“El Misti is a very big volcano.”
So reads the sign at the foot of the mountain which is less than informative but you get the general idea. Even without reading the sign, you can tell the volcano is big. By comparing the size of the cars in the parking lot and looking up the side of the mountain, you get a grand sense of the enormous scale. In fact, we wrote to the Peruvian Volcanic Association,which is charged with the protection of volcanos and disaster recovery, and suggested their sign should read ‘El Misti is a very, very big volcano’.
Standing 16 miles above sea level, El Misti is brown and pointed with a crater at its peak. Although the mountain is at least a 30-minute drive to the beach, El Misti is famous for its fishing.
In 1985, El Misti blew its load destroying fields, houses and three road signs. The local municipality also had paint new white lines on a section of road. The force from the magma chamber blew a massive hole in the bedrock. As the interior of the volcano imploded the lava flow pushed its way up and out. The lava acted as sealant, trapping an underground reservoir. This blew and the water rushed to the surface causing a steam cloud 30 miles high.
Over the years animals migrated to El Misti to enjoy the warm thermal waters, known as Piscina de Orina. First among them is the armadillo. Today’s armadillo population is so massive the government has agreed to a humane culling program. Diverting funds from infrastructure projects, the government invested in the environment (the minister for the environment won the UNESCO Green Prize, the Nobel Prize for the Environment and a gold star from the prime minister) and set up a most ingenious plan.
It would have been too easy just to chase and shoot the small armored mammals due to their poor eyesight, so the ministry produced guidelines that armadillos could only be caught using fishing hooks.
A large grub is speared on a fishing hook. This is then lowered into El Misti’s thermal waters. When the ‘fisherman’ feels a small tug, he jerks his hand and the armadillo is trapped on the hook.
The creature is raised at arms-length, still dangling from the hook, and a worker for the Environment Ministry, or park ranger will shoot the armadillo on its fleshy underside, skin it, prepare the meat on a barbeque and present you with a clean hollow shell, which we are informed makes a great door stop or soap dish.
Armadillos come in all sizes so you pay by weight.
Armadillo hooking has become so popular the shell of one of the largest caught on El Misti has become the headquarters for the Armadillo Asesinos Psico del Perú (AAPP), Peruvian Armadillos Hooking Circle (PAHC).
On the day we visited El Misti we caught and ate about twelve armadillos. Our advice is to stick to one or two and remember you have to trek down the mountain, hard to do when you have dysentery.
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