Saturday, 8 March 2014

10) Working in Carpa

Wilson is a friendly guy who speaks good English and helps around the office. To sort us out with getting to the next site where Jamie had started work whilst I was running out of bodily fluids, he explained he'd take us to a tourist bus which passes by the park. With about 15 minutes to spare Sunday morning, the bell rang and I nipped downstairs to answer the door. To my surprise Wilson was there, a little early, and also with a tourist bus filled with people waiting behind him. I dashed back upstairs, me and Jamie grabbed the last of our gear and we hauled ass out of there.
We grabbed a seat at the back of the mini bus and plonked our bags on our laps because there wasn't any room and off we went. First off we picked up some more people. Everyone was Peruvian, and I think it was a kind of city tourist thing because they all looked fairly well off, and obviously a tour of the mountains would appeal to very few locals who see them every day.
After an hour or so we arrived in Catac, a small village/town about half way, where we had to stop and sample Coca tea at a local cafe. It was stronger than normal but good, and we also bought some coca leaves as Carpa is higher than Pachapaqui (about 4400m), and they were only 50 centimos a bag so it would be rude not to. Down the road and about 40 minutes or so down a gravel track and we were at the guard post where tourists pay to enter El Parque Nacional Huarascan, where we would be working (for free, lucky us). We hiked up the mountain and set up camp before setting to work. The original plan was to do half in one day, and finish by 3.30 on the following Monday to catch a tourist bus back. This went massively to pot.
On the first day we had a helper, a young lad called Jack who lived in a shack on the border of the park. He'd met Jamie before and helped us measure the Puya, chatting away despite the language barrier like we were best friends. Either way we didn't get nearly enough done. The night was bloody freezing (literally) and we woke up with the tent covered in ice, ate our shit porridge and got straight to work. At lunch we headed back to the tent and Jack was there waiting with a friend this time, his little brother Jesus. Jamie went to get some more water from the guard post, as it was obvious by that point we wouldn't finish by 3.30 and would be staying the night, and I had to entertain Jack and Jesus who were fascinated by us and every bit of equipment we had (especially my binoculars).
Making our way to Carpa
After a while their grandmother came down from the mountain where she'd been herding their sheep and told me about how their parents had died and she looked after them. She was mortified that we had to stay in a tent, and kept asking me to come for tea. I had to explain I was waiting for my friend, and when I told her I my age she started crooning like I was 12 and asking about my family and stuff. She told me to get in out of the rain that was coming and ushered off the kids, wishing me luck with the work and telling me to make sure I ate plenty and kept warm and some more things I didn't understand. It wasn't long before Jamie returned, with two small followers. I made the mistake of showing them Angry Birds and they flipped their shit and took ages to get rid of. By the end of the day we had 40 Puya left to do, and at the gaurd post Jamie had found out that buses do not run on Tuesdays...
Our helpers and Grandma
Morning came again after another sleepless night, and we got straight to work, finishing by 9.30. We packed up the tent and headed to the guard post. The woman there who sells snacks empathised with our mission, sold us a couple of chocolate bars and we set off down the long and winding road. The 10 miles were mostly hell. The weather flipped from light rain, to intense, blazing sunshine, to eventually continual hail and thunder.
 After 3 hours of trudging along with the featureless mountains on either side, we hit the road damp all the way through, with still no signal to call for a ride. The road to Catac was winding and frankly, a death trap to anyone crazy enough to walk it, so we got our hitch hike on. After a few cars, a pickup stopped with a man and woman in, he told us to sling our stuff in the back and hop in (I assume), which we did feeling immensely grateful and relieved and hoping we weren't about to be hacked up. We hopped out 15 minutes later after a totally silent ride, expressed our gratitude some more, and set about finding a ride to Huaraz. Instead of a bus service between towns, anyone who owns a vehicle that can fit more than 5 people in can pretty much label themselves a bus, and we found one such minivan and bundled in. I mistakenly thought that the number of passengers would be dictated by the number of seats, but at one point on the hour or so journey we had 4 people standing, which is not comfortable in a van the size of a Vauxhall Zafira when you also have a soaking wet rucksack on your lap. We made it in one piece anyway for just S3.50, and stomped back to the office, feet squelching and legs protesting at 4pm, having set off some 6 hours ago.
There's a Puya! Imagine it the right way up and pretty big...
After washing away the grime of 3 days roughing it, we celebrated our return with pizza and on the way back to the office there was more Fiesta-ing so I stopped off to take a look. I asked in the bakery what was going on and she explained about their celebrating Shrove Tuesday. I'd totally forgot it was pancake day, but it's a lot more epic here (minus the pancakes). They basically stuff trees with piñata type things and decorations and just dance around getting smashed and letting off even more fireworks. There was a stage set up with a live band and everyone either selling or drinking Cusqueña; the Peruvian beer of choice. I didn't stay long because my legs killed, stopped off at the bakery for a cheeky couple of Alfahores (phenomenal) and went back to the office where I could hear my floor-bed calling me.


  1. No matter where you are in the world, a small, mildly annoying, oddly smiley, slightly toddler-like helper called Jack seems to manifest...

  2. I mentioned New Jack to Jack today and he looked very upset. He said something about "two-timing bastard" and "he promised he wouldn't see other Jacks when he was working abroad" and ran away crying. I saw him a bit later and he said as long as it was meaningless and functional, he didn't mind too much - men have needs and if you need to start seeing other Jacks to fulfil those, then he can live with it. Or so he said...

    1. It's only because I've heard he's cavorting about with Mr Gove these days as though Toms are ten a penny!