Key words: fiery poops, mountains, hiking, bus rides, discomfort, challenges

More Pictures

Three weeks in and my experience has been a rocky one. “Fiery poops” was a hilarious play in Cards Against Humanity, but ”Travel: Week 1” taught me that the reality is far from humorous. (I highly recommend avoiding 8 hour bus rides when your GI tract is failing at absorbing liquids.) I recovered at 3050m in Huaraz, only to come down with some horrible feverish appetite-killing bug 16km from the end of the Santa Cruz trek (Week 2 fail). I recovered mostly back in Huaraz and made a move on south to Ica, and from there to the oasis of Huacachina. My travel companion for the day in Huacachina did not give me good energy, and I was relieved to be back on my own when I took a taxi to Ica with plans to head back into the mountains. Maybe an hour after getting to Ica, I realized the taxi driver had totally cashed in on my travel naïveté, making off with my tablet, keyboard, headphones, charger, and electronics dry bags. Even the postcards I got in Huaraz. (WTF, Week 3??!?) I felt betrayed, vulnerable, and stupid. I’d assumed some level of trust and been taken advantage of. My surrogate mom, Ellen, told me that with travel, the first thing that has to go is naïveté. Mine took a pretty fatal blow with that theft. I’m aware that for the most part I’ve lived my life in a protected bubble. Emerging from it in this way, through this travel, is going to be painful. Although (in my optimistic moments) I know that I will learn and grow so much because of this experience.

Honestly, so far, this experience has not made me fall in love with traveling. The Bonderman aims to put you consistently outside of your comfort zone, and I’m very much there. It’s fucking uncomfortable. On some level I knew it would be, but actually being in the thick of it has been incredibly challenging. Of my motivations for travel back in my Bonderman application writing days, one of the things I said I wanted to do was practice calm acceptance of difficulty. That acceptance is something that I’ve been actively cultivating since the summer of 2012, when I began learning about mindfulness meditation practice (among other Buddhist-related psychological concepts). It’s been a tortuous learning experience, but a liberating one as well. I can see in myself a distinct difference between now and 2 years ago, even as I acknowledge that I have so much still to learn. Travel has provided my with an overwhelming plethora of opportunities for practice. It really hasn’t been fun. Only in the past day or two, since I arrived in Cusco Sunday, have I started to feel like I can roll with some of the punches of this extended solo travel thing. I miss my Seattle home and my amazing friends, even as I know that returning before September is not an option. I’m wearing a compass rose necklace that my brother Ryan gave me for Christmas. On the back is written ”There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.” Those words remind me of why I’m doing this, and why I wanted to do this in the first place. Although that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy the entire experience. Here’s to learning and growth.


For those who want more details, the following is a rundown of my 10 days in and around Huaraz (4 of which were spent being sick or recovering, argh) and my journey to Cusco.

I was so stoked in Huaraz when I felt well enough to finally do the trekking I’d gone there to do. We left the hostel bright and early Saturday morning. Per my usual pre-trip behavior, I got about 5 hours of sleep, but I was ready to be outside and see some pretty things! About 5 hours in a van got me, my hiking partners ( the Brit, the Japanese guy, the Belgian girl, and the Dutchman), and our guides to the start of the Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca range. We hiked through lots of backyards and small villages before reaching the national park boundary. Turns out that grazing cattle care not for park boundaries, and our trail was one covered with poo (the donkeys everyone uses as pack animals certainly don’t help matters). Fortunately, because we had all come to trek during low season, the weather was fairly cool (if not a bit damp), and we only saw one other group on the trail. It was definitely posh hiking, since the donkeys carried most of our gear, leaving us responsible only for day packs with water, snacks, and layers. We also had a cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not bad. We ended up hiking for 3 days. Day 1 was an easy 4 hour meander to camp.


We were hiking by 7am on day 2 and made it to the high pass of Punta Union (4760m or 15,700ft) by around 11am. I believe that’s the highest I’ve been. It was pretty incredible to be basically day-hiking at an elevation more than 1000ft higher than Mt. Rainier.


