The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics
This extract, from the picaresque diary of an anonymous silver trader, vividly describes a journey with a mule train from the highlands to the coast, from La Paz to Lima. It depicts the vicissitudes of life on the road, such as fording rising rivers in the rainy season, the illness and death of a young black child, a man infected with malarial fever. The merchandise was carried by mules, which were themselves a commodity produced in present-day northern Argentina and traded throughout the southern Andes. The city of La Paz was an intermediate point between Potosí and the coastal capital. Potosí was the hub of a commercial network that encompassed a vast territory stretching from what is today northern Argentina and the Chilean coast to the eastern valleys of Bolivia, the Peruvian highlands and coast, and Lima, the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru. Although Potosí had declined from its peak at the beginning of the seventeenth century, its output of silver and demand for goods nevertheless gave rise to intensive commerce in which alcohol (brandy and wine from the coast) and coca leaf (from the Yungas) were leading products. Our traveler took the Urcusuyo road bordering the western bank of Lake Titicaca (rather than the Umasuyu road on the eastern bank), passing through Juli, Ilave, and Puno, then descended to the valleys of Arequipa in order to follow the route north to Lima.