CHAPTER III. To Parinacochas
The cause of all the disturbance was a shabby, hard-working tailor who had gotten up at this unearthly hour to start his day's work by pressing clothes for some insistent customer. He had in his hand an ancient smoothing-iron filled with live coals, on which he had been vigorously blowing. Hence the sparks! That a penitent tailor and his ancient goose should have been able to cause such terrific excitement at that hour in the morning would have interested our own Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was fond of referring to this picturesque apparatus and who might have written an appropriate essay on The Goose that Startled the Soldier of Cotahuasi; with Particular Reference to His Being a Possible Namesake of the Geese that Aroused the Soldiers of Ancient Rome.
The most unusual industry of Cotahuasi is the weaving of rugs and carpets on vertical hand looms. The local carpet weavers make the warp and woof of woolen yarn in which loops of alpaca wool, black, gray, or white, are inserted to form the desired pattern. The loops are cut so as to form a deep pile. The result is a delightfully thick, warm, gray rug. Ordinarily the native Peruvian rug has no pile. Probably the industry was brought from Europe by some Spaniard centuries ago. It seems to be restricted to this remote region. The rug makers are a small group of Indians who live outside the town but who carry their hand looms from house to house, as required. It is the custom for the person who desires a rug to buy the wool, supply the pattern, furnish the weaver with board, lodging, coca, tobacco and wine, and watch the rug grow from day to day under the shelter of his own roof. The rug weavers are very clever in copying new patterns. Through the courtesy of Senor Viscarra we eventually received several small rugs, woven especially for us from monogram designs drawn by Mr. Hendriksen.
Early one morning in November we said good-bye to our friendly host, and, directed by a picturesque old guide who said he knew the road to Parinacochas, we left Cotahuasi. The highway crossed the neighboring stream on a treacherous-looking bridge, the central pier of which was built of the crudest kind of masonry piled on top of a gigantic boulder in midstream. The main arch of the bridge consisted of two long logs across which had been thrown a quantity of brush held down by earth and stones. There was no rail on either side, but our mules had crossed bridges of this type before and made little trouble. On the northern side of the valley we rode through a compact little town called Mungi and began to climb out of the canyon, passing hundreds of very fine artificial terraces, at present used for crops of maize and barley. In one place our road led us by a little waterfall, an altogether surprising and unexpected phenomenon in this arid region. Investigation, however, proved that it was artificial, as well as the fields. Its presence may be due to a temporary connection between the upper and lower levels of ancient irrigation canals.
Hour after hour our pack train painfully climbed the narrow, rocky zigzag trail. The climate is favorable for agriculture. Wherever the sides of the canyon were not absolutely precipitous, stone-faced terraces and irrigation had transformed them long ago into arable fields. Four thousand feet above the valley floor we came to a very fine series of beautiful terraces. On a shelf near the top of the canyon we pitched our tent near some rough stone corrals used by shepherds whose flocks grazed on the lofty plateau beyond, and near a tiny brook, which was partly frozen over the next morning. Our camp was at an elevation of 14,500 feet above the sea. Near by were turreted rocks, curious results of wind-and-sand erosion.
The next day we entered a region of mountain pastures. We passed occasional swamps and little pools of snow water. From one of these we turned and looked back across the great Cotahuasi Canyon, to the glaciers of Solimana and snow-clad Coropuna, now growing fainter and fainter as we went toward Parinacochas. At an altitude of 16,500 feet we struck across a great barren plateau covered with rocks and sand - hardly a living thing in sight. In the midst of it we came to a beautiful lake, but it was not Parinacochas. On the plateau it was intensely cold. Occasionally I dismounted and jogged along beside my mule in order to keep warm. Again I noticed that as the result of my experiences on Coropuna I suffered no discomfort, nor any symptoms of mountain-sickness, even after trotting steadily for four or five hundred yards. In the afternoon we began to descend from the plateau toward Lampa and found ourselves in the pasture lands of Ajochiucha, where ichu grass and other little foliage plants, watered by rain and snow, furnish forage for large flocks of sheep, llamas, and alpacas. Their owners live in the cultivated valleys, but the Indian herdsmen must face the storms and piercing winds of the high pastures.