A warpus in Peru


In pork I trust
Aug 28, 2005
Stamford Bridge
Hey Everyone!

As some of you know, earlier this year I went on a 3 week long backpacking tour of Peru. The highlight of the trip was a 5-day/~90km long hike around Salkantay Mountain to Machu Picchu.. but a whole bunch of other stuff also happened. You can think of this thread as a day by day recounting of that experience.. but mostly an excuse to show off pictures!

It's taken me a while to process all of them, and I'm still not really fully done with that.. but I did keep a journal of my time there, so I have a chronological record of everything of note that happened! :scan: It's mostly in point form, but each point immediately triggers stories and memories; it seems to work for me in terms of documenting an experience like that.. In any case, I thought it'd make sense to break down the trip by day, since my journal is broken down like that as well. The trip lasted a total of 21 days, with day 0 being a bus, train, and car ride mini-trip to Toronto the day before the flight.

Here's a breakdown of the trip, by day:

0. Journey to Toronto
1. Toronto -> New York -> Lima -> Cusco
2. Acclimatization, rest, the world's highest Irish owned pub, and an initial exploration of central Cusco
3. Acclimatization, ping pong, and coca leaves
4. Day 1 of the Salkantay Trek - 21km uphill, high-altitude problems, near-failure, redemption, and beautiful Mt. Salkantay | video
5. Day 2 of the Salkantay Trek - I'm on a horse!, 4,600m (15,000ft) above sea level, 11 hours of hiking, welcome to the jungle, and a birthday party for Cecilia | Part 2
6. Day 3 of the Salkantay Trek - Barefoot football, hot springs, disinfection, alcoholic intoxication, and cards
7. Day 4 of the Salkantay Trek - Hungover 25km hike through the Andes and arrival in Aguas Calientes
8. Machu Picchu, the climbing of Machu Picchu mountain, a llama, and the Michael J. Fox train to Cusco | Start of tour video | Part 2
9. Day tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas | Part 2 | Video
10. Sleepwalking American tourist speaks in tongues, flight back to Lima, and arrival in Miraflores
11. Downtown Lima, the changing of the guard, the gastronomic centre of South America, and an "underwear confrontation" | Part 2
12. Fancy Miraflores, Tony Roma's, and an 8 hour overnight bus ride high up into the mountains to Huaraz
13. Sleepy day trip to Llago Llagodruco, deadly avalanche memorial, Jesus, and I ate a guinea pig | Part 2 | Video | Video 2
14. Huaraz, The Champions League Final, St. Pauli, and beer
15. More Huaraz, fancy dining, and an overnight bus to Trujillo
16. Early arrival in Trujillo, taxi to sleepy Huanchaco, a well deserved 2 hours on the beach, and the best fries in the world | Part 2 | Video
17. Public transportation, the desert, the Temple of the Moon and the Temple of the Sun, and ceviche with a b | Part 2 | Part 3
18. The funniest post office in the world and an 8pm overnight bus to Mancora | Part 2 | Part 3
19. 5am arrival in Mancora, a giant cockroach, 2 hostels, and the best beaches in Peru | Part 2 | Part 3
20. Suntanning, a sunburn, and a night full of bass | Part 2 | Part 3
21/22. Bus ride to Piura, flight to Lima, flight to New York, BS in New York, flight to Toronto, Red Lobster, bus ride to London, cab ride home, sleep | Part 2

It's taken me a bit longer than I imagined to go through my notes and type up the above.. So I'm afraid I won't be able to post any pictures until tomorrow :p What will probably end up happening is me posting a new day every couple days, with a writeup and photos. If that's alright with all you fine people

Here's a slideshow with some pictures from the 5 days of hiking, just because I feel like a bit of a jerk teasing you with all this Peru talk and not actually delivering any photos:

Link to video. (There's 2 actual videos embedded in this slideshow)
Awesome. Thanks for sharing.
Great, you went to my country. Congratulations because you finished the Salkantay Trek.
Thanks for the great pix. That's the closest I'll ever get to Peru.
Nice stuff there. I like how your horse didn't know it was a no passing zone. :p Amazing that people actually lived in such a forbidding spot.
Nice stuff there. I like how your horse didn't know it was a no passing zone. :p Amazing that people actually lived in such a forbidding spot.
I noticed that too.

