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.