Adventures in Peru

November, 2010

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason Hummel


This year I met Juya. We hit it off. Schedules aligned and her plans to quit work and go back to school left room to play. As such, I decided that I would spend a month and a half hiking through Peru with my newfound catch. Nothing was set in stone. In general we wanted to have an adventure...and in that respect, we most certainly did.

Touchdown in Lima, Peru

- November 4th -

For the entire trip, we each limited ourselves to one backpack each that we could carry anywhere with us. They were stuffed beyond capacity and bursting at the seams.

Getting from Sea-Tac in Washington to Lima, Peru took two flights and with a layover in Atlanta, more than 22 hrs of travel time.

The moment we landed in Peru, I was like a cat in a lake, clawing for the shore. The word for 'hello' in Spanish escaped me. Where to go and what to do next, I hadn't a clue. Fortunately Juya is smart. Not only that, she knew enough of the local language to get by. So while I was stuck on remembering how to say hello, she was looking for the best deal on currency and for the taxi she scheduled to pick us up. I knew at that moment that I was in good hands.

It was a relief to have left the airport for the night air. In the darkness, there was no comprehending this city of 9 million people. It helped once we were in a taxi, even though our views were (quite literally) from the seat of our pants. City streets flashed by as we tore down narrow roads and alleys. Blaring the entire time was a mix of Spanish and English titles on the radio. We couldn't possibly take it all in. A full day and night had passed for us. We were exhausted!

Miraflores District – 1st night

The crazy taxi ride ended in the Miraflores District. Hanging above huge wooden doors, a sign read, "Flying Dog Hostel", an oddly appropriate name considering how we had gotten there. We paid 66 soles (about $24) for a small room overlooking the street.

The next morning one hundred soles (about $36) bought us both bus seats for a ride to Huaraz. Once aboard, the comfortable chairs were in contrast to my preconceived notions (although chicken buses would be enjoyed at a later point). I realized that they were more comfortable than my couch back home!

As the bus moved further from the center of Lima, we saw more and more squalor lining the road. With an average wage of 18.33 soles a day or 6.49 dollars, 35% of the city's population lives in "barriadas" or shantytowns. Poverty and disparity are stark in Peru.

Pretty soon the city passed from view and the monotony of the desert along the Pan-American Highway multiplied my boredom. That changed as soon as we turned from the coast into the Andes Mountains. As the second highest mountain range in the world and the longest anywhere on the planet, how could I not be excited. Someone pinch me! Unfortunately darkness soon hid the mountains from view. As such, we fell asleep only to wake, hours later, at a bus station in Huaraz (“war-ez”).

The 'War' in Huaraz

Once off the bus, gathering our packs, we flagged down a taxi that immediately launched us through Huaraz (just as it had in Lima), pitching and swaying as the driver stormed through city streets, of which few were named. Argument erupted when he tried to drop us off at the wrong place. Eventually, we found the correct stop where we pulled in below a sign. This time it read "Joe's Place." Even as we shouldered our packs, the taxi was speeding away in search of his next victim. By then we were already pushing the buzzer. It rang a woman who came out and let us into an enclosed area where we quickly agreed on 30 soles a night for a room. Payment wasn't expected until we left.

That night from a high balcony, reached by climbing shaky metal stairs, I looked out over the dark city before going to bed. It was unlike any city I'd ever seen, but I was too exhausted to think anymore.

Sleep came quickly.

- November 6th -

"Boom!" One explosion was followed by another. "BOOM!" This second explosion woke us from our slumber in a flash. Whether it was cars crashing, pipes bursting, mining or construction - we couldn't say. Perhaps it's normal. Either way sleep vanished and exploration was on our minds. We gathered small backpacks and left the hostel to explore our surroundings.

First sightings were of a line of old women pitching their knitted goods, of men selling fruit and of unfamiliar food cooking at dozens of stands. Smells and sounds swirled around me. None were recognizable.

After a few days in the city, I learned a TON. I came up with the top 10 survival tips for Huaraz.