Did you have any trouble acclimating to the altitude? Do you think the coca leaves helped?
Great pics, warpus. Congratulations on completing what looks like an amazing journey!
did you see the "sundial"?

I think that was at MP

Yep! I have a picture of it I believe. Will post when I get to it.

Osmowstroyer said:
Great, you went to my country. Congratulations because you finished the Salkantay Trek.

Thanks! It was probably the hardest thing I ever asked my body to go through.. My left foot still hurts.. I damaged one of the ligaments due to the excessive nature of the hike, and it's been slowly healing. Totally worth it though

Cutlass said:
Nice stuff there. I like how your horse didn't know it was a no passing zone.

That horse was such a rebel. They put me on that thing without saying a word.. I was expecting some sort of "intro to horses" intro but nope! They just put me on the horse and off we went.

I was nervous and my horse HATED being behind another horse.. so every once in a while it would try to pass the horse in front, even if there was a steep drop right there.. Scary stuff.. A couple times it even went off to the side instead of following the other horses.. I got used to it eventually but it was definitely an interesting and at times scary experience. By the time we were there (at the highest point in the trek) I was loving it though - seemed like me and my horse got to know eachother enough and I was actually starting to figure out how it moved and anticipate some of its moves.

It was my first time on a horse and I definitely want to get back on one at some point in the future.

Cutlass said:
Amazing that people actually lived in such a forbidding spot.

The people who lived there were amazing. Every once in a while you'd run into a stand selling fruit, bottled water, pop, snacks, etc. You'd also pass elderly women with giant things of things they've picked in the mountains/forests on their backs, mostly spices and colouring agents and things like that I'm guessing.. It was also possible to buy beer in some of the villages we ran into - these people must have a system in place where they're constantly bringing in stuff to sell to hikers.. some of that is brought in on mules, but I saw so many people with giant bags on their backs (mostly women IIRC) that some of it must be brought in like that.

They definitely know how to make a living that high up in the mountains - all that knowledge must have been passed down from way back when the Inca ruled that part of the world, and probably from many years before that. Our guide claimed to be a 100% Quechua descendent, with 100% Incan blood flowing through his veins. He walks the Salkantay 3-5 times a month.. made it look easy.

The people are definitely amazing

Formaldehyde said:
Did you have any trouble acclimating to the altitude?

High altitude sickness can kill you (and killed a Canadian tourist in Peru a week after I returned home IIRC), so we made sure that we had 3 solid days in Cusco before the hike to acclimatize. And it was TOUGH

We were recommended to just rest and not really go on any walks through the city on our first day - people report headaches, nausea, etc.. We were exhausted from all the flying so that wasn't really an issue.. but it was on day 2. We went for a walk around town, a fairly short one.. at one point we had to go a bit uphill, and... it freaked us out how tough it was - we had to stop every 30 seconds and take a break. That we wouldn't be ready for the hike was a real concern.

On the first day of the hike my body was asking for more oxygen than I could provide it.. so every couple minutes (and sometimes more frequently than that) I'd have to stop and breathe heavily.. There came a time when my body basically told me "Okay dude.. I have no more energy and what's up with the lack of oxygen? I'm shutting your legs and arms off, this is crazy". I had hiking poles with me, so a lot of the pressure and work went to my arms - and they were feeling it too.. I was at a point where I didn't think I could continue.. .. and that's when my entire upper leg started cramping up.. reallllly bad cramps.. I had to sit down and try to massage the cramps out, which hurts like hell.. I continued to fall behind the group and the guide had to come back to make sure that I was okay. The thing is that if I was experiencing high-altitude sickness symptoms, then I would have had to likely head back and would be unable to finish the hike.. but I wasn't feeling any of the symptoms (headache, nausea, etc.) so he let me continue. I got one of those soccer-style cramp adjustments from another guide and powered ahead.

