Adventures in Peru, Chapter 18

So Clever and Able a Ruler

Cock-Fighting, Part 2

Peru’s supreme advantage is that she has at the head of affairs, one of the most progressive statesmen in the world, His Excellency A. B. Leguia. Backed up by singularly able colleagues, he has done great things for his country. Among the notable works accomplished, may be mentioned the settling by arbitration of the dispute with Chile over Tacna and Arica; the re-organizing of Peru’s customs and finances, so that she is now in a better position than she has ever been before; the establishment of a more powerful army and navy; and the institution of an aviation department. In connection with the last-named, an air force has been created and developed that ranks higher in efficiency than any other in S. America. There is a naval section and also a military one.

Captain John Leguia, A. B.’s eldest son, is the Director of this most important arm of the national establishment. He and James Douglas once flew to Cerro Azul from Lima and back again in four and a half hours. The distance covered was about 180 miles. Bailey, the late manager of the Cable Co., writing to the author about this feat said, “Just fancy, John Leguia, and another chap flew to the head of the Cañete valley and back in four hours! The journey used to take you three or four days on horseback.” J. L. and J. D. also flew from Lima to Truxillo. Another machine was flown from Lima to Cerro Pasco. The pilot, although flying at an altitude of 18,000 feet, carried no oxygen but simply depended on his furs.

When aviation was in its infancy, so to speak, a Peruvian named Tenaux crossed the Andes in a flying machine. He was about the first to do so. Many airmen have told me that the High Flats and the coast of Peru are particularly well suited for aviation purposes; the atmosphere is ideal, and the wind so equable.

Before President Pardo’s time, ships from all over the world used to come and load up with guano, paying the veriest trifle for it. But when Leguia took office as Pardo’s Minister of Hacienda, he put a stop to the practice. Ever since, Peru has retained this excellent product for her own use.

The Incas were well versed in agricultural chemistry, and made great use of guano, the bird manure found on the Chincha and San Lorenzo isles. They secured the preservation of the birds that supplied this valuable fertilizer, by prohibiting anyone from setting foot on these islands during the breeding season.

The police is an exceptionally well organized force. In the larger towns at night, policemen, armed with rifles, are stationed every 200 yards. Where the shops are situated, the distance between the men is reduced to 100 yards. Each man blows a whistle every ten minutes. Two blasts warn his next-door comrade on either side that the help of both is needed. Three bring up all the force available at a run. When the police call upon one to stop it is advisable to comply with their demand, for they never hesitate to use their rifles, and they shoot to kill. Periodically during the night, inspectors ride round and see that the men are at their posts. Curfew is at 9.30. People out after that hour, especially strangers, are often called upon to produce their passports.

I was made aware of this, on my first visit to Peru, in the following manner. I had with me twenty-one racehorses, two carriage horses, and an arab hack. There were eleven stablemen, some of their wives accompanying them. When we arrived at Callao and the animals had been done up for the night, I stood treat. I told the men to go and enjoy themselves, at my expense, down at the saloons, where they might hear music very well rendered by competent artists.

Next morning, when I arrived at the stables intending to exercise my horses, not a lad was visible. A policeman was there, however, and when I commented on the absence of my boys, he said, “That’s just what I have come to see you about. They are all in jail; they could produce no passports when challenged after curfew.” I at once called upon the Chief of Police. That worthy gentleman told me my people had rendered themselves liable to be fined £1 each, or sent to prison, for breaking this excellent law. I assured him they had sinned in ignorance, and that I myself was unaware of the regulation. As I had told the boys to go, I of course offered to pay their fines, and was agreeably surprised when the Chief said, “No, we won’t impose any fine this time; but in future, give your boys a scrip to say they are out with your permission.”

In Peru there is scope for millions of new comers, but no room for wasters. Pick and shovel men would be well advised to give it a wide berth, for they would only be remunerated on the same scale as the Indians, who are content to work for very small wages. The same thing applies to domestics. The poorer inhabitants of Peru make excellent servants; there are besides a large number of West Indians available.

The sort of folk Peru needs, are engineers (especially those skilled in the use of the electric drill), machinists, and capable mechanics, who are not content to loaf around in pubs, but willing to undertake jobs, and stick to them. To all such, Peru affords excellent opportunities and good pay.

To return to A. B. Leguia. Were he not so clever and able a ruler, he might easily have made a very large fortune by training and riding racehorses. He has a natural gift for that sort of thing. Few gentleman riders could hold a candle to him, and not many professionals could give him poundage. He was one of the finest light weights I have ever seen. A. B. owns and breeds some of the best racehorses in Peru, and races for the honour and glory of the sport. He often accompanies and clocks them in their fast work. As a bettor he invariably plays light. Elias’s pacers are considered the finest in the whole of Peru, but Leguia’s come second only to them, and his strain of milch cows is very highly esteemed.

In Peru—a land where big estates abound—his are among the most extensive. Coffee, sugar, cotton—they are all run on the best and most up-to-date lines. It has often been my privilege to stay at his beautiful palace, midway between Pisco and Tambo-de-Mora. It reminds me of the residence of his Grace the Bishop of Trinidad. Leguia’s father, a member of one of the oldest and most notable families in Spain, preferred his son’s house before his own. Near the palace is a nice chapel where a reverend Father attends every alternate Sunday. Close by there is the largest private swimming bath I know of.

Old Mr. Leguia died not so very long ago, full of years and honour. As his eminent son described it in felicitous phrase, “his joint oil ran out.” That was all—just simply old age. Peace to his ashes!

With this pious aspiration I must bring to a close my narrative of Peruvian incidents, and address myself to the task of recounting some of my racing experiences in Chile and the Argentine.

To those who have a fancy for engaging on a trip to Peru, whether for business or pleasure, I would offer this word of advice. Before you make a start, look up the list of things printed at the end of Adventures in Bolivia. Pretty well all you will require is there set out in detail.