Marcahuasi Part III – The Long Slog!

Previously at Marcahuasi…(recap)

• Football: My team also only managed to score 2 goals to 4 before play was interrupted by a one two pass from me, to Alberto which was ‘saved’ by Lucho in goal or rather punted right out of the court.

Thanks to the thinness of the air the ball gladly bounced down the hill (maybe bouncing 10 ft into the air, each time) and off the precipice below.

* At this point I’d also meet rata, definitely one of the strangest guys I’ve ever met in my travels through South America so far. He earned the nickname because of his sixth finger (tip) which poked out from his right thumb making him look kind of ´rattish´. The one bonus of this was the oddity that he could smoke a cigarette in between these ‘thumbs’ without having to use his index finger – Pretty cool and could go down with the ladies at a party somewhere! Right!?

* We’d only get back to the hotel around 3am, much the worse for the hike to Marcahuasi at 8 on the same day.

An orientation picture map to San Pedro de Casta.

Marcahuasi part III – The long slog!

Waking up with barely a few hours sleep, both me and Julio went to collect some essentials for our planned overnight camp at Marcahuasi. Food, check. Wood, Check. Sleeping bag, check.

Luckily, (or unluckily) I had packed pretty much everything I Would’ve possibly needed for the trip up to Marcahuasi, including:

  • Tarp,
  • Billy can (for cooking)
  • Sleeping bag (Proof up)
  • Torch
  • Bivvy bag
  • Swiss army knife
  • Regular knife
  • Water
  • Survival book
  • And uh much more.

After a rapid breakfast we formed up at the Plaza de Armas, and set off. Things quickly went wrong for me as before we´d gotten five feet I´d discovered my torch (essential for the long and dark nights at Marcahuasi) had ran out of power. 500 ft later I´d lost the only bottle of water that me and Julio had – pretty much invalidating the first rule of survival taught to me at a survival school (not the exact one but affiliated) in the UK. That survival book would come really in handy much later on.

I also became quickly aware of how much of a bad idea it was to get pissed off my face the previous night. That lack of sleep really made every single step up the mountain that bit more challenging.

“Upon reaching the gate to MW I just had to unleash a moany “Finallllyyyy” before stumbling into the complex like some kind of ww2 raf pilot stumbling out of the Saharan desert: chapped lips, dry mouth and that 1000 mile stare.”

But, because as they say “The show must go on”, the trek continued to MW, and while not allegedly as bad as Machu Picchu I thought it ranged from strenuous to horrific. Nearly every five minutes or so I´d have to stop, rest and get my breath due to the problem of altitude and the fact I was carrying a backpack that maybe weighed 25kg+. That probably doesn´t sound like much but I can assure you it really gets to you at that height!

In fact, I really did turn into “THAT” guy keeping everyone else up. Sometimes, it seems like you really can´t win – as per my previous rant.

When we reached the half way to 3/4 way we took a longer break of maybe 20 minutes in a rocky outcrop only maybe 100m below the entrance to MW. The area was also densely populated with cows, and featured a stream which really did kind of  prove true that old trekkers wisdom about not drinking water from streams. The reasoning being that there might always be that one dead sheep or cow wee weeing into the river (in this case).  To Lucho’s credit he did find me some  water out of a nearby tank, which I still makes me feel skeptical about the foreign object content of that water… it kinda tasted weird! or silty even – Not good!

“the set of stones Lucho pointed out to us resembling a man and a woman, well.. copulating. I really didn´t see that one!”

Upon reaching the gate to MW I just had to unleash a moan “Finallllyyyy” before stumbling into the complex like some kind of ww2 RAF pilot stumbling out of the Saharan desert; with chapped lips, dry mouth and that 1000 mile stare.

We eventually stowed our stuff in a small ruined house located inside the valley that’s become known as the “auditorium” thanks to it´s cavern like appearance with walls 50ft (or higher) on either side of the auditorium “floor”. In fact, I later found out that a popular electronic music festival has popped up here. This seems to be just another sign of the rising (and diverse) popularity of Marcahuasi site, partly due to the continuing mystery of its origins. I´m also sure that after any kind of event like that  at 4000m you´re gonna have a lot more supposed “alien sightings”. hehe.

Trekking in further

After a brief rest from the four hour trek (rated 3 hours) to Marcahuasi, we set off to explore the rest of the complex. What we were to see together were simply stunning views of the area around MW and a set of eerie rocks carved out by the unknown civilization. Admittedly we had to really use some imagination for some of the structures on show there; like the set of stones Lucho pointed out to us resembling a man and a woman, well.. copulating. Although I really couldn´t see that one!

Further on we´d get to a much larger lagoon with dark green water, but not like the green water I found once at that most British of establishments:  butlins (due to  dirtiness). The water here looked rather unspoiled and tranquil enough for a few birds to dip in and even led to Alberto taking a short dip. I guess I really should´ve joined him.. but “oh well”, because at the time I was really looking for scraps of wood to survive the night. It wasn´t before long that Julio had climbed ahead as I tagged behind looking for scraps. Yeah, once again I became “That guy” :S as we reached the lookout point.

By this point it was worth noting I was totally without water and sunburned head to toe (That tan really didn´t stick – damn it!), which made returning to the “auditorium” probably the most horrendous part of the trip. Just trying to carry all the firewood I´d collected (a faggot – ah, ha ha!) and a bottle of lake water was a mission and a half in itself. With every proceeding step the items I was carrying got heavier, and heavier, and even heavier! Until I simply couldn´t walk another step and (I´ll have to admit) had to ask Julio for a bit of help in carrying all of the items and suddenly,  at this point we were probably down to two minute stops or less.

