Adventures in Peru, Chapter 6

The Luck of the Deal

Hunting Pumas and Guanacos, Part 3

Guanaco hunting with expert bola throwers is most exhilarating sport, if one has a good horse under you, and decent galloping ground to ride over—almost as inspiring as riding after the rhea, or wild ostrich, in the Argentine. Not quite so fascinating, however, as the pastime I enjoyed on Hamilton Langley’s estate, where I learned how to run an estancia. I got “nowt,” as the Yorkshiremen say, for wages, during my apprenticeship, and had to find my own grub and horseflesh.

Langley was a fine horseman, a grand rider over any kind of country; and with him hunting was a passion. He kept a pack of dogs, consisting of two staghounds, and four of the greyhound lurcher type. I had a similar lot of lurchers, a prize-bred French pointer, and a King Charles. The latter was a smart little chap, and absolutely fearless, as the following incident will show.

One day my groom came to me about 8.15 a.m., full of news about a tiger cat. He said it was the biggest he had ever seen and that it had just run into a clump of bushes not far away. I called up my dogs, and, six-shooter in hand, proceeded to the spot indicated. I tried my best to persuade the big dogs to try and rout the tiger cat out; but they didn’t relish the task. Imagine my surprise when the little King Charles dashed into the clump, and drove the cat out into the open! The other dogs then joined in the fray, and soon settled matters to their entire satisfaction. My lurchers and Hamilton’s dogs made up a useful pack, and we used to put them on the scent of any mortal thing that came our way. Deer, however, provided our chief diversion.

On one occasion, I remember, we got to the end of Langley’s big paddock, or potrero, and found the gate closed against us. The boss promptly put his horse at it, and landed over in magnificent style. We, who were not so well mounted, had to open the gate and ride through. My horse was of the half or three-quarter type raised by the late William Kemmis. When sent to England they fetched good prices as high-class hunters. Lots of fellows of my acquaintance had, at various times, hunters bred by Kemmis or Langley on shares, i.e. they kept them and rode them for several months, and then sold them. What they got over and above the original price, they divided with the owner. The usual figure the breeders charged was £100. In the days I am speaking of, there were heaps of wild horses in the Argentine. When I took up my quarters at Bella Vista, I bought seventeen (“al corte”) for £2 apiece; and was extremely gratified to find that three of them were up to my weight. Six others made fine carriage horses, after they had been broken in. I frequently drove them in my big, heavy dog-cart three at a time, native fashion, i.e. one in the shafts, and one on either side of him. The way they went hell for leather over the Camp was a sight for sore eyes!

Before proceeding further, I ought, perhaps, to explain the meaning of al corte. The words are the Spanish equivalent for “as they come.” A number of animals are driven out of a herd of maybe five hundred, into a corral. The gates are then closed, and the Peons, with much cracking of whips, induce the horses, or mules, or what-not, to stampede round the corral. When they have got pretty lively, the gate is suddenly flung open. Then one has to look smart, or you’ll get overwhelmed in the rush. Note particularly the first ten animals that come out. They are yours, if you are the fellow who is buying. In that little lot you may get several horses—if horses are your game—worth £20 apiece. On the other hand the majority may consist of useless yearlings, and one or two old brood mares. It is all in the luck of the deal.

When I bought my horses two separate hundreds were driven into the corral. I had ten out of the first hundred, and seven out of the second. Only three were “stumers,” and these I turned over to my groom, who found them very useful for rough work.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 6

Whirling Bolas

Hunting Pumas and Guanacos, Part 2

Don Ramon persuaded me to prolong my stay so that I might help him get some guanaco and vicuña skins, the former to make mats with, and the latter, rugs.

It was a very jolly experience. We started off, attended by four Indians, Ramon riding a pacer, and I my galloping chestnut. The Indians were mounted on mules and carried bolas, a kind of lasso made of raw hide. At one end of the bola are two thongs. On each of these a wooden ball about as large as a cricket ball is threaded. At the other end of the bola—which, by the way, is about two yards long—another, but smaller wooden ball depends from a two-foot thong. The bola is used as follows: The Peons, when the animals they have rounded up are comparatively still, ride at them, swinging their bolas as they go. This starts them on the run again, when the Peons throw their bolas, aiming to entangle the animals’ feet. Some are so expert that they rarely fail to accomplish their purpose.

