Posted by: davesnewadventure | June 1, 2007

The Expedition to the City of Gold, Choque’Qiro – Part 4: The Dark Shaman

Dave’s New Adventure: Adventures from the South American Continent: 04-2007
The Expedition to the City of Gold, Choque’Qirao
Part 4: The Dark Shaman

Map of the Location of Choque'Qirao.

Dante joined us at the ancient ruin, as we continued clearing the brush. It’s time to go guys. He said. It was 11:30. We had an hour to eat lunch, get back to camp, pack, and load the mules. After a few more photos, we backtracked back to the city, rejoined Manuel, and ate lunch with Jorge at his camp. Lunch consisted of rice, fava beans, potatoes, and nuts in a creamy sauce. Then we returned to camp, packed up, and loaded the mules. Manuel mounted one of them and it grunted with his weight. We formed two teams: Marco and I were the runners, Dante and Manuel were the riders.

OK gentlemen, we will rendezvous in Cachora. I said

At 8, replied Dante, because we’re on the mules.

We will get there by, Marco paused to check his watch, 6:30.

Everyone must have lanterns, warned Jorge, the sun sets early because of the high mountains. It will be dark by 5:30.

We’re ready, said Manuel.

OK, until Cachora! Said Marco and I as we dashed off into the trail. Unburderned, we sprinted down and up the rough trail. The freedom from our packs was addictive, and I succumbed to it as I flew down the trail. All I carried were my two sticks, camcorder, and canteen. Marco also sped down the trail, and I maintained my pace with him.

The team eats lunch in Jorge's camp.

“You’re really fast now.” He said.

“I’m without my pack. When I was cycling, my body trained without weight, so it’s much stronger without it.”

We jogged the next four kilometers back to Marampata. Marco checked his watch as we took a rest break. It took us 25 minutes from base camp to Marampata, when previously it took three and a half hours to go in the opposite direction with packs.

“We’re making good time.” Said Marco.

“We have to sprint to the bridge though,” I replied, “and it’s the ascent that I’m worried about. I don’t want to get caught in the dark.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Said Marco.

Because of the clear sky and baking sun, we consumed and sweated away our water supply. Marco carried a two liter water bag, and I had a one liter canteen. We picked up water at the tienda in Marampata. Then we ran down the mountain to Santa Rosa.

One quarter of the way down the mountain, my knees started to hurt, and unable to pace with Marco, I fell back and used my sticks. As I paced myself, I checked my watch; we wanted to reach the river in one hour, and descend the equivalent of 5 Empire State buildings in the process. Along the way, I heard a noise behind me. At first, I thought it was a mule until a man in a tank top and a winter hat jogged by me, holding a water bottle in one hand.

Manuel! I yelled out, aren’t you supposed to be on the mule?

It hurt my ass, so Dante took my place.

Well, you certainly became fast today!

Manuel smiled, and continued his pace down the hill.

“Crap, this’ll be embarrasing if I fall behind Manuel.” I said to myself. I increased my pace, and ignored the pain in my knees. I knew I’d catch up with Marco on the ascent. We arrived in Santa Rosa in 45 minutes. Marco sat in the shade, waiting for us. At his feet, was our food stash.

A mule rotates a sugar cane press in Santa Rosa.

So how slow was I this time? I asked.

Not bad, 15 minutes late. He replied.

I pointed to the stash, so Michael left everything here.


Then we should recharge, rehydrate, and take some snacks with us.

Yeah, the ascent will consume lots of energy. You don’t want to get exhaustion.

We split a large can of peaches, and consumed chocolates, chocolate covered crackers, cookies, granola, gatorade, and juice. We also drank one and a half liters of water per person. As we ate, a pair of germans who we saw the day before, arrived at the site. They left an hour before us.

“Marco, what time is it?”


“So we have 5 hours to make it to Cachora.”

“Haahahahahaha! You will never make it to Cachora in 5 hours, or even 10.” Said the german in his thick accent. He was a tall, thin, middle aged, pale man.

I looked at him, and said, “what?”

“You won’t make it. Through zat terrain? Without mules? You can’t. Impossible.”

I looked at Marco, and we smiled at each other.
Let’s say we make this german eat his words? I asked.

I say that’s a good idea. Said Marco.


2:20 .

Let’s go.

“Alright, nice meeting you,” I said as I waved my sticks to the german, “and we’ll be in Cachora by 7. I can gaurantee you that.” I grinned at him and his shocked german wife as I sprinted after Marco.

