I am extremely happy and grateful at the moment because I have a beautiful house to camp in tonight. I’m not sure if it is really a house, or more like a shed, perhaps it is a house somebody is building. Whatever it is, it’s perfect. I’m in the high mountains in Peru now, not too far southeast of Cuzco. Oh my god does it rain here, it’s the rainy season and it is not warm. All my things are currently damp and I am so glad I’m able to dry them out in this beautiful house. Mi casa este noche. My view is out to the plains and farmlands, chopped by hedges of eucalyptus trees and the glacier crusted, fog drenched mountains in the distance. Let me explain a bit how I got here from Chile…
I woke up one fine morning sitting on a mountain behind a Jesus statue. I was looking out to the calm blue Pacific and hazy desert city of Arica. It was warm and dry with the gentle breeze of the tropical desert. I sat for a while taking in the view and stillness of the moment. Then I climbed down and entered the city center.
I took a hike through the quiet city, Arica just seems deserted. I love Arica. I spent the last of my Chile Pesos on a sandwich and some snacks and the final bus ride to customs.
I had gone through customs here before with no problems, but this time the bus I was on sat there for literally 4 hours. However, I didn’t actually mind it. I was incredibly relaxed today, and was sitting on my bus seat with an open window next to me. The sun was warm and the cool breeze was perpetual. When I stood and walked around I felt incredibly refreshed. Eventually, the bus did successfully bring me to the sister city of Tacna, Peru.
In Tacna, I was suddenly sitting down at a restaurant. I really didn’t want to, but was ambushed by so many people trying to “help” me that I became disoriented and before you knew it was sitting down to eat, being sat in a very crowded eatery at a table with two other people already eating. And suddenly soup was in front of me, I had no choice but to eat it! They brought me a plate of fairly cold chicken, rice and terrible mashed potatoes. Obviously the plated meal had been sitting around a while, but the loud, obscene man I was sitting with sent it back for me and told them I wanted a larger piece of chicken. The guy was annoying, talking in English confidently but screwing up all the sentences, and talking my ear off to only further confuse me. His daughter called and he put me on the phone instead! In the end I changed my mind and really liked the guy. He gave me all kinds of advice and we looked at a map together. He told me to not go to Puno or Juliaca like I was planning, and instead to go to Arequipa and then to Cuzco, or just directly to Cuzco. He was totally right. In the end, he bought me my lunch and we hugged goodbye!
So I decided it. I like to think “it’s not the destintation it’s the journey…” Nah, screw the journey this time, I’ll just go directly to Cusco. The bus left at 8PM, overnight until 12 the next day, and was only 50 soles (17$). Before I got on the bus, I wandered through Tacna and ate bread, cheese, salchichas, a freshly fried empanada de queso, some little donuts, olives, ice cream, and passionfruit juice. All of it cost about 10 soles (3$) and I had found 5 soles on the bus! Then I listened to a crazy old hippy playing the guitar, harmonica and drunkenly singing Feliz Navidad around the bus station.
Little did I know what suffering I was in for when I got on the bus. I was unprepared wearing just shorts and with my sheet, but in the middle of the night it suddenly became the coldest bus ride of my life. I was frozen and completely unable to sleep all night. Also I was nauseous, the food! The chicken! I know when I shouldn’t eat something but I ate that anyway! Now I pay for it.
At 5:30 in the morning the sun was rising and I was waiting for its warmth to finally fall asleep properly… The bus stopped in Juliaca and everyone got off. They came and told me I had to get off and transfer to another bus or something. What…? I’m going to Cuzco… I was suddenly in the street and I was livid. What happened was, there was only myself and two other people on the bus who needed to go to Cusco- I guess- so the bus decided that even though it was originally planning to go to Cuzco, it would just end its journey in Juliaca. Great, well, I paid for Cusco, that’s called a DEAL. I was basically pissed, having had no sleep, and went and made a huge fuss about it to the boss in the office. He bought me another bus ticket to Cuzco from a different company, but I had to wait until 8:30 to catch it.
I got to wander Juliaca and buy more food which was fun, but then on the bus I had the front seat. It was the second floor, in front of huge windows which was kind of cool, but actually it wasn’t cool. It was very cramped with curtains that didn’t work and absolutely no airflow whatsoever. I was very trapped in the front of the bus and it was unfathomably HOT! It was easily 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the seats on the bus and the sun just beat on me. It was literally the hottest bus ride of my life. Now I’m not just complaining here, about having a freezing bus ride and then a boiling one, I truly love riding the bus… This was unfair and ridiculous. It was literally too hot to sleep in my pool of sweat.
The hot bus ride stayed hot all the way to Cusco. It was supposed to arrive at noon but instead arrived at 4PM!!! Right before it arrived at Cuzco, it did cool down when the thunderstorm broke. Ah yes, I remember Cuzco. Rainy season. I got off the bus and nobody was around to unload the luggage, the driver disappeared I guess. After standing around there for a while with all the other passengers, I finally just climbed up into the bus cargo hold and did the job myself, passing everyone their luggage!
