Adventures in Peru, Chapter 11

The Tunnel Through the Hill

Through the Nasca and Cañete Valleys, Part 6

The old Inca viaduct I examined on four different occasions, accompanied by Father Francisco, Don José the Corregidor, and a following of twenty to thirty Indians. I tried hard to persuade some of the latter to go into the tunnel and tell me what it looked like, but, although I offered them every inducement, they refused. They said there were too many devils there. Father Francisco was no more willing than they. “Couldn’t leave his flock,” and all that sort of thing. The only way out of the difficulty was for me to get Indians from another part. So I went in alone, and proceeded to explore by the light of a horn lantern, lent me by the priest. I found the tunnel was decidedly damp in places, and, after nosing around, I discovered a tiny stream of water trickling through at the base on the east side. The tunnel was seven feet high and ten feet wide, and had been excavated out of the solid red sandstone rock. When one comes to consider that it continues for a distance of 2000 metres, right through the heart of a 1000-metre hill, one begins to speculate what manner of men were they who, under Maita Capac’s direction, were able to execute so marvellous an engineering feat with primitive tools. As a result of my examination I came to the conclusion that it was quite possible to open up the old viaduct and set it in going order.

Father Francisco and Don José spent the best part of every day with me. I was never tired of listening to the priest’s interesting yarns of Peru in the days of the Incas. He was a very learned man, of Spanish origin, and had steeped himself in the history of their time. He had read all the old books he could come across that referred to this mysterious race, and the men who preceded them. He said the great Nasca valley originally covered the whole of that part of the country, now looked upon as desert, extending from the port of Chala right away to Cerro Azul; and from Pisco to Ica—including the Huacachina lakes—and past the valley in which we were located, right up to the steppes of the Andes.

In his opinion, it would be well worth the while of any company to obtain permission of the Government of Peru and excavate round the ruins of the old Yungas city. He felt sure they would make some notable finds that might throw considerable light upon the ancient history of Peru.

Within recent years the good Father’s idea has been put to the test, and fully justified. Some most interesting relics were found, including specimens of the potter’s art that were fortunately removed from the debris intact. This was where I obtained my Yungas bowl or water-bottle. When it came into my possession particles of earth still adhered to it. I received it as part of my commission for bringing the matter to the notice of a French company. They had to deposit a large sum with the Peruvian Government before they were allowed to commence operations.

I might have had an easier job with the tunnel had the Indians been less superstitious and nervous. Besides enormous anacondas and coulebras (boa constrictors) and wild beasts of various species, they believed they would meet with sundry evil spirits. I could understand their jibbing at pumas, for though the Peruvian lion is a coward in the open, he fights like a fiend incarnate in the dark. Once upon a time a certain Argentine doctor, who was big-game shooting in Patagonia, followed a puma into a cave. He had a nerve-wracking experience, for almost as soon as he got inside, three large pumas advanced to meet him, snarling and swearing for all they were worth. The doctor thought himself lucky to escape by the skin of his teeth. How that came to pass affords engrossing reading in Col. Roosevelt’s fine book Through the Brazilian Wilderness.

As I have said before, Father Francisco’s chief hobby was the ancient history of Peru. He told me Don José was a lineal descendant of a high-class Indian family who farmed under the Incas. Francisco’s account of the great quicksilver mines of Huancavelica was most interesting. From their discovery some time previous to 1556, up to the date of our conversations, 160,000 tons, and more, of cinnabar ore had been won from the bowels of the earth. In 1786, owing to faulty underpinning, one of the principal tunnels collapsed, and entombed 500 Indian workers. Hence the annual return fell from about 670 tons to 15 cwt. It had, anyhow, decreased to that low figure before the great revolution that occurred in the early part of the nineteenth century. The mines are situated close on 15,000 ft. above sea-level, or rather more than 2500 ft. higher than the city of Huancavelica. In the mountains round about are rich deposits of gold and silver. Mercury is found in many parts of Peru and Bolivia, and also in the Argentine, but not in such considerable quantities as at Santa Barbara. Father Francisco also told me about the celebrated silver mines that are to be found in the province of Junin, north of Lima. He said the silver won from these mines between 1784 and 1889 amounted to the enormous sum of forty millions sterling.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 11

