“Belongs to the servant,” she mumbled, projecting her lips toward a
slatternly young female who was at that moment pursuing a thieving pig
from the dungeon-like kitchen.

“Anything will do,” sighed Hays, gazing abstractedly after the servant.

But the landlady was in no mood for crude jokes.

“There is a fine house with rooms and beds just four cuadros on,” she
lied, after a long silence. Fortunately this was by no means my first
experience with the favorite trick of Spanish-speaking races to be rid
of importunate guests, or we might have tramped all night on the
mountain top in a cold as penetrating as that of January in our own
land. I slipped surreptitiously from under my pack, assuming the
ingratiating manner that is the last resort with the apathetic people of
the Andes. We were resolved to spend the night there, though it be in
walking the floor. Nothing is more fatal than to appear anxious in such
situations, however, and we affected indifference and a pretense of
having accepted her verdict.

What fine, red-cheeked little girls she had, so pretty and healthy.
(Indeed, they looked like Irish children). Was she not from the Cauca?
She was. Ah, the magnificent Cauca, the most beautiful…. She was soon
lost in a panegyric of her native valley, as she shuffled from kitchen
to sewing-machine and back again.

“Magnificent, indeed,” I agreed, “and in only a day or two we shall be
there. So what matters a night of freezing in the mountains? By the way,
la señora can perhaps sell us a bit of coffee and a bite to eat before
we set out to tramp all night?”

She grunted assent and a half-hour later we were seated before a
plentiful, if not epicurean, meal. Before we had finished it, she
remarked casually that we might “arrange ourselves” in the room with the
arrieros. The mule-driver is seldom a pleasant bed-fellow, but compared
with a night out of doors, probably with rain, at more than two miles
above sea-level, any arrangement was welcome.

We fancied lodging had first been refused us because we were foreigners.
Soon after supper we were undeceived. Out of the darkness came the sound
of horse’s hoofs, and as it ceased there burst in upon us a handsome
young Colombian, of somewhat dissolute features, in the ruana, false
trouser-legs, ringing cartwheel spurs, and the other hundred and one
details of equipment the rules of society require of a Colombian of
“gente decente” rank who travels ahorse. He gave greeting in the
explosive speech of his class and requested lodging.

“_No hay_,” answered the woman, in the identical cold monotone she had
used toward us.

The newcomer began dancing on air, waving his ladylike hands, on which
gleamed several rings, above him. Eloquence worthy of a world congress
poured from his lips; his eyes seemed to spurt fire.

“_No hay_,” repeated the landlady, in the same dead voice.

“But señora, it is imperative. I have a lady with me! Anything will
do—such as these rooms.”

“Family rooms,” snapped the caucana, as if reciting a learned dialogue.

“But your guest rooms?”

“One this señor has with his wife and baby. The other belongs to the
arrieros—and also,” jerking her head slightly toward us, “to these two
caballeros.”

“But what am I to do?” shrieked the Colombian, “and a lady with me?”

The woman muttered a “Quién sabe” with a careless shrug of the shoulders
and continued her sewing without looking up. After a last vain oration
the Colombian dashed off angrily, his horseback garments standing out at
excited angles, and rode away into the night the way we had come, toward
better luck perhaps among the huts at the bottom of the valley.

Bedtime comes at about seven in these wintry, fireless, lightless
regions. The landlady, now thoroughly mollified, broke off some story of
the wonders of the Cauca to say:

“Next to the room of the arrieros is a harness-room where you can sleep
alone. Many ingleses—all light-haired foreigners are “Englishmen” to the
rural Colombian—have slept in it.”

Why had she not offered us this upon our arrival? Lack of confidence,
probably, common to these simple people as is the good-heartedness that
can be unearthed by a few simple wiles and flatteries. The dungeon-like
room was narrow, but long and high, strewn with the _aparejo_ of mules
and the crude implements of husbandry, with harnesses, pack-saddles and
a chaos of trappings, but with space left to spread on the earth floor
several tar-cloth wrappings of mule-loads. Moreover, the woman sent us a
blanket. Later a boy entered carrying a candle and a little round hard
pillow which he delivered with a speech apologetic with diminutives,
after the fashion of the country people of the Andes, “Aquí tienen
u’te’es una almohadita para poner la cabecita.”

[Illustration:

On the western side of the Central Cordillera the trail drops quickly
down into the tropics again, here and there through lanes of immense
fern-like bamboos. Hays, in the middle distance, has his turn at
carrying the developing-tank]

[Illustration:

The first days on the road; showing how I would have traveled by
choice, in contrast to later illustrations of how I did travel by
necessity]

For all these unexpected luxuries, I can hardly say we slept well.
Before an hour had passed, a polar winter began to creep up through the
earth floor, through the tar-cloth, through our flesh and bones, and
what with the aching of hips and other salient points that fitted the
uneven earth poorly, the night passed in an endless series of
dream-fights against death in the polar seas. As my legs grew cold
beyond endurance, I found a pair of _zamarras_, the false trouser-legs
of impervious cloth worn by horsemen of the region. But my glee quickly
evaporated, for they proved to be designed for a half-grown boy.
Humboldt spent ten days in passing the Quindío, we sincerely hoped he
had been better supplied with blankets, even though his journey was in
the summer season.

For once we felt no anger when a hoarse rooster at last greeted the
first graying of the darkness. The entire night had been a
half-conscious battle for the _cobija_ that had covered us alternately.
With creaking legs I stepped out into the icy dawn, and washed in a wind
that cut through me as a rapier through a man of straw. It was still
gray-black, and vast seas of half-seen mist lay in the bottomless chasms
roundabout. Far away to the east, where the dawn and the warmth come
from, was a triangular patch of sky, low down between two ranges and
roofed with black clouds, in which the brilliant sunshine of the _tierra
caliente_ was already blazing red. One of the bravest acts of my life
was the stripping and changing to road garb, after which we joined the
family and our fellow-guests, huddled under shawls and blankets, with
folds of woolen cloth about their throats and over their noses. The
landlady, still abed, issued orders from within to her bare-legged girls
and the servant. One of these threw into a pot of boiling water a
mud-ball of native chocolate, swirled the mess with a stick, and served
it to us with a dough-cake mixture of mashed corn and rice. It was no
homeopathic food, but none lasts long in this thin, exhilarating air,
while climbing swift mountain flanks. When we inquired for our bill, the
woman called out that we owed twenty cents each, and bade us Godspeed to
her beloved Cauca.

The road was heavy and slippery with the rain that had fallen during the
night; the air still sharp and penetrating. We had all but spent the
night on the summit of the Quindío, for the highest point was but three
miles beyond, though three miles of climbing without respite. Most of
the world was shut off by great cloud-banks, out of which came
frequently the bawling of arrieros cursing their weary animals upward.
Now and then we stopped on knolls above the trail to watch these Andean
freight-trains pass. Many of the pack-animals were bulls and steers, of
slight strength as such compared to the horse or mule, but the surest,
if slowest, cargo-beast in muddy going. The arrieros, almost without
exception, wore as ruanas what had once been United States mail-sacks,
the stripes and lettering still clear upon them.

