Adventures in Peru, Chapter 5

A Terrific Hailstorm

A Journey Into the Interior, Part 3

Next day, soon after breakfast, I started on the last lap of my journey, expecting to reach the workings of my Lima friend, near Tres Cruces, in a couple of days. I took with me a letter of introduction from the Corregidor to a friend of his, who kept sheep and alpacas—chiefly alpacas. He was a Peruvian, and owned farms in both Peru and Bolivia. He lived for the greater part of the year on his Peruvian estate. About three o’clock in the afternoon we got caught in a terrific hailstorm. The hailstones were as large as marbles, and the mules wouldn’t face them. l turned Batson’s stern towards the storm, which lasted a full hour and a half. Muffled in my Irish cloak (a fine affair I had bought at Sandy-point, and big enough to cover me and the mule), we suffered no inconvenience whatever. But the delay proved awkward, because night overtook us ere we reached the farm of Guiterrez. About half an hour after we had resumed our journey, Batson suddenly pricked up his ears and broke into a jog trot. The mules, headed by my chestnut as bell horse, followed suit, likewise the Indians. Very soon we discovered what had occasioned this singular manoeuvre. Within a quarter of an hour, up loomed a big building out of the darkness. It was one of Guiterrez’s barns. His house was close by. We knocked at the door, and Don Ramon himself answered the summons. I handed him Rameres’ letter, which he read, and at once extended his hospitality. Dinner, he said, would be ready in about half an hour, and he would be very pleased if I would join him. I gladly accepted the kind invitation, for I was feeling pretty well famished.

During the meal, which I thoroughly enjoyed, Ramon told me that pumas had been troubling his animals a lot. Within the previous three weeks, they had killed three young colts of very fine pacing breed. He had tried to poison the marauders, by putting stuff on a dead carcass, without the slightest effect, for they had left the bait severely alone. I told him that was quite usual, wild beasts very seldom go for any prey that has been doctored. At the same time, I considered it would be futile to sit up and watch an animal that had been killed by jaguar or puma, unless it had been left lying with its right, or liver, side up. I first learnt this truth from a book, entitled “Leaves from a Sportsman’s Diary,” written by a colonel who had been a great shikari in India, and I had proved its worth on several occasions. Ramon invited me to stay and have a cut at the pumas. I told him nothing would give me greater pleasure. A week or a fortnight occupied in ridding him of these pests would be time well spent.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 5

My Morning Dip

A Journey Into the Interior, Part 2

When I reached Sicasica I found no difficulty in getting accommodation. As a matter of fact, the President of Bolivia had most courteously directed the proprietor of the hotel to reserve his best room for me; and further, he had sent a letter of introduction to Don Fillipi Rameres, the Corregidor of a village a day’s ride nearer Vera Cruz. When I asked the proprietor if he had a bath, so that I might enjoy my usual morning tub, he said he hadn’t got one, the cold was so intense people didn’t use them. “But,” he continued, “if you like, I’ll tell one of my Indians to put a bucket of cold water in your rubber bath at seven o’clock in the morning, so that you may have a sponge.” This arrangement suited me admirably.

Next day I resumed my journey after breakfast, and in due course reached the point I aimed at—a fair-sized Indian village in the Vera Cruz range. It is situate about 12,500 ft. above sea-level. Some of the surrounding peaks tower up to 18,000 ft. and 19,000 ft. The Corregidor seemed to be a very decent chap, of the Mountain Indian breed. He placed his drawing-room at my disposal, together with a corral for my mules and a kitchen for my boys. He also engaged me, later on, an Indian and his wife and her sister to accompany me—the man to act as guide, and to assist with the cargo; the women, who were not at all bad-looking, to attend to my personal wants.

