Published: May 15th 2008May 5th 2008
There are many things that can be said about the Spanish legacy in Peru, but one thing's for sure - they left behind some beautiful buildings. Arequipa is another one of those old colonial cities, full of gorgeous old Spanish architecture. As my first taste of Peru, it immediately seemed very different from Bolivia...a lot wealthier, at least on the surface. And very touristy...after a month in Bolivia where there were few tourists other than backpackers, it was a bit strange to be surrounded by normal Western tourists.
My main reason for being in Arequipa was to visit the Colca Canyon, almost the world's deepest canyon. The nearby Cotahuasi Canyon is actually ever so slightly deeper, but I can't remember exactly how deep. Very deep. As well as being the base for some fantastic trekking, it's also famous for being a good place for spotting condors. I signed up for a three day trek, which involved walking down the canyon, walking along the bottom for a while, and then the hard bit - walking back up again. On the first day we were picked up at the crack of dawn (well, 5.30am) so that we could get the bus at
6am. The plan was to be in the small town of Cabanaconde on the edge of the canyon, by midday, to have lunch, and then start the trek. But things don't always go according to plan. We reached the small town of Chivay, three hours from Arequipa and two from Cabanaconde, by mid-morning, where we were supposed to have a five minute toilet stop. But five minutes stretched into ten...into twenty...and it became clear we weren't going anywhere. The bus had encountered 'technical difficulties' after running over a sheep on the way into town, and we had to wait for the next bus before we could continue. Because nobody knew when said bus would turn up, we had to stay at the bus station. So a bunch of disgruntled tourists, not to mention the odd local, sat waiting by the bus station for three hours
before the bus finally came. Still, it was only my first broken down bus in over three months in South America so I can't complain too much.
Following a hasty lunch in Cabanaconde, we (there were four in the group - me, a Dutch girl called Josca and two girls from Hong Kong, plus
The view the first morning
The squiggly line is where we walked down
our guide Roy) set off down the canyon. The path we were using down the canyon was an old mule path still in use by the local people. There's no road to the villages on the other side of the canyon, so the villagers' only contact with the world outside of the canyon is to either walk or ride the long hike up to Cabanaconde. We passed many locals doing just this, some carrying fruit they'd grown to be taken to the markets, others teenagers making the trek to go to school in Cabanaconde. Their stamina was impressive - even kids of four or five were walking - and made us feel incredibly out of shape. It was fascinating to see this traditional way of life still existing in the 21st century (although our guide did explain to us that many younger people are moving away from the villages to Arequipa and further afield).
The consequence of being three hours late to start the trek meant that it was dark by the time we reached the bottom of the canyon. We had to walk the last part of the path using our torches to guide us, which was great
Me, Josca and a donkey (hopefull you can tell which is which!)
fun, slipping and stumbling everywhere. That night we stayed in a basic hospedaje...basic in that there was no electricity, but luxurious in that we had ensuite bathrooms, albeit with cold water. There's not a lot to do at the bottom of a canyon, particularly when there's no electricty, so once we'd eaten dinner we all went to bed. The next morning we finally got to see where we were, and it was just stunning. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a place like that, with such an amazing view. Once we'd eaten breakfast, the owner of the hospedaje let us play dress up with her daughters' outfits that they wear for local fiestas. It was great fun! Although as Europeans are somewhat bigger than Peruvians, both Josca and I were a little too big to fit the outfits properly.
Once the fancy dress session was over, we headed off for the day's hiking. This was relatively easy, passing through a number of small villages, giving us plenty of time and energy to admire the amazing views. We stopped off to visit the local 'hospital', in reality a two room medical clinic. We were impressed
The squiggly line to the left was where we had to walk up the next morning
with how clean and well stocked it appeared to be, although I wouldn't want to have an emergency there...in that case, the patient would need to be transported on horseback up to Cabanconde.
Our aim for the day was to reach the 'oasis' at Sangalle, where we were promised the chance to relax by swimming pools surrounded by palm trees...which we did, for approximately five minutes until the whole area was covered in the shade. Unfortunately this meant there was basically nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, as I'd forgotten to bring any books or anything else to do. The only thing I could really do was try to rest, as we'd need it...the next day involved starting the climb back up to Cabanaconde at 2.30am! There were two reasons for this - firstly, to avoid the sun, and secondly, so we could get up to the top in time to catch the bus in the morning to go to the Cruz del Condor to look at the condors. The climb up was exhausting, made even more so by the lack of sleep. We went steadily and steeply uphill for about three and a half hours.
That'll teach me to go to the toilet
One huge advantage of the dark was that I couldn't see how much further we had to go! By the time we reached the top, it had got light and we could see how far we'd come...it felt really good to have made it!
Nature never quite performs as it's supposed to, and when we go to the Cruz del Condor there were no condors in sight. Josca and I waited at the mirador for half an hour and nothing happened. Of course when we decided to go to the toilet, two condors not only appeared but also perched on the rock right by where we'd been standing. We saw them on our way back from the toilet, but only ever so briefly before we had to get the bus. Grr!! On the subject of the bus, fortunately this time it didn't break down and we got back to Arequipa on time.
Following the trek, I had another day in Arequipa. It's definitely worth spending a day or two there, wandering around, enjoying the architecture and visiting the museums. I went to one, the Museo Andino (I think), the main highlight of which is an Incan mummy. Like
the one in the museum in Salta, this one was a child sacrifice. However, she's not as perfectly preserved, and I couldn't help but think the other one was better. But it was still interesting. After that, it was time for me to catch my bus to Cuzco.
There are more photos below