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August 26.-Being in company with Antonio, the Portuguese, who knows how to arrange matters, we get a cup of coffee at the peep
of day, and are off by half-past 5 a. m. At five miles of distance we passed the lower extremity of the Pongo, which commences at Shapaja. “Pongo” is an Indian word, and is applied to designate the place where a river breaks through a range of hills, and where navigation is of course obstructed by rocks and rapids. The place where the Marañon breaks its way through the last chain of hills that obstructs its course is called the Pongo de Manseriche. This is the Pongo de Chasuta. There is only one mal-paso below Chasuta: it is called the mal-paso del Gabilan, and is just below the Salto de Aguirre. It is insignificant, and I should not have noticed it at all, but that it was pointed out to me, and said to be dangerous for canoes in the full of the river. After passing the Pongo, we entered upon a low, flat country, where
, the river spreads out very wide, and is obstructed by islands and sandbanks. This is the deposit from the Pongo. In the channel where we passed, I found a scant five feet of water; I suspect, but could not find out, that more water may be had in some of the other channels. This shoal water is but for a short distance, and the soundings soon deepened to twelve and eighteen feet. Small pebbly islands are forming in the river, and much drift-wood from above lodges on them. After having stopped two hours to breakfast, we passed the mouth of the Chipurana, which is about twenty yards wide.
This river flows from the Pampa del Sacramento, and affords, when it is full, a canoe navigation of about forty miles, taking four days to accomplish it, on account of shoals and fallen trees. This distance brings the traveller to the port of Yanayacu, where, in 1835, when Lieutenant Smyth travelled this route, there was one hut; there is not one now. A walk over a plain for twenty-five miles reaches the village of Sta. Catalina, which then had thirty families; now one hundred and sixty inhabitants: so that it has changed very little in all this time. Embarking at Sta. Catalina, on the river of the same name, the traveller, in two days of a very difficult and interrupted navigation, enters the Ucayali; ascending which stream a day and a half, he arrives at Sarayacu.
I was desirous of going to Sarayacu by this route, but the river would not, at this season, afford sufficient water for my canoes to reach Yanayacu, and I moreover did not like to miss the lower part of the Huallaga.
River now two hundred yards wide, free from obstruction, with a gentle current, and between eighteen and twenty-four feet of depth.
We saw turtle-tracks in the sand to-day for the first time; camped on the beach.
August 27.-Saw flesh-colored porpoises; also a small seal, which looked like a fur-seal; got turtle-eggs. The turtles crawl out upon
the beach during the night, deposit their eggs, and retreat before dawn, leaving, however, broad tracks in the sand, by which their deposits are discovered. We must have got upwards of a thousand; I counted one hundred and fifty taken from one hole. Since we have passed the Pongo we have encountered no stones; the beaches are all of sand.
August 28.- Arrived at Yurimaguas. This little village, situated upon a hill immediately upon the banks of the river, and numbering two hundred and fifty inhabitants, now appears almost entirely deserted. We could procure neither peons nor canoes.
The men were away in the forest collecting wax for a fiesta, ordered by the curate; and the subprefect of the province, who had been gold-hunting up the Santiago, had taken all the canoes up the Cachiyacu with him on his return to Moyobamba. I was told that his expedition for gold up the Santiago, which consisted of a force of eighty armed men, had been a failure; that they got no gold, and had lost five of their company by the attacks of the Huambisas and other savages of the Santiago. This may not be true. The sub-prefect (I was told) said that the expedition had accomplished its purpose, which was simply to open friendly communications with the savages, with a view to further operations.
With great difficulty, and by paying double, I persuaded our Chasutinos to take us on to Sta. Cruz, where I was assured I could be accommodated both with boats and men. We could buy nothing at Yurimaguas but a few bunches of plantains and some salt fish out of a passing boat.
An island divides the river three-fourths of a mile above Yurimaguas. The southern branch is the channel; the northern one is closed at its lower end by a sand-bank opposite the village.
We left Yurimaguas after breakfasting. Half a mile below the village is the mouth of the Cachiyacu. This river is the general route between Moyobamba and the ports of the Amazon. It is navigable for large canoes, when full, (which is from January to June,) as far as Balza Puerto, a considerable village, five days' journey from Moyobamba. It takes nine days for a loaded canoe to ascend as far as Balza Puerto. Lieutenant Maw descended this river in 1827. Communication is also had by the Cachiyacu with many villages situated in the fine country between the Marañon and Huallaga rivers : so that Yurimaguas, situated at the mouth of this river, and having open communication with the Atlantic,
may be considered as occupying an important position in any scheme for navigation and trade.
We met several canoes going up the river for salt; canoes passing each other on the river speak at a great distance apart. The Indians use a sing-song tone, that is hcard and understood very far, without seeming to call for much exertion of the voice. Every year at this season the Indians of the Marañon and Ucayali make a voyage up
the Huallaga for their supply of salt. They travel slowly, and support themselves by hunting, fishing, and robbing plantain-patches on their way.
About eight miles below Yurimaguas, an island with extensive sandfats occupies nearly the whole of the middle of the river. We passed to the right, and I found but a scant six feet of water. The popero
said there was less on the other side; but Antonio, the Portuguese, passed there, and said there was more. He did not sound, however. We tried an experiment to ascertain the speed of the canoe at full oar, and I was surprised to find that six men could not paddle it faster than two miles the hour; ours is, however, a very heavy and clumsy canoe. We have had frequent races with Antonio and the Fiscales, and were always beaten. It was a pretty sight to see the boat of the latter, though laden with salt to the water's edge, dance by us; and, although beaten, we could not sometimes refrain (as their puntero, a tall, painted Indian, would toss his paddle in the air with a triumphant gesture as he passed) from giving a hurrah for the servants of the church.