I stayed here four days, buying of the Corregidor barley-grain in the straw for my mules, and five sheep to be made into challona, for use on the trip. They weighed about 60 lb. apiece. Our meals, so far as I was concerned, consisted of bacon and eggs for breakfast, Irish stew for lunch, and Irish stew for dinner at 7 p.m. The Indians had the same, barring the bacon and eggs. Every morning about 7.30 or 8 o’clock I used to go down to the river, which was only about two hundred yards off, to have my morning dip. As the water was always frozen over, I had to bathe in one or other of the holes broken by the Indians, before I could enjoy my bath. As usual, I dried myself in the sun. Some little distance away there was a cliff, and upon this I noticed a lot of Indian women and boys sitting, the first morning I made my appearance in the river. They seemed to take a great interest in my proceedings. On the third morning, when I returned to the Corregidor’s house after my bath, I saw forty or fifty Indian women squatting down on the opposite side of the road. They were making no noise whatever, but simply waiting—waiting for me, if you please.

When I entered the house the Corregidor said, “I have an amusing thing to tell you.”

“What is it?” I inquired.

“You see all those women out there? Well, they tell me that the Gringo—meaning you—appears to be a very nice sort of chap, but evidently a bit touched in his head. For on three successive mornings he had gone down to the river, taken off all his clothes, and sponged himself with the icy cold water; so they wished me to hand him over to them to be taken care of.”

In common with most Indian tribes, these good folk regard the mentally afflicted with a certain amount of veneration; hence their request was really nothing out of the ordinary. I have no doubt they were quite prepared to carry out what they offered to do, namely to cook and fend for me in every way, while I would be free to enjoy myself as I thought fit. I was curious to know what answer the Corregidor had made. “I told them,” he said, “the man you speak of is a friend of mine. He is staying with me, and is not the least bit off his head. What you have seen him do down at the river, is his usual custom. Within a little while, he will be back in the house, and I will then tell him what you say. If you will wait a bit, you shall know what he thinks of it.”

Of course, I could not entertain the offer made by these kind-hearted females, for the staff already engaged by my friend the Corregidor, was ample for my requirements. But I could not help feeling flattered by the interest they took in me, for if the group included a sprinkling of withered old women, the majority were robust and well set up, and some of the girls very good-looking!

Indian woman of the high Andes near Cuzco and Puno. Illustration from Adventures in Peru.
Adventures in Peru, Chapter 5

A Most Embarrassing Situation

A Journey Into the Interior, Part 1

I left Mollendo by the eight-thirty train on Wednesday morning, and arrived at Arequipa at six-thirty the same night. Next day I happened to meet my friend, the consul for Uruguay and Peru. It appeared that he also was interested in the Province of Inquisivi, and intended to take the Peru and Bolivia train, leaving Friday morning at eight for Puno, the terminus, situate on the banks of Lake Titicaca. So we agreed to travel together. A description of Titicaca was given in my Adventures in Bolivia, hence I need only add that one of the islands near the peninsula of Capacabana is held specially sacred by the natives. For, according to their most highly respected traditions, it was here that Manco Capac and his consort founded their glorious empire. Here may be seen the ruins of an old monastery, which was in existence when the Incas came and conquered the Huancas. There are stones in this great building, weighing twenty tons at least. Alongside the principal doorway, there is one still standing that I should put at twelve tons. Five hundred priests, I believe, are attached to this monastery.

At Puno I met a Russian Count and his wife, who were accompanied by a Baron von K——, who acted as secretary to the Count. They had been exploring the sacred isle, and intended to extend their trip as far as the great gold river, Tipuani. Unfortunately—so I heard later—the way up the Sorata Pass proved too much for the Countess and the Baron. So the whole party had to return to Puno. The Count stood it better than the others, and naturally so, for he was a big fellow.

