Canyons, Condors and Captain Lewi

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May 16th 2011
Published: June 5th 2011
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The city of Arequipa has got to be one of the most attractive cities in South America. It is encircled by a phenomenal cluster of snowcapped volcanoes, who have further contributed to the beauty of the city with their lava. Sillar is a photogenically sparkling white volcanic stone and a huge proportion of Arequipa's buildings are constructed with it. Walking into the Plaza de Armas and seeing the perfect conical shape of El Misti protruding behind the glittering Cathedral is a sight not easily forgotten.

This gorgeous vista was just what we needed after having had a spot of bad luck at Puno bus terminal, which was followed by an endless undulating bus journey across the mountains.

The bad luck I refer to was the snatching of Lewi's 20kg rucksack from the mototaxi we took for the two minute ride to the bus station. They were professionals and we hardly felt it happen. Our experience of the Peruvian police was of quick and efficient attention, but they told us honestly that the chances of finding either the bag or any of it's contents were very slim. With much annoyance but no real distress we put the incident behind us, there are far more important things in life than a lost backpack. Thankfully nothing of value was inside and the only thing we had to do urgently was buy Lewi some new clothes!

Arequipa proved to be just the place for this, it's pretty cobbled streets were home to many a 'cool yet cheap' store where, within a day, a new wardrobe was purchased.

We took to Arequipa instantly. It is considered the second city of Peru and the 'Cuidad Blanco' is blessed with a dramatically beautiful location, diverse restaurants and pumping nightlife. Having avoided the tourist traps and spent time in the city accomplishing real life tasks we had discovered it to be a pleasant, buzzing place. Before we departed to explore the surrounding countryside we treated ourselves to a luxury night out.

It started with some 'Happy Hour' cocktails of Pisco Sour on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city; was followed by a litre of beer; which was chased down by the most gourmet dinner we've eaten since our leaving dinner at the Tate. Carpaccio Ostrich cooked in swiss bouillon fondue, and a bottle of Chilean red wine. Buenissimo! To cap the evening off we went dancing in a quirky nightclub where the music gradually switched from internationally popular music to Peruvian RnB...we called it a night at this and went back to bed.

Having spent a weeks budget in one night we decided that we would have to leave for the countryside to immerse ourselves in free activities for a while. The stunning canyons of Colca and Cotahuasi are only a couple of hours drive away and are the two deepest canyons on earth. Frequented by the huge Andean condor and with the advantage of being slightly easier to access, we chose the second prize winner, Colca.

Only missing out on the title by 163m, Colca canyon is, at it's deepest point, 3191 vertical metres of cactus speckled, dusty orange greatness. Reminding us slightly of our Tiger Leaping Gorge trek in China we commenced on a small country lane passing mules and farmers embroiled in the sweaty work of harvest. Jumping a few ditches we reached the main path downwards...and it certainly was down. Standing at the viewpoint and staring down upon the miniature green lawns and tiny palm trees of the Oasis, over 1000m below, I already began to feel concerned for the route back!

Hairpin bend after dusty hairpin bend wound down the mountainside. It was hot and the dust stuck in our throats. The views were stunning however and gradually our Oasis destination seemed to be getting closer.

Sangalle (the oasis) was worth every knee wobbling step and we soaked our aches away in the volcanic pools until the sun slipped behind the gorge-side. At this point the heat evaporated and we shiveringly returned to our bamboo hut, huddling under the heavy blankets to keep warm.

There was no electricity down here so when dinner time came we tripped along the stoney path by moonlight. It was a gorgeous evening with surprisingly good, and reasonably priced food, marred only by the thought that we had all that way to climb up tomorrow!

Putting off the inevitable we delayed our departure until 2pm, all morning spent lounging in the sun by the pool and taking it easy. When the time came we marched off. Staring upwards at the dizzying height we had to cover was sickening, and I admit I uttered the words "I don't think I can do it".

I began to regret not accepting the offer of a mule taxi! But ever a determined pair we kept tramping upwards on a continuous slope that made our muscles burn. The sudden presence of two majestic Condors soaring above our heads managed to pull my gaze away from the ground at which I had been steadfastly focused. Such beautiful birds, with a wing span of over three metres, they were quite a sight to behold and this spurred us on.

To trek down had taken us just shy of two hours and I fully expected the upward struggle to take at least double that. Which was why I was staggered to discover that we reached the top in only three hours! All I can say is Lewi would make a good army squadron leader :-) no slacking allowed on his watch!

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 25


The Plaza de Armas at nightThe Plaza de Armas at night
The Plaza de Armas at night

lewi waring all his new clothes

5th June 2011

We loved our time at the Colca Canyon
We didn't take the hike you did but what a fantastic area. We were lucky enough to see 7 condors on the day we went. Amazing beauty. Your blog has brought back some wonderful memories.
5th June 2011

Great blog!
Really enjoyed the blog. It reminded me so much of my time in the area. I had pretty much the same thoughts as you. Arequipa was my favourite city in SA. Thought I'd never get back up the Colca canyon! happy travels!

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