South America

Rock climbing in Huaraz, Peru

grey Rock climbing in Huaraz, Peru

I have been in recent email contact with Chris who is going to help with the logistics of my Huayhush trek. Along with owning the locally famous Cafe Andino Chris runs a trekking company. He is also putting my in touch with someone to take me rock climbing in Huaraz, Peru.

We discuss details and pour over a map while drinking fantastic coffee. Chris tells me that there have been some issues with trekkers being robbed on the trail,

“In 1994 one person died from blood loss after being shot for resisting banditos and rumours abound that bandits are currently active in the area.”

“Really, Gosh, in Australia the hills are safe.”

“Not so here Ben”

“I had a scare last night…”

Before my coffee is gone I am persuaded to hire a local helper to handle the donkeys and find safe camping spots.

I am slightly disappointed that my long held dream of wandering off into the sunset alone with a donkey now has a ‘plus one’ but am sure I have made the right choice. We organise logistics and set a date to leave on Saturday. I now have two days in Huaraz to fill before leaving.

Huaraz is a haven for outdoor adventuring types, every street is bristling with long European legs in trekking pants and locals selling second hand boots displayed on rugs. I spend the afternoon wandering the markets while wondering if locals find these very cheap boots high on glaciers, shake out lost toes and dry them to sell, or, if they are left behind by grateful clients. Filling two days in Huaraz will not be a problem, I go into a highly recommended climbing centre, “Ice or rock climbing sir? Would you like mountain biking or rafting with that?”

grey Rock climbing in Huaraz, PeruThe next morning I am hanging from a small ledge about ten meters up a cliff just outside Huaraz. Rosweldt my tiny but enthusiastic belay is yelling at me

“Arriba! Arriba!…Up! Up!”

I have machine gun legs, arms shaking from fatigue and am grinning like a cat in an aviary. I have only tried rock climbing a few times and have never fallen, never had to trust that rope and belay. One minute later this changes as I lunge for a hold, miss and fall.

My stomach clenches and I let out a small yip of fear falling about three metres. Rosweldt’s weight stalls my drop but he is lifted about one meter into the air by the jerk. When rock climbing you thread rope through an anchor at the top. One end is attached to the climber, the other to the belay, this is called top roping. The belay takes in or lets out slack as the climber goes up or down. When (not if) the climber falls, it is the belay’s job to lock the rope at his end and to use his weight to stop the climber from going splat.

grey Rock climbing in Huaraz, PeruTrust is essential in this game.

Due to a weight discrepancy my belay is suddenly propelled up a little way by his waist harness. Rosweldt is stuck about one meter off the ground, his legs kick hopelessly for a hold while he holds the rope locked. I am stuck considerably further up gripping nothing but a grim trust in my guide. Rosweldt slowly lets out rope and we both descend. Once his feet meet the ground Rosweldt tightens the rope and I climb again. With the benefit of adrenaline this time I bolt to the top. Despite my shaking state I am very glad to have had the experience of falling, my climbing significantly improves afterwards without the worry of “What if I fall?”.

Trusting the rope and my belay to stall the sudden shock of eighty kilograms of hairy Tasmanian I climb much harder routes than I have ever done before. I even manage to climb a little overhung section. Something I never thought I would achieve.

grey Rock climbing in Huaraz, PeruRaising a steaming mug of hot chocolate with bleeding, shaky hands I discuss the final details of my Huayhush Circuit mission with Chris. Because of my excitement it took me until 3am to sleep last night. Despite this being the rainy season describing my mood as excited would be a disgraceful understatement. The rainy season will only add to the adventure because I will have the trail to myself for the small price of wet boots.

I am especially looking forward to camping next to the lake at the base of Siula Grande. Siula Grande is a 6344 meter high mountain made famous by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates‘ climb in 1985. On the descent after a successful summit Joe slipped and fell down an ice face, on impact his leg exploded like a Christmas bonbon. Joe and Simon continued to descend the mountain until they reached a section that required Simon to lower Joe over a cliff of unknown height. Soon a knot which joined their two ropes prevented Joe from descending further. Due to badly frostbitten fingers Joe dropped a device which would have allowed him to ascend safely again. Simon held onto his friend in a whiteout for a long time not knowing what had happened. When it was clear that Simon’s stance was about to collapse he made the agonising decision to cut the rope and send his friend to certain death before descending alone with a heavy conscience. Joe fell into a deep crevasse which opened onto a glacier, he crawled back to base over many days.

grey Rock climbing in Huaraz, PeruThe drama was documented in Joe Simpson’s well known book ‘Touching the Void’ A movie of the same name was released in 2003 and won many awards, I look forward to seeing the stage where this story unfolded.

