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ted on, and in half an hour arrived at the spot. It is the worst pass in the Cordillera. The mountain above
appears almost perpendicular, and in one continued slope down to the rapid torrent which is raging underneath. The surface is covered with loose earth and stones, which have been brought down by the water. The path goes across this slope, and it is very bad for about seventy yards, being only a few inches broad; but the point of danger is a spot where the water which comes down from the top of the mountain, either washes the path away or covers it with loose stones. We rode over it, and it certainly was very narrow and bad. In some places the rock almost touches one's shoulder, while the precipice is immediately under the opposite foot, and high above the head are a number of large loose stones, which appear as if the slightest touch would send them rolling into the torrent beneath, which is foaming and rushing with great violence. However, the danger to the rider is only imaginary, for the mules are so careful, and seem so well aware of their situation, that there is no chance of their making a
As soon as we had crossed the pass, which is only seventy yards long, the capataz told me that it was a very bad place for baggage mules ; that four hundred had been lost there, and that we should also very probably lose one ; he said, that he would get down to the water at a place about a hundred yards off, and wait there with his lasso to
any mule that might fall into the torrent, and he requested me to lead on his mule. However, I was resolved to see the tumble, if there was to be one, so the capataz took away my mule and his own, and then scrambled down on foot, till he at last got to the level of the water, while 1 stood on a projecting rock, with the two English captains of the mines, the three Cornish miners, the assayer and the surveyor, who were all anxious to witness the passage of the baggage.
The drove of mules now came in sight, one following another; a few were carrying no burdens, but the rest were either mounted or heavily laden ; and as they wound along the crooked path, the difference of colour in the animals, the different colour and shapes of the baggage they were carrying, with the picturesque dress of the peons, who were vociferating the wild song by which they drive on the mules, and the sight of the dangerous path they had to cross-formed altogether a very interesting scene.
As soon as the leading mule came to the commencement of the pass, he stopped, evidently unwilling to proceed, and of course all the rest stopped also.
He was the finest mule we had, and on that account had twice as much to carry as any of the others ; his load had never been relieved, and it consisted of four portmanteaus, two of which belonged to me, and which contained not only a very heavy
bag of dollars, but also papers which were of such consequence that I could hardly have continued my journey without them. The peons now redoubled their cries, and leaning over the sides of their mules, and picking up stones, they threw them at the leading mule, who now commenced his journey over the path. With his nose to the ground, literally smelling his way, he walked gently on, often changing the position of his feet, if he found the ground would not bear, until he came to the bad part of the pass, where he again stopped, and I then certainly began to look with great anxiety at my portmanteaus: but the peons again threw stones at him, and he continued his path, and reached me in safety ; several others followed. At last a young mule carrying a portmanteau, with two large sacks of provisions and many other things, in passing the bad point, struck his load against the rock, which knocked his two hind-legs over the precipice, and the loose stones immediately began to roll away from under them : however his forelegs were still upon the narrow path; he had no room to put his head there, but he placed his nose upon the path on his left, which gave him the appearance of holding on by his mouth : his perilous fate was soon decided by a loose mule who came, and in walking along the Ladera, knocked his comrade's nose off the path, destroyed his balance, and, head over heels, the poor creature instantly commenced a fall which was really quite terrific. With all his baggage firmly lashed to him, he rolled down the steep slope, until he came to the part which was perpendicular, and then he seemed to bound off, and turning round in the air, fell into the deep torrent on his back, and upon his baggage, and instantly disappeared. I thought, of course, that he was killed; but up he rose, looking wild and scared, and immediately endeavoured to stem the torrent wbich was foaming about him. It was a noble effort; and for a moment he seemed to succeed, but the eddy suddenly caught the great load which was upon his back, and turned him completely over; down went his head with all the baggage, and as he was carried down the stream, all I saw were his hind-quarters, and his long, thin, wet tail lashing the water. As suddenly, however, up his head came again ; but he was now weak, and went down the stream, turning round and round by the eddy, until, passing the corner of the rock, I lost sight of him. I saw, however, the peons,
with their lassos in their hands, run down the side of the torrent for some little distance; but they soon stopped, and after looking towards the poor mule for some seconds, their earnest attitude gradually relaxed, and when they walked towards me, I concluded that all was over, I walked up to the peons, and was just going to speak to them, when I saw at a distance a solitary mule walking towards us !
We instantly perceived that he was the Phæton
whose fall we had just witnessed, and in a few moments he came up to us to join his comrades. He was, of course, dripping wet; his eye looked dull, and his whole countenance was dejected : however, none of his bones were broken, he was very little cut, and the bulletin of his health was altogether incredible.
With that surprising anxiety which the mules all have to join the troop, or rather the leading madrina which carries the bell, he continued his course, and actually walked over the pass without compulsion, although certainly with great caution.
We then continued our course for two hours, until we came to the “ Rio de las Vacas,” which is the most dangerous torrent of any of those which are to be crossed. We got through it with safety, but it was very deep, and so excessively rapid, that large stones were rolled down it with the force of the water. The mules are accustomed to these torrents, but they are, notwithstanding, much frightened, and it is only long spurs that can force them into them.
While we were crossing, the peons stood down the stream, with their lassos hurling round their heads, in order to catch any person who might have been carried away ; but as the boxes which I had seen washed from the mules were dashed to pieces before they had got twenty yards, the peon's lasso would have come a little too late ; and besides this, as the mule is their own property, I used sometimes