Tuesday, August 10, 2010


...And so my time in Cusco came to an end. I hugged the fam goodbye and hopped on the night bus. My next long-term stop? The rainforest outside of Iquitos. But first I decided to spend a few days in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city and a hub for some of the country's most popular treking.

I arrived in Arequipa early in the morning. El Misti (5,822 m), one of the volcanoes near the city, looked unreal in its massiveness as we pulled into the bus station at dawn.

El Misti:

I was tired and needed a place to stay, so I asked a cab driver to take me to a cheap hostel. He took me to one.

I was greeted by a nice enough fellow by the name of Nacho. I felt bad for dragging Nacho out of bed at this hour. Nacho's breathe smelled like a butthole that morning. Things were never quite right between us.

It was a pretty comfortable hostel right near the center of the city. This may have been a mistake. The city of Arequipa is large, busy and polluted. The pollution really bothered me. I thought it was even worse than Lima. A Lima cab driver has since informed me that I'm full of shit. Either way it was bad.

The city is also beautiful, mainly because of the aforementioned volcanoes that rise above the skyline. It's charming, especially for a big city, but without these mountains Arequipa would be in serious danger of sucking.

When I left the states, I decided to pretend like I was McGiver and hide cash in a few different places within my stuff. Most of it got stolen in Arequipa. It was either some Argentinians or shit-breathe Nacho that did it. I'll never know so it's not worth speculating further.

Despite these setbacks, I had a cheap room to myself and a few days to enjoy Arequipa. I hit the town, looking to book a few treks and find a delicious fruit juice to drink...

Colca Canyon

So I booked a two-day Colca Canyon trek and a trek up El Misti, and went and had dinner. I drank a delicious mixed fruit juice. It was so delicious it seemed somehow wrong. I got back to my hotel around 9.

They were coming to pick me up at 3am to leave for the trek, so if I got to bed right away, I'd still get a decent amount of sleep. I laid my head down, closed my eyes, and drifted softly over to the bathroom to puke my guts out. Then I peed out my butt for a while. I knew it. That fruit juice was too delicious to be true; They must have mixed it with water. Bastards.

I continued being sick for a while, but I wasn't going to let it stop my adventure. I knew if I set my mind to it I could overcome the sickness and still make it through the trek. I truly believe the mind has the power to cure the body, plus I had already paid for my spot on the tour.

So 3 rolled around, and I was ready to go. I got in the comfortable touristy bus-van and drifted off as we drove the few hours to the canyon. Our first stop was at Cruz del Condor, a cliffy area where condors are known to fly regularly. It was so touristly I nearly shit and puked at the same time, but it was still beautiful.


Also i got to see this sign which made it worthwhile:

"Don't not pass." Are you telling me I have no choice but to pass over the edge of this cliff?!

After our allotted time at this point of interest, we were herded up to head to the departure point of our hike. Apparently, it's pretty hard to measure the depth of a canyon. Colca Canyon was once considered the deepest in the world. Estimates of its depth (that I found via google) range from 3200 to over 4100 meters. Wikipedia says it's 4160 meters deep, which I like, because it makes me look tough. Either way, it was large.

Big ol' canyon:

We started hiking. When I wasn't focused on clinching my butthole closed, the views were spectacular. Luckily this first day was spent hiking down into the bottom of the canyon, so it wasn't very physically challenging. Unless you consider keeping you sphincter fearfully flexed for a 6-hour hike challenging.

One of the views:

We got down to a hotel at the bottom of the canyon right as the sun was setting. I put down my stuff and laid down to relax, thinking the worst of my sickness had passed. Soon they called everyone to dinner, and instead I went to the bathroom to puke and then shit. Luckily I puked first, because when I did a little bit splashed up and hit me in the face. I remember thinking: "I didn't want to puke and shit myself at the same time until drinking ayahuasca!"

The next morning was spent climbing up out of the canyon, more than 3000 meters straight up. I felt a lot better than the day before. That being said, I was dehydrated, weak, and hadn't eaten in a day, and I was still one of the first few in our group to reach the top. I'm saying this not to brag about my strength, but rather to point out and ridicule the weakness of the others. Some of them had to pay for donkeys to carry them up. You pay a bunch of money to go on a hike, then pay more money not to hike? There's one word for that: fatass. or is that two words?

It took me about 3 hours to climb out of the canyon. By the time I was done with this, I no longer felt sick. Now I just had to wait 7 more hours for the rest of the group to arrive. I was happy for the time to rest though, and the view was gorgeous.