There were several ridges so nearly alike in altitude that the exact
summit might easily have been in dispute; but at last we reached the
dividing line between the departments of Tolima and the Cauca, marked
with a weather-blackened post planted roundabout with scores of little
twig crosses set up by pious arrieros and travelers. We were so
completely surrounded by impenetrable swirling mist that we could see
nothing whatever but the patch of cold, wet ground underfoot, a few
dismal dripping bushes, and here and there a dishevelled shivering
flower of some hardy species. Not a glimpse was to be had of snow-clad
Tolima that must lie piled into the mist somewhere close at hand. It was
the highest either of us had ever been in the world. While we
appreciated the eminence, it was no place for men gifted with profane
vocabularies to linger, and we were soon legging it down the western
slope out of Cloudland.

On the Cauca side, like the French slope of the Pyrenees, the Central
Cordillera of the Andes descends almost abruptly to the valley. As we
emerged from the clouds, a brilliant sun lighted up vast landscapes of
labyrinthian hills and vales mottled with cloud shadows, bits of our
road ahead scratched here and there on salient, sun-polished knobs and
slopes far below. With noon appeared the first broad view of the rolling
Cauca valley, nestled between the central and the western ranges, a bare
thousand feet above sea-level, still deep-blue as some mountain-girdled
lake. The little town of Salento, in the lap of an undulating, bright
green plain, rose slowly up to meet us. We marched to the alcalde’s
office in a weak-kneed building of compacted clay, only to find the
alcalde, like beds for travelers, out of town. A stupid clerk in a room
full of musty papers of varying antiquity admitted it was too bad
Salento was so _atrasado_, but made no move to decrease that
backwardness.

“And strangers who arrive?” I asked.

“Generally bring their beds with them,” he replied, “or, if not, they do
the best they can.”

We took the hint and forcible possession of an empty room opening on the
plaza. When, after a basin bath, I strolled out into the town to mention
our strange exotic desire for sleeping accommodations, a dozen of the
most influential citizens also admitted it was too bad and—and where did
we come from and where were we going? Hays for once had better luck.
Having left the mention of beds to simmer in the mind of one Sanchez,
who amused himself at shopkeeping on a corner of the square, he was
called over at dark and offered the use of several woolly white blankets
that hung for sale from the blackened beams of the shop ceiling. Sanchez
was shocked beyond measure when we started to carry them across the
plaza ourselves. He called for a boy, nine responded, and the winner
expressed great gratitude when we rewarded him with a ragged paper cent.
We improvised seats and sat gazing out through the wooden reja. Far away
on a fuzzy hillside our road of the morning grew dim and faded out, like
an unfixed photograph, and a night lighted only by stars quickly settled
down. Out of its black immensity came, a little later, the jangling of
tiny bells. Across the plaza filed a half hundred boys in column of
twos, weirdly lighted by flickering torches, utterly silent in their
bare feet. From another direction came a similar half-seen procession of
girls; the two columns joined at the door of the little bamboo church,
the pagoda-like twin towers of which stood dimly forth against the
background of darkness, and passed within together. For an hour a weird
infantile chanting in chorus sounded almost unbrokenly, then the
congregation filed forth again and melted away into the humid summer
night. The faint silhouette of the priest showed him leaning over the
reja of his second-story _casa cural_, the fitful glow of his cigarette
the only light in town, until that, too, died out and left only the
brilliant tropical stars above.

Beyond Salento a rolling fertile land lay on every hand. In the great
forests spreading far up the range beside and behind us, the most
conspicuous of the flora was the _yarumo_, a white-leaved tree that
stood forth everywhere like blotches on the green landscape. The slender
wax-palm of the eastern slope had not passed the crest. The dense-green
uplands of the valley were still all but covered with virgin forests. It
set us reflecting what might have been had the “Mayflower” turned
southward and peopled this land of rich soil and unrivalled climate,
instead of that bleak and rigorous country we had left behind. Or would
this peerless climate have made us, too, salentinos?

At the hut where we paid two cents for great bowls of creamy milk, there
was a decision to make. One branch of the trail led to Pereira, the
other to Filandia. We tossed a coin. It fell “tails” and we struck off
to the left by a soft dirt road. Filandia was a quaint old place with a
wonderful gingerbread church, on a hilltop that rolled languidly away on
all sides to far-off mountain ridges. The town seemed never to have seen
a foreigner before. Perhaps travelers hitherto had all gone by way of
Pereira. When I attempted to take a picture, the entire population, men,
women, and the very babies, crowded so close around me that I could not
fight them back to a focal distance.

[Illustration:

Like those of the days of Shakespeare, the theater of Cartago consists
of a stage—of split bamboo, with a tile roof—inside the patio of the
“hotel.” The more expensive seats are chairs in the balcony of the
second story; the populace stands in the barnyard]

[Illustration:

Cartago watching our departure. Two of the doors show no occupants
only because these had dodged inside to call the rest of the family]

By the next afternoon we were in quite a different country,—down in the
tropics again, with coffee-trees, bananas, and endless lanes of bamboo,
that giant fern, as useful as it is beautiful, which nature so unkindly
denied the North. It was not a temperature for the preserving of
undeveloped films and I paused with the tank beside the first clear
stream. The sun gave out before I had more than hung the strips up to
dry, drops of rain began to fall, and night came on apace. I pushed on,
grasping a wet film in either hand. To my dismay the road turned to a
narrow path through thick weeds, thigh-high, and for a long five miles,
with eighteen already in my legs and thirty pounds straining from my
shoulders, I tramped swiftly forward, striving to hold the films out of
reach of the weeds. The natives, blacker and blacker as we descended,
stared with amazement from their little bamboo shelters along the train
to see a strange being scurry by, holding high above his head two black
strips, like Tibetan prayer-sheets. Small wonder they crossed themselves
in superstitious awe.

The night had grown completely in about me, when Hays hailed me from an
unseen doorway. He had already bespoken supper and engaged a room with a
bed of split bamboo and a quilted straw mattress. For me was brought
what a hard-earned candle proved to be a canvas cot, made of a U. S.
mail-sack. In the “dining-room” was a lounging chair of the same
material.

“Where did you get it?” I asked the woolly-haired host.

“What, that fine, strong cloth? Oh, the government always has plenty of
that to sell,” he replied placidly.

The same damp, pulsating jungle fenced us in all the next morning. Far
ahead, across the heat-steaming spread of the Cauca valley, the jagged
blue line of the Western Cordillera, that cuts it off from the Pacific,
stretched to north and south as far as the eye could command, in some
places five ranges visible one behind the other. At noon, suddenly
topping a jungled knoll, we caught sight of the long-sought town of
Cartago, reddish with the hue of its roof-tiles in the center of town,
dying away in whitish and straw-colored lines of outskirt hovels. It was
hours later that we reached the level of the valley floor, and strolled
in heavy grass through a bamboo-built suburb into the weedy central
plaza.

