I left Huaraz promptly at and arrived in Lima at 4:30 in the morning. Lima is a city of about 8.5 million but has no central bus terminal. Instead each company has their own hub around the city with several companies sharing a hub. The luggage storage at this particular hub wasn’t open yet and downtown Lima is no place to be walking with a loaded backpack that late at night. I tried to sleep on the waiting benches in the other room along with the other late night arrivals but eventually the bathroom attendant assumed all those people sitting in the room must be bored so he turned on the television. The only thing on that late was an impetuous catholic program and too make matters worse the volume button didn’t work. It was so loud that the speakers were blown out and rattled with every syllable. The other people sleeping started yelling at the kid to turn off the TV but he couldn’t hear them over the blasphemous rhetoric of the firery priest. I went back into the other room to prevent any damage to my eardrums.

At around six I decided I should probably change into something to wear out for the day. I walked in between a couple parked busses, changed my clothes and decided to take a leak to avoid paying the bathroom fee (I hate paying to go to the bathroom, especially when they’re never clean to begin with). When I went back into the terminal the ticket counter was opened so I inquired about a bus ticket to Cuzco. There was only one seat left on all the busses that made the trip and the price was good so I snagged the last ticket. The bus didn’t leave until later that evening so I checked my backpack at the luggage storage and set off to explore Lima for the next day. I began walking towards the city center and the Plaza del Armas and passed through some shady areas. The last prostitute of the night (or first of the day) was not in the least bit enticing but the fruit salad around the corner certainly was. Just a fair warning, they’re really into mayonnaise in South America. It usually comes everything from French-fries to salads in the small family owned restaurants so you have to request against it. In Colombia it was the same deal with cheese. I had to learn this the hard way.

I went to the plaza where everything was still closed. It was Sunday and the churches that lined it weren’t even open yet. I watched the presidential guard raise the Pervian colors at the presidential palace and then fell asleep on a bench in the plaza. I walked around all day exploring downtown Lima and sought out a recommended vegetarian restaurant in the Miraflores district. I returned back to the bus station and caught my bus to Cuzco just as it was leaving.

I had the last ticket and I was expecting the worst seat on the bus so I was pleasantly surprised to be placed on the front row of a double decker bus with the best view. Well it turns out people don’t want those seats for a number of reasons. One there is little leg room and certainly not enough to stretch them out while sleeping. The best seats are the ones right behind the front row because you have the view and the leg room. The bus ride from Lima to Cuzco is incredibly cold at night and like a furnace during the day. If you’re making this trip layer up, wear a hat and gloves and bring a blanket or sleeping bag to keep your legs warm.

Late at night and at sunrise we were passing a high pass over the Andes where I could see frozen pools of ice and herds of alpacas so close together to conserve heat that they looked like a giant ball of yarn. My alpaca sweater, hat and gloves were not enough to keep me from shivering. As we drove down the eastern edge of the Andes it was the complete opposite. I felt like an ant with a magnifying glass being held over me, though it probably wasn’t dramatic as being burned alive at the hands of a small child.

One of the most important things you can do on a bus here is claim your leg space and the arm rest separating you and the person next to you. If you don’t, they certainly will. Spread your knees out to the full width of your seat and don’t move them or your neighbors feet will surely occupy your territory. If you don’t snag the arm rest first be on the constant look out for your opportunity because it’s always fair game. If you allow your neighbor to have it you will have a long ride with their elbow in your ribs. After 22 hours of sitting in a cold, hot, painfully uncomfortable bus we arrived in Cuzco. I don’t care what anyone says, hitchhiking is far easier and far more comfortable than embarking on an epic bus journey.

Arriving in Cuzco is kind of like a slap in the face. It is a large energetic and fervent city situated in what is known as the Sacred Valley. When I first arrived I met some people who recommended purchasing my ticket to Machu Picchu as they’re impossible to but in Aguas Calientes. The biggest mistake I have made was leaving my student ID back home so when purchasing a ticket to Machu Picchu or any other historical site in Peru I have to pay full price. I bought the ticket anyway because who goes to Cuzco without planning on going to Machu Picchu? I began to explore the maze of cobbled alleyways which all seem to lead to the Plaza del Armas or Plaza San Blas.

Cuzco is bustling with American and European families on their two weeks vacation as well as Peruvian weekenders who fly from Lima to visit Machu Picchu. As they walk around with their sunscreen caked faces they tout expensive cameras with large lenses hanging from their necks taking pictures of everything that does or doesn’t move. Like any South American city, there are dozens of gift stores, artisans, bars and restaurants selling the exact same things or offering identical specials relying on chance that you’ll walk into their store or restaurant rather than the one next door. Old women and children moving from tourist to tourist selling alpaca hats, sweaters, golden Machu Picchu bottle openers and countless other items and indigenous women leading around full grown alpacas wearing colorful alpaca clothing and sunglasses or carrying around baby goats with hats charging for photographs. The streets come in two forms, cobble stone or unpaved and they are jam-packed with beeping taxis. There are many streets that were designed for alpaca traffic but are now subject to human traffic jams as tourists stop in the narrow alleyways to take pictures with the people dressed as Inca kings and sometimes something as seemingly uninteresting as a crack in a wall.