Made it out alive, and without shitting my pants!:

On the way back we were stuffed into a much less comfortable van than the one we arrived in. We stopped at some hot springs, which was glorious. We got back to Arequipa late that night.

As I had planned it, I would be leaving early the next morning to climb a 5800 meter mountain. Luckily, I'm a loner and nobody else had signed up to climb El Misti that day. There were, however, a group of guys climbing Chachani a day later, so I got to rest and recover for a day before taking on the beast. I resisted the delicious fruit drinks during my rest day.


For the second of my two treks in Arequipa, I was rested, healthy and ready to go. And this time I got to sleep in until about 6 or 7. The other 3 guys in the group were from Italy, all traveling together. One of them was already sick, so including the guide, I figured the number of people that were going to climb the mountain had shrunk from 5 to 4.

Where we were headed:

We drove a few hours up to the point where we got left off. It was about an hour hike from there to the base camp. During this hike, another of the Italians got sick. The Italians were droppin like flies. I was glad to have gotten my sickness over with during the Colca Canyon hike; I had a feeling that was a walk in the park compared to what I was about to do.

View from base camp. Lookin stormy:

Just after we got our tents set up at base camp, a nasty storm moved in. We ate dinner, which I enjoyed equally for its warmth and its sustenance. The snow and wind didn't stop all night. It was one of my coldest nights on record. Pretty miserable really.

Ramen Noodles have never been so wonderful:

We woke up at around 2 am to start hiking up. It was still frigid, and I was glad to start moving around to warm myself up. You guessed it: the last of the Italians bailed. I don't even think this one was sick. I think he was just cold. And maybe scared. Either way, it would be just me and the guide making the trek.

The snow let up as we began, which was nice. The wind did not let up. After about an hour, we came to a fairly steep part of the mountain that we had to go prettymuch straight across. We weren't climbing vertically at all, but the snow was frozen prettymuch solid. The guide had to chisel out each step we took with his ice pick, which resulted in a horizontal rain shower of sharp ice shards in my face, because i was down wind from him.

Wind-whipped terrain:

Hand-picked path:

Other than the ice shower, the main problem with this situation was the fact that we were moving really slowly. This meant my extremities were in constant danger of freezing. I had to ceaselessly clench and unclench my fists. If I forgot to do this even for a minute my hands would start to freeze. Every once in a while I'd realize a finger or two were numb and I'd have to move them back to feeling.

I brought gloves from home, but for some reason decided to use the tour agencies gloves, so I deserved the pain. The agency also gave me crampons. They were too small for my feet. The guide tied them on with strings that looked like they came off of a pair of roller skates from the 70's. They fell of minutes after he put them on. Luckily my ice pick was legit. Around this same time, my water bottles froze, so instead of quenching my thirst, they served to add a rock-hard, ice-cold weight to my gear. It took at least an hour to make it across this part of the mountain. The sun began to rise just as we did.

Good morning Arequipa:

After this, we arrived at Fatima, the longest and steepest part of the climb. Fatima is a son of a cunt. I don't know how many hours it took to climb, but I know it sucked. The air was thinning.

Light at dawn and moon over Fatima:

As we got to the top of Fatima we stopped and the guide broke down the situation to me. We were running a bit behind schedule due to the weather. We had about three and a half hours until our ride was scheduled to leave base camp for Arequipa. It was another hour to the summit. It normally takes 4 hours to climb down, but he thought we could make it in two and a half. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it down in time, but I really wanted to make that mountain my bitch, so I decided to push forward and deal with the consequences of missing our ride home if and when they came. So we kept going toward the summit.

The home stretch:

The last hour was long and slow, but I was pumped to reach the top, so it was actually fun. Finally I made it, after about 7 hours total. 6075 meters high, cold, sore, breathing hard at a standstill, snot frozen solid to my face.

Summit excitement:

A view of El Misti from above:

The wind was twice as bad on the summit, so we didn't stay for long. The guide started sprinting down the mountain as soon as we left. My legs were like jelly and I had a lot of trouble keeping up. It took us about 4 or 5 hours to get down. Luckily the driver and the Italians waited for us.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Machu Picchu

If the Lincoln, Nebraska chapter of the Burt Reynolds fan club is going to go one place in South America, it's Machu Picchu. Despite this undeniable fact, I still decided to go.

I went with the same group that attended Antony's birthday party. Matthew, Sarah, Paria, Rhiannon and I decided that we didn't need to pay a guide to show us the way; We were gonna do it old school style.

