The Monkey Tracker

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

10,000 NOOBs

Well here it is, another epic and long awaited blog from all corners of Peru..

Day 10 – Arrival in Lima
We arrived in Lima late at night to the usual chaos of the airport arrival area. Amongst the mess we found our driver from Pay Purix hostel. He was the infamous cartoon character that convinced us to come to this country. It was a real honour to finally meet him in person.

Day 11 – Lima to Huacachina
Our mission for the day was to reach the desert oasis of Huacachina. We made the NOOB error of taking the local bus, not a tourist in sight. Free Beta: avoid Flores Bus Company.
A five hour drive into the desert was next, along the way there were wackos everywhere in the barren wasteland with no apparent source of water or resources.

The bus system was highly confusing with excessive shuffling of people and constant ticket checks. At every stop a new bunch of wierdos would board the bus, some of them trying to forcefully sell an array of dodgy repackaged food. Meanwhile other scammers would bang on the windows trying to sell plates seafood, real hygienic like on the side of a dusty desert road in the scorching sun.

Some seemingly innocent children embarked the crazy bus and then BAM!!! Goodbye fancy Nomad camera. You let your guard down for one second and your finished. One brick to the back of the head and it’s all over.  We got off the bus at Ica and the taxi drivers circled us like sharks.  We decided to trust one shark who took us on a confusing trip to the (corrupt?) police station. They were highly equipped with one massive master file textbook and a couple of computers from the 80’s. The got nomads finger print; we don’t know what they were thinking trying to get a way to track the Nomad. No one can track the Nomad.  We’ve been trying for years.

Following this we anxiously continued through the vast sand dunes and then out of nowhere, BAM!!!    There was this bewildering desert oasis. 

Our room for the night had no windows but was somehow infested with mosquitoes. Something about Malaria and a big hole in the roof we discovered the next day.
We were already highly paranoid but after the camera incident things reached a new level of insanity. New rule: the bag and all valuables stay with me. Every man for himself, trust no one, not even Rafiki.

Day 12 – Huacachina Dune Buggy
We spend the entire day laying around the oasis, negotiating with the ice-cream guy. We lost Nomad again for half the day, but we solved the puzzle…

Late in the afternoon we ventured into the desert on a crazy dune buggy. Our ride started with us getting bogged at the first hill, real NOOB like. But this guy was no NOOB, he was the most insane driver we’ve ever encountered. We got our adrenaline fix while hooning around on impossible slopes and massive dunes. No safety rules in this country, never mind padded roll cages or visibility flag on the buggy. It was highly amusing for the driver when he stopped on the edge of a sheer dune, with the buggy teetering precariously on the edge of certain death. We the proceeded to sand board down the slope on a piece of bent plywood.

We sat around in the desert and watched the sunset before returning to the hostel to remove sand from everywhere. And I mean EVERYWHERE. As per usual we played bongoes.

Day 13 – Huacachina to Lima
A slow day of transport, a few highlights include Nomad’s purchase of dental floss and a trip to KFC.

Day 14 – Lima to Cusco to Machu Picchu
We were done with busses so we saved at Candy’s Save Cave and got a Funky’s Flight to Cusco and then got driven to Ollyantambo for the bargain price of 100 Sole. Along the way we dodged many stray dogs at high speed on the highway..

 We also stopped at a restaurant full of old rich tourists. The first thought was “this isn’t in the budget” but we decided to justify it as some sort of Peruvian cultural tourist experience.

At Ollyantambo we caught the Vista Dome train with front row leather seating and full views of the scenery ahead. The train followed a raging flooded river between the mountains, somehow we knew this river would try to be the death of us eventually. It seems like Albert and Elvis are some sort of god in this country, the names are praised and written all over peoples houses. Makes sense to us.

 At Machu Picchu we got funnelled straight into the tourist market where Beric spent several hours bartering for a $4 Puma stone. Nomad purchased… well we don’t know but it was weird looking.

Day 15 – Machu Picchu
Like any sane person we woke up at 4 am to race the crowds up the track to Machu Picchu.

