Monday, February 23, 2009

Case of the Ruins

I first titled this post as "Why I will never return to Peru" but I think the title I chose is better suited. As many of you know, I took a trip to Peru with my long time buddies Marshal and David. Marshal had gone on a 6 month hiatus to South America and we decided to join him in Peru. Let me start the story off properly:

Special undies
While preparing for this trip, I decided to go to REI and buy some camping equipment (the last time I went camping it was in a 6 bedroom cabin with a pool table and hot tub). I bought myself a fleece, backpack, and came upon a special item. A $25 pair of special underwear that you can wear for 4-5 days stating that they are durable and don't absorb odor/moisture. Some of you may know where this is going. Happiness Level: A+

Cocoa Tea
We arrive in Peru. After seeing Maroon 5 in a layover in Panama, I knew (thought) this was going to be a special trip. Upon arrival I already notice the slight elevation sickness that everyone talks about, and continue to drink the forbidden Cocoa Tea (made from pre-Cocaine leaves), which is supposed to dull the pain. Instead of the euphoric, drug-leaf-ridden tizzy I was hoping it would put me in, it made my stomach do jumping jacks while my upper intestine fell asleep with the door shut. Happiness Level: A-

Soup and nasty meat
As our travels in Peru continued, we ate at various local Peruvian diners. Trying dishes that I'm familiar with from my favorite Peruvian diner in LA, expecting a "homemade" experience. After eating 5 local meals I came to the conclusion that it doesn't matter what you order in Peru. You're guaranteed two things: Soup and nasty meat. Let's see, I'll order the Lomo Saltado, steak with french fries. Yum-o right?! Yum-oh-@#$*-no was more like it. A big bowl of bacteria friendly luke warm chicken soup, with various hard bits at the bottom to break your molars. Then a freeze-dried piece of steak, which was somewhere in between the process of making steak into jerky. That way you can't enjoy it at either end. Not to mention the side of carrots and peas that made me want to run to the nearest Kaiser Permanente cafeteria on a Tuesday. Happiness Level: B+

The Trail
Our journey continues as we go into town looking for a tour group to hike the famous Macchu Picchu trail. We discover an amazing 4-day tour called the Inca Jungle trail. This included a day of hiking, a few days of mountain biking, sleeping in a covered hostel each night and an air-conditioned bus ride to the top of Macchu Picchu. We do not take this trail. Instead we take the Salcantay trail, which is the hardest possible trail to take to Macchu Picchu. This includes an all inclusive path to Hell: 5 days of hiking by foot, sleeping in thin tents in 20 degree weather, and a 4am wakeup call to scale the cliffs of Macchu Picchu to the top. But hey, we're all soft San Diegans who complain when it's 65 at night, this should be easy.
The first day is amazing. Fresh air, a cool breeze with the sun beaming down. I'm so excited for the trek that I don't even mind the soup and nasty meat the tour chef slops out. We arrive at the campsite, taking photos of the Andes in the distance. This is what life is all about, sharing great experiences with friends in remote places. Then it starts to hail.
Happiness Level: B

The Flood
The tour group is excited to have made it to the first destination, laughing and monkeying around the campsite. The night sneaks up on us as the porters set up our tents. We all barrel into a nearby shack as the cook serves us up our final meal of the night. S and NM per usual. Then it starts to pour rain. And by "pour" I mean it. The three of us run to our tent and zip up the flap as soon as we can get our muddy boots inside. We setup our backpacks and try to sleep on the rocky ground. Soon the storm turns into a bloody monsoon and water floods down the mountain under our tents. (Yes the tents were setup at the bottom of a hill). The water soon turns to ice and freezes at the bottom of our tents. Sorta like sleeping on a waterbed in a freezer. THEN on top of it all, the water starts to seep INTO the tent, creating what I like to call a Cluster-Freeze. At this point our sleeping bags are ruined, sopping with Peruvian rain water. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Happiness Level: F

