Greetings, visitors and welcome to the third excursion that I went on while I was in Peru. Yes, you did read the title correctly! I did in fact go to Rainbow Mountain twice. I was originally going to title this post “The Lasagna, The Canadian and the Mountain”, but it sounded too epic, so I opted for something more chill because this story isn’t that epic.
As in the previous two entries, I’m going to tell this story as I lived it while also tossing in a few tips, tricks and recommendations. This won’t be as long as the Machu Picchu story, so you can wipe the sweat off your forehead and relax! This post will be graphic, so please don’t read any further if you have a weak stomach! There will be talk of puking.
I originally didn’t want to go the second time
As you all know, I went to Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo shortly after arriving in Cuzco. I was honestly pretty satisfied with that and didn’t really want to go to the other, more touristy side of the mountain. It looked pretty in pictures, but it didn’t really interest me all that much and I’d heard that the weather on the “regular” side was very unpredictable and a few people had even told me that they made the long journey alllllll the way there only to find the mountain completely covered in snow. So much for the name “Rainbow” Mountain, right? There was a running joke amongst a few people that I’d met; they all called it the “one colour” mountain.
I’d also heard tons of horror stories of people passing out because of the hike’s difficulty and also due to the lack of oxygen. I wasn’t too afraid of this because although I came close, I managed to return from the other side of Rainbow Mountain without losing consciousness.
I just really wasn’t down to go back. I didn’t see the point.
A change of heart!
Eventually and I still don’t really know why, my mind slowly began to change. This wasn’t an overnight thing, but the change of heart did come pretty quickly. I eventually decided that I would go and as with Machu Picchu, I began asking around to see if anyone else wanted to go with me. Most people had already gone, but one of the Australians that I met at the hostel informed me that she still wanted to go and that she had booked a tour at her German friend’s hostel 15 minutes away and that it was cheap. She told me I could come too, so I made my way down to the other hostel to book it. It ended up only costing 55 Soles for the tour, a breakfast, a guide and a lunch and an additional 10 Soles for the entry to the park. 65 Soles (about 19 USD) in total which wasn’t bad at all through this hostel. That was about half the price that all the other places seemed to be charging. I’m not going to lie, it did make me wonder if something was missing or wrong with the specific tour that the hostel was offering, but I’d just had to have faith and wait and see. I booked all of this on December 8th and it was already passed 6 P.M and the bus would be arriving the following morning at 4:30 A.M, but there was still space, so I luckily was still able to get a spot. I guess it’s also worth noting that this specific tour did NOT include the red valley. The lady explained that it would go passed the red valley, but that we wouldn’t actually be going down to explore it because there wouldn’t be enough time.
A cruelty free setback…
I now had my tickets and a group. It would be me, the Aussie that I’d met and her German friend from the hostel that we’d both booked at. This was looking like it was going to be a lot of fun and I was excited, but also nervous as bed time neared. I wanted to go to bed early, but my sleeping schedule was waaay off because I had spent the previous day hanging out with people from the hostel, practicing languages and partying… alright there was a bit too much partying, I’m not going to lie.
To make matters worse… I was feeling sick… Really really sick
You would think that the partying and excessive tequila would have been what made me sick, but they weren’t. What actually made me sick may surprise you.
Earlier that day…
After partying until early the following morning we all returned to the hostel and went to sleep. It must have been 4:30 A.M when we got back. I ended up waking up extremely late the following day and was craving vegan food. I convinced two friends that I made at the hostel to accompany me to get said vegan food. Seemed like a harmless and healthy idea, right? WRONG. We got to the restaurant and the two girls ordered the daily special and I had vegan lasagna. I had eaten it before and loved it, but felt slightly off after. I unfortunately didn’t put two and two together until this fateful day. The girls finished their food first and I finished my lasagna shortly after. I felt off right away, but I wasn’t sure why at this point. I started feeling really weak and my stomach didn’t feel the best. I assumed that it was just the late effects of the alcohol that we had drank the previous night.
