An early start. Hiking all day again. We are on the riverbank of the Nancahuazu – nowhere near the Frias river. We got to stop at noon for some soup. I was pleased because the walking is very hard going. We had to use ropes to get us through some places. And it was raining, of course. The path is really tough on the feet. I am lucky because I have a good pair of new boots, but some of the others are nearly barefoot their boots are so trashed by the road.
Ramon asked me how I was bearing up under the privations. I said I was doing fine. He said he had some pain in his shoulders but had lost some weight and was happy about that. He joked that I did not need to lose weight, but to gain muscle. I said I was hungry a lot but it didn’t bother me. I still had strength. I asked if he would like me to carry his pack because of his shoulders. First he said no, then he gave me a couple of books from his knapsack to carry. He asked me how I was getting on with my reading. I said I hadn’t managed to do any for a few days, when I stop walking I’m so tired. He said I would get used to it, and I could read the books he’d given me if I wanted. One of them is a huge book called Los Miserables by a French writer Victor Hugo. I was surprised Ramon had brought novels. He said there is much to be learned from some fiction and the struggles faced in that book might inspire me if I read it. I will stop writing now and try it.
Today was my day to carry the money and the radio. I was weighed down like a pack animal. But I did not complain. I know there are plenty of others who feel the weight just as much and do not complain. (There are a few who complain at a lot less though!) Early on in the day I was called upon to use the radio to receive news from the forward group who said they’d found some domestic animals. They warned us to look out for them. We reached a river and we think its the Rio Grande. Though no one is really sure. One river looks the same as another to me, and they all look like places I want to avoid. Pacho was quite convinced. He also found signs of people but not recent tracks. I’m learning how to spot and read tracks. When I’m carrying the radio my head is often down which makes it easier to see signs on the ground.
Our camp last night wasn’t in a good spot. It was close to the river so that we could have water nearby. But there were many real jejenes. Today two groups went on scouting expeditions. I stayed back as I was helping cook today. Pombo was with me too. He is a bit sick, I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but he was off his food. We cooked two dinners since the groups came back at different times. Joaquin’s group walked for some 8 kilometers but even that far away they could find no crossing place over the river. The only creek they found had salt water. Marcos group found a crossing place. Alejandro, Inti and Pacho said they had tried to swim across but hadn’t been successful. We moved the camp about a kilometer back from the water. Less trouble from jejenes and other biting creatures.
Today we aimed to cross the river. It was dangerous and frightening. Swimming wasn’t possible so we built a raft. Marcos was in charge but the raft he built was very big and hard to steer. Marcos and his group managed to cross and two trips were made, carrying men and knapsacks, but on its way back for the third trip the raft was taken away by the current. Luckily it didn’t have any men or stuff on it when it was swept away. So our group was split up, half with Marcos group on the other side and half (including me) remained with Joaquin and Ramon. I was pleased not to have been on that raft. I was happy to stay with Ramon. But I wasn’t happy knowing that we would have to build another raft. We have to cross the river. Joaquin made another raft which was ready in the evening but Ramon said we could wait until morning to cross. I was happy because it is frightening enough in daylight, I was terrified to do it in the dark.
I have started reading Los Miserables. I’m quite enjoying it. It takes my mind off this place for a while – though the characters in the book have struggles of their own. Ramon says that fiction like this can raise class consciousness as significantly as political treatise for some people. Injustice is injustice however you dress it up, he said.
We crossed the river today. We got up very early while the water was at its lowest level. I was very nervous on the water but we managed to all cross safely early on in the day. Then the groups split up. Joaquin’s group were instructed to hide the raft and follow on behind. We set off and followed a path that led nowhere, then turned back to find, then climbed a mountain without any water – the river was dirty and I was so thirsty by the time we got to the top. The terrain is so difficult we are hacking our way through it with machetes which is really hard work hour on hour. Luckily on our way down we found a pond, with pigs wallowing in it. Some wanted to kill them to eat but we didn’t. Instead we camped in the valley. The forward group said that they’d seen sandal tracks, plus the tracks of three animals, one wearing horseshoes. So there are people around. But who?
I was with Ramon, Tuma, Alejandro and Pombo in a group walking along the river when we found a cornfield with baby corn growing. Somehow men were going in all directions, missing markers set for each other and Ramon got irritated that the whole thing was ‘descending into a farce.’ It was certainly chaotic and not a good sign when we are so close to other people. We ‘regrouped’ after something of a dressing down by Ramon and I went with Inti and Ricardo and we met some children and came and told us. We went to the peasants house. The head of the house is called Honorato. Inti told Honorato he was the head of the guerillas and we bought corn and pigs from him and went back to our temporary camp. Inti made a Bolivian meal called humita. I don’t know if it’s usually good or not, but it tasted fine to me. Anything tastes fine to me these days though.
Inti also made a drink out of milk and sugar but we were so full of the pig that we left it till tomorrow for more energy.
I went with Inti and Ramon and Moro to meet the peasants. Ramon pretended he was Inti’s assistant. I didn’t have to pretend that I was just an ordinary run of the mill guerrilla! Moro was the one most interesting to them because he is a doctor. The children have parasites and he treated them. One has been kicked by a horse and is in pain. I didn’t really trust Honorato. He told us he couldn’t help us. But he was happy to have our help – and our money.
I was about to sit down and read Los Miserables when Ramon called a meeting. He told us of the plans for the next 10 days. We will keep marching in the direction of Masicuri. He said that way we will all get a firsthand view of soldiers. Suddenly it all seemed very real that I may kill someone.