We made good time to our second camp (4200m), but that’s when my health hit a wall. I spent a few hours shivering uncontrollably in my tent. I couldn’t eat, and I had those horrible feverish aches. I slept a lot. I felt better the morning of day 3 and ate a little, but breakfast did not stay down long. I ended up hiking 16k (almost 10 miles) with 200kcal worth of oatmeal cookies (the only thing I could stomach) and maybe a liter or 2 of water. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so weak. I’m so grateful for the consideration of my trekking partners and guide, too. My guide carried my day pack, and someone always stayed with me. The group was super compassionate and supportive – they was the best random assortment of hiking partners I could’ve asked for. Fortunately, but the time we finished hiking, I was feeling less sickly and was able to relax outside with everyone all afternoon.


We stayed the 3rd night in the village of Cashapampa, which is the typical starting point for the Santa Cruz trek (we did it backwards). We camped in the yard of a couple who own a teensy bar. The husband was already happily tipsy by the time I arrived, and he insisted on teaching me the harp. I can’t claim prodigy status, but it was a funny interaction. The next morning, our guide company picked us up and took us the 2 hours back to Huaraz.


I spent 1 more night in Huaraz and then caught the 10:45pm bus back to Lima. We arrived around 5am and caught the 5:45am bus to Ica, 4 hours south of Lima. No one really stays in Ica – everyone goes to the oasis and sand dunes in Huacachina, 20 minutes outside of Ica. Huacachina was pretty dead (again, low season), but the dunes were beautiful. We took a dune buggy ride out into the dunes and did some sandboarding. I managed to stand up for one short run, but the rest of them I did with my tummy on the board. Sandboarding is okay, but I think I’ll live a happy life sticking to sliding down snow on planks. We (my icky vibe travel partner and I) spent one night in Huacachina, and then next day I was happy to leave that place with plans to go to the mountain town of Ayacucho. Then came the fateful taxi ride. Fortunately, I discovered that I’d been robbed as I was chatting with a Peruvian man in a juice bar. The man, Mario, immediately tried to help me, calling all of the taxi companies he could think of (to no avail – I think he initially misunderstood me and thought I{d forgotten the tablet) A whirlwind of emotion and activity later, I ended up changing my plans to go directly to Cusco so I could arrive in time to start Spanish classes on Monday. Mario and his family welcomed me into their home, where I stayed for a night because I couldn’t get a bus to Cusco that day. I especially liked his 9 year old niece, who was delightfully curious. Her English is on par with my Spanish, so we got to interact through charades. Mario was extremely helpful and empathetic, and I feel fortunate to have met such a generous person. I thanked him profusely, and he just kept responding that when he was in the US, people were very generous to him and he was happy to pay it forward.


I got on the 18 hour bus to Cusco at 8pm and spent most of the time feeling depressed and disgruntled with the world. I arrived in Cusco suspicious of everyone. Then I got in a cab and the driver had such a calm air about him (and he didn’t drive like a bat out of hell, a first for me in Peru). He was really friendly and worked with me to find my hostel. I got to the hostel in the early afternoon and took a walk around Cusco to find my school and the Plaza de Armas (central square). People just seem friendlier and calmer here. I grabbed a beer by myself and had a lovely journaling session on a balcony overlooking the Plaza de Armas. By dinner time, I was feeling calmer. I had chifa (Chinese-Peruvian food) and shared lots of surprised laughter with the people in the restaurant when the skies opened up and let loose a deluge of hail and rain.

Monday morning I went to the Amauta Spanish school, which is just off of the Plaza de Armas. Again, the people there wre super friendly and I was so relieved and happy to have randomly chosen a school with such good energy. I’m in a class of 3 beginners, so the learning environment is very personal. My teachers are fantastic and my brain is exploding with new Spanish knowledge. Amusingly, lots of the other students at Amauta are German speakers, so I’ve been speaking a lot of German as well. The other 2 students in my class are from Austria, so we’ve been learning Spanish together via a mixture of German and English. Good stuff. I’m happy to have some semblance of familiarity and a schedule, even if it’s just for this week.

8 comments on “Huaraz, Ica, and the challenges of travel

Leave a Reply