We began walking back to the hostel and I felt very out of breath and I knew that it wasn’t the altitude because I was fine going TO the restaurant and to make matters even weirder, we were now going DOWN hill. I shouldn’t have been that out of breath. I assumed that what ever I was feeling would go away, but it got worse as time went on. I also started to feel extremely nauseous, so I ended up laying down in the hammock at the hostel for a couple hours. Things got worse as time went on, and I tried eating raw ginger because that normally helps me when I have nausea. Nothing was working, but as you read above, I went out and still booked the tickets despite all of this.
Later on that same day
I was feeling so incredibly sick at this point and it was still getting worse. I felt like I was going to puke, but didn’t want to actually puke. I really don’t like the feeling and wanted to avoid it at all costs. My stomach was causing me tremendous pain and I was starting to worry that I might not be able to make the tour the following day. I was also starting to feel extremely cold, so I went to the common area in the hostel and sat near the fire place and hung out with some of the friends that I had made earlier at the hostel. We sat down and talked for a bit, but I started to feel worse which made it hard for me to hold up my part of the conversation. The others noticed and I explained that I’d been really sick since I’d eaten some bad vegan lasagna earlier on. I told them that I was starting to feel weak and that my body may begin shaking and that they shouldn’t panic because it would only be a byproduct of what ever sickness or food poisoning that I had. Of course everyone began to panic a little bit. The sickness progressed and I could feel a mild case of the shakes coming on. At this point I realized that this could potentially get REALLY bad. I was scared that I might end up in the hospital at this point. THAT’S how sick I was feeling. My sick self decided that it would be a good idea to call my mom at this point. I know a lot of you are probably face palming at this point, but I figured that it would be better if I personally explained to her that I probably had food poisoning and was feeling sick rather than her getting a call from the hospital saying that I’d passed out or something. I have passed out under similar circumstances before, so I just wanted to be safe.
The others all agreed that calling my mom was probably a bad idea, but I still did it. As you can all guess, she panicked… Sorry, Mom!
A Team Effort
Due to the fact that we’d now figured out that it was most likely food poisoning that I had, the others began telling me that I should just go and make myself puke because that would probably fix the problem. My mom agreed. I was very against this idea because I still didn’t want to puke. 15 minutes went by and I still felt terrible and my condition was still deteriorating, so I decided that I would just puke. They told me to use my finger, but I was NOT down, so I went to my dorm room and fetched my back-up tooth brush.
This is going to sound very weird, but I started planning where I was going to puke. The others suggested puking in the toilet, but I was scared that I’d pass out from weakness and land face first in the toilet or that the water would splash back up at me. I decided that it would be best to do it in a trash can… with a garbage bag in it… beside the fireplace…in the common room, so that I’d be warm when I woke up if I actually ended up passing out in the end. The others thought this was a ridiculous idea and I don’t really blame them! This became a running joke for the next couple days after this predicament had ended.
We ended up all deciding that we’d bring the garbage bag into the bathroom and that I’d puke there. Just like a choreographed dance, the German guy grabbed a garbage can and put a garbage bag in it. The Belgian girl got a cushion, so that I wouldn’t hurt my knees on the hard floor and the British guy got into position in front of me for moral support and to catch me if I actually did end up passing out. I still laugh at all of this in hindsight because everyone honestly got into position in such an organized and seemingly choreographed manner.
I took a couple deep breaths and then shoved the toothbrush down my throat. I’m not going to go into anymore detail because this is already pretty graphic, but I’ll just add that somebody patting you on the back and saying “It’ll be alright, mate” in a British accent is the most consoling thing a human can experience. If you’re not puking under these circumstances, you’re not doing it right!
It was really hard to catch my breath while I was puking and the thinner oxygen definitely didn’t help, so I actually did feel like I was going to lose consciousness at one point. After I was done, the others helped me put everything back and dispose of the garbage bag because I was now feeling even more weak and cold. The German guy needed to go to sleep after this, so I thanked him and he went on his way.