10. Crosswalk signs, those that exist, show a man running. I would run!

9. Fine tune your bartering skills, because everything is negotiable.

8. Stop signs are suggestions, not laws - look both ways.

7. Don't expect businesses to be open when they say. Hours of operation are suggestions as well.

6. Cold milk, forget about it. Think evaporated condensed milk. It goes great with coffee.

5. "No se`" or "I don't know" is not in the Peruvian language. Ask three people for directions and average said directions.

4. 70% of the vehicles on the road are taxis AND Toyota Corollas - three soles to go anywhere in town, not ten!

3. If the power goes out in the entire city, you are OKAY, this is normal. Carry a flashlight.

2. Toilet paper goes in the trash can, not in the toilet. Carry toilet paper!

1. Peruvians are the nicest people I've ever met. You are in good hands!

Now that you are armed with these survival tips, you can then negotiate this 10,013 foot mountain town of 100,000 people like a pro.

Parque Nacional Huascaran - Laguna Churup

- November 7th -

We met Martjin and Flo from Holland. They were ten feet tall (actually just about 6' 8'') and we joined them for an acclimatization hike into Parque Nacional Huascaran. There is a lake called Laguna Churup that they were excited to visit. With no plans of our own, we decided to join them the next day.

Did I mention 'early' the next day? Well, with my eyes half closed we left Joe's Place (the hostel) to look for a collectivo. Basically a collectivo is a van that takes you and fifty of your closest friends to a predetermined destination. We found ours, actually the Dutch guys did, after following rule #5 above - Ask three people for directions and average said directions.

The ride in the Collectivo took us high into the mountains, past scrubby forest and rivers. Eventually we were the last people in the van. The driver pulls into a steep driveway and tells us that we're there. It turns out 'there' was his house and that we would need to be back before he left later that afternoon.

The hike was easy, although somewhat confusing since you begin on narrow roads and various paths head in all directions. Locals with donkeys point us in the right direction. Eventually we arrive at the border of the National Park where we are greeted by a Peruvian. Next to him I can see a motor cycle and a road! A road? What the heck. At least our two hours of hiking stretched our legs! We give him ten soles each for entry. The lake is a steep hike from there to its 14600-foot shore beneath 18028-foot Nevado Churup. Awesome!

On the flat rocks above the laguna, we were greeted with the familiar opal waters of any glacier-fed lake. It was spectacular! In the sun we lounged about and enjoyed our hard- earned views. Things were looking good. The weather was great and the lake was gorgeous.

"The Great errrrrr Race"

When we returned from our hike, we made plans to go on a longer excursion. Until then, the weather had been a mix of blue skies and clouds. Very optimistically we assured ourselves that the rainy season hadn't arrived yet. Maybe El Nino or some other environmental forces we were at work? Whatever the case, fair weather convinced us to "go for it"!

That was until all the stores in town closed, the power went out and getting food morphed into a scene from the classic 1965 movie "The Great Race". Eventually we found a store with two isles; it was open! OMG, what are we going to eat? There were about two hudred people in what amounted to a gas station convenience store. How would we get food for 9-14 days here? In that respect Top Ramen never fails no matter which meal. "I'll take 20 of those!" Oatmeal, candy, mac and cheese etc., made up the remainder. The views had better be good, because the food sure wasn't going to be. But the hot cocoa...that was awesome. The best! We bought 12 packs. You should too!

Eventually, too early to function, we left our comfortable beds at 4 a.m. to catch the 4:30 bus to Chiquian. After waving down a taxi, we paid him 3 soles to take us to the bus station where we sat on the curb. We were the only westerners waiting so early. Once on the bus, we enjoyed the long ride into Chiquian. I slept half the way, providing choice images for Juya to take of me slobbering on the window. She couldn't even rise me long enough to see the amazing morning light washing valleys and mountains that were framed in every window of the bus.