The Old Inca Bridge

Through the Nasca and Cañete Valleys, Part 5

I thought it best to tell the Corregidor and priest why I could not very well stay with either of them, viz. because I had to examine the old viaduct for Jackson and his pals, and I was glad to find they both appreciated my explanation. The priest told me that a little lower down the valley there were the ruins of an old city, dating back to the time of the Yungas, the oldest known inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere, who ruled Peru in the far distant past, long before the Incas came into prominence. That the Yungas had attained to an extraordinary civilization is shown by various specimens of ceramic art which have been brought to light in recent years. Vases, basins, and water-bottles have been found, exquisitely moulded and baked, made of an opaque clay, faintly tinged with pink, and covered over with a wonderful enamel, on which various designs are vividly represented in colours, which still retain their original freshness. Among the most treasured objects in the British Museum, are four pieces of this ancient pottery, dug up in this same Nasca valley. Three bowls and one basin are intact. There are, besides, some broken specimens. Experts fix the date of their production as 4500 B.C. The Yungas water-bottle (p. 138 of Adventures in Bolivia) was unearthed here. It is much larger than the British Museum specimens. Although after them the Huancas, and later on the Incas, tried to imitate this beautiful ware, all their endeavours were nothing worth, and to this day the potter’s secret remains inviolate.

Yungas pottery recently discovered in Bolivia, said to be 6,000 years old. Illustration from Adventures in Bolivia.

I stayed in this locality seven days, during which time I examined the old Inca bridge and viaduct very thoroughly. The priest and the Corregidor came down every day, and generally brought several Indians with them. I used to wait for them on the bridge about 9 a.m. The Priest, who had made a special study of everything relating to the history of the Incas, told me quite a lot. I tried several times, without success, to measure the bridge accurately, but was unable to do so, on account of its dipping every few yards. It shook under my weight. On one side it was fastened to a big rock, and on the other to a wall built up of boulders and stones. It was kept in good order by the Indians who lived in the villages on either bank of the river, under the direction of the Corregidor and Father Francisco, my good friend the priest. The latter told me there was a similar bridge at Desaquadero* on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. (I subsequently visited Desaquadero several times, and on one occasion camped there three days in a hired hut. The Indians were most kind to me. The one who let me the hut had two very nice daughters, who cooked and did for me. Every morning they brought me fresh fish, and fruit, and attended to my comfort. With my gun I enjoyed rare sport among the flocks of wild duck and flamingoes that frequent this entrancing spot.)

The old bridge over the Appurimac was constructed of stout planks, lashed together with fibre, supplemented by tough steel hawsers provided by the Government. It was supported by big stone pillars reinforced with heavy hardwood logs and weighty baulks of timber. On each side of the bridge was a stone path. The whole structure was raised about twenty feet above the banks of the river. Originally it had been covered with fibre matting; the hawsers had been added in recent years, in lieu of those twisted of Beluco creeper. This plant, by the way, often grows as thick as a ship’s cable.

At this point the Appurimac is only about a hundred yards broad, and the shallow water is full of rocks and boulders. But it gradually broadens out and gets deeper as it continues its course right away to Lima.

I lunched with the good padre one day, and enjoyed the meal very much. It consisted of guinea-pig stew, washed down with nice cold chicha. My friend the Corregidor saw to it that I never ran short of provisions. The Indians supplied me with two bottles of goat’s milk for one shilling. A fat fowl was obtainable for a similar sum. A sheep cost four times as much. Fruit was equally cheap, and the valley simply teemed with game. The Indians said there were plenty of wild pigs, but I never came across any.

One day, while walking near the river, on the look out for martinette, I saw a brace of lovely gold and silver pheasants. But they looked so beautiful I hadn’t the heart to kill them. Humming birds I met with, and also bright green parrakeets. The latter nest in sandy cliffs, or where gravel is plentiful.

I had little time to give to prospecting for gold, but the Indians said they frequently washed some out. One day after they had taken off the top soil, I panned out a little gravelly clay, and found colour. I had only half a day at it, but in that short period I collected nearly half an ounce of straw-coloured gold dust. So the metal is evidently there in paying quantities.

