Posted by: davesnewadventure | May 31, 2007

Tunnels, Turds, and Thieves


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Dave’s New Adventure: Adventures from the South American Continent: 03-2007

Tunnels, Turds, and ThievesMap of the Location of Huaraz, Peru

Nothing puts a frame of reference on life better than trodding through a minefield of cow dung at 3600 meters above sea level. The epitome of this moment came to me on the second day of a hiking/camping trip in Huascaran National Park, nearby Huaraz, Peru. When I squatted in a circle of rocks to take my morning shits, I saw Anthony’s shits next to me, and then a multitude of cow shits next to the tent. At that moment, I called out him.

“You know, I don’t think our shits are gonna make much of a difference next to all that cow dung.”
“Nah dude, go for it,” replied Anthony.

I grinned as I squatted, and squeezed. After all, I just added to a formidable sized pile of cow dung. There I was, truly in nature’s moment, doing what 40,000 years of evolution’s results enabled me to do. This was the epitome of evolution, to take a shit in the woods, without any comforts, toilets, or even a hole in the ground. It reminded me of a Buddhist slogan, which is “shit happens”. Had we traveled like most travelers typically do, in a giant tin can, we’d have been denied this natural experience. Often, when people describe “travel”, whether it’s a cross country trip or a two week jaunt in Europe, what they really mean is they’re going to sit for hours in a tin can. Tin cans include the train, car, plane, space shuttle, or in our case, the bus. I’ve had it with tin can travel, and the worst tin can travel, other than a cramped plane or car, is the bus.

A bus get a plastic sheet for a windshield in Huancayo.

On the bus through the northern peruvian coastline, where the sanddunes rise to over 1000 meters.

Before we arrived, we took an eight hour bus ride from Huancayo to Lima through the same winding route that I trudged through on my bicycle. We got to Lima, and immediately took yet another nine hour bus ride up the coast to Huaraz. Peruvian buses weren’t made for foreigners. Both Anthony and I found ourselves in cramped conditions with no leg room, paralyzed butts, and choked veins. In addition, the bus from Lima to Huaraz had a leaky vent overhead, and dirty water dripped on Anthony. We fixed it with some newspaper and duct tape. We were off to see the spectacular Cordillera Blanca, the only place in the world where you can see over 50 snow capped peaks above 5000 meters. Unfortunately, we when we got there, due to the rainy season, all the peaks were covered with clouds, and it rained on and off. In addition, we were sick of buses, so I wasn’t sure what got into our minds to take yet another bus tour the next day for the Chavin ruins. Unfortunately, a giant rock fell on the highway, and carved out a large hole, so we changed buses for a trip to a high mountain lake.

A herd of sheep trot through the streets of Huaraz.

A glacier lake we stopped off during the bus tour.

I hate bus tours with a passion. Every bus tour I’ve ever taken involved the following: two hours in the bus, thirty minutes at a site, two hours in the bus, forty five minutes in a tourist trap, etc. By the middle of the tour, I was ready to scream, because when we reached the lake, we had at most 40 minutes.

“Ant, we’re going for a f—ing hike for two f—ing days. I’ve had it with the tin can.”
“Dude, I know how you feel.”

On the way up to Lake 69.

Taking a break.

Anthony takes a break in the canyon.

Anthony checks the backpacks.

So, the next day, we left with our packs, and found ourselves in what probably was the highest altitude pile of cow dung in the world… but at least it was set amongst some of the most breath taking scenery. The hike up was through a bowl canyon, and we were surrounded by mountains. Thick clouds crept up like caterpillars, misting and drenching the sides with a wet, verdant, mix of green, black, and gray. Waterfalls and cascades fell all around us, and there was no way to avoid the roar of the waterfall on all sides of the bowl, which was a valley surrounded by ridges and cliffs.

Waterfalls are everywhere in the bowl.

Getting a shower from a cascade.