By night the downtown area takes on a different personality with the hills around shining brightly in the dark and the colorfully luminous colonial buildings and fountain in the Plaza del Armas. There are literally hundreds of girls offering massages as you walk through the arches. Shady figures offering drugs to younger folks like myself are all too common as well as the usual suspects selling random alpaca made wear. This place is a must see by day and night. Cuzco is by far and wide the most expensive and touristy city in Peru. That being said, this hectic metaphorical slap in the face of a city has a particular charm and grandeur that ranks it at the top of my list of Peruvian cities.


I found a small cheap vegetarian restaurant called El Cuentro which agreed to give me a discount if I ate once a day there. In case you were wondering Mark was a vegetarian and got me into it while I was traveling with him. We went out to eat one night and when our food arrived, for the first time I my life, I was jealous of what a vegetarian was eating. I was under the impression that vegetarians only ate fruit and salads but I was completely wrong. The food is satisfying, filling, and much healthier than a modern meat diet. I won’t deny that a steak or greasy burger tastes great, but at the moment I’m content without, though seafood, eggs, and cheese are still on the table. After eating are hearty meal (minus the heart) I went for a walk. I was rounding a corner when some sketchy dudes passed by. All my clothes except for what I was wearing were being cleaned and I wasn’t wearing underwear so I could feel one of them slyly slip hand into my pocket hoping to find something of value. I didn’t have anything in there but it angered me none the less. Keep in mind that where there are foreigners, there are thieves.

The next day I was going to begin the trip to Machu Picchu. The quickest way there is by train but any Cusqueño (person from Cuzco) will tell you there is a monopoly on the railroad and not to take the train. Apparently the prices are fixed between two companies and I could not afford the ticket. I asked around and found alternate route that would get me there and back for less that $20 USD. I won’t go into all the details but know that it is possible and look out for a post in the near future called “Machu Picchu on a shoestring: How to get there from Cuzco and back for less that $20”.

After a days long journey in a bus and collective taxi I began to follow the monopolized railroad tracks. While walking I met a guy named Sam who was a well paid manager of a well known insurance agency in the U.S. He found his desk job too depressing so he sold everything he had and started traveling down through Mexico, central America and eventually making his way to Peru. He had been going a year strong so he had plenty of travel tales. Three hours later we arrived in Aguas Calientes at dusk. Aguas Calientes is aptly named for the hot baths that were used by the Incas. It is extremely expensive as every traveler must venture through there in order to see Machu Picchu. They gouge you on prices from everything from clean drinking water to public bathrooms. We planned on camping to avoid the inflation of the tourism industry but we still had to take care of a few things in the city. While walking we were offered outrageously high priced rooms or dorimtory beds when we met Juano. He said we could sleep in his living room for S15, which was about 400% less expensive than the cheapest place offered to us. He lived with his family right above the restaurant he owned. He said we could store out bags there as well while we visited the ruins.


I already had my ticket but Sam had every intention of sneaking into Machu Picchu. His reason was that it isn’t even owned by Peru. He told me how it was owned by some foreign based, multinational corporation however while trying to do some research for this post I was unable to find anything on the subject. A google search of “Machu Picchu” and “corporate ownership” only reveals tourism agencies. The thing about Machu Picchu is that it sees about 3,000 visitors each day. There is a bus system that charges about $10 USD for a 15 minute ride to to the entrance and just as much for the return trip. The first busses leave at 5:45 in the morning and an endless line of tourists arrive at the gate in intervals of five minutes for it’s opening at 6:00. The only way to get that perfect postcard picture without anyone in your frame is to walk up there before the busses arrive. Sam and I awoke at 3:30 and it’s a good thing we didn’t camp because it was pouring rain. We left promptly at 4:00 in the storm to begin the ascent up the stairs to best the crowds. There is a drawbridge where they check your tickets before proceeding forward. That’s the last I saw of Sam. He was supposed to swim the river and then crawl up the side of the mountain eventually entering the ruins from the terraces and just blend in with the everyone else. I don’t know if he ever made it because I crossed the bridge and climbed up the seemingly endless stairs that the ancient Incas built with the rest of the early risers who wanted the same photo I did. I arrived at the top but had no time to rest as the first wave of busses was approaching fast. I ran to the entrance to ensure that I was one of the first to enter the ruins with the rest of the people who climbed the stairs as the Incas did. When the gates opened I walked up to the top of the mountain an got the picture I came for. I just wish my camera could do it justice.


While writing this post I was trying whitewash the ruins as I do for all things excessvely touristy, but I can not downplay Machu Picchu. It is a spectacularly enchantig site. Even though the weather was less than desirable and the sunrise was anticlimactic it is impossible to discredit the craftsmanship of the Incas. Scenery partially obscured by the clouds will leave you breathless, though the altitude might have something to do with it. The site was a maze of intricately designed stonework buildings with hundreds of terraces taller than I am which scaled the mountain. The Incas, like the ancient Egyptians, were so talented that not a single bit of mortar was used to hold the buildings together. The stone bricks were so precisely cut that they have survived centuries of earthquakes. It is amazing how little is known about Machu Picchu. It isn’t mentioned in any of te Spanish conquistador records and it wasn’t officially rediscovered until American explorer, Hiram Bingham was led there by a local Quechua boy in 1911. Though according to some sources it was actually looted by a couple of German adventures in the 1860s. There is still an ongoing dispute between Peru and Yale University which posses most of the artifacts.


