Charlie Lacy R. Alajuela Costa Rica
Midnight over the Amazon
When I was going to school back in San Angelo, Texas I would have never dreamed that sometime in my future I'd be flying in an old DC-7 loaded with cattle over the Amazon jungle at midnight. It all started in 1973 when the president and acting manager of a Bolivia agriculture cooperative contacted me. The cooperative wanted to improve their cattle production with superior bovine (cattle) genetics, consequently it was their desire to purchase some good Brahman and Brown Swiss cattle in Texas and fly the cattle to the country of Bolivia. The reason to purchase the cattle in Texas was because of the similarities of the climatic conditions in Texas and the cattle's destination in Bolivia. The cattle were destined for Monteagudo, a small, outback village, located in the southwestern part of the South American country. The cooperative had a project near the village and they had planned to hold the cattle until the animals recuperated from what turned out to be an extremely hard trip. After the imported animals had recovered from the stress of the trip and the harsh environmental changes, they were to be distributed to the small farmers in the area. The purebred cattle would be crossed with the local cattle; known as Criollas (cattle brought to America by the Spaniards more than 400 years ago). The Criolla cattle were tougher than hell, but they had to be for the horrendous local conditions. The local breed was very low in fertility, as well as beef production and at their best, the Criolla cow could only produce a couple of liters of milk a day. Juan I. Gonzalez, President of the cooperative, had sent me a telegram asking for my assistance in the selection and shipping of the cattle. At that time I was a registered international cattle consultant with the World Bank and Juan's cooperative had received one of the bank's circulars that listed international contacts in the cattle export business and as fate would have it, the cooperative contacted me. I agreed to assist the cooperative and about three weeks later Juan arrived in Austin, Texas, where I lived at the time. Before Juan's arrival I had contacted several Brahman and Brown Swiss breeders who were more than eager to show us their cattle, particularly for the higher prices being paid for export animals. I picked up Juan at the Austin airport and Juan, who incidentally spoke some English, had coal black neatly trimmed hair and his skin was a natural amber-reddish in color. Juan was an extremely polite and soft-spoken man in his late thirties. He was about five foot, 5 inches tall, and constantly wore new gold rimmed Ray-Ban sunglasses, that he mentioned was the first thing he bought when he charged planes Miami. He told me that he was predominately Quechua Indian and that he had been educated at a Jesuit school in Sucre, Bolivia, the colonial capitol of the country. This was Juan's first trip out of Bolivia and needless to say he was very impressed by the more modern and fascinating lifestyle he encountered in the United States. After the Jesuit school, Juan had obtained a master's degree in education, the National University at Sucre and admitted upon his arrival that he knew nothing about ranching or agriculture and was totally depending on my experience for the selection of the cattle. The import contract was for forty-one yearling (one year old) Brahman heifers, twenty yearling Brown Swiss heifers, two yearling Brown Swiss Bull calves and four Brahman bull calves, from 15 to 18 months old, a total of sixty-seven head of cattle. The import contract stipulated that the cattle were to be purebred or full blood, with pedigreed, as well as registered with their respective associations. Another clause in the contract stipulated that the cattle were required to meet a certain health criteria that were standard policy for all cattle imported by the country of Bolivia. After visiting about twelve ranches in four days we had selected the cattle, finished our business and Juan departed for Bolivia. I had written special instructions for Juan as to the pre-preparation of the corrals and the area surrounding the corrals, where the Texas cattle would recuperate from their trip. Everything had to be just right in order to lessen the degree of local environmental contamination of the North American animals. The imported animals, not being native Bolivian cattle, were not immune nor did they have any resistance to many of the viruses that would be present in their new home. The local Bolivian viruses fortunately didn't affect the native cattle. After many years in the area, the local cattle had built up a strong resistance or immunity to such problems as Paraplasmosis, various strains of fever ticks and many other types of parasites, as well as numerous viruses, including several different strains of Leptospirosis, none of which found in Texas. Bolivia also had screw worms and hoof and month disease, but the later was somewhat controlled by a preventive vaccination administered every ninety days. I had asked Juan to scrape the top 8 to 10 inches of soil from the corral floor, and disinfect, on a daily basis, the complete corral system, including the corral posts, planking, gates, water troughs, loading chutes, buildings and all the cattle working equipment. Juan was to install a good lighting system that would keep the bats away at night and he would quarantine an area of about three acres that surrounded the corrals. A water purification system was installed and all the workers were required to disinfect their boots before entering the area. In addition, the corrals and the nearby surrounding area were fumigated about every three days. The same cleaning and disinfectant was used on the trucks that transported the cattle from our port of entry in Bolivia, the international airport located at Santa Cruz de la Sierra. As it was my custom, I planned to accompany the animals during the flight to make sure none of the details were accidentally over looked. Although the cattle were insured, I wanted to do everything possible to guarantee the animals arrived in good condition at their final destination. At about the same time an acquaintance in Austin introduced me to Walter, a German, in his late fifties. Walter, a medium sized man with light graying hair and mustache, said he owned a restaurant near the university and claimed to be a professor at the same university, which could have been the truth. Walter was a very interesting person, but as it turned out, he was an incredible liar. Walter had some time on his hands and asked if he could go along on the flight and I agreed. As a youth, Walter who seemed to have had a few blemishes in his past migrated from Germany to Peru and several years later to the United States. He spoke English, German and good Spanish and although he was full of nonsense, he did make himself extremely useful on more than one occasion during the trip. Finally the big day arrived and I was very excited. Walter and I left Austin about 10:00 a.m. and we drove to the almost new cattle quarantine facilities, located at the Houston International Airport, which was a little over two hours away from Austin. All the paper work was finished and the cattle appeared to be in good condition. I had hired a 54 foot long, single deck cattle truck to transport the cattle from the quarantine corrals to the loading area, about five minutes away and now all we had to do was wait for the airplane. Just about nightfall we were notified that the plane had arrived and it was parked at the loading area. We hurried over to the loading area because I couldn't wait to see the aircraft, which would transport us, as well as our cargo to South America. As we got within sight of the loading area, all I could see was this huge shinny, silver, four-engine airplane. The young captain, who turned out to be an ex-United States Air Force, Vietnam-war pilot, as well as the co-pilot and the flight engineer were standing by the loading ram. The three crewmembers were dressed in white shirts with gold bars on the shoulders, flight caps with gold braid, all very official looking with the proper insignias. Captain John, who was a tall, tanned, muscular build man with dark blond hair and blue eyes must have been in his early thirties. Larry, the co-pilot, was a young man in his early twenties. His father owned the plane and I believe only for that reason, Larry was part of the crew. I don't remember the name of the flight engineer, but I do remember he was about 45 years old, somewhat balding, average size with a large belly and was a retired United States Airforce Sargent. I introduced Walter and myself to the crew and than Captain John, the pilot, invited us aboard for an inspection. As it turned out, I had contracted, what appeared to be about a 1948 vintage DC-7, prop engine, cargo transport aircraft from an air freight service based in Miami, Florida to transport the animals. After quickly inspecting the interior of the large aircraft, I had the impression that it had been used somewhere in Europe or maybe out in the South Pacific to haul cargo a few years after the Second World War. After the quick inspection, Larry, the co-pilot, who was the airplane owner's son, requested the payment, in full, for the DC-7's character to Bolivia, which his farther and I had previously agreed by telephone. I had the payment ready in my brief case and I counted out $28,000.00 in cash and handed to Larry. Larry gave me a receipt and the entire payment transaction didn't take more than five minutes. The aluminum cattle corrals had been assembled and there were several layers of thick plastic covering the floor of the aircraft. Everything seemed to be in order and Captain John asked if I had a loading plan. I told him no, but if he would give me his criteria for the weight balance of the aircraft, I'd calculate and equalize the load. He agreed and in about ten minutes we were ready to load the cattle. Captain John, who appeared to be very serious, but somewhat nervous, asked me the total weight of the load and I told him about 56,000 pounds of cattle and another 2,000 pounds or so of farming equipment. Captain John looked at me with a sort of half silly grin of surprise on his face, than he cleared his throat and said fine. We finished loading the cattle just a little before midnight. While the three-crew members were in the cockpit starting the enormous engines and doing the pre-flight checks, Walter and I, after saying goodbye to the ground crew, loaded our personal luggage, in a very cramped area just behind the cockpit. When the starboard side engines started I could see the release of a big puff of gray smoke, as I looked out the small, 10 inch in diameter porthole style window. The smoke didn't scare me, but needless to say it was an unexpected surprise. I had assumed that the old, government