This valley was full of marvellously lovely flowers. Here and there one met with catteleya orchids, some white, some pale blue, some mauve. I didn’t notice any of the scarlet variety. According to Broadway, the Trinidad Botanical expert, and Freeman, the Minister of Agriculture for Trinidad, B.W.I., the white catteleya is rarer and much more valuable than either the blue or the mauve. They held the scarlet in very high esteem. It is very seldom seen. Here also was to be found, growing in wild profusion, the exquisite Peruvian maidenhair fern. In colour it is a delicious, dark olive green. Many specimens were close on three feet high. Broadway told me there is nothing to touch it as a house fern. I have known Trinidad since 1902, and have seen the same Peruvian ferns, year after year, in the fernery at the Botanic Gardens of Trinidad. They never seem to fade or wither, but always look first rate. President A. B. Leguia has a large number of these beautiful ferns growing near the entrance of his magnificent private palace at Lima.

*Desaquadero = sluice.

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.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 11

Reasons to be Fearful

Through the Nasca and Cañete Valleys, Part 3

Later in the day I took Francisco with me on a shooting expedition. We had not gone far before I noticed a number of parrots sitting about on the branches of a nice, flowery tree. I made my approach with due caution, and had the satisfaction to get three of them with my first barrel. The other I discharged at a martinette that was running along the ground some distance away. These four birds proved a welcome addition to our larder. I didn’t trouble to bag any more, although we saw numerous partridges and martinette, and also a bush-turkey.

I might add here that it was my invariable custom never to load my gun till I wanted to discharge it. And though, through adhering to this rule, I frequently missed chances of getting Pete buck, I had good reasons for so doing. Some years previously, at Hamilton Langley’s estancia, D., a friend of his, and manager of a bank in Buenos Ayres, paid him a visit, in company with his wife. They brought with them an excellent pointer called Ponto. One day we all went out to get some partridges. Like most vivacious Frenchmen, D. was eager to get to business, and pushed on considerably ahead of the rest of us. Suddenly we heard bang! bang! bang! in quick succession, followed by a scream, “Oh! Oh!” We hurried off in the direction whence the sounds seemed to come, and, after searching around, found the luckless man. He presented a fearful spectacle, having apparently stumbled, and in falling had received the contents of both barrels in his stomach. He was beyond all human aid when H. reached him. Subsequently the widow gave Ponto to me, and I kept him till I left San Emilio. Moreover, I myself had a rather nasty experience on the same estate. We were after wild duck, which had been located on a salt lake, and I was walking with a Mrs. Cornmell. On the way down, she said, “Do shoot a few plover.” Now I didn’t care much for plover, but I said, “All right,” and soon after bagged a brace. Then I loaded my gun, put it at half-cock, and proceeded to make the best of my way to the duck haunt. Suddenly my foot hitched in something, and I stumbled. Bang! went my gun. Fortunately it was pointing ahead, and so didn’t interfere with Mrs. Cornmell; but it gave her a bit of a turn, and shook me up more than I cared to admit. These two lessons were sufficient for me. I resolved I would never again carry a loaded gun.

After lunch I set off to examine some old ruins the Indian had spoken about, on the right-hand side of the river about three miles down. I rode the excellent pacer left for my use by the owner of the hacienda and followed a path which took me straight to my objective. I spent a couple of hours examining the ruins very closely. They were the remains of what had been fairly large buildings. The walls were rough-built of cobble stones and mud bricks mixed, fully two feet thick, and the rooms seemed planned on spacious lines. Everything was overgrown with weeds and young trees; and I noticed several mounds outside and within.

On the east side grew a lovely bush of wild jasmine. I have never seen a bigger or finer specimen. Entwined with it was a gorgeous blue convolvulus creeper. In my humble opinion, Nature had provided this as a protection for the beautiful bush. The two together made a far finer show than they would have done if separated. I am led to think this, because of an experience that I had in Trinidad. In the garden of the Villa Iris, which belonged to my wife, and faced the great Savannah Park, there was a magnificent bush of white jasmine, the envy of all beholders. One day the coolie gardener told my wife a yarn. A white convolvulus had begun throwing its tendrils around the bush. Said he, “If you don’t have that weed pulled up, the jasmine will surely die.” I questioned the truth of this, but ultimately we let the man have his way. Now, mark the sequel! From that day to this the jasmine has never once flowered properly. In fact, sometimes it has not bloomed at all.

