South America: Peeps at Many Lands - Edith A. Browne

Outward Bound, We Chat

We are setting forth on a tour which will keep us very busy travelling and sight-seeing for a year.

A year—that is a very long time to spend wandering in any part of the world, you are thinking? Well, it has been my good-fortune to have journeyed along all the highways and byways which I am now to have the delight of revisiting as your guide, so I feel I may promise you that we shall not be losing any of our time by losing our way, or through not knowing how many opportunities are provided by railway and shipping companies for the rapid covering of distances in and around South America. Also, I have called upon fractions, even, to help me reckon the greatest distance we can travel across a page of this book by steamer, train, motor-car, horse, mule, bullock-cart and tent-boat—our friend, the publisher, warned me kindly but firmly that we must arrive home on page number 88—and I am stretching to the utmost day the length of our holiday. Further, by the light of my own experiences, which packed with pleasure and interest every moment of a much longer period than we can spend together, I have planned and replanned our circular tour, trying to draw up a programme for enabling you to get the fullest possible measure of enjoyment from the trip. But the vastness of South America compels me to confess to you, at the very beginning of our holiday, that I dare not promise to do more than try to give you the merest peep at that great Continent in the short time at our disposal. Even so we must, as a rule, keep to the highways, giving preference to routes that are served by fast boats and express trains.

Did I hear murmurs of "Only going to see towns—how dull!"

As I am heart and soul with those of you who love the country, the wilder the better, I am particularly glad to be able further to say, in connection with our programme, that the principal highways of South America run through some of the grandest and wildest scenery in the world. There is the famous natural highway of the Amazon, for instance, along which we shall journey for nearly a thousand miles in an ocean-going liner; although we shall be living in luxury on board the steamer, we shall be watching a succession of forest splendours to right and left on the banks of the river, and novel scenes, such as shooting fish with bow and arrow, in the everyday life of the scattered hut-dwellers whose business it is to gather Brazil nuts and collect wild rubber. Again, we shall cross South America by the overland highway known as the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway. Once more we shall travel under modern conditions of comfort and convenience, this time in a train deluxe; but the route first crosses the wide-sweeping Pampas plains, then scales the giant Andes Mountains. After being carried at express rate for nearly twenty-four hours through the heart of rich prairie-lands, which are the great grazing-ground of the Argentine, we shall be slowly hauled up rugged rocks, over yawning chasms and through lava beds, into a wondrously savage region where volcanoes belch forth smoke amidst eternal snow scenes, and afterwards dropped suddenly, through a marvellous series of tunnels, from a height of just 10,500 feet almost to sea-level in fertile Chile. Yet again, we shall make a two days' journey by train from the Pacific Coast to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, but the railway track to that most elevated capital city in the world is merely a thread of civilization, which engineering genius has carried up the Andes to a height of 13,000 feet and across the Bolivian desert. We shall return to the coast by boat across Lake Titicaca, and by another railway-line over the Andes, passing en route through the romantic land of the Incas. And we shall make a nine days' trip in a houseboat up the highway of the River Magdalena to Bogota, the capital of Colombia, and the most remote capital city in South America. That is an experience which, I feel sure, even the most adventuresome of you will consider worthy of being called exciting.

Mule Team leaving Puente del Inca.


You have, I hope, gleaned a rough, general idea that the highways of South America traverse very different country from that in which you are accustomed to find roads, railways, and rivers, and that the great difference in surroundings means you will be travelling on water-ways that Nature has fashioned under peculiarly interesting conditions, and by overland routes which could never have been brought into existence unless numbers of men had pluckily fought many a gallant fight with brains and muscles to overcome extraordinarily difficult obstacles.

For the special information of the adventure-lovers among you, let me throw a little more light on our programme. Interesting as are the South American highways—indeed, they can be described, without exaggeration, as unique—under no circumstances would anyone be justified in attempting to show you South America, even though you are promised but a peep, without taking you for some excursions off the beaten track. In travelling along the routes that have been opened up by the march of civilization, you gradually come to think of South America as a very big land mass, learn to appreciate that much has been done to develop the Continent, and begin to realize that there are many fine opportunities awaiting a much larger population of all classes. But to feel the vastness of South America as something which figures can never be expected to describe, to realize that its possibilities for the production of wealth are practically boundless, and to understand how defiantly strong are the natural difficulties which oppose every new effort to open up the Continent, you must go into wilds which man has not yet attempted to subdue to his welfare.