August 29.—We met a canoe of Conibos Indians, one man and two women, from the Ucayali, going up for salt. We bought (with beads) some turtle-eggs, and proposed to buy a monkey they had; but one of the women clasped the little beast in her arms, and set up a great outcry lest the man should sell it. The man wore a long, brown, cotton gown, with a hole in the neck for the head to go through, and short, wide sleeves. He had on his arm a bracelet of monkey's teeth; and the women had white beads hanging from the septum of the nose. Their dress was a cotton petticoat tied round the waist; and all were filthy.
We are now getting into the lake country; and hence to the mouth of the Amazon, lakes of various sizes, and at irregular distances, border the rivers. They all communicate with the rivers by channels, which are commonly dry in the dry season. They are the resort of immense numbers of water-fowl, particularly cranes and cormorants; and the Indians, at the proper season, take many fish and turtles from them.
Many of these lakes are, according to traditions of the Indians, guarded by an immense serpent, which is able to raise such a tempest
in the lake as to swamp their canoes, when it immediately swallows the people. It is called in the “Lengua Inga” “Yacu Mama," or mother of the waters; and the Indians never enter a lake with which they are not familiar that they do not set up an obstreperous clamor with their horns, which the snake is said to answer; thus giving them warning of its presence.
I never saw the animal myself, but will give a description of it written by Father Manuel Castrucci de Vernazza, in an account of his mission to the Givaros of the river Pastaza, made in 1845:
“The wonderful nature of this animal—its figure, its size, and other circumstances-enchains attention, and causes man to reflect upon
the majestic and infinite power and wisdom of the Supreme Creator. The sight alone of this monster confounds, intimidates, and infuses respect into the heart of the boldest man. He never seeks or follows the victims upon which he feeds; but, so great is the force of his inspiration, that he draws in with his breath whatever quadruped or bird may pass him, within from twenty to fifty yards of distance, according to its size. That which I killed from my canoe upon the Pastaza (with five shots of a fowling-piece) had two yards of thickness and fifteen yards of length; but the Indians of this region have assured me that there are animals of this kind here of three or four yards diameter, and from thirty to forty long. These swallow entire hogs, stags, tigers, and men, with the greatest facility; but, by the mercy of Providence, it moves and turns itself very slowly, on account of its extreme weight. When moving, it appears a thick log of wood covered with scales, and dragged slowly along the ground, leaving a track so large that men may see it at a distance and avoid its dangerous ambush." The good father says
that he observed “ that the blood of this animal flowed in jets, (salia á chorros,) and in enormous abundance. dice of the Indians in respect to this species of great snakes (believing it to be the devil in figure of a serpent) deprived me of the acquisition of the dried skin, though I offered a large gratification for it.”
It is almost impossible to doubt a story told with this minuteness of detail. Doubtless the padre met with, and killed the boa-constrictor ; but two yards of thickness is scarcely credible. He writes it dos varas de grosor. (Grosor is thickness.) I thought the father might have meant two yards in circumference, but he afterwards says that the Indians reported them of three and four yards in diameter, (de diametro.)
We had a fresh squall of wind and rain from the north ward and eastward. The Portuguese, who is a careful and timid navigator, and whose motions we follow because he is a capital caterer, and has a
wife along to cook for us, pulled in for the beach, and we camped for the night. The beach where we pitched belongs to an island, or rather what is an island when the river is full, though the right-hand channel is now dry; the left-hand channel runs close to the shore, and I could find but five feet water in it, though there was probably more very close to the shore, which was bold. The obstruction is narrow, and could be readily cleared away.
Seventy miles below Yurimaguas is Sta. Cruz. This is an Indian village of a tribe called Aguanos, containing three hundred and fifty inhabitants. The lieutenant governor is the only white man in it. The women go naked down to their hips, and the children entirely so. I was quite an object of curiosity and fear to them; and they seemed never tired of examining my spectacles. The pueblo is situated on an eminence, as most of the villages of this country are, to avoid inuudation. It has a small stream running by it, which empties into the river at the port, and is navigable in the rainy season for loaded canoes. The convento is the most respectable-looking house on the river. It is divided into apartments; bas ceilings; and is plastered, inside and out, with a white clay. There was a portico in the rear, and it looked altogether as if it had been designed and built by a person who had some taste and some idea of personal comfort.
I obtained at this place the sap of a large tree called catao, which is said to be very poisonous. It appears to be acrid, and acts like a powerful caustic. The man who chopped the bark, to let the sap run, always turned away his face as he struck, for fear of its getting into his eyes. The Indians employ it for the purpose of curing old dull sores. The tree is generally very large; has a smooth bark, but with knots on it bearing short thorns. The leaf is nearly circular; it is called in Brazil assacu, and is there thought to be a remedy for leprosy. We gathered also some leaves and root of a running plant called guaco, which, steeped in spirits, and applied internally and externally, is said to be an antidote to the bite of a snake. I think it probable that this may be a fancy of the Indians, originating from the fact that the leaf has something the appearance and color of a snake-skin. There is a great abundance of it all over the Montaña.
We found difficulty in getting canoes at this place. The only one that would accommodate ourselves and baggage belonged to the church, and, like its mistress in Peru, it was rather a rotten concern. We bargained for it with the curaca, (chief of the Indians, and second in authority to the lieutenant governor;) but when the lieutenant returned from his chacra, where he had been setting out plantains, he refused to let us