When we finally stopped, we were told to get out and find another bus that would take us from Chiquian to Llamac. After finding where it would leave, we rested against our huge packs on another curb. While we waited we watched kids, donkeys and push carts go by and yet, out of it all, it was the garbage men who stole the show. Atop a beat-up dump truck two men grabbed bags from two men on the ground. There was a bell that was hammered as this truck comes thundering by. Upon hearing it, people would run out and hand the men their trash. It was cool to watch, honest. I can't really explain it. Perhaps it's just the parade of people who appeared - little kids, old men and woman - and then as fast as they came, vanished. It was all so fascinating. In fact, altogether, the entire city was reminiscent of another age, everything from the dirt streets to the small wooden doors peeking into mud-brick homes. Every time I felt comfortable, I would suddenly realize how much honest to goodness work it is to travel.

Leaving Chiquian behind, in a van rumbling along even more precipitous roads than before, swelled our concern for life and limb, but after the hundredth turn, we ceased worrying. Our fate was in the hands of the driver and from the dexterity I'd seen from even the eldest driver, my greatest concern shouldn't be them driving, but myself if fate ever put me behind the wheel in such conditions that they negotiate with ease.

The Huayhuash (why-wash) Circuit - Nov 8-15th
(130+km's and 5000+ meters of gain)

Llamac to Quartelhuain - Day 1

"The why-wash cycle?"

When I woke up from my 3rd slumber of the day, we were asked to leave the van. We were in Llamac we were told that this was, "...the end of the line." When we asked the locals when the next transport would arrive, we were told “soon.” This wasn't the case at all. After an hour, we finally submitted ourselves to the reality that we'd have to hike the next 15km's of road. We were already tired, but staying in Llamac didn't appeal to either of us. Did I mention it was hot! And unless I forget (file under, "what the heck"), the van (yes, the very same van) passed us by going the other direction an hour later. I swear I could see the driver smile, even think I could hear his thoughts ring out, "Dumb Americans!" Well, he's not far off. We felt like idiots. At least we had time to think about it, while we stretched our legs. After all that's what we were out here to do.

Somewhere along the road, an old herder passed us by, all smiles. He said he was 92 and looked to be every year of that and more, except for the fact he was tromping around hills higher than the highest mountains back home. In fact, there were many farms and farmers, a few small towns and even a guard station. I didn't know how weird it was for us to be walking up a road. Seeing that guard station and a man with a machine gun left me more worried about what he thought than what I thought. Turns out, the guys at the guard station were a few of the nicest people we met! When we asked for water, he waved at us to follow him. Turns out that in the middle of nowhere, behind the station, there was a small store for the miners. No water, though. When all else fails, there is always Coca Cola. In the heat and beating sun, thirsty and tired, Juya and I sat next to that rickety store and drank Coca Cola while talking to a man with a machine gun. Now those are moments to remember, not soon forgotten.

It was nearly dark. On the map there was a camp marked at Quartelhuain. I had no idea how much farther it was to get there. I was guessing a ways. We had ran out of water long beforehand. The water, which is run off from the mining operation up the valley we were told not to drink. The first car all day (besides the bus) could be heard storming up the road. I tried to wave it down, but he kept on going. Juya was ahead. She waved him down and he stopped. I ran for all I was worth and we both jumped in blurting out, "Thank you! Thank you!" Turns out we were less than a mile from camp.

Quartelhuain to Mitucocha - Day 2

"The rinse cycle"

Morning came. After packing we climbed up the valley, opposite the road, to a pass. Near the top, two herders were leading their sheep across. One was on a horse and another was walking. A boom box measuring a good 20 inches by 8 inches was hanging from the neck of the guy walking. I thought this was odd, but over the course of the trip, I saw it more than once. As such, I wrote it off as 'awesome'.

From the pass we watched birds soar over a massive valley that stretched on forever. It was beautiful out, but we couldn't see much of the mountains behind the high hills, although, big puffy clouds dominated the sky and blocked what views we may have had.

