We got up at 05:15 and promptly at 06:00 Boris knocked on the door of our cabana to take us to his goat farm. We drove through the pitch dark at break neck speed. It reminded me of that trip from Santiago Airport to Andres’ garage in Down Town Santiago, where we stuck close to his bumper in order not to get lost. Again, I was stuck close to a bumper, in order not to get lost.
Due to lack of time (playing catch up) here are just some key points of the day.
- The goat farm is some 10 km to the north east of Los Choros and as well as Boris and Arnold, is home to a couple of dogs and 420 goats. As soon as we arrived, our hosts started the seemingly random process of milking. No neat line of animals with milking machines, no this was done on the principle of catch your goat, hook its rear leg around the milker’s leg and extract the foaming white stuff into metal buckets.
- The milk is used to make goat’s cheese and once the milking was done and morning had broken, we were treated to bread rolls, goats cheese and coffee. Over breakfast they told us how an old man in the village (1910-2009) had told them that around 1850 cows had been imported from Mexico to feed the workers on the Nitrate projects. This is how joints of Cylindropuntia tunicata had found their way into the area.
- Donkeys were used in nitrate mining and once the boom for this was over, were turned lose to roam free in the Llanos (Plain). They have no commercial use. Most of the deaths on the roads in the Llanos de Choros are caused by drivers hitting donkeys at night, killing themselves and the animals.
- Guanacos have always had a presence here, but their numbers were kept down by hunters. In recent years, Guanaco numbers had fallen dramatically and the Conservation organisations had arranged for the government to impose a ban on hunting. Since then their numbers have increased sharply and we encountered several groups of a dozen or so animals on or way to Los Choros yesterday.
- The goats, donkeys and guanacos all pick up cladodes of Cylindropuntia tunicata and so ensure its distribution over a wide area. Obviously the goat herders are most concerned about the affect on their goats, which can easily get hurt by the spines that get stuck in their skin and cause infection.
TO BE CONTINUED