I AM in the attic of the South American continent, in the heart of the Andes, on what, with the exception of Tibet, is the loftiest tableland of the globe. At my feet lies Lake Titicaca, and looking down upon me is the snowy peak of Sorata, which, next to Aconcagua, is the highest of the Andes. For the past week I have been travelling in these mountains, among which are the highest places of the earth where people live. Back of Lima I visited a village more than three miles above the sea; there are mining camps near Titicaca at an elevation of 16,000 feet; and during my railroad journey to Puno, where I am now writing, we stopped for water at Vincocoya, near a locomotive roundhouse which is higher up in the air than Pike’s Peak.
Leaving Lima I went south by sea to Mollendo, and thence to Puno over one of the steepest railroads of the world. I am now three hundred miles inland from the Pacific, on the mighty plateau of Titicaca, which is upheld between two of the Andean ranges at a height of more than 12,000 feet above the sea.
The wonders of the Andes grow upon me. Their scenery here is as grand perhaps as at any point in the 4,000 miles of their length. Think of peaks which pierce the skies at four miles above the level of the ocean. Let them be covered with glaciers, snow, and ice. Make a wall of them, bathe their feet in a lake of silver studded with emerald islands, paint their sides and tops with the vivid colours, shades, and tints of the Andean skies, and you have a faint idea of my surroundings.
The journey tip the Andes was a continuous panorama. I am on the Pacific ocean in front of Mollendo. There it lies, a shabby wooden town on the ragged edge of the Peruvian desert. Our ship has cast anchor in the harbour, lying outside, for the surf rolls in with great force, striking the black rocks and sending the diamond spray fifty feet into the air. It is so rough that the baggage has to be lowered with ropes into the boat which is coming to the side of the steamer. I jump far down to get into the boat, feeling my stomach rise as I sink into the deep.
As our brawny coffee-coloured boatmen pull for the wharf, we roll about terribly. We pass between huge rocks, now grazing a great boulder, and now running into a lighter which is bringing out a cargo of goods to the steamer. It is difficult to land, and I pay four men two dollars to carry my trunks up the hill to the custom-house.
A little later I am seated in the railroad car which is to take me over the Andes. The first stopping-place is to be Arequipa, which, though only a hundred miles inland, is higher up in the air than the top of Mount Washington. Our train first skirts the coast, and then shoots off into the bare foothills of the Andes. There is not a shrub, not a vestige of green. We climb up the hills, now winding about in horseshoe curves, and now seeing the tracks over which we have passed running parallel with us, but far below. Now we are on the side of a mountain facing the ocean. The sky-blue Pacific, hazy and smoky, stretches on and on toward the west until its delicate tint fades into that of the sky. A patch of gray sand skirts the foot of the brown hills, separated from the blue water by the silvery surf which is dashing its waves on the shore.
The scenery changes at every puff of the locomotive. Nowhere does Mother Earth wear more royal garments than here. At times the Andes look like masses of blue and brown plush. The clouds, although of a fleecy whiteness, so interrupt the rays of the sun that they cast shadows of velvet upon the hoary hills, and at times it seems as though the ink-bottles of the heavens had been spattered over the mountains. In other places the sun tints the mountains with delicate blues, which fade into lighter blues in the distance, until the whole range seems a billowy, waving sea of blue, dusted with silver, rolling on and on until at last it loses itself in a silver-blue sky.
Winding in and out among such hills we rise to the extensive desert, the Pampa de Islay. Here everything is gray or dazzling white. Huge mountains of travelling sands, tons of bleached bones of animals which have died trying to cross the desert, meet the eye; the only things apparently living are the mirages which, in the shapes of cool lakes, inverted cities, or luxuriant vegetation, now and then meet the thirsty traveller’s eye.
At the little town of Vitor, a mile above sea-level, we come to the end of the pampas, and then again begin to ascend. We are soon in ragged hills. We travel among the clouds, and close our first day’s journey at Arequipa, in the midst of the desert, 7,500 feet above our starting-point.
Arequipa is the second city of Peru. It lies in the little valley of the Chile river, whose waters here make green about fifty square miles of irrigable land. The city is one of the neatest, prettiest, and brightest of South America. It is more than four hundred years old, and has been battered and knocked to pieces by the earthquakes of the past ; but it looks as though it had come out of a bandbox, and seems almost brand-new. The houses are chiefly one-story stone boxes, with walls painted in the most delicate tints of blue, pink, cream, green, and gold. I mailed my letters in a post office tinted in ashes of roses, I bought fruit for breakfast in a sky-blue fruit store, and cashed a draft on London in a bank whose outer walls were the colour of gold.