Initially we all planned to buy our Machu Picchu tickets in Cusco the day before leaving. I missed the memo that the plan had changed, so I was the only one with a ticket when we left. The others were hoping to buy theirs when we got to Aguas Calientes, the town just below Machu Picchu.

We left early the next morning on a 5-6 hour bus to Santa Teresa, over a treacherous mountain pass. After that, we caught a car that was supposed to take us to Santa Maria. I never knew a station wagon could be so rugged. We drove up and down some steep and rough terrain, as well as through a pretty deep and equally sketchy river:

The car could not take us all the way to Santa Maria; It had to stop short because a landslide had covered a large portion of the road:

When we got to this spot, there were a few dozen people waiting around on each side, as well as a crew working to clear the landslide. One hero decided he was going to walk across to the other side, and when we saw that he didn't die, everyone else followed suit... We made it across safely.

After this, we took a van the rest of the way to Santa Maria, and then beyond toward Aguas Calientes. The van took us as far as a cable car, where we had to cross the roaring river to continue (This photo really doesn't do it justice):

The sun was setting as we got to the other side of the river, where we began the hike the rest of the way to Aguas Calientes. The first part of the path was on a jungle-covered mountainside adjacent to the river.

Matthew & Sarah on the jungle path:

A jungle plant in the fading light of dusk:

We walked for a few hours on this path in the dark, and eventually saw signs of civilization in the distance (i.e. lights). We got off the mountain thinking we were really close, but the lights we approached were not Aguas Calientes but a hydro-electric plant - we still had a few more hours to go!

After the hydro-electric plant we walked along railroad tracks the rest of the way. After a few minutes it started to rain. At many points, there were little streams or larger rivers flowing down the mountain into the big river. At these places, we had to cross bringes, during which we would have to walk on the railroad ties, with flowing water between/beneath them:

One bridge was particularly long, and invoked terror in one member of our group who will remain nameless. It took a few minutes to cross, with certain death looming between each step:

Nobody fell. We had a few slips and trips along the way, but luckily no injuries.

We made it to Aguas Calientes around 11 p.m. Unfortunately, the ticket office was closed and the others could not get tickets for the next day. So I was going to Machu Picchu alone. Initially, I was pretty pissed off. We found a hotel and I laid my head down for about 3 hours of sleep.

I popped up seconds before my alarm went off. I was energized and my attitude had completely changed. I was actually happy to be experiencing Machu Picchu alone. It allowed me to go my own pace and do whatever I wanted the whole day. I started the walk toward the mystical ruins in the dark, with the mighty river raging next to me.

I crossed the river and began the ascent of Machu Picchu. This consists of steep stone staircases through the jungle, which cross the path of a road that's ruled by buses later in the day.

A shot of the road to Machu Picchu (The path cuts up the middle):

I made it up to the entrance at about 5:15, and it doesn't open until 6. The wait wasn't long though, and when it did open, I was one of the first 20 people in.

The first hour or so in Machu Picchu, I was prettymuch inside a cloud. Some people complained about this, but I thought it was one of the coolest parts!

After a few hours, the weather started to clear up, and eventually the sun came out. It was amazing to see all of the details of the place come to life.

My favorite thing about Machu Picchu is that they incorporated natural rocks into many of their built structures:

And of course I had to get the classic Machu Picchu shot; the picture that every fat-ass tourist that's ever visited has taken. (Do you see the face in the mountains behind the city? (left to right: chin, lips, nose and forehead)):

It might help if it's flipped:

(If you don't see it now, you don't deserve to.)

The reason I point out the face is to tell you that I discovered what I believe to be scientific proof that the Inca people smoked marijuana:

Yep, he's french inhaling!

...The first 200 visitors each day get to climb Wayna Picchu (the mountain that forms the nose of the face). It's a steep climb, and the view of the surrounding mountains from the top is spectacular!

I didn't realize how far from the ruins Wayna Picchu is; They look tiny from the top:

I could also see the road and the river we had walked along the night before, as well as a massive landslide (can you spot the backhoe at the bottom left?):

How about now?:

I took an alternative route around the other side of Wayna Picchu to get down. It was beautiful and I only saw one other person the whole way back, which was nice. I had to climb down some steep staircases and wicked ladders:

At around 3, I was exhausted and ready to go back to the hotel. There's a buffet just outside the entrance to Machu Picchu. "Maybe I'll eat lunch there after viewing the ruins," I thought... until I saw that the buffet cost 95 soles. I laughed and headed back down to Aguas Calientes. I'm ashamed to admit that I took the bus down, which costs 20 soles. I think I deserved it though after the limited sleep and long days I had experienced prior.