The Huddle
We unzip the tent and run to the shack where we had eaten dinner. We scour for blankets or a place to sleep. At this point we realized that the shack (with no doors) was colder then the tent. We grab 3 of the small stools that we had used for dinner and rush them back to the tent. Into our shivering madness we knew we had to do something. It was time for "the Huddle". We position the chairs into a triad and sat facing each other and went into an awkward huddle. David smartly suggested that we put the one non-soaked sleeping bag over our heads, which we did. Unfortunately all 3 of us are equipped with blazing-ly fast digestive systems, and when I say blazing, I mean it. So here we are, recreating a scene from Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles where they eat beans around a campfire. Each horn that blew caused for a retreat outside of the blanket, which caused us to come up with a new game plan. At this point we're tired, wet, and delirious so I don't exactly remember who came up with the next set of strategies. We decided to mix it up, three in a row side-by-side, triangle position back-to-back-to-back, sleeping bag over top, sleeping bag over the legs. Nothing was working. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We ended up 3 in a row as if we were riding a 3-man-motorcycle. 3 full grown men sitting on small child size stools like the 3 stooges in a canoe. It couldn’t get any worse. Happiness Level: F-

The Hamster
No one ends up sleeping that night as we brave the storm in our soaked tent. We finally come upon good luck in the morning as 2 French women are taking a 2-hour taxi ride from town to the campsite. We take the taxi back and enjoy a 2-hour ride on a road with no pavement and plenty of slippery rocks. That night we decide to hit the town's nightlife and enjoy our freedom from the horrible trials of hiking in nature. We heard that it's common for the locals to eat "Cuy" or as we call it "Guinea Pig", "Hamster" or "Herbie". We found a wandering chef who took us to his favorite local restaurant that served the pet delicacy. After our bowl of soup, the Cuy was served. Rice, potato and a big brown ball of hot hamster served on a plate. I ate my hamster in silence as our chef tour guide stared at us eating. Thankfully the little guy didn't have much meat, just tons of little bones that I could hide under the pile of rice. Sorry Herbie, you don't taste that good. Happiness Level: D+

The day arrives, after a night of eating late night pizza with questionable cheese and dipping hardly fried fries into spicy yet tasteless green sauce. We wake up early and decide to walk up the mountain trail to Macchu Picchu, hopefully regaining some of our dignity and questioned manhood. The view is amazing, beautiful ruins made of rock and green grass. My stomach starts to rumble, leading to a verp of chocolate energy gel, acid and Hamster sauce. I stay positive and take it as a sign of my digestive system doing it's magic. We decide to climb the highest mountain in Macchu Picchu called Wannapicchu. It's about a 45 minute climb but at a 45 degree angle up the side. As we climb up, I start to notice how tired my legs are and start breaking out into an undeserved sweat. We reach the top of the mountain and I look down at my stomach. It gives me the middle finger as it gurgles the stew brewing below. Then it hits me. It was time to "go". I tell the guys that I need to go back and rush down the hill. I glide down the mountain, clenching my backside harder and tighter on each bumpy step. There is a pack of German tourists blocking my path, who decide to do a half-walk, half-stand-in-your-f#$%*-way while shooting off-center pictures of plants. I duck through their unwashed bodies and make my way to the start of the path. My stomach taps me on the shoulder and says, "If you're not going to poop..." as I proceed to puke up water onto a patch of ancient rocks. There is a lady at the front of the bathroom, collecting 1 Sol ($0.30) to go into the bathroom. I nearly punch her in the face as my wallet is in the storage bin. Thankfully I found a Sol in my pocket and proceed to take the best seat in the house. I say my final goodbyes to Herbie. Happiness Level: B to F to A+

Case of the ruins
I stay sick for the next 3 days, bed-ridden for one, popping antibiotics like popcorn and praying to survive our final days in Peru. We need to train back to Lima to spend the last days of our trip. The train is leaving in 10 minutes so we run to the station. As we arrive to the gate, I decide to let out one of my sickened farts outside of the train. Then as I let the bugle sound, the world stops and I feel my shorts fill up, as if I had made a smoothie from my ass. "Never trust a fart" my wise friend had once told me. I trusted, and now I have sharted. I run to the bathroom, lock the stall and pull my pants down to exam the damage. I had been spared. From all of my crappy life-threatening experiences during the trip, I finally came up on top (pun intended). My special durable REI underwear had saved me, acting as a nest, holding in all of my "eggs". I threw the $25 diaper into the small trash bin in the stall and thanked the Gods of REI for sparing me as I had gotten a case of the ruins. Happiness Level: D- to A+

There are many other stories in this trip, such as when we stayed at a $9/night hostel in which the ceiling leaked anytime you flushed the toilet and when we took a bus back to town during a rainstorm and possibly hit a person or burro. But to be honest, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world. Ok maybe a few things...