With a populous graveyard before the keel of the “Mayflower” was laid,
Cartago has not yet advanced to what any “mushroom” town of our West can
boast at the age of three months. Negroes were everywhere, though there
was no sharp “color-line,” and pure whites were rare. The Cauca is to
Colombia what our South is to the United States. In colonial times
slaves were imported in large numbers up the Atrato river, and to this
day the shiftless, happy-go-lucky African lolls in his ragged cabins,
speaking a Spanish it was hard to believe was not English, so exactly
did their slovenly, lazy-tongued drawl resemble that of our southern
states.

The hotel advertised “Comodidad, prontitud y esmero”—“Comfort,
promptness, and specklessness,”—the three things above all others a
South American hotel is surest not to have. There is never an office in
these hotels of the Andes. A peanut vendor somewhere up the street is
manager, and all the town “assists” while the traveler makes his
bargain, if, indeed, it does not gather en masse to watch his ablutions.
The rooms are commonly stark empty, and are furnished to order, as one
selects a chicken on the hoof for the evening meal. We had to implore
each and every requisite, from cots to water, separately and
individually several times over before they were supplied. When we
insisted on two towels, the young but toothless landlady, muttering
something about the curious ways of _los gringos_, tore an aged sheet in
two, and as long as we remained made us feel that guests were an
unmitigated nuisance. Among the luxuries of the town was wheat bread.
When we demanded it with our meals, a six-foot “boy” of polished
jet-black skin—and little other covering—was sent wandering down to
market with a bushel basket on his arm, and in the course of the
afternoon came slouching back with three tiny buns lost in the bottom of
it.

But for all the slovenliness of its habits, antiquarians would have
found Cartago’s hotel interesting. The barnyard patio into which we
flung our wash-water formed the parquet, or stalls, of the village
theater. At the back of it was an open, tile-roofed building of split
bamboo floor and sides, violently painted, forming a stage quite similar
to that of Shakespeare’s day. A score of bottles hung by the neck, like
corpses at some medieval wholesale hanging, fringed the outer edge of
the platform, the ends or drippings of what had been tallow candles
showing that they had served as proscenium footlights. The second-story
veranda, our dining-room, was marked with the numbers of “boxes” around
its three sides, from the unspeakable kitchen to the even more
unmentionable servants’ quarters. When plays were given, the masses
stood in the yard below and the well-to-do looked on from their chairs
along the veranda. Unfortunately, histrionic talent seemed to have
completely died out in Cartago. Only the languid tinkling of a _tiple_,
or native guitar, marked the long evenings in which we watched the
golden moon rise over the bit of mossy, old-red roof and the tops of two
lazily swaying palm-trees framed by our balcony window.

If my knowledge of Cartago is meager, it is because I spent most of my
days there in mailing a notebook. The post-office was the lower story of
a compressed-mud building cornering on the plaza. When I first made my
appearance, its heavy wooden doors, studded with immense spike-heads,
were securely bolted.

“Is the _correo_ closed to-day?” I asked a lounger-by.

“Sí, señor, the mails only came in yesterday. But you can knock and
perhaps….”

Knocking brought no result. An hour or more later I tried again, with no
better luck. Early the next afternoon, however, I found my way in by an
inner door of the patio, though the place was still officially closed.

The two rooms looked much like a garret of long standing, but by no
means like a post-office. Scattered everywhere, over floor and baked-mud
window seats, on decrepit chairs and crippled tables, lay fat mail-bags,
all stout and new, from the chief countries of the globe. The outgoing
Colombian correspondence was already packed in aged grain-sacks. Pieces
of mail of all sizes lay tumbled and littered over the entire two rooms.
Fully half of it was from the United States, particularly pamphlets and
packages from patent medicine houses. Four middle-aged men, dressed in
great dignity and in Cartago’s most correct attire, with gloves and
canes on chairs beside them, were seated around a table, smoking
cigarettes. I handed one of them the wrapped notebook. It passed slowly
from hand to hand, each feeling it over, not so much out of curiosity,
though that was by no means lacking, as absent-mindedly striving to
bring his attention down to it. Then all four fell to perusing a Postal
Union rate-sheet, but found everything except the information needed.
Finally one rose and referred the matter respectfully to a man,
evidently a superior, seated in state at a corner table. The rate was
found to be one peso for each fifty grams. The official turned back and
wandered for some time at random about the two rooms, fingering the
parcel over and over and scratching his head in a vain effort to recall
what he had set out to find.

He discovered it at last,—an ancient postal-scales—tried it, found it
too small, tried another, and spent an ample five minutes juggling with
the odds and ends that served as weights before he computed the balance.
Then he drifted languidly back to his companions in inefficiency, opened
his mouth to speak, closed it again, and rambled once more across the
room to the scales. He had forgotten the weight! This time he took no
chances, but announced the figures aloud and wrote them on the
parcel,—“320 grams.” Those who do not know the South American will have
difficulty in believing that the division of this by fifty, without
troubling for fractions, presented a real problem. All four began
pencilling long lines of figures on as many sheets of paper. Several
minutes passed before one of them ventured to show his result. The
others compared, and amid a sage shaking of heads one announced
solemnly, “Seven cents, señor,” while the rest gazed dreamily at me out
of the tops of their eyes, as if wondering whether I should weather the
shock of so great an expense.

“And registered, seventeen cents?” I added; for I did not care to have
the parcel lie a month or two about the earth floor of Cartago’s
post-office, or find its final resting-place in the back yard. When the
suggestion had penetrated, one of the quartet sat down to enter the
grave transaction in a large ledger. I still needed a two-cent stamp.
The oldest of the four shuffled to the opposite side of the table, sat
down, adjusted his legs, and slowly pulled out a drawer stuffed with
every manner of rubbish,—tobacco, rolled cigarettes, half-empty phials
of patent medicine, everything that may come by mail,—and finally dug up
a battered pasteboard box that had once held No. 60 American thread.
From this he fished out a small sheet of two-peso stamps, carefully tore
one off at the perforation, first on one side, then on the other, put
the sheet back in the thread-box, the thread-box back in the drawer,
carefully closed the latter, and handed me the stamp. I tossed before
him a silver ten-cent piece. He opened the drawer again, clawed out of a
far corner a wad of those ragged, germ-infested one-cent bills
indigenous to Colombia, laid out eight of them, counted them a second
time, sat staring at them a long minute while his attention went on
furlough, asked one of his colleagues to count them, which the latter
did twice at the same vertiginous speed, and finally pushed them toward
me with a hesitative movement, as if he were sure he was losing
somewhere in the transaction, but could not exactly figure out where.

Meanwhile, he of the ledger rose from dotting the last “i” of an entry
that stretched in nicely shaded copybook letters entirely across the
double page, begged me to do him the honor to be seated, dipped the
clumsy steel pen into the dusty inkwell, and, with a wealth of
politenesses, requested me to sign. When I had done so, he gazed long
and dreamily at the signature, longer still at space in general, and
finally put the parcel carefully away in a drawer with neither stamp nor
mark of identification upon it.

