Our group left early and Joaquin’s group were to follow on. They still had their half of the horsemeat to cook and I was happy to be away from the smell of the cooking of it. Many men want to eat all the food and Ramon insisted that we should hold some of it in reserve. It’s hard to think of the future when your belly is empty in the present, he said, but eventually his reason won through. Ramon wanted us to keep on going till we reached the camp but progress was slow and we had to stop. I was with Ramon and Pombo but Inti, Ricardo and Urbano fell behind. It was not all bad news though because when they finally caught us up they had shot a deer –Inti told me it’s called an urina locally – so we were able to eat a good meal and keep the horse ribs in reserve. But Pombo and Urbano had a fight – Urbano refused the order to cook the urina. It is so stupid, I was happy to cook but he was told he should and he just refused an order straight. Ramon told Urbano he must obey orders. The mood was difficult after that – Urbano was sulking. After we’d eaten we kept on walking for a couple of hours but a number of men were complaining they couldn’t go on and so we camped early for the night.
On the homeward march. I am keen to keep going but others are just dragging along. I don’t see why they can’t understand it’s best to get back home as soon as possible and rest once we get there. Some of our group fell so far behind that they were caught up by Joaquin’s group. I think it shows ill discipline. Ramon isn’t happy about it, I can tell. He is struggling himself but he leads by example and keeps going. Even Pombo is having a hard time keeping going. Ricardo shot another urina so we had more good meat. Later there was an argument between Joaquin and Rubio. I don’t know how it started or what it was about, but it’s not good for men to be arguing over silly things. Ramon told us we had to push on to the creek and then a plane flew overhead so we had to hide and be more careful about our route. Despite all this we got back to the creek at around five o clock.
Pombo fell into the river and Urbano pulled him out. I suppose that shows there is no real hard feeling between them about yesterday. I would have gone to pull him out of course but Urbano got there first.
At the creek we were met by a couple of Peruvian men I don’t really know, Negro and Chino. They said that Benigno was waiting for us with food. That was good news. But there was also bad news. The farm has been attacked by soldiers and two recruits from Moises Guevara’s group have deserted. They might have fallen into the hands of the army and so are to blame for the farm. Apparantly the plane has been flying around for nearly six days.
Marcos turned up – he had gone to the farm and Ramon was annoyed because he said he’d told him not to go there. Once again indiscipline causes trouble. So we can’t go to the farm any more at least for a while. We are headed for base camp and we will be met there by some people –I didn’t hear who it was, so it will be a surprise for me. We are all together as a group now and ready to leave for base camp tomorrow morning.
Benigno and Negro left before us. Then we left. Marcos was told to take charge of the defence and Joaquin’s group were last, responsible for clearing (or hiding) our tracks behind them. It’s hard for some of the men because they are now barefoot after the incident by the river.
We took a break in the middle of the day and Pacho arrived to tell us that Marcos had sent word to say that there are sixty soldiers nearby and that they’ve captured one of Guevara’s messengers. So they know we are here. I was keen to get fighting but now is not the time I want to confront the enemy for the first time.
Ramon said that despite all this we would go back to the camp where they told us a bear was killed by the Frenchman. Miguel and Urbano were sent ahead to cook a meal for us, and that spurred us on to walk a bit faster. But it was only the food that kept spirits up. The news apart from that is bad and it seems like we will soon have to face the soldiers even though we are unprepared, tired, hungry and without enough weapons.
Ramon wasn’t happy. It’s hard to be making decisions at this point and everyone seems to be doing what they want, no one listening to orders. Just men taking messages back and forward. I hope it will be better once we get back to camp because tempers are quite frayed. We finally got back to the camp to find some Frenchmen and Tania as well as more Bolivians who have been moving food to the camp ‘gondola’ style.