Water was everywhere, in the fields, the trails, and in many places, it mixed with the cow dung. It was unavoidable, and we accepted the fact that our shoes were going to be drenched. The trails were streams and the air was moist, clean, and refreshing. As we walked amongst the clouds, climbing higher into the rarified air, our bodies groaned, and our lungs worked harder to compensate for the lack of oxygen. By 5 PM, we set up camp at a small pond in the fog, above the ridge of the bowl. The sun was setting, and to continue further was dangerous. Besides, we weren’t alone. We were surrounded by dozens of high altitude, pooping, and curious cows. I spent part of my evening chasing them away from our make shift kitchen. They’d never seen a gas stove before, and it amazed me that I had to get out of the tent in the rain just to peg a cow with a rock to keep it from pooping next to us, or knocking the stove over. When the cows stopped knocking the stove over, the wind kept the water from boiling.

The biggest source of dung in the mountains.

We run out of time at 5PM. Time to set up a base camp.

Finally, frustrated with the wind, we put the stove inside the tent, and opened the flaps. It was dangerous, but we were wet, cold, and hungry. After a dinner of instant noodles and hot chocolate, we kicked back and slept. The next morning, we woke up to a drenched tent, due to condensation of our breathing, and a drenching from fog and rain outside. Despite the conditions, we were undeterred. We ate, shat, and washed up with some pond water, hiked, and got lost since we hiked up the wrong side of the canyon valley. All around us, a thick fog obscured the view, and as we walked, it started to part. After a difficult hike up the correct side of the canyon, we finally reached Lake 69. It was a lovely, placid, ice blue glacier lake set high amongst the snow capped peaks of the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.

The placid beauty of Lake 69.


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When we got back to Huaraz, we said, “screw it, let’s take one more bus tour.” Well, the only way to go to the Chavin ruins was via the bus, so there was no choice. Chavin is 3400 years old, and is considered to be the first expansionist empire in the Americas. It was once a teaming populace, with pyramids, plazas, water fountains, aqueducts, the works. Today, all that remains is a pile of rocks and a few buildings, like many other vanished civilizations. Unlike Macchu Picchu or Tiwanaku, it wasn’t impressive. My feelings personally were that Tiwanaku, in Bolivia, is far older than anything else in the Western Hemisphere.

The guide points out the numerology of the Chavin Ruins.

The last head standing, err, hanging, on the Chavin temple complex.

As we followed the tour guide, I had the gut feeling that he was pulling a lot of information out of his ass. So we left the tour group, and Anthony discovered a recently opened tunnel entrance. We came prepared with our flashlights, and dove right in. The tunnel complex consisted of two small tunnels with steps heading up from the center inside of the pyramid, and one that went down. I pointed my flashlight on the downwards tunnel, and counted… 10 meters, 20 meters, 30… It seemed endless. Dust lifted around us, as I noticed that the tunnel wasn’t excavated. I knew this because it wasn’t sand or dirt on the floors. It was dry dust. That meant the tunnels were much like the tunnels of the Giza pyramids, stayed structurally intact, and relatively clean for almost 2000 years. Ancient records from previous explorers also hinted at the well designed structural integrity of the buildings.

The author stuck between rocks and a hard place inside the tunnel.

Light from tunnels designed to funnel light into the complex give the tunnel a feeling of openness and escape.

I yelled out to Anthony, “Dude, it’s like the pyramids in here!” A grizzled, blonde haired southerner said, “and that’s why I ain’t going in. I’ve been in the pyramids. You boys can go ahead and clear the way for the rest.”

Anthony dove right in with me, as we crawled through the dusty spaces and explored the tunnels in the short amount of time we had. I later learned from Marco, a Peruvian and exploration partner, that the tunnels were recently opened, and we were one of maybe 100 people to enter and see a system that hadn’t been seen or used in 2000 years. The thought of this was mind boggling. Unfortunately, and again this is why I detest guided tours, the tour guide called for us to get out. Reluctantly, we did.

That night, back in Huaraz, a local we befriended earlier that week knocked on the door. His name was Walter, and he worked Huaraz as a bar entertainer. Well, that’s what it looked like to me. At 5’3″, friendly, and with a charming smile, we were easily taken by his friendly manner. That’s how most people are taken when it comes to con artists. Unfortunately for Walter, we weren’t easily conned.

Walter tried to run a scam on us by coming into our room, incidentally on the night before we left, appearing worried and in trouble.