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El Di Pablo said...

Wow, that was a little TMI mixed in with a heap of disgusting. Sounded like a shitty trip (Pun intended)


Michelle said...

omg. sounds like you really had the time of your life..... poor herbie.

Harold Fowler said...

lol, must have been a real blast!


Anonymous said...

ahh that's the fun of travelling, I've had crazier experiences.

Attacked by Monkies in the middle of a forest, swarms of monkies throwing half-eaten fruits from the canopies in the forests of Thailand.

I've got tons of travel stories, ones worse than yours but fortunately I have a strong stomach and great control of my bowels and gag reflexes so I've never had the experience you had. But still I've had all sorts of nightmare trips but I've never not wanted to go back even then.

I wouldn't mind going to Peru. You just have to do it differently. And I'm not the kind that does the whole resort thing, I never understood why people travel like that.

Anonymous said...

sounds like you needed to take a few refresher camping trips to make sure your skills were up to par first. i always do this before i go on any high adventure trek.
never had a problem. you can test all your new gear this way and find any problems with it. i.e. tent waterproofing

Mary said...

I erupted in a blast of papaya-infused out-of-nowhere barf on a bus in Bali.
It was awful but most of it ended up in my bra as my efforts to keep it off the others ended up in me putting the slop down my own chest.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Come to Chile. You will love this country.

Anonymous said...

lmao, at least it gives us a laugh. if i ever visit peru, i'll think to buy those undies <3. thanks for the tip lol

Anonymous said...

Thank You!
Now I have NO interest in going to Peru. Altitude was enough to make me hesitate, alot. Now with the S and NM, I'll pass!

I'm certain I can find other ways to enjoy my travels.
Thanks for the tip about the REI undies. I'll be sure to get a pair.

Anonymous said... whine a lot

E.P. said...

LoL; I'm in Lima right now, doing Macchu Picchu in a week. I'm staying w/japanese Peruvians, The eldest gave me some Shio Kara, google THAT and be sure to stay away from it ANYWHERE in the world, no chuy for me thank you! awesome story.

Anonymous said...

You are a huge pussy. i did this exact same trip with my girlfriend and the hostals, food and people were amazing. We lived wonderfully on about $20/day and never had to hire guides. I have recommended Peru to all my friends, but i guess we're build differently in NYC.

Please consider The Mall of America for your next bromantic vacation.
- clifton

Anonymous said...

I love you - thanks for making my day a little brighter.

Should I be disturbed that my day is brighter now?

Anonymous said...

I was in Cuzco about to go finish the paperwork for that exact same 5 day hiking trek...well on the way we passed by a place that said "Motorcycle Tour of the Incan Valley!"

So my friend and I decided that motorcycling around is WAY cooler than sleeping in a tent. As it was an amazing experience where we got to stop whenever we wanted...the night rolled around and that 20 degree weather you were talking about was creeping towards us from the snowcaps.

We made it, but the next day my lips were so wind burned that they were black.

But, next time you're in Lima. Ask a Taxi driver to take you to the Madonna won't regret it :)

Anonymous said...

I spent 3 months traveling around Peru and had a good chuckle at your experiences. It doesn't matter what or where you eat in Peru, you are going to get sick. Peru makes Mexico look like a day at the park. I don't think I had a solid shit for 6 months after returning the to US. Anybody going to Peru with a "Gringo" stomach should just take a good course of prophylactic antibiotics - before, during, and after!!!

Jon said...

Funny post. Good writing style, (as I could imagine all the scenes you mentioned. Esp the one where you were sliding down the hill, topspeed...)

Or maybe it's because I've experienced something similar to that.

If you ever make it to the Philippines, try the 'bulot'.

AyeRoxor said...