Ramon had a meeting with the Frenchmen and the Peruvians, discussing what’s going on in the wider world – I have almost forgotten it exists and I was too tired to listen to what they were saying. I like Tania. It was good to see her again. She told me that we will soon have new radio transmitters with a better range. I asked if they will be heavier. She joked with me that I was now so strong they would feel lighter. I do not feel stronger. And I don’t look it either, I am sure I’ve lost weight because of the lack of food. But she said that a couple of good meals and I’m sure to be back to my best again.
When we had finished talking, Ramon called her over and gave her one of his tongue-lashings. I don’t know what it was about, and if it wasn’t Ramon doing it, I might think it unfair. I asked her later and she told me not to worry. She may be a woman but she is every bit as strong as a man and more committed than some of the men we have walked with these last weeks.
It turns out that Loro has shot a soldier. There were a lot of messages brought by Tania and the others and Ramon and others spent a lot of time and frustration trying to decipher them. Many things aren’t clear. They were talking a lot about the finances and movements of people in Bolivia. We need more equipment. We need good radios because we have seen what happens when we lose sight or track of each other.
I did a count of everyone who is here today and it is forty seven. Some of these are visitors and will leave again but it’s a lot of people. Feeding them all is quite a task. We went from bear camp on to the other camp.. There as a dispute between Inti and Marcos. Of course Marcos was to blame. Ramon told Marcos that if he had been disrespectful again he would be expelled. Marcos said he’d rather be shot. Ramon just glared at him. You would think this would be enough to pull other men in line, but there was another incident later on with Antonio. He was with the scouting party, sent out to watch the peasant’s house from the hill. A few men were also sent out to set up an ambush for the soldiers. I was quite glad not to be asked to go on that trip because I don’t feel I have enough experience and I don’t want to make a mistake. Or be killed.
There was more arguing between Marcos and Antonio, each blaming the other about leaving tracks that the army could find. Rolando was sent to find out what had gone on. All of this trouble meant that someone messed up the distribution of food for the night and our group, which is nearly 30 men, went hungry. I thought it would be better once we got back to the camp but it isn’t. There is no ‘home’ for us now.
Pombo suggested we get some supplies and form a gondola but Ramon refused this course of action until we resolved what to do about Marcos. But before anything could happen Coco (Inti’s brother) came and said that the ambush had worked. I don’t know the details because I wasn’t there but seven men were killed and eighteen taken prisoner. Four of them are wounded. We also captured a lot of weapons but not any food supplies because the men carrying the food managed to escape. We got their plan of operations as well which showed that they were planning to advance up both sides of the Ñacahuasu looking for us. We also got two horses. I thought I might feel jealous that I didn’t get to take part in the action, but to tell the truth I just feel relieved. I am not anxious to kill another man.
Ramon set us all up in position and told us we will spend the night there. Braulio was detailed to set up an ambush. I was to stay with the prisoners. It was strange. I didn’t know how to behave with them. Ramon said we must treat them with respect. I just didn’t want to show them I felt scared, because I did. There was a major and a captain and they both told us all of the plans they had.
So we have counted all the weaponry we got from the ambush. It’s a big haul. Perhaps even better is all the clothing we got from the soldiers. Ramon told us to strip them of everything we could use and that included some men getting nice boots. The officers were allowed to keep their clothing. They were told they could have three days to retrieve the bodies of their dead. Ramon said there will be a truce for that long then we will resume hostilities. The soldiers were set free and I imagine that poorly clothed as they are they will want to get as far away from here as soon as possible.
The captain had a relative in Cuba and he doesn’t seem to want to fight against us. I never thought of it like that – we are killing men who are quite like us, and maybe don’t even want to be fighting us. Some of the soldiers begged us to kill the Major, before we set them free, saying that he mistreated them. I cannot believe them. Not one of us would ask for Ramon to be killed in that circumstance.
I think some of our weaker men are going to be discharged from the group. I heard Pombo and Ramon talking about it. I don’t want to give their names yet, I hope that they may turn things around and become committed again, but Ramon has said that anyone who is not up to the job will be dismissed.