We Dared the Andes

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We dared the Andes; three joiifxieyo JH&O Tine Tjinknown. Tr. by Elsa KFUU&Ai^ia^ 9o0 Library B689w p1 BolinderTITLE



y$Q dared the J\jides; three journeys into the irflKnown.

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find yourself on a horse completely alone m a jungle forest and. suddenly surrounded by silent, savage Indians, it will be a good idea to have a safety pm on you somewhere. Fortunately, the author s wife had one.IF YOU EVER

l nis is just one of the many tense situations chronicled. by Gustaf JDOlinder m this account of three journeys into the Sierra de Perija that extension of the Andes which separates Colombia from Venezuela. Some of his discoveries were actually challenged by his fellow ethnologists until he could produce the

extraordinary photographs wmch illustrate this story. On foot and aboard little mules, the Bounders dared the Andes, most often against the warnings of local officials and the QCLCLYBS of the ancient missions who had been trying for years to befriend the mountain Indianswhose silent, bloodtipped arrows the village people feared. With the confidence and inexperience of youth, the JBolinders started on that first expedition through the hot jungle with their months' old baby in a sling on her mother s back. Luckily, the first Indians they met believed

rightlythat the man who brings his wife and child to visit does not mean them any harm.

&w m oxaro VENEZUELA i



Three journeys into the unknown



Translated Kmuse



is ABELARD SCHUMAN London New York

Copyright 1958 by Gustaf Bolinder i-iiDrary 01 Congress Catalog v^ard iNumber: 500796

Printed WL Great Britain by C I lnling & Co Ltd^ Liverpool London and irrescot for Abelard-Schuman Ltd, 38 Russell Square, London WCi and 404 Fourth Avenue, New York 16

i^o ^w) (\ Contents ------afe


yA 103 127 231 MAR 12 ly^y


THIS is the story of three expeditions which my wife, Esther, and I made to the mysterious mountain fastnesses of the much, feared Indian tribes which live m that magnificent spur of the Andes separating Colombia from Venezuela. We were very young. When we left Sweden the first time, in 1915, we were expecting our first child and were not very well prepared for the adventures ahead of us. But the fascination of journeying into the unknown was strong in both of us. No one in the world up to that time knew anything of the habits and culture of the Indians in those mountains except that they were warlike Caribs who, by their very name, were understood to be cannibals. On our second trip five years later, we made the astounding discovery of the existence of a tribe of Pygmy Indians, who gradually became our friends. On our third expedition in 1936, we were able, with their help, to fulfill our dream of crossing the Andes, going from one country to the other and thereby becoming the first white people ever to do so.

Colombia is the only country m South America having a Pacific and an Atlantic coastline. Beginning at its southern .border, the Sierra Nevada de Merida come heaving up from Peru and, bending 200 miles northeast, bear off into the Caribbean coastal range. Between the Orinoco savannas and the Maracaibo lowlands, these mighty mountains rise to perpetually snow-capped peaks over 15,000 feet high. Forking east at the Venezuelan border, the northern branch becomes the Sierra de Perija. And in them are the Serrania de Motilones, the mountains of the dreaded Motilon Indians who had never seen white people before that day in 1915 when we stood in a little mountain cornfield face to face.

INTRODUCTION We made our headquarters for all three expeditions in the charming old town of Valledupar which dates from Spanish colonial days. Upar" was believed to be an Indian word meaning valley which would seem to make the town's name "Valley valley . It hes. buried in a wooded section not far from the roaring Guatapuri River. In the center of the town was a huge grassy plaza surrounded by whitewashed one-storey adobe houses. Two small churches besidesand that was all there was to the town when we first saw it against its backdrop of blue mountains raising their glittering peaks into the sky. It was there we confirmed the fact that no expedition had been able to cross from Colombia into Venezuela, chiefly because of the Indians hostility. Here, the warnings of those wiser than we were repeated. The Indians were tame" only in a few scattered sections, they assured us. Yet we were at last able, with the help of our diminutive friends, to conquer the jungle, where no trails existed, cnmbing slowly and often pamtully across these mysterious and hitherto unknown

