Adventures in Peru, Chapter 14

In the Mountains

Tales of Far Peru, Part 8

Huanuco, about 200 miles north-west of Lima, is situate in a beautiful valley 6000 ft. up. The climate is lovely, neither too hot nor too cold. Nearly all the houses are surrounded by delightful gardens. Huanuco’s principal industry is sweet-meat making. The country round is devoted to mining and farming. The local cattle are rather small, and I think the breed would be much improved by the introduction of a few Hereford bulls. Land is cheap, the scenery magnificent, and there is a certain amount of game. Bush-chicken, bush-turkey, and martinette are fairly common, and there are two sorts of deer. Jaguar may be met with in the woods, and pumas, foxes, and lynxes abound. High up in the mountains bears are pretty numerous. I got one once and had the hams cured. They were not at all bad eating. I shot specimens of both species of deer. One of the brown, or larger sort, measured 3 ft. 10 in. at the shoulder. It had a nice head and a symmetrical pair of horns. They now hang in my hall, in company with a pair of slender prongs belonging to one of the other species of deer. This last-named delightful little animal isn’t much bigger than a buck hare, but the speed it develops on the run is amazing. lt somewhat resembles the Pete buck, known as Agouti in Venezuela.

Huanuco was founded by Gomez Alvarado in 1539. Old Inca ruins are visible on every side. I spent a month here prospecting, and had a nice house and kitchen and corral for 10 sols, or £1 a week. Horses are plentiful, but they are not weight-carriers. For £20 to £30 one could buy an animal up to about 12 stone. Guanacos used to roam over the pampas here in herds of fifteen to twenty.

From Huanuco I went on to Huaraz, the chief town of the Department of Ancacho, situate about 75 leagues north and north-west of Lima, a fertile valley on the banks of the Santa River. Here I fell in with a man named Julio Hernandez, who owned a good deal of land in the vicinity and a lot of cattle. Sugar and all tropical things grow here all the year round, for the soil is very rich. Hernandez had a fine coffee estate about three days’ journey from Huaraz. I went there to examine the banks of the river which runs through the property, and see if there were any gold there. Hernandez lent me six Indians. They removed the top soil, but found no alluvial. A little farther down, however, one day’s work in a small stream which runs into the Santa yielded ½ oz. of the precious metal.

I put in a week at this spot, and then set on twenty Indians. Within three weeks we netted 16 oz. more, a result Hernandez deemed altogether satisfactory. I would have liked to stay here longer, but was due back in Chile. Hernandez, besides giving me £20 for superintending the operations, promised me 10 per cent. of all the gold found during the ensuing six months. This promise he did not fail to redeem. Altogether I benefited £300 by this transaction. Hernandez was a real good fellow. He was reputed to be a lineal descendant of the Hernandez Soto who figured prominently in Pizarro’s time. My suggestion re improving the quality of his cattle so appealed to him that he afterwards imported a couple of fine Hereford bulls.

From this point right up to Ayacucho and beyond, vicuñas are very plentiful. Guanacos, after a lean time, are making headway. The vicuñas are sheared like sheep. There is no wool in the world to equal theirs. It is finer and stronger and better and silkier than any other. Indians ask from £15 to £30 for ponchos made of this wool and enriched with designs picked out in silk. The king of rugs, the Carosse, is not now made in Peru, but may be met with occasionally in parts of Bolivia. Owing partly to the £2 tax imposed on each rug exported, they cost three times as much as they did before 1910.

Hernandez was full of information respecting the Incas. He said that the town of Chota, near Caxamarca, was destroyed by the Chilians during the war of 1882, after they had ransacked the churches of their treasures of gold and silver and precious stones.