Crossing the High Andes by the Pass of Sorata is no joke for a woman; in fact old Naboa told me that in all the sixty years he had been acquainted with that district, he had heard of but one lady who had accomplished the feat. She was a Countess—Countess M. I’ll call her—who had run away from her husband with a Baron R. The Count, it appears, followed them with his revolver, intending to shoot the guilty pair when he came up with them. The runaways put in six months at Tipuani. Baron R. occupied himself prospecting for gold, three miles from the village. He engaged six natives and four West Indians to dig and wash for him. One day a West Indian told him a Gringo Caballero, i.e. a foreign gentleman, lay very sick of fever at Gritado, a place ten miles the La Paz side of the river. Baron R. took pity on the sick man, and started off at once in search of him, accompanied by the Countess and six Indians with a stretcher. It was intended to fetch him home to their place and nurse him back to health. They found him, lying on a mattress, in a hut belonging to a man called Ricardo Rodriguez. Picture their surprise when he turned out to be no less a person than Count M. himself! The situation was most embarrassing; but Baron R. and the Countess made the best they could of it, and gave the sick man every attention; so that, within a little while, he became convalescent, and fit to be removed to their place. There they nursed him back to health; explanations were given and received, and, ultimately, all three became reconciled and left Tipuani together, apparently on the best of terms with each other.

We travelled from Puno by the lake steamer to Quaqui, and then took train to La Paz Alto. Thence we journeyed by coach as far as La Paz. Following my usual custom, I put up at the Hotel Guibert, and persuaded the consul to do the same. The proprietor was absent in Europe, but I was glad to hear the Jura baths had quite rid him of his rheumatism. In return for my advice about taking the Jura cure, he made me free of his house—a very pleasant and delicate way of expressing his gratitude.

We stayed here five days, while the consul’s buggy horses rested. They had come up from his mine near Incasiva. I occupied myself in getting five cargo mules, and two for saddle-work. The latter were beautiful creatures, and cost, in English money, £30 apiece, or half as much again as the cargo mules. I named them Batson and Charlie, after two mules that took my fancy in a Barbadian tram-car. Batson was black all over; Charlie, chestnut, with dark chestnut mane and tail, and a black mark right down his back. I loaded up the cargo mules with provisions—not forgetting to include some old Madeira, half a case of whisky, six bottles of old port, and several pots of Liebig’s extract—and sent them on ahead to Sicasica, ninety miles away. I followed three days later, by the diligence that runs twice a week between La Paz and Oruro. The driver was an Indian, famed for being extremely punctual. On one occasion, it is said, he refused to wait more than five minutes for his boss, who had arranged to travel with him. The laggard, as mail contractor and so forth, was a pretty big bug in his way. I occupied the box-seat on the trip referred to. I was on my way to Oruro—the racing season in Chile having concluded—to call on my friend and patron, Mariano Penny, previous to my starting on an experimental trip over the Andes, in search of some old mines that had been worked by the Ancients, and lost to sight for many years. Well, we started without the boss, and in due course arrived at a place about ten miles from La Paz Alto. Here we stopped fifteen minutes to change mules. Before this operation was completed who should appear upon the scene but the missing man! He had driven a four-horse buggy at a furious pace all the way from our starting-point. Much to my relief, he did not rave at the driver, but, on the contrary, made him a present of five dollars for sticking to his time schedule.

I travelled so often with this Indian that we became quite good friends. He sometimes handed over the ribbons to me, while he chucked stones at the mules to induce them to show their best paces. Full lick we would go over the Camp, taking boulders, ruts, and holes in our stride. There was no road, properly speaking, but only a track beaten down by the traffic. We often passed llamas loaded with corn and attended by Indians, who looked very picturesque in their different coloured ponchos and caps made of llama or vicuna wool. The Indians never start their llamas on a journey before 9.30 a.m. They march on till 3.30 in the afternoon, resting for rather less than an hour midday. Ordinarily a llama should cover twelve miles a day, and carry from 35 to 50 lb. Some of the biggest can manage 75 lb. These are highly valued by their owners. On short journeys, when employed to convey gold, silver, tin or copper ore down from the mines, a llama is often burdened with 100 lb.