[Illustration:

Along the Cauca Valley we met not only peasants bound to town with a
load of wood and carrying their prize roosters, but now and then the
corpse of a woman being brought in for Christian burial service,
after which it would be carried back and buried in her native hills]

[Illustration:

In places the Cauca Valley so swarmed with locusts that they rose like
an immense screen before us as we advanced, struck us in the face in
scores, and made a sound like that of a distant waterfall]

“But,” I protested, “Do you give no receipt for registered mail?”

Great excitement arose among the officials and the half-dozen persons
waiting ostensibly to buy a one-cent stamp. A long conference ensued.

“It is, señor,” said the postmaster himself, rising and turning to me
with regal courtesy, “that no blank receipts have been sent from Bogotá
yet this year. However….”

He called aside the custodian of the precious ledger and gave him long
whispered instructions. The latter hunted up a sheet of foolscap,
stamped it carefully with the office seal, and wrote out with long legal
flourishes—for penmanship is still an art in Colombia—a receipt for the
parcel. This he tore off and carried across to the postmaster who,
carefully preparing another pen, signed it with his full name, not
forgetting the elaborate _rúbrica_ beneath it. Then he read it carefully
over once more, seemed dissatisfied with something, and finally called
the attention of the writer to the rough edge he had left in tearing off
the paper, instructing him to lay it under a ruler and trim it with a
sharp knife. The subordinate did so and at last delivered to me a
memento I still have in my possession.

To one unacquainted with Latin-American ways the episode may seem
overdrawn. I have told it, however, without exaggeration. From the
moment I handed over the parcel until I emerged, receipt in hand, there
had elapsed one hour and twenty minutes!

Nor is such a scene unusual. From the Rio Grande southward, government
offices are filled with just such human driftwood, and it is common
experience to see several staid and pompous men in frock-coats spend
more than an hour doing what an average American boy would accomplish in
two minutes.

Swinging due south next morning through the perpetual summer of the
flat, grass-carpeted Cauca valley, we fell in with a straggling band of
nearly a hundred youths. They were conscripts recruited under the new
military law of Colombia, _antioqueños_ chosen by lot to make up the
quota of the Province of Antioquia, bound south from Medellín for six
months compulsory service. The majority were crude-minded countrymen.
Some, dressed in the wrecks of “European” suits, were undeveloped boys
of the towns, hobbling painfully along on bruised and blistered feet,
bare except for their cloth alpargatas. Among the latter was one
Policarpo, a devil-may-care young fellow of high intelligence and
considerable education, who had a very clear notion of the weak spots in
his native land, though no inkling of a workable remedy. Another carried
a _tiple_, as well as a pleasing baritone voice, and struck up at every
opportunity the languidly mournful music of the region.

The highway now was a series of interwoven cross-country paths, fording
the smaller streams, crossing the larger on little bamboo bridges with
faded thatched roofs. It was hot, yet not of the oppressive heat our
most northern states know in mid-summer. All along the way were flowers
of many colors, and broad vistas of greenest grass stretched far across
slightly rolling plains wherever woods and jungle did not choke it out.
Bands of butterflies, often of the most gorgeous hues, flickered here
and there across the face of the landscape. Insects hummed contentedly
and lizards scuttled away through the fallen leaves. Singing birds of
many kinds abounded; flocks of little parrots, brilliant green in color,
flitted in and out of the bamboo groves, shrieking noisily at their
games. Here and there _quinchas_, fences of split bamboo of basket-like
weave, shut in a little cultivated patch; and all day long the
distance-blue Western Cordillera, with its wrinkled folds and
prominences, stretching endlessly north and south, seemed to cut off the
Cauca like a world apart.

Then for a space there were no habitations, except an abandoned hut or
two and the ruins of several razed ones. The recruits murmured something
about an epidemic, but none appeared to know anything definite
concerning it. At length we descended through a shallow valley, and from
then on, locusts called _chapul_ in the Cauca, rose in vast clouds as we
advanced, covering the ground before us and veiling all the landscape as
with a great screen, new myriads rising at every step, until they struck
us incessantly in the face and filled our ears with a sound as of some
great waterfall at a distance. In Bogotá we had wondered to find an
important government department entitled “Comisión para la Extinción de
la Langosta”; now it seemed small, indeed, to cope with the problem. At
intervals cactus hedges bounded the way, and the organ-cactus of desert
lands stretched forth its stiff arms into the brilliant sky. The Cauca
was suffering one of its periodical droughts and the accompanying
scourge of locusts, after which it would bloom again like a tropical
garden.

The recruits so monopolized accommodations at the village of
Naranjo—which had not the remnant of an orange-tree to explain its
name—that we had to share a room with three none-too-white natives who
permitted no ventilation whatever. At four they rose to light candles
and feed their mules, and sat vociferously discussing nothing at all
until daybreak. They spent more time harnessing themselves than their
animals; for the Colombian never dreams of riding in anything less than
the complete outfit demanded by local convention. A wide-brimmed
“Panama” hat—“sombrero de junco,” or the finer “jipijapa,” he calls
it—covers his head. Over his usual clothing, which must include coat,
vest, cravat, gloves, and white collar, no matter how far he may be from
civilization nor what the temperature, he wears a ruana, a garment
similar to the _sarape_ of Mexico, or the poncho. In the vicinity of
Bogotá this is of heavy wool and dark in color; in the Cauca it is the
_ruana de hilo_, of light-colored cotton, generally gay with stripes.
Beneath this the horseman wears _zamarras_, ample false trouser-legs
held together by strips front and back, and legging-like at the bottom.
Sometimes these are of sun-dried cowhide, or goat-skins shaggy with long
white hair, reminiscent of the “chaps” of our cowboys. Far more common
are those of _tela de caucho_, “rubber cloth,” consisting of two
thicknesses of canvas and rubber woven into an impenetrable yet flexible
material nearly an eighth of an inch thick. Then come his _chilenas_,
huge wheel-like spurs; his _rejo_, or lariat of twisted rawhide hanging
from his wrist; his _alforjas_, or leather saddlebags between his legs;
his _cuchugos_, a long soft-leather pouch arched over the cantel of his
saddle like a cavalryman’s blanket-roll; his long, shoe-shaped stirrups;
and usually a parasol or umbrella hanging at his side, if, indeed, it
does not shade him as he rides. No Colombian caballero who aspires to
retain his rank as such would venture to mount a horse while lacking any
item of this equipment. One trembles to think what might happen to a
_caucano_, needing to ride instantly for the doctor, who could not lay
hands on his _zamarras_, or who had mislaid his gloves.

