A Chat With A Guide Called Eric


I am probably working away on a farm at the moment but I have written a few posts to keep regular readers amused...Firstly, back to the Huayhuash trek in Peru.

Halfway around the trek there are some hot springs where you can soak your aching legs. Dave and I got chatting to a trekking guide with one of the tour groups. He was sat in the hot bath drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. We had already been in and out, and eaten dinner, and sat, in all our warm clothes, on the edge.

To start with we had asked him about his job, whether he was interested in moutain climbing or prefered trekking. He told us that he was keen on climbing but has a knee injury and finds trekking easier.

The knee injury was from carrying a teacher downhill. She was accompanying a group of British children that he was guiding and started to show symptoms of oedema (a potentially life-threatening form of altitude sickness). He ran downhill for 4kms with her on his back. There was no phone reception of course but the group had a British Army emergency transponder with them. A message got through to London and from there to Huaraz. Anyway she survived and Eric got a sore knee.

I asked Eric about the standard of mountain rescue in general and he was, to say the least, disparaging. Helicopters are theoretically available but they have to come from Lima. They won't even take off before insurance details have been sorted out.

Eric didn't have much faith in Peru's government. The country has a wealth of mineral resources and is one of the world leaders in the production of stuff like arsenic, copper, lead, silver, tin and zinc. However, from Eric's point of view, there is no sign of this wealth benefiting the people. He thinks this is due to corruption in government. He sited the example of Alberto Fujimori, the president during the nineties. Fujimori was a university lecturer before being elected, with a modest income. He privatised many state-owned enterprises raising an estimated US$9 billion barely a fraction of which would ever benifit Peruvian people. Last year he was convicted of human rights abuses and corruption and has been sent to prison.

So perhaps it is unsuprising that Eric considers politicians with a great deal of suspicion. The poverty gap is as bad as ever. Some people in the poorer areas of Cusco and Lima live on 2 or 3 soles a day. About 50 pence. Around 35% of the population live below the poverty line.

Peru has a thriving tourist industry. But, yet again, most of the money dissappears. In Cusco, most of the bars, restuarants and hotels in the centre are foreign owned. There are many government schemes to encourage foreign investment. Perurail, which runs the trains to Machu Picchu, which is visited by over 850 million people each year, is owned by a British company. Eric said that Inca trail guides and cooks are fairly well-paid but porters can expect 120 soles for 4 days. About 7 pounds a day. The entrance fee at MP goes directly to Lima as do the entrance fees to the various National Parks in the country. Getting money back from Lima to invest in the tourism industry is like getting blood out of a stone.

The Cordillera Huayhuash itself used to be a national park but the status was revoked. The area was used as a hideout by Shining Path untill that group was defeated in the early nineties. In 2002 two hikers were murdered in a robbery. Then, in 2004, another 4 hikers were shot whilst resisting an armed robbery, one died from blood-loss before rescue. The local police and government felt there was little they could do to police the area any better so instead they instigated a "protection money" system. As you pass by small communities on the trek you must pay between 10 and 35 soles, for which you get a receipt, in total you pay around 150 soles. The money goes toward "upkeep of the trail and to support local communities". This has made the area generally safe but infuriated the Israeli hikers we met.

This year the tourism industry was dealt an additional blow with the flooding in Cusco. At the hight of the floods this year Peru was loosing US$1 million a day due to cancelations. The train to MP was suspended and helicopters were sent to rescue about 2000 stranded tourists and locals. The repair bill has been estimated to be around US$300 million.

We finished our beers and went to bed. It was cold. We pitied those still enjoying the hot water because at some point they had to get out.

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