The others told me to just go to bed, so that I could sleep off the rest of the sickness. I honestly did want to sleep, but I wanted to stay awake for a little while longer just to make sure that I honestly had gotten everything out. We went back to the common room and somehow ended up watching American Pie. I felt slightly better for a while, but after about 45 minutes, I felt like I needed to puke again. We were down a man, but the remaining two got back into position with the cushion, the trash can and the moral support just like before. The second time wasn’t as bad as the first time and my stomach literally felt empty after finishing, so I decided that all of that had been enough. I decided that I should really try and sleep at this point because it was nearing 12 A.M and the bus would be picking us up for the tour at 4:30 A.M.
**Always bring a back up toothbrush to induce vomiting when travelling. You never know when you’ll eat bad vegan lasagna!**
I got into bed and tried to sleep. My body was shivering sooo aggressively that it was giving me a headache and I couldn’t sleep. My nausea also came back and when ever I’d roll over even slightly to the left or right, I’d end up on the brink of puking, so I had to lay on my back and not move at all. I still believed that I’d somehow be able to pull myself out of this and still do the tour, but decided to just accept defeat. I messaged the Australian girl and asked her to inform the tour company that I wouldn’t be going anymore when they picked her up. That was the looooongest night of the trip. I had to lay on my back and stare at the wooden planks of the top bunk for the next 3-4 hours because moving would mean puking. At around 4:30, the tour company guy came into my dorm room looking for me. I explained that I couldn’t go because I was extremely sick. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t believe my Australian friend about me being too sick to come, but it turns out that she fell asleep on the bus and forgot to tell them. S’all good though! Everything worked out in the end!
She said it LITERALLY took her breath away!
The Australian girl returned later on that same day and we crossed paths at some point at the hostel. I asked her about how it all went and she told me that it was amazing and that it took her breath away… Like it literally took her breath away! She told me she was feeling light headed by the time she’d gotten back to the parking lot after the hike and boarded the bus to sit down. She said it got worse after she’d sat down and decided to step outside for some “fresh air”. She stepped off the bus and thought to herself; “Wait a minute… fresh air? There isn’t even any air at all out here!” before passing out beside the bus. We both laughed a little too hard at this.
Round 2 of Round 2
The food poisoning had me more or less bed ridden and almost unable to eat anything for a couple days, but despite all this, I decided to try my luck with the tour again. I went back down to the other hostel with my two new American roommates and booked more tickets. I was still not fit to hike, but it was now or never and I also didn’t want to end up going alone. We booked our tickets, went to yet another different hostel to eat dinner then we made our way back…. A lot later than we should have left. I made sure to buy some dried corn for the hike on the way back to our hostel because it always seemed to be the perfect meal to eat at such high altitudes.
3:15 in the morning…
It must have been 12:30 A.M by the time that I’d finally gotten back to the hostel and fallen asleep. I set my alarm for 3:30, but my body decided to punish me for no reason and I was up at 3:15… This was clearly before my alarm was meant to go off. This sucked, but at least I had more time to get ready, right? Well, no… I still wanted to sleep more.
We got ready, I brought a daypack which housed my water bottle, a power bank and the dried corn that I’d bought the night before.
The bus arrived and the tour guide came in to get us. We were the first ones to get picked up which luckily meant that I could sit at the front of the bus to avoid getting motion sickness. The bus then went to a few other hostels and hotels and picked up more people. Soon after all of this, the actual drive began.
I can’t remember how many hours it took to get to the very first stop, but it wasn’t as long as the other drives had been. The first stop was a breakfast and bathroom stop. The breakfast consisted of coffee, bread, jam and each person got a fried egg. I obviously couldn’t eat the egg due to my dietary restrictions, so I had to just stick with the bread. I was disappointed that I would be going into this hike with hardly any protein in my system, but I’m used to not being able to eat when I go out, so it honestly wasn’t that bad.
The breakfast was also a pretty good time to get to know people because everyone was squished around a table that almost wasn’t long enough for all of us to fit around it.
Take this time to socialize! I found the people pretty nice! The stop was long enough to comfortably eat and use the bathroom twice and then we were back on the road.
The drive from the stop to the mountain itself didn’t feel that long, but I could feel the air getting thinner as the bus neared the starting point of the hike. We got off the bus and the tour guide informed us that we’d soon be passing the last set of bathrooms and that there wouldn’t be anymore bathrooms for about 30 minutes after that. I used the bathroom once and then had to run back in again in the time it took for me to wait for the guy I was walking with to come back out of the other stall. I swear only 5 minutes had passed, but the altitude was making me feel like I needed to pee a lot. This didn’t happen on the other side of Rainbow Mountain, so I was taken off guard. A few other people also complained about needing to pee a lot.
Alright, so the hike itself was interesting and I’ll run you guys through how it felt. The first thing I want to say is that it’s nowhere near as scary as everyone makes it seem. The second thing I want to say is that you should GET A WALKING STICK! The walking stick honestly made a HUGE difference. I found the first 10 minutes extremely difficult and was really out of breath, but that was only because there was a slight incline. The terrain was on the flatter side after that, so it was still difficult, but I found that if I maintained a slow pace and controlled my breathing, I was more or less ok.
If you don’t feel like walking, you can pay for a horse that will take you 90% of the way. You can also do this if you don’t want to walk back afterwards.
*** I found that breathing in really deeply for about 2.5 seconds and holding the air in my lungs before exhaling really helped me keep it together.***
Everyone walks at different paces because the altitude effects everyone differently, so I ended up walking with a bunch of different people throughout the walk. I ended up losing both of my American roommates at some point as a result of this. I ended up spending a good deal of the walk with a German girl who had been studying in Mexico and her other German friend. They were really nice and I’m always happy to speak German, so that was a bonus.
We all struggled during the last two phases of the ascent. It got very steep and not even my breathing technique could save me at this point… It was very hard, but having the walking stick really helped me at this point. I was so glad that I’d gotten one. Let me put into perspective how out of breath we were… We could only get about 2 words out at a time while talking. We’d then have to aggressively gasp for air for a couple seconds before being able to continue the conversation. It took so long to express complete ideas and to utter complete sentences… and this wasn’t even the hardest part of the hike…
The Last Stretch
After fighting our way up what seemed like an up hill battle,(See what I did there? ba dun tsss) we made it to the area where they stamp your passport if you’d like. I was sad because I hadn’t brought my passport, so I wasn’t able to get the stamp. Most people seemed to stop here because the last part of the hike was visibly extremely steep. One of the German girls decided to just give up here, but me and the one who had studied in Mexico decided to at least attempt to go the rest of the way up after waiting ten minutes to catch our breath.
We began the last stretch. It was HARD. I literally had to stop to catch my breath every 2-5 steps. We got 25% of the way up and decided to try to get that “Legendary Rainbow Mountain” photo that everyone always posts on social media. There was a guy standing there with some Llamas/Alpacas(I still can’t tell the difference) and we took pictures with them. The photos didn’t turn out bad and the German girl who had originally said that she wouldn’t go all the way up passed us and kept climbing. I guess she had a change of heart. We finished taking photos and ironically the girl I was with decided that she didn’t want to go any further and decided to go back down. I didn’t want to go on my own, so I came up with a cheeky idea. I walked a bit higher up until I was just out of arms reach and then asked her if she would take my photo again. I held my phone out and at the last minute said “oops” and then walked a bit higher up. She followed me at first, but then realized what I was doing. I obviously knew this wouldn’t work, but I thought it was funny. She laughed, but said that she still wasn’t going to go all the way to the top. We parted ways and I began hiking again. The last 75% was honestly so unbelievably difficult, that I actually started considering quitting near the half way mark. I was so out of breath and it felt like no oxygen was coming in no matter how deeply I inhaled and gasped.
I heard a voice as I was hunched over gasping and barely standing. “You can do it, it’s not too much farther” said a random man in Spanish as he walked back down with his walking stick. I’m not religious, but my first thought was “Oh my gosh… It’s Peruvian Moses!” I came back to my senses and thought to myself “Yeah, I CAN do it” and began hiking again.