I was soaked despite wearing full rain gear and It was still fairly early when I returned back to the restaurant to collect my stuff. I figured I could make it back to Cuzco before it got too cold. I made the three hour hike from Aguas Calientes to the hydroelectric station where the taxis were waiting to pick up people fresh off the train. I met a German girl named Natascha and started haggling for taxi prices together. A troupe of French backpackers arrived too so we were able to get a good price for the six of us in a very small cab. The taxi bottomed out on the tough terrain and we had to stop in Santa Teresa to air up the tires. We arrived in Santa Maria 45 minutes later and Natascha and I found a bus back to Cuzco. It was going to be a 5-7 hour trip and they were out of seats so we had to sit in the cab with the bus driver. I had to sit on the engine.

Natascha and I chatted during the ride back about everything from traveling in India to Plants vs. Zombies, which we played on the way. She is the only German I’ve met who had an Australian accent. We arrived back in Cuzco and shared a cab back to the Plaza del Armas. I had been surviving on bread and avocados that I bought the day before so I was pretty hungry. We went to the vegetarian restuarant I had become so fond of and had a cheap meal. Still not really having definite plans, we decided to meet up in the plaza the next morning and take the bus to the small town of Pisca in the scared valley.

We found a cheap ride for the hour long trip to Pisca where we checked out the market which engulfs the entire plaza there. We haggled over souvenirs and tried on strange furry alpaca hats that look like giant furry helmets as the women selling them tried to convince us that great we looked in them. We walked around the small town and found a local trendy restaurant with all sorts of cool artwork for sale from modern Peruvian artistic prodigies who sell their retro art around the world. We headed back to Cuzco at dusk at took a cab to the bus station to check out some prices.

The bus station was a nightmare as there were no lines and there was no order. A man to carry a mattress through the crowd, a woman carrying several screaming chickens upside down by their feet, stray dogs dodging hundreds of feet, people at the several dozen ticket booths calling out their prices and other things that contribute to the chaos that ensues in a busy Peruvian bus terminal. I was looking to go to Arequipa while Natascha was looking for a ticket to Ica. After an hour or so of speaking with each bus company and haggling over prices and seats I had a ticket booked for next morning at 6:30. We shared a taxi back to the plaza where we indulged in some much appreciated Indian cuisine. We walked back to the apartment/bar she was Couchsurfing at which happened to be less than 30 meters from where I was staying. We said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information with the possibility of meeting up in Lima next week.

I caught my bus to Arequipa and enjoyed the scenery. It’s cheaper to take the day bus than the night bus because you’re considered to lose a day of traveling. Fortunately for me I love to watch the scenery change and dread not being able to do so on night busses. I arrived not knowing that this weekend was the 471st anniversary of the official Spanish founding of Arequipa. Fireworks we going off in the streets and a large parade took place where each different district of Peru’s second largest city had their own float. Behind each float people from each district wore the traditional clothing from that area and preformed unique dances to the local music. One float was wafting strange incense into the air and and another was roasting cuy (guinea pig) right on the float. Some groups were dressed up like princes from various Disney movies while others were dressed as peasants with fruit tied to their backs. Some had limes, some had oranges, one guy had a roll of toilet paper.


Today I’m going to give hitchhiking another try in Peru. I’m heading towards the world’s deepest canyon which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It’ll take me a couple days to get there so you’ll hear from me when I’m Nazca.


So Mark and I arrived in Huanchaco and stayed at the happening but quaint hostel, Naylamp. Every day Mark and I would eat at a small vegetarian restaurant next door called La Otra Cosa “the other thing” for one or two meals. We took the bus to the city of Trujillo to do some site seeing and picked up some insurance for the car to avoid bribing the police again. Every town in Peru has a Plaza de Armas, each with a fountain at it’s epicenter and is lined with a large church or cathedral. Trujillo’s plaza was very colorful however it was nothing special. We decided to skip the museums and get out of the big city for some more veggie cuisine back in Huanchaco. Trujillo was just another big city, rich with history but had long since traded it’s glamor for beeping taxis and asphalt. After some beers and a very well played game of chess with Mark being the victor, we retired for the evening.

The next day we went back to Trujillo to get some issues taken care of with the car. First we went to the Dodge dealership only to be rudely turned away when they saw the Green Goddess. We went to another place to have the tires balanced only to learn that we needed to have the rear brakes and one of the tires replaced. The people at the garage directed us to Avenue Peru where we could by all sorts of car parts from secondhand tires to bullet proof windshields. We had the breaks replaced and bought a used tire with a very worn tread. It wasn’t very reassuring to see them patch all the holes before putting the new tire on the rim. We went back to Huanchaco where I beat Mark in another game of chess bringing the score to 1-1.