I made it to camp 20 minutes after everyone else or so, and I was BEAT. The next day's hike was even more challenging in terms of the uphill portion, so I rented a horse. No way was I going to risk my health attempting to do the uphill portion of the hike on foot, knowing that I'd likely run out of energy at the summit (on day 2 you spend 3 hours hiking uphill, at which point you find yourself at the highest point on the hike, then you spend 7-8 hours or so descending).. With 7-8 hours of walking after that (the horse rental only took you as far as the summit) I really did worry about my life a bit.. in the sense that, had I hiked uphill for those 3 hours, I might have developed high-altitude problems with 8 hours of hiking to go. It could have been very dangerous.

So yeah man, it was very tough. Like I said earlier, I can't think of any other thing I've ever done that put such a big toll on my body. High altitude hiking is TOUGH if you live at sea level all your life.

Formaldehyde said:
Do you think the coca leaves helped?

The coca leaves really helped I think! I also had high-altitude hiking pills I bought here in Canada and those helped as well, but the Incas used to chew coca leaves during their hikes.. and all the locals do it there now too.. so I ended up buying 2 baggies of coca leaves @ the market to get the full & authentic experience.

I asked our guide to show me how to chew the leaves properly and how many to use for my "first time". He was a great help in that regard.. the leaves are super cheap too (a baggie for under $1) so there is a lot of communal sharing.. There is also a bit of a spiritual and cultural element to coca leaf chewing for the Quechua, so.. it was an interesting experience overall. I ended up chewing a lot of the stuff throughout the hike. It's hard to say how much it helped, but it kinda makes you feel like you've just taken a strong tylenol almost.. makes you feel a bit funny. It's nothing strong and all the locals chew it, so it's got to have some sort of an effect.. but yeah, hard to say exactly how much it helped.

Verarde said:
Great pics, warpus. Congratulations on completing what looks like an amazing journey!

Thanks! My left foot hurting every once in a while is a constant reminder of what we put our bodies through :) I felt sooo amazing once we made it to the top of Machu Picchu mountain. There is a picture of me with my arms held up high, celebrating. It was such an amazing feeling to finish the hike and there was such beautiful scenery all around me.. I'm not sure if that feeling will ever be duplicated on a future trip. I guess we'll see, but it was definitely special
I've skied at high altitude twice. The first time didn't bother me at all, but my girlfriend didn't leave the condo for the first 3 days. The second time I couldn't sleep at all for 3 days. Fortunately, the ski lifts do all the real work.

If you like the mountains, I'd definitely suggest you try skiing if you haven't already done so. It really transformed my attitudes about winter.
If you like the mountains, I'd definitely suggest you try skiing if you haven't already done so. It really transformed my attitudes about winter.

I never have.. Well, maybe. I might have went skiing a couple times when I was 6-8 - we had a little ghetto hill in front of our apartment building. It was just a big pile of dirt, I don't know why it was there - some stupid communist reason I'm sure. It was generally ugly.. but in the winter it became beautiful and awesome for sledding. So I might have went skiing off that, but it wouldn't exactly count either so I'm not even sure why I'm telling you :p In any case skiing sounds like fun, but I know nothing about it, and the area around me is flat.. and when I go on trips I usually prefer to hike.