At Mitucocha [cocha means lake], next to the Rio Janca, we made camp. At one point we heard a booming sound, thunder or perhaps an avalanche high up on the peaks. Then the rain began to fall. It didn't stop. We then hear someone outside our tent, so we open the door. All he says is "protection." This means payment - this time 30 soles. At first we thought he had a gun, but it was a "deadly" umbrella. After he had our money he was off. We laughed who he had to protect us from and how much a skinny kid would be able to protect us. Either way, 30 soles was cheap payment for leaving us alone. We weren't bothered again.

Mitucocha to Carhuacocha - Day 3

"The spin cycle"

Six thousand six hundred and seventeen meter Nevado Yerupaja is the tallest mountain I've ever seen. For those non-metric folks that means 21,704 feet high! It's the second tallest mountain in Peru. On our third day peaks surrounding this one were looking down on us throughout 12 kms of hiking. The rain and hail had finally let up above Carhuacocha past midday and on a ridge 500-ft above its blue waters we looked out on the most amazing view. Rule #1 of backpack trips for me: Distance is not always the goal. If we see a nice place to camp, then camp we shall...whether it's midday or mid afternoon.

As soon as camp was set up, the sun poked from between clouds and blue skies began to expand. Then the mountains came out in all their glory with massive waterfalls springing out from big blue glaciers. Overlooking it all, we felt really happy. This is what we had come for. We stopped. We enjoyed. It was a good thing, too because just hours later it would begin to rain. Besides short breaks there would be no end to it for days.

Carhuacocha to Huayhuash (the town) - Day 4

"The wash cycle"

The Huayhuash is circumnavigated by two routes, the Alpine and Valley Circuits. In places you can jump from one to the other. On our 4th day we were very interested in seeing Gangrajanca, Siula and Quesillococha, three lakes along the alpine circuit. What concerned us was the weather. Not only was it cold, but we would be climbing to over 15,000 feet in unfamiliar mountains. Not only that, we weren't sure there'd even be a trail. Nevertheless, we descended to the valley and went for it.

The day before huge avalanches had crashed down cliff faces into the lakes. Massive moraines surrounded the lowest lake, Gangrajanca. I wanted to explore it more, but powerful rain squalls pushed in. Worse yet, the rain changed to hail, then finally snow. We were pressing hard to climb over 15,842-foot Siula Punta Pass. The views we had worked so hard to see were nonexistent. Shivering and wet, we pressed on through a snow storm into miles and miles of marshes. There was little talk. While I'm pretty used to misery, I have to admit that several days at near-freezing temperatures when wet is never fun, especially when we can barely see where we are going, the trail is fading in and out of existence and the weather is only getting worse.

When we reached camp, the snow changed to hail, then rain, then snow again. By then our tent was up and we were inside. It was so wet that all 4 lighters failed. There were no matches, an item I always had. Instead of eating we listened to the snow hitting the outside of the tent. I attempted to laugh off the fact that 'fun' was a passenger we'd hardly seen since getting off the plane. I guess that's adventure for you. Months later, as I write this story, I do look back at this trip fondly.

So while it appeared we were going to starve, at least we weren't going to go thirsty! Step 1: Grab tent door. Step 2: turn head upside down and drink up!

Huayhuash to Puscanturpa Valley - Day 5

"The Clothes line"

In Huayhuash there was no one visible, except two locals who appeared to have slept in a hole for the night. The snow was thankfully melting quickly. Our cloths were out drying on any and every rock we could find. After an hour thicker clouds could be seen pushing in and so we rushed to pack everything before it was soaked again. Our numerous items had been half packed up before. This time it wasn't a case of mistaken identity. Dark clouds were gathering and rain was coming!

We passed the two locals who slept in a hole. They didn't say much to us, but we didn't stick around to give them a chance.

A high pass, another amazing lake and into Puscanturpa Valley, where we planned to camp. Nearby was the reason we stopped as early as we did. There was a hot spring called Atuscancha. An hour later we were bathing in the near scalding waters and loving every minute of it. All worries melted away and we forgot about everything, even the sheets of rain and hail that pelted us as we left.