Unfortunately, during the winter this area is rather gloomy. The skies stay overcast an the wind has a chill to it. It was nice not being sunburnt or having to apply insect repellent on the beach for once, but it was just a little too depressing. We visited the ruins of Chan Chan which were constructed by the Chimú culture and eventually buried under the dunes of the vast coastal desert. The mud ruins of Chan Chan were impressive and formed a large mud city that once contained over 10,000 people. As expansive as they were, the ruins were a little anticlimactic and hardly photogenic as tin roofs were being constructed over the most important parts to prevent erosion. The walls were once ten meters tall but 800 years of weathering and the effects of El Niño have taken their toll on the city.

Mark and I set off through the desert towards Chimbote where we would make the turn to Caraz. We escaped the cloudy abyss and the temperature quickly climbed as the sun shone brighter as we approached Chimbote. We passed small little shanty towns on the edge of the road and it was hard to believe anyone could live in this desert. Just before we reached Chimbote we once again left the smooth comforts of the Panam and passed half a dozen or so nameless pueblos through farmland until the paved road ended again.

20110729-113101.jpgI wasn’t kidding when I said it was a desert.

We drove through the desert mountains past abandoned ghost towns and other remnants of the coal mining that took place here. We followed the river along a very bumpy and dusty dirt road for several hours eventually entering the Cañon del Pato “duck canyon”. High 1000 meter cliffs towered over us as we passed through a series of 35 tunnels. We passed by starving cacti with exposed veins and drooping as if praying to God to bring the wet season sooner than usual this year. After stopping to tie up our muffler with parachord and some chain to keep it from dragging, we continued up the canyon. Right around dusk the muffler separated completely from the car so we tossed it in the back of the van. We originally wanted to camp but the roads were just too narrow to find a place to hide the van for the night. We drove to the city of Caraz where we managed to persuade the owner of a packed hotel to let us camp in the back yard, as long as we didn’t use the shower.

We arrived in Caraz where we went out for pizza and cake (I eat a lot of cake when I travel). We were high up in the Andes again and the air was frigid. It was a cold night to say the least and my down sleeping back didn’t prevent me from waking up with numb feet in the morning. The next day was Peru’s independence day and the streets were bustling with activity anticipating the parade. Peruvians are very proud and they already have flags hanging from every building so there wasn’t much decorating to be done. We watched as the male division marched around with automatic rifles as the female division marched around with shiny black fake leather purses. The marching band clumsily marched around the main square tooting the national anthem. Children marched like the old German Socialist Party with their arms swinging wide and outstretched almost coming as high as their heads and lifting their knees as high as possible in unison. They all abruptly stopped and stood at attention as the mayor of Caraz walked around and inspected them all with his busty, much younger wife.

Mark and I became bored and decided to skip the flag raising ceremony to drive back down into the canyon to take some pictures. There we met some engineers that allowed us access to the bridge so Mark could get his photos. After the engineers left we found an old cable car that stretched across the narrow canyon. The cable was more like a bucket attached to a zip line than anything else. As Mark’s model it was my duty to sit in the bucket and cross the canyon for a good Lonely Planet cover shot.

While taking photos we met a hitchhiker walking by who reassured me that it is indeed very difficult to hitchhike in Peru unless you’re on the Panam. “They always ask you for money before you get in the car and if they don’t ask you before, they ask you after!”. The guy’s name was Leslie who hailed from Belgium. He started his trip in Patagonia a year and a half ago and had a beard and pony tail to prove it. He was an interesting and funny character who, when not hitchhiking, is a prison guard of all things. He told me about walking for days in Patagonia without seeing a single car, sounds lovely. Leslie modeled for a few of Mark’s pictures and we spoke with him for an hour or so before returning to the car. Our “new” tire was flat so we made a quick change and looked to make sure what was left of the muffler was still attached and the parachord hadn’t melted.

Upon passing Caraz we got a beautiful view of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range with high glaciated peaks. This is the same mountain range that sets the location for the book “Touching the Void” which is about a climber who falls, breaks both legs, and drags himself back to civilization. In this one mountain range alone there are over 50 peaks higher than 5700 meters as opposed to just three in North America. This range also includes the monstrously razor sharp peak of Huascarán, Peru’s highest peak, which is 574 meters taller than North America’s Denali. The area is prone to floods and avalanches. There was a huge earthquake which rocked this region several decades ago. The subsequent avalanches and landslides buried entire villages leaving no survivors in some places. It’s hard to find a town here that was left unscathed.

20110729-122730.jpgOne of my views from Huaraz this morning.


We arrived in Huaraz which is far from glamorous, but due to it’s prime location, it remains an outdoorsman’s Mecca. I will definitely be returning when I can spend more time here to do it justice. I woke up to cloudless skies to see that the city is surrounded by a dozen or so fantastically glaciated peaks. Mark and I walked to the viewpoint just outside of town and managed to get some really great photos. We returned back to our favorite restaurant in town, Andino’s for some more vegetarian cuisine. You know it’s cold when you take a cold shower and still walk out steaming.