The Cauca was now a broad, dry, treeless region without streams, though
little humped bridges lifted us across the waterless beds of what would
be such at other seasons, and which still retained the name of “river”
in local parlance. Arrieros of this section put red bands about the
brows of their horses and mules, perhaps only for the purpose of
identification, but giving the animals the coy appearance of coquettish
girls. As we advanced, the long drought grew more and more in evidence.
Across the sun-cracked valley floor lay scattered the bleached bones of
scores of cattle that had died of thirst. Policarpo and I, falling
behind, were in danger of suffering the same fate; for the band of
recruits, like another locust horde, drank the world ahead wholly dry.
The rare hovels and amateur shops along the way were prepared to feed
and minister to the thirst of only the customary few daily travelers;
not to the ninety-four of us that suddenly descended upon them out of
the north without warning. Hays and I were forced to stride on past the
sponge-like avalanche of humanity for self-preservation.

Here and there we got huge glasses of _chicha_, the favorite native
beverage, at a cent or two each. So many travelers have pictured the
making of this by toothless old women chewing yuca and spitting it into
a tub to ferment, that the impression should be corrected at the outset.
That custom does exist, but it is found only among the untamed tribes of
the upper reaches of the Amazon, scarcely trodden by one in ten thousand
South American travelers. All down the great Andean chain this nectar of
the Incas is made chiefly of maize, though also of other grains,
berries, and of almost any vegetable matter that will ferment, by just
as agreeable processes as any other cooking operation of the same
region. The notion of cleanliness is, at best, rudimentary among the
country people of South America, yet the brewing of chicha certainly
compares favorably with the ways of our average cider-mill. A well-made
chicha, indeed, resembles somewhat in taste the best cider, and is the
surest thirst-quencher I have yet encountered, distinctly superior in
this respect to beer. Many were the chicha recipes I gathered along the
Andes. For the interest of those who wish to temper a hot summer day
with an excellent heritage from the ancient Inca civilization, let me
translate the most common one.

“Chicha de morocho:

Take hard, ripe corn” (_morocho_ is one of the several excellent species
of maize that, like certain grades of the potato, has never been carried
from its original Andean habitat to the rest of the world) “shell, and
boil for two hours. Let it cool, then grind, or crush under a stone,
sprinkling from time to time with some of the water in which it has been
boiled. Keep this mass in a well-covered jar. As it is needed, mix with
water; one soupspoonful of the prepared mass to one liter of boiling
water; add cloves, a very little vanilla, and as much sugar or
_rapadura_ as is considered necessary. Mix with an equal amount of cold
water and place in jars to ferment. Once fermented, it is ready to
serve.”

[Illustration:

Worse than the locusts was the flock of recruits that, until we
outdistanced them, ate and drank up everything the amateur shops,
tended by leprous old women, afforded along the way]

[Illustration:

The market-place of Tuluá, with the cross that protects it against all
sorts of calamities—except those which befall it]

We reached Zarzal, beyond a blistered, red-hot plain, soon after noon,
with nineteen miles already behind us. It was thus we would always have
arrived; the day’s work done early in the afternoon, to wash, eat, and
loaf awhile on the canvas cots in our cell-bare room; then to loll in
the rawhide chairs on the broad tile-floored veranda before our door,
reading the literature of the country, languidly watching the afternoon
shower, and taking a stroll in the evening for exercise. In the Andes,
however, the itinerary is subjected to a haphazard arrangement of
stopping-places that make so ideal a plan impossible. We gave orders for
dinner and supper upon our arrival. The ignorant, good-hearted old
landlord literally hung over us as we ate, fingering our dishes and even
our food. The place might, with entire justice, have advertised
“personal services.” At two we finished a heavy dinner. At three-thirty
our host waddled in to announce that the “large supper” we had ordered
was ready! We managed to plead off until five, but for that concession
were obliged to eat the meal cold as an abandoned hope.

A heavy rain during the night—our coming seemed to have broken the long
drought—made the going lead-heavy for the first few hours, until the
blazing sun had dried up the “gumbo” mud. A richer region appeared as we
advanced. Once or twice it seemed as if the central and western ranges
were about to join hands and cut us off, but the “unmade” road always
found a way through with, at most, an occasional dip, or a slight
winding climb. During the hot afternoon we picked up a recruit
straggler, complaining of fever. The entire company was scattered for
miles along the valley, as often panting in a patch of shade as hobbling
forward on their blistered, light-shod feet. Magnificent trees stood out
here and there across the rich bottom lands. Often the way led through
dense _gaudales_, bamboo groves that waved their gigantic plumes lazily
in the summer air. Here and there the vegetation vaulted entirely over a
“river” into which filtered only a few rays of sun, as through the roof
of an abandoned ruin. Occasionally we came upon a _chacra_, a little
farm with a tiny thatched hut faded with age, its floor of trampled
earth, surrounded by coffee bushes, _papaya_, _chirimoya_, and other
fruit trees of the tropics, the sometimes recently white-washed dwelling
furnished only with a few crude leather stools, a wooden bench, a lame
table, and a few _cántaros_ and dishes of native pottery. Pigs and
chickens treated the family with perfect equality; under the trees
meditated old donkeys, broken down by a lifetime of toil under heartless
drivers. We were indeed approaching the scene of “María” in all its
photographic detail.

We prepared to leave Tuluá early, but we reckoned without our host, who
was a half-negro of nasty temper and stupid wit, and no faith in gold
coin. Hays offered him a $5 gold piece in payment of our bill, but he
demanded “paper of the country.” We had none left, and a mulatto boy was
sent out to change the scorned yellow metal. An hour elapsed without a
second sight of him. When another had drifted into the past, a search
party was organized. Investigation showed that the emissary had tried to
change the coin in a couple of shops, and had then faded away. It was
nearly noon when he reappeared, the coin still in his clenched hand. He
had fallen into a game with other boys and “forgotten” his errand.

We took the task upon ourselves. One after another drowsy, wondering
shopkeepers looked the coin over as a great curiosity and handed it
back, announcing that the changing would be “muy trabajoso”—“very
laborious”—for the speaker, but that we could get it changed “en to’as
partes”—“anywhere,” which, as usual, meant nowhere. At last a merchant
suggested that it would be changed wherever we bought anything. We
called his bluff by picking out a notebook on his shelves, and had
heaped up before us nearly $500 in ragged “billetes del país” of chiefly
one and five-peso values. The wad was burdensome, but to be caught on
the road in the Andes without small money is often to go hungry, if not,
indeed, thirsty. This particular shopkeeper prided himself on a
knowledge of geography and the affairs of the “exterior,” the outside
world, above the average of his fellow-townsmen. As we turned away, he
called after us:

“By the way, do los señores come from New York, or from the United
States?”

It was a subtle distinction we had not, to that moment, recognized.