On the way back, near our tent, some guy stood up on a hill and yelled as loud as he could for half an hour. We saw him walking around his horse. I thought he would come down, but he never did. There was no evidence of injury and I figured he was either yelling at nearby farmers that lived on the hill above us or for payment for camping in the valley. It was cold and wet and the hike to him would take 20 minutes. If it was payment, he could ride to us in a few minutes. We were too tired to go to him; he never came.

Puscanturpa Valley to Huayllapa - Day 6

"It's Soccer time!"

Morning rose and with it our desires to leave. We still had a week of food left, but planned side trips and layover days never happened. Because of continued bad weather, we both thought, "This sucks, lets go!" It was time to put the miles under our feet and cut our losses. Our first challenge was a 16,000+ foot pass. We hardly stopped before descending down rain swollen stream beds.

Broad fields, bogs and waterfalls changed our minds about hurrying. All around us light glowed on the golden landscape when the sun magically appeared. Not only were hundreds of cows and sheep everywhere, but so too were the millions of rocks painstakingly stacked in fences old and new. I couldn't imagine the hard work it would take to make them, but between those and the mud huts with grass roofs, the stark differences between here and home were so alien as to be amazing.

A massive valley stretched below us. It was unexpected from my quick views of the map hours earlier. Meters take a bit to get used to. "Damn!" We were shocked. The view down to where the Rio Calinca and Huanacpatay converge was out of this world. My fingers always twitch when I see a river so amazing. At that moment they were twitching. It wouldn't stop all day.

We ran the next few miles until we were under a grand waterfall. "Damn," we exclaimed once again.

The hike to Huayllapa through town felt odd. We hadn't seen a westerner in a week. There are no roads to this town. To the locals, we were a sight. As we walked into town, we had no idea where to camp. We were told by some that the soccer field was the place to go. Two giggling girls pointed us into a metal door, which was locked. It had a smaller door, so we climbed through and set up our tent.

We get a knock on our tent just as we prepared to lay down after a long day. The locals tell us apologetically in Spanish that we must move our camp to another place. It is an hour and a half before dark. We climb out of the tent and notice that two dozen townsmen are lined along the wall waiting to play soccer. "OMG,"... I think. As soon as we start packing, they now insist we not move. We stand against the wall and watch a few of the kids play soccer. Juya joins, since she played when she was in high school. It must be noted that there were no women playing or even watching. Next thing we know, we are pointed to a side and the entire group splits up. There we are playing soccer (with our tent to one side)! We quickly realized these guys are not slouches when it comes to the game. They are good - very good.

In fact, with burning lungs a few minutes into the game, I run full bore after the ball with my legs barely keeping up. I smash the ball toward the goal. Some kid snags it with an upside down kick. The game continues with both sides fighting for all they are worth. Mid-game they switched sides, but I didn't know. It was another several minutes before Juya clued me in. "Dumb American," I thought to myself.

It was the top moment of our entire Peru trip. Even though we were exhausted and by the end destroyed...we were happy and breathless. Soccer at 14,000 feet - CHECK.

For the first and only time the stars came out.

Huayllapa to the Rio Achin - Day 7

"Food for the dogs"

The climb up from the town of Huayllapa was arduous. It followed a distinct path that wound up the valley thousands of feet. Near the top we meet “America,” an older woman with three kids and a baby lamb tied to her back. These people were wonderful and among the very few that allowed me to take their images. Their garb is so unique and colorful! I let the little kids snap photos with my camera and we had a blast. These kids were so happy, their smiles as wide as these valleys.

Close to the pass, as we rounded boulders and hummocks, I see a dog out of the corner of my eye, then seven more in a full charge barrelling toward us, teeth bared and ready to tear us to pieces. They don't slow down. We used our ski poles to keep them at bay. One dog was already missing an eye...and we had no desire to hurt these dogs. Then next to my feet I see a toddler wrapped up in blankets. There was no one in sight! I knew then that the dogs were protecting the baby, but that knowledge didn't slow their attack down. When we turned to run, they would get dangerously close, fly by and circle us. I've never seen so many bared teeth. It's a miracle those teeth didn't sink into our hands or legs. As we got further away, they retreated, giving only a few more half-hearted charges.