We got up really early this morning and set off on a drive through the mountains. First we stopped to have our “new” tire repaired and then set off on the dirt road towards the glaciers. We climbed into a small indigenous town where our newly repaired tire decided to give out on us again. This time the side wall had a huge tear in it rendering it completely useless and unrepairable. We put on the spare and climbed higher into the mountains. Eventually we came into a wide flat valley before ascending up another series of switchbacks to a high pass. We reached the glacier line and found some great spots for a panoramic photo. Mark and I then proceeded to roll rocks down the snow covered slope and watch them explode on the boulders below. We decided it would be best to head back should we experience any more tire problems. We made it back to the valley and were passing a construction project when one of the workers flagged us down asking for a ride back to Huaraz. I got out to make room for him when I noticed the spare tire was going flat. Mark and I put on the donut praying that it would last is until we found a repair shop. The construction worker was laughing and making jokes with his friend while we changed the tire and he didn’t even offer to help so we decided to let him wait for the bus. We made it back to the comforts of the paved road and found a place to fix the tire again. I have changed more tires with Mark this week than all the flat tires in my entire life.


Well with only two weeks of traveling left I still have a lot of ground to cover in Peru. I’m accepting the fact that I will most certainly have to return to soak it
all in. To make matters worse, a law was just passed that restricts the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to only 2500 per day. Now I am in a mad dash to get there and wait around for a few days until I can enter. To make up for lost time I am taking a bus to Lima I’m about thirty minutes. From there I’ll take another bus to Cuzco to get there as soon as possible.

I just said my goodbyes to one of my most memorable travel companions, Mark Towner, and it was far to formal. I wish I didn’t have to rush away and leave you hanging with just a handshake. If you’re reading this Mark, thanks again for everything and it was a pleasure traveling with you. Remember we have a score to settle in a game of chess.

See you on another continent. Continue reading


Currently traveling with Mark Towner. As long as I’m with him you can track my location by clicking here.

After hitchhiking back to Quito Emma and I decided to stick around for a day so I could do some laundry and she could go to the immigration office to sort out some visa issues. While in Quito we stayed at the same shady place in the Mariscal Foch district I had previously visited. There I met a guy named Will from Asheville, North Carolina who was participating in various volunteer programs for the summer.

The next day Will, Emma and I traveled to a small city called Tena in El Oriente which is Ecuador’s large slice of the Amazon. There were quite a few problems getting there as an all too common landslide decided to bury the road forcing us to wait in the middle of no where for four hours while the crews took on the labor intensive task of clearing the road.

We arrived in Tena and found a cheap place to stay so the three of us split a room. After a much needed banana pancake in the morning, Emma and I said goodbye to Will and headed off into the jungle. We went until the road ended at a sturdy yet ominous looking bridge that spanned across the raging muddy Río Napo. We walked into a tiny indigenous village (if you can call it a village) called Serena and crossed another rickety bridge. We found the small house of the local and well respected shaman who had as many wrinkles on her face as she had years behind her. She spoke no English or Spanish, only the local dialect of Kichwa. We stayed in her guest house which was lined with several beds and hammocks with mosquito nets. We hiked in the jungle with a local Kichwa man, Jaime, who told us all about the different uses of plants. We walked deeper into the jungle and came across a strange plant with these small purple sacks on it. Jaime handed me a sack and told me to suck out the acid within. I did and it tasted like citrus. I peered into the tiny sack and watched tiny little ants crawl out running for their lives. Mmmm citrus. After some more ant sacks we walked deeper into the jungle and heard the strange unidentifiable noises that only the jungle makes. Much to the displeasure of my boots, we walked through knee deep mud. Each time I would step on seemingly stable ground my foot would sink beneath the surface. The jungle is incredibly wet, even when it isn’t raining. Eventually we came across a giant sebu tree with wide arching roots. Jaime told us that when hunters are forced to sleep in the jungle they find a sebu tree and sleep in between the roots to protect them from tigers. That evening I went swimming in the cold jungle river which flowed into the river Napo in the headwaters of the mighty Amazon.

The next day we watched the shaman go about her daily chores. Each morning she goes to the river to pan for gold and when it becomes too hot she spends the rest of the day making rope and jewelry. We walked through the jungle again for several hours and tried many strange things like cacao beans and various parts of a palm tree. Later that day we bathed in the river again and soaked up the sun on its banks. The shaman is a sort of spiritual healer to the community and people come from far and wide to be treated by her. Their symptoms include everything from snake bites to love sickness. I watched her collect and cut up a large vine hanging from one of the cacao trees outside of her house. She then brewed this vine for several hours in a pot. The substance, called ayhuasca, looked as foul as it smelled. Ayuhuasca is very commonly used to cleanse the body of all toxins as well as evil spirits. Aside from the cleansing properties, it is also a powerful hallucinogen. A young man came to be cleansed because he injured his hand and could not move it any more. I watched the ritual feeling slightly out of place. The shaman motioned to me and handed me a cup of the rancid brew and then proceeded to beat me in the head with some “sacred” leaves while chanting an old song. I sat there feeling really stupid as she kept hitting me on the head. She blew smoke on my hands and hair and then told me I had a good soul. After beating Emma on the head she told her she had evil spirits. The shaman then proceeded to vomit profusely…

An hour and a half later I still had a disgusting taste in my mouth and had to get something to drink. I walked through the dark jungle and across the bridge into the village to buy a coke. That’s when things started to get weird. I’ll leave out the details but after expelling all my toxins all of the ground, strange lucid dreams of childhood memories with my brother and some psychedelic anacondas, I awoke at dawn feeling better than I had in a long time. I can’t say that I would ever drink the stuff again, but I do not regret the experience. I was full of energy almost as though I was revived in some way.

