Roughing it in rural Peru: to the Marcahuasi ruins.

I finally left the luxury of Lima to set off into the Peruvian countryside. The plan was to get to San Pedro de Casta that day, stay the night there, and visit the Marcahuasi ruins the following morning. To prepare to head out into the wilderness:
I bought water and dried food as I didn’t know when I’d next find a shop. You cannot drink the tap water in any Latin American country that I have visited, so you need to remember to always think about your water supply. It is always useful to have food on you when taking a bus as it might break down (this happened to me in Bolivia. I had to hitch hike to La Paz and I was glad I had food, but that’s another story.)
I washed my hair as I didn’t know when I’d next have hot water. This may sound silly, but often budget accommodation in developing countries do not have hot water, and If the water is cold, I want to be in and out of the shower as fast as possible!
I withdrew a lot of cash as I didn’t know when I’d next find an ATM. I remembered from my previous trip to Peru that you can only pay in cash outside of big cities, and running out would be problematic.
 
I set off early and took a taxi from Pariwana hostel in Miraflores to a side street near Plaza Bolognesi in Centro Lima, from where collectivos leave for Chosica. As I stepped out of the taxi I heard someone shout “Chosica!” And I walked over. The cost was 5 soles, just over £1, but I paid 10 soles as my rucksack had to occupy a seat. Collectivos are not designed with backpackers in mind, they are for locals and do not have a luggage compartment. They are basically mini buses that the driver squeezes as many passengers into as possible. So I dutifully squeezed myself in. No other tourists here and no English spoken. (Love it!)
 
The drive took about 2 hours as the traffic leaving Lima was awful, but I enjoyed looking out of the window and I noticed how everything looked considerably poorer and scruffier as we moved away from the capital.
suburbs of Lima
Suburbs of Lima

We got stuck in multiple traffic jams and as soon as the cars stopped, people sprung up out of nowhere, walking between the cars, selling ice creams and cold drinks.

I clambered out at Chosica, which is not an attractive town. The streets are lined with little shops

chosica

And there didn’t seem to be much else. Here I had to wait for three hours for the bus to San Pedro de Casta. I didn’t want to wander with my bag on my back because it weighs about 15kg and I couldn’t leave it anywhere. So once I’d established where the bus would leave from- asking three different locals to be certain- I sat on some steps in the shade, wrote some blog posts, and people watched.

When the bus pulled up I got straight on, so that everyone else’s luggage would go on top of mine. At the bottom of a pile of bags and boxes, I was sure that my rucksack wouldn’t get pinched, and after checking the departure time with the driver (only believe the driver, no one else) I went for a quick walk

chosica It is not a pretty place, but many Peruvians live like this.

Back on board, I was sat next to a woman from San Pedro who wore a wonderful finely-woven straw hat, and corduroy trousers. A lot of the older women on the bus were dressed like her and I guessed that it was the traditional dress of the region.

While we were waiting to leave, countless traders came onboard, selling snacks, sweets and soft drinks. A boy was selling ice creams and I was shocked at how young he looked. I sneaked a very bad photo

street vendors

To remind myself to look up child labour in Peru.

We eventually set off out of town, and up into the mountains. It was one of those relaxing drives, where the hillside just falls away at the edge of the road. The kind of road on which an experienced driver in a sturdy 4×4 would get scared and turn back. I however, did not have any choice and decided to ignore this, which I managed until we had to pass an oncoming car, and I admired the dramatic scenery.

En route we picked up a few people in the middle of nowhere. Campesinos were standing at the side of the road laden with big sacks. The women had flowers around their hats and wore shawls with brightly coloured patterns.

My guide book mentioned one hotel in San Pedro de Casta, Gran Hotel Turistico which sounded promising, but did not provide a telephone number. The town only has 500 inhabitants and the hotel did not show in any Google searches. It was raining heavily as we entered San Pedro and the roads were so thick with mud that the driver had to get out twice to shovel away a path for the tyres. As I got off the bus into the freezing night, he said “hospedaje” and pointed into the darkness. There were no street lamps so I walked slowly, not wanting to topple over in the mud, to the little hotel.

