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Ricardo Jaimes Freyre was born in Tanca, Peru, in1868 and died in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1933) Poet, essayist and Bolivian playwright he was the primary representative of modernism in the literature of his country. His constant political and cultural activity is by and large reflected in the variety of approaches that can be seen in all his work. The son of a diplomat from Potosi, Bolivia, he also served as ambassador and diplomat, in the United States and Brazil and later as his country’s representative to the League of Nations in Geneva , in addition to being foreign minister.  He is well known for his poetry and has written a number of short stories, of which the following is a good example.  The story reflects, to some extent, the exploitation that the Altoplano indians were exposed to, and perhaps one shouldn’t say “were”, but that’s outside the aim of this discussion.  Ricardo’s description of the two “tourists” who attempted to steal land from the Indians is a blend of romanticism with respect to describing the atmosphere and natural surroundings, perhaps a reflection of the poet within him, and  a chilling rendition of the events leading to the murder of the two travelers.  His use of the Spanish language is  colourful, poetic and a joy to experience.

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IN THE MOUNTAINS

by

Ricardo Jaimes Freyre

 

The two travelers drank the last glass of wine, standing next to the bonfire. The cold breeze of the morning was quivering the brims of their wide felt hats lightly. The fire was already fading under the wavering and pallid light of dawn; vaguely illuminating the ends of the wide courtyard, and painted over the shadows at the base of the heavy clay columns that supported the straw thatched roof.

Tied to an iron ring, fixed to one of the columns, two fully harnessed horses were waiting with their heads down and, with difficulty, chewing on some long blades of grass.   Beside the wall, a young Indian was squatting with a bag full of corn in one hand and with the other flicking the yellow kernels into his mouth.

When the travelers were preparing to leave, another two Indians arrived at the large, rustic door. They raised one of the thick beams attached to the walls that was blocking the way and walked into the vast courtyard. Their appearance were humble and miserable, and even more miserable and humble because of their open jackets, their coarse shirts opened to their chest, the leather strings, full of knots, on their sandals, and by the shapeless caps, covering their ears, the ends joining under the chin these weird caps of gray wool. They slowly approached the travelers who already were mounted on their horses, while the Indian guide attached a bag of corn to his waist and firmly tied his sandal laces to his legs.

The travelers were young, the tall one, very white, cold and hard looking; the other, small, dark, with a cheerful appearance. – Sir muttered one of the Indians. The white traveler turned to him. – “Hello; How are you Thomas”  “Sir, can I have my horse?” “Say again, imbecile! Do you want me to travel on foot”? I have given you mine instead, that’s enough. But your horse is dead.

“Without a doubt, it is dead; but that’s because I’ve ridden it 15 hours at a time. It was a great horse! Yours is worthless;” look at it moving the ribs and its legs. Do you believe it will support you very many hours?”

“I sold my lamas to buy this horse for the holiday of Saint John… Also, gentleman, you have burned my hut.”

“True, because you came to bother me with your sniveling. I threw an ember at your head to make you leave, but you turned you face away and the ember fell into a heap of straw. I don’t feel guilty. You should have accepted my ember with respect. And you, what do you want, Pedro? He asked speaking to another Indian.”

“I am begging you, Sir, do not take my land. It is mine. I’ve planted it.”

“This is your business, Cordova, said the gentleman, speaking to his companion.

No, certainly; this is not my business. I have done what they entrusted me with. You, Pedro Quispe, are not the owner of these lands.

“Where are your titles, that is, where are your papers?”

“I have no papers Sir. My father also did not have papers, and the father of my father we didn’t know. And no one wanted to take away our land. You want to give it to someone else. I haven’t done you any harm.

“Do you have hidden somewhere a bagful of coins? Give me the money and you can keep the land.”

“I don’t have any coins, nor could I raise so much money”

“Well then we don’t have any more to talk about”

“Leave me in peace!”

“Then give me what you owe me!”

“But we are never going to bring this to a close: You believe I’m stupid enough to pay to you for a sheep and some hens that you have given me?” Did you imagine we were going to die of hunger?

The white traveler who was beginning to become impatient exclaimed:”If we keep listening to these two morons we’ll stay here forever”

The top of the mountain, on the flank of which the broad and rustic hostel was located, was affronted by the first rays of the sun. The narrow hollow was illuminated slowly and the desolate dryness of the scenery, limited by the nearby dark mountains, was standing out under the blue sky, cut into ribbons by the fleeing, leaden clouds.

Cordoba made a sign to the guide that headed toward the gate. Behind him came the two gentlemen.

Pedro Quispe rushed towards them and grabbed the reins of one of the horses.  A lash in the face made him step back.

Then the Indians came out of the yard, and quickly ran toward the nearest hill, climbing it with the speed and agility of the vicunas and, arriving at the Summit, they scanned the area surrounding them.

In the ravines and Gorges the freshly cut grass was yellowing; on the banks of the streams, grasses and the cuts limited the channels with a capricious and undulating wall; ; some herds of goats and llamas ran for the hills or disappeared in the crevices of the mountains, and here and there a cloud of smoke announced the proximity of a hut or a camp of Indian travelers.