If there’s one thing I enjoy more than anything else, it’s when someone tells me that something is impossible, and then I’ll do it, and make them eat their words. Part of that characteristic came from my parents, who as refugees and minorities, spent much of their lives proving people wrong. The other part came from feeling incensed whenever someone tried to impose their limitations on me.

For much of my life, people, society, friends, or family attempted to stereotype, classify, and project their view on what I could do, who I could have a relationship with, or what I could be. I’d defy that view, break the stereotypes, and create my own identity. It often came with a price: time, money, scholarships, and relationships, I’ve lost all of these to pursue what I felt was me. I understood that nothing came without sacrifice, and I always paid the price; however, this time, it almost cost me my life.

Manuel and I paced ourselves down to the Apurimac, taking care not to wreck our knees. We were saving them for the climb up to El Mirador. Marco’s speed down was amazing. It took him 25 minutes, while we took 40. Marco was 15 minutes ahead of me.

The Apurimac River.

After crossing the river, I took a momentary break to get a rock out of my shoe. Now, Manuel was ahead of me, and I knew the germans weren’t too far behind. So I sprinted across a half kilometer of flat trail before the start of the ascent. When I arrived at the first ascent and looked up, I saw Manuel slowly ascending the 6th switch back. I checked my watch. Marco was at least 20 minutes ahead of me; however, I smiled, because I was in my domain.

Unlike the ascent to Santa Rosa and the high ridge to the city, I had to cover 1500 meters before sundown. That’s climbing the Empire State building 5 times, and there were extra kilometers to cover as well. I planted my sticks, and took a quick drink from my canteen. In my mind, I imagined two ESPN talking heads, John and Jane, discussing an adventure race, and took off.

“Here’s the line up folks, for the race to El Mirador! We’ve go the peruvian, Marco at the lead, and until now, he’s lead the entire race. 24 minutes behind him is Manuel, another peruvian, but he’s struggling up the mountain. But we’ve got Dave, the lone american, in 3rd place, and he’s just starting his ascent. Far behind them, across the river are the germans, and even further back are the french. What do you think, Jane, will Dave catch up to the peruvian trekking machine, Marco, and Manuel?”

“Well John, Dave hasn’t done too well in this race, but now he’s in his element. He’s without a backpack, and his mind is honed for perseverance and quick thinking. He also has a powerful technique for the ascent due to his cycling.”

“I don’t know Jane, he has a lot of ground to cover, but look at him go! He just charged up those 5 switchbacks in under 10 minutes! He almost caught up to Manuel! He’s using both sticks as an extra pair of legs, and now he’s just one switch back behind Manuel!”

“That’s the special technique, John, he takes those two bamboo poles and transforms himself into a four legged animal. If you look at his stride, it’s a strong circular motion, just like his cycling.”

“Oh my! Dave is now within range of Manuel! Manuel is slowing down on his ascent, and Dave just passed Manuel! He’s now in 2nd place, and he’s showing no sign of slowing down!”

“If Dave can maintain this pace for the next hour, he will catch up with Marco.”

I waved at Manuel as I charged passed him, and continued my rapid ascent. I felt great, and everything in my body felt in tune with my new goal ahead of me.

Catch up with Marco.

“It looks like passing Manuel was a psychological boost to Dave! He hasn’t shown any sign of stopping for the last 35 minutes! Isn’t he going to take a break?”

“John, Dave set a new goal to catch up with Marco, and if there’s one thing I’ve observed about Dave in previous challenges, he is relenteless once he sets his mind on a task.”

“Dave just rounded a corner, and wait, what’s this? He stopped?”

I looked up the middle of the switch backs, and saw a rough cut trail through it to the next one. It was a shortcut. What would it cost me in energy, and how much time would I gain if I took it?

“Jane, he’s charging up the shortcut! Isn’t that cheating?”

“No John, that’s quick thinking. Marco did the same thing.”

“Well, Dave just shaved off 2 minutes by that charge.”

“Yes, but what will it cost him in energy?”

I breathed hard as I continued my ascent up the next switch back. I passed 4 more of them before I saw the next short cut. I took it. Later, after several more shortcuts, I could see the long set of switch backs that ascended up to El Mirador.

“My goodness, Dave took every single short cut, and he shaved off 20 minutes! He hasn’t taken a break! How big is his fuel tank?”

I came to the campsite which was our 2nd destination point during the first day. A group of french trekkers were setting up camp. I asked a few of the weary hikers if they saw a tall peruvian go by.

“Ve passed him 10 minutes ago.”