It's "COCA" tea. Very, very different from cocoa :P

Anonymous said...

The 4-day hike to Machu Picchu was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Sounds like you just had awful luck. At elevations like that, weather is unpredictable and severe. Sounds like you chose the wrong time of season to go...also, sounds like you should stick to a carnival cruise ship.

Anonymous said...

You are a douchebag. First of all, you went in the peak of the rainy season - what the hell did you think was going to happen?

I dont know where you ate, but if you searched out pizza and french fries you deserve every miserable day you had there. Tip for next time - eat where the locals eat. Peru has some of the freshest produce I've ever eaten in my life (as you would expect - a lot of our produce comes from Peru)

Plus, I wouldnt recommend a 5 day excrutiating hike at high altitude as your first time. Dumb dumb dumb.

AyeRoxor said...

"leading to a verp of chocolate energy gel,"

Lol! You really *did* think it was cocoa, didn't you? :P Bless your heart :P

Patrick Madden said...

Hmmm.... I had a very different experience in Peru. I had altitude sickness pills, but they made my hands tingle -- so the coca tea was a welcome alternative. The first day was rough, after that, clear sailing.

I'm vegetarian. Loving the soups. Seriously loving the soups. Good meals every night. Some of the best travel eating I've ever had. I mostly ate at places around the plaza -- where the heck did you go?

Hiked 3 days to Machu Picchu, with United Mice as the guides. Small group of hikers, all pretty cool, great food every night, and a really enjoyable (but exhausting hike). Sunrise at the ruins was amazing. After the hike, we stayed at the hotel by the ruins for one night, then back to Cusco by train.

For me, the trip to Peru was one of the best I've ever taken. In a heartbeat, I'd go there again.

You want a sucky trip? Let me tell you about this place called France....

Sagacious T said...

Someone else noted this above, but if you had all the problems you say you're doing it wrong. Do research before hand, where you will eat and stay. The 4-5 day trek is not for the feint of heart even in the dryer seasons. I visited Cuzco and Macchu Picchu for a week and never got sick. It should be noted that Peru has some of the best cuisine in the world. There are actual eating tours, where all you do is travel to different towns and try there unique foods. I have never eaten as good as I did there. If someone had told me what tripe was before I tried it, I would have missed out on one of the best tasting dishes of my life!

Eddie said...

Hate to say it, man, but what exactly were you expecting? I'm totally cool with doing the cheapo backpacker version of international travel, but let's face it: you were in Peru, not bopping around France and Germany. You were at a high enough elevation to get altitude sickness. There are no Pizza Huts around, and you weren't properly outfitted. It's not Peru's fault.

I give you creds for eating local food, but even if you know how to lower your chances of getting sick (was that cocoa tea brought to a full boil?) there's always a risk of anything from indigestion to hepatitis.

Again, I admire what you did. I'm glad you survived and hope you aren't put off by this trip. But you can't treat hiking through the remote mountains of Peru like a camping trip back home.

Anonymous said...

you sound like a total fool, maybe you should go to disney land and eat your pizza there.

this is an example of why your country is failing and your people celebrate ignorance

stoooopid american

Vince said...

It's unfortunate you had such a bad time. I went to Peru for a week from Feb 14 to Feb 21. I got altitude sickness when I got to Cuzco. But, after taking some altitude sickness medicine, which I bought from a local Cuzco store, I felt great.

I do agree that the food at Lima was better than in Cuzco, but it wasn't that bad.

You need to always carry Immodium AD when you go to places where you might expect to get diarrhea. I brought some, but never had to use it.

Better luck next time.

Anonymous said...

Haven't you ever heard of Immodium or Cipro? Don't leave home without it.

Or better yet, based on your apparent comfort level, just stay home.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you don't understand how to travel in South America... next time you should read a book before heading down there

Anonymous said...

wah wah what a complainer.

Anonymous said...

I took that 5-Day Trail Hike in 2007. I trained for it to avoid altitude sickness and fatigue. One of the best trips of my life.

Also i have traveled all over the world, across all the inhabited continents, and the food in Peru was just about the best i have ever eaten. I agree with the other posters--the golden rule is eat where the locals eat.

