Sometimes, the things that happened to me on my trip to Peru and Ecuador weren’t adventurous so much as they were just downright strange. Human skulls, hallucinogenic jungle vines, and crazy old indigenous ladies all made an appearance at one point on my trip, among some other weird occurrences that don’t quite make this list. Here are the Top Five Weirdest Things that happened to me while traveling Peru and Ecuador.

5. A Guy Named his Cat After Me

A view in San Pablo

A view in San Pablo

The first thing I did when I arrived in San Pablo, Cajamarca (northern Peru) was meet up with a Peace Corps volunteer named Nick and join his host family for breakfast. It began mundanely enough, eating bread and cheese and drinking coffee, but Nick’s host parents quickly got comfortable enough with me to turn on the crazy talk. Aliens and Jack the Ripper were among the first topics of conversation, closely followed by political conspiracy theories. By now, I know better than to contradict a middle-aged lady in rural Peru when she tells me that she once saw aliens land near her house, so I nodded along and let my chewing be my only response. After a while, we somehow got on the topic of a new litter of cats and Nick’s host dad was promising to name one of them after me. I didn’t think much of the comment at the time, but about a month ago, Nick emailed me saying that his host dad had in fact named his new cat after me. It’re life’s small victories that make you feel the best.

4. A Crazy Old Lady Screams at Me

A Quechua woman (not the crazy one) Photo by: Filemon

A Quechua woman (not the crazy one)
Photo by: Filemon

I was walking down the street in a remote town in southern Peru called Sibayo, eating a piece of store-bought chocolate cake, when an old lady walking towards me stopped and started shouting at me. But not in Spanish. I can’t be sure, but my best guess is that she was speaking Quechua – an indigenous Peruvian language still prevalent in Peru. I tried to clarify what she was angry about, but she refused to answer in Spanish, instead continuing to berate me in another language. She also had something green and earthy staining her teeth and dropping off her lips as she yelled. My best guess is coca leaves, though coca leaves only give you a little energy – they don’t make you raving mad. She also kept pointing at me, possibly at my chocolate cake, so I broke some off and handed it to her. She continued yelling at me, while seamlessly stuffing the cake into her mouth. She then had chocolate cake and the green mystery substance spilling out and didn’t seem at all placated. Unable to negotiate or even understand her list of demands, I shoved the rest of the cake into her hand and quickly walked away. I’ll never know what she was so angry about, but I hope the cake helped.

3. Jack the Explorer

Peru, Yanamarca Valley

Chasqui Triumphant

While I was visiting the Yanamarca Valley, a Peace Corps volunteer there connected me with a local indigenous man named Chasqui, who is a local artist, tour guide, and semi-pro bicyclist. A renaissance man, if you will. He took us up to some pre-Incan Xauxa (pronounced ‘shau-sha’) ruins and explained how the Xauxa used to live (e.g. they used to sleep in a crouched position, against the wall – so strange). To get from the town we were in to the trail-head to the ruins in good time, Chasqui lent me his bike and ran alongside me. He was so excited that his area was soon to be in a travel guide that as he ran, he would shout to anyone we passed, “Jack the Explorer is here! Jack the Explorer is coming!!” I’ve never had someone introduce my presence like that before and it was both flattering and very strange. My ego, which doesn’t need any feeding, definitely liked it. I wore the hat he gave me almost every day for the rest of my trip.

Ecuador

The Shaman at his table

2. Shaman Cleansing

I have already mentioned this several times in this blog, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I couldn’t keep the shaman cleansing off a list of weird things that happened to me in South America. I mean, a dude with dyed bright red hair and black paint on his body rubbed me up and down with an egg, spit home-brewed alcohol into some candles in order to “feed” the rocks on the table behind them, and whisked away my bad energies with a palm leaf. Then I drank a jungle vine that sometimes makes you hallucinate (I didn’t). If that’s not a weird night for you, then give me a call sometime – we definitely have to hang out.

1. Walking Over a Wari Burial Ground

Just ten minutes off the highway near Cañetes, Peru, there is a hill covered in humans remains. What used to be a sacred Wari (pre-Incan civilization) burial ground has been mostly unearthed by grave-robbers, such that now there are just exposed human bones as far as the eye can see. The remains are 1,500 year old artifacts that are utterly neglected by everyone except grave robbers and preserved only by the fortune of being in a desert (some are so well preserved that they still have hair on them!). Walking around the burial ground, I saw bones from every part of the body and several times held perfectly intact human skulls in my hand. A strange, morbid experience unlike any I’ve ever had.