mountains. There are still two groups of Indians in the area with whom neither we nor anyone else have been able to make friends. They live in the forests around the Rio Catatumbo and the Rio de Oro at the Andes feet. These are the tribes which are still resisting the efforts of the big oil companies to prospect for petroleum. The rich Barranca Bermeja oil fields are a major part of Colombia's economy today and are second only to Venezuela's. But these Indians continue to defy further exploration and the powerful oil concerns have never been able to reach an understanding-with them. Our discovery of the Pygmy Maraca tribe on our second trip caused quite a stir. It is well known that there are Pygmies in Apia and in some countries bordering on the Pacific. But we were met by complete scientific consternation on our return with the news of our discovery, until we showed the photographs we md brought back to an American scientific convention which was meeting m (jothenburg. Such well-known men as Rivet, Qmmde and Eriand Nordenskjold studied our

photographs with JP^t interest. Then, the latter showed me an ancient map he had turned up in his subsequent research on which the word

"pigmeos" was written very clearly over the mountains of the Maraca Indians. It is now forty years since we met the Motilon Indians for the first time but little lias changed in their mountains since then. Down on the plains where the Creoles live, time had stood still for centuries. But for them new winds have begun to blow away the dusty idyl, so fascinating to the historian and sociologist. The Creoles of Valledupar therefore have a special chapter to themselves. Gustaf Bolinder



first journey into the THE unknown had begun. It was a modest caravan which pushed through the forest at the loot of the Andes. A. few pack mules were led along by some halfblood peons riding more of these patient, respectable beasts. They sat cross-legged on saddles made of wood and with, forked garobcLton in one handa stick which they used .both as a whip and spurs. My wife, Esther, and I also rode mules. Anything but fiery steeds, they stumbled along the narrow, winding trail. We couldn t be very proud of our caravan but we were very happy, even though we d had to scrape the bottom of the cash box to get it together. Xet's say we were not traveling according to the rules. Certain things are expected of white travelers down there. For us, the main thing was that we were now on our way south where exciting experiences were awaiting us and, if we were successful, a nch reward for our scientific curiosity and efforts. We meant to uncover the secrets of these primeval mountains and their people. We were young. We had a right to be adventurous. In addition, we were one little family. Our baby daughter, Sif, slept in a

little hammock around my neck. We saw nothing strange in traveling like that. Others did the same in this primitive country. As a matter of fact, our baby was also a native, in a way, for she had been born in this country only a few months before! The natives, the Indians, whom we were determined to get to know, trusted right from the start a man who traveled with his wife and child a man leaves his family at home when his intentions are not friendly. The forest began to be taller and thickermore impenetrable. The trail was very narrow and we had to bend down closer to our saddles as the jungle reached out at us from every direction. The broadbladed machetes flashed almost continuously now, 3



cutting back the vines and branches m our path. At times we had to lie almost flat on our mules necks to pass under halffaiien trees hanging over the trail, and it wasn t always easy for me, carrying the baby in her little hammock slung around my neck. Soon the path became so narrow that the branches scraped the mules sides and the riders legs, but since we were wearing leggings of jaguar and cow skin, we were protected. We had to be alert every minute, however, in order not to get hurt. Some of those vines cause unpleasant cuts which don t healand we had to be quick to slip out of the saddle and slide under treacherous branches. We were continually attacked by insects the worst of which were the ticks which crawled under our clothes and dug themselves into the skin. At night we pulled them off after soaking the skin in alcohol or oil, which made them loosen their grip. Here and there a tree had fallen right across the trail and the huge trunk blocked our

way. This was a seldom used trail and whoever came along it had to clear it as best he could. Since no one could move them, it meant making his way around the roots or the crown. This made the trail still longer and more crooked. Here was another fallen tree. Our peons were ordered to cut a path around it, which they began to do only after a long discu