I will be happy to view the mountain from the base and can safely rule out an attempt on the summit.

Drunken Psychiatrists in Ecuador

I return home from my Quilatoa trek to a very quiet hostel. The boys are still at the beach, there is nothing on television and I soon get bored. Answer; wander down to the local pub to have a few beers and to see what the night will bring. Within one hour I am in a very loud pub comparing our respective governments and healthcare systems my new friend Dr Ricardo alberto hidalgo Molina. Dr Ric is a very intelligent and currently very drunk psychiatrist from Chile. It would seem that he owns a never ending bottle of whiskey. Many people come and join our table, this man knows everyone despite being a long way from home. I do not dwell on this fact. Dr Ric is very short of stature, has a big beard, big heart and is everything a good psychiatrist should be…..crazy and smart and with zero inhibitions. His lack of inhibitions is beautifully displayed when, despite my protests, he forces me onto a stage to salsa dance with some friends of his.

The night and whiskey flows by, at around 2 am I decide it is time to go. Whilst waiting for a taxi Dr Ric decides to analyze two rastifarian drug dealers to find out what “makes them tick”. Thankfully just as he is hitting some raw nerves a taxi arrives to our rescue. The two mean looking men realizing a sale is not going to happen look about ready to really loose patience with their impromptu psychoanalsis. We bundle into a taxi and head for home. So I thought.

Dr Ric joins me and two new friends of ours in a taxi. Ric downed a few quick whiskeys just prior to leaving. The effect of which is that he has no idea where he is staying and is confusing his french, spanish and english. After about an hour of dead ends and last minute U-turns we see Dr Ric safely to his hotel and out of our care. He leaves telling me I must come and stay with him for christmas in Chile. I thought this was an empty promise.

My two new friends, both students keen to practice their english, invite me to their home for a night cap. “It is not far away” they assure me. Soon I am in a student apartment 45 minutes out of town in a very shady looking neighbourhood. We share two beers between the three of us, tell a few stories and soon we are ready for bed. It is 3am and not one car is on the road, I have no intentions of walking anywhere apart from to the bathroom. My student friends kindly offer me their guest room for the night. The guest room is a closet sized room about one meter high, under their stairs with just enough room for a single mattress. I crawl in and fall asleep clutching my money and jacket. I am slightly concerned that I will be robbed. Last week I had my wallet stolen along with $300, my credit, bank cards and my drivers license. Needless to say I am hesitant to trust anyone at this stage. My new friends seem ok though…..

I wake in the morning, promptly bash my head on the very low ceiling and emerge from my hobbit hole somewhere in Quito. I am slightly disorientated and thankfully still clutching my money and jacket. I wake my friends, thank them for a great night, share empty promises to catch up again and bid them farewell. They still do not believe that we eat kangaroo in Australia.

Back at the hostel I have two days of spanish classes. My classes involve walking around the beautiful town of Quito with my teacher, hanging out in parks and asking strangers for directions and the time. If only pharmacy classes were as pleasant.

In these two days I manage to find an orphanage to deliver some donations for two friends in Tasmania. A very rewarding and sobering experience. Despite help from Ecuador’s postal employee I also manage to send a package of presents home to my beloved niece and nephew to fill their christmas stockings. The postal lady seemed more interested in opening all the presents to find out what is in them. Hopefully she decides that my family need the presents more than hers!

Baby Teresa Quito, Ecuador

grey Baby Teresa Quito, Ecuador

Prior to leaving for South America I was given the opportunity by Sammy and Kirsty to bring with me 20 Baby Teresa outfits to donate to an orphanage in Ecuador. Quito, the capital of Ecuador has a large population of underprivileged and abandoned children due to its underemployment rate of 43.8%. (census 2001). The poverty in this town is hard to miss as beggers frequently approach tourists, many holding infants or young children.grey Baby Teresa Quito, Ecuador

My friend Victor, a dutch medical student who speaks far better spanish than I offered to help me to find a suitable orphanage. After two hours of fruitless searching on the internet for an address we decided to just walk into a church and ask. Four churches later we were on the way to an orphanage call “San Vincent de Paul”. Located in a poor neighbourhood one hour out of the city centre San Vincent de Paul is currently home to 65 infants aged 2 months to two years.

grey Baby Teresa Quito, Ecuador

Initially we were greeted with some suspicion by the head nun at the orphanage but after we showed her the Baby Teresa outfits and managed to explain why we were visiting she was quite happy to show us around. Each bedroom held about twenty cots, infants and small children were everywhere. I saw six very hardworking volunteers feeding, changing and playing with infants and trying to maintain the peace.  grey Baby Teresa Quito, Ecuador

The play area had few toys which the children were all sharing. An excited volunteer offered to dress some of the children in their new clothes for some photos. The other children crowded around wanting to be part of the action. After a few photos we left the workers alone who were busily dressing the infants in their new clothes.

It was a great experience to deliver this donation to such a worthy place. I found it immensely rewarding when I left to see a room full of little green and orange “tiggers” sporting their new jump suits.

Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador Volcano

grey Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador Volcano

My Dutch friends and I walk downtown as people stagger past rapidly shedding their Saturday night fevers. A big Land Cruiser picks us and six others up for a one hour drive through increasingly mountainous country. Our bike laden Land Cruiser stops just below the snow line of an active volcano, we are about to go bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador Volcano.

Excitement has overcome our expected breathlessness at this height. We each choose a steed from the bike rack and spend a few dizzying moments racing around in the thin air before stopping to gasp for breath. Cotopaxi is more than just a volcano, it is the third highest active volcano in the world, home to one of the few glaciers on the equator. Due to the earth’s bulge and our proximity to the equator we are currently riding around one of the farthest point from the earth’s centre, Chimborazo is the furthest.

We take in the commanding view down the valley and over the expansive national park as tired mountaineers return from overnight summits. Three photos finish my camera batteries, I make a mental note to again listen to my dad and only buy quality lithium batteries. Bus loads of other tourists stop to either look at the view from the car park or to trek four hundred metres up to the hiking refuge, the staging area for summit attempts.

Before we are fully awake and without the support of caffeine we straddle our mountain bikes and set off.

“Race ya down Victor”

“Oh, this is going to be fun, what about this view”

“Yeah man, expansive hey, bit bloody cold though!”
grey Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador VolcanoThe road is more a dirt track than road sporting very slippery volcanic dust and rocks at the edges. Two Canadians on our tour have exuberantly spent the entire drive bragging about their outdoor and biking prowess. I am very conscious that my bike has brake levers reversed to what I am used to, my front brake lever is on the left side not the right and vice versa. Bouncing down the road I feel like I have shot back in time seventeen years to a time when my dad and I spent many blissful weekends racing our bikes around local mountain tracks.

I am giggling and whooping like a lad. My mouth soon fills with black dust as I am laughing, hooting and breathing in the dusty, cold air while passing busses with squealing brakes. Feeling very energised I stop to wait for the others. Two Brazilians pull up behind me, followed by Victor and Vincent. Vincent is covered in black dust and is bleeding. He looks like a smashed up Black Mistrel and spitting dust out of his mouth,

“Que Pasa Vincent?”

“I pulled what I thought was the rear brake on too hard, went over, bounced a lot”

“Woah, you okay dude? Your pants are shredded! Let me check your knee mate”

“Nope, that will just make it hurt more, let’s keep going”

“Tough man, go easy hey bro. Hey here come those Canadians, looks like someone else had a fall – what’s up guys?”

“Bad crash, my handle bars are bent. What a rush!”

“Hey Victor looks like we are the survivors!”

grey Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador VolcanoVictor and I take off again racing each other down the last section of descent, the others follow slightly more conservatively. We are dodging cars and busses, ruts and rocks. Occasional patches on the road are like powder snow where the fine volcanic dust has gathered. I muse that skiers spend tons of money and time trying to find powder like this, however it is not as highly appreciated on a pushbike.