I do have friends out in Alberta who ski and snowboard.. and they do continue to pester me to visit.. so one day I just might. It does look rather fun.
Let's get this thing started

The original plan for the trip was for me to go with a certain couple and at least 1 other person.. but all those people backed out and I was the only one left... and I still sort of wanted to go to Peru! This guy at work Steve (who now I suppose should be considered a friend) always wanted to go on "one of those trips", and he's fit (plays soccer with me), had the vacation time & money, so.. why not! My friend Monica was going to come at one point too, but couldn't get the time off (boo)

This trip was many months in the making - I started doing research a long time before we went. I had to figure out potential hikes, figure out hostels, how much money we'll need, what sort of stuff we should do for 3 weeks, and everything else you need to figure out for a trip like this. Steve had to buy almost all new gear - mostly appropriate hiking attire (proper layers & materials, etc.).. We ended up bringing 2 fairly large 65/70L bags - weighing in at about 17/18kg (37/39lbs) each. We didn't bring any tents, but we had sleeping bags, one sleeping mat (I didn't bring one), eating utensils, lots of clothes, granola bars, a first aid kit, pocket knives, printouts, camping toilet paper, camping towels, etc.

We ended having to get vaccinated too.. a lot. I spent about $350 IIRC. I can claim that and get most of my money back, but I've been too lazy to do it yet.. So no big deal, but I got vaccinated for a whole bunch of stuff.

Day 0 - Friday May 4th - The most boring day of the trip

Nothing of note really happens here, but for completeness sake I'm including it. I took a Greyhound bus to Toronto with my friend Steve (who was to become my Peru trip travel buddy) which took 2 hours, after which we took a GO train (a regional train/bus public transit system) to a suburb of Toronto about 30km away from downtown, got picked up by Steve's friend who I never met, and we crashed at his (amazingly nice) house after repacking our backpacks and deciding to leave some stuff behind.

Day "1" - Saturday May 5th & Sunday May 6th - Toronto - New York - Lima - Cusco

Not much of note here except that the New York airport sucks balls (JFK I think but I don't really care to remember it) - we had a 3 and a half hour layover and our flight didn't make it onto any of the departure listings until a half an hour before the flight. Nobody at any of the gates or information stations knew anything about the flight either. We got conflicting information about terminals from various people and had to use our gut feeling to figure out which terminal to wait in.. Basically what happened was the last person I asked was a confident sounding middle-aged black guy... and a convincing older black guy can be very convincing. He turned out to be right, so that was good, but the whole situation was sort of unacceptable.

We landed in Lima at 6:45am (after a 7.5 hour flight) and immediately went to check up on our flight to Cusco, to depart at 9:55am

The story is this: I somehow managed to buy 2 tickets to Cusco for $19 each, after taxes. Usually you pay at least $117.. if you're lucky. Prices on the big airlines were usually $150/$200+. I found the deal via some website and put in an order.. 7 times. Each time I eventually got an email saying that the order couldn't be processed or some such lie. I found the same deal through hipmunk.com and ordered through whichever site that linked to.. different site than before.. went through fine.

I had been nervous about these tickets ever since I bought them mostly because flying in Peru for foreigners can be so.. strange. A lot of travellers were reporting a "gringo" tax - $180+ extra to fly if you are not from Peru or if you are a tourist from the west... It was something that was hard to find information on - some people were saying that only certain airlines did this, some said that it only applied only if you got cheap tickets, while others said that the practice was deemed to be illegal and it wasn't being done anymore.. And what scared me the most, was that some people reported not being allowed on flights if they "cheated" the system and bought cheap flights (which were usually reserved for locals) So we had no idea what to expect and it was possible that the tickets I bought were not going to get us to Cusco, or at least that we'd have to shell over a grand total of $360+ just to get there.

Everything went fine though and next thing you know we are flying to Cusco for $19 each. That was such a brilliant feeling!

