Steph and I moved up North to Huaraz, which is the gateway city for the Cordillera Huayhuash mountain range in the Peruvian Andes. It is widely believed to be one of the best trekking locations in the world. The twenty mountains bound together by blue glacier ice are renowned for being exquisite and it has been made safe by the eviction of Sendero Luminoso guerrillas. This is also the location of the famed Siula Grande which is 6,344m high and has a subpeak named Siula Chico, which stands at 6,260m, so not really all that small after all.
Siula Grande was made famous by Touching the Void, the book written by Joe Simpson about his incredible survival in one of the harshest environments on earth. His story is one of the many impressive feats of human strength that have taken place in Latin America. The book was also made into a film by Kevin Macdonald which recounted the events on the mountain via re-enactments and interviews with the climbers.
Both Joe and his partner Simon Yates successfully summited the mountain, it was during the descent that Joe shattered his knee joint. He then had to be lowered down the mountain on a rope and Yates couldn’t hear his voice over the wind nor see him, at which point he had to cut him off for his own survival. Simpson was then alone in a forbidding icy cavern. After he had regained consciousness he made the decision to travel downwards.
It took him three days of endlessly stumbling and falling as he travelled across the glacier with his broken leg wrapped in a sleeping bag and causing him agonising pain. He managed to drink once he was past the snow point which he likened to breathing life back into his body.
He was delirious from pain and hunger and only realised that he was near the camp when he fell into the latrine and could smell the urine. It was incredibly lucky that Yates was still there, along with Richard Hawking who was the traveller that they left at base camp. The pair were planning on leaving that day.
He struggled with Peruvian doctors who told him he would never walk again, although he did climb again and had several unsuccessful attempts at the North face of Eiger in Switzerland. He forged a career as a motivational speaker as well as sustaining a further injury to his leg by breaking his ankles after a fall whilst climbing Pachermo in Nepal.
Simon Yates received criticism for his decision to cut the rope, a decision which Simpson supported. As so few people have survived from those circumstances I struggle to believe that anyone is qualified to comment on whether it was right or wrong.
As it is survival instinct that has got us this far in the history of human existence I don’t believe that decisions should be criticised by people who have so little understanding of situations of life or death.
Recently, an audience that is younger than the book itself has started to give Joe their opinion on exactly what they think of the book via Twitter. As the book won the 1988 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the NCR Book Award in 1989 it has been included in the English syllabus for GCSE school children.
They conveyed their exam frustration to him by saying ‘Hi Joe. I had an exam about your book. I failed because of you. You owe to me!’. This was closely followed by ‘I am a student who learned English. You are a stupid man who fell down on the mountain.’
It doesn’t really bear thinking about what has become of schoolchildren today that it is acceptable to call an author of a book about his mountain survival a ‘crevasse wanker’. Joe’s response to his followers as ‘a lovely day of children writhing in their hellish hormonal middens…good night vile innocents may you all seethe in bilious acid pus.’
This cowardly way of abusing people on Twitter is something that I find very disturbing. I also feel that the faceless tweeters will get even more stupid and puerile before a system is put in place to regulate the constant bile of angry humans.
We stayed in a lovely hostel in Huaraz and when we arrived off the Lima bus they let us sleep until 8am and then knocked on the door to tell us they’d made breakfast for us. We had two omelettes and we were happy bunnies as this was perfect fuel for the walk we were going to go on.
I was pretty happy to go on this walk to see some ruins but Steph spent the whole time shitting herself as she’d read that someone got robbed on a walk around Huaraz one time. This was annoying to me and I said that it probably wasn’t this walk and she argued that it was this walk even though she had no idea. Some people shouldn’t be allowed near the ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ section of the Lonely Planet especially Steph who could quote it verbatim and did at every opportunity.
Needless to say that we got to the Wilcahuain ruins alive and a small boy offered to be our guide so we accepted his help. It was in Spanish but at this point, we’d learned a fair bit of the language through osmosis if not by any real effort.
The ruins were relics from the Wari empire and the stone building was used to house the mummies of their ancestors. The boy said that the site is essentially earthquake proof which would explain why it is still standing when the main burial chamber is three storeys. Impressive. It is also an imitation of Chavin which we were to visit the next day.
The journey to Chavin de Huantar was highly reminiscent of the early, long, cold and bumpy journey through the mountains that we took to Colca Canyon. We passed a mountain lake on the way which was apparently sacred.
UNESCO love the temple of Chavin as well they might and describe it thus: ‘decorated with lush anthropomorphic and zoomorphic symbolic iconography of extraordinary aesthetic synthesis’. They also called it a ‘ceremonial and pilgrimage centre for the Andean religious world’.
Apart from its thrilling iconography, Chavin is one of the best known and preserved pre-Columbian sites and therefore a vital link in the chain of history. It certainly had two chavs in when Steph and I were there. A Peruvian family got their photo taken with us as they were excited to meet British people.
We faced the rickety bus trip back and after all this mountain air we’d spontaneously added Mancora to our list as a short beach stop before Ecuador. We’d heard that it was a great place for partying so we were game.
We travelled from Huaraz to Mancora via Trujillo. We had quite a few hours to kill in Trujillo and I wanted to go and see stuff. T-jillo is home to the Chan Chan ruins and pyramid temples. I did end up returning to see both of these things at a later date but I lost this battle and we went to a shopping centre and hung out there instead.
The only saving grace for me was a bookshop that sold books in English so I abandoned Steph to browse there. We also went for food at a restaurant opposite the shopping centre so at least we got to have a proper meal.
We got our bus to Mancora in the evening and stayed in the Loki there. There was also a Point hostel but that was further away and I was still put off by my Cuzco experience even though we were in a completely different place.
I heard that the existence of these ‘Gringo’ hostels caused consternation amongst the Peruvians as it took money away from their businesses which is a fair gripe. Mancy was popular with South American tourists long before foreigners arrived so the infrastructure did exist. This wasn’t something I gave much consideration to at the time but I would now.
The Loki was pretty much brand new and the bar was run by a British couple who were working there for bed and board. So indeed, two fewer jobs for Peruvians. It is common for backpackers to work in hostels and it can be a great life so I can see why. Immigrants to the UK are welcome because we desperately need workers to support our economy. Peru’s unemployment rate is 0.6 million with a large ‘informal’ economy of people working out on the streets, selling things and services.
Nowadays Peru has one of the fastest growing economies, currently 39th in the world. It is low in Latin American terms in the seventh position which doesn’t really correlate to its size. Their economy relies on the services sector i.e. Telecommunications and finance, the rest is mainly industry. One to watch? I think (and hope) so.
I enjoyed having some time to relax in Mancora and I was reading The Other Boleyn Girl so I loved that. We made friends with an Irish couple when we joined them for a quiz on our first night and they were also our roommates. We were going to get some drugs and go out with them but they bailed so it didn’t happen. Steph and I went to a party at Point but we ended up with a girl crying about losing her camera so it was a rubbish night. Getting a tuk-tuk along the beachfront back to our hostel was pretty surreal.
Once I’d finished reading my book, tasted every type of cocktail at the hostel and eaten ‘surfers breakfasts’ at all the different cafes it was time to head to Ecuador via Tumbes. I heard some stories on backpacker grapevine about female tourists being raped after we had left. It is a good place to surf and relax but definitely has a sketchy vibe.
When we were on the bus to Ecuador it seemed that we had bought an unofficial ‘guide’ who kept telling us what to do at the border crossings and spoke to us at various rest stops. I’m not sure if we’d paid for him but he took us as far as the Ecuadorian border and bid us farewell.