We saw our first two westerners. After a short conversation, we warned them of the dogs and the baby.

Next to the Rio Achin in a pouring rain, we set up camp under a tree. Many have spines that must be watched out for. They are the length of a finger and as sharp and pointy as a needle. We spent another night in some of the hardest rain of the trip.

Rio Achin to Llamac - Day 8

"Back to the beginning"

A final pass and river crossing stood in our way. No bridge was marked on the map and we worried there wouldn't be a way across. Our worst fears were met when we came to a point where the trail could be seen across the river. There was no bridge in sight. After hiking up and down the river, we finally spotted several logs strung up on a branch and laid across the river. Perfect!

The bus in the town of Llamac leaves at 1 p.m. and we wanted to be there on time. The final pass was the smallest of the trip but we were moving slower over this last hurdle. We were in a rush to get to town before the bus left, so after topping out on the pass, we began running the remaining kilometers all the way to town. It was awesome. We had renewed energy, the sun was shinning and the end was in sight.

When I saw buildings far below us, the very ones we had left eight days previous, I couldn't help but look at Juya and yell, "There it is!"

When we arrived, we bought tickets from a woman who also ran a small shop where we stored our things before wandering around town. Since the only food we had brought was mostly top ramen and soup, we immediately purchased fruit and candy, along with some pop. A woman was butchering meat across the way, people were outside talking and visiting and all the interactions showed the tightness of the community. Cars and highways back home seem to have separated people from each other rather than bringing them closer.

It was a sad moment when we got on the bus, at least for me. While the trip didn't live up to expectation, we learned a lot about Peru and its people who live without roads or many of the conveniences we find so important.

MANCORA: Peru's North Coast

- November 16th >>> 23rd -

We were back in Huaraz and once again at 'Joe's Place.' This city runs so differently from what I'm used too. I don't know what to think of it. On a base level I'm disgusted. After exploring the markets and streets, I found a vibrant city that was more alive and 'real' than any other I've known.

But we had to leave. Cusco and the Inca ruins appealed a lot to us, but not the thought of all the other tourists or the certainty of more rain. Leery of both, we decided to go to the North Coast and the small surf town, Mancora.

Two long bus rides later, nearly two full days of travel, and we are stepping off into 80-90 degree weather. After finding a room with a tile floor and its own bathroom, we unloaded our packs and ran onto the sand and up the beach. This was glorious. We watched surfers and kids playing, vendors selling sugar covered pastries filled with caramel. It wasn't long before we were getting swallowed by surf and eating. This was exactly what we needed!

The next day both Juya and I tried surfing. Hiring instructors, we went into the surf. The instructors have snorkel gear on and direct you out to the wave. As you paddle, they hold on the back of the board and tell you when to stand while they stabilize it. They then let go. After a run or two I was standing on the board and riding it in to the shore. What a great time! Another few days and we were getting island fever. There wasn't anywhere else to go outside the town and we'd seen the town. It was time to leave. The question was where. Since snow was falling back home, we decided to change our flights and head out early.


The 40 hours of travel to get home gave me a lot of time to mull over my first international adventure. There were lessons learned. I didn't understand what it took to travel. I have a better understanding of that now.

Over time I have remembered this adventure more fondly. I smile when thinking of the chicken buses, the vibrant colors of the people, the food, the scary taxi rides, the high mountains, the dogs, the soccer match, and even the rain and snow. It was really an amazing place, even when it was far from amazing. The best adventurer is that which can make any adventure enjoyable. Gracias, Peru, you taught me a lot. Adios!


If you enjoyed this story, tell us about it. Go to the Guestbook and leave a note or write an e-mail and let us know personally. We always appreciate hearing from our viewers because alot of heart and soul goes into the making of this website. You can support that! Purchase or license any photograph you see. Go to the photography page for details.


Jason Hummel