Guinea Pigs are not hamsters but you are right, they arent very tasty.

And finally, there's no doubt that you need to be a little rugged for this trip, but i recommend it 100%. Maybe its just not for Southern Californians.

This Oregonian says, "We're just above the Golden State."

Colin said...

You got some haters, my man. I thought it was hilarious! (and i live in peru)

i must correct you though. you didn't drink "cocoa", which is used to make chocolate. You drank "coca", which is used to make cocaine. And it does cure altitude sickness. you got sick from something else.

Anonymous said...

Listen, some guys like to dig snow caves and live off wild berries 200 miles from the nearest village. You've learned a valuable lesson - for the rest of us, let the NatGeo Adventurer crowd have their back country adventures, we'll stick to 5 star, western style accomodations and drink bottled water.

Anonymous said...

I realise it felt awful, but just look at the adventure you had. That's what these things are for you know. Makes you who you are and all that clap trap.

I bet you were smiling when you got home! Ha ha ha! My bro meant to take a similar trip, but got on the wrong bus, which took 12hours to get to it's destination, in entirely the wrong direction. Traveling is ace!


Anonymous said...

Well, well, well.....there's a reason they call it the tropical RAIN forest after all:-)

You should have given that experience A+.....because it will help you realize how good life is where you are living right now:-)

And it could be worse, really, trust me.

Just back in Amsterdam after visiting Suriname in South America (

dony said...

Yup, sounds like the SA I know and love. I enjoyed your humor but hope nobody is turned off the trip. To prepare for a 4-country trip to SA in the fall of 08, I did everything right including reading, meeting folks who had been, exercise, taking meds, buying preventative meds and hiring professional guides. Still got altitude sickness (never went away until I got back to sea level - with some people it is permanent); dysentery (never trust a fart - cleared the train to Machu Picchu and a bus a bit later but the meds knocked it mostly out overnight); this is rain forest and a sudden rainfall (one of many) put the water in the parking lot almost to my knees and like a river; got robbed twice in Buenos Aires (once violently) and it was the best trip I have ever had!

The scenery, people (except those who want to hurt you), food and everything else are to die for. Ethnic foods are fantastic and mostly what we ate but Chateaubriand for two lovers on the top floor of a five star hotel for $23 US with beer and wine are not to be sneered at. Nature treated us to the most violent thunderstorm ever and that was better than any fireworks I have seen. Lima is known for its seafood and the critics do not give the food there enough credit! What saved me was planning my walks and climbs and short rests inbetween. Yes we climbed the mountains, including all of Machu Picchu. I am still recovering after three months and down to two "bowel episodes" a week.

We am planning South Africa next and South Vietnam after that. Oh yes, I am 64, overweight and have a stent but I guess we are different here in Northern Canada. Temperature here was -30C night before last - that's about -20F and a nice hot rain forest would be a good break just now...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you went to the wrong places my friend next time start off from the capital.

txsnowman70 said...

WOW...sounds like someone has a weak stomach and poor preparation trip to Peru was in no way similar...I am a smoker yet suffered no altitude sickness in Lima, Cuzco, or Machu Picchu(which is actually lower than Cuzco). No issues with the food. We were smart enough to take the train up and stay at a hotel(which I would have recommended especially during the rainy season DUH). Food was great in Aguas Calientes(the town at the base of MP) and the people were nice also. Sounds like a city slicker trying to play out of his league.

Colin said...

I posted you to mine. Chopped and screwed by yours truly at

You did not drink "cocoa" tea. Cocoa, or cacao in Spanish, is grown in Peru and is used to make chocolate. You drank coca, which is used to make cocaine. It does relieve altitude sickness. You got sick from something else.

Soups at local menus are as he described. And while the meat you had may have been consistently overcooked past your preference, it certainly was never frozen. Freezers are quite the luxury item down here. After the astronomical investment in buying a freezer, the electric bill after running it would wipe out those little places' margin.

I agree that cuy is gross. And it is guinea pig. Not hamster.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you didn't research anything for this trip, and probably you weren't fit for the Inca trail....
Maybe Disneyland will be good for you

Anonymous said...

