The Tres Cruces Mine, Part 2
Lots of white and yellow flowers grow upon the sides of the mountains in this district. They are very similar to those one meets with in the Alps. The late Bishop Brown, of Bristol and Gloucester, who was a famous Alpinist, showed me some he had brought home from Switzerland, and one could hardly tell them from mine. The scenery was sublime. On every side glorious snow-capped mountains towered up to the sky, clothed in a profusion of tussock grass about two feet long, and very coarse, but the mountain cattle and sheep seem to thrive on it. This grass extends to within 2000 ft. of the snow-line. Guanacos and vicuñas were plentiful. So unused to man were they that one could get quite close to them without attracting their notice; hence securing meat for the camp presented no difficulty. I saw many foxes. They were of a greyish colour. I shot several, sufficient to make me a fine poncho or cape, which I still possess. It is very warm and comfortable. Originally a number of tails depended from it, but in 1922 I induced a Berkshire lady friend to remove them, as they inclined to make the cape look too conspicuous for English wear.
Some years after I visited Donovan, white fox and black became all the rage. Even Chilian, Peruvian, Bolivian foxes, and those of the Andes, came into favour. They were trapped or shot in thousands by the Mountain Indians, and their pelts sold at £1 apiece. I never saw a white fox in the Andes. The Andean foxes are mostly grey, with fine, long brushes. One I remember very well indeed—a very cheeky fellow. I was sitting outside my camp at night, after dinner, waiting on the off-chance of getting a puma, the spoor of which one of my Indians had discovered close by. All of a sudden a great, reddish-grey dog-fox stepped out from some bushes, and stood looking at me. He had an immense brush, the longest I think I have ever seen. I could have shot him easily, but I let him go free, as I didn’t wish to frighten any pumas that might be lurking about. Indians, like those in the Yllimani and Ylliampo ranges, live chiefly on wild guanaco meat—with an occasional buck thrown in—guinea pigs and potatoes. Although they all keep sheep, and used to sell me some at 4s., 5s., and 6s. apiece, I never saw them kill any for themselves. But they always expected the insides of mine in return for killing, skinning, and fixing up for challona.
After spending eight weeks in this exhilarating atmosphere, where the blue sky is always visible, save when overcast by an occasional hailstorm, and the sun shines all day long, I collected my samples and took them to a friend of mine, a Mr. Horne, who was employed by M. M. Penny and J. B. Minchin as an assayer. I had, as usual, placed them in separate sacks, with a ticket giving particulars of where I had found them, and at what height. It took him three days to examine and test my little lot. His report was most satisfactory, so I attached it to mine, and hied me away to my friend in Lima.
On my way back over the Andes to Sicasica, I called on Don Ramon, and put in three days with him. We had another hunt after pumas, but failed to locate any. At our parting, Ramon presented me with a magnificent rug, composed of white alpaca skins. This I gave to my father when I returned to England. He was very proud of it, and showed it to many of his friends and acquaintances—to Lord Methuen, among others. That gallant officer was charmed with it, and told my father it was the king of rugs. To buy these rugs, whether white or black, one has to approach the Mountain Indians, men who don’t give much away. Nowadays they have a much keener sense of values than when I first made their acquaintance, twenty odd years ago. The skins cost them nothing, but they have to be cured in a special manner, and properly dressed, before the various suitable portions are ready for making up. Then the putting together has to be taken into consideration. People who have never seen this process would be amazed at the skilful handiwork of the Indian women.