 We were herded like cows across the bridge and then held up by 10,000 NOOBs on the walk to the top. We clawed our way to the front of the herd and managed to see Machu Picchu in its full glory at sunrise, before all the other suckers showed up.

On the way to walk up a second peak we encountered a bunch of lamas and a crazy wacko looking for his lost wife. He stood there in his  green poncho with his arms in the air yelling “MI MI” for at least half an hour. 

Now back to the lamas, one lama had it all, a whole army of servant lamas praising its glory. A real king Lama, maybe even better than the Alpha Monkey.

We walked to the top of Wayna Picchu, in the mist and rain and were greeted by even more NOOBs all balanced precariously on a slippery rock summit. One push and we could have had the whole place to ourselves.

"10,000 Noobs"

We didn’t know what do next, we’d never got up to this level in the game before.  Eventually we found a Continue sign which led us to the Exit. 

On the way down we we’re getting edgy and had to climb something.

We decided to take the tourist bus down the mountain, rookie error. A few kms down the bus stopped and we discovered the road had been cut by a huge landslide. George warned us about riding in busses on dodgy mountain roads.

We left the suckers behind and walked down the mountain just in time to catch the train back to Cusco.

Day 16 – Cusco Rafting

We survived the challenges of Venezuela but would prove to be nothing compared to the day Nomad tried to kill us. He concocted some sort of vague plan that involved us being picked up in a van and driven to a flooded main tributary of the Amazon outside of Cusco. This was the very same river thats flowed past Machu Picchue city. Given this is what the river looked like next to Machu Picchue we were confident leading up to the rafting event of course ..

We didn’t know at the time but the rafting grade system goes like this:
  • Class 1: Very small rough areas, requires no maneuvering. (Skill Level: None)
  • Class 2: Some rough water, maybe some rocks, small drops, might require maneuvering. (Skill Level: Basic Paddling Skill)
  • Class 3: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe a 3–5 ft drop, but not much considerable danger. May require significant maneuvering. (Skill Level: Experienced paddling skills)
  • Class 4: Whitewater, large waves, long rapids, rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. (Skill Level: Whitewater Experience)
  • Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, continuous rapids, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience)
  • Class 6: Whitewater, typically with huge waves, huge rocks and hazards, huge drops, but sometimes labeled this way due to largely invisible dangers (e.g., a smooth slide that creates a near-perfect, almost inescapable hydraulic  Class 6 rapids are considered hazardous even for expert paddlers using state-of-the-art equipment, and come with the warning "danger to life or limb." (Skill Level: Expert) CERTAIN DEATH according to our guide with 25 years experience.

Nomad scheduled a class 4, but as it turned out the river was in full flood and the guide said it was more like class 5. So us NOOBs set off on our crazy raft, things went well for the first ten minutes or so, then things got a little crazy. Here are our recollections of the event that followed.

Our adventure down the river started easily enough, a few gently turns and the odd small rapid which we easily negotiated. I did notice that the raft seemed rather large for just us three and our guide. It seemed out of balance too with our guide in the middle and after a first swap of positions, only myself on the front right with Nomad and Beric both on the left. I was a little concerned after our guide had mentioned that the river had risen over a meter since he was last here, but it all seemed safe enough, until we rounded a corner…
I was sitting on the front right of the raft when the river got significantly rougher and faster. Our guide screamed the command FORWARD and I paddled madly, swiping at the air half the time as the raft bounced up and down. It didn’t help much though and as we dropped into a large hole everything went black. For what seemed like forever I pushed to the surface and eventually caught a breath after swallowing and unknown amount of dirty silt water.

We had capsized the raft right at the start of the worst section of the river and now had to negotiate a washing machine alone. It was proving difficult to breath at the high altitude of nearly 3000m and in freezing cold water. Swimming was harder than usual to, weighed down by a full spray jacket, an oversized life jacket and hiking shoes. After somehow getting through the worst of the rapids I saw the safety kayak nearby with Beric clinging on.

