A Long Upside Down Mountain - The Colca Canyon

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September 2nd 2011
Published: November 11th 2011
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Arequipa may be a city of close to one million people, a number that usually gives an image of a chaotic and busy city, in Arequipa however, that it not the case. Arequipa is a perfect introduction to Peru. I arrived with a Dutch girl, Ilonka, in the early hours of September 1st 2011 and checked ourselves into a fantastic little hostel, Daniela Piccola, falling asleep until the a sensible morning time arrived. On waking and vacating the hostel for the day we were stunned to see the pulsating beauty that radiates from the streets of this blinding city. The buildings lining the central plaza and it's extending streets are clean and white, proudly reflecting the suns powerful rays. It is the student capital of the country and an optimistic independent city. To cap off the beauty of the city, it has a cap - three in fact. Three snow capped mountains, my photos sadly do not reflect the city as well as I would like.

I went to Arequipa for one reason, to see the Colca Canyon and after a day in Arequipa, I set off in the very early hours of the morning on a two day tour. Around 8am we arrived at the canyon, after a long, typically bumpy ride in our minibus. Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world at a staggering 3191m at it's deepest point, staggeringly over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, snow capped mountains regularly peer over the top, the tallest of which is Coropuna at 6613m. I won't go into too much detail, it seems a little pointless when photos can do far better justice, but our first stop was at a viewpoint over the canyon where condors do their rounds flying overhead. The condor is enormous creature, a truly collosal bird that can fly in this canyon and not many other places due to the unique climate that provides updrafts strong enough to carry its huge size. Amazing birds, a good first stop.

The next and last stop of the day (on the mini bus at least) was the beginning of the trek. A steep descent over 1000m into the bottom of the canyon. I walked ahead with someone from another tour group, my group was a little slow and reached the bottom with him on the side of the river, next to a suspension bridge and chilled out until the rest caught up. We crossed the bridge and walked through some small villages, stopped for lunch, before heading onwards to the hostel for the night. We saw some interesting flora walking through, including a white plant fungus that when squeezed reveals various different colours, depending on the type. This is then used as a dye for clothes, amongst other things.

Arequipa suffered hugely from the earthquake in 2001, which measured 8.4 on the richter scale. I was shocked and amazed to pass through a dried out and deceased section of the canyon where the earthquake had closed a river source, killing all of the plant life around it and leaving the area in a ruined state.

After much dragging on heals from some members of my group we finally made it to the canyon - it took far longer than it should have done, especially when most of the day consisted of walking downhill. I regards myself as having (between them) one reasonable knee, so they had no excuse.

We were greeted at the bottom by a swimming pool filled with water from a local waterfall, a volleyball court and a series of basic bungalows - the place was perfect, taking a dive in a pool after a day of hiking, in the bottom of a canyon with walls over a 1000m tall around you, it's different and fantastic.

I was alone in the pool for a while, but was eventually joined by a Mancunian girl and eventually some others too. We chilled with a beer, ate and called it a night.

The following morning, we woke before sunrise to begin the ascent out of the canyon. A few members of the group decided they couldn't possibly do the walk and stayed in their beds for a later start, with the aid of donkeys. There were a number of groups with different tour agencies and some independent hikers too (the smarter people in my opinion - there is almost no reason to take a tour to the canyon as I did). My group was probably second to last out of the basin but unlike the previous day, when we stopped to regroup for a moment he indicated that he was very happy for us to go at our own pace, whilst he followed the slowest person.

Somehow, through the dark and then the rising sun, I made it out of the canyon first. I walked up over 1000m vertically in less than two hours. I had left my group behind, overtook some others and had then found myself behind a donkey its guide. The donkeys move at a good pace, but I couldn 't bring myself to slow down - its guide was at least 65, I did not want to feel in less shape than this guy and it turned out he was nicely ahead of everyone else and I eventually overtook and reached the top a good 15 minutes before the next backpacker.

This was a great feeling for me, as with Isla del Sol I was battling my recent demons of failing to climb Huanya Potosi and with my decrepid knees, I felt pretty spectacular finishing the ascent in my time. A couple of hours later, the last of my group made it to the top and we went for breakfast and onwards in the mini bus once more for a couple of stops of hugely varying quality. We stopped in a small town that was pure hell for me first of all. It consisted of some overpriced locally made drinks, a lousy church and a group of people each with an animal for people to pose with and take photos of. A llama or alpaca is one thing, keeping an endangerd masterpiece like the condor from its habitat, to restrict its life solely for photos is lousy. Everything was overpriced and as with many places, I optimistically hoped that no one would take the photo opportunities, everyone realises that they are wrong, but eventually one local tourist payed and of course, with the idiots of the earth, many more people followed when they realised that they wouldn't be the first and therefore not the original bastard. Rome is ruled by the mob, and the mob is simply a group of sheep, following it's superior dumbass.

We stopped at a couple of viewpoints, one at the beginning of the canyon which was truely spectacular, check out

High Resolution Photo

for a high resolution photo, but eventually we arrived back in Arequipa. I spent one more night, purely because my legs were wrecked, I spent it chilling out in the hostel and walking around Arequipa, enoying the atmosphere before heading to the terminal to take my bus onwards to Cusco, the centre of the former Inca empire and close to one of the Ten Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu. Peru has started off fantastically and more good times were just ahead....

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


1st October 2012
Largest Bird in the World Takes Flight

I'm just curious on what the name of this bird is. My boyfriend keeps telling me about this massive bird in Peru but he can't remember the name....
10th October 2012
Largest Bird in the World Takes Flight

RE: Cassie
Hi Cassie, It's an Andean Condor and it has the longest wingspan of any land bird. Best Wishes, Alan

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