CHAPTER III. To Parinacochas
After a few days in the delightful climate of Chuquibamba we set out for Parinacochas, the "Flamingo Lake" of the Incas. The late Sir Clements Markham, literary and historical successor of the author of "The Conquest of Peru," had called attention to this unexplored lake in one of the publications of the Royal Geographical Society, and had named a bathymetric survey of Parinacochas as one of the principal desiderata for future exploration in Peru. So far as one could judge from the published maps Parinacochas, although much smaller than Titicaca, was the largest body of water entirely in Peru. A thorough search of geographical literature failed to reveal anything regarding its depth. The only thing that seemed to be known about it was that it had no outlet. General William Miller, once British consul general in Honolulu, who had as a young man assisted General San Martin in the Wars for the Independence of Chile and Peru, published his memoirs in London in 1828. During the campaigns against the Spanish forces in Peru he had had occasion to see many out-of-the-way places in the interior. On one of his rough sketch maps he indicates the location of Lake Parinacochas and notes the fact that the water is "brackish." This statement of General Miller's and the suggestion of Sir Clements Markham that a bathymetric survey of the lake would be an important contribution to geographical knowledge was all that we were able to learn. Our arrieros, the Tejadas, had never been to Parinacochas, but knew in a general way its location and were not afraid to try to get there. Some of their friends had been there and come back alive!
First, however, it was necessary for us to go to Cotahuasi, the capital of the Province of Antabamba, and meet Dr. Bowman and Mr. Hendriksen, who had slowly been working their way across the Andes from the Urubamba Valley, and who would need a new supply of food-boxes if they were to complete the geographical reconnaissance of the 73d meridian. Our route led us out of the Chuquibamba Valley by a long, hard climb up the steep cliffs at its head and then over the gently sloping, semi-arid desert in a northerly direction, around the west flanks of Coropuna. When we stopped to make camp that night on the Pampa of Chumpillo, our arrieros used dried moss and dung for fuel for the camp fire. There was some bunch-grass, and there were llamas pasturing on the plains. Near our tent were some Inca ruins, probably the dwelling of a shepherd chief, or possibly the remains of a temple described by Cieza de Leon (1519-1560), whose remarkable accounts of what he saw and learned in Peru during the time of the Pizarros are very highly regarded. He says that among the five most important temples in the Land of the Incas was one "much venerated and frequented by them, named Coropuna." "It is on a very lofty mountain which is covered with snow both in summer and winter. The kings of Peru visited this temple making presents and offerings .... It is held for certain [by treasure hunters!] that among the gifts offered to this temple there were many loads of silver, gold, and precious stones buried in places which are now unknown. The Indians concealed another great sum which was for the service of the idol, and of the priests and virgins who attended upon it. But as there are great masses of snow, people do not ascend to the summit, nor is it known where these are hidden. This temple possessed many flocks, farms, and service of Indians." No one lives here now, but there are many flocks and llamas, and not far away we saw ancient storehouses and burial places. That night we suffered from intense cold and were kept awake by the bitter wind which swept down from the snow fields of Coropuna and shook the walls of our tent violently.
The next day we crossed two small oases, little gulches watered from the melting snow of Coropuna. Here there was an abundance of peat and some small gnarled trees from which Chuquibamba derives part of its fuel supply. We climbed slowly around the lower spurs of Coropuna into a bleak desert wilderness of lava blocks and scoriaceous sand, the Red Desert, or Pampa Colorada. It is for the most part between 15,000 and 16,000 feet above sea level, and is bounded on the northwest by the canyon of the Rio Arma, 2000 feet deep, where we made our camp and passed a more agreeable night. The following morning we climbed out again on the farther side of the canyon and skirted the eastern slopes of Mt. Solimana. Soon the trail turned abruptly to the left, away from our old friend Coropuna.
We wondered how long ago our mountain was an active volcano. To-day, less than two hundred miles south of here are live peaks, like El Misti and Ubinas, which still smolder occasionally and have been known in the memory of man to give forth great showers of cinders covering a wide area. Possibly not so very long ago the great truncated peak of Coropuna was formed by a last flickering of the ancient fires. Dr. Bowman says that the greater part of the vast accumulation of lavas and volcanic cinders in this vicinity goes far back to a period preceding the last glacial epoch. The enormous amount of erosion that has taken place in the adjacent canyons and the great numbers of strata, composed of lava flows, laid bare by the mighty streams of the glacial period all point to this conclusion.