Adventures in Peru, Chapter 7

The Megrims

The Tres Cruces Mine, Part 1

Next day, after thanking Don Ramon for his hospitality, and for giving me so enjoyable a time, I started off for the camp at the foot of the mountains near Tres Cruces. Here a man named Donovan kept a little store, and worked a tin mine for my Lima friend. This same Donovan was one of the first to come to La Paz and congratulate me when I returned from my momentous journey to Challana. Readers of my Bolivian adventures may remember that I had passed through some ticklish experiences, and had been reported dead.

Donovan greeted me warmly, and said he had been expecting me for several months, his boss having apprised him of my coming to prospect around. I was to make his house my headquarters. This abode comprised two rooms and a kitchen, all built of solid stone. The walls were two feet thick or more; and the whole was roofed with corrugated iron. Donovan, I found, had only two Indian assistants. He said the store wouldn’t run to more; his takings barely sufficed to pay their wages and provide grub for himself and them. I could quite believe this, for the nearest hut was eighteen miles off, and his only likely callers would be prospectors.

Well, I started work with his two Indians and my three. Nine-thirty every morning saw me hard at it, taking samples where I thought proper, both on my Lima friend’s property and on the virgin soil belonging to the Government of Bolivia.

All went well for the first five days. Then two Indians went sick and had to rest in camp for the best part of a week. Three days later, another Indian got the “megrims.” He, of course, had to be excused. This sort of game became the vogue. I seldom had my full complement of men. The reason for this is a simple one. The Indians in Bolivia and Peru are mostly “Colonials,” i.e. their owner or master, or whatever you like to call him, provides them with everything they want in reason; they, for their part, do all the farm work on half-shares with the owner of the estancia. Every year, after the harvest is safely gathered in, accounts are balanced up, and any surplus is divided equally between master and man. If the harvest has been a poor one, and the balance is on the wrong side so far as the workers are concerned, then the debt is wiped out, and the position is “As you were.” This system suits the “Colonials” very well; so well, in fact, that they rarely trouble to seek work outside the boundaries of the estancia to which they belong, except for a very special purpose, like mine at Sacambaja. Those pretty gentlemen wanted something storekeeper José hadn’t in stock—one a red shirt, to cut a dash in, and another a sewing-machine for his wife—so their headman told me. Donovan’s Indians were of the same kidney. Directly they had made sufficient money to satisfy their special needs, they returned to their master’s estate. I was thus frequently left with only my three Indians, one of whom was my personal attendant, whose duty it was to help me drill whatever lode I was prospecting.

Round about this district I found the temperature pretty cold. During my two months’ stay here the thermometer ranged between 4 degrees and 32 degrees in the shade, and 4 degrees to 8 degrees below zero at night. You can imagine how delightful it would have been for me to come home after a hard day’s work in the mountains, and find a nice roaring fire in my room. But not a bit of it, no such luxury was provided. There wasn’t even a fireplace! My Lima friend had never visited Donovan’s. I often wished he had. I’m sure a week in that cold atmosphere would have made his hair curl! He paid me, however, to go there for him, and paid me well, so I mustn’t grumble. With the exception of Sundays and seven days when I went guanaco hunting for the camp, i.e. the Indians, Donovan and I were content to feed off challona and martinette. I generally potted this bird on the ground. “Pots” are the order of the day in out-of-the-way places. One has no use for fancy shooting. I also got some wild duck from a small lake in the vicinity. They don’t seem to frequent any water above the 12,000 ft. mark; their billet ranges from 9000 ft. to 12,000 ft. On one occasion I shot a few wild geese. They were pure white, and afforded fairly good eating, i.e. the young ones, but the old birds were tough as hemp.

Only two of my seven trips after guanacos proved successful. On these occasions I bagged one each time. On three others I drew blank, through shooting badly; and twice I quite failed to get within range of them. I happened once upon a herd of vicuña, however, as I turned the corner of a valley through which a mountain stream ran. I raised my rifle to fire, but they looked so beautiful that I felt I could not pull trigger on them. Besides martinette, I came across a few woodcock occasionally in this valley. Once I shot a martinette as it was running, and two woodcock squatting on the ground; but missed a woodcock on the wing, and two others.

Talking of shooting, I once met a fellow who was looking for mines in the district of Incasivi. He was a crack revolver shot, and brought down bird after bird. I travelled with him three days. Never once did I see him miss his mark.