surplus plane had flown from Miami, Florida to Houston, Texas without any problems, so I had blind faith that we would make it to Santa Cruz, De La Sierra, Bolivia, without any serious misfortune. Unfortunately it never crossed my mind that the old DC-7 had flown from Miami to Houston without cargo and that we would fly from Houston, to Santa Cruz, a distance of about 3,000 air miles, loaded with 56,000 pounds of live cattle and 2,000 pounds of farm equipment. As it turned out, Walter and I would sit on two small jump seats just behind the wall of the cockpit, in an area that was about 3 foot deep and the width of the fuselage. To the left of our seats was a narrow door that opened into the very crowded cockpit and the entire interior of the aircraft, including the cramped cockpit was painted a cheerful Government Issue faded olive drab color. As we stored our bags, we could hear the loud, moaning whine of an electric motor closing the large cargo door, that finished its slow descend with a heavy thud. Suddenly the aircraft jerked and we started rolling slowly down the taxi lane to the runway. It caught my attention that although the cattle had been bawling and restless when we loaded, the animals became very quiet and didn't move a muscle when the plane started taxiing. We finally reached the end of the taxi lane and turned on to the runway. I opened the metal door to the cockpit and to my surprise, Captain John was sitting shirtless and he was wearing a pair of heavy, rawhide leather gloves, that extended half way up his forearms, the type you see in the movies being worn by the old-time locomotive engineers. As Captain John revved up the four huge engines, the other two-crew members checked the lights, gages and other instruments. There seemed to be a satisfactory mutual agreement between the crewmembers that the pre-flight check was affirmative and the plane began to roll down the runway. In only a few seconds the green and blue colored lights along the side of the runway began to past very rapidly and it seemed that we should have began our lift off, but strangely enough we were still on the ground, building up speed. I looked at Captain John, who appeared to be pulling and struggling with the flight controls and oddly enough kept mumbling, "Come on now, damn you, come on", until at last, in a time span that seemed to last forever, the heavily loaded plane sluggishly became airborne. I looked out the porthole window and I could see the two long lines of twinkling runway lights, near but gradually fading far in the distance and the obscure deep water of the Gulf of Mexico just below us. It could have been my imagination, but at that moment I would have swore the plane was overloaded. Captain John assured us that everything was normal and under control as the cumbersome plane continued its slow climb upward. He said we would ascend to an elevation of about 10,000 feet, which was our cruising altitude. The plane couldn't cruise at a higher altitude because it wasn't pressurized and it didn't have oxygen. I glanced into the cargo area and the cattle seemed to be relaxed and without discomfort, considering the circumstances. Walter and I had packed a brown bag lunch, so we had a bite to eat and in no time we had dozed off. Ever so often one of us would wake up, look out the porthole or talk with the crew and than doze off again. Neither of us slept for more than a couple of hours that first night. It was about 9:00 a.m. the next day and Captain John informed us that we would be landing at Barranquilla, Columbia in about an hour's time, where he had planned to refuel the airplane. Again I felt excited, I'd never be in Barranquilla and I was really looking forward to the experience. We had a very smooth landing at the Barranquilla airport. While the DC-7 was being refueled, Walter and I decided to stretch our legs and we went into the terminal for some breakfast. We finished breakfast and meet Captain John at the terminal entrance where he informed us that we'd takeoff in about another hour. There really wasn't much to see at the old, domed terminal building, just a few primitive looking thatch covered food stands. With nothing more to do, we decided to walk around and talk with some of the local people. The weather was hot and due to Barranquilla being so near the ocean, the humidity was high. The cargo door of the plane had been opened and the cattle were given fresh water. The cattle were calm and the condition of the animals was acceptable considering the very hot and humid weather. Thank goodness, for the sake of the cattle, we'd be leaving Barranquilla in the next thirty minutes. The take off time at Barranquilla was much shorter than it had been at Houston International. In almost no time we were airborne. The cattle were quiet as we began what we anticipated to be the last leg of our trip, which happened to pass through a section of the Andes Mountains and than the final jaunt over the Amazon jungle. Our scheduled arrival time at Santa Cruz De La Sierra, Bolivia was about 8:00 p.m. I was thinking what a long flight from Texas to Bolivia. It took us about 10 hours to fly from Houston to Barranquilla and it would take another 8 hours flying time from Barranquilla to Santa Cruz, a total of 18 hours. After about four hours flight time out of Barranquilla, it was just late in the afternoon and I was really tired so I decided to close my eyes and take a short nap before we landed. The loud, but now familiar roaring hum of the engines was almost soothing, consequently it didn't take me long to fall asleep. I guess I'd slept longer than I'd thought and without warning I was all of a sudden woken to the sounds of "May Day, May Day". It was pitch black outside as Larry, the co-pilot continued his May Day, May Day pleads for help. Walter was awake and he quickly filled me in on our situation. It was about 9:00 p.m. and thank god I could see from the tiny porthole window, that it was a bright clear night with a full moon. The unfortunate thing is that we were somewhere over the Amazon jungle and much to our surprise, the huge DC-7 was very low on fuel. I immediately spoke with Captain John and he said we were heading in the right direction, but he didn't know exactly where we were over the jungle. We're somewhere between here and here, he continued, as he pointed to the aeronautical map. I could see the indicator needles on the round fuel gages almost bouncing off the empty mark and Larry, the co-pilot, who didn't speak a word of Spanish, was still calling out "May Day, May Day". I asked Captain John what were our alternatives and without hesitating he replied "We're looking for a dry river bed, where I can set her down, when the fuel runs out!" He continued by saying it was best for Walter and I to go to the rear of the plane where it would be safer, if and when we crash-landed. A thousand things were going through my mind at this moment. I went to the cargo area and climbed along the aluminum fences and between the cattle to the rear of the plane where the farm equipment was loaded. It was pitch black, but with the dim light from the flame of my cigarette lighter I could make out the outline of some of the equipment. There was a large red piece of "I" beam steel, that was part of a plow and I decided this would be as safe a place as I could find should we crash. Crash and burn in a large cargo plane loaded with cattle, in a riverbed, located somewhere in the middle of the Amazon jungle at midnight, damn, the frightening thought hit me like a bucket of cold water, as I hurriedly made my way back to the front of the aircraft. I entered the cabin and Larry; the co-pilot was still calling out May Day. I told Walter to get on horn and speak Spanish to see if someone could understand him. Walter began his plea of "May Day, May Day, Emergencia, Emergencia" and began speaking in Spanish. He asked if anyone could acknowledge our request and continued his plea for help. I could see that the pot-bellied flight engineer was trembling as he studied the map and nervously he finally told Captain John that he thought he had found a dry riverbed. I was really annoyed with the dry river bed nonsense so I tried to explained to Captain John, over the roar of the engines, that if it had rained recently in this area, you couldn't depend on the rivers being dry. I than asked him how he could be sure if the river was dry if he couldn't see it, but he didn't answer. Everyone was claim but it was a really tense situation and I'm sure I wasn't the only one that was scared to death. Suddenly we could hear a crackling sound over the radio speaker and it sounded as if someone was trying to communicate with us. Soon the static and crackling radio sounds became clearer and at last we could understand that a ham radio operator in the small town of Trinidad, Bolivia was attempting answering us. Walter told the engineer to look for Trinidad on the map and sure enough the engineer found it. Walter explained our situation and asked if there was an airport nearby. The man on the ground replied that yes there was a runway in Trinidad, but it had no lights. The engineer gave Captain John the map coordinates of Trinidad, which was about 300 degrees on the compass. We all strained our eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lights of Trinidad, but it was in vain, it was pitch black outside and we couldn't see a thing. We all kept peering into the darkness and after a few moments Captain John saw what he imagined was a flick of dimming light off to the left, in the distant horizon. The radio connection with the ham operator on the ground became much clearer and Walter continued talking, I guess he was afraid he'd lose the connection if he didn't say something. At the moment of the sighting of what he thought was a light, Captain John brought the plane around and headed straight for that glimmer. In, what seemed to be only a matter of a few seconds we could see the twinkling, god sent lights of the town of Trinidad in the far distance and I suddenly felt a astound sense of relief, like I'm sure everyone else did. It was a very emotional experience, but we all managed to control our feelings, at least until we were safe on the ground. As we neared the town it looked like there were thousands of fireflies, swarming around on the ground, moving in all directions. Captain John warned us that we only had one shot at the landing and I could see why, not only did it seem that one of the engines was stalling, the indicator needles on the fuel gages had stopped bouncing around and were sitting on the empty peg! We passed, in a left-hand banked turn, over the town one time and as we did we saw that the fireflies were actually cars, trucks and motorcycles, with their lights on, heading for what must have been the unlit runway. The ham operator told us that he had put out an a general alarm and all