I had to wait around Aguas Calientes an extra day for the rest of the group to see the ruins. Other than Machu Picchu and the beautiful surroundings, Aguas Calientes sucked. Everything was really expensive, it was packed with tourists (obviously) and it's the only place I've been to in Peru so far that charges tax in restaurants. I was ready to get out of there asap.

We returned to Cusco the same way we came. The walk back was much better, because it was daytime and not raining. It was cool to see all of the terrain we had walked by days before but hadn't seen really:

Remember the long, slippery dangerous bridge?! Well it turns out there was a walkway on the side of it that we hadn't seen in the dark, so it was really not treacherous at all! (The bridge with the walkway on the left):

And back across the cable car we went. View from the middle:

Once we got back to Santa Maria, it was all van from there to Cusco. And we made it home alive!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cusco: Other Random Stuff

I woke up early one day to see the sunset. It was cloudy, but still pretty cool:

...Economics below the equator are crazy. I could bust out some pie charts and talk about supply and demand, but all you really need to know is this: A jar of peanut butter costs more than an hour-long massage. That's without a happy ending; that would cost like 3 jars of peanut butter. Not like I know, that's just what I heard from the guy who sold me pot . . . holders.

...I've been trying to improve my diet lately, and one of the best ways to do so is eating fresh fruits and vegetables from the market...

One night, I was kind of bored. So I decided to produce (get it?!) some art...



I miss hoopin:

...I'll spare you the fruity porn scene.

Oh, I forgot to introduce you guys to Bruno, the dog of my Peruvian uncle Roberto who is also my neighbor. Every time I walk to or from my house, I see Bruno lounging on the sidewalk...

One Sunday, I went with Elias and two of his brothers to play some football. After making a fool of myself doing that, we went to a local picanteria to eat some food and drink some chicha, the traditional fermented corn drink of the Incas.

According to Elias, drinking chica makes you big and strong, which is why the Incas were all over two meters tall. So it's kind of like milk; milk that gets you fucked up!

Me toasting some chicha with two of Elias's brothers, Roberto & Umberto, and an awesome dude with a cowboy hat (I couldn't understand a word he said):

...Antony turned 18 on April 14th. In Peru, a man's 18th birthday is a big deal. Antony asked me if we could use my room for the party. I said sure. As if it wasn't already cool enough before, my room was transformed into a seriously funky party zone. There was a strobe light. And a disco ball. That's right.

The party was awesome. My friends Sarah and Matthew from the U.S. and Paria and Rhiannon from Australia came. The gringos were done partying by about 1:00 a.m. The Peruvians welcomed the rising sun. Even little Florangela was tearing up the dance floor. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of that, but here's one of her eating some pudding to make up for it:

My room still kind of smells like beer.

Cusco: Viewin' Ruins

My Peruvian brother Antony is studying to become a tour guide, along with studying English and working, too. He offered to be my guide for some of the sites around the city.

I'm lucky to have my own guide, as opposed to using an agency. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not go visit some ruins with the Lincoln, Nebraska chapter of the Burt Reynolds fan club.

We went to various ruins around Cusco, plus to some museums. My favorite of the trips was to Moray. We rented mountain bikes and rode about ten miles up to the ruins. The bike ride and the ruins were beautiful.

Scenery during the ride:


Antony explained to me that Moray's form represents the physical body of Pachamama, the Incan equivalent of Mother Earth (except they respected and revered her). We laid down and took a nap in Pachamama's womb, and were reborn as brothers of the earth. When we laid our heads down, there were a bunch of tourists in the ruins talking and laughing. When we arose, we were alone.

(Those are her boobs at the top left!)

Despite Moray's elevation, the Incans were able to grow crops here that normally would only grow thousands of feet lower. Using the terraces, they were able to trap heat and mimic growing conditions of lower altitudes.

Agricultural terraces:

The ride down from Moray was a blast:

...I know I look like a real extreme-sports maven in this shot. I should have had him take a picture of me on a rougher patch of the trail.

Another of my favorite trips was to Ollatatambo. Here, Antony reminded me that we have the ability to obtain energy from rocks and the earth. Ollatatambo has rocks the size of cars on a mountainside, that were believed to have originated accross a valley, on another mountain.

So the Incans removed the rocks from the mountainside, brought them down the mountain, got them across the river (!), and up the other mountain and in place. Wow. I honestly can't wrap my head around how they did some of this.

Huge, magically-transported rock:

View from the top of Ollatatambo:

Some other ruins we also visited:




Puca Pucara: