How to Stay Warm in the Andes


I watched in wide eyed disbelief as the kid dropped the match on the pile of twigs in our room. By this point the entire space reeked of gasoline. I eyed the gasoline canister nervously, as it was still resting on the hearth right beside the tangle of gas soaked kindling. And it was all kindling, with nothing resembling proper firewood in the mound. The kid and his buddy beat a hasty retreat as it burst into flame, by this point unable to contain their laughter, almost forgetting the gas can such was their rush. Confused and a little flustered, I think I instinctually muttered “Thank You” as they fled out the door.

Ingapirca was cold. It wasn’t that long ago we were sweat drenched and cruising the Ruta del Spondylus with my surf-obsessed cousin Erick. But now we were miles away, both horizontally and vertically, and the Andean heights don’t warm as they approach the sun. Earlier that afternoon, we visited the famed Incan site amidst creeping fog banks, which chilled our sunburnt bodies and transformed the location into a perfect “mysterious ruins” dust-jacket from a pulp novel. We made our way back up the hill to the lodge, the daylight waning in the billowing mist. When the sun up here goes down, it goes all the way down.

The lodge was a heritage affair with hefty walls and warped flooring, lovingly maintained and utterly un-insulated. Dinner in the big house was delicious, exclusively regional fare like local trout and tree tomatoes. The hoary old fireplace in the dining hall glowed feebly but we still scooted our table as close as they would allow us. Even as fleece-bundled as we were, we still depended on hot wine to offset the nippy air. Something about old world elegance and rustic charm seems to go well with the cold, as if modern heating was somehow cheating.

On our way back to the room, we asked for a fire to be lit in the fireplace in our room. They sent in a pair of wiry teenagers, arms laden with what appeared to be yard waste. They wasted no time, however, tossing their twigs and brush into a loose pile in the fireplace, directly on the stones as there was no grill or grate of any kind. We shivered and grinned expectantly, but then one of them pulls out a gasoline canister that I hadn’t noticed on their way in. Glug glug glug, the pile is doused and little rivulets of gas flowed all around the uneven surface. Before we knew it, the kids were gone and the room was full of smoke and fumes. Grudgingly, I held open our door to let in some fresh freezing air.

– Eric