“Merci beaucoup!” I replied as I sprinted out of the camp. 10 minutes! I grinned as I ran up the next switch back.
“Will Dave catch up to the peruvian?”

“John, if Dave’s mental fortitude stays strong, at his pace, he should definitely reach Marco.”

I charged up the switch backs, and every short cut I saw, I took. I checked my watch. It’d been an hour since I last had a break, but I had to catch up. Was I closing in on Marco? I looked up, to see a brown spot move at a regular pace, 15 switch backs above me.

“Marco!” I yelled and waved my sticks.

“Hey!” I heard a faint echo come back. The spot stopped.

“I’m gonna catch up to you!”

The spot started moving again. I grinned, took a sip of my canteen, and ate some chocolates. He was in my sights, and not too far away. Then I continued my charge up the trail. An hour later, I was on the ridge back to El Mirador. There was just one more set of switch backs up to El Mirador.

The trail winds around the mountain.

I paced myself across the ridge, and rested in a shelter. I ate my last pack of chocolate covered crackers, and finished the one quarter liter of water I had left. I looked across the gorge; the sun was 30 minutes above the mountains, and it was 5PM. I looked to the south, and saw the last set of switch backs. Above me, the sky was clear, but across the gorge, clouds covered Salcantay. They also closed in on the sun, and the evening wind started to pick up. I got up and continued my ascent.

“Jane, Dave is still just 10 minutes behind Marco. It looks like Marco needed a break too.”

“John, it’s a tough, and difficult trail. Remember, they’re covering 30 kilometers in just 7 hours, through incredibly difficult terrain, a long descent, and a long ascent. Both of them should be close to bottom in their energy tanks.”

“But look at the sky! Will Dave make it? He’s running out of time, he’s got 30 minutes to get to El Mirador before darkness, he’s out of food, out of water, and the mountain conditions can change in just minutes.”

“I don’t know, John, but he’s already making his charge up the last set of ascents.”

Clouds in the distance cover the sunset.

Salcantay rises above it all.

The sky’s darkened as the sun set, and an uneasy feeling dropped into my gut. I shrugged it off as I paced myself up the switchbacks.

“My God! How many of these things are left!” I yelled out after I saw more switch backs, when I thought there were less. A clap of thunder answered me, not far away from El Mirador. A storm was building at the point! I stopped imagining the ESPN announcers and focused on the set. I had to make it to El Mirador before the storm hit – I was completely unprepared for the rain, because I left my backpack, with my rain jacket, on the mules!

The thunder continued all the way to the top, and what was once clear sky, was now a rumbling, turbulence of dark clouds filled with flashes of lightning. I kept moving, and soon, the ridge was in view. “Just a little closer”, I thought, as I pushed harder. The higher I went, the harder I pushed, until finally, I saw the mountains in the horizon over the ridge.

At the top, the thunderclouds couldn’t push up over the ridge, and they remained below my feet. The sky, once again was clear. My body shivered in the cold air; all I had on were my blue thermals. Fatigued, and dehydrated, I also felt slightly light headed. I was back at 3055 meters above sea level. I looked into the distance and searched for Marco.500 meters down a rocky ledge, I saw a flash of blue white light. They were the LEDS of Marco’s headlamp.



“Hold up!”

“I am!”

I turned on my camcorder light, and jogged down the rocky ledge, mindful of the deep drop to the bottom.

“How long did you wait?”

“5 minutes, I think, but I had to keep moving. I waited for you, but when I don’t move, I freeze, so I kept walking.”
Marco just had his vest on.

“How far are we from Cachora?”

“Eh, not far. We just have to cover 15 kilometers.”

“Just 15. Let’s move.”

“God, I’m so hungry.” Marco complained.

“You finished your food?”

“Yeah, and my water too. My mouth is so dry. I’m really dehydrated.”

We walked down the trail. The ascent was over, and I walked normally. The skies were clear, and a bright moon shined on us. After an hour, I finally asked him about the Shaman.

“So, what exactly did the shaman warn you about?”

“He said I will die in this area.”

“Do you believe him?”

“It’s hard to know exactly, but you and I know not to ignore these things. Especially you.”

“Yeah.” I remembered our experience in Cuzco, 6 years ago.

“I don’t know why, but ever since you fixed things with the Pachamama, our energy compliments each other.” Said Marco.

“How so?”

“The shamans tell me one thing, but something about your energy stops it.”

“Oh, I forgot, I’m some kind of wild card.”

“Yeah. So please don’t die.” Joked Marco.

I laughed. “Dude, I was sent here to do a job, and I won’t die until I’m done with my job. When I’m done, then I can go back.”