the town people, who had vehicles with lights, were rushing to light up the landing strip. Captain John had brought the plane around, more or less circling the town and we could see the runway directly in front of us. That courageous and luckily very experienced pilot had lowered the flaps and we were flying low, preparing to land. It all happened in a matter of seconds, but as it turned out, John delicately set the big plane down and made a superb landing on what turned out to be a half-paved runway, with not even the slightest bounce. However, just as we touched the ground, Captain John, with fear in his voice, suddenly screamed to Larry to go to full flaps, because it looked like he wouldn't have enough space to stop the aircraft. The plane began to slow down but without any warning, we unexpectedly ran out of paved runway. The huge plane, although moving much slower now, kept rolling on the hard packed dirt surface and we could see several cars and motorcycles facing us, blinking their lights on and off, parked at the end of the strip where the deep jungle began. Captain John gently brought the aircraft to a stop and when he did the flight engineer pushed opened a small exit door just below the cockpit and I jumped out. There was no radio communication at the airport and Captain John wanted to know where to park his flying corral. A short middle aged lady, riding a small, red motorcycle, surprisingly pulled up next to me and motioned, with her hand, for me to get on the back and without a second thought, I jumped on the rear of the bike. I'm a genuine Texan, 6 foot, 4 inches in height, I was carrying my briefcase, wearing Levis, a shiny silver belt buckle, western boots and holding down my western straw hat, with one hand, trying to keep it from blowing away. Now as I stop to think about it, I'm sure that all the people that were there at the airport must have thought I was a very strange sight. The lady driving the motorcycle was trying to talk to me but I couldn't hear a word she was saying because of the blowing dirt and the tremendous roar caused by the DC-7 engines. The lady drove away from the plane and as she did I asked her if she knew where we could park the aircraft. The lady than stopped the motorcycle and she said in heavy accented English "tell them to follow me". Upon her command I waved with my hand to Captain John to follow us. It was a short distance to the parking area and within a few minutes the plane was parked and the engines were turned off. The weather was warm and I yelled to Captain John to open the cargo door. The door was opened and the engineer dropped an aluminum ladder from the cargo area and I climbed up into the cargo area to check the cattle. All the cattle were calmly standing and they seemed to be good condition. Meanwhile Captain John, Walter and Larry, the co-pilot, were escorted to the local police headquarters to have the flight plan checked. I found a couple of men who wanted to help and I asked them to water the cattle and than I took off for the police headquarters with the lady on the motorcycle. It was past midnight but the police headquarters was humming with activity. Our landing was the most exciting thing that had happened in Trinidad, Bolivia since the last revolution, which was about four years before. Walter, who was translating for Captain John, was trying to explain to the policeman in charge, who I think was a major, our situation. Unfortunately Captain John could only produce one half of a torn flight plan which didn't seem to be acceptable. As it turned out the local authorities thought the cattle were stolen. I showed the authorities all of my documentation on the cattle, including the letter from the cooperative and the recorded cattle brands on the health certificates and suddenly everything was in order. I asked Walter to invite everyone who had helped us, including the military officers, for a beer and suddenly everybody was smiling, congratulating us, shaking our hands, hugging us and patting us on the backs. The lady with the motorcycle, who by chance owned a small hotel, took me to her home, showed me the hotel and offered me the use of her motorcycle, she couldn't have been any nicer. I asked her to reserve us a couple of rooms because we'd be back in no more than couple of hours and after she gave me the keys to the rooms I took off for the police headquarters to pickup Captain John. Captain John had just signed the official report and he told me that Walter, Larry and the engineer were already having a beer and celebrating with the people from Trinidad. During all the commotion I had somehow managed to exchange some US dollars into the local currency, Bolivian pesos, so now we were on our way. Captain John bought two liters of beer; at a sidewalk cantina and with an open liter in each hand he jumped on the back of the motorcycle. We quickly went to the airport to check the aircraft and the cattle. As it turned out, the police major was nice enough to have sent two men to guard the cattle and the airplane; the cattle were relaxed and drinking water, so everything was taken care of. After asking directions and following the light of other motorcycles we arrived at the celebration. The only way to get to the only place open in Trinidad, Bolivia, at one o'clock in the morning was by going through narrow dirt trails, but we didn't have any problems. There probably was an easier and shorter route, but we just followed the crowd. As we got closer to the party, we could hear the loud music coming from the dance hall or locally known social center, which turned out to be a house of prostitution. The place was full of men, women, and children and of course right in the middle of everything was our crew. We joined our group and after hugs and handshakes of jubilation we took a sit at long wooden table. I think that at that moment we were the five happiest people on earth and it all of a sudden struck me, just how close we had come to crashing and how fortunate we had been not to have gone down in the dense jungle. The local people kept coming by the table to congratulate us and brought us more food than we could ever eat. We were drinking the beer straight out of the dark green liter bottles and really enjoying ourselves. After about two hours of celebrations, the majority of the people had thanked us and went home. I paid the bill, which to my surprise was less than $200.00 and then John and I rode the bike back to the hotel. Walter and the other guys managed to get a ride back to the hotel with one of the partygoers who had helped us at the airport. The five of us doubled up in the two rooms; Walter and I awoke about 10:00 a.m. the next morning; however John and the flight crew had gotten up earlier and were down at the airport.
Walter and I had breakfast with the hotel owner and after quickly packing our things, she was nice enough to drive us to the airport in her double cabin pickup. It was a bright, sunny day and as we approached the aircraft we could see a large crowd gathered around. I suppose the local people were curious and wanted to see a big airplane full of cattle. Captain John had made arrangements for fuel, which was to arrive at any moment. I phoned Juan at the cooperative to bring him up to date on our predicament, but he was already aware of the situation. The police major had contacted the cooperative to verify our story; consequently Juan was abreast of the situation. The fuel arrived about noon and to my amazement it was loaded in about twenty, 55-gallon drums and of all things the fuel was hand pumped into the aircraft. Captain John told me we were so low on fuel that there wasn't enough fuel remaining in the tanks to start the engines. I could see the cattle were suffering from stress and very fatigued, but still in decent condition. By about 2:00 p.m. the refueling of the aircraft was complete, we had thanked everyone again and in no time we were rolling down the runway. Although the runway was much shorter than Houston International or Barranquilla we didn't have any problem at takeoff, but from the port hole, it seemed that the landing gear just cleared the top of the jungle at the end of the strip. It appears we had been short of fuel for three reasons. First, if the aircraft was full of fuel the weight of the cattle and farm equipment would have greatly exceeded the maximum load limits. Second, the crew purchased less fuel in Barranquilla due to the higher cost. Third, due to not being equipped with oxygen, the aircraft was subjected to fly at lower altitude and crisscross through the Andes Mountains, subsequently it couldn't fly the shortest route. This poor judgment almost cost us our lives. It was about 5:00 p.m. when we finally landed in Santa Cruz and Juan was very glad to see us. He was waiting at the airport with seven small cattle trucks and a small flat bed truck to haul the farm equipment. We had everything unloaded before dark. The cattle were weak and I cautioned the truck drivers to make sure to keep the cattle up and not let them lie down in the truck, fearing that the stronger animals would stand on the weaker animals, which often results in death of the weaker cattle. Juan invited us to dinner and we bid farewell to the Captain John and the other crewmembers. We loaded into Juan's red Toyota Jeep and soon after we were enjoying a wonderful dinner. The trucks with the cattle had gone ahead but we would catch them a few hours down the road. The road to Monteagudo was practically dirt all the way. Juan knew the road well and after bouncing around for about three hours, we caught the trucks. The road had been cut through the jungle and there were many curves as well as mountains. The trip from Santa Cruz to Monteagudo lasted about 7 hours and we finally arrived at our final destination around four in the morning. The cattle were unloaded and unfortunately we lost eight animals during the trip and we would lose another three animals the following day, a death loss of eleven head. I thought that under the circumstances we'd been lucky. Fortunately the cattle were covered by insurance so there wasn't an economical loss for the cooperative. The first day at Monteagudo was a much-needed rest for the cattle as well as us. The next day we were up early and began working the cattle. The first thing on our agenda was to setup the working chute for the animals that Juan had purchased with the other farm equipment. After the chute was setup we began passing the animals through the chute, branding them and checking them one by one. Apart from a few cuts and bruises the cattle appeared to be in relatively good condition. I worked in the corrals shirtless, it was winter in Texas and the warm Bolivian sunshine really felt good. I was wearing Levis, waist high leather leggins, boots as well as my western straw and again I'm sure I looked unusual to the other workers. Monteagudo