"Hobo tourism" comes with a high price, even if it seems cheap. You can only try that kind of stupid adventures on 1erst world countries. You were lucky -well, we don't know yet- you didn't catch a nasty long life term parasite.
Aaah, knowledge is enemy of adventure and romanticism, but saves your ass.

masrymon said...

sounds like it was rough on you. my experience to peru was a little similar, but the rougher the better for me.

u seem like the person who all about the 5 stars, and the buses and some fancy fusion restaurant right on the malecon with some contempory peruvian art hanging on the walls.

SD people make me laugh

AlaskanHIker said...

My Peru trip was excellent. I did the 4 day 3 night Incan Trail Hike to Maccu Piccu. Well worth it. Even though my girlfriend and I were well prepared we still got sick at times including altitude sickness. Chewing on the coca leaves helped as well as the tea.

I hope nobody gets discouraged from visiting Peru. The people, food and natural beauty are unmatched.

Anonymous said...

guinea pig =/= hamster

erin said...

i saw your blog on noel sky's facebook page.

i haven't laughed so hard in a long, long time.

i've been to peru, and maccu piccu, and totally get it. my experience there wasn't so bad, even with the 7 hour nightmare bus ride with chickens that had me puking my guts out my window. but those are the things you treasure when you look back, no?

life's just a grand adventure! thanks for sharing yours.

and don't hold it against peru. i've learned when it comes to stuff like that research, research, research is what will make it or break it. you have to admit- peru is completely amazing.

thanks for totally cracking me up. i needed that.

Anonymous said...

You should move back to scottsdale and stay there. That way, next time you shít your drawers you can write about it and people will totally understand.

Jane said...

I laughed so hard as I was reading, making little noises to my husband about what I was reading (fortunately I hadn't had breakfast yet). He finally said, "So this means a trip to Peru's off the list?" (He's half Peruvian.)

Please come to Barbados for some much-needed R&R. No Herbies here, not that we eat, anyway.

May I shamelessly plug my blog?

Stephen Andert said...

ROFLMAO! My coworkers are wondering what I am up to over here.

I lived in Ecuador for 10 years and went back a few years ago for a month with my wife and kids and can relate to a lot of what you said. The food however is either better in Ecuador or I had better friends picking good local restaurants.

"Never trust a fart"

That sums up your trip nicely I think.

skiboardmania said...

Places are changing very fast , i guess usa is still standing ..

It ME said...

To me you just sound like a spoiled American. I mean it sounds like you don't know how to go backpacking. If you just wanted to see the Machu Picchu and you are who you are, why didn't you just take a helicopter up there. Someone like you is trying to convince other people how horible Peru when you have no idea about what you are talking about. This is the bad thing with the internet. It is giving a stage to spoiled people like you trying to convince other people they should be spoiled like you.

Corb said...

Loved it! Great story. And coming from someone who isn't american, nor beaking you in any way. The most unrewarding part of writing a travel blog of any type is dealing with these redundant "holier than thou" types. Take anything they say with the smallest grain of salt. According to them they'll always have a better story, be more of a backpacker, more hardcore, more devout to culture, more into spirituality, tighter with the locals. If it were up to them they'd eat the poo you sharted if thats what the locals do. To each their own though. Keep smiling. Superb writing style, A+!

Anonymous said...

Peru is a great country but sometimes if you are unlucky you can have bad experiences like anywhere else.

PS: don't go to Chile it sucks .. there you will ALLWAYS have a bad experience I AM NOT KIDDING

Anonymous said...

Peru is a wonderfull country I really believe you have to plan your trip and investigate before going to any trip.

hotpixel said...

As anywhere in the world in Peru there are good and bad places (restaurants, hotels, etc) but if combined ignorance, bad choices and Apparently a preference for the cheap you just going to have bad experiences where you go :S

Patty said...

THAT WAS A GREAT STORY!!! Wash your hands next time! The money is dirtier than a toilet! Hahaha!

Low-c said...

Lowc's Low-down has moved to
Twitter: @stephenlowc

New and old stories galore!
Case of the Ruins
How we ate 10,000 in food for free from McDonald's
Don't watch the tapes, you don't know the girl anyway
Three Mattresses in 1 year and other FML Misadventures!!