I swam in the river as the sun began to rise and realized how incredibly hungry I was. I ate a massive breakfast and we went out into the jungle again. We collected worms and spent the afternoon unsuccessfully fishing with a bamboo rod. I was laying on the beach when I noticed an ant biting my thumb. Without thinking I ate the little guy taking satisfaction in the citrus taste. I had officially become a barbarian, it was time to leave the jungle.

The next day we hitchhiked to Misahuallí where we encountered a troupe of monkeys hanging out on the banks of the wide river. They were everywhere jumping, swinging in trees, drinking soda from bottles, stealing bags of Doritos from children, just the usual monkey business. I really liked Misahuallí. It had a nice charm to it, the wide river, the monkeys, the colorful buildings. I wish I would have stayed there instead of Tena, but I was getting hot and I was ready to head up into the cool Andes again. I was ready to hit the road on my own again. We caught a ride in the back of a military truck and parted ways. The soldiers took Emma back to Tena and I started hitching south to Puyo.

It wasn’t long before I was picked up by an off-duty taxi driver named Hector. He didn’t speak much so it was kind of a quiet ride. I did share my chocolate with him though. He was headed for Ambato which means we would pass by the familiar town of Baños again, where I asked Hector to drop me off. There I learned that my good friends Kat and Boyd were still traveling together and happened to be in Baños as well. We met up shortly after and went out for dinner and a few drinks reveling in the glory of the Quilotoa Loop and what we’ve been doing since we last saw each other.

The next morning I woke up with a cold and I really wasn’t feeling well. I had breakfast with Kat and Boyd and then reluctantly parted ways with them again. Hopefully I’ll meet up with Kat and Peru and the next time I come to South America Boyd will probably still be here. I caught a bus to Ambato and endured screaming children the entire ride. When I arrived I learned that I should have taken the bus south to Riobamba instead. This is why I don’t like buses. I was really feeling bad at this point and was in no mood to hitchhike. I wanted to head south to Loja but learned that it was a 10 hour bus ride (Ecuador is bigger than you would think) and I could not sit on the bus for that long. It was only six hours to Cuenca but the next bus was not going to leave for a couple hours. I sucked it up and started hitching down to Riobamba. I was quickly picked up by Luis, his wife Sylvia, and their daughter Camila. They made all sorts of jokes and I assured them that I’m normally not so quiet and that I was feeling unwell. We drove a while before little Camila had to use the bathroom. We stopped at a gas station where a wreck had just occurred. Luis and I walked up to the scene just in time to see a body being covered and another person being rushed away in an ambulance. The front of the truck and careened off the road into a giant pile of dirt. The truck wasn’t in that bad of shape but I could see where both passengers flew out through the windshield and even where they landed. In the skid marks there was a trail of blood where they slid across the hard earth. They both probably would have lived had they just been wearing their seat belts, but in my experience seat belts are seldom used in South America except when approaching a police checkpoint.

They dropped me off in Riobamba along the route to Cuenca but not before taking pictures with “el gringo loco” for their facbook profiles (Ecuadorians love facebook). I was then picked up by a trucker named Jaime who was driving an hour or so up the road to deliver some cement for a railroad that was being built, ironically for a cement factory. We passed by the giant volcano Chimborozo as I was having a very difficult time talking and I had to apologize for continuously dozing off. When we reached his stop I thanked him and started walking down the road. I decided I would wait in the cool rainy weather for the next bus that came so that I could sleep the rest of the way to Cuenca. Eventually the bus came and I boarded to find it completely full. I had to do a combination of standing and sitting on the floor and trashcan for two hours until a seat finally opened up. I sat down next to a French-American woman in her mid sixties who was compelled to talk to me the rest of the way. Though she was nice, I was not in a talking mood so I did a lot of listening. She told me how originally she was only going to be traveling for a few weeks but six months later here she was, heading to Peru. She had a lot of cool stories about traveling in Syria, India, Africa and Asia and told me how she entered the Peace Corps in Morocco when she turned 55. She was very encouraging and told me that travelers don’t let money restrict their travels, they make it work.
We arrived in Cuenca at dusk and I caught a cab to the city center to rest for the night. It was Friday night and the city was bustling with nightlife but I just wasn’t feeling up to it. I had heard so many great things about Cuenca and it’s a real shame I didn’t go there sooner. I was pressed on time to get to Peru and I simply did not get to do Cuenca justice. Cuenca was very charming and I felt really safe there. It gave off all sorts of good vibes with it’s cobbled streets and clean water. Cuenca is also home to the largest American population outside of the United States. A lot of people go there to retire in the laid back atmosphere surrounded by high mountains. I originally wanted to stay a couple of days in Parque Las Cajas just south of Cuenca but was advised against going when it was raining. Not only was it raining and my cold was well underway, I didn’t feel so bad about skipping Las. Next time.

