The morning following the receipt of the heliogram we broke camp at daylight. When the last mule of the caravan had disappeared over the brown hills toward China we regretfully said farewell and rode away. If we are ever again made “prisoners of war” we hope our captor will be as delightful a gentleman as Captain Clive.
HUNTING PEACOCKS ON THE SALWEEN RIVER
From Ma-li-pa we traveled almost due north to the Salween River. The country through which we passed was a succession of dry treeless hills, brown and barren and devoid of animal life. On the evening of the third day we reached the Salween at a ferry a few miles from the village of Changlung where the river begins its great bend to the eastward and sweeps across the border from China into Burma.
The stream has cut a tremendous gorge for itself through the mountains and the sides are so precipitous that the trail doubles back upon itself a dozen times before it reaches the river 3,500 feet below. The upper half of the gorge is bare or thinly patched with trees, but in the lower part the grass is long and rank and a thin dry jungle straggles along the water’s edge. The Salween at this point is about two hundred yards wide, but narrows to half that distance below the ferry and flows in a series of rapids between rocky shores.
The valley is devoid of human life except for three boatmen who tend the ferry, but the deserted rice fields along a narrow shelf showed evidence of former cultivation. On the slopes far up the side of the canon is a Miao village, a tribe which we had not seen before. Probably the valley is too unhealthy for any natives to live close to the water’s edge and, even at the time of our visit in early March, the heated air was laden with malaria.
The ferrymen were stupid fellows, half drugged with opium, and assured us that there were no mammals near the river. They admitted that they sometimes heard peacocks and, while our tents were being pitched on a steep sand bank beneath a giant tree, the weird catlike call of a peacock echoed up the valley. It was answered by another farther down the river, and the report of my gun when I fired at a bat brought forth a wild “pe-haun,” “pe-haun,” “pe-haun” from half a dozen places.
The ferry was a raft built of long bamboo poles lashed together with vines and creepers. It floated just above the surface and was half submerged when loaded. The natives used a most extraordinary contrivance in place of oars. It consisted of a piece of tightly woven bamboo matting three feet long and two feet wide at right angles to which was fastened a six-foot handle. With these the men nonchalantly raked the water toward them from the bow and stern when they had poled the raft well into the current. The invested capital was not extensive, for when the ferry or “propellers” needed repairs a few hours’ work in the jungle sufficed to build an entirely new outfit.