The extreme dehydration and sunburn at that point just kinda just eclipsed other features on the way. Like the fault line which lead right down into the center of the earth itself. So there´s a real tip for anyone out there considering trekking to Marcahuasi – bring suncream and water. Lots and lots of suncream and water!

When we finally reached the auditorium I glugged down as much of the water (that we had borrowed from some other travelers) as possible and laid down half dead in the shade of the foundations of  the stone cottage.

Setting up camp

After the girls, Lucho and Alberto left for the SPDC festival that was going to happen that night. Myself and Julio set upon that most manly of pastimes: Setting up camp.

The first question to any caveman or Marcahausian in times of yonder, must´ve been “Where do we setup camp?”. After the roasting I´d received earlier from the Marcahuasi sun god, I pretty much was against trekking too far from the main camp site. So we went off to survey the local area for some kind of cave or cavern to sleep in.

Most of the options we found were really good, except for the fact that it seemed like most of the people who visited Marcahausi went to the toilet there. Ewww! This left only two options: the cottage ruins or the two huge rocks placed together making it an easy choice – lets hear a hella yeah! for the cave like structure.

After a bit of discussion we decided to move the fire a bit further from the cave because we didn´t want to be gassed that night (really should´ve done the opposite in hindsight) and to put a tarp on the back to keep the warmth in, whilst ventilating: something mentioned in the handy survival book.

Julio contributed by making an excellent stone stove (that could support my billy can) and by managing to get the fire started after only a few tries. With the camp set we had a chance for a few photo opportunities:

Photo opportunity: A 360 degree view of the camp.





Lasting through the night

Lasting through the night ahead was going to be tough. The combination of high altitude and cold meant that temperatures could drop to below zero – Just another part of the environmental challenges facing adventurers!

Other challenges throughout the night included (in order):

  • Chopping wood without an axe. I was taught to bash the top of my knife to split the wood, but because it was so hard the wood I resorted to brute strength i.e. Straddling it between two supporting rocks and dropping a massive rock with a pointed edge from head height onto it. Job done!
  • Cooking: Julio (the master chef in this case) had the foresight to bring together a few items from San Pedro de Casta (veg, choco bar, noodles). He managed to cook with the minimal of items a stupendous soup, which we shared with some difficulty. For a start, without any cooking utilities other than my camping knife and a knife, forks, spoon we had to get the pot onto and off of the stove  that Julio constructed. This meant we had to do an act worthy of the state circus by using two sticks to jostle the billy can onto and off of the fire, resulting in a come hither and further juggling act. Then, we had to  boil the water from the lake for 20 minutes to kill any germs, toxins etc (as per my guides recommendation). By the end of that we´d evaporated half of the water:  Causing a prolonged wait for the tasty noodles.After that we had problems just seeing the thing because of the dimming fire. This resulted in a somewhat interesting hot chocolate –  tagliatelle noodles combination that probably wont be reproduced. Ever..
  • Fire: While the atmosphere remained jolly, the low concentration of oxygen meant that the wood had nearly all been burnt out by eight o clock causing a frantic search through my survival book for an alternative fuel source. The only one that popped up was rather unlikely: Dried animal poop.
  • Smoke: Not so much of a physical challenge, but a mental one. The combination of high altitude and carbon monoxide from the fire meant I was starting to really trip out and see some freakkkkkyyy stuff right next to me. For a start I saw a load of people  sitting right next to me and reaching out for me, resembling that old X-Files episode of old with the ghosts in the old people home. Lucho, too was there in spirit – Scary stuff!

Because of the last two problems we were forced out into the pitch black (torch less – foolish really) we waded out into the pitch black freezing coldness in order to borrow another on site campers torch, which he was using to create some kind of new wave light show. We then went around looking for dried poop, which was near impossible considering the fact that poop looks like dirt and that the dirt looked like the pitch blackness of MW. There was a bit of hilarity when I elected Julio to take my position and within 2 minutes he put his hand right in it… so to speak. lol.

Poopless, we decided to pack it in for the night. Leaving the cosmic spectacle above.

Packing up and returning to SPDC: Overall

After a fairly comfortable sleep (and surprisingly warm!) we set off to pack – something that took us a bit longer thanks to the down or bird stuffing nature of my sleeping bag. It´s great when your sleeping;  just not when you´re packing up and you´ve got a bus to catch. Graciously the other campers left us some extra water: Not something that´d happen in the UK because the people here definitely are friendlier!

The trek down was far easier and we managed to do it in maybe an hour and a half: more than halving our ascent time! In fact, we only had to rest once, which just goes to show how much easier things get when your going down in altitude.

Overall I´m not really sure what I got out of the trek to Marcahuasi. The camping was kinda cool, but the trek itself was a bit slighted by my exposure to the elements. Had I of prepared better (and not eaten so many pies!), I´m sure I would have enjoyed the experience a lot more.


peter gent

I used to work in the games industry. Now studying for entry into politics and Spanish at portsmouth university. 2009 Karikuy Volunteer.

2 thoughts on “Marcahuasi Part III – The Long Slog!

  • August 14, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Dude, you guys should've stayed in the cabin a bit to the west of the Anfiteatro. You'd have had four solid walls, a roof over your heads, and a place to cook. It's not comfy, but with how cold it gets up there, it feels like a palace.

    • August 16, 2009 at 7:36 am

      Very good to know next time I go up, can you send me some more detail directions or if possible a map, thanks. Great advice for future travelers.


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