Finally, FINALLY, I was off that bus and it had caused me to lose my mind. Fresh air was nice in the beautiful, colonial city of Cuzco, (also spelled Qosqo). It’s one of the most gorgeous cities I’ve ever seen, all reddish stone buildings built into the sage green mountainsides like some fortress of Inca terraces in my opinion. Wet and cold. Friendly and backstabbing at the same time this town, overrun by rich tourists with an opulent city center. It’s like a bubble of ritzy Europe in the center, surrounded by abject poverty everywhere else. I ate ice cream and spent too much time at Starbucks on the wifi, now it was getting dark but I wanted to find somewhere to camp.
I had no time, it was the stupid bus’s fault, I should have just sprang for a hostel but I was being cheap. I climbed a mountain outside of the city center to a road which climbed it further. I was headed to the Jesus statue! I know those are good for camping. On the road I saw flashes of lightning in the distance and soon was able to pick a spot behind a stone wall. I was in flat spot on the side of the mountain, in a scant forest of eucalyptus trees with all the city lights below me and around me. It was gorgeous, but dirty, and the rain came as I was setting up camp in the darkness.
I no longer have Amy’s tent, just my bivvy sack, and I devised a system using wooden poles I carry in my pack and my tarp to setup a lean to- to camp under. It would hopefully protect me from the rain in places where there are no trees to shelter under like here. Eucalyptus trees provide absolutely no shelter from the rain. Well, maybe I didn’t have enough time or daylight to set it up properly, but my system didn’t work at all. Lightning cracked overhead and the storm came. The tarp kept me dry for a while but then the storm came on strong. Then the storm stayed ridiculously strong all night and the tarp totally failed. Rain was just splashing right through it, well I still have my bivvy sack, another layer to protect me. The bivvy sack failed me completely, maybe it’s getting old but the rain went right through it as well until my sleeping bag was slick with water.
Still I stayed dry. Your body heat does a good job of creating a bubble of dryness around you, and my awesome sleeping bag helped too. All the same, it was a cold, completely soaking wet night that made me want to cry but I DIDN’T! Although I was miserable, worn down, and still unable to sleep.
December 21st … (First day of summer. Summer in the Andes is wet and cold, winter in the Andes is dry and cold, but whenever the sun shines it’s warm.)
Everything was wet but the rain had been stopped for quite a few hours and I was actually able to sleep fine even when damp. Unfortunately though, today I am plunging into the mountains where there is no tree cover whatsoever for 5 days and it will probably rain a lot. Looks like I will be getting wet, but hopefully I can find shelters to hide in along this trek.
The morning was cloudy, and I wondered what I should do to dry my things out. I realized a crazy solution! I took my damp sleeping bag, wrapped in around myself, and then I ran! I ran back and forth for a while and did jumping jacks with it. My body is a furnace. It worked! At least in my opinion, the bag was much drier now. I did that with my bivvy and my sleeping pad as well, it also dried my shoes in the process. Lots of running and energy in this cold morning.
I had suffered a lot for the past two nights but still I wasn’t feeling bad or sad. I think it’s because I KNEW I’d be suffering a lot on this trip to the mountains. For a long time I had feared it and now I was very mentally prepared. Nothing could harm me now.
I dicked around for a while in Cuzco, buying things and talking to people. I walked too far across the city looking for a bus, couldn’t find it, and gave in to take a long taxi ride for 25 soles. In the small city of Urcos, I hopped in a collectivo for 10 soles more to take me deep into the mountains and a lot higher in elevation. I talked Spanish successfully for a long time to a teenage kid on the bus. I feel like back in Peru, I can speak Spanish again! It’s easier to understand people here, in fact because Spanish is a second language here. The people speak Quechua, and while most also speak Spanish, it’s a more correct, Castiliano Spanish that they learn secondary to Quechua. It makes them easier to understand! There’s also plenty of people when you go deep into the mountains who don’t speak Spanish at all. It’s like going back in time.
So I went deep into the mountains, to a colder place where the eucalyptus trees bent in the howling wind. The sky was dark and brooding. Huge snowy peaks could sometimes be seen from the road and they didn’t look happy. Un tormenta (storm) ahora, siempre un tormenta, and Ausangate mountain is the tormentor! The king of mountains, it stands in its own small but crazy mountain range as the third highest peak in Peru. That’s where I was going.
I stepped off the bus in the small pueblo of Tinke right as the rain began. I hid under an awning and talked to curious children for a while. Then finally I embarked. Not too much further through the towns down the trail and the lightning storm let loose again with insane hail. I sheltered under another awning for a while and waited for it to stop. Then I tried again.
It was afternoon, a bad time around here. The rain kept coming and going and already at the beginning of this 5 day trek I was getting wet. It was a three hour walk to the village of Upis where I would really plunge into the mountains. I hid under a pine tree to wait out another storm. Then I said goodbye to the trees forever as I ascended the mountainous village roads to Upis.
I made it pretty far up but I was wet, it was raining a lot, and it was getting late. Then I saw the most perfect looking, fairly abandoned looking shed. I realized, I’m an opportunist! When the opportunity comes along… that seems to be entirely how I take care of myself when travelling. Then rain was just starting to become torrential when I zipped across the grass and into this shed. I setup camp in a fantastically dry space while it poured outside all around me. A more peaceful, relaxing place I could never have hoped to find!
Now I will go to sleep as early as possible and wake up as early as possible because I think I have this region figured out. It rains in the afternoon and night but mornings are only foggy and calm. Then mid-morning… 9-10-11 can be counted on. Those are the golden hours. Those are when I want to be on top of my first mountain pass tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes… tomorrow I plunge off into the unknown.