A couple of hours’ ride brought us to the grazing ground of the guanacos. It was in a beautiful valley, about 10,000 ft. above sea-level. We soon sighted a herd of fifteen, and went after them full lick. I easily took the lead, and soon had to steady my horse so that Ramon and the Indians might get into line with me. The sandy soil, which carried barely sufficient herbage for ostriches, afforded pretty good galloping ground, so we streaked along at a tidy pace. But after twenty minutes or so my weight began to tell, and then my gallant steed didn’t need much steadying—he steadied himself. The big Borzoi led the other dogs, a good fifty yards up the Flat. By and by the Indians caught up with the dogs, and got quite close to the guanacos, who finally came to a standstill on a green patch which was fifty yards square, or thereabouts. The hunted animals turned round and lined up like a regiment of soldiers, gazing about them in an inquiring kind of way, as if to say: “What is all this commotion about; and why do you follow us?”

Now was the time for our bola throwers! In they rode, whirling their bolas in the air as they went. Meantime, Don Ramon and I dismounted, and took up a favourable position whence we might get a shot at the guanacos when they stampeded. The animals kept their formation until the Indians were within seventy yards of them; then they broke and fled. Ahead of them in their line of flight was a cleft in the rocks. But it was too small for them to get through; so they took a half-right turn, and made for the hills. In anticipation of this manoeuvre, the Indians had galloped off to the left, in order to intercept them, and, as they passed at a distance of about fifteen yards, threw their bolas. Good luck attended their efforts. They brought two of the animals to the ground, and soon administered the coup de grâce. Don Ramon and I killed a couple more with our rifles, and, as the survivors were gaining the shelter of the hills, let fly at the two hindmost. I sighted at 300 yards and was fortunate enough to hit my guanaco in the thigh, so that it had to hop along on three legs. Ramon missed his. We despatched two of the Indians to track down the wounded animal, while the others proceeded to disembowel the four we had already secured, preparatory to loading them up on their mules. In about an hour’s time we sighted the trackers returning over the foothills, one leading his mule with the dead guanaco on top.

“A very successful hunt,” said Don Ramon. The meat would come in very handy to help feed the twenty families that he kept on his estate; and the skins would make some beautiful mats. We saw only five vicuña on this trip, and they were too far off for us to fire at with any hope of success.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 6

Going for the Throat

Hunting Pumas and Guanacos, Part 1

Next day I went round the estancia and had a look at Don Ramon’s alpacas. He lent me a fine pacing horse for this purpose. My animals in the meantime were turned out where there was plenty of excellent pasture.

The alpacas were exceptionally good. Most were of a mixed colour; several were pure white; only a very few were black. These animals are bred for their wool, which is extremely fine, and expensive to buy. Carosses, i.e. rugs, are made from their skins. Their flesh is highly esteemed by the natives. In flavour it comes between goat and mutton. White alpaca rugs are worth money. I have frequently brought some home and sold them for £40 and £50 apiece. Black alpaca rugs fetch much more, being rarer. My favourite is the white variety. Odd bits of alpaca skin, left over from rug-making, are made up into foot-warmers. The alpaca is built on the same lines as a guanaco, but somewhat sturdier. Like the llama, it is indigenous to Peru and Bolivia.

Ramon was good enough to sell me three white alpaca rugs for £20 apiece. One I gave to my father; the others brought me in £100. Since the Great War the prime cost has increased 50 per cent. or more.

The following morning, just after breakfast, one of Ramon’s Indians brought word that a cow had been killed by pumas. His dogs had chased the raiders to a hill about two miles from the estancia, where there were a lot of rocks and several small caves. Don Ramon had a very fine strain of Borzoi, and five hounds beside, that he had bred by mating one of the Borzois with a wild-dog bitch. He had captured the latter a few years previously when hunting guanacos. He shot her mother as she came rushing out of one of the self-same caves where the Indian had now located the pumas. Close by he found a litter of pups, which he took home and brought up by hand on milk. There were five in all. Ramon gave two away, but retained two dogs and a bitch for himself. The dogs he kept separate by themselves; the bitch he put to one of his Borzois, with the result already mentioned.