was an almost uninhabited village, without electricity or running water, surrounded by jungle and tucked deep into the mountains. During our four days at the corrals we went to the village only on one occasion and that was when we were leaving for the cooperative headquarters, located at Sucre, the colonial capital of the country. Before we left Monteagudo, I took a final walk through the corrals to check the cattle. The majority of the animals were still eating the concentrate and those not eating were full and licking themselves, lying under the warm morning sun. The cattle had really recuperated in the last couple of days and as it turned out not another animal died. About a year later I received a letter from Juan at the cooperative. Some of the heifers had new calves at their sides and the rest were ready to calf. The cooperative was very pleased with the results of the importation and was discussing the possibility of doing it again in the near future. I don't suppose I'll ever forget about Captain John and our midnight flight over the Amazon. Regardless of who was at fought for our running low of fuel and that dark night over the jungle, if it hadn't been for the incredible expertise of Captain John, I'm sure you wouldn't be reading this story today. As I think back on the incident, I was twenty-nine years old at the time, wet behind the ears, very naive, full of over-confidence and adventuresome, to have paid $28,000.00, in advance, for a 3,000 mile air charter on a relic airplane that came close to costing me my life. Walter and I remained in Sucre, Bolivia for a couple of days, than it was off to Salta, Argentina, but that's another adventure and story. This document is protected by all international copyright laws and has never been published. The Nelore Cow Affair A number of years ago, while living in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, I was asked to do a project on a large cattle ranch, located in the north-eastern part of the country, about three hours flying time, by small plane, from the city of Santa Cruz. UNAG, a large diversified agricultural group, also involved with cotton and sugarcane operations owned the large beef cattle ranch. The ranch consisted of some 70,000 plus acres and their below average cattle production was in desperate need of technical upgrading. I had done several projects for the group in the past and although I didn't know this particular ranch, I was looking forward to the assignment. Our plan was to fly to the ranch in a chartered twin engine Cessna Aztec aircraft and I arrived at the Santa Cruz International Airport about 5:00 a.m., ready to go. After about a 20 minutes wait, I was joined by Ralph, Ramon and Jose for the flight to the ranch, which was located, near the village of San Rafael. Ralph, who was about 35 years old, was a fair complexioned, slight built North America who was the general manager of the large agricultural group. Ralph, who had sandy blond hair, was an economist by education, wore heavy horn-rimmed glasses and was a Harvard graduate, not exactly the type you'd imagine working in the underdeveloped Bolivian backcountry. Ramon, the dark skinned ranch manager, who was very tall for a descendent of the Tupí-Guaraní Indian ancestry, was one of the nicest, knowledgeable and most helpful men I had had the opportunity to work with in all my remote assignments. The pilot and owner of the plane, Jose, was short in height, fair skinned, worn glasses and was a man of about 50 years of age. Jose was an excellent pilot and had been chartering flights to remote locations in Bolivia for more than 20 years. I had flown with Jose on several occasions and I had total confidence in his ability as a pilot and navigator, particularly in the nearly inaccessible Bolivian jungle region. There were very few paved airstrips in Bolivia, mostly makeshift dirt strips and placing your life in the hands of an inexperienced pilot could be extremely hazardous. Once I was involved in a frightening plane accident, that was caused by nothing more than carelessness by the part of my friend, the pilot. We were flying to a semi-isolated ranch in the northern Beni cattle ranching region of Bolivia, to look at a group of four-year-old steers, ready for slaughter. It was the first time for both of us to visit this particular ranch and not knowing the landing field, my friend tried to land the small plane with too much air speed and he didn't use full flaps to slow our approach. It was a short field, there wasn't adequate space on the inclined runway to stop the Cessna 210 and consequently we just kept going and rolled into the jungle. Our land speed was only about 25 miles per hour when we crashed into the jungle, but fortunately we weren't seriously injured. We were bruised and startled, to say the least and the impact ripped off both wings and crushed the nose of the aircraft. Apart from destroying the plane, there was no communication at the ranch and we were unfortunately stranded on the ranch for four days. It's an occurrence like that, which could have easily been avoided, that you remember the rest of your life, so from that day forth I only flew with trusted and experienced pilots. Jose's early model blue and white Aztec had been loaded to its maximum recommended cargo weight, with food, vaccinations for the cattle and other miscellaneous items needed at the ranch. I was sitting beside Jose, in the co-pilot's seat of the plane with Ralph and Ramon sitting behind us. The asphalt landing strip at Santa Cruz was long and although the plane was at maximum weight, we had no problem becoming air born. In no time Jose had the Aztec at 6,000 feet, cruising altitude, but after about thirty minutes Jose alerted us that the plane's right engine was loosing oil pressure and that we'd be forced to return to Santa Cruz. Jose, nonchalantly switched off the malfunctioning engine, banked the Aztec and we began our return trip, with only one engine, to the Santa Cruz airport. We were all a little worried about the situation, but Jose, having had this problem before, smiled and jokingly told us that the main problem of a twin engine aircraft is that you have twice the possibilities of loosing an engine compared to a single engine airplane. We all laughed and in no time we were safely back on the ground at Santa Cruz International Airport. Our flight was rescheduled for the following day because as it turned out the engine problem was caused by a simple loose oil line connection. The following day at the same hour, 5:00 a.m., Ralph, Ramon, Jose and I departed for the ranch and this time we arrived without any difficulty. The ranch's landing strip was all but surrounded by heavy jungle forest and during our approach; we could see a few thatch huts and the main house, near the beginning of the strip. As we approached the short, grass covered airfield, we could also observe horses grazing on the runway, as well as what seemed to be an endless, winding river, curving near the approach entrance of the strip. There were tall menacing trees, that appeared to be as tall as a 30 story building, at the end of the field; in which case it was obvious that Jose really had to know what he was doing or we'd crash into the jungle. Jose flew the Cessna low over the strip the first pass to scare and scatter the grazing horses. By the time Jose turned and banked the Aztec, the grazing horses had disappeared and we made a safe landing. The ranch airstrip was narrow and bumpy, but it wasn't as bumpy as some of the other airfields where I had landed on other occasions. Jose taxied the plane within a stone's throw from the settlement, where we were welcomed by several of the Guaraní Indian ranch workers, who were clothed in only the minimum essential apparel for a hot and humid day; faded shorts and black, shin high rubber boots. The Indians, normally rather short in stature, had lived in the area all their lives. The Guaraní men, who very seldom exceeded five foot, three or four inches in height, were dark, almost reddish-brown skinned, with coal black short hair and most of them had an average build. It appeared that they all must have gone to the same barber, because their hair cuts were identical. Their hair fashion reminded me of the times when a mixing bowl was placed on the man's head and all the hair below the bowl was cut, leaving only the top half. The Guaraní women were slightly shorter than the men, perhaps a little rounder, with the same general complexion and hair color. The women dressed in long, very colorful, but simple cotton dresses and their long glossy black hair normally hung below their waist in tight braids. While the natives unloaded the plane, Ralph guided me on a quick tour of the ranch installations and than we went to the main ranch house. The modest, two bedroom, wooden frame house was constructed on top of tall posts, about 9 foot above ground level. The house was built high above the ground to protect it from the occasional high floodwaters during the rainy season. The ranch was located on the edge of the Amazon jungle and the main headquarters was no more than 50 yards away from the Paragual River. The river, as well as a large area of the ranch's cattle grazing territory, flooded annually, as the result of the heavy torrential rains, which occurred during the 7-month rainy season. Ralph and I unloaded our gear and than we walked back to the plane, where Jose was preparing for his departure. Jose would return for Ralph in three days; however I had planned to stay on at the ranch for another three weeks, at which time Jose would return for me. The Paragual River was a source of life for the Guaraní, it provided a food supply, and it was a place for the Indian natives to wash their clothes, as well as a place to swim and bathe. Once every two months, the river also brought in the trader, whose heavily laden dugout canoe was loaded with much appreciated goods. I noticed that the settlement Indians had several dugouts pulled out of the water, lying along the riverbank. The canoes were about 30 to 40 foot long and a little over 2 foot wide. The primitive construction of the dugouts was relatively simple. The Indians would first remove all the bark from a straight tree trunk, which was about 4 foot in diameter. They would than cut and remove the wood from the inside of the log, shape the nose into a point, sometimes add a couple of planks for seats and the dugout was ready. I rode in the dugouts a time or two and although the Indians would stand straight up while rowing, I sat on the floor of the canoe, holding on to the sides for dear life, thinking that at any moment the dugout would roll over. The ranch, not too far from the Brazilian boarder, was located about a 4-hour horseback ride west of a small village, named San Rafael. San Rafael, a crossroads or small trading center, had a permanent population of maybe 