The toothless landlady wanted 10 soles (about £2.50) for single occupancy. I asked if there was hot water and she just laughed. Judging by the amount of blankets she had around her, I guessed that there wasn’t any heating either.

Going for a walk around the village in the freezing cold, pitch darkness and pouring rain, didn’t really appeal so as there was nothing else to do, I called it a day. It was 4 degrees Celsius and the water from the shower felt like ice. I only managed to wash my feet, and wondered how on earth the inhabitants of San Pedro get clean. I certainly couldn’t.

The drafty rooms opened onto an open-air central courtyard, so there was no escaping the freezing cold. In Lima I had been sleeping in just a sheet as it was so hot, and I could not believe that the temperature had changed so dramatically in one day’s journey. The bed just had two blankets, but luckily, my room had 3 beds in, so I took the blankets off the other two. I curled up into a ball with all of my clothes on, and cocooned myself under the six blankets.

San Pedro de Casta
Six blankets on my bed

Laying there shivering, I wondered how people survived in such a cold climate with no heating, and remarked on the difference in the standard of living between that of San Pedro and of Lima. I asked myself what on earth I was doing there and promised myself that I would not sleep another night in that place.

Having gone to sleep at about 9pm I woke at at 6 the next morning, and went to the tourist information office to enquire about walking up to the ruins. The lady said I should go with a guide, and she offered to take me for a cheaper price as she only knew how to get there, but she didn’t know about the history and wouldn’t be able to give my any information. I agreed and we said we would meet back at the office in half an hour.

I had some breakfast and went to get my rucksack for her to lock in the office. I was met by her and her 10 year old daughter, who wasn’t at school and wanted to come too.

The lady didn’t look particularly fit, but I am not one to judge and she zapped off up the hill at a faster pace than I could keep up with. Peruvian campesinos seem to be hardy folk, and she even offered to carry my rucksack for me, which I refused.

Marcahuasi
My guide and her daughter on the muddy path

The hike up to the Marcahuasi site is a 2 km, uphill struggle. The path had turned into thick mud, and at about 3000 meters above sea level, the air was thin. It was however, absolutely beautiful

San Pedro de Casta Peru
Looking back at San Pedro

Climbing above the clouds under the bright sunshine was unforgettable

Marcahuasi ruins

There was a gentle breeze and no noise from any traffic, which after congested Lima, was a delight. Along the way, Maria, the daughter was telling me what we were going to see at the top, and recounted legends about the local area.

My Spanish is not good enough to understand everything, but I was amazed at how confident this kid was. She kept pointing out easier routes for me in the mud, and said ‘pase Señorita’ when she found a short cut up some rocks. She would make a great guide in the future.

We finally reached the plateau, at 3500 meters.

Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi

The temperature suddenly dropped as we found ourselves in a cloud

Marcahuasi ruins Peru
Maria and I
In a cloud
In a cloud

We saw tiny stone dwellings where indigenous people lived

Las Chullpas Marcahuasi
Las Chullpas

and the main attraction- huge rocks in the form of faces.

Marcahuasi

El Indio Marcahuasi
El Indio

I was glad we had set off so early as the only bus back down to Chosica left at 2pm, and I was adamant that I would be on it. The beautiful walk had made the horrors of the previous night worthwhile, and I had experienced how the people of San Pedro lived, however one night was enough!

Marcahuasi
My lovely guide and I

The walk back down was of course much easier, although the path was just as treacherous and my guide took hold of my arm to prevent me from slipping more than once.

La Fortaleza Marcahuasi
La Fortaleza

Once back in the village I bought a sandwich for myself and for Maria. Then I teetered down the hill with my rucksack, past local women washing clothes by hand in buckets, to the bus.

Exhausted and filthy

nike

I clambered on board, and the bus slowly trundled down the mountain road, taking me back to civilisation.

I felt so grateful that I speak Spanish, as no one that I had encountered in those 24 hours had spoken English. Being able to speak the language permits me to head off the beaten path without a second thought, and my journey to the Marcahuasi ruins gave me an experience that probably few travellers get to enjoy.

 

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