On my way back from the ruins, I saw several bush-chicken resting on a tree; so I dismounted, stalked them carefully, and knocked over a brace. What with goat flesh, parrots, partridges, and martinette, we had now sufficient variety of meats to satisfy even the most fastidious eater.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 11

An Icy Finger

Through the Nasca and Cañete Valleys, Part 2

It was about 8 a.m. when we struck camp. I was well aware that the greatest danger we had to contend with was the desert fog, a nasty white mist, dense as a London fog, that creeps down and takes travellers unawares if they don’t keep their eyes skinned. So I determined to keep a sharp look-out for those little signs that experience had taught me always precede these visitations.

About 10 o’clock I noted that Golondrina seemed uneasy. Next the back of my hand felt as if an icy finger had touched it. Almost immediately the atmosphere began to thicken, and by 10.30 the path was hardly visible. I quickly decided that we must halt, for if we wandered from the path in the semi-darkness, our doom was probably sealed. So I dismounted, and called upon Caro to follow suit, an order he promptly obeyed. Then we squatted down on the path, holding our horses by their bridle reins lest they should get away. Thus we sat until close upon 1 o’clock, when the fog cleared. During our compulsory halt we gave Golondrina and Tony a bottle of beer each, and the oats and alfalfa mixture.

Directly it was safe to do so, we resumed our journey, I on Tony and Francisco on Golondrina, whose turn it was now to carry the tack. All through our journey I made a practice of changing horses every hour. The atmosphere was now sensibly warmer, although not uncomfortably so, and there was a beautiful sky overhead. But all round us, so far as the eye could see on every side, nothing but sand, sand, sand.

However we did not allow our minds to dwell upon the monotonous outlook, but kept steadily plugging along. At last, about 5 p.m., our eyes were gladdened by the sight of a fringe of waving green grass. We had crossed the first stretch of desert!

Within a short time we entered the confines of a valley, even more beautiful than the one we had left. Down the centre of it ran a stream of water, probably a branch of the Appurimac. Along its banks Guinea grass grew in wild profusion. All around were to be seen delicious fruits and flowers. It was indeed a Garden of Delight.

We soon hit up against an Indian homesteader, and came to terms with him. For 2s., or 1 sol a day, he agreed to let me have a hut for myself and a shed for the horses. Truly the further one gets from civilization, the cheaper does everything become. Like the Indian in the other valley, this one catered for our every need, and charged even less for fruit and vegetables. He offered me, for instance, chirimoyas and paltas at 1 cent each. I really could not accept them at that price, but had some difficulty in inducing him to take 2 cents apiece. Not far from the riverside were fields of alfalfa, planted by settlers who lived in this beautiful region, free from care and worry, and having pretty well everything that human nature craves for close to their hand. I decided to stay here three days, and give the horses a good rest, while I took a look round.

The owner of the hacienda, or big farm, where we put up, paid us a visit next morning about nine o’c1ock, and gave me a cordial invitation to his own private residence, three miles away. He also offered me the use of a fine pacer while my horses took things easy. I thanked him heartily for his kind courtesy, but didn’t go to his house, as I only wanted to potter about. I accepted the loan of the horse, however. He told me there were many objects of interest scattered about all over the valley, including ancient ruins overgrown with shrubs and weeds and brushwood, that had hardly been touched since the time of the Incas.