40 residents and a migrate population of near 40 or 50 transit residents and a monthly visit by a Catholic priest who's only transportation was that of a burro. Most of the transit residents owned or worked on ranches within a few days' ride by horse or mule and would stay at the village a few days at a time, while they replenished their supplies. The village or a more actuate description would be settlement, was located in the northeastern part of Bolivia, not to far from the Brazilian border and close to the Brazilian town of Caceres. When I say the ranch wasn't too far from the Brazilian boarder, I mean the first segment of the trip to Brazil was a half-day by horseback from the headquarters of the ranch to the village of San Rafael. A deep rutted, dark orange colored dirt road began at San Rafael and the trip continued for a little over 4 hours of eating dust and bouncing around in an old, beat-up, light green colored Toyota 4 x 4 pickup to the Brazilian border. Because of my position, I sat inside the cab of the pickup, but you've got to have pity for the poor passengers riding in the back. Caceres was about another thirty minutes from the border, but the dirt road improved and the deep ruts flattened out the closer you got to Caceres. Caceres had an unknown population at that time, but the whole village consisted of about fifteen or twenty thatch huts and dirt and cane blockhouses, so there couldn't have been to many inhabitants. The village's largest and only commercial establishment was a place called Beto's, where you could satisfy your hunger with a decent hot meal and all the cold beer you could drink. The hardy, golden-brown Brazilian beer was brewed from original German recipes and you drank it straight out of the one-liter, dark green bottle. Beto's place had sort of a dank and smoky smell, but was obviously the social center of the settlement. Although the place didn't have a sign on the store front, everyone referred to it as Beto's, which happens to be the nickname for Roberto, who was middle aged Brazilian mulatto and owner of the establishment. Beto's enterprise could best be described as an extenuation of his palm roofed, mud and cane block shanty, where he and his family resided. Apart from having the only cantina and a place where hot food was served for miles around, Beto also sold and traded general merchandise. With piercing green-eyes and shoulder length light brown hair, the pale skinned mulatto was respected as the "Cacique" or headman in the village. His merchandise, together with a few other items, mostly consisted of such basic things as matches, salt, sewing needles & thread, rolls of bright colored cotton cloth, 22 caliber rifle shells, knifes, machetes, small mirrors made of polished tin, grain alcohol in ½ gallon cans, nylon fishing line & thin steel leaders. Beto would trade his wares for animal pelts, preserved and mounted Piraña fish, Jaguar skins & teeth, wooden carvings, colorful feathers and other objects brought in by the Indians. Ramon, the ranch manager, also told me that Beto was somewhat of a slave trader and had traded his merchandise, on occasions, for young Guaraní Indian girls whom he would send to the interior of Brazil to wealthy families. I don't know if the young girls were actually bought and sold or if they only worked as housemaids, but you can be sure Beto received a high profit or commission for his services, that I suppose was more like a finder's fee. In this desolate and uninhabited country, 22 caliber rifle shells were considered a very valuable and important element in the daily routine, so I bought 5 boxes of shells to take back to the Indians. Incidentally, I noticed that everyday, one of the Guaraní men, in turn, would take the ranch settlement's only firearm; a single shot 22 caliber rife and would go hunting. The old Remington bolt action rifle's wooden stock was deeply pitted and scarred and the sights appeared to be somewhat out of line. The barrel was rusty and slightly curved, but the Indian hunter was given only one bullet and knew not to come back to the encampment without some type of meat that would be shared within the community. As far as I knew, at least during my tenure there at the ranch, the designated hunter had never failed his assigned responsibility and he always returned to the settlement with some type of wild game. On one occasion the native women prepared us a large bird that they called "Pavo de monte" or wild jungle turkey. The dark sweet tasting meat of jungle turkey was very enjoyable, but on other occasions, the hunters brought back such things undesirable delicacies as brown shelled land turtles, monkeys, snakes, large green lizards and anteaters that I certainly didn't find very appetizing. One afternoon, the whole settlement was happy and rejoicing because that day's hunter had luck and entered headquarters, with a big smile from ear to ear, hauling a small wild pig slung over his shoulder. But fortunately apart from the hunter's daily kill, there was almost always fish to eat, caught from the nearby river. The Mato Grosso area is extremely beautiful but still savage and a home cooked meal at Beto's, even if it's cooked on a 1920 vintage cast iron wood burning stove is very tasty, particularly if you had been eating campfire style with Indians for the last two weeks. Ramon and I entered the dim lit, dirt-floored hut and we took our seat on two of the three-legged stools that surrounded the makeshift dinning table. The table was nothing more than a large, round, thick slab of ruff cut wood, which was half-assed balanced on the top end of a sawed off tree trunk, adjacent to a large open window, that looked out on to the patio. While we waited for someone to take our order, we brushed off the top of the wobbly table, which was covered with a few breadcrumbs, that obviously were leftover by the previous clientele. There was only one item on the menu, so I ordered it, a beftec (a beefsteak) which was served with white rice, black beans, fried egg and boiled platano. Although the atmosphere could have been better, the steak was tasty, but as tough as shoe leather, yet despite the crudeness of the place, we really enjoyed the meal, particularly the cold beer and the entertaining local conversation. Getting back to the Guaraní Indians, the Indians who lived and worked at the ranch headquarters, had grownup in the jungle and the women cooked on open campfires called fugatas. The food was never really enjoyable because the Indians didn't know how to flavor food to taste, even should they have had the spices, which they didn't. But it's not because the Indians didn't enjoy flavored food; it was because spices or flavors, such as pepper, salt, culantro and garlic are not that easy to obtain in the jungle. Sometimes the Indian women would prepare a few roots and herbs that would be mixed with the cooked corn, fish or meat. The Indian's local version of spices smelled and tasted horrible, but as it turned out, the roots and herbs greatly improved the taste of the food. One of my consulting responsibilities was to supervise and participate in a roundup, together with what the local ranchers called a rodeo, pronounced ro-day-o, in Spanish. A rodeo was a big ranching operation and an exciting event. All the cattle in a given area were gathered and held in an area normally close to a river where the cattle's salt boxes were located. The salt boxes were about six-foot long, made from dug out logs, sometimes fashioned from mahogany trees that abound in the region. Dry Mahogany wood, having a longevity of from fifty to sixty years in the tropics, is an extremely hard and heavy wood that's also used for corrals and gate posts. This holding area near the river and the two-day cattle working activity was referred to as the rodeo. The number of animals brought to each rodeo could vary but most grazing divisions were designed to maintain from five to seven thousand head during a normal year. Cows with calves, weaned heifers, mature steers and breeding bulls ran together in the same pasture, but because of the large size of the area, about 10,000 acres, the animals were spread out in many small groups. The ranch would replace the breeding bulls every 36 to 42 months consequently very few bulls were breeding their daughters and some actual genetic improvement was being realized. Calving percentages were low, around 27% per year. The number of cows per breeding bull was out of proportion, about 75 cows per bull, which was due to the low availability of good breeding stock in the zone. None of the herd had been separated or sold for a number of years. The herd was untouched and had been purposely left alone to increase its size. I noticed some seven or eight year old steers that weighed near 2,000 pounds. The roundup and rodeo happens about once every 14 or 15 months on this particular ranch. The scheduled rodeo was dependent on how long the rainy season lasted. Obviously an early ending rainy season would really favor the conditions of the rodeo. The rivers would go down and a lot of the flooded pastures would drain. We were lucky; the torrential, daily downpour had terminated about 3 weeks earlier. On this particular roundup, it took us almost a full day just to locate the cattle and the second day out, about 4,000 head of mixed cattle and about 100 head of horses were brought in to rodeo with just 26 mounted cowboys. During the roundup the cowboys spilt up in pairs and with their horses in a fast trot they would spread out over the entire sector, which was known as the sabana. The sabana was for the most part made up of rolling hills and almost flat pastureland, combined with scattered sections of dense jungle. The Indian cowboys would find separated small groups of cattle, which they put together and drove as one large herd to the rodeo area. When the men work inside the rodeo they divide themselves into five teams of four men each with the remaining five or six men holding the herd. The rodeo lasts for about 24 hours while the cattle are counted & inventoried by an accountant from the company's central office and at the same time the cattle were inspected, doctored, and branded. The male calves were castrated, regardless of their age and the rest of the herd was given whatever attention thought necessary. The herd was then released early the following morning with the whole procedure lasting about 24 hours. I prefer to release the cattle early in the morning after the work, so that the cows with new calves can graze and walk slowly and still have time to arrive at their safe territory the same day, before night fall. Just before noon, on the second day out, while the majority of the cowboys were bringing in their groups of cattle, rounding up strays and shaping the herd, I joined two of the Indians who were told to catch some Piraña fish for lunch, so we went fishing. We rode