Still not feeling like hitching, I took the four hour bus ride to Loja. There I had lunch and it was still early enough to catch the two hour bus ride to Vilcabamba. Vilcabamba is famous for its really old inhabitants. The people who live here are said to live as old as 150. It is for this reason that Vilcabamba is known as the valley of rare fruits. I stepped off the bus in and immediately noticed a strange metaphorical smell in the air. Something was different about Vilcabamba, not good, but not bad either, just different. I sat on a bench near the terminal for a while and it seemed just like any other Ecuadorian town. There were several shops run by old women right next to each other that sold exactly the same thing, taxi drivers were pulling over and whistling to get my attention, a pack of stray dogs were chasing after a female in heat, children kicked a soccer ball in the street, some people were burning a heap of plastic and cardboard boxes in the gutter, the usual. Something weird was happening here. I was in a hurry to get to Peru and I learned that a bus would be passing through on the way to Zumba at 10:30 that night so I decided to see what I could find in the city center before returning to catch the bus. I used a computer for a couple hours to begin writing the first part of this post. I decided to walk around the main plaza when my suspicions about Vilcabamba were confirmed.

I walked around the plaza and noticed quite a few English speakers, more than usual. I was craving a quality hamburger so I walked in a small family owned restaurant a block from the plaza and sat down. Their weren’t more than a dozen people in the room and they were all speaking English, even the table of Ecuadorians. The owner of the restaurant came over to take my order and he turned out to be an expat from Virginia who moved to Vilcabamba ten years ago. Eventually he brought me a heavenly hamburger served on rye with guacamole and a side of quality French fries (South American French fries suck and are always mushy).

“Can I ask you a question?”, I said.
“You may.”
“Is it just me or is this a very strange town?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well everyone seems to speak English.”
“What are you talking about? No one speaks English here.”
I looked around the room and said, “But everyone in here is speaking English. They’re speaking English in the plaza outside too.”
Then a woman piped in, “I speak English.”
The man gave me a funny look and said, “Humph, I guess everyone does speak English.” he paused for a few moments and said, “We get a lot of weirdos in Vilcabamba. People who want to live to be 150. People on the run from the law, tax evaders, rapists, murders. Occasionally the FBI will come pick them up. People who think they’re being followed by the government. People that move here because of that whole Mayan calendar end of the world thing.”
He gave me a funny look and then retreated behind the bar. An older guy dressed like a cowboy stumbled across the room and asked if he could sit in the empty chair. His name was Gavin and he was a Kiwi from New Zealand. I could smell the booze on his breath and I could tell this was going to be along conversation once he started rambling. He moved to Vilcabamba in the early eighties and now ran a horseback riding tour business. He told me the history of Vilcabamba from his point of view and I asked him why it was so strange here. He poured across the room, “You see that guy over there? Last week he told me he killed six people and now he’s hiding from the FBI. Say you want to ride horses through the cloud forest? I hate this place and I’m trying to make money so I can leave. You know there’s a group of people here that want to set me on fire? With gasoline and everything.”

“If you hate it so much why have you lived here for the past thirty years?”
“Well I guess I want to be here when the apocalypse happens.”
“You want a front row seat for the judgment day?”, Gavin then began laughing uncontrollably and wrote down what I had said saying he was going to quote me in his next book. After some more drunk rambling of lost pyramids somewhere on the border of Peru and Brazil as well as some stories of smuggling horses from Ecuador into Peru I managed to get away from him.

I caught the bus to Zumba and left the convenience of paved roads for some time. We winded up into the mountains and arrived in Zumba at around 3:30 in the morning. I had no where to go so I finally broke out my nifty hammock and camped outside of the bus terminal. The next morning I began walking to Las Balsas, the last “village” before Peru. After two hours of hiking down the lonesome dirt road I was picked up by Edwin Peña from Loja heading on his way to the border. A couple hours later I received my exit stamp and walked across the bridge to Peru for the first time.

Las Balsas is one of the most remote border crossings between Peru and Ecuador (there are only 4). My destination was Chachapoyas but I quickly learned how remote this region is. For one, people here don’t have cars, and the people who do have cars don’t normally travel this far deep into the northern highlands of Peru. Eventually I succumbed and paid for the shared Taxi towards San Ignacio, it was incredibly cheap anyways. There I met a young Czech couple who were having some trouble because they couldn’t speak Spanish. I helped them out and then helped them find a place to exchange they’re dollars for soles without getting ripped off. They were heading to Chachapoyas as well so we found another ride to the next town of Jaén and then from there to Bagua Grande. We drove down out of the mountains into a vast desert valley that resembled west Texas with all of the mesquite-like trees and cacti. In Bagua Grande we found our last ride to Chachapoyas where we stayed for the night. I spent the rest of the night walking around and trying to figure out the correct price of everything from lunch to a coke and a cervesa.

