“Adios! Adios, senora! Adios, senores!”
With the cry of our late host sounding in our ears we passed down the narrow little street of Cerro de Pasco on our way to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes.
The cave of the devil.
You may remember that I made some remark concerning the difficulty of the ascent of Pike’s Peak. Well, that is mere child’s play—a morning constitutional compared to the paths we found ourselves compelled to follow in the great Cordillera.
Nor was it permitted us to become gradually accustomed to the danger; we had not been two hours out of Cerro de Pasco before we found ourselves creeping along a ledge so narrow there was scarcely room for the mules to place their hoofs together, over a precipice three thousand feet in the air—straight. And, added to this was the discomfort, amounting at times to positive pain, caused by the soroche.
Hardly ever did we find ground sufficiently broad for a breathing space, save when our arriero led us, almost by magic it seemed, to a camping place for the night. We would ascend the side of a narrow valley; on one hand roared a torrent some hundreds of feet below; on the other rose an uncompromising wall of rock. So narrow would be the track that as I sat astride my mule my outside leg would be hanging over the abyss.
But the grandeur, the novelty, and the variety of the scenery repaid us; and Le Mire loved the danger for its own sake. Time and again she swayed far out of her saddle until her body was literally suspended in the air above some frightful chasm, while she turned her head to laugh gaily at Harry and myself, who brought up the rear.
“But Desiree! If the girth should break!”
“Oh, but it won’t.”
“But if it should?”
“Tra-la-la! Come, catch me!”
And she would try to urge her mule into a trot—a futile effort, since the beast had a much higher regard for his skin than she had for hers; and the mule of the arriero was but a few feet ahead.
Thus we continued day after day, I can’t say how many. There was a fascination about the thing that was irresistible. However high the peak we had ascended, another could be seen still higher, and that, too, must be scaled.
The infinite variety of the trail, its surprises, its new dangers, its apparent vanishings into thin air, only to be found, after an all but impossible curve, up the side of another cliff, coaxed us on and on; and when or where we would have been able to say, “thus far and no farther” is an undecided problem to this day.
About three o’clock one afternoon we camped in a small clearing at the end of a narrow valley. Our arriero, halting us at that early hour, had explained that there was no other camping ground within six hours’ march, and no hacienda or pueblo within fifty miles. We received his explanation with the indifference of those to whom one day is like every other day, and amused ourselves by inspecting our surroundings while he prepared the evening meal and arranged the camp beds.