horseback through the sabana (the rolling pasture) for only about 10 minutes until we reached a small river. One of the cowboys found a dead bird near the river and he used the intestine for bait. A piece of nylon line was attached to a thin piece of steel leader. The very thin steal wire was wrapped around the intestine and the bait was thrown into the river. In less than one or two minutes the first fish was caught and after about ten minutes we had caught about twenty-five fish. This particular specie of Piraña, which was light brownish, golden-yellow in color, was about 8 to 10 inches long and had 3 rows of very sharp pointed teeth. The fish would maliciously attack the bait like they were in a frenzy, clamping their teeth and holding on and all we had to do was pop them out of the water on to the bank. Piraña fish are very aggressive whether they're in or out of the water and I saw one of the Piraña snap at and gnaw a knife blade with its sharp pointed teeth when the blade was held close to its mouth. As it turned out we caught those fish and had them back to camp faster than service from most fast food operations in the USA. When we returned to the rodeo most of the fish was still alive. As soon as we arrived at the campsite, which was the center of operations, the cowboys nonchalantly dropped the fish on the hot coals of the fire used to heat the branding irons, without even cleaning them. About fifteen to twenty minutes later the black burnt fish were raked out of the coals and ready for eating. The cowboys had picked some wild lemons, that were growing along the trail back to camp and together with the bitter-sour lemons and some course salt from the cattle's salt box we eat the fish. The burnt skin easily peeled from the meat and the piece of the fish that I ate was delicious. I found it educational, as well as interesting that first of all, the Indian cowboy would open the stomach cavity and eat the hot viscera's (intestines, heart, stomach, etc.) of the fish. The viscera or guts have the highest level of nutritional value so obviously the Indians knew what they were doing. I passed on their offer to join them with the innards but I really enjoyed the meat from the head to the tail which is silver shinny white, although it had a lot of small bones. After the cattle herd was released we headed back to the central headquarters of the ranch because it was about a four-hour horseback ride and we planned to work cattle in the main corrals of the ranch next day. Of course I didn't know it at the time, but I was going to have a frightful affair with a big Nelore cow the following day. It was about 5:30 a.m. and we had just finished selecting our mounts for the day. I choose to work inside the corrals mounted on a big powerful horse rather than a quicker but smaller animal. I always prefer to look down on the cattle, rather than have them look straight at me in the eye. When I ride a smaller horse, I feel that I'm not protected. A few years before I had been pushed down to the ground in a tight pen of Brahman bull calves and only being able to move around, between the cattle's legs, on my hands and knees, made it harder than hell to escape. It really scares me to think what might happen to me if I was down on the ground on all fours, in a tight pen of big cattle.
When I say a tight pen, I mean there were so many cattle in the corral that they were so crowded that there was barely enough space for the animals to turn around. Getting back to the Nelore cow affair, the name Nelore refers to a Cebu breed of cattle, that has proven to be very successful and popular in the sabanas of Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela. Just like the American Brahman, the Nelore has a hump; short hair and they are a glossy white or light gray in color. The Nelore breed is taller but not as wide or muscular as a Brahman. The smaller horns of the Nelore grow more pointed up and the ear is smaller and points up and out. Although the Brahman and the Nelore breeds are related, they are very distinctive breeds. One very distinctive difference is that the Brahman breed of cattle is normally much more domesticated, where as the Nelore breed is extremely aggressive. The Nelore are noted to be a very hostile breed of cattle due to having been born and raised in the jungle. The cows are meaner than the bulls; but the cows are very good mothers and really know how to protect their calves. At this moment we had separated the cows from their calves, but unfortunately a small calf slipped under the fence and was looking for his mother. The young Nelore mother scented her baby calf and was bawling and searching like crazy. I was riding ole Brownie, a big, stout, criolla horse, inside the corral and I was just trying to help the lost calf and prevent him from getting kicked and stepped on by the larger animals. I was using a strong local made eight ply, rawhide lariat rope (a soga), which was firmly tied to the horn of my saddle and of all things, on this beautiful April morning I was unlucky enough to have that wild, young Nelore calf caught in my loop! I was using the stretched raw hide lariat because one of my most prized possessions, a good waxed nylon rope, that a friend had brought from the states, was hanging on a peg, on the wall in my house in Santa Cruz. For the last 25 years, while I was traveling and working in Latin America as a cattle consultant, I'd always take my old Rayan roping saddle along on new assignments. I'm over 6 foot tall with long legs and I just like to feel comfortable when I'm horseback. Almost all of the ranches where I'd been assigned didn't have a heavy western style saddle in its inventory, only the shorter stirrup, locally made Wellington style saddles, or worst yet, very rustic work saddles. Almost always my Ryan saddle was too wide for the local horses so I doubled up on the number of saddle blankets. On this day the horse that I had selected fit the saddle perfect, so no extra blankets needed. Brownie, the name that I gave the horse, was a wide, medium age, dark brown or bay gelding with a black mane and tail. The animal was about fourteen and a half hands tall and very stout. I had ridden him on the first day out in the rodeo roundup and I really liked the way he handed. The horse was soft mouthed, with an excellent rein and was very responsive with just the slightest nudge of my slick roweled riding spur. My loop had caught the month old calf around the neck together with one of his front legs and of course the scared young calf was bawling like crazy while I was half-way pulling and dragging him to the corral gate. I'd stopped for an instant to catch my breath when suddenly from my left side, a white flash stuck a sharp horn in the under side of Brownie's neck, about 18 inches above the critter's chest. Poor old Brownie shook for a few seconds and died standing up; the bleeding horse then gently collapsed to the ground, in a semi-upright position, with me on his back. The young, bellowing cow was about a 5-year-old and weighed close to 900 pounds and damn her, if she didn't continued to violently shake her head and run sideways in front of me. I tried to free myself from the saddle, but my feet were pinned, halfway under Brownie, caught in the stirrups. Finally, after a strong effort, I managed to free myself from the saddle and I was standing, straddling poor ole Brownie and trying to control the bawling calf that was still on the end of my lariat. The lariat was still tied to the saddle horn and as I tried to prevent it from tangling around my leg, I kept both eyes strained on that crazy white cow. I'd never seen a cow go so crazy. She'd almost throw herself down in the dirt as if she was having a wild frenzy. She was furious and she was determined to protect her calf. When that Nelore cow hit Brownie on her first charge we were inside the corral, but close to the wooden fence. This time, after making a wide sweep and building up her speed, the cow came by, twisted and lowered her head to hit me, but she only managed to nick me with her left horn. Not knowing it, the tip of her horn had ripped a small hole in my stomach, about six inches below my ribs. Almost immediately after the cow passed I began to feel some burning where she had hit me, but I was afraid to look. I was still standing so I jumped to the fence, climbed up and thought to myself, I don't care what happens to the calf, my saddle or much less that old lariat rope. The only thing that flashed though my mind at that moment was I wanted out of there, and the fastest way possible, because I was really afraid of getting seriously gouged by that frantic Nelore cow. After I climbed to the top of the corral fence, the first thing I did was to open my shirt and it didn't surprise me to see a bleeding, dust covered open wound about an inch and a half long on the lower left hand side of my stomach. The sight of my own blood didn't bother me, because I'd seen it several times before, but I knew the cut needed to be cleaned as well as closed and the sooner the better. I knew I wasn't going to bleed to death, but I guess I was afraid of coming down with a bad infection, that could easily be brought about from getting stuck by a dirty cow horn, stranded in the middle of the godforsaken jungle. With the nearest available doctor being about two full day's travel away, I decided to clean, disinfect and sew up my torn skin by myself. Ramon's wife lent me one her straight sewing needles and she gave me some of her black thread that I doubled for extra strength. The only thing that we had at the ranch, that was even close to being a disinfectant was a half liter bottle of "Yea Monks", 76 proof Scotch whiskey. I cleaned the wound the best I could with a bar of hand soap and some boiled water, than I poured the whiskey into and around the opening. The whiskey burned so I was satisfied that I was disinfected, whether it was or not. The thread was soaking in the same whisky and I burned the tip of the needle to disinfect it. After swallowing a shot of whiskey, straight out of the bottle, as I'd seen done in many western movies, I was ready to get on with the sewing. Of course by now a crowd had gathered around me to watch the operation. I began to stitch closed the open wound, but surprising the needle didn't go through the skin very easy, it had to be pushed and it hurt, but the pain was not unbearable. I finally finished the job, to my satisfaction, in about 20 minutes and then I cut a butterfly bandage out of adhesive tap I had found in the first aid kit at the main house and placed it over the sutured wound. When I finished, everyone in the crowd smiled and applauded my efforts, at least showing their approval of my amateur doctoring capabilities. I didn't ride a horse for the next couple of days, but after another two days the wound was surprisingly sealed and appeared to be successfully