The ancient city of Buga, one of the largest in the Cauca valley, was
already familiar to us from the pages of “María.” But seeing is too
often disillusionment in these “cities” of the Andes, particularly those
in which the imagination has already dwelt. To have seen one long,
cobbled, unswept street of Buga was to have seen them all. Checkerboard
in plan, the monotonous line of its continuous house-walls, all standing
close to the street in a strict “right dress,” broken here and there by
a massive _zaguan_, stretched away out of sight in both directions. At
first glimpse, it seemed unduly modest in claiming only ten thousand
inhabitants; when we found that every dwelling had a patio and a garden
of its own within, we realized that a one-story Andean town is by no
means so large as it looks. The place was stagnant as a frog-pond, its
main plaza a splendid study in “still life.” Yet Buga was old before
Boston was founded, and is favored with a soil and climate superior to
the best of New England. In a region where fruit should have been
unlimited, the only shop that offered any for sale was slightly stocked
with a few green samples. The old woman who kept it bestirred herself to
finger over several of her wares, and advised us to come back mañana or
the day after when they had had time to ripen. Perhaps it is unjust to
expect of Buga the energy and movement of a white man’s town. At least
it has unrivalled evenings in which, after the sun has set gloriously
over the western range, the traveler can lean over the parapet of the
massive old Spanish bridge of many arches—how the Spaniards built to
stay, yet stayed not—watching a half-moon rise and listening to the
chatter of the shallow, diamond-clear little Guadalajara de las Piedras
that flanks the town on the south.

Buga is a holy city. Far above all else bulks a modern Gothic church of
real bricks—and bricks transported from overseas are not cheap—called
“De los Milagros,” filled with more religious trophies than any Hindu
temple. We were accosted in the nave by a long-unshaven priest who
inquired our desires with a brusk “Qué se le ofrece?” that plainly
revealed his knowledge that we were not of the “faithful.” His
familiarity with the outside world was on a par with that of most
Colombians. When we answered his question of nationality by announcing
ourselves Americans, he replied complacently, “Ah, yes, Englishmen.”
Finding unheeded his strong hint to leave, he at length led the way up a
ladder to a cell above and back of the altar. Here he lighted a candle
and fell on his knees before the “miraculous” crucifix, the figure of
which was smeared with red paint to simulate blood. Pilgrims flock to
Buga from hundreds of miles around. To the _bugueños_ themselves,
however, their “miracle” seems to offer little more than a means of easy
income, through the hawking of crucifixes and holy lithographs to their
pious visitors.

Like Puree, Benares, or Lourdes, the holy city is more holy at a
distance, than to those who loll through life in its shadows, and it was
only at El Cerrito, a day’s march beyond, that we heard the story of the
Milagroso de Buga in all its details. In a faintly lighted corredor we
sat with three old women, the natural authorities on such subjects, who
told the tale in low, awed voices, their eyes glowing in the night with
the miracle of it, their tongues breaking in frequently with a “Qué le
parece!”—“What do you think of that!”—as the miraculous recital
proceeded.

Long years ago, more than two centuries, when Buga was nothing but a row
of thatched _casitas_ on the bank of the babbling Guadalajara de las
Piedras, a very poor and pious woman used to come every day to wash
clothes at the river brink. The clothes of others, that is, for you must
know that she had long been trying to get together sixty cents to buy a
crucifix to set up in her hut, where she had nothing whatever to pray
to. At last she economized the sixty cents and was toiling away on the
bank of the Guadalajara, dreaming of the joy of setting up the crucifix
in her _casita_ on the morrow, when a poor lame man of Buga came by and
told her he owed sixty cents to a rich caballero, and would be put in
prison for debt if he did not pay it that very night. The poor
washerwoman drew from within her garments the silver she had so
carefully hidden away and gave it to the lame man to pay his debt. The
next day—or three days later; here a great dispute arose among our
informants—as the poor woman was washing and praying that she might some
day gather together another sixty cents, there floated squarely into her
open hands and mixed itself up with the garments—of others—she was
washing, a _cajita_, a little box in which there was….

[Illustration:

A view of the “sacred city” of Buga, with the new church erected in
honor of the miraculous Virgin]

[Illustration:

A horseman of the Cauca in full regalia. In addition to his town garb,
coat and all, he would be a social outcast who did not wear a
“Panama” hat; gloves; a _ruana_, or poncho light in color and
weight; _zamarras_, or false trouser-legs of rubber-canvas, and
_chilenas_, or huge wheel-like spurs. His other possessions he
carries in his _cuchugos_, the long, soft-leather pouch on his
cantel; and inserts his feet in heavy, fancily carved brass
shoe-stirrups]

Only a simple little cross, the spokeswoman said, but she, having at
that moment to step into the shop to sell two corn-and-cheese biscuits,
the others assured us in hoarse whispers that this version was entirely
erroneous; it was not a simple cross, but a crucifix with a Cristo
attached, just exactly the same that you see to-day in El Milagroso de
Buga, only very tiny, _chiquitito_, in fact. This momentous point in
Buga’s history I am forced to leave unsettled, reporting merely what I
heard half-whispered in the dark corredor of El Cerrito. The woman took
this cross—or crucifix—home and set it up on the wall of her _casita_.
To her surprise and alarm, the crucifix—or cross—began to grow. “Qué le
parece!” It grew even during the night! And the noises of its stretching
kept her awake. When it had grown to twice its original size, she became
so alarmed that she went and told the village curate. The padre scoffed
at her story, saying such things were not possible nowadays—O ye of
little faith!—for miracles were no longer done. But when she showed him
the thing, lo, it was even then growing! So the priest took it away with
him—as priests will—and still it grew. It grew until it reached the size
you see it to-day in El Milagroso de Buga. Then the padre had an
intimation from the Blessed Virgin that a church should be built on the
spot where the _cajita_ had been found, and he called all the people
together to build it. They put the miracle behind the altar, and there
it remained more than two hundred years, in the church which is to-day
the carpenter-shop beside El Milagroso. Then, in 1902, the great temple
of bricks was raised, for it had long been that those who would worship
and be cured by the Miraculous One could not get into the old church.
And the Milagroso was moved to the new temple as easily as if it were a
mere image of wood, though all the world well knows that it moves only
when it wishes, and if it does not, all the horses in the Cauca cannot
stir it.

“And is it true that El Milagroso has cured many invalids?” I asked.

All three exploded in the Colombian manner of expressing great
world-wide truths, such as, “Is Buga larger than Tuluá?” “Is it colder
in Zarzal than in El Cerrito?” Why….

But from an embarrassment of proofs of the miraculous power of the
Milagroso of Buga, I have space only for this:

A woman of Sonson had been bed-ridden with rheumatism for twenty years.
At last, when they had grown large enough, her sons carried her to Buga
and placed her in a chair before El Milagroso. As she prayed, she leaned
forward and touched the toe of the Miraculous One, whereupon she at once
rose up from her chair perfectly well and walked home to Sonson, many
miles away. That, every one in the Cauca valley knows, for it happened
only the other year.

“And also,” put in another of the old women, bent on rounding out the
story, “El Milagroso can turn a woman young and beautiful again, back to
the day of her marriage and the age of fifteen.”

“Eh!” began Hays, sitting up, “Then why … But, no, the question would
be unkind. It is too personal.”

It was in El Cerrito that we first began inquiries about Jorge Isaacs.
Those who have sought information of Carlyle in Chelsea, or of Goethe in
Frankfurt will be surprised to know that the people of El Cerrito had
heard of the author of “María,” though the corner chicha-seller and his
neighbors spoke of him with something of the scorn active men of the
world always feel for mere men of letters, even though they were not
averse to basking in the sunshine of his fame. Some one led us to the
little bridge below which the village gossips and washes its scanty
clothes, and pointed away to the east. Far across the valley, on the
lower skirts of the central range, we could see plainly the “novela
casa”—“the story house,” a mere white speck on the distant mountain
flank.