Peter Quispe put his lips to the horn, which was hanging on his back, and blew some powerful and prolonged notes. He waited a moment and then continued with strident and quick notes. .The travelers began to climb up the flank of the mountain; the guide with firm steps was indifferent, devouring the corn kernels. When the sound of the horn reverberated, the Indian stopped, looked alarmed at two gentlemen, and then made a fast exit down an open path in the hills.  Moments later he disappeared in the distance. Cordoba, speaking to his partner, exclaimed: “the Guide… why do we need him?” He became tenser. Alvarez stopped his horse and looked around, with concern, in all directions.

The Horn was still resonating and at the top of the Hill the figure of Pedro Quispe was silhouetted against the blue background, on the reddish nakedness of the peaks. By the edges and the crossroads, a spell was taking place.  Behind the large overcrowded fields of grass, between the gleanings, wild grasses and bitter weeds, under the wide awnings of the nomadic camps, at the doors of the huts and at the summits of the distant mountains, could be seen the rapid coming and going of human beings.  They stopped for a moment and looked toward the hill on which Pedro Quispe was blowing incessantly on his horn and later began hiking up the hills, climbing cautiously.

Alvarez and Córdoba continued climbing up the mountain; their horses panting on the rocky roughness of the razor-thin path, and the two gentlemen, deeply concerned, carried on silently. Suddenly, a huge rock broke away from the top of the mountains, passed near them, with a mighty roar; then another… another– Alvarez galloped his horse to escape, forcing it to outflank the mountain. Cordoba imitated it immediately, but the boulders were chasing him.  It seemed that the mountain was crumbling.  The horses, startled by the disturbance, jumped on the rocks, miraculously supported by their hoofs on the projecting ledges, and dithered in the space provided by the enormous height.

Briefly the mountains towered over the Indians. The gentlemen then rushed towards the narrow path that was twisting along their feet, along which a sweet, thin and crystal clear stream trickled.

They filled the valleys with strange harmonies; the rough and disagreeable sound of the horns was flowing from all parts and including the end of the ravine; in the radiant clarity that was opening two mountains, a group of men suddenly stood up.

At that moment, a huge stone crashed into Alvarez’s horse; he was seen hesitating a moment and then fell and rolled down the slopes of the mountain.  Cordova jumped to ground and began crawling towards the point where he could see the dusty form of the horse and the gentleman.

The Indians began to descend from the heights and left the cracks and the bends, one by one, advancing carefully, stopping all the time, with an sharp-eyed look to the bottom of the gorge. When they came to the edge of the creek, they spotted the two travelers.  Álvarez lay motionless, stretched out on the ground. Next to him his partner, standing with his crossed arms,  desperate and feeling powerless, following intently the slow descent of the frightened Indians.

In a small undulating plain formed by the depressions of the mountains, bounded on its four corners by four wide ridges, waited together the old ones and the women for the result of the manhunt.

The Indian women with their short round skirts of coarse fabrics, their cloaks on their chest, their cloth caps shining, coarse tresses falling on their shoulders, their feet bare, their sordid looks, clustered at one end, quiet, and looking between their fingers at the whirling dance of their spindles and the winders.

When the pursuers arrived, they brought the travelers. tied on the horses

They moved to the center of the square, and threw them on the ground, like two bundles. The women approached and looked at them curiously, still spinning, talking quietly.

The Indians deliberated for a moment, then a group of them rushed to the foot of the mountain and returned with two huge jugs and two thick beams. While some were digging the earth to set the beams, the other filled little clay jugs with liquor.They drank until the sun began to set on the horizon, and the only sound heard was muffled conversations of women and the noise of the sloshing liquid inside the jugs ,when they lifted them. Peter and Thomas took the bodies of the gentlemen and tied them to the poles. Alvarez, who had broken his spine, let out a big groan. The two Indians stripped them of all their clothes and threw them away, piece by piece..  The women looked admiringly at the white bodies.

Then the ordeal began. Pedro Quispe  cut out his tongue and Cordoba burned his eyes.

Thomas punctured Alvarez’s body with small knife wounds. Then came the other Indians who tore off his hair, and banged stones and chips into the wounds.
A young Indian laughingly poured a big mug of beer over the head of Alvarez.

They died that afternoon. The two travelers had long ago given their soul to the Great Righteous, and the Indians tired, jaded and indifferent, were chopping and lacerating the bodies.

It then became necessary to take the oath of silence. Pedro Quispe drew a cross on the ground and the men and women came and kissed the cross. After that, he took his rosary off his neck, something he normally never did and made  the Indians swear on it, spit on the ground,  and walk on the moist earth.
When the bloody evidence  was removed and they had deleted the last traces of the scene that had developed in  the roughness of the Altiplano plateau, an immense silence fell over the solitude of the mountains.

Translated by Kenny Beechmount

October, 2012

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