Another peculiarity of Arequipa is its vault-like rooms. The stores are vaults from ten to fifteen feet wide, and from ten to thirty feet deep, with doors fronting the streets. In many of them there is no way out at the back, and the only light except that from the door comes through holes in the roof. I ate my dinner at the hotel in a vault, I was shaved in a vault, and slept in a vault. I went out on the roof once or twice to look over the city. The vaulted roofs give it the appearance of a Chinese graveyard or a city of bake-ovens.
The streets of Arequipa are narrow, and they are paved with cobbles. Down one side of each street flows a stream of mountain water, which, as it gurgles along, makes you dream of rain, so that when you awake in the morning you go to the window to see if it is really clear or not. In Arequipa it rains only a part of the year, but when it does rain, it pours. At such times the streets are flooded, and the water from the roofs is carried out through tin pipes about as thick as a broomstick to just over the middle of the sidewalk, where it flows down the necks of the unwary passers-by.
Every house in Arequipa faces the sidewalk, every window is covered with iron bars, and the locks on the doors are of mammoth size, so that the houses look like small fortresses. The barred windows and locked doors, however, are not to keep thieves out, but to cage the girls in. The windows have seats behind the bars, but no Peruvian beau stops to chat at them with his lady-love. The bars are as thick as one’s finger, and so close together that the most ardent lips could not meet between them.
The seclusion of the women by the Spanish people is probably a relic of their admixture with the Moors, centuries ago. It is the same with the black costumes which the women wear in the streets. Not long ago their heads were wrapped so closely in black shawls that only one eye showed out, the features being more concealed than those of the women of Morocco. Now the whole face is exposed, and many of the women of the upper classes wear hats.
The Peruvian parent believes in keeping his daughters some-what secluded. The custom here is the same as in Colombia, Ecuador, and other Spanish-American countries. When a young man calls on his sweetheart he is expected to entertain the whole family; and when he invites her to the bull-fight he takes mamma, auntie, and old-maid Sissy with him.
The most interesting thing in Arequipa is an American institution the Harvard observatory. Some years ago Uriah H. Borden gave $200,000 to Harvard College with the understanding that it was to be used to establish’ an observatory at the best place in the world for the study of the stars and meteorological conditions. The college authorities first tried different points in Colorado and California, and then sent an expedition to South America. The scientists of this expedition first experimented at a place in the mountains back of Lima, 6,600 feet above the sea. In 1890 they removed to Arequipa, and there established an observatory which has become one of the great scientific centres of the world. The observatory is situated back of the city at an altitude of 7,550 feet above the sea. It is in a region where it is said there are more clear days and nights to the year than al-most anywhere else on the globe. There are fully nine months when the sky is perfectly clear, and the rest of the year is such that astronomical work can go on almost all the year round. Arequipa has also the advantage of being south of the equator, at one of the best points for viewing the constellations of the southern hemisphere.
Americans who pride themselves on having beautiful skies cannot appreciate what the words mean until they have visited South America. Nothing is duplicated in the heavens, and South America has stars and constellations which we do not have in the north, and the Milky Way south of the equator is far more brilliant than with us. You have all heard of the Southern Cross, which enthusiasts say looks like the handwriting of God on the face of the sky. There are only four stars in it, and these are so comparatively small that they would not attract attention were it not for their configuration.
The best records of the southern heavens are those taken by our Harvard scientists at Arequipa. They spend their nights photographing the stars. They have four great telescopes, which night after night throughout the year are pointed at the skies. Each telescope has a photographic apparatus, so hung and so connected with fine machinery that it moves with the stars in their courses, so that their images can be registered on the photo-graphic plates. About fifty negatives are made every night, and about 5,000 plates are annually exposed and developed. The negatives are shipped at once to the University of Harvard, at Cambridge, Mass., where they are kept on file for study in scientific work, forming, as it were, an astronomical library of the southern heavens. At the saine time the scientists of Cambridge are al-ways watching the northern heavens. The Arequipa observatory takes in the sky from the equator to the South Pole, and the records of the two observatories give a view of the heavens as a whole.
