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Published: April 27th 2013
Condor - The Colca Canyon!
I know it's out of order in the blog but wow!!
April ’13 The Colca Canyon Trip
We were picked up at 7.45am to start our 2 day 1 night trip to the Colca Cayon. Our minibus was a right mixed bunch of ages and nationalities, there were 2 Argentinians, 3 Chinese (including the mad camera woman who we had thought was Japanese from our trip to Cachi in Argentina), 1 Thai, 4 Polish, 4 Peruvians, us and 1 American. Our guide, Wilber was a young, funny guy who spoke very good English and had a penchant for cracking jokes.
The American lady, who was in her 70s was sat alongside us and we chatted for ages, she was incredible – retired and had lived in Mexico for 7 years and more recently Guatemala where after 4 years she had packed up to travel some more and was intending to move to Ecuador to live! She also took an instant dislike to mad camera woman and the whole trip was peppered with remarks and small incidents, if you wanted a bitch fest the opportunity for one was certainly presented here!
The first stop was just outside of town to pick up snacks and use the loo – we
were warned there wouldn’t be another opportunity for 1 ½ hours and one side effect of altitude is the need to wee long and often (too much information? Sorry but it’s true!)
Our guide then introduced us to the art of rolling and chewing coca leaves – the natural way to combat altitude sickness, he did add not too worry as it’s not going to make you a cocaine addict! Howard and I were the only ones who wanted to give it a go, so we rolled our bunch of leaves up with a small piece of some kind of volcanic ash substance – which apparently triggers the release of the coca, and made a small packet which you tuck between your cheek and gum and then wait for the saliva to act on it. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get any effect and your cheek or gums go slightly tingly and numb. It didn’t taste too bad, a bit like an old tea bag and if it was going to work I was going to give it a good go.
Anyway it was a long journey with several stops for views, vicunas, alpacas, active volcanoes, the
loo and coca tea, the highest point – 4,910 metres or approximately 16,000 feet, a bit of alfresco shopping on the edge of high drops and to see strange hard green plants.
Then we were dropping down into the valley towards Chivay where at 11,000 feet we would be spending the night. We got there in time for a buffet lunch which included alpaca meat and then all got dropped off at our various hostels. We had gone for the economic option on the trip and stayed at the Casa de Lucila which was actually pretty good, a kind of collection of rooms and a dining room come reception come lounge area. The bed was really deep and snuggly with lots of blankets to keep you warm at night and even a heater if you needed it.
However at this point I was feeling awful, the coca leaves seemed to help as my breathing wasn’t too bad but I had a monster of a headache and felt really sick (which was a first for me) so I had a bit of a kip while Howard had a bit of a mooch and we were picked up again at
4.30 for the trip to the Hot Springs. I still felt rubbish but as Howard really wanted to go I decided we might as well.
The Hot Springs were close to the town and consisted of 3 pools of varying degrees of hotness, the hottest was indoors, so we hired towels and went to the outside pool. Then Howard suddenly decides he’s not going in after all, well I was livid I only came because I didn’t want him to miss out. Anyway I stomped off to get changed and joined Eileen in the pool.
The water was really hot which was quite soothing at first but I soon felt like a boiled kipper and had to get out, surprisingly getting out into the cold air wasn’t too bad, I reckon it was because my insides felt totally cooked and were radiating too much heat for the cold to get through.
Once changed it was back on the bus, back to Chivay, drop off at the hostel to get changed to be picked up again 40 minutes later to go for dinner. As soon as the sun goes down it gets really cold here so we were
all advised to get layered up, which we did.
The dinner was one of those tourist show affairs, where all the groups sit on long tables, but the nice surprise was you could actually pick what you wanted to eat and the prices weren’t too bad. Once the place was packed with tourists the traditional band started up, nice bit of pan pipe action so despite the head ache it was ok. They then had 2 dancers in elaborately embroidered traditional costumes (although for one the bloke had on a pair of adidas jogging bottoms ha ha). They performed several local dances and after each one there was the inevitable audience participation. I was sat along the back of the table next to the Thai lad who said ‘at least we will be safe here’ - famous last words, the female dancer dragged him up, laid him on the ground, proceeded to stand astride him, waft her skirts over his head and then whipped him with a leather thong while holding a potato!!! I have no idea what this was all about but as we had seen the two dancers just do a similar thing I can only assume
it wasn’t actually some bizarre sexual ritual but was in fact a traditional dance, or maybe both?! Him came back grinning.
