This is a story about a concussion and a new best friend. Both interesting developments when on the road. I will start with the concussion, because inadvertently it led to Sam’s new best friend.
After our first loop around the Cordillera Blanca and a few stunning hikes we were not ready to leave, even though the weather was a fickle beast at best. We went to Huarez for two days and got an oil change, a flat patched and new front brakes at a shop we found that was surprisingly competent and affordable.
We decided while we were getting Hero ready for more gnarly dirt roads that we wanted keep exploring the mountains, so we planned to spend a few days driving to the Chavin de Huantar ruins and stop at Lake Querococha for a hike on the way.
When we got to the lake it was raining and so cold we quickly nixed the hike and decided to continue on to the ruins through yet another high mountain pass and single track dirt switch backs.
Chavin de Huantar
Our guide books really talked up Chavin de Huantar. Built around 900 BC (2,500 years before the Spanish conquest), this is considered the most important site of the Chavin cult and one of the most significant in Peru’s history. Our first (and to be honest last) impressions were that we were a bit underwhelmed. The ruins have been devastated over time by landslides, erosion and earthquakes, so there is not much left on top. Also, at this point in the trip we have seen a lot of ruins, and after the Mayan sites, I have found the Peruvian ruins are more historically fascinating then visually stunning aside from the locations they are in. But we still have the Incan ruins to explore…
The most interesting part of the Chavin ruins are the underground tunnels where religious ceremonies were held along with the impressive Lanzon, a large obelisk shaped sculpture of a cat like head that tapers into a point in an underground chamber. This sculpture was really beautiful and the erie underground location of it made it feel like part of an Indian Jones set. There were lots of dark tunnels to navigate and Sam and I (who were alone at the ruins) set off with our flashlight to explore.
It is at this point I need to reiterate that Sam and I are tall. We are much taller than the average Peruvian today and would be giants 2,500 years ago in Peru (lets face it, a 6’ and 6’ 4” we are giants today). Walking around any ruins is dangerous for us, we both try remind each other to crouch low, but sometimes in the dark rocks can sneak up on us.
As we were exploring our second round of tunnels I was walking down some stairs rather quickly and suddenly heard a very loud THUMP! The next thing I rememberI was sitting on the ground literally seeing stars and crying as Sam, who had heard the smack across the tunnel ran over and was checking my head for bleeding. No bleeding, but I was already growing what would turn into a bump on my head that was as big as a navel orange. It needed its own XP camper hat.
Since I have had two fairly serious concussions in my life, I was fairly sure that I just received number three, in the middle of nowhere, Peru. I quickly popped a few Advil and then stubbornly convinced Sam we should see the rest of the ruins as I walked around in a haze of pain. After the ruins we decided to leave the area we were in. Chavin is in some valleys and we wanted to get back into the National Park Huascaran. Sam looked at the GPS and found some back roads and access points into the park where we planned to relax and let my head get better.
We drove for hours and finally re-entered the National Park to ironically start following mining roads towards the mountains. I say ironic because I never thought mining would be allowed in a National Park, but they allow logging in the US National Parks, so who am I to judge I guess.
After many long hours of exploration and with a pounding headache, I begged Sam to find a place to camp so I could lay down. At the time, we did not realize we were at 14,300 feet, not the best place to camp with a massive headache. But after a week at altitude we had stopped checking.
We found a beautiful spot on a hill overlooking a lake and rugged snow capped peaks. Below us was an alpaca farm and Sam walked the half mile down the road to let the farmer know we would be camping.
And so it all begins……
Sam was greeted at the farm by a shotgun in his face. The good news is that he did not get shot, (apparently there are poachers in the area), the bad news is that once the farmer named Ricardo found out we were friendly tourists he insisted it was much safer if we camped right in front of his house. RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS HOUSE.
We were in the middle of nowhere. The chance of danger was more than likely zero, but we were a guest in his country near his land so we drove down and parked in front of his house.
Then Sam offered him a beer which he often does to bond with the men when we park on their land. Most of them prefer soda, until now they drink one beer and thank us and we chat for a while and they go back to their lives. This time they drank the beer and our host Ricardo immediately asked for another one. And then another. Sam obliged but did not drink a second or third one because of the altitude and just chatted with our host. Ricardo pretty much pounded the third beer and asked for a fourth. Sam asked me to get it because I was inside the XP with my headache. I asked if it was a good idea since Ricardo seemed to be putting them back at a frat boy pace but I gave up and grabbed another.
As I looked out to hand him the beer Sam was engulfed in a giant bear hug (the first of about thirty that night). A long, lingering bear hug.… I laughed and handed out the fourth beer. When he asked for the fifth I made a stand and said we were out of beer. This all went down in around twenty minutes. I did not want to get the poor man wasted (side note: too late….), especially since he was a bit free wheeling with his shotgun.
After many long hugs and slurred conversation we realized that our beers were not the first of the day, but apparently pushed our host over the edge. After many hugs and declarations of friendship, Ricardo promptly passed out in front of the stairs of our XP. We were not sure what to do. Put a blanket on him, try to wake him up? Thankfully, there was one other alpaca farmer up the hill who came over and dragged Ricardo into his house. It did not look like it was the first time he had to do this.
Slightly relieved, Sam escaped into the XP and started making me dinner (a rare endeavor since I always cook) because I was not in a good place with my headache and the altitude and he was really worried about how bad I was doing. About 15 minutes into cooking we hear a loud banging on the XP door.
“MI AMIGO ULTIMO!!!!!!”
Sam reluctantly opened up the camper door and Ricardo was standing there with a plastic bottle of local hooch and a wicked grin. He tried to get Sam to take some swigs but Sam declined. Sam looked at me panicked for backup and realized that today is one of the days I couldn’t deal with this mess as I lie in bed recovering and promptly tried to distract Ricardo away from the camper to go for a walk.
They walked down to the lake and then Ricardo told him he needs to see his trout pond. They walked over the the trout pond and as he was showing it to Sam he fell in. Of course he fell in…..
We are at over 14,000 feet in the Andes, it is freezing out and near dark and Sam had to jump into the almost frozen trout pond to pull him out and then go back in to find his shoes that fell off. Poor Sam came back to the camper with frozen hands and feet shaking from the cold. The only silver lining of the trout pond incident was that Ricardo went in his house to warm up and called it a night.
The next morning we were woken to around 300 cute alpacas surrounding the XP, leaving their pen to go out and graze for the day. A sober, and much changed Ricardo wished us safe journeys and gave Sam a final, much faster hug goodbye.
He was a different person in the morning, but so were we. I survived a bad concussion in an 2500 year old underground ruin, Sam made a new best friend in Peru.
It is not everyday you become someones amigo ultimo.