I had a hostel booked with a private room (2 beds, private bathroom, etc.) and a taxi was supposed to pick us up from the airport and take us straight to the hostel. Halfway through the ride the driver starts talking - in Spanish of course, something me or Steve can't speak at ALL. So he's saying stuff, and we think he's talking about the hostel, so I tell him that the hostel is called "Loki" and.. he gets confused. He's all "No no Loki" or whatever, and we're like "wtf?".. He continues trying to tell us something, but it's just not going to work, so he ends up driving us somewhere.. while we're half-asleep, really tired, in an unfamiliar place, with everything around us looking alien.. and where does he take us? to ANOTHER hostel.

So we get there and the guy starts making phonecalls.. is really nice about it and we don't feel threatened or anything, just a bit confused and really tired. Eventually he comes back and is STILL confused, and wants to talk to us.. but we have no idea what he's saying. He gets frustrated, but reacts very profesionally and drives us to Loki (the hostel I booked). He goes in, we stay, he goes and talks to the guard (yeah, there was a guard outside of our hostel 24/7), he lets him in.. Eventually we get let in, everything is good, we are shown to our room, throw our bags to the ground, and go have a beer at the bar which is conveniently located on the premises of the hostel! Naps are had, then more beer, then some pool, and sleep.

Oh and that's when we realized that Loki was a party hostel and that the bar blasted music until 2am at which point hoardes of drunken idiots spill out onto the courtyard.. which I suppose was our fault, I should have caught that when doing research.. but.. I picked the hostel because they organize Salkantay Trek hikes and I looked through their website and the whole place seemed PERFECT for backpackers.. So we were kind of fooled I guess - and it's not a HUGE deal.. I don't mind a party, but it just sucks when you're exhausted at 10pm and can't get any sleep.. or when you have to wake up at 5:30am for a hike, like we had to 3 nights later.

edit: I just realized that day 1 is actually TWO days, but screw it.. it felt like 1.

Day 2 - Monday May 7th,
Day 3 - Tuesday May 8th

We woke up for the first time in Peru.. yet it felt like we had been travelling for days. Here's our hostel with the aforementioned 24/7 guard

Still very exhausted we slowly ventured out towards central Cusco

and explored the central plaza - Plaza de Armas.

Every single city in Peru has a "Plaza de Armas". It's usually got a bunch of churches, government buildings, cafes, stores, and a square/rectangular park in the middle.

It was the first Plaza de Armas we saw on our trip and our first experience there was immediately people asking us to buy stuff. It wasn't easy to say no, but we had to quickly get used to doing just that.. I caved in personally when these 2 lovely ladies asked me if I wanted a picture with them and their baby goat (I think it's a goat anyway).. It only cost me 5 soles, which is about $2. I don't mind paying that sort of money for this sort of gold.

We enjoyed our first Pisco Sour of the trip at the highest irish owned pub in the world. I don't know why they can't just say "highest Irish pub". Must be another pub out there that's higher but isn't owned by someone irish.. probably some hut in the Himalayas not even serving beer? Who knows.

Day 2 didn't last very long - we didn't have much energy to walk around.. our exploration of central Cusco ended in a nap - when we discovered just how not ready for the high altitude we were when we tried to return to our hostel - which was uphill.

It was incredibly hard and we had to stop every half minute at least.. Our bodies just weren't able to cope.

After the nap we played pool and trivia at the bar @ our hostel. It was 3 rounds of questions, in English, with each round having 10-15 questions about.. random stuff.. movie clips.. general trivia.. that sort of thing. We ended up getting 2nd place and just barely losing to carrot top and his girlfriend - or at least a guy who we named carrot top cause we're jerks

The Salkantay Trek was also booked on day 2, right at our hostel. They had a special office where you could book hikes, day trips, tours of the city, horse rides, white water rafting, etc. (seems like that should d be a sign that it'd be a good hostel for backpackers.. right??)

Day 3 was somewhat slow too - but we did manage to walk a bit more around Cusco - we checked out a couple more plazas, side streets,

stores, a school of some sort,

various churches, cool buildings, and a market. We needed to get to the market because that was the only place where you could buy coca leaves.. that we know of, anyway.