“So don’t finish your job too soon.” Laughed Marco.

We walked for another 30 minutes, when something about our expedition 6 years ago bugged me.

“Marco, do you remember how we were followed, 6 years ago during the mountain climb?”

“Yes! I never found out who it was, but the shaman said it was a dark force.”

Six years ago, we were buzzed by small turboprop planes during our ascent, in a zone and air space where air traffic was forbidden to enter. In addition, my mail was opened, and the photos from our expedition were stolen.

“Dark forces, huh? Have they continued, or have they stopped?” I asked.

“The shaman said that they will try to kill me in this area.”

“Great.” I sarcastically said, “say, how far are we, anyway?”

“Eh, not far.”

“You said that an hour ago.”

“Eh, yeah, you’re right. But we should be closer now.”

As we rounded the curve of the mountain, we were suddenly hit with a powerful gust of wind and drizzle. Ahead of us lay the sprinkle of lights in the dark horizon, Cachora. To the south was something I’d never seen before. It was a dark mass of angry clouds, piled on top of each other, but they had a dark, green hue.

Marco pointed to the mass, “that is a charlie bravo, one of the worst storms you can see! But it’s to the side, and the wind is pushing it away. Hopefully it will stay away.”

“We better move double time.”I replied, as we picked up the pace. Lightning, thunder, and powerful wind hit us, as we jogged towards the lights. Suddenly, we were pelted with rain and wind.
“What? How?!” said Marco as he stared at the storm.

“What?!” I yelled above the wailing wind.

“How… how can it move against the wind?!” yelled Marco.

“What?!” I yelled as I looked at the storm.

“It’s coming for us, but it’s moving against the wind!” yelled Marco in shock.

I didn’t question Marco. As an airport tower controller, Marco’s profession was to know how the weather worked, and what it did. This was an anomaly.

A bolt of lightning flashed above us, and immediately a clap of thunder hammered our ears. The rain came down in sheets as I followed Marco in our march through the rain. I looked at the storm; it was coming for us, and unbelievably it pushed against the wind towards us.

I immediately raised my sticks in both hands, and pointed them into the sky. Marco saw my action, and said, “Do it!”. He knew what I was about to do. I focused my mind, focused the sticks in the direction of the storm, and recited a mantra in my mind’s eye. The rain started to falter, as we marched through the trail. I didn’t stop my focus, and Marco illuminated the trail for me. We kept moving; as I walked, I was half in trance, and half awake. The rain thinned to a drizzle, and I held on to my focus for 30 minutes. But my energy level was already too low, and finally, I lowered the sticks.

“Sorry man,” I breathed hard, “that’s all I can do.”

“That’s OK. I could be much worse.”

Suddenly a bolt of lightning lit up the sky, and the rain resumed its torrent. “We’re almost there! I found the short cut!” said Marco, after we marched through the pouring rain, frantically searching for the path that would cut off several kilometers from our hike. In exhaustion, I looked behind us to see if maybe Manuel and Dante were off in the distance. As I looked, a flash caught my attention to the west. I looked west, and in the distance, in the mountain next to us, I saw a strange light. It followed us.

“Marco, look!” I said, as I pointed my stick to it.

“What the hell.”

The light jumped forward with unusual speed, and then jumped back, as in a 3 steps forward, 2 steps back… but at this distance and at that height in the mountains, that would’ve been 30 meters forward, 20 meters back, in a jerky fashion. It couldn’t have been a car, truck, motorcycle, bike, mule, dog, or person. It wasn’t Manuel, Dante, and Jorge with the mule train, because there was only one light. It was something else. Unsettled by the light, Marco said, “we’ve got to get to Cachora before that light gets to us!”

The mud was deep, and we slogged our way through, constantly looking over our shoulder at the strange light. It went through the rain, and the jerky movements disturbed my senses. The storm was still moving towards us, against the wind, but in front of us was the gate to the main road. We entered the muddy road, and in a distance – we heard chanting.

The Artist's Illustration of the Encounter with the Dark Shaman.

“Dave, give me your knife.” Said Marco. I unsheathed it, and handed it to him.

“You can fight with sticks?” Said Marco.

I clapped my sticks together. “Yeah.”

“Good, because that strange singing – it could be a drunk. I’ve been attacked before by them, so be ready.”

As we slogged through the mud, rain, wind, lightning, and thunder, the chanting got louder. I listened to it. It was both furious and beautiful. The chant had structure, and it was unslurred. The singer wasn’t drunk; he was something else. Something about the energy of the voice and the fury of the lyrics disturbed me. I looked towards the storm.