Tonight was also our first sighting of the most strange creature, ‘she’ was with a group of typical young backpackers but was the ultimate in plastic fantastic – bleach blonde hair complete with extensions (you could see the join), a huge boob job, ten inches of makeup, false eyelashes and wearing patterned leggings with a skin tight mini skirt! She was so out of place and striking you couldn’t help but stare! Eileen reckoned she was actually a he as she heard ‘her’ speak, whether or not she was didn’t matter it was the fact she was in this tiny town up in the Andes in full night out on the town get up that amazed me!
Anyway after dinner it was back to the hostel and bed, sleep was very intermittent due to gasping for breath, headaches and a dry throat. The alarm went off at 5.30am and we were up and out ready to go see some condors!
The scenery grew increasingly dramatic and beautiful with towering mountains and a lush green valley. We
stopped at the little village of Achuna and had a look in the white stone church with all its gold and decorated figures and a crucifixion to rival the ones we saw in Equador Gary, all guts and gore. Outside the locals were setting up their stalls with lots of ‘genuine pure’ Alpaca goods for sale and a man with a large hat and an even larger bird of prey who for a few soles would let you put both on your head for a photo.
By now the war between the world super powers – USA versus China was hotting up, with coats being draped over chairs, flicked off again, cutting remarks, barging past and glaring looks. Seat positions were adjusted when the other wasn’t around and then seats laid back so there was little leg room once they were both back on the bus. Oooohh errrrr, I think the States was going to win this one though!
So further up the valley and in the distance we could see some Condors, we stopped at a look out and there were two condors flying right overhead, I mean literally right over head! You could see every feather
it was awesome! After a while they disappeared down into the canyon and we drove on to the main viewing area –the Cruz del Condor. Here along the rim of the canyon were dotted various viewing points, some with a stone wall between you and the drop and some just with a narrow wooden railing. The spot which was a cluster of rocks and a sheer drop was already full of camera wielding tourists so we just meandered along the whole route, stopping and gazing in awe every few minutes.
The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and at its deepest is 13,650 feet down, twice the depth of the Grand Canyon! It was utterly gorgeous, steep jagged ravines twisting and turning and plunging down to a river at the bottom which sparkled in the sunlight. The mountain sides looked really green and were covered in small bushes, scrubby grasses and clusters of flowers. It was truly majestic and beautiful.
The amazing condors were riding the hot air thermals and swooping back and forth. At one point there were six of them flying in formation! Some were brown these were the juveniles while the
adults were black and white. Their wingspan can be up to 10 ½ feet so that gives you some idea how immense these birds are. They kept flying in repeating patterns which also consisted of flying right over our heads and so close that they were huge and everyone seemed in a trance watching them.
Considering there are only 200 condors in the whole of Peru I think we did extremely well to see the number we did. Our guide also told us that often he brings groups up and they don’t see any! – well they kept that bit quiet when we booked the trip. In a way the canyon itself was worth the journey we were blown away by it and the condors just added a dash more magic to the visit.
After an hour of condor watching and spellbinding canyon gazing we travelled back to Chivay with a stop en route to see the very impressive Pre-Inca terracing that covers a lot of the valley. Then it was another buffet lunch, mmmm alpaca skewers, devilish stuffed tomatoes that looked innocuous but once I bit into one my mouth was on fire. As I didn’t have
a drink at this point I had to be rescued by the Argentian man who gave me some water as I must have turned red, had steam coming out of my mouth and my voice only came out as a squeak!
We also encountered plastic fantastic again still dressed for a night out and looking even weirder hiding her face behind a fan.
After eating we wandered around the little town, all the women were wearing traditional dress – a highly embroidered blouse and matching hat with huge pleated full skirts in different colours, they all looked great.
Then a three hour drive back over the high Andean plateau, with only one quick stop for the loo. I got another headache again as we reached the high pass and this was inspite of spending all my time chewing enough coca leaves to make me a crazy cocaine addict!
We were back in Arequipa before 5pm totally knackered but totally exhilarated. What a fabulous trip!!
I slept a solid 11 hours that night!
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