Category Archives: Peru

Blood, Fur, and Guts: Life in the Peruvian Altiplano

Blood squirts out and onto the squealing guinea pig, who is about to reach the same fate as his brother.

The knife tugs at the skin and fur, eventually severing the neck. Two decapitated guinea pigs staring at me with vacant eyes.

An unknowing sheep that my trekking partner purchased a few days back is about to receive the same treatment. I have definitely never seen my meals so up close and personal before, and I’m not so sure I want to make a habit out of this.

I just finished an amazing ten day trek through the Andes, and somehow I have ended up at the mule owner’s small mud hut in the high altitude Peruvian country side.

My trekking partner and I have set up our tent in their field, and in doing so, we have gained the attention of many curious eyes which have never been laid upon foreigners before.  

The children are more scared than the women, who have gathered around in a circle, but I know eventually they too will approach.

The house itself is amazing, a small mud hut structure with an open fire kitchen inside.

There is a shack beside it full of squealing guinea pigs and squabbling chickens, and then another open air hut which I have lovingly dubbed “the killing room.”

The man we arrived with is now tying up a very stubborn sheep, and with the help of his eldest son, is about to lift the protesting animal to be hung, then killed.

Though it’s gruesome, I have to remind myself that no matter how meat back home is packaged, it too was once a real live animal like this one.

The men chop the meat, hacking away the thick fur coat which will be used for clothing or a blanket later on. The women then take the pieces and wrap them in leaves before burying them underground.

For the past few hours the village has been preparing for this special type of cuisine by gathering the coals from a very hot fire into a pile. The women then place the leaf-cloven meat underground, surrounded by the burning coals, to cook overnight.

Throughout the evening I alternate between playing soccer with a few of the young boys in the village, and trying to speak with some of the women who live at the house.

Though I speak Spanish, this village is so remote that the few inhabitants only speak Quechua. As the sun sets everyone retires for the night, there is no electricity in the area so late nights are fruitless.

I wake at sunrise to the voices and laughter surrounding my tent, and quickly realize that the whole village has been invited to the feast.

The meat, which has been slowly cooking all night, is now in a large basket along with an assortment of different types of potatoes. The basket is passed around and everyone digs in, eagerly eating the meat straight from the leaves. The meat is tender and juicy, and by far the best breakfast I have ever had.

As I look around I realize what a unique situation I have found myself in, a special moment I will remember forever. 

I am surrounded by curious women and hardworking men in the middle of the Andes, in a small village that couldn’t be further removed from the world I come from.

I have been invited to share a feast with them, a feast prepared in a way I have never seen before. But more importantly, I have been invited to take part – if only for a few days – in a way of life completely different from my own. 

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

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High Altitude Climbing in the Peruvian Andes

“Somewhere between the bottom of the mountain and the summit is the answer to the mystery of why we climb.”    

I’m standing nearly 6,000 meters above sea level, near the top of one of the majestic snow covered peaks in the Peruvian Andes. The sun is slowly rising, and with it, an orange glow is dancing on the ice all around me.

There are clouds down below covering the valley, but the high altitude sky is clear of anything but cold, poorly oxygenated air. I’m alone except for the two climbers roped up to me, and standing above the world watching a new day commence.

This is why people do it: why they quit their jobs, leave their families, and risk their lives just to reach a summit. It’s not actually for the summit itself, it’s for moments like these. Reaching the top and looking down is truly one of the most powerful feelings in the world.

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I sit on the summit, taking in the other 6,000m peaks around me. The sun does not play favorites, serenading each and every peak with a shower of vibrant color.

There isn’t a hint of human destruction or creation to be seen, and I’m amazed at how beautiful pure nature can be.

We begin to head back to base camp, and I literally skip down most of the mountain. Though I’m exhausted and have been climbing since midnight, I am beyond happy. It was the perfect climb.

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It began yesterday with the trek into base camp, a somewhat dull and dusty climb, but a beautiful one none the less. After five or six hours of scampering over the rocks and boulders that made up the moraine, we came to the base of an immense glacier and a flat stretch of land which would become our base camp.

I hiked in with five other climbers and one guide, a Peruvian mountaineer. Our diverse group came from different countries, backgrounds, and decades, but that didn’t stop us from quickly becoming friends.

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After setting up my tent, drinking hot tea, and eating a bowl full of spaghetti, I curled up in my warm down sleeping bag and watched the sunset from the vestibule of my tent.

There was not a sound to be heard, and the colors dancing in the sky as the sun disappeared were magical. I quickly fell asleep and awoke a few hours later at 11 p.m. to a star-filled windless night, a dream for any climber.

Then the real fun began. After eating a few biscuits and drinking hot tea I put on my crampons and slowly started to make my way up the immense mountain in front of me.

The moon shone brightly, illuminating the way so clearly that I didn’t even have to turn on my headlamp. It is a beautiful thing, climbing at night, when you can’t see where you are going or where you have been. The only thing that matters at a time like that is the present.

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It was an easy climb, nothing more than a slow trudge up the glacier, and before long we reached an absolutely astounding summit. There is no way to describe the feeling of power yet powerlessness when surrounded on all sides by 6,000m peaks.

The night climb, the sunrise, and the summit culminated into the perfect climb, a climb that further strengthened my growing affinity for mountains – any mountains.

Of course, climbing isn’t always fun. In fact, “fun” is not a way I would describe most of my climbs. There is nothing more treacherous than putting one foot in front of the other at high altitudes. It’s amazing, really, how altitude can reduce even the strongest humans to nothing.

Your digestive system fails first, meaning that you set off to climb all night with hardly anything in your stomach. And though it is important to stay hydrated, peeing and even taking a sip of water requires such an effort that you would rather not.

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You spend hours slowly climbing uphill, sleep deprived, hungry, either too hot or too cold, on the way to a summit which never seems to get any closer.

You are constantly out of breath no matter how slowly you inch up the mountain – high altitude creates an atmosphere in which humans can’t survive for long.

By the time you do manage to reach the top, you don’t even care. You want to head back down, forget about ever climbing again, and sleep for the next two days straight.

And yet somehow, even after the worst climbs, you find yourself dreaming of standing atop a glacier once again.

Ambition, ego, and testing human limits fuels mountaineers to the top, but that’s not all. There is a side to mountaineering that has nothing to do with the summit, but rather with the experience of living in the mountains.

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You leave behind everything – your possessions, your troubles, and your life, to live fully enveloped in nature, if only for a few days.

Climbers struggle to survive through treacherous conditions just for the moments that make every hardship worth it. They do it for the beautiful sunrise above the clouds, for the star filled sky that portrays the immensity of our universe, for the comradery that is created between climbers as they struggle to test the limits of human endurance, and for the feeling of solitude and isolation only a fierce mountain can create.

There is nothing more physically demanding yet immensely rewarding than moutaineering, and once you have received your first taste of high altitude climbing, there is no going back.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. High altitude climbing is challenging even for the most experienced mountaineers.

2. Many climbs are difficult, exhausting and unpleasant, but the hardships are immediately forgotten the second you reach the summit.

3. There is much more to high altitude climbing than the physical challenges - climbing allows you to commune with nature and reach the summit of your soul.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!