There was plenty of game here, partridges, doves, bush-chicken, martinette, and so forth. Bush-chicken are capital eating. They are very plump, and closely resemble the ordinary barn-door fowl in appearance. In colour they are a dirty blackish-brown. Fowls were brought to Peru by Pizarro. It is stated in Prescott’s Conquest of Peru that the Indians were greatly surprised when the cocks began to crow. They had never heard such a thing before. Bush-chicken have all descended from these birds. Equally strange to them were the horses Pizarro introduced.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 11

Across the Desert

Through the Nasca and Cañete Valleys, Part 1

On one of my frequent visits to Lima I made the acquaintance of a company promoter named Jackson. He had formed the idea that a large tract of country, lying between the great river Appurimac and the Nasca and Cañete valleys, was admirably adapted to grow sugar and various other crops. He wanted some one to explore the old viaduct that had been constructed by the Incas in days gone by, to conduct the waters of the Appurimac to this stretch of country; and to report on its condition before he approached the Government of Peru for a concession. Jackson wished to avoid laying out much money on preliminaries but, nevertheless, offered me £200 if I would take the job on, with a promise to supplement it with a 10 per cent. holding in the company he intended to form, in the event of matters turning out satisfactorily. I mentioned the subject to Bailey, the manager of the Cable Company, in the course of conversation, and he scouted the idea.

“Do you mean to say,” he exclaimed, “that you are going to risk riding through that vast desert, for a paltry £200, on spec?”

“Yes, and glad of the job,” I said. “It will only take me about a fortnight, and will afford me the chance of seeing one of the old bridges made by the Incas.”

“Man, you are mad!” he rejoined. “You’ll never get through. You will see nothing but heaps of human bones lying about; and mind you don’t add yours to them. In the first place, where will you find a horse that will carry your lump of a carcass?”

“Never mind about the horse part,” I said. “I think Golondrina and Tony will be equal to the task. Anyhow, I intend taking them and Francisco Caro with me.”

“Ah,” he agreed, “if you choose to take the best hurdler in Chile and the finest chaser, together with one of your best stable-lads, that alters the complexion of affairs. Still, I wish you well out of the job. You’ll find it is no picnic.”

This conversation didn’t daunt me in the least. I had calculated my chances very carefully, and felt convinced that the task was not beyond my powers. Accordingly the following July (i.e. July, 1900) saw my little party safely embarked on the Guatemala, en route for Cerro Azul. On arriving there we left the steamer and pushed on to Cañete, where we put up for a day at a house belonging to the British Sugar Co., in which corporation Leguia was interested financially.

Next morning we started on our adventurous ride. The first portion lay through a beautiful valley, luxuriant with grass and alfalfa, and dotted here and there with gorgeous tropical flowers. Only a few stunted trees were visible, but they were full of bloom. I was particularly attracted by some lovely pale blue and cream convolvulus creepers. (When I described them the other day to an acquaintance, a Mr. Reynolds, who had been formerly head gardener at one of England’s historic mansions, he classified them as weeds. I dare say he is right in a way, but to me their simple daintiness appeals more powerfully than many a choice specimen of the florist’s treasure house.) We made good progress, and reached the end of the valley before nightfall. There we came across an Indian homestead, the proprietor of which very civilly expressed his willingness to let me a small hut for myself, with a kitchen outside and an open thatched barn made of adobe bricks for the horses. His charge for two nights and a day was very moderate—only 2 sols in fact. He supplied us with a plenitude of provisions, such as paltas, chirimoyas, peaches, plantains, and other vegetables, and fowls’ eggs. Paltas grow wild in this valley, and indeed, in many other parts of Bolivia and Peru. West Indians call them Abogada* pears. At 2 cents apiece they were very cheap. The chirimoya I identified as the sugar apple of the West Indies. Those our landlord supplied us with were much finer, however, than any I had seen before. I paid for them no more than for the paltas. They were mostly larger than a cricket ball—some with rough skins, others perfectly smooth. I preferred the variety last described. The price was but 2 cents each! As for vegetables such as yams, sweet potatoes, etc., they cost me next to nothing.

Before we started on our first stretch of desert, I made very careful arrangements. I packed up a cooked fowl, some bread and a quantity of beef sandwiches, and placed them, together with a flask of whisky and a bottle of water, in the saddle-bags. These I slung on one side of Francisco’s mount. On the other side I fixed up two bottles of beer for the horses, and five pounds of oats, mixed with a little green alfalfa cut up fine. Then, after partaking of a substantial breakfast, we bade the Indian good-bye, and made for the narrow track that leads across the desert to the next valley, fifty-six miles away.

*Written “Avocada.”