healing. On the fifth day after my accident, I removed the five stitches. As I remember, removing the stitches hurt me more than it hurt me when I put them in. A few days later the wound had completely healed and I was back to normal. Nelore cattle are not normally wild animals, but it's only natural how they react to protect their young having only seen humans about every fourteen months. When you separate wild cows from their calves and start crowding the mother cows, they do become hostile. Just remember, like I didn't, when you crowd Nelore cattle in a jungle corral, you've got to be careful, things can get out of hand fast. It was a week after my accident, I had saddled a horse early one morning with the intention of joining Ramon and a few other cowboys while they rounded up a pasture and brought the cattle in to the main headquarters. I was dressed as always, wearing a short sleeve western shirt, blue jeans, western boots a western straw hat. Today I was carrying my Ruger, single action, long barreled, 44-magnum pistol, that I had smuggled into the country of Bolivia, in the bottom of my golf bag, a few years before. I only carried the 44-magnum for protection and I wore it gunslinger style, strapped just below my waist, in a well oiled leather holster with a wide cartridge belt. We left the village just a little before daylight and headed out into the sabana, to an area of the ranch that I hadn't had an opportunity to have seen. I had packed some fresh fruit and a bottle of clean drinking water in my saddlebag, just in case I should get hungry and thirsty during the ride. About an hour away from the village, we were forced to cross a wide river, but the water was only about four feet deep at the deepest point. There wasn't any problem crossing the river, although the water was saddle-seat high in a few spots and as a precaution I had safely placed my pistol in a watertight bag before the crossing. Not many minutes after crossing the river, I reached into my saddlebag to get some fruit and to my unexpected surprise, I felt something alive in my bag. I yelled, quickly jerked my hand out of the bag and stopped my horse. I was riding beside Ramon at the time and he asked me what happened, with a somewhat startled look on his face. I slowly opened the loose flap on the leather bag to look inside and to my astonishment, a Piraña, about 6 inches long, was inside the saddlebag flipping around like crazy. Obviously, when we crossed the river, the fish somehow had swum into my bag. Ramon, who burst out in laughter, told the other cowboys what had happened, speaking in their Guaraní dialectic and immediately everyone, including myself was laughing. We continued our ride, after the fish was removed from the bag and while crossing a swampy area, I felt something pestering my left hand. When I looked down, I was amazed to see my hand and lower arm completely covered in huge, black mosquitoes, which I slapped and brushed off. I had applied a large amount of insect repellent before leaving the village, but Ramon told me that the insect repellent actually attracted the mosquitoes, which must have had some logic, because I was the only one in the group being annoyed by the pesky blood suckers. The repellent seemed to work fine in the United States, but obviously it hadn't been tested in the Amazon. The Amazon sun was getting hot around 10:00 a.m. and Ramon and I were holding a small group of cattle while the cowboys finished the roundup of the rest of the pasture. Apart from observing the roundup, there was really nothing for me to do, so I told Ramon that I wanted to do a little exploring on my own and that I'd meet him back at the headquarters sometimes after lunch. I enjoyed leisurely riding alone because it provided me with the opportunity to get a good look at the land. I could check such things as the location and condition of the salt & mineral boxes, the cattle's watering spots, as well as the general shape of the cattle's grazing areas. I'd been riding for about three hours, really taking pleasure from seeing and hearing the squawking of the large flocks of green and yellow parrots flying overhead as well as the ever present serenity of the uninhabited and breath taking beauty of the untamed sabana. I was slowly riding along, listening to what I thought was the distant roar of a Jaguar, when suddenly, for no reason at all, it occurred to me that I had no idea where I was or in what direction I was going, in other words, I was lost. I checked the position of the sun to get my bearings, but the sun was almost straight overhead and I became confused as to which way was east and which way was west. I turned my horse around and tried to back track my trail, but the unshod animal didn't leave distinguishable tracks to follow. There was some high country just ahead, so I decided to ride up to get a better look. After reaching the top of the hill and looking in all directions, I was still lost. Finally I could see a wide, grass covered, flat area of the sabana that looked familiar, so I headed that way. I was careful not to ride in circles; consequently I'd been riding in one direction for about the last hour. All of a sudden, in the very far distance, I could barely make see the silhouette of a rider coming in my direction. It relieved me to see someone and I continued riding towards the figure. After about fifteen minutes I could clearly distinguish the other rider and it was obvious he was headed my way. Another ten minutes passed and we were only 40 or 50 yards apart. I reined my horse to a stop and in a couple of minutes the other rider and I were almost face to face. The approaching rider, whose horse was loaded with large sacks, full of oranges, didn't look familiar to me, but he stopped his horse beside mine and all he had to say to be was "would you like an orange?" and I replied "yes". He pulled out a couple of oranges from one of the sacks, handed them to me and I thanked him. Before he could get started again, I inquired if the village was straight ahead and he answered "yes", which was the total extent of our conversation and after another hour or so I was back at the ranch headquarters. The remanding part of my stay at the ranch was pleasant, but uneventful. We completed the cattle inventory and I designed some corrals. Most of my time was spent observing daily operations and giving technical consulting to Ramon and the cowboys. The ranch owners were pleased with my final report and shortly after, Ralph, the general manager, asked me to halter break some young Nelore bulls he wanted to enter in the annual cattle show being held in Santa Cruz, but that's another story, titled "Ramon and the Boys". Incidentally on my last trip to San Carlos, Venezuela, in July of 1993, I left that same Ryan saddle with a friend because I was planning on returning for another assignment, but the project was canceled and I haven't had the opportunity to go back and pick it up. Damn, do I miss my old roping saddle. This document is protected by all international copyrights Ramon and the Boys For several years I lived in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Bolivia. Santa Cruz is located in the south central part of Bolivia and the area around Santa Cruz reminded me a lot of where I grew up in southwest Texas. Rolling hills, sandy soil, lots of scrub-brush, sometimes very windy and for the most part hot and dry. I had a cattle production and marketing consulting company and most of the time I was working throughout the area with some of the larger ranching operations. In 1974 I agreed to halter-break and gentle a group of 3-year-old Nelore bulls for the annual international cattle fair, to be held in Santa Cruz. For those of you who may not know, the Nelore breed of cattle is very predominate in many parts of South America and are of Cebu origin. The breed is white in color, with a hump and look very similar to the American Brahman breed, however the Nelore is somewhat thinner boned and taller. The smaller horns of the Nelore grow up and out, rather than more straight-out like the larger Brahman horns and the Nelore, an extremely skittish or very nervous breed of cattle, are generally in a bad mood. The animals are accustomed to living in remote areas in or near the jungle and often only have close contact with man perhaps only four or five times a year. The primary business of the company that had contracted me was cotton and sugar cane farming; however they were becoming active in the beef cattle business and wanted to exhibit some of their pure bred Nelore cattle that they had imported from Brasil, at the fair. Ralph, who was married to the owner's daughter Lucia, was of medium height, thin in stature, with light brown hair and always wore dark horn rim glasses, which was sort of his trade mark. Ralph, who was about 34 years old and an accountant, was the general manager of the company and oddly enough he had grownup in Boston, Massachusetts. Ralph, a very intelligent guy, met his wife Lucia at Harvard University and she convinced him to move to Santa Cruz, Bolivia and work for her father. Ralph was a very likeable and nice guy who had grownup in the city, but obviously, he had absolutely no working knowledge of cattle. He had worked for a large dairy operation in Mexico, but always in an office, not in the field. To Ralph all cattle were the same, regardless of the breed or their environment and he was determined to have his ranching operation participate in the up and coming fair. At that time I had a ranch rented about two hours drive from Santa Cruz. The ranch was near the hacienda of Ralph's father-in-law and I agreed to trail-drive 50 bulls to my ranch and halter-break and gentle 10 of the best, if possible, within two months time. I had a ranch manager (mandador in Spanish) named Ramon at that time. Ramon was about 29 years old, more or less 5'4 in height and couldn't have weighted more than 130 pounds, but he was wiry and strong, "pura fibra", and he had a knowledgeable working experience with cattle for some time. Ramon, who it seemed always had a twist of his long brown hair loosely dangling over his forehead had told me that he thought it would be easy to tame the bulls in a month's time. The bulls weighted an average of 460 kilograms or slightly over 1,000 pounds when they left Ralph's father-in law's hacienda and after a three-hour trail-drive Ramon and the bulls arrived at my corrals. The corrals, being somewhat primitive were constructed of wooden posts, near 15 foot long and about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The long posts were positioned horizontally and secured at the ends between two 6-foot vertical posts that were buried about 3 feet in the ground. The end of the long post was laid on top of a short piece of post at ground level, followed by another short piece and another long post, followed by another short