National Geographic : 1966 Feb
the decayed dock now led only to a vast meadow where cattle grazed belly-deep in the mud. The lake had all but dried up; its channel was choked with water hyacinths. We soon learned that the streets were quiet because all the activity was indoors. And when we found out what was going on inside, we began to understand why illiteracy, so commonplace in the highlands, is rare in many Bolivian lowland communities. All the children and many adults were in school. Their drive for learning derives from generations of missionary schooling. Bomber Becomes Flying "Meat Wagon" We flew back along the edge of the great rain forest stretching 2,000 miles from the Andes to the Brazilian coastline. Our plane touched down at some of the oases in that green desert, towns with names like Concep ci6n or Ascensi6n, bestowed centuries ago by the Jesuit founders. In them dwell white de scendants of the early Spaniards, many with daughters so pretty that it has long been the 190 custom for gentlemen from the highlands of Bolivia to look for wives there. We saw cargo planes bring in cabinet min isters and missionaries, barbed wire and beer, nylons and cement. In San Ignacio they had unloaded a bullet-riddled command car that once served Rommel's Afrika Korps and is now an ambulance driven by an Austrian nun. Napole6n and I traveled to Bolivia's north central savanna, in the Beni region, in an empty "meat wagon," a converted B-17 bomber used to fly beef to Altiplano markets. For 100 miles the pilot hedgehopped at 200 feet. We flushed rheas-South American ostriches-deer, and a jaguar roused from its siesta. Occasionally we stampeded cattle. "There's a lot of cattle rustling in the Beni," said Napole6n. That was understandable. We saw no fences, nor any human beings. "The only way to find a ranch is to follow the wagon tracks," explained our pilot. Changing course, we followed two parallel ruts nearly 30 miles before we flashed over a grove of trees and a ranch house.