There were few spots in Colombia to which I had looked forward with more
interest than this scene of South America’s greatest novel, and the
life-long home of its author. With the first graying of the night I was
astir, and we were off by sunrise along a grass-grown trail at right
angles to our route to Ecuador. Several times this seemed to lose its
way, and split up in hopeless indecision. But the “house of my fathers,”
gleaming steadily on the skirt-hem of the central range, piloted us
forward. The only building to be seen, except those on the floor of the
plain, it stood just high enough to gaze out across the great valley, a
single evergreen tree, slender as a church-spire, close beside it. The
sun shot down its rays as if bent on setting on fire all that the
foliage of the trees did not defend from its rage, when we came to the
edge of the plain, broken by ravines in which we separated in an attempt
to keep together. There was nothing left but to strike an unmarked
course for the goal. My own soon plunged down into a gully hundreds of
feet deep, thick in jungle, a stream, the Zabaletas of “María,”
monologuing at its bottom. I wandered long beside it before I could tear
my way across, and longer still before I found the suggestion of a path
by which to climb out again. Beyond were slightly sloping brown fields,
with grazing herds and immense black rocks protruding from the soil, and
behind, the indistinct, prairie-like valley, majestic and silent,
stretched mile upon mile to the deep-blue wall of the Western
Cordillera. Over the crest of the Andes above hung, like an immense
veil, dense masses of fog, from which the winds of the Sierra above
snatched rags of clouds that floated lazily away to the westward. Then,
all at once, the modest little white house appeared close at hand, in a
grove of evergreens backed by the _yarumo_-dotted mountain flank. I
climbed a stone wall and, mounting through another brown field, pushed
open a heavy rustic gate, to find myself at last at the home of “María.”

A woman of olive complexion, with streaming hair—for in this corner of
the Cauca, far from the “royal highway,” travelers, to say nothing of
foreigners, are rare, indeed—watched me in speechless amazement as,
dripping with twelve miles of struggle, I mounted the steps of the
house. On the veranda I was met by a veritable delegation of women and
children, headed by a man who announced himself as Camilo Durán,
hacendado, entirely at my service. The family was of the well-to-do
farmer class of the Cauca, a bit awkward, yet proud of their rank in
society, lightly clad in rural dress, and decidedly excited at the
extraordinary event of a visit by a foreigner from far-off Europe—or
America—who presented a document from the alcalde of Bogotá, signed by
none other than the nephew of that same “Don Jorge” for whom their home
was famous. A wide-eyed negro boy whom one might have taken for “Juan
Angel” in person, his woolly head protruding through the crown of what
had long since been a native straw hat, came running with a chair. As I
sat down in the cool corredor, surrounded by the admiring family, Durán
called for glasses and a bottle, and just then Hays’ head appeared above
the stone fence of the inner corral and his always leisurely legs
brought him up the steps to be introduced as that very “Lay-O-Ice” whom
the valued communication from Bogotá mentioned—when read by natives. The
aguardiente, which was “ardent water” indeed, arrived a moment later,
and when Durán had drunk our health and we his, we turned to look about
us. Would we see _la novela casa_? We would, indeed, and rising, entered
it.

The “story house” was a more modest dwelling than the imagination
pictures during the reading of “María.” But then, all the Cauca and its
ways and people are simple and unassuming to the American point of view.
Typical of the hacienda houses of the region, it was of one story,
arranged with due regard for the natural resources and the needs of the
place and climate. Built of stone and adobe, it gave evidence of being
periodically disguised under a coating of whitewash. The long, deep
veranda was flanked by two corner rooms and, like them, floored with
what the French call _dalles_, dull-red tiles that remained cool even at
Cauca noonday. Its thick walls were shaded by a low, projecting tile
roof. Over the entrance—a genuine Latin-American touch—had been painted
in what Hays referred to as “box-car letters” the information:

“Aquí Cantó y Lloró “Here Sang and Wept
Jorge Isaacs” George Isaacs”

The main hall, or parlor, took up the entire depth of the house from the
front to the back veranda, the “corredor de la montaña” of the novel,
and was fitted with heavy hand-made furniture, of which an immense
dining table of rough-hewn construction formed the center. Flanking this
chief chamber were the half-dozen private rooms of the family. That at
the right-hand corner of the house, encroaching on the front corredor,
had been the room of “Efraín,” the hero, and of the novelist himself.
Back of it came the sewing-room, the writer’s picture of which was so
photographic that we were almost startled not to find “María” and “Emma”
and her mother busy with their sewing. At the back, across the main
hall, stood the _oratorio_, a small chapel with the same simple image of
the Virgin, perhaps, before which “María” had so often prayed in vain
for a happy life. Behind the back veranda stood a wing, barely connected
with the house proper, with a kitchen, hive-shaped clay bake-ovens, and
the staring white eyes of negro servants of all sizes that seemed
gargoyle-like ornaments of the smoke-streaked and blackened place. The
entire dwelling was as densely inhabited as a New York tenement. Besides
the dozen boys and girls of olive tint and several women of the Durán
family, servants and negroes swarmed, and piccaninnies peered from every
opening and corner.

The way led through the sewing-room across the now weedy garden to the
“pila de María,” a crystal-clear pool in the bed of the _arroyo_ that
sprang from rock to rock down the swift, light-wooded gorge at the foot
of which the “story house” is situated. “María” with her unbound
tresses, was no longer here; instead, several dark-skinned boys snatched
their garments as we approached and sought quick shelter. The “pila” was
a rock-walled basin of sandy bottom, some four feet deep and as many
times larger than the less romantic bathtub of civilization, constantly
renewed by the stream that wanders languidly away across the valley of
the Cauca. Because of the dip of the garden, the “pila” is out of sight
from the house, but from his corner room “Efraín” could, even as the
novelist has pictured, see the girls as they returned from their morning
dip, pausing to pick a flower here and there along the way. Durán gave
us leave to take a plunge. But though few things would have been more
welcome after our dripping climb from El Cerrito, it would have seemed
something verging on sacrilege, something like smoking a cigar with our
feet on Juliet’s balcony, to have profaned with our dusty, prosaic,
vagabond forms the pool about which seemed still to flit the spirit of
adorable “María.”