piece, etc. The short pieces or spacers and the long posts alternated until the height of the corral was a little over 5 feet tall, just the right height for a 460 kilo bull to rest his head over the top log. There were no swinging gates. The entrance of the corrals were opened and closed by removing smaller horizontal posts that were placed in between the ends of the logs. Not too handy, but the corrals had worked for more than twenty years. Ramon lived with a very nice, older, heavy-set lady named Flora who had three practically grown sons. By practically grow, I mean all three boys were in there early to late teens. I would occasionally hire the boys to fix fence, build corrals, work cattle and do general ranch labor. I arrived at the ranch about an hour after the cattle had arrived and after parking my car in the barn, I found Ramon and we started for the corrals to take a look at Ralph's future show stock. There was a large dugout tree trunk that served as a water trough for the cattle and doubled as a place for Flora to wash clothes when the animals weren't drinking. After washing the cloths, she'd drape them over the top log of the corral to dry, which often presented an unpleasant situation. On more than one occasion Flora would have just finished hand scrubbing the clothes and had the clean clothes hanging out to dry when Ramon and the boys brought in cattle to be worked in the same corral. You can imagine the layer of dust that would cover the clothes and of course Flora would get madder'n hell. Flora would get so mad that she'd refuse to cook for two or three days and I really can't say I didn't blame her. When Ramon and I arrived at the corrals the bulls were resting and as we slowly walked around and in-between the animals, they would getup, stretch and move out of our way. Ramon assured me that the young bulls were as tame as dogs and he and the boys would have at least ten of the young Nelore bulls halter broke by the following week. I was thinking that the majority of my years of experience working with Nelore cattle had been pretty bad, but who knows, maybe Ramon and the boys had some old tricks up their sleeves and knew how to handle them. Never the less it wouldn't take long for Ramon and the boys to know exactly what they were in for. The large dirt floored barn, combination ranch house, was about 30 years old and located about 40 yards away from the corrals. Ramon, Flora and the boys lived in two large, adobe (made from mud and dried cane) rooms at the end of the tin roofed barn. The walls were about 12 inches thick, which provided cool insulation during the hot summertime, which were the months of December, January and February and kept out the cold during the months of May, June and July, the Bolivian winter. It's not that the winter was freezing cold in the Santa Cruz region, but when the wind whipped out of the south, it would get a bit nippy. The kitchen or cooking area, which also doubled as a family room or social center, was large, wide open and separated the other two rooms. Flora cooked on an elevated open fire, about the same height as a cook stove, with a built in compartment below where she stored her firewood and on a windless day you couldn't see for the smoke that would fill the area. Flora wasn't a bad cook, considering want she had to work with. There was no electricity on the ranch and the water was hauled in buckets from a nearby river to the house. Ramon's family's diet consisted of a variation of food which consisted of rice, beans, boiled platano (similar to a banana), potatoes, hot-peppers, large kernel white sweet corn on the cob and sometimes one of the chickens that they raised. Beef or pork was only served on special occasions, normally only when I brought it from town. Sometimes the boys would catch fish, an armadillo, a possum (Zorro), a snake or a rabbit that would also be eaten. Incidentally after the armadillo was cleaned and the intestines removed it was cooked in and served up side down in its own shell. Although the armadillo was not my favorite dish, it was tasty and enjoyed by many people in the country. I was always amazed at the large portions of food that Ramon and the boys would consume. Flora would heap their large porcelain coated metal plates so high and full of food that it would be falling over the side; however in not more than 10 minutes every plate was empty. Incidentally after each meal Ramon and the boys would meticulously rub the plates and cooking utensils with sand until they were shiny clean, as was the rural country tradition. By the time we had finished inspecting the bulls and discussed how they were to be tamed it was late in the afternoon so I decided to head back to my home in Santa Cruz. I had a trip planned to the northern Beni cattle region of Bolivia the following day and I needed to finish some details before my flight. I offered to let them use a big, black, Argentine Percharon horse, named Negro, a friend of mine was keeping at the ranch, should they need it. The huge horse was over 6 foot tall at the shoulder and weighed more than 1600 pounds. Old Negro, due to his large size, might be very useful in taming the young bulls. Ramon was very confident in completing his task before the two month time limit and I told him and the boys I would be back the following week to check on their progress. I had promised to pay a special premium to the boys for every bull that was gentle, so they were grinning from ear to ear as I drove out the front gate. Almost a week had passed. I'd returned to Santa Cruz from a hard trip to the Beni, the night before and right now it was 9 o'clock in the morning and I was on my way to the ranch. Incidentally, at the time, the northern Beni cattle region of Bolivia was completely inaccessible by vehicle, simply due to the fact that there were no roads and very few bridges. The Beni was basically isolated and to get to the Beni region wasn't easy. The region was made up of thousand's of acres of breathtakingly beautiful sabana or lush rolling grassy areas, with intermingling dense jungle and rivers, so you either packed in by horse or mule, which was about a two week's ride or you flew. On one occasion I had the opportunity to participate in a five week trail drive with about 500 head of four year steers and 40 head of working horses from the Beni to the cattle market in Santa Cruz, but that's another story. The road to my ranch, from the city of Santa Cruz, was paved for about the first 30 minutes, than at the turnoff the road became hard packed dirt for another 45 minutes and for the final 45 minutes or so the road was narrow and sandy. My car was a yellow, rear engine, four passenger; fiberglass convertible called a Gurgle, which was made in Brasil. The Gurgle was similar to a dun buggy, but it was somewhat larger and higher off the ground. The car was built by the Brasilian branch of the German Volkswagen Company and was considered an excellent vehicle in rough terrain. Most of the time I drove the car without the cloth top or the two small removable front doors, which I only used in wet or cooler weather. I had outfitted the Gurgle to my liking, which consisted of a driver's side mounted directional spot light, large oversize wheels and tires, a leather holster mounted along the top of the left front fender, near the driver's sit for my Remington model 20, twelve gage pump shotgun. I always carried a 35-foot long nylon rope, a 36-inch machete and my spurs in the front cargo compartment. To top it all off, a friend had brought me the latest model Pioneer radio and cassette player that I had mounted inside the glove compartment, not because it was a neat place to have it, but because it was the safest place in the car to hide a radio so it wouldn't get stolen. Francisca, who had joined me on this trip, was a long time Bolivian friend, who had long brown hair, which hung to the middle of her back, naturally brown skin and deep, dark, almost black eyes. Francisca, about 5'2 in height and a very pretty young lady, lived in the city of Santa Cruz, but her father was a cattle rancher and she had actually grownup in the country. Cisca, which was her nickname, had for sometime wanted to see my ranch, so I invited her to tag along with me on this outing. After about an hour and a half's drive out of Santa Cruz we crossed a wide, but shallow river. About 5 minutes after crossing the river, we rounded a sharp curve on a section of the road that was deep sand and surrounded by lush jungle. Some cattle were slowly crossing the road so I stopped my car to let them pass. After the cattle crossed I tried to start moving again but the sand was so deep that my tires started spinning and I bottomed out and couldn't make any progress. Francisca immediately pulled off her shoes, jumped out of the open car and began pushing the car from the rear, but still no luck. I turned off the engine and climbed out of the Gurgle to see how bad the lightweight car was stuck, which was considered as almost an everyday occurrence on this sandy stretch of the road. And as I walked to the back of the Gurgle I noticed Cisca's short sleeve blouse and blue jeans neatly hanging on a tree branch beside the car. To my surprise, Francisca was half way under the car digging out the sand and wearing only her bra and panties. Suddenly two mounted cowboys, who apparently had been riding with the cattle, rode up, tied their horses to a nearby tree and without saying more than "Buenas dias" (Good morning) or paying any attention to Francisca, began placing flat rocks and branches under the rear tires. The rocks and branches provided enough traction to get us going again. Meanwhile Francisca came out from under the car, brushed off the sand and dust and nonchalantly put on her blouse and blue jeans. After she had dressed we thanked the men and in no time we were on our way again. After a few minutes I started laughing, thinking about Cisca in only her bra and panties when the cowboys rode up to help us and looking over at her, I couldn't help but ask her why she had undressed. Francisca, smiling and with a certain innocent look on her face, explained that what she had done was very normal out in the country, she hadn't packed a bag and didn't want to dirty her only change of clothes. We arrived at the ranch early in the afternoon after having pulled over for lunch on the road. I'd packed a cooler with some sandwiches and a couple of liters of Bolivian brewed Pilsen beer, which always came in handy in this almost, desolate countryside. The Pilsen brewery, owned and operated by Bolivians of German descent, produced an excellent beer that was sold only in one-liter size (about a quart), dark green bottles. Flora, who I had mentioned before lived with Ramon, greeted us just as we were driving into the barn. I parked the car in the barn and after greeting Flora, I asked her the whereabouts of Ramon.