Within the last few years the Arequipa astronomers have established a meteorological station near the top of the volcano El Misti, at an altitude of 19,200 feet. This mountain is one of the highest of the Andes. It is just back of Arequipa, standing out against the horizon almost alone in its grandeur, its top kissing the sky at an altitude of 20,320 feet above the sea. It is more than a mile higher than our observatory on Pike’s Peak, and is over 3,500 feet higher than any other scientific station of the world. The site of the station is on the edge of a huge crater, which now and then sends clouds of yellow sulphurous vapor a thousand feet into the air.
At this great altitude, nearly four miles above the sea, the Harvard men have the finest of scientific instruments for registering the conditions of the atmosphere, the velocity of the wind, the pressure of the barometer. The instruments are, of course, automatic, running for three months without being touched. No one could live at such an altitude, but the observers go up periodically to get the records and re-wind the instruments. The trip is a very arduous one. Some of the men get soroche, or mountain sickness, and many cannot make the trip at all.
I left Arequipa in the early morning, and occupied the whole day in going over the coast range of the Andes to Lake Titicaca. The trip was made by way of the Puno and Arequipa Railroad, one of the most expensive ever built, the cost having been $44,000,000, or about $135,000 per mile. The road, including the branch line from the lake toward Cuzco, the famed capital of the Incas, is 327 miles long. It crosses the Andes at an altitude of 14,666. feet, and has but few tunnels, though many cuttings. It was built by Mr. Henry Meiggs, the American engineer, who also constructed the Oroyo Railroad from Lima, as already described.
The present manager of the road is an American, and all the rolling-stock is of the American pattern, although of late the cars and engines have been made in the company’s shops at Arequipa. I visited the shops and found about four hundred Peruvian labourers engaged in all kinds of car and engine construction. The American foreman told me that the men were quite as good mechanics as those we have in our shops at home, but that they worked for much lower wages. Men employed in the shops receive seventy-five cents and upwards per day. Trackmen and brakesmen get seventy-five cents a day, conductors from $30 to $65 a month, and engineers $i00 a month. The ordinary day’s labour is one of nine hours, but with the men on the road the day lasts without extra pay until the cars come in. Trades unions are unknown, and the men never strike.
Arequipa is the half-way station on this railroad. The trains all stop there over night, the remainder of the journey requiring a day. After leaving Arequipa we rose rapidly, and at eleven o’clock were two miles and a-half above the sea. This was at the station of Punta de Arrieros, consisting of a few stone huts thatched with straw, and a dining-hall made of Oregon pine. At one end of the dining-room there was a bar presided over by a fat Peruvian girl. The breakfast table was at the opposite end, and the meal, which cost fifty cents, was quite as good as any fifty-cent meal served at our railroad stations in the Rocky Mountains. The bill of fare was: chicken soup with rice, well-browned codfish balls, boiled beef and green peas, beefsteak with onions and red pepper, a sweet omelet, and some very good tea. After breakfast I bought four clingstone peaches of an Indian girl for two cents, and three oranges for a nickel. This fruit came from the irrigated valleys of the lowlands.
On the high plateau over which we travelled there was only a scanty growth of moss-like grass. There were no trees and no cultivated crops except little patches of potatoes, barley, or quinua about the widely scattered mud huts. The barley is grown only for forage, as it will not ripen so high up in the air. The quinua is a plant peculiar to the Andean highlands. It is like a cross between the red dockweed and the mullen plant, has yellow or red leaves, and seeds of white, each about as big as a pin-head. Its leaves are eaten like spinach, and its seeds are threshed out and boiled with water or milk into a mush, looking when cooked much like oatmeal or ground hominy. The quinua is cultivated, being planted in rows, and hoed. It is the hardiest food grain in the world.
After crossing the coast range of the Andes the grass became greener, and we passed through a vast plain of rich moss. We went by beautiful lakes, and rode, over plains dotted here and there with the mud huts of Indians. We passed large flocks of llamas, alpacas, and sheep, each flock tended by an Indian woman, who wore a black or blue dress, and a queerly-shaped hat not unlike the turned-up broad brims of the Catholic priests. Each shepherdess had a spinning spool in her hand, and spun away as she watched.
At the stations we saw many Indians. The men wore bright-coloured shawls, or ponchos, and wide pantaloons slit up at the back as far as the knee. Each had on a knit cap much like a nightcap, with flaps coming down over the ears, and on the top of this a little .round felt hat, which was apparently more for ornament than warmth. With the men were women dressed like those in the fields. All were in their bare feet, although the weather was bitterly cold, and the hail at times came down in torrents, whitening the ground.