On the Cattle Boats, Part 1
I made my way back to Lima, after completing my survey, by the same way I had come. The crossing of the forty-eight mile stretch of desert occupied one day. Then we put in two days at the ranch we visited on the outward trail. There I shot a martinette and five parrots for the pot. The valley looked beautiful, all aglow with lovely flowers, interspersed with tropical plants and ferns.
The Indians told me they had been greatly troubled by a tiger since I was last there. I have no doubt in my own mind that what they called a tiger was really a jaguar, only of a much larger species than the ordinary. I had a good hunt round for the marauder, but was not fortunate enough to come across him.
On the morning of the third day we started off early over the last stretch of desert; and after an uneventful journey, arrived at the place at which I purposed to halt, viz. a ranch which I hired of the Indian proprietor for 2s. a day. We rested two nights and a day, and then rode on to the Santa Barbara estate where I was the guest of the manager for four days.
Here I enjoyed some sea bathing, and also rode round inquiring of the West Indians employed by the Sugar Company whether they had any complaints to make. I did this on behalf of my Lima friend and Mr. Beauclerc, the British Minister. It was gratifying to learn that the workers were all satisfied with the treatment accorded them by the manager and his subordinates. All, that is, save one. This man was very cross, because his donkey had been shot by the manager’s orders. It appeared that he hadn’t taken the trouble to tie up his animal at the edge of the plantation as directed; the result was it strayed and did considerable damage to quite a lot of sugar cane. As no notice was taken of repeated warnings, the death penalty was imposed on the donkey, and duly executed. I told the grumbler that it served him right; he had only got what he deserved.
Eventually the Sugar Company had to employ Japanese labour, for the West Indians, though good workers, were bad “stickers”; after a while they developed a habit of taking a day off whenever they thought fit. As a natural consequence the mills had frequently to stand idle for lack of sugar cane.
On the way to Callao we called at Chala, a port thirty-seven miles south from Lima, which supplied every year thousands of small bullocks to Callao and Lima. Round Chala there is a great scarcity of grass, and the animals have to go short, as very little grows beside the road along which they are driven from the beautiful Pullo Valley thirty leagues away, starting not far from Coro Coro.
One of the steamers of the Grace line was named after this town. On a certain occasion when going to the Falkland Islands, intending to ship thence to Iquique, I met Captain Thompson, her skipper. He dined with me and Captain Beelindorf on the Tanis. After dinner we sat smoking and chatting for a considerable time, and Thompson tried to persuade Beelindorf to take advantage of the lovely night and proceed by Smith’s Channel. “Look,” he said, “you could read a paper by the light of the moon.”
“No,” said Beelindorf. “You can do as you like, but I’m not coming. My father is a director and shareholder of the company who owns this ship, and his last words to me were, ‘I’ve got you this job as captain of the Tanis; mind you stick to it, and obey the rules implicitly, especially those imposed by the Assurance Company.’ One of these,” continued Beelindorf, “forbids most emphatically any attempt to travel by Smith’s Channel or Magellan Straits between sunset and sunrise. Therefore I intend to stay where I am to-night.”
Thompson laughed and said he had done the trip altogether forty-two times, man and boy; there was not the least particle of danger hanging to it, and therefore he should go on. Soon after he left us and went aboard his vessel.
Next morning, as I was preparing for my bath, Beelindorf came and invited me to take coffee with him in his cabin.
“After that,” he said, “we must go and see what we can do for old Thompson. He is on the rocks!”
And on the rocks he was of a surety. We found the Coro Coro piled high and dry on a pinnacle-shaped rock, 5 ft. of which had penetrated right up into her hold. Thompson was beside himself, and it took us all our time to calm him down. Under the soothing influence of a stiff brandy and soda he recovered his balance sufficiently to explain how the Coro Coro got cast away. “We were only going half speed,” he said, “when we sighted what looked like land on the port bow. So we steered away from it, and had gone but a very short distance when the boat grounded. What we had seen and tried to avoid was simply the shadow of the land, cast by the deceptive moonlight!”
The long and short of it was that all the cargo had to be unloaded and put ashore. The Coro Coro we had to leave to her fate. Jammed on the rock she remains to this day, and affords lodgment to several Indian families. The owners never recovered a penny of the insurance money; but they forgave Thompson, I am glad to say.