This is a copy of a letter my mother wrote to Aunt Mildred [Young] November 20, 1928.
R. M. S. Essequibo, Nov. 20. 1928
My Dear Mildred and all:
I wonder if I can give you any idea of the wonderful trip we have just had. One feels so full of inspiration at the time but it is so difficult to express it. I presume though that such experiences must have some lasting effect - ones subconscious self must be influenced.
I will start with Antofogasta as we have done the first part  so often that even you must know it by heart just form hearing us tell it.
We started at eight o’clock Saturday night on the famous Antofogasta-Bolivia railroad. It is a very good train with sleepers and diners. We had two complete staterooms joining with four berths. We had the mattresses from the top ones put on the lowers and used the extra blankets as well for while it is much nearer the equator it is so high that one nearly freezes and the coaches are not heated.
By eleven o’clock the next morning we had reached the highest point, thirteen thousand five hundred feet. We were told to keep very quiet and to eat very little to keep from getting “puna” which is a sickness caused by altitudes. We both noticed it some but were not sick and had no use for our emergency kit which we had taken with us. I had a very bad headache on Sunday night but that was all.
You can have no conception of this pampa. It is a huge plain so far above the line of vegetation that nothing can grow. There are thousands and thousands of square miles of pure waste - just sand and rocks. The only stations are an occasional Indian village - just adobe shacks with straw roofs and poverty - I thought I knew something about it after living in Chile but no, These Indians have absolutely nothing. You cannot even conceive of such filth. They say the average life of an Indian is thirty two years but I only wonder it is as long. They haven’t a chance.
Away from this squalor however the scenery is marvelous. Mountains can be seen on every side. Miles away of course. While there is no vegetation the rocks are so highly mineralized that it make just one blast of color-reds, greens, mauves and golden shades - all together with huge snow caps behind. Mirages are very characteristic of this region. After seeing several I do not wonder that the Arab loses his mind when he follow one for miles and then discovers only sand. They look exactly like huge lakes from the distance but when you reach them there is nothing.
We saw an active volcano also. It sort of gave me the creeps to be surrounded by volcanic ash and huge rocks which had been erupted, hundreds of years before of course. It was spitting steam and smoke the day we were there but they assured us that nothing would happen because nothing had happened in the memory of any one there.
Well at least nothing did happen.
Another very interesting place is a town called Uyuni. This little town was at one time surrounded by salt lakes which are dry now however. During the rainy season, it has the effect of an ice cream freezer on the town. The temperature goes to forty and fifty below zero. It is division point on the railroad and several English families live there.
I forgot to mention that the R. R. is operated by a British Company. At nine of Monday morning we arrived at Eucalyptus, the station for the Pongo Mines (tin). Here we took a Cadillac car and went way back into the heart of the mountain. It was beautiful but still barren until we were nearly to Pongo. The pass going over is sixteen thousand feet but drips again to twelve thousand at the camp. I did not notice anything going up but going down I sort of felt as if I had left my tummy behind.
We spent a wonderful week here with the Grahams. They have a completely modern house. It seems unbelievable to find such comfort so far away from anywhere. There are about thirty foreigners at the camp.
I went riding one day on a mule. They find mules safer than horses and stand the altitude much better. I got quite a thrill in seeing two small streams which flow into the Berni and thence to the Amazon. Within an hour of Pongo (on mules) we were at the beginning of the hot country. The vegetation here is entirely tropical.
At Pongo we met a dozen of the twenty three treasure hunters who have spent months of time and thousands of pounds trying to find a million dollars worth of treasure which the Jesuit priests are supposed to have hidden there before Bolivia was taken by the Spaniards. No, the fools are not all dead yet.
On Sunday Jack I left Pongo and went to La Paz. We had to go back to Eucalyptus and take the A. & B.R.R. again. The barrenness continues until you come upon La Paz. It is right in the valley, comparatively speaking. (Its elevation is twelve thousand five hundred.) The R.R. makes a complete circle of the town in descending. It is absolutely impossible to describe the sight. It is too beautiful. Here There is vegetation -- lots of it. Also the same rock formation.
The night we arrived the American minister was giving a dinner to the British minister and kindly invited us. Met a most cosmopolitan crew. The British minister, the Peruvian minister, the Bolivian minister of finance, the diplomatic representatives from Equador, Brazil, Holland and Germany, all with their wives. There were also a few of the ordinary garden variety such as ourselves, some R. R. and customs house representatives. It was a most interesting party and we were very fortunate to get to go. I wore my yellow evening dress. The men were all in full dress.
On Wednesday we came back to Inuhisla [sp?] where Jack will be for a month or two setting up the accounts for the new mine which Guggenheim Bros. have bought and which has been instrumental in getting us transferred to New York. It is a terrible place and I did hate to leave Jack there alone but it had to be and anyway he will be so busy that he wont have much time to spare. Nearly all of the men employed are Bolivian although Mr. Graham is the G. M. They produce silver, tin and bismuth at the mine which is about ten hours by car from Iuechisla [sp?!]. I had a chance to get Jack’s room straightened up a bit before I left and we bought a duffle bag to put the superfluous in when he packs to come. He can’t possibly get as much in a bag as I can.
I forgot to mention the llamas. I have always known that they were used as beasts of burden but I had no idea there were so many. About La Paz one sees literally thousands of them and they are not as one saw them in the geographic either, they are very dirty and shaggy.
Now I am on the boar sailing back to my babies. My how I have missed them but of course it was impossible to take them on such a trip and it was such a wonderful chance for me see Bolivia.
Haven’t had any mail either for a month so am anxious to hear how you all are.
I have now to dispose of all the things which we were so thoughtful as to bring back with us. That wont be difficult job however. We still hope to sail the end of January but it all depends on how long it takes Jack in Bolivia.
I wonder, Mildred, if you could see that all the family gets to read this as I am sure I will never write so much again. After mother and dad have read it will you let Frank and the Quails read it and then if you would send it to Frank Stafford. He will see that mother Stafford get to read it an if it is not worn out by that time you might send it to Leda as I haven’t time to write her apart. Lots of love to you all.
I have to put this in two envelopes so hope they both arrive at the same time
NOTE: This was the last time my mother and father were together. They later decided mother should return to the States with the kids and he would join them later. This was also the time that I forgot my English and spoke only Spanish. --JES.
1. Rancagua to Santiago to Valparaiso by rail, Valaparaiso to Antofogasta by boat. (Return to paragraph)