National Geographic : 1943 Mar
Bolivia-Tin Roof of the Andes BY HENRY ALBERT PHILLIPS INTO landlocked Bolivia I came by water, on board the S. S. Ollanta, an iron vessel of 750 tons burden, 265 feet in length, sailing along the top of the Andes, 12,500 feet above sea level. My steamboat in the clouds plied back and forth virtually the full length of Lake Titi caca, about 120 miles, from Puno, Peru, to Guaqui, Bolivia. I had just been lifted to this top of the world from the seacoast in a 48-hour climb aboard a tiny 4-car train drawn by an over worked locomotive. "Where did this iron ship come from, and how did she get up here?" I asked the first officer as I emerged from one of the 66 commodious cabins for first-class passengers. "The Ollanta was made in Scotland," he explained. "Her dimensions are all on minia ture scale, even the berths, tables, and other furnishings. She was shipped from Hull, and brought up from the sea to Lake Titicaca in pieces. The first ships of our fleet were car ried up on the backs of mules and Indians." As we sailed out of sight of land with the evening mountain mists rising all around us, I had the sensation of drifting along on banks of clouds. Swarms of balsa-wood fishing boats, bobbing like corks in the fog, strength ened the illusion (Plate VI). Next morning the fog had disappeared, and the 3,400 square miles of the largest sea on the continent, the highest navigable body of water in the world, lay in the clear air like a giant aquarium clasped by the prongs of Andean mountain tops. We entered Guaqui, Bolivia's only remain ing "seaport" of any consequence, by way of a tenuous channel, made by a dredge heap ing mud on either side. "The lake is slowly shrinking," the first officer told me. "We have a harder time every year reaching harbor." Guaqui is a sleepy little town saturated with manana. On shore, we were bundled into an antiquated American-built railroad train. Nothing happened for nearly an hour. Then a little yard engine named Tunari came hiss ing along, took us off, and dumped us into the town's railroad backyard. We were seem ingly forgotten until around noon, when tiny Tunari remembered us. The monotony was broken by the appear ance of a crowd of Indian women. Men seemed scarce. Each woman wore a soft brown derby, a voluminous, many-hued shawl from which a baby usually peered, and an orange skirt and blue apron, with layers of red-tinted underskirts peeping out. Squatting like brood hens in the dusty road, these prospective passengers waited content edly to come aboard. At last a big locomo tive came along and carried us off. Our first halt was at Tiahuanaco, notable for a sprawling Romanesque church built in the earliest colonial period from the ruins of a pre-Inca city near by (Plate V). Crews of ragged urchins sold me several heads of images they had excavated from the graves of a race which mysteriously vanished centuries ago.* As the train climbed beyond the town, the broad pampas of grain gradually dwindled until there remained only patches of brown grass (Plate XII). Sheep corrals began to spot the perpendicular fields. Grazing with the sheep were often llamas and alpacas. Even the Train Gets out of Breath As if short of breath, like all the passengers except the Indians, our train stopped fre quently, as we continued to climb to 3-mile altitudes. At even small stations there were groups of squatting women, with knitted and woven articles and food for sale. I could buy a carcass of lamb for half a dollar! Our Indian passengers ate continually, bundling in and out of the train. In the second class, four bench seats ran the length of the carriage. The passengers were packed in solid, all feeding, mothers from earthen pots, babies from the mothers' breasts. With the boliviano unit of currency de pressed to a cent and a half U. S. money, an excellent luncheon cost me only 24 cents. After that I settled down as best I could, under the pressure of impending mountain sickness, to enjoy an extraordinary scenic panorama. Mount Illimani, one of the high est peaks in the world (Plate VIII), and other snow-covered sisters, exceeding 21,000 feet, filled both horizon and sky. No wonder the temperature had dropped below freezing! Suddenly an American outdoor signboard diverted my eyes from the beauty of Nature. "LA PAZ GOLF CLUB," it read. Later I had the rare experience of playing there-some 14,000 feet up! We soon pulled into the small station of El Alto, poised on the rim of a vast crater *See "Heart of Aymara Land," by Stewart E. McMillin, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Feb ruary, 1927.