After swimming like crazy I reached the kayak and grabbed on. I was on the back of the kayak, Beric was on the front and I had no idea what happened to Nomad.  We went down through a couple more huge rapids and then the guide told me to let go and go for the bank. I swam hard in the strong current and clawed at the bank, eventually latching a boulder and dragging myself to the shore. On the bank I spent a while recovering, eventually finding Beric a few hundred meters downstream. After scrambling back up to the road we found Nomad and collapsed on the grass. Eventually we were reunited with our guides, who shook out hands with the encouraging words, ‘thank you for surviving.’

I was enjoying the pleasant view of snow capped mountains and ice cold water spraying gently on cheeks as we drifted around the bend. 

I knew things were getting bad of all a sudden when the instructor started screaming frantic commands and the water began flowing nearly faster than I could even paddle. I was paddling with absolutely everything I had to the point where I thought my shoulders would dislocate. We dodged many large rocks protruiding form the water and the deep death holes that were churning behind them.

We were frequently airborn and out of control in this washing machine of madness. Suddenly   BAM! I didn’t even see it coming. Everything was black, swirling and at an instant my body was snap frozen  by the icy water. Being smashed around like a rag doll in the undercurrent I enojeyed some mouthfuls of brown Amazon water. Still holding my paddle. When I finally reached the surface to gasp for air I copped another gush of water in the face and honestly at this point I thought my life was going to be over. I was choking on water, barely keeping my head above the surface as were swept at a fast pace into another extremely rough section. To make things worse there wasn’t much air to gasp in the first place given the altitude was over 3000m above sea level.

I recall Nomad and Steve were being swept along near by to me.  I was pushed under the water again and this time when I came back up the 2nd recue guide on his canoe was in sight. I was still holding my paddle of course. He cut in behind me and I clutched the metal handle on the front of the canoe. Remembering back to the safety brief I mounted the canoe from underneath. Essentially wrapping my legs up and over and thrusting my groin into the bow of the canoe. Somehow still holding my paddle. I didn’t realise at the time but Steve had clutched onto the back of the canoe also. I was hanging on for my life with the paddle somehow hooked under my arm as my saviour guided us through the continuous raging waters. On the front of the canoe my back was facing the direction of our flow, so i was completely blind to the rapids and I felt extremely vunerable. I was trying to chose my moments carefully as to when to take my breaths. It was impossible to predict when my head was going to be submerged next. This was terrifying and stretched on for about 200 meters.

When the time was right the guide screamed for me to break free for the bank and swam like mad to the shore, clutching and clawing at the mud and rocks. I clambered out of the water and slumped on my side in the mud. Still holing the damn paddle. I have no idea why I kept it, I guess it makes a good extension to your arm. I spent a few minutes getting my breath and trying to get warm. No sign of Steve or nomad which had me very worried. Eventually I found them and we laid on backs on the grassy bank, very much relieved. The instructor turned up, he had lost expensive raft but did not care at all ,he was just happy that none of us died. Most importantly I didn’t lose the Paddle.

From now on I have decided no more rafting. Humans weren’t made for water. We don’t have the fins or the gills or the scales. I’m not getting in any more water unless its no more than 6foot deeps, I can see the bottom and its not flowing at 40km per hour..

I remember the event well. Sitting in the front left I casually drifting down the urumbamba river with the other guys taking in the scenery – steep country side, corn fields and strangers standing by the road waiting for the bus. Our guide Leo seemed reasonably confident and was sitting in the middle manning some oars. This seemed a little odd to me, maybe this is standard practice when only a small group is involved?  Initially It seemed rather contrived, though as we approached a larger set of rapids which covered the width of the river the guy in the safety kayak shared a concerned glance with Leo.

