summer rains had just ended and the rivers where full. The luxurious
emerald green foliage glistened with dampness. We struggled on steep
mountainsides, so densely overgrown that we searched in vain, as
the day wore on, for a small open space to set up camp. Not a square
metre of ground to lie down on, nor a piece of open sky to light
a fire under. The jungle seemed to get more impenetrable by the
hour and the trail fainter and harder to follow. The sun had disappeared
when we reached a hang bridge. Herman was the first one to cross.
The rotten wood gave way and he was left dangling
from a cable. I crawled on hands and knees to help him out
of his predicament, while Tashi apprehensively looked on from the
brink. A fine scene for Indiana Jones, but hairy when it actually
happens to you. When we finally got ourselves and our pack across,
night was falling.
some magic happened when it was most needed. On the other side of
the bridge we found a dry riverbed and within it, amidst a shadowy
mass of rocks and boulders of all sizes, we made out a few square
metres of fine white sand sparkling in the last daylight. The spot
glowed, it shone and beckoned us. It was heaven-send. Somewhere
to cook, somewhere to lie down for the night. A soft bed in a wilderness
of rocks and vines. Herman and I hurriedly clambered to it, passing
Tashi from boulder to boulder. There was however a keeper of the
gate. A green snake was looking at us from the white sand, its head
raised in menace. We were too tired for an introduction, too tired
to answer riddles or fight a duel, too tired to look elsewhere.
Ungrateful guests, we threw rocks at our host and chased her out
of her abode for the night. There was much seasoned river wood here
and soon we had a blazing fire going. Pea soup and hot chocolate
was followed by a restful night under a roof of stars, as we were
lulled to sleep by the booming rumble of the river.
first sound I heard when I awoke shortly after dawn was the
steady thunder of the river and the chatter of birds, feeding
and bathing in the rock pools nearby. In full daylight it was
an impressive setting. In front of me rapids forced their way
across granite rocks and through foaming crevices. Waterfalls
crashed down from the steep forested mountainside behind me.
Higher up I could see silver streaks of water plunging over
bare rock, and still higher a large bird, eagle or vulture,
alone in the blue sky. Walls of lush jungle surrounded us. I
lit a fire and boiled some oats and dried fruit while the two
others slept in.
porridge was cooked and Tashi was washing last nightÕs spoons
and bowls when two Indians suddenly emerged from the forest.
They were hunters. One was a short wiry fellow with a thick
mop of black hair, dressed in shorts several sizes too large,
and a t-shirt so dirty and worn I was unable to read its logo.
He carried a machete. The bigger fellow wore the remains of
a shirt, threadbare jeans and sported a baseball cap. He had
a rifle strung across his shoulder and addressed us in Spanish.
They had spotted the smoke from our fire and came to check it
out. Where were we going to in this jungle? To Coroico. This
valley was leading us nowhere, they explained. Soon there
would be no path left at all, only jungle and many wild animals.
We had walked up the wrong valley. They pointed in the opposite
direction. We needed to backtrack until we found another hanging
bridge, which would lead us across another river along which
we would arrive at the place where they lived. From there we
could pick up the Coroico trail again. We thanked the Indians
and were left wondering what would have happened to us if we
had continued on our path to oblivion. I watched them jump from
boulder to boulder until they disappeared behind the forest
spent most of the morning playing about in the pools and rapids
of the river. The water was cold but the sun warmed the rocks and
heated our bodies. Herman washed and dried his shirt and socks while
Tashi and I lathered each otherÕs hair, build dams of pebbles and
rocks in the gurgling channels and massaged one another. These pleasant
hours brought back memories of our house at
the banks of another river on the other side of the world:
Mumford's creek had been our point of departure, Mumford's creek
travelled with me in my dreams. Every rainy season MumfordÕs creek
transformed itself into a torrential river dragging rocks and trees
downstream, rumbling and growling just like this one nameless stream
that we were bathing in here in the Yungas. Tashi was weaned during
the first rainy season of his life when I remained isolated with
him for ten days watching the river bursts its banks and creep closer
and closer to the house, which at that stage had only a roof and
floor, no walls to protect us from the pounding rain whenever the
wind changed direction. Shanti had been left stranded on the plateau
unable to return to the valley where the tracks had become impassible.
the Yungas these memories flooded back to me. I had a case of what
the Brazilians call "saudade": a sadness that is sweet, a joy that
hurts, a longing for a paradise lost and out of reach. Mumford's
creek had been our private bathroom. A rock pool, shaded by river
oaks and wattle trees, garnished with elkhorns and birdsnest ferns,
was only fifty yards away from the house. When the floods came we
surfed the swift river on airbeds (that rarely survived). During
the summer siesta hours we floated on the beds when it was too hot
to work. Tashi had learned to crawl - like many other infants in
the area- on hands and feet, to negotiate the rocks and boulders
and avoid the sting of nettles or the bites of aggressive bull ants
and leeches that infested the riverbank. Winter or summer, the river
was our bathing-, leisure- and playground.
Tashi was a child of the river and the forest.
No wonder he preferred the wild Yungas to the hustle and bustle
of the capital La Paz.
thick growth we backtracked until we reached the small settlement
the hunters had told us about. There were not more than half a
dozen dwellings scattered about between the trees and boulders
on the few horizontal spaces that the banks of the river offered.
This was the "village" of our two morning visitors. They were
nowhere in sight and probably still hunting. All the other inhabitants
however came out to greet these rare and exotic visitors. As usual
Tashi was the centre of attention. By now I was becoming quite
accustomed to living in his shadow. He received the usual praise
and tease: "Bonito es." And then "regalome" and "dejalo aqua".
"He is beautiful". "Give him to me". "Leave him here." But we
didn't linger for long, crossed the suspension bridge - this one
in better condition than the one that almost dropped Herman into
the depths the night before- and plunged back into the forest.