Perched on a height overlooking the sea, and directly above a very snug little anchorage, is the hamlet called Colcura; and thither we hastened, inattentive to the complaints of our guide (who was likewise guardian of the horses), and trusting to Vogelborg's recollection of the road. Riding into a sort of field entrenchment at the top of Colcura hill, we were accosted by a sly-looking, sharp-visaged character, whose party-coloured jacket appeared to show that its owner held some office of a military nature, but whether that of 'cabo,' or a higher, I could not determine until I heard him say he could give us a good meal, and that he had three fine horses near the house; when at once styling him 'gobernador' I rebuked myself for having thought ill of his physiognomy, and proceeded to unsaddle. Disappointed, however, by a scanty bad meal, we thought to regain our tempers upon the backs of our host's horses; but not an animal had he sent for; nor, to our further vexation, could any inducement tempt him to lend one of those fine horses, which, he still said, were close by. The Indians, he declared, were expected daily; he knew not the moment he might have to fly for his life; on no condition would he lend a horse: no, not if a fleet of ships were wrecked, and I were to offer him an ounce of gold for each mile that his horse should carry me.
Every Chilian residing on the frontier endeavours to keep by him a good horse, on which to escape, in case of a sudden attack of the Indians; for, as they never give quarter, and approach at a gallop, it is highly necessary to be always prepared. Those who can afford to do so, keep horses solely for the purpose of escape, which are the finest and the swiftest they can procure. I remember hearing, that when General Rosas was carrying on a war of extermination against the Pampa and Patagonian Indians, on the banks of the rivers Colorado and Negro, he had with him horses so superior, that it was said he could always ensure escape, if by chance he should be pursued: and one of them was invariably led about, saddled and bridled, near his tent.
Saddling our own steeds, and quitting the thin-faced dispenser of tough hens and sour apples, we set off at a gallop, leaving the lazy guide whom we brought from Talcahuano, to return there with the two worst animals (it was fortunate indeed we had brought with us a spare one), and in two hours we reached the foot of Villagran; that hill so famed in Araucanian story.
Being a natural barrier, it was a spot often chosen by the Araucanians, at which either to lie in ambush for the Spaniards, or openly oppose them. In one battle, the brave Villagran, after whom this ridge of hills is named, and a small Spanish force, opposed a multitude of Indians who had hemmed them in on every side. The only opening by which Villagran could escape, was stopped up with a barrier of branches and fallen trees, behind which the Indians stood discharging arrows and slinging stones.
We ascended the heights by winding narrow paths, up which our horses were led, in order to spare them as much as possible, and met a small party of Chilians, on their way from the wreck of the Challenger towards Concepcion, from whom we heard that the wreck had been abandoned, and that the officers and crew were entrenched in a secure position, on the height of 'Tucapel Viejo,' close to the mouth of the river Leübu. We were also told that the Indians increased in number daily, and that great fears of their hostility were entertained.
From the summit of Villagran we had an extensive view, reaching from Tumbes Heights, at the west side of the Bay of Concepcion, to Cape Rumena. The low island of Santa Maria, with its sandy spit, shaped like an arm, seemed to be within a few miles of us, though distant several leagues. I could trace the long, low, and almost straight beach of Laraquete till ended by the white cliffs of Tubul: I could distinguish the height immortalized by Colocolo's name, and under it smoke arising from the classical Arauco. Southward, a large extent of fertile, level, and rather woody plains reached to distant ranges of hills, which showed only a faint blue outline. Time allowed no delay, but with a hasty glance, as we mounted our horses and cantered along the summit, I saw a schooner* in the distance, off the Paps of Bio Bio, working her way to the southward.
Descending the hill, we reached 'Chivilingo,' a village near a small river which runs through a 'hacienda' belonging to the 'Santa Maria' family. We called at the door of their large, barn-like dwelling, to ask if horses could be spared. The mistress of the house happened to be at home, having lately arrived from Concepcion; and directly she heard my story she ordered every horse to be put in requisition; but, unfortunately, two only were within reach, one of which was lame. All the others had been sent to grass at a distance. After acknowledging her kindness, and paying her 'mayor domo' for the hire of the horse, we pushed on with that one and two of the least jaded of our own animals.
Between Chivilingo and the rivulet called Laraquete is a hill, unimportant at present, though it may hereafter become of consequence, as it contains coal. Some that I carried away with me was thought to be almost equal to cannel coal, which it very much resembled. The little river Laraquete, which will admit a large boat at high water, runs at the foot of the hill, and there is no surf where it enters the sea. Very glad I was then to see nothing like a hill between us and Arauco. We urged our horses along the dead level, and reached a pass of the Carampangue river as the sun was sinking below the horizon. From his sickly appearance and the black gathering clouds, I thought we should not be long without heavy rain, and that the sooner we could house ourselves the better. The Carampangue is shallow, except in the middle, but wide. Men and animals are carried over it on a 'balsa,' made of several logs of light wood fastened together, and pushed or poled across with their burdens by one man. These contrivances are very convenient where the water is shallow near the bank, and where the bank itself is low: for a horse can walk upon them from the shore without difficulty, or any scrambling; and as soon as they ground on the opposite side, it is equally easy to disembark. Where wood is not plentiful, balsas are made of rushes tied together in bundles; or of hides sewn up and inflated, or made into a rough kind of coracle.
The last few miles had been slowly accomplished by dint of whip and spur; but from the river to Arauco was a long league over unknown ground, in the dark, and while rain fell fast. Heavily we toiled along, uncertain of our way, and expecting each minute to be bogged; our horses, however, improved as we neared their anticipated resting place, and almost tried to canter as lights appeared twinkling within an open gateway in the low wall of Arauco. We asked for the house of the 'comandante,' and were directed to a rancho rather higher and larger than the rest. Without a question we were received, and told to make the house our own. That we were wet and tired, was a sufficient introduction to the hospitable Chilian.
Before thinking of present comfort, it was necessary to secure horses for the next day's journey, and dispose of our own tired animals; but money and the willing assistance of the comandante (Colonel Ger. J. Valenzuela), soon ensured us both horses and a guide. In the colonel's house, a barn-like building, entirely of wood, and divided into three parts by low partitions, I was surprised to see an arm-chair of European make, which in no way corresponded to the rest of the furniture. Some large shells, not found in these seas, also caught my eye, and tempted me to ask their history. They had been brought only the previous day from the wreck of the Challenger, and were given by Captain Seymour to Don Geronimo, who had himself but just returned from assisting the shipwrecked party.