“It’s a shaman!” yelled out Marco in surprise and realization.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s bringing back the storm!”


“Hurry, we have to get out of here!”

The chanting fell behind us as we jogged up the road. I looked over my shoulder, and saw the storm bearing down on us.

“How could he…” I stammered.

“Hurry! He is evil!”

We ran through the mud. 15 minutes later, we arrived in Cachora, but half the town was pitch black. The storm knocked out half of the town’s electric grid.

We walked into the only tienda in town with a light. I shivered like mad, as Marco ordered food and asked for towels. The didn’t bring any. I told them that I was close to hypothermic. They still didn’t bring any towels or blankets. Finally, in frustration at their stupidity, we went outside to find a working hostal. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, and my head lay in a gutter of flowing, cold water. I shivered and mumbled uncontrollably, and my eyes closed. Then my body felt warm and light. I heard someone gasp, and Marco talking in an angry voice. Then four arms picked me up, and dragged my body for a distance. I heard people talking excitedly, and then a towel was wrapped around me. I felt two hands help me walk into a place flooded with light. I heard another voice speak excitedly, and then a door closed. Then, as I regained some consciousness, I saw a bed and Marco putting towels on it. Another man, the hostal owner came in.

He’s conscious! Quick, you’re condition is bad, take your clothes off and get in the bed! He said.

“David, take your clothes off, you have hypothermia.” Said Marco.

I mumbled as I removed my soaked, freezing clothes, and got in the bed. Towels were placed on top of me. Then layer after layer of blankets were piled on, and my head and face were covered in blankets.

“Do you think he was trying to kill us?” I mumbled as Marco tucked in the blankets.

“Yes, he was a dark force. His words, his energy, the way the song felt, he wanted blood.”

“When you get back to Lima, you’ve got to find out who’s pursuing us, and why.”

“I will. Can you feel anything?” Marco asked as he touched my pallid skin.


“Shit, you’re in really bad shape. I will get some tea.”

It was my first encounter with a dark shaman, and it didn’t go well. I shivered in the bed, and the combination of exhaustion with hypothermia took an enormous toll on my body. Luckily, when the hostal owner saw Marco drag my barely functional body through the rain, and he quickly recognized my condition. He had water boiled, blankets and towels brought to my room, and a heater placed at my feet. As I slowly regained consciousness, I realized that if I hadn’t caught up to Marco, and if he didn’t wait for me, I would’ve been caught in the storm alone, and I probably would’ve died.

Marco came back with the tea. As I drank it, I felt the heat bring back my body.

“Did Dante and Manuel get through?”

“No, not yet.”

We heard a knock, and then the hostal owner came in.

Your friend, he’s got hypothermia!

Marco ran out the door. I heard a commotion, and Dante’s voice. Manuel also succumbed to hypothermia. The hostal owner closed the door, and then I heard the sound of a body being dragged next door. Marco came in again.

“How do you feel?”

“Better. Manuel?”

“He’s OK.”

Relieved that the entire team made it through, I slowly drifted to sleep. Before I slept, I thanked everyone for their help: Marco, the hostal owner, the exploration team, and then I thanked my parents, my brothers, my friends, and everyone I knew. I was grateful to be alive. I paid the price and I survived.

Nailed with hypothermia.

I woke up the next morning. My body was warm, and I had a bump on my head. I put on my clothes and walked outside. The sky was clear in the morning light. It was peaceful, and quiet. I heard familiar voices next door, and knocked.

“Come in.”

Marco, Manuel, and Dante lay on their beds, with their packs strewn all over the floor. An electric heater worked at full blast drying their shoes.

“He’s alive!” smiled Manuel, “I had hypothermia too.”

“When did you get here?” I asked.

“About an hour and a half after you two.” Said Dante.

“So how do you feel?” asked Manuel.

I smiled.

“I’ll tell you that at breakfast. But whenever you guys decide to do another expedition, let me know. I’m in. I’m just gonna make sure that I’ve got my poncho with me all the time.”

“A true trooper! We all made it.” Said Dante.

“Yes! And let’s go eat. I’m hungry.” Said Marco.

We walked down the courtyard to a breakfast of pancakes, toast, bread and butter, eggs, juice, and milk. It was the finest and most delicious breakfast I ever had.

The author and the team.

The author and the team

And here’s the video episode, the last one in the Choq’e Kiraw expedition series.



  1. great story and a great blog! i just discovered this by checking out your profile.

    looking forward to reading more!


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