Well, we started off without delay after the pumas, taking with us the five hounds and their parents. I rode a grand chestnut pacing horse, bred by Ramon, and he rode a bay. They both showed plenty of quality and blood. The Indian trotted on ahead, until we arrived within about three hundred yards of the caves. We then dismounted, and, while he held our horses, stalked our quarry cautiously. The well-trained dogs followed at our heels until fifty yards or so from the rocks. Ramon then laid them on the trail. They quickly picked it up; but though they nosed about for an hour, and searched every corner and hole, where even a cat might hide, they found nothing. So we remounted our nags, and rode off to another mix-up of rocks and caves about a mile and a half away. We hadn’t ridden half a mile before the big Borzoi dog, Czar, gave tongue, followed at once by Florita, the wild-dog bitch. How I longed for my galloping chestnut, for though the pacers could pace eight or nine miles an hour, they couldn’t gallop for toffee! At any rate the dogs quite outdistanced them.

On reaching the rocks we dismounted, and in the usual South American way, threw the reins over our horses’ heads to the ground—having, of course, unbuckled them first. There was no fear of the horses getting away: they had been trained to stand until the reins were picked up. The dogs were now barking furiously outside a long, low cave that looked most forbidding. None of them appeared anxious to enter, but Ramon persuaded the big Borzoi to go in. About two minutes later, out rushed three pumas. Ramon was standing about thirty yards away from the cave, and I about the same distance to the left of him. He had his Martini and I my father’s 16 double-barrelled Holland and Holland. The biggest puma was one of the largest I had ever seen. I was fortunate enough to get him with my first barrel. With the other I fired at another puma not quite so big. My bullet broke his leg, and the dogs soon put an end to him. Don Ramon accounted for the third puma. He hit it in the ribs and it got away; but we followed its trail on our horses, and after a lovely ride of five miles or so, over the High Flats, caught up with it in a small valley leading towards a distant range of mountains. Our dogs flung themselves on to their quarry. Then ensued a rare rough and tumble. Brought to bay, the puma fought desperately. Spitting and snarling like a fiend incarnate, she threw the dogs off again and again. But they would not be denied, and, although more than one was severely mauled, pressed home the attack. At last Florita, snapping up a favourable opportunity, dashed in and seizing the puma by the throat, hung on till she had torn a hole in its windpipe. Ramon was very glad when the end came, for he was fond of his dogs, and we had not dared to fire a shot for fear of hurting them.

Had Ramon been using my weapon, the puma would never have got away at all. Don Lisandro Mendizabal, who was a great friend of his, told him he wouldn’t mind going anywhere with my rifle, because it made so big a hole, nothing could stand up against it.

On our way back to the estancia, we each fired two shots at some big condors, three of which were flying overhead. Don Ramon missed altogether; but I was lucky enough to break the wing of a big male bird with my second shot and so brought it to the ground. We waited till the Indian came up, and left it in his charge. He skinned the bird and preserved it “Indian fashion,” in order that I might take it home as a trophy to my father. It measured 9 ft. 7 in. from tip to tip of its expanded wings. Don Ramon showed me one in his drawing-room, that went exactly 11 ft. 7 in. That also was a male bird with a white collar. The different varieties of condor are fully described in Adventures in Bolivia wherein is quoted Baron von Humboldt’s description of these wonderful birds. Mr. Hudson, the great authority on South America, wrote me on three separate occasions about the Condor Real, or king of the condors, a bird reputed to be pure white. He doubted the existence of such a bird, and suggested that if one really existed, it had probably grown white with age. Not long before his death, however, he was good enough to write and say certain facts had come to his knowledge which convinced him that I was right in contending the Condor Real is a distinct species, and a pure white bird.