Log, Society, Travel

Potosi silver mines

Potosi silver mine

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting a silver mine in Potosi, probably with an agency run by former miners.

The internet says that most workers die in their forties. I wonder if that’s true even for the ones who start their ‘career’ at 15.
The working conditions and the primitive tools used for the extraction of the ore haven’t changed much since the Spanish colonial times.
The rock contains asbestos and silicon; the water falling from the ceiling arsenic and cyanide. Yumm!

Hitler can envy the slaughter of slaves which took place here. About 8 millions slaves, both africans and indigenous , died in those mines in the last few centuries.

Mines are owned by a cooperative of miners and miners are self employed.

I’d really like to know the price – ad who makes the price – of the silver ore. I’d like to know the chain of economic forces that allows the same old threat: work or health.

I’ll be a tourist. Tours can teach, and they might help the world to know about those places and people; besides, miners expect you to bring some small presents – coca leaves, gloves, dynamite kits, some bottles of soda. Not much different from charity – but still an improvement over their conditions. Unfortunately, Tours must include touristic stuff and fun moments – like a cool dynamite explosion at the end of the tour. So that you always remember who you are: a tourist soon getting back to his comfortable life.

And after that, let’s go to the Salar de Uyuni with some other other optimistic smiling backpackers – so focused on their life experience, to shoot pics while jumping.

I sometimes get why so many Bolivian people seem not to like tourists.


hitch hiking, Lifestyle, Log, Travel

How to get to Macchu Picchu the cheap way

Clichè snapshot of me at Machu Picchu in full rainy season

Clichè snapshot of me at Machu Picchu in full rainy season

Disclaimer: you are the only one responsible for your actions. Following the informations provided here might be dangerous and/or even illegal in Perù. This post includes informations on how to arrive to Machu Picchu walking on railways, and about the possibility to get an international student card for discounts (even without being a real student).

There’s just one Machu Picchu in the world. And only one reliable mean of transportation to get there: a train.

That makes for a fabulous monopoly, and the possibility to get dirty easy money from tourists.

So, I’ll provide you some basics about Machu Picchu and then explain you some of the alternative routes to get to Machu Picchu.

But first, let me recommend you the grungy, friendly, cheap hostel “Let’s go Bananas“. in Cuzco. That’s where I was provided all the useful infos on how to get to Machu Picchu – and where I found several other people to join me and Damian in the adventure. “Let’s go bananas” is also a bar – so you can go there for a coffee, a breakfast or a fruit juice.

Tom of Let's go Banana. Thanks again for all the help!

Tom of Let’s go Banana. Thanks again for all the help!

The Map

First of all, a look at the map just to get an idea.

View Macchu Picchu in a larger map

The nearest village to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes, at about one hour and a half walking distance.

You’re going to spend at least one night there.

You can’t see it from the map, but it’s a really narrow valley, and Aguas Calientes is connected to the rest of the world only through a railway and through hiking trails.

In fact, this post is basically about how to get to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco. I haven’t mentioned it – but ure enough, you’re starting from Cusco.

As I said, no road (and hence, no car) arrive in Aguas Calientes.

The nearest roads arrive at two points: Hydroelectrica, a power plant 12kms away from Aguas Calientes, or in Piscakucho, a little place where the Inca Trail begins.

Hence, you get at least three possibilities

  1. Take the train. Easy and expensive. You are reading this post  exactly to avoid the train. Estimated price: 50 US$ 
  2. Take a bus From Cuzco to Santa Maria, a “colectivo” from Santa Maria to the Hydroelectrica power station, and walk for 12 km to Aguas Calientes, Estimated price: S/.30-40
  3. The hard way: take a bus to Ollyatatambo, and from there a “colectivo” to the start of the Inca Trail. There you will walk for 28 km along the railway until Aguas Calientes. That’s what we did. Estimated price: S/.13

Other options might be possible. For example, we found a van bringing us directly from Hydroelectrica to Cuzco for S/.30.


  1. Have rain gear
  2. Buy your tickets at least one day in advance in Cuzco
  3. Bring water and food for your travel
  4. Guides at Machu Picchu are useful; always negotiate (you are in Perù!). We got a english speaking guide at S/.90 for six people
  5. Especially if you are doing the Ollantaytambo – Aguas Caliente hike on the railways, use some comfortable hiking shoes!

Cuzco – Aguas Calientes via Ollantaytambo

  1. Get To Ollantaytambo by bus or colectivo. I’ll try to update the post with more details about this. You should take one before 6 am so that you can start walking at about 9am on the railway. It should cost less than S/.15.Stop at the market; it’s worth a  visit and you can have a cheap breakfast. Coffee, bread, marmalade and eggs for about S/.3
  2. From Ollantaytambo market, get a colectivo to Piscakucho – or just ask for the km 82 of the railway. they will understand.
  3. You’ll have to walk 28km: from km. 82 of the railway to km. 110. Don’t take the Inca trail; you have to pay for it. You’ll need to walk inside at least 4 tunnels; they are not long, but it wouldn’t be fun at all if a train arrived when we were in.
  4. The first 10km are completely on the railway. Be careful as you might not hear the train coming! Also, while tolerated, walking on railways is in theory illegal. To get you an idea, locals work along the railway and regularly walk on it. On the railway from Aguas Calientes to Hydroelectrica, soldiers would salute us with friendly smiles.
  5. The remaining 18 km are better, as you can walk along a path. It’s also possible to buy some food and drinks on the way; but buying in Cuzco is cheaper

Aguas Calientes – Cuzco via Santa Maria

This post is really detailed about how to do the Santa Maria way. We actually did something different, as we could find (by chance) a van that brought us directly to Cuzco. And this is about getting back from Aguas Calientes. You can just do it in the reverse order to get from Aguas Calientes to Cuzco.