The thing about coca leaves is that they are technically basically illegal.. but.. in practice they are as legal as tea or coffee. The Incas were big users of coca - they used it for religious, medicinal, and cultural reasons.. It was a huge part of their culture and it continues to play a large role in the culture of the present day Quechua descendents (The Quechua people are sort of a larger set that includes the Incas)..

Our guide on the Salkantay Trek told us a couple things about coca leaves and coca use in the country. Basically what happens is, farmers can grow coca.. but they have to sell all of it to the government. The government leaves a tiny amount of that to the local farmers and communities to do with as they wish. This ends up being used for tea, various medicinal uses, high-altitude hiking, etc. You can't really use it recreationaly in the sense that you can't chew a bunch of it and get high. That just doesn't happen. You will feel a funny buzz, slightly comparable to taking a strong tylenol. There are 15 alkaloids in the leaf, only one of which is cocaine, so it's basically a whole bunch of different medical agents doing their thing on your body. The amount of cocaine in a leaf is very small - you would need a rather large pile of leaves for just 1 line of cocaine.

So it's a bit weird, because you go to this market to buy the coca.. and you end up having to go to the vegetables section. So you look around.. There's salads, carrots, cucumbers.. and baggies of coca. And it's sort of illegal but sort of isn't. And you buy it from a cute old fat Quechua lady who tries selling you other green looking things in baggies and you're thinking "I'm not sure if this is for hiking, cooking, or smoking" (turns out it was actually for hiking - another medicinal herb that people chewed high up in the mountains.. had slightly different effects - we found out a couple days later on the hike. I forget what the stuff was though)

We booked a couple other things that day (hostel in Lima, hiking poles), played some ping pong, watched Chelsea lose to Liverpool @ the hostel, and had a briefing for the hike with our guide @ 6:30pm. His name was Nilton, he was named after a great Brazilian soccer player, spoke English fairly well, and seemed to know what he was talking about. This American guy named Gary was there, turns out he was in our hiking group as well (a group of 12, we were told). He was from Colorado and when nobody was looking we made an unholy North American alliance.

We went to sleep early that day, as a 5:30am wakeup call and 21km of hiking uphill awaited us the next day.
Here's some more pictures of Cusco

which by the way most people spell Cuzco, with a z.. I noticed that the locals prefer to use Cusco though, although they do use both versions. IIRC both are alternate Inca spellings.. or maybe something involving a different dialect of Quechua. I don't quite remember

Cusco and other high-altitude parts of the country tended to contain a strange mixture of Catholic and ancient local beliefs...

The "ancient local" part was hard to capture with a camera, nor is that really a good way to put it either.. Most of the visual religious stuff was mostly Catholic saints, the virgin mary, and Jesus.. but a large part of the belief system there seemed to contain animalistic/"God is nature" type stuff. One of our tour guides later on in the trip (on the sacred valley day tour) made claims about aliens, egyptians, lost cultures, something about the sun, all religions having the same God, and other such TLC-type stuff.

There is something else I noticed about Peru - there always seemed to be something worthy of attention going on somewhere outside

In one town we ran into a parade, in one there was a concert in one of the main squares, there was a random changing of the guard, a random tv interview involving a scantly clad woman, and here I guess we ran into some sort of a police PR exercise

Another thing about Peru is that there's a lot of homeless dogs.. everywhere. Not nearly as many as I saw in Chile, but still quite a bit.

Some of them were cute but some of them made me sad.

Here's some nice architecture

Viva El Peru!

Wow. I lived in the Andean mountains for two years, but the mountains in Venezuela (as impressive as they are) don't match with that of Peru. It is interesting noticing the mountainsides themselves look similar from what I am used to though. The Andean mountains have that unique look to them.

Yah, Latin America has stray dogs everywhere. I always kind of assumed North America and Europe were unique in the idea of catching them and putting them into pounds. Also those stairs look terrifying to climb!
Did you eat guinea pig?
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