After a couple more breaks, I finally made it to the top!
Reaching the summit was so unbelievably satisfying. The view from up there was magnificent. I took a few pictures at the top and video called some of my friends and family because there was somehow cellphone service at the very top. It was a magical moment. Our tour guide eventually started rounding everybody up and we began the descent.
It was weird, it began to hail as soon as we started hiking back down. It was really hard hail and it actually hurt a lot. I saw the Spanish girl that we’d met the previous night at our hostel reaching the last stretch as the weather deteriorated. I felt really bad for her.
The hail eventually turned into rain as we neared the bottom and I was starting to get really wet, so I began to speed walk. It was weird, I was able to speed walk without much trouble. I know it was downhill, but I was still over 4000 metres above sea level, so I thought I’d still be out of breath, but I was somehow fine as long as I kept doing the breathing technique that I mentioned earlier.
My hands were getting extremely cold because I hadn’t brought gloves. This made me walk even faster. The pain in my hands was getting really bad. I remember that it was even hard to pee because I could hardly move my fingers by the time that I’d made it back down to where the bathrooms were.
**Don’t be an idiot like me, bring gloves!. **
I talked to a few interesting people on the way back down because it was a lot easier to talk now that I was actually able to utter complete sentences without gasping for air after every couple words. I didn’t end up talking to anyone for too long though because almost everyone either walked significantly faster or slower than me.
Back on the bus
I was reunited with both of the Americans back at the bus. We were all wet and cold, but the bus had to wait quite some time for the stragglers. It took them a very long time to catch back up. It sucked because we were all wet and cold and just wanted to get going.
The Drive Back
I’m not going to lie, the ride back was pretty scary. The rain was REALLY coming down at this point and the roads were very muddy and slippery. I was really scared that we’d end up getting into an accident or something, but the bus driver was a pretty skilled guy.
A Well Deserved Lunch
The bus eventually made it to the half way point again. It was the exact same place that we had stopped at earlier to have breakfast. This was where we were meant to have our lunch.
The lunch ended up being very good and every single dish was a local Peruvian dish. The food was very good. There was even a Peruvian desert! I honestly really liked the food. It also felt good to support the locals. I remember there being chicken and a few vegetarian options. I double checked to make sure that there was no lactose or eggs in the things that I was eating and was told that they were all clear. I didn’t know what to think because the guy didn’t even really seem to think about it, he just responded with ‘no” right away and didn’t go back to the kitchen to check the ingredients. I was so hungry that I decided to just take the risk.
The guide went into the kitchen and brought the head chef out, so that we could all thank her. He revealed that there was a tip jar too if we wanted to support the locals even more. Some people tipped and some people didn’t.
We all finished eating and were back on our way again.
Back to Cuzco
The rest of the drive wasn’t bad. It went by pretty quickly despite how wet and cold I was and before I knew it, we were all back in Cuzco and the excursion had come to an end. What a day!
Overall, I really enjoyed this hike just like the others. The rain and hail were unfortunate at the end, but you can’t have everything! The one thing I did notice is that this side of the mountain is absolutely OVERRUN with tourists. Almost to the point that it takes away from the experience. It was still beautiful, but it felt kind of commercial because there were so many other people around. I liked how little tourists there were at the other side of Rainbow mountain. Don’t expect to get even a single photo that doesn’t have at least ten other tourists in it up here. Group selfies only… even when you don’t want group selfies.
My recommendations for anyone going on this is to bring water, to eat light before hand and to not wear your favourite shoes because it was extremely muddy and there was quite a bit of horse and llama poop on the ground. As with the other excursions, you’ll need to bring coins with you to pay for the bathrooms and to get snacks along the way up the mountain. As usual, I didn’t see any card machines or ATMs, so make sure you withdraw money before leaving Cuzco.
English was also pretty scarce, so I’d recommend learning at least a little bit of Spanish out of respect for the locals. One thing that I found super interesting was that the locals all seemed to talked amongst themselves in Quechua here. It made me really happy to see Quechua thriving in the wild!