Thirty seconds into the set, the boat was rocking up and over in a fast predictable fashion. Then we came down into a large trough. The wave quickly broke back onto the raft as we reached the peak and before i could work out which direction i was being thrown, the boat was on top of me. I hadn’t taken a full breath and the limit of my oxygen seemed shorter considering we were at 10000 ft. A few seconds later and I was upright, floating and able to breathe. I glanced backwards and was the raft upside down with someone, mostly likely Leo, clinging to the outside. The second thing i noticed was the speed at which the bank was whirling by. After a daze of a few blank seconds i assumed the safety position. The comfort of the life jacket made sense. I spotted Beric floating to my left, and promptly grabbed the sleeve of his jacket. Immediately following i recall being taken into the second tier of white water.

Chris disappeared from sight and i became concerned following the realisation that i was a fast fading candidate for rescue by the safety kayak. He paddled towards me and i struggled to gain enough momentum to make any noticeable difference to my course down the river. My hand glanced the safety handle at the rear of the kayak but i failed to wrap my fingers around it. I knew that I was now completely on my own.
A few deep breaths later and I realised that i could not regain any strength and there was no end in sight to the turbulence. I recalled the last thing the safety guy told me, swim to the right. With a full length wet suit, a spray jacket, life jacket and hiking boots on swimming in a fast flowing was proving difficult. Out of breath, I managed to move over to a less treacherous section. I finally was able to grab rock on the bank. As I tried to stand up i struggled to balance as my legs had become so fatigued. I spent a minute taking air in which only felt like half breaths due to the altitude.

When i looked up i couldn’t see any sign life until I spotted Leo walking up the bank some few hundred metres upstream. He signalled to me to make the road. I found a path and reached the highway within a minute. Walking downstream there were no sign of the others until Leo shouted across stream that they were alright. This was a relief, but not completely unexpected. I did spot them crawling over the kayak before i lost sight of everyone. We met up and inappropriately I made light of the situation. This behaviour was not taken well.

We found our photographer and piled into a car that a local was driving. Except it was already full. I was one of four people in the back of a hatch back. The old lady that was previously there was unfazed by  our occupancy. A few minutes later we reached the support vehicle and things seemed to slow down a little bit. Until we realised  edwardo the kayak support was still MIA. A few laps later of the highway later we located him as well as the raft.

All that was lost was a few paddles lost upon impact. We regained our spirits and enjoyed an impromptu lunch by the highway. Birds were chirping, locals laughing and cars beeping. Peruvian life seemed relatively  light-hearted in comparison to the scathing experience we survived in a gully a stone’s throw away from our platter of causa.

Amazon Rafting Death Mission from christopher Beric on Vimeo.

That night we were lucky to witness something completely unherd of. This white fluffy dog was trying to get through a hole in a door and got its head stuck. Then out of nowhere this bigger white dog charged up and mounted the stuck dog full doggy style and proceeded to have its way with it. We weren’t quick enough with the camera, but here is a shot of the crime scene afterwards.

Aside from rapist dogs there were lots of interesting woman which these amazing bright multi coloured clothes which they used to carry sticks and babies. They had lots of fancy hats also. 

 Day 17 – Cusco to Lima to Mexico City to Monterrey

It all started back at 5am, a reoccurring theme for the last week. Deprived of sleep we entered into the most outrageous airport debacle of all time. We had three flights to get us to Monterrey and each one was a nightmare. We are talking about 10 hours of standing at airport desks arguing and pleading and begging with people to make things happen. In the end we missed our final connecting flight by about 10 minutes. But it all worked out for the best you see. We were given accommodation for the night at the Hilton. Real joyous like. We looked out of place with our danky clothes and scrappy beards. Seeking refuge at the Hilton is a common theme with us, dates right back to Vietnam when us Hilton Boys were overcome by scam artists and spent our first night in Hanoi at the Hilton.

Cranky kong was about to tell us what to do, but the professor from Tin Tin knew the way to go

No more Airports, except to get between Mexico and the US, US and Canada, Canada and England, England and Majorca, Greek Islands, Africa Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Australia. AARRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrguhhuguguAAhhhahahaaa!!!


  1. Stop doing things that aren't climbing! Way too dangerous!

  2. I really hope you stop taking the cheapest option for everything, it is better to shorten the trip a little due to lack of funds than the other possibilities that I don`t want to contemplate.