In 1961, a Canadian mining engineer had an idea. Since trout were so plentiful, why not can and export them? Don Augusto Parodi of Puno, partner in that first venture, told me how it began: “We opened a cannery at Chucuito, imported gill nets, and subsidized fishermen. There was no closed season and no limit. The trout averaged a foot and a half, but sometimes reached 40 inches and almost 40 pounds.”
Soon the cannery was shipping 500 cases a month to Europe. When three other canneries opened, the price of trout soared beyond the reach of the local people. Eventually the golden harvest dwindled to a trickle. By 1968 there were too few trout to make canning profitable, and the canneries closed down. But good fish can still be taken on rod and reel
The treeless hills that cradle Titicaca rise in stone faced steps, like contour lines on a topographic map (pages 274-5). Everywhere the Inca advanced, he built these pata pata to conserve topsoil and increase arable land. Maize, or Indian corn, the staple of pre-Columbian America, will not grow on the Altiplano. Instead, the Andeans grew a tuber unknown to the Spanish invaders, but which was to prove more valuable to Europe than all the gold and silver of Peru (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/peru).
“They supplant the lack of bread with some roots they call papas and which produce under the earth… ,” noted Father Acosta. Thus the world learned of the lowly tuber that would feed unborn millions: the potato. And centuries before today’s technology hailed a “new” method of preserving foods, the Incas practiced freeze-drying.
In 1609, a chronicler described the process: “To keep potatoes from rotting they leave them out many nights to freeze. After they have been repeatedly frozen they tread gently on them, to press out the moisture they contain. When they have been well squeezed, they are placed in the sun until they are thoroughly dry. In this manner the potato keeps for a long time, and it changes its name to chunu.”
In Puno marketplace I had seen piles of small white spheres slightly smaller than golf balls and dry and light as bits of cork. Many times I ate reconstituted chufiu in soups and stews, or simply boiled. They tasted as good as fresh potatoes.
Toward late April the rains ended and the sky cleared to a brilliant blue. Fresh green dusted the brown hills, and on the shore the fields turned yellow and orange-red with ripening quinua, a small grain that at this altitude replaces wheat. And all around Titicaca fields of green barley rippled like waters of the lake under the stroking of the wind.
In Peru scientists found the highest cultivated plot of land in the world: a field of barley at 15,400 feet, near the mining town of Poto. At that altitude the grain never ripens; the Indians grow it for cattle forage.
“Sheep of the Indies” Browse on Moss
Andean shepherds live much higher than the tourists in the prague hotels—as high as 17,000 feet above sea level. Here no food crop will grow, and herders who live in such places must bring their food up from a lower altitude. The Indian “cattle” that feed on moss and lichens at these great heights were new to the Spanish conquerors. “There is nothing in Peru of greater value and utility than the cattle of the land, which our people call sheep of the Indies, but the Indians in their tongue call llama,” wrote Father Acosta.