We set off with a hopefulness of making good progress – everyone wants to be back at camp. But pretty quickly the terrain became difficult and we had to resort to hacking our way through, turn and turn about. Several times the rising water meant that we were cut off from the men in front and behind. Miguel and Tuma had been at the front and they came back and said they had reached a steep cliff. So we have to find another way. It’s really annoying that we are so close we can even see the mountain but we cannot get to it.
People are still hungry but it looks like Braulio has been helping himself to rations of sugar that are not his. Everyone is getting suspicious of everyone else. And everyone is hungry.
We spent the whole day trying to find a way around the steep cliff. I managed to catch two small birds and Inti got another two, so we had food. Someone else had got some mussels from the river and we had this with rice. Miguel is far ahead, and sent word back to say he’s found a path to the Nacahuaso, but he seems to be on the other side of the river. I don’t want to cross it. And I don’t want to spend another day building a raft which might drown me.
I am scared of the water but I’m also scared of the cliffs. I can’t tell anyone I’m scared, though I think Inti knows. I have to act like I’m not bothered but I keep seeing Benjamin falling in my head. I don’t dare shut my eyes but I see him even when my eyes are open. Pombo says hunger plays tricks with your mind and I’m beginning to wonder what is real and what isn’t. The one thing you can count on is the rain. We set up camp late on in the day in the rain with very little food to eat. Everyone is down, but some are trying to pretend they are okay.
We got to the Ñacahuazu today. I thought I would die before I got there I was so tired and hungry. But we will still have to cross the river on a raft so I can’t afford to be relieved. Rolando volunteered to cross the river. He’s going back to camp to get some more provisions and bring them to us. We will wait here for him. We had a meal with meat today, Ramon had kept a can back – in my knapsack , because he trusts me even when I’m hungry not to steal from the group. To be honest, I had forgotten the food was even in there. But I wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. I’m going out hunting with Inti and Moro. First we had the radio set up and heard a speech from Fidel. It is strange, sitting here, hearing his voice all the way from Cuba. It was comforting in a way and made me feel that I am doing something important.
We didn’t get anything apart from small birds yesterday. And we crossed the river today. We got on the raft and it was dragged a long way down the river. I’ll admit I was terrified because I knew I couldn’t swim well enough to survive if anything happened. Ramon praised me for carrying on even though I was afraid. He also said maybe I should learn to swim. Once we got the raft across the river it was no good for another trip so tomorrow some men will build another one and go back across to pick up the rest of the gear that got left behind.
My feet are still not too bad, but many of the others have swollen feet – especially the ones whose boots are all but worn out.
A lot of people had swollen feet today and it made walking almost impossible for some. Ramon said that we should shoot and eat the horse because people need food to continue. I was busy doing this while the others were at the river so I missed what happened. Inti told me that Joaquin tried to cross the river, and failed, so Ernesto and Rubio tried to cross back to help him but they were lost downstream. Then Joaquin tried again to cross and he too was swept downstream. Pombo and Tuma went off to look for them but couldn’t find them. It is horrible. Every time we go near a river someone seems to die.
But we had to eat. We had the horse butchered and ready to eat by about five 0’clock. It was a feast, but not one we could enjoy – firstly because of the horse. I know he is just a beast but he was on our journey with us and endured much of the same things we did. But mostly because so many of our comrades are missing and probably dead. I don’t know how anyone will survive being swept downstream on this hellish river. It is terrible for so many men to die before we have even started fighting.
But there was still radio work to be done. Inti and I deciphered a message that said another Bolivian will be joining us at the camp when we get back there and will be bringing some drugs to counter parasites. I don’t know what is wrong with people’s feet at the moment as I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think any of us have parasites.
I was convinced that Joaquin’s group had been lost but Miguel and Tuma had gone out to look for them, taking some of the horse meat. They came back - all but one. They told us that Carlos and Braulio had been swept off the raft into a whirlpool which overturned the raft. Many weapons were lost, and nearly all the ammunitions. But more importantly, Carlos was drowned. It is bad of me even to think it but I wish it had been Braulio not Carlos. I’m not sure I trust Braulio, but I liked Carlos even though I didn’t have that much to do with him. It’s not possible to be close to everyone here, you keep with those closest to you and for me this is Inti and Pombo – they feel responsible for me I think and so they are always the first ones I turn to in a crisis. Inti was quite close to Carlos so he was very upset. Braulio is a Cuban and Carlos was a Bolivian but that shouldn’t matter. One man is sometimes better than another man and I think the better man died today.
Rubio and Ernesto turned up naked. They had stripped before trying to cross on a small raft they built themselves and it was destroyed and all their clothes and shoes were lost. We are now together but tomorrow will split back into two groups. We will leave first and Joaquin’s group will leave later. We found some clothes for Rubio and Ernesto, but boots were more difficult. Rubio’s feet are now bound in cloth so the journey will be hard for him. A lot of people have lost clothing and weapons down the river so those of us who still have our packs are sharing out what we have with them. I still have the best boots. My feet are the same size as Ramon’s so I offered him my boots in exchange for his which are very worn. He thanked me but declined. ‘I would be happy to walk in your boots’ I told him. He laughed. ‘Jejenito’ he said, ‘I would be proud to walk in yours too, but it’s not a fair exchange. My boots have no soul, but yours are all heart.’ I felt proud when he said that, even though I know he was joking with me.