Adventures in Peru, Chapter 11

The Accommodation of Strangers

Through the Nasca and Cañete Valleys, Part 4

Four days later we struck camp, and started to tackle the other stretch of desert, a matter of forty-eight miles. As provender we loaded up the bush-chicken and martinette I had killed the previous evening, two bottles of water for the horses—I couldn’t get any beer—some cold grilled goat, and a loaf or two of native bread. Real good wholesome bread this is, I can recommend it.

By 1.30 we had covered thirty-six miles, and then were pleasantly surprised to see a jolly-looking padre come riding down a path on our left, on a high-stepping pacing horse. He was apparently going to visit a village on the other side of the Appurimac, which can be crossed about fourteen miles further on, by one of the two Inca bridges I had to examine. He caught up with us as we were finishing lunch, and was very affable; he asked where we were going to, and all that sort of thing. I told him I wanted to see what I could make of the old viaduct that in former times conveyed the waters of the Appurimac through the heart of a great sandstone hill 1000 metres high, for a distance of 2000 metres, in order to irrigate the desert. It is said this vast undertaking was successfully carried through by Maita Capac, one of the greatest Inca rulers. Maita also constructed the great road from Quito to Cuzco, already alluded to. A few of his bridges, or aqueducts, may still be seen—kept in fairly good preservation by the Indians. Vast tracts of desert land were reclaimed and made productive by the enlightened enterprise of Maita Capac; but under European mismanagement they have been allowed to relapse into their former barren state. What a thousand pities! I invited the good Father, who looked as if he did himself pretty well, to have a snack of martinette, or grilled goat, and native bread and butter, washed down with a draught of nice cold water out of my army flask. A tidy-sized flask this, by the way; it holds close on a quart. I used to fill it from every stream we came across. I may say that on this occasion, I added a small quantity of good rum which my good friend, the Haciendero, had given me—just to colour the water!

From this point we rode on together, at an easy gait—I on Golondrina and Francisco on Tony bringing up the rear. After traversing about seven miles, he and I changed horses as usual. ’Twas four o’clock before we reached the valley. After riding up it a matter of four miles, guided by the priest, we came to six Indian thatched huts. My clerical friend very kindly asked me to cross the bridge and put up at his residence. But, as he was speaking, another portly gentleman drew near. He proved to be the Corregidor, a full-blooded Indian, but very civil and obliging. Evidently he overheard what the priest had said to me; for he at once exclaimed, “No, Padre, the Gringo shall not stay with you. It is the duty of Corregidors in Peru to look after all strangers, and find them accommodation until they choose to move on.”

Having regard to the work I was engaged on, I thought it best to hire an empty hut which the Corregidor had on hand, although I would have been delighted to accept the priest’s kind invitation. So the Corregidor called an old Indian, and told him what I required. Within a few minutes I was installed in a hut, with a thatched shed at the back for my horses. Another hut was provided for Francisco. The kitchen attached served as a kind of saddle-room.

It is the usual custom to keep a building for the accommodation of strangers. When not occupied it is used as a storehouse for Government stores, potatoes, maize, chuno, and so forth. (Black chuno is composed of potatoes, frozen by the Indians, and treated in such a way that they keep for almost any length of time. When you want to use them all you have to do is to put the chuno in water, and stand it out in the sun for awhile. Within a short time the potatoes are thawed and then can be cooked. They are very palatable.) The Corregidor, having arranged for your accommodation, appoints an Indian to wait upon you with provisions. For these you are expected to pay, of course; but the price asked is always most reasonable. The Indians are bound to obey their Corregidor. I seldom came across any who were hostile to me. As in Bolivia, it is easy for travellers to ascertain whether the natives are friendly disposed, or the reverse. If, when reaching a village, you find all the doors closed, the best thing you can do is to pass on without delay. The inhabitants wish to have nothing to do with you. If some of the doors stand open, this intimates that you may purchase what provisions they happen to have in stock; but had better camp outside the village. When, however, most of the doors are open, and people are to be seen standing about, then you may rest assured you are heartily welcome to the best accommodation the villagers can offer.