  1. Walk for 12 km on the railway, from Aguas Calientes to Hydroelectrica
  2. You will probably find a bunch of vans and some dozens of tourists; just ask. it’s usually S/.15 to get to Santa Maria. The road is crazy! And when it rains a lot, it might be closed. Ouch!
  3. In Santa Maria there are minibuses to Cuzco for about 25 soles. It’s a 4 hour ride.

From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

You can get a bus for approximately 10 US$ to Machu Pichu. But that’s not for you. You want to walk up the hill for about one hour and a half.

Ticket types

The basic ticket allows you the entrance to the Machu Picchu village; but if you want to visit the Cerro Machu Picchu at 3080mts, or the Huaynapichu, you have to purchase additional tickets.

Remember that you need your passport, both to buy tickets and to verify your identity at the entrance of the park. The prices, as of February 2013, are:

Foreigners Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia
Full Price S/.128 S/.65
Student (with ISIL card) S/.65 S/.32

Huayna Picchu

Be aware that only a certain quantity of tickets to Huayna Picchu are available each day! Buy the tickets at least two days in advance if you want to go to Huayna Picchu.

Foreigners Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia
S/.152 S/.91

You can check ticket availability on http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe

Santa Teresa

Instead of just walking to hydroelectrica, you can walk more (about 5 hours) and get to Santa Teresa. There are a lot of hospedajes, where you can sleep for about S/.10

What’s cool (well.. hot) are the hot springs, called “Termales”. They cost only S/.5. They are located about 4km east outside the town. You can walk for about 30 min km downhill along the river – Or you can hitch hike.

International Student Card

To get the ISIL (International Student Card), you can go to the Plaza de Arma in Cuzco, Edificio Ruisenores 2nd floor. It’s near the agency “Hiking Peru”.

You need:

  • Your passport + one copy of it
  • Any certification that you are doing the current academic year; can be your student card, or the results of your exams. Your student card won’t be accepted if it doesn’t show a expiration date. Many people bring fake certifications and get a ISIL card. Seems kinda easy to cheat the system. Of course, it’s illegal and I can’t provide info on Peruvian jails.
  • S/.30 or US$ 20. Of course the ISIL card ain’t free
  • A passport sized photo. You can get cheap ones nearby, just ask

The ISIL offices are open all day Mon-Fri, and until 1p.m. on Saturday.

See also


hitch hiking, Log, Travel

How to get to Nevados de Sollipulli

I had been walking alone for at least two hours on the volcano without meeting a soul, when two guardiaparques called me from a distance.

“You should give us your full name and passport number” – said the first
“Uh, and let me take a photo of you, in case we have to recognize the body” – said the second.
I felt a little bit scared.

They could not agree on what the safest and shortest path to the volcano’s crater was. And actually, I could understand only 50% of what they said, partly because of my bad spanish, and partly because of their southern Chilean accent. So I ignored what they said and just kept on going my way.
Fifteen minutes after, I was drinking melted snow on the edge of a 7 miles crater filled with ice and snow: The Sollipulli.

That is to say: if you want to go (a little bit) off the tourist track, see an impressive scenery sporting a 15km3 glacier inside a volcano crater and get a view of several other araucanian volcanoes, the Sollipulli is the place for you.

View Larger Map

The Sollipulli volcano is near Melipeuco, which is in Araucania, ‘near’ Temuco. It features, as I mentioned, a huge glacier-filled crater, that you reach only after walking in a forest of araucarias, and some kilometers on volcanic ash and rocks.
If you are in the super-expensive Pucon, Melipeuco can be a nice break.
It was so desert, I could even make a video of me running naked in the snow (not included in this post)

This excellent post explains you exactly how to get there, and also gives you gps reference point (they were really really useful, as there’s no real path).
Unfortunately, there are two wrong things on this post:

  • from the beginning of the trail, it just takes 3 hours / 3 hours and a half to get to the top. Not 4- 6 hours. I begun walking at 10:30 at morning and it was perfectly fine. I was back in Malipeuco at 7pm
  • The biggest imprecision in the post is:”you need a four-wheel drive”. Not true: you can use your finger. I’ll provide  some details:
  1. Get to Temuco. Hitch hiking should be easy – it’s on the ruta 5.
  2. Get to Melipeuco, either by bus or by hitch hiking.(I can’t remember the rates)
  3. After Melipeuco, your only option is hitch hiking. There’s no public transportation (yeah, you can also buy a tour if you want to).
  4. Spend your night in the Eco Campamento, near the beginning of the trek. Why?
    Because otherwise you’ll have to hitch hike at morning, and there are not so many cars. It took me three hours to hitch hike about 20km early at morning – and I was lucky enough to get there on time.

And beware! in summer, Melipeuco is infested with tábanos!

(the timelapse you see is from Patricio Farina, who I met in the Huerquehue National Parque and reccommended me the Sollipulli)