My mind has a running commentary, ‘Front brake equals rear brake…wow what a view…rock…dusty spot…they drive on the wrong side of the road here…what a view; bus!…dad would love this…front brake equals rear…bounce, bounce, shit another bus!…what a view…don’t get carried away with racing…cool just passed Victor…take that sucker…‘

Soon after forty-five exhilarating minutes we arrive at the junction where we are told to stop. One of the Canadians has taken a second tumble over the handlebars bruising both face and ego. Now at the base of the volcano, sadly obscured by cloud, we set off through an increasingly fertile valley which follows a growing stream of meltwater. Trying to jump over ruts and ramps Victor and I hold sprint races which finish when our breath runs out. Maybe I am a teenager stuck in a grown up body, for one whole hour I am totally engrossed in trying to jump my bike and simply enjoying the view across this Eden-like valley.

grey Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador VolcanoWe stop close to the stream for a rest and drink. There is a flat grassy plain to our right looking up at the snow capped peaks and down the valley. Victor and I decide that this would be the perfect spot to just pitch a tent, light a fire, drink some whiskey and solve the problems of the world. It would be hard to think of many problems that need solving in this place, however. The two chaps strip and jump into the stream, they sit and laugh in the milky testicle shrinking waters.


I splash some water on my face and feel that wonderful buzzing sensation as the sun slowly warms my goosebumps. We pedal along the valley, wild horses are everywhere eating lush grass and looking like they are enjoying life as much as us. Cotopaxi slowly revolves as we ride but keeps her summit shyly hidden in cloud. Vincent has a moment of madness when he says that riding for days around this amazing country may be a good idea. When we stop for lunch our sore bums promptly cease grand ideals of any extended riding.

With full bellies we join the main road again, leaving our equine companions and the green fields behind. The main road has much quicker, smoother downhill runs but is more crowded with cars and far more dusty. We get to the park entrance and bundle our bikes back on to the Land Cruiser. Back in Quito we eat bad Mexican food and relive the day.

grey Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador Volcanogrey Bike riding down Cotopaxi Ecuador Volcano







Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador – Latachunga,

grey Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador    Latachunga,

I am in Latacunga, a rural city two hours out of Quito and feeling rather alone. I do not have my english/spanish dictionary nor any maps. I didn’t think that I would need either as my friends have maps and both speak very good spanish. We are here to see one of the most famous festival in ecuador

Unfortunately I was unable to squeeze onto the first bus. The last I saw of my friends was two hours ago as the bus pulled away with them on board leaving me stranded on the platform. I decided to just continue catching busses with the hope of meeting them again. grey Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador    Latachunga,

We have decided to go to the Mamma Negra festival, this is apparently a must do if you are around town in September. The people of Latacunga live very close to Cotopaxi volcano. Once a year they hold a festival which is an eclectic mix of traditional and christian beliefs to appease the gods and to stop their town being destroyed. They think this works and have clearly forgiven the four times it didn’t work and their city was destroyed. Just as I was getting ready to write off the day as a loss and by pure chance I bump into my friends amongst the throngs of revelers and we set about finding the action. We had a few false starts then follow the music to a street corner where we buy a liter of beer each for $1, beer is a necessity in the sun. The lonely planet reads that once you find the festival it is impossible to not join in. This is very true. grey Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador    Latachunga,

Soon we are in the street amongst thousands of colorfully dressed people dancing, drinking and enjoying themselves. The parade winds its way through the street helped along by a cacophony of sound provided by countless marching and salsa bands. The atmosphere is electric, everyone is having fun and dancing. Drunk people dance in between trumpet players and guitarists. An army marching band passes us trailed by its own alcohol cart. The band master is holding a half empty bottle of spirit rather than a baton. Couples kiss and dance while we sip our beers and snap away on our cameras. grey Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador    Latachunga,Even the police are spotted enjoying a sneaky dram. Random paraders regularly approach us and pour various concoctions down our throats. This is for good luck, soon we are feeling very lucky indeed. A foursome dressed in pure white do a cleansing dance around Victor and Vincent. This ends with a man spitting a mouthful of spirits all over them. They are cleansed. A man behind us is passed out clutching an empty bottle of whiskey. We have had about 6 shots of various strengths forced (bend my rubber arm!) upon us and decide it would be wise to leave early rather than risking being drunk and homeless in a foreign, crazy town.



grey Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador    Latachunga,grey Mamma Negra Festival in Ecuador    Latachunga,Our good luck with busses continues, we quickly find a bus and soon we arrive at Quito, exhausted but still enjoying the moment. Victor realizes that his wallet has been stolen. It has been a bad week for him with Ipod, camera, jacket and now his wallet growing legs. Back at the hostel I think to myself that the festival would be quite effective. The noise, chaos and mess of that parade would be enough to make any god think twice before messing with the people of Latacunga.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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