Adventures in Peru, Chapter 5

My Morning Dip

A Journey Into the Interior, Part 2

When I reached Sicasica I found no difficulty in getting accommodation. As a matter of fact, the President of Bolivia had most courteously directed the proprietor of the hotel to reserve his best room for me; and further, he had sent a letter of introduction to Don Fillipi Rameres, the Corregidor of a village a day’s ride nearer Vera Cruz. When I asked the proprietor if he had a bath, so that I might enjoy my usual morning tub, he said he hadn’t got one, the cold was so intense people didn’t use them. “But,” he continued, “if you like, I’ll tell one of my Indians to put a bucket of cold water in your rubber bath at seven o’clock in the morning, so that you may have a sponge.” This arrangement suited me admirably.

Next day I resumed my journey after breakfast, and in due course reached the point I aimed at—a fair-sized Indian village in the Vera Cruz range. It is situate about 12,500 ft. above sea-level. Some of the surrounding peaks tower up to 18,000 ft. and 19,000 ft. The Corregidor seemed to be a very decent chap, of the Mountain Indian breed. He placed his drawing-room at my disposal, together with a corral for my mules and a kitchen for my boys. He also engaged me, later on, an Indian and his wife and her sister to accompany me—the man to act as guide, and to assist with the cargo; the women, who were not at all bad-looking, to attend to my personal wants.

I stayed here four days, buying of the Corregidor barley-grain in the straw for my mules, and five sheep to be made into challona, for use on the trip. They weighed about 60 lb. apiece. Our meals, so far as I was concerned, consisted of bacon and eggs for breakfast, Irish stew for lunch, and Irish stew for dinner at 7 p.m. The Indians had the same, barring the bacon and eggs. Every morning about 7.30 or 8 o’clock I used to go down to the river, which was only about two hundred yards off, to have my morning dip. As the water was always frozen over, I had to bathe in one or other of the holes broken by the Indians, before I could enjoy my bath. As usual, I dried myself in the sun. Some little distance away there was a cliff, and upon this I noticed a lot of Indian women and boys sitting, the first morning I made my appearance in the river. They seemed to take a great interest in my proceedings. On the third morning, when I returned to the Corregidor’s house after my bath, I saw forty or fifty Indian women squatting down on the opposite side of the road. They were making no noise whatever, but simply waiting—waiting for me, if you please.

When I entered the house the Corregidor said, “I have an amusing thing to tell you.”

“What is it?” I inquired.

“You see all those women out there? Well, they tell me that the Gringo—meaning you—appears to be a very nice sort of chap, but evidently a bit touched in his head. For on three successive mornings he had gone down to the river, taken off all his clothes, and sponged himself with the icy cold water; so they wished me to hand him over to them to be taken care of.”

In common with most Indian tribes, these good folk regard the mentally afflicted with a certain amount of veneration; hence their request was really nothing out of the ordinary. I have no doubt they were quite prepared to carry out what they offered to do, namely to cook and fend for me in every way, while I would be free to enjoy myself as I thought fit. I was curious to know what answer the Corregidor had made. “I told them,” he said, “the man you speak of is a friend of mine. He is staying with me, and is not the least bit off his head. What you have seen him do down at the river, is his usual custom. Within a little while, he will be back in the house, and I will then tell him what you say. If you will wait a bit, you shall know what he thinks of it.”

Of course, I could not entertain the offer made by these kind-hearted females, for the staff already engaged by my friend the Corregidor, was ample for my requirements. But I could not help feeling flattered by the interest they took in me, for if the group included a sprinkling of withered old women, the majority were robust and well set up, and some of the girls very good-looking!

Indian woman of the high Andes near Cuzco and Puno. Illustration from Adventures in Peru.