The next morning I took my last shared taxi to Tingo where I bought some breakfast and a large bottle of water. With all of my belongings on my back I hiked into a mountain crevasse toward the ancient ruins of Kuélap. It was hot and humid and eventually began to rain. When I finally got situated with all of my rain gear it would stop. Then I would overheat with my rain jacket on and then it would pour again. This went on for sometime before I eventually reached a small village completely inaccessible by motor vehicles. After four hours hiking uphill without a single step downhill, I reached the foot of the ruins. I dragged myself up to the ruins which were constructed by the Chachapoyas people who were eventually conquered by the Incas in the early 1400’s. I climbed up to a lookout tower where I took a short nap. I explored the ruins before walking down the other side of the mountain. It began to pour again by the time I reached the road and I was fortunately picked up by a bright orange pickup truck carrying construction workers down the mountain. We sped down the steep muddy dirty roads along a terrifying ridge. I was so scared that I actually had to close my eyes for the entire ride. I find myself praying a lot more than usual in Latin America.

We arrived in the small mountain town of Maria where I had a seat on a bench outside of a building to calm my nerves. The town was nestled on the side of the mountain without electricity and had less than 100 people living there.It was still raining as I watched a large cloud roll off the mountain across the valley and run into Maria like a freight train. There were no more cars and even if there were, I would not attempt to descend the mountain in this fog. A woman came out of the building I was sitting in front of and conveniently asked me if I needed a place to stay for the night.

I was eating dinner in the family’s restaurant with a few construction workers when a tall guy with long hair walked in and ordered a plate with an English accent in Spanish. I got to talking to him and his name is Mark from a small town in the middle of England. Mark is a photographer who has been traveling for four years now. He started in Canada and bought a 1998 Dodge Caravan in Boston and drove it all the way to Peru. He lived in Mexico for a year and Costa Rica for another year before continuing further south. I asked him what his plans were and he was going to see Kuélap the next day before heading to Leymebamba, my next destination as well. I asked him for a ride and he obliged saying that he was going to ask me if I wanted to come along. We went back up to Kuélap so Mark could take some photographs. He is currently building a portfolio for Lonely Planet and had me model in a bunch of his pictures. One day you may see me and my scraggly beard on the front page of Lonely Planet Peru trying to force an alpaca to climb some stairs. We spent the rest of the day driving to Leymebamba. Mark has this nifty GPS tracker in his car just in case it ever gets stolen. As long as I’m with mark you can see where I am every ten minutes by clicking this link.

After leaving Leymebamba it took us two days to drive 112 kilometers across a narrow mountain pass. The road was only wide enough for one car with a straight drop off on one side at all times. We drove all day to Celendín where our tire deflated as soon as we found a hotel. The next morning a large parade took place and we watched kids in brilliantly colored costumes dance in the street. The indigenous people here where these funny straw hats which are almost like cowboy hats except with really tall tops. After the parade we had the tire fixed and set off for Cajamarca. We arrived early enough to soak in the Baños del Inca where we talked about traveling and how some people to travel indefinitely by working over the Internet. If you have any ideas for travel articles or related topics you would like to see please leave a comment. Some examples include how to travel the world for under $1000 a month, top 5 things to do in northern Peru, or 10 things every traveler should keep in their backpack.

We hung out in Cajamarca for the night and all of today seeing the sights and taking photographs for Mark’s portfolio. I got to model. This city has a lot of history but I won’t bore you with the details, that’s what Wikipedia is for. Cajamarca is pretty remote and travelers don’t pass through here very often. Not only are we taller than everyone around here, Mark has long hair and I have a long beard with a curly mustache. We stick out like an Eskimo on the beach and attract quite a lot of attention. Girls follow us calling us “guapo” while the men look on with jealousy. Little kids follow us around saying the few words of English they learn in school. They all make the same mistake of saying “good morning” in the afternoon. When we say “no, good afternoon” they run away in all directions laughing. Mark and I dropped our clothes off at the lavaderia and I was wearing my last clean shirt, a deep cut V-neck which exposes more chest than I would like it to now that it’s stretched and worn. Body hair is uncommon on most men and a toothless old main told me I had a beautiful beard and elegant chest hair. Creeped out and flattered, I went to go pick up my laundry. Later we met up with a few people from CouchSurfing for some eats and drinks.

We left Cajamarca and descended out of the high Andean mountain range into a vast sandy desert. Once again I was on the Panamerican highway which stretches from Fairbanks, Alaska to Ushuia, Argentina, roughly 35,000 kilometers. The Pacific was in view on the horizon for the second time during my adventure. After a run in with the police and talking the “fine” down from S432 to S40 we drove through Trujillo to the surf side town of Huanchaco where we are staying for a few days. This is my kind of beach. It’s cloudy and cool because of all the sand and dust in the air which blocks out the sun. There are always a dozen or so people dawning wetsuits and surfing the rolling waves. I like this town a lot. If I had more time I would stay here for a week or two. I love being able to sit outside and listen to the waves crash on the beach without having to swat away flies or mosquitoes and drown in a pool of my own sweat.

All is well in Peru. I’m happy to be here but I’m starting to feel rushed to see the country as I have less than a month before returning home. Many places to go and many places to see. Next stop Huraz and the mountains again.

Totally contempt yet longing for home,