There was no doubt in my mind, therefore, that our programme must include some excursions off the beaten track, and so narrow is the boundary line in many places between the modern and the primeval, between an up-to-date city and trackless mountains or virgin forests, that many such excursions can be made from highway centres in a few hours. I have a suspicion, though, that the wish was father to the thought when I arranged where we should spend the last days of our holiday; pressure of time necessitated a choice between a railway journey along yet another magnificent highway to Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and a glorious expedition into the interior of British Guiana—I unhesitatingly chose the latter.

With regard to that expedition I shall only tell you, just now, that its goal is a waterfall five times higher than Niagara, that we shall take camp-kit and provisions, journey in a tent-boat, and be dependent for our very lives on the skill of Indians to paddle our little craft along a river which is a series of boiling rapids and fearsome falls. With Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana, as headquarters, we can make the return trip in eleven days. But we should need to spend several months, several years even, in carrying out innumerable other expeditions of a similar nature that explorers have already made within the undeveloped regions of South America; and there are portions of this vast Continent which have not yet been explored.

The European nations which have played a leading part in the history of South America are the Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English.

The Spaniards and the Portuguese were well to the fore in the discovery of the southern portion of the New World, and during the sixteenth century they obtained such widespread power therein—the Portuguese establishing themselves in Brazil and the Spaniards extending their conquests throughout the rest of the land—that onwards for, more or less, three hundred years they were masters of practically the whole of South America. Meanwhile the Dutch, French, and English made various raids on the Latin-American Colonies, partly inspired by a desire for empire-building, partly animated by personal ambition due to the enthusiasm of certain particularly adventuresome compatriots, and very considerably influenced by a spirit or national indignation against the strict trading laws which Spain and Portugal drew up with the object of preventing their neighbours from securing any share of the New World's wealth. Although the Dutch, French, and English all succeeded in getting a firm foothold in South America by establishing trading-stations, none of these rival nations was able to overthrow the rule of the pioneer conquerors in the New World. But, as you all know, each of these rivals to Spain and Portugal was ambitious to become the all-powerful nation in Europe, and in the struggle for European supremacy which took place, Spain and Portugal fell from their high estate. The hold of the enfeebled mother-countries on their South American colonies gradually weakened; gradually, too, the colonies began to realize their own growing strength, and one after another they all found an opportunity of successfully claiming their independence.

Thus it has come to pass that, as a result of many deeds of daring performed in the long-ago days by brave explorers, bold buccaneers, and enterprising traders in South America, Portugal can to-day merely claim that Portuguese is still the language used throughout the Republic of Brazil, and Spain that Spanish is the language used throughout the Republics of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela; whilst England, France, and Holland can boast that, although they share but a comparatively small corner of the Continent, they hold their respective shares—namely, British Guiana, French Guiana, and Dutch Guiana—as colonies. In addition to her mainland territory, Great Britain has the Falkland Islands as a colonial possession. And the United States of North America have recently acquired in Panama a strip of country, known as the Canal Zone, through which they have built the Panama Canal as a short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Each of the republics now has a population that forms a separate and distinct nation. The Chileans, for instance, are different in temperament, appearance, and habits from their neighbours in the Argentine, and the Bolivianos would object to being confused with the Panamanians, or vice versa, although all these four peoples are of Spanish origin. Difference of surroundings has favoured the growth of nationalities in South America, together with circumstances that have introduced into some regions numbers of negroes, and into others representatives of various European races.

Chilenos trekking across the frontier.


Some of the present-day South Americans who have some Indian blood in their veins have inherited certain tribal characteristics, as, for instance, good fighting qualities. Otherwise, the native Indians have had very little influence on the history of South America since the days when the Spaniards broke up the highly civilized Inca Empire. Apart from the Incas, however, and a few other tribes, the South American Indians were primitive people when the white man first visited their country, and most of the members of the numerous savage tribes have for generation after generation shown a strong desire to shun the white man's civilization, and to continue to live a very simple life in the heart of the Bush or among remote hills. In contrast to the negroes, who never lose an opportunity of hearing themselves speak, the Indians are very silent people; moreover, the negroes in South America always chatter in the language of the country that has adopted them, but the Indians, who have refused to be adopted by any foreign nation, speak, when occasion demands, in the tribal dialects of their ancestors.