My friends, I have a real problem, and because you’re my friend, I can ask you for help. Those words switched on a red flag.

My mother and brother work in Australia, and they send me money here. But I lost my identification, and there’s a deadline for me to pick up the package. I need to borrow 50 sols from you to get the package, because the deadline is tomorrow.

Really. Right.

Are you sure? I asked.

Yes.
And none of your other family members can help you?

I looked at Walter. Walter’s eyes darted around the room, looking at our thing. I didn’t see it, but Anthony noticed his eyes looking at my cell phone. Walter immediately sat down next to me, and I immediately grabbed my phone and camera. Unfortunately, before he entered, I spread my things out on the bed to organize and pack. I was completely exposed.

You know Walter, most telegram services extend the date of when you can pick up the money. You have plenty of time, but you need to call your mom to have her extend the deadline.
Really? Are you sure?
I had an ex down here I used to send stuff to.
Then my problem is solved! He moved to hug me, and I put my hands in my pockets.
But you have to call your mom. NOW.
OK. Thank you, thank you, you guys are true friends.

He said as he walked out the door…. with my $3 sunglasses. I never noticed they were gone until the next morning. That was the only thing he lifted. He also stole the remote from the common room of the hostel. We swore the next morning that if we saw Walter, I would tackle him, and Anthony would pick his pockets.

Ironically, the day we left, so did the clouds. The sky cleared up, and the mountains sparkled in their majesty. We were surrounded by snow capped peaks, and we had 40 minutes to enjoy it before leaving on the bus to Lima.

The mountain peaks finally show themselves in all their glory... just as we leave.

It seemed the theme of “shit happens” continued, because when I returned to Huancayo to restart my bike trip, my $50 bike pump, which I left with my bike and bags also got lifted. I’d left them with Anthony’s host family, who I trusted, and still trust. I asked the father if it was possible it might be at the volunteer organization’s office, since Anthony and I biked over there. He went to check, and immediately, I received a phone call from the coordinator, Aldo, telling me how offended he was that I would even suspect that he’d take my bike pump. Now, I found this very interesting, since I never mentioned or said anything to Aldo. I considered the guy a shady character, which Anthony did as well, so when he jumped the gun, I began to wonder exactly what happened to my bike pump. Regardless, after searching the house with no success, I bought a cheap Peruvian pump to tide me over, cleaned up, and prepared to leave. As a bicycle traveler, especially in the remote back country, which was where I was headed, a patch kit and a pump can mean the difference between survival and a long, difficult time… or death.

When traveling, typically things get lost or stolen, so my strategy was to keep it cheap, functional, and replaceable. Unfortunately, that didn’t include the heart, and in this case, I was the thief. Along the way, I was involved in a romance with a lovely Peruvian woman in the Amazon jungle, and like a thief in the night, I stole her heart away. Before I departed Lima, she cried in my arms. I’d taken her heart, and she didn’t want it back.

But this is the life of the adventurer, the wandering, romantic hero. Unfortunately, romance happens, but my wanderlust is much stronger. It was time to go. My journey was to get to Cusco, and prepare for an expedition into the unknown with Marco… and thank God the tin can travel was over. I was off into some of the most remote places in the Andes, on a route few have ever traveleled- except for the hardy, the brave, and the reckless. The route is from Huancayo to Ayacucho, through a dirt path in the Andean high country.

The author hard at work hiking up the mountain.


Come sign up for the Dave’s New Adventures Newsletter, where we can update you on the latest in Dave’s adventures in the world, technology, and geopolitics. Put yourself ahead of world events with events and analysis that the mainstream, and even the fringe isn’t even reporting!


Come listen to David talk about his adventures, World Economic Financial Crises, and what it means for you. “Cashflow with James Martinez” about his new book, Jackfruit: A Bicycle Quest Through Latin America, and to learn more about David’s adventures and observations in Latin America.

Here’s a short video clip regarding the hike to Lake 69

And a short clip about the Chavin tunnels

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Responses

  1. Our son just returned from Huarez. Thank you for posting what you saw because we can now picture where he and his friend went. This is an amazing blog!!! Wow!


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