National Geographic : 1942 Aug
The Pith of Peru and that is the amazing new movie palace built in commemoration of the quattrocentennial. "The legend says," explained Tia Bates, "that when the Inca and his followers reached this spot where the Plaza now is, the people said that they were very tired. He replied, 'Ari quepay,' which means, in Quichua, 'Yes. Let us rest.' " As we left Arequipa, dashing across the plateau at the base of El Misti, though ten miles away, we could feel the chill from the heavy snow. "El Misti is the 'Great Door' of legend," said my missionary friend. "You are now passing through the portal into the Land of the Inca. More than 800 years ago the Inca moved in and took over all existing Indian na tions, all the way from Colombia to about what is now Santiago, Chile. Four hundred years later the Spanish Conquistadores marched in and conquered the Inca!" Later, we moved close alongside invalids standing neck-deep in an open lake of mud at the sulphur-and-iron springs of Yura. From there on, our brave little engine pulled up gradually to the topmost vertebrae on the backs of the high mountain ridge-from 7,550 feet at Arequipa to 14,665 feet at Crucero Alto, 555 feet higher than Pikes Peak! "There you have one of the rarest sights in the world," said the missionary, pointing to the first herd of wild vicufias grazing within a few hundred yards of the train. "When I began my roamin' o' these highlands, there were many more of them. But they slaughtered the beasties for their fur. That's why there's a prohibition on the sale of their skins." Their yellowish-brown fur shone beautifully in the bright sunlight. "They're proud in their own right," con tinued my friend. "They won't associate or cohabit with the other Andean beasties we'll be meetin' up wi' soon. Nor can they be bred in captivity. "The vicufia, the llama, the alpaca, and guanaco all subsist in these high altitudes, eating only this stubby, dusty vegetation and taking up a bit of sand and pebbles with each mouthful. "The vicufias would starve in an alfalfa patch three miles or more down at sea level without their sandpaper diet. Their teeth would grow so fast they could chew no more. In captivity they have to be filed down." Indian women now began to appear in bright-red shawls and the men with their mantas, or ponchos, like striped oriental rugs, with a slit for their heads to pass through. All of them wore their mantles muffled high about their ears against the penetrating cold. On every tiny mountain station platform was a heap of bags. "Coca," said my mentor. "Like bay leaves. Every Indian you meet is chewing it. It seems to do something for them and little to them. They'll climb 30 miles of mountain without food-on coca. And they'll lie down on the job and refuse to budge, without their dole of coca. "Ask these mine people who employ Indian help. Part of the contract is to supply them with their daily ration of coca. It doesn't get in its work as a stimulant until they mix a little wood ash with it." Alpaca Coats-on the Hoof We crept on, up and up, for another hour, before we came upon herds of alpacas, with their long coats hanging in cascades almost to the ground. These animals furnish a major part of the wool you see Indian women forever spinning and knitting. A sign at the station announced 13,900 feet. Wherever the old Inca trail converged near the tracks we came upon caravan after cara van of llamas laden with bags of coca, together with bundles of fagots and twigs, mounds of fungus growth dug from the earth like peat, and sacks of animal dung-all used for fuel. "There you see the camel of the Andean desert, the llama," said the missionary dis tastefully. "An irksome beast, an' a rebel, if y' please. He will lie down, if in his opinion the load is too great, or more than 100 pounds. He does not bite, but he spits, leaving a stain an' a stink that never disappear. An herbiv orous beast, more or less like a tin-can-eating goat," he added, as we watched the llamas nibbling brown tufts (Plate VI). "A horse can't stomach that fodder. Every night my mount would be runnin' away down into the valley seekin' honest grass, leavin' me to be rescued by Indians." The sun was setting like a bronze copper kettle over the Andes when we reached Santa Lucia in the heart of a silver-mining district. The station platform was like a stage set. The Indian colony had spread a feast. Although we had lately patronized the cafe diner section of the first-class coach, the moun tain air had resharpened our appetites. We piled out, took our places at crude tables, and ate liberally, for about 25 cents, of golden chicken soup, fricasseed fowl, chicken liver and hearts roasted on a spit, corn on the ear, goat cheese, and oranges. By the time we reached Juliaca, end of the first day's run, I was ready to flop into bed and coddle my ailment. But next morning my mountain sickness had disappeared for good.