[Illustration:

The scene of “María,” most famous of South American novels, and once
the residence of its author. It lies some distance back from the
_camino real_ against the foothills of the Central Cordillera]

[Illustration:

The home of “María”; and a typical _hacendado_ family of the Cauca.
The lettering over the door reads: “Here sang and wept Jorge Isaacs”]

According to the people of the region, Colombia’s chief novel is little
more than the autobiography of its author, polished into the ideal
love-story in vogue a half-century ago. Isaacs, like the hero “Efraín,”
was the son of an English Jew, born in Jamaica, who came to Colombia as
a young man, married, and embraced Christianity. Like “Efraín,” the
author had a sister Emma, in real life the recently-deceased wife of a
doctor of Popayán. “Carlos,” who first offered his hand to “María,”
still lived on his hacienda a few miles out across the valley. “Juan
Angel,” the slave-boy of “Efraín,” was said to be still living in Cali,
an old, old man. The bear and tiger hunting, the country weddings, the
simple and patriarchal household, the life and scenes of the Cauca, had
all been things of reality, deftly lifted into the realms of the
imagination by the hero-author. Even the evil stroke of fortune that had
befallen the family on that dismal night in the “hacienda of the valley”
was no story-book tale, but a stern fact that had left the novelist
without patrimony and brought into the hands of strangers “the house of
my fathers.”

We took our leave in the early afternoon, drifting down through sloping
meadows past the great black rock to which “María” used to climb to
watch for the return of “Efraín” from the valley, which here spreads out
in all its rich expanse, majestic and silent, to the dim Western
Cordillera. Hays, long lost in meditation, broke it at last to announce
that he had found the end of his wanderings; that he would return to the
Zone to earn a new “stake” and come back to end his days as the owner of
the “novela casa.” He was given to catching such enthusiasms—to have
them die during the succeeding night. It was, indeed, the most splendid
spot in all the magnificent Cauca valley, this simple dwelling set where
it could see and be seen from untold leagues away, from the very crest
of the western range, yet never standing forth boldly and conspicuously.
Framed modestly among its evergreens, just a little way up the first
easy slope of the Andean range that piles into the clouds behind it, it
seemed as unassuming and removed from the hubbub of the modern world as
gentle “María” herself. All the day through our eyes were drawn back to
it at frequent intervals, and as long as the light lasted it stood forth
plainly in this clear air, though it shrunk to a house in miniature,
then to a mere speck on the skirt-hem of the central range.

All the hot afternoon we plodded onward. Some miles after falling in
with the _camino real_ again, we passed “La Manuelita,” the “hacienda of
the valley” where Isaacs’ father had set up a sugar factory while the
son was still a student in Bogotá, and where took place, both in the
novel and real life, that pathetic scene that marked the ruin of the
family. To-day the estate is the property of Russian-Americans, and its
products are known throughout all Colombia. Beyond the little Amaime
river the way led through a forest of bamboo, then across a monotonous
and dusty _despoblado_. The great Cordillera Occidental, now like a
badly wrinkled garment of sepia-brown hue, drew ever nearer, as did a
line of bright-green trees marking the course of the Cauca river. The
central range all but faded away in the east, leaving a broad expanse of
fertile country longing for the plow. Further on, a broken bridge or two
adorned a waterless stream, and an occasional ox-cart, the first thing
on wheels we had seen since crossing the Magdalena, crawled by in the
sand. The after-curse of African slavery was everywhere in evidence. In
little cabins thrown together from jungle rubbish lounged swarms of
ragged humanity, black or half-black in color. Yet somehow they seemed
less lazy than in our own land, perhaps because the activity of their
few lighter neighbors gave less contrast. Swift tropical night was
spreading its cloak over all the Cauca when we sighted the sharp
church-spire of Palmira, where we were soon housed in the well-named
“Hotel Oasis.”

In mid-afternoon of the day following we broke out suddenly on the bank
of the Cauca river. A _barca_, or ferry, moored to wires that sagged
from shore to shore, set us across, and with sunset we plodded into
Cali. Our arrival was well timed. The chief commercial city of the Cauca
valley was en fête. From end to end, on the Sunday morrow of our
entrance, the place was crowded with happy, rather dusky, throngs, and
gay with the chiefly yellow flag of the nation and the bishop’s banner
and mitre. For on that day the ancient church of Cali became a
cathedral, and one of her “sons” a bishop; dividing a territory ruled
over for centuries by the chief ecclesiastic of Popayán. The name of the
“hijo de Cali” about to don the purple blazed forth from the façade of
the church in enormous electric letters, like that of some Broadway
star, and by sunset fully half the visible population was reeling drunk
in honor of the honor that had fallen upon their native town.

“What you don’t look for in Cali, you won’t find,” runs a local proverb;
which is a Colombian way of saying that its shops offer for sale
anything man may desire. In a small and Colombian sense this is true,
except on those frequent occasions when the stock is exhausted.
Connected with the Pacific port of Buenaventura by seven hours muleback
and four hours rail—it was hard to realize that we were again only four
days from a Zone police station—the place is in more or less constant
connection with the outside world. But the transportation facilities of
the country are so lax that the merchants of Cali are accustomed to
announce the receipt of a shipment from Europe or America with a
sarcastic placard:

“POR FIN LLEGARON!” (At last they have arrived.)

The city’s rôle is chiefly that of distributing center for the vast
territory about and behind it, and on the heels of this first
announcement appears on the chief shop fronts the information, of
interest only to arrieros and the owners of mule-trains:

“HAY CARGA PARA—There is a load for” this or that town of the interior.

Life in Cali is largely governed by placards, as if she had but recently
discovered the art of printing and were making the most of it. Hardly an
establishment but is adorned with its set of rules. Among those of our
hotel were two of purely Latin-American tone:

“Correct dress is required of anyone presenting himself in the salons of
this establishment.

“All political or religious discussion is absolutely prohibited.”

Among the orders to the _sepultero_ of the local cemetery were several
that reflected the customs of the place:

“1. Receive no corpse without a ticket from a priest.

2. Keep three or four graves ready dug for bodies that may present
themselves.

3. Make each adult grave 1½ meters deep and one wide. Relatives may,
upon request, have it dug deeper.

4. Remove no bodies without the permission of an inspector or a priest.”

Why was man, whose enjoyment surely would be so much greater, denied the
power of sailing freely out over the earth, as the birds circled away
across the great valley of the Cauca, tinged to sepia in the oblique
rays of the setting sun? When I reached the modest height that stands so
directly over Cali that I could count every dull-red tile of its roofs,
the little river racing over its rocks below was still alive with
bathers and laundresses. A breeze from off the mountains lifted the
drooping leaves of the palm-trees of the city; beyond, lay a view of the
entire Cauca valley, clear across to the now hazy central chain of the
Andes, the dot that to whoever has known “María” will ever remain “the
house of my fathers” plainly in sight, as were many of the scenes back
to Cartago and on over the range toward Bogotá that I should never again
see, except in imagination. If only this magnificent valley, climate and
all, were in our land! Or, no; it is better as it is. For then there
would be spread out here in the sunset a great colorless stretch of
plowed fields, factories sooting the peerless Cauca heavens with their
strident industry; there these velvety hillsides would be covered with
the gaudy villas of the more “successful” of an acquisitive race; a
great, ugly American city of broken and distressing sky-line, without a
single dull-red roof, would cover the most featureless, because the most
“practical,” part of the valley, utterly destroying the beauty of a
landscape which nature is still left to decorate in her own inimitable
fashion.