Arequipa & the Colca Canyon

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July 10th 2013
Published: July 11th 2013
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Cuszco to Arequipa & Colca Canyon

Arriving in Arequipa just as the sun rose on a Monday morning, we got a cab to our hostel and after waking up the owners, we luckily had our room available where we could have a hot shower and pass out for the rest of the morning. As you don't sleep much on the long bus rides here, it feels like mild jetlag the day you arrive somewhere and inevitably means that a good part of the day is lost.

Stumbling out of the hostel sometime after lunch we were greeted by a bustling city, heavily influenced by Spanish Architecture with a lot of the main monuments being made out of the white basalt rock that was mined from the 3 huge Volcanoes that tower over the city nearly 4000m above us. At 6057m Chachani is the highest, with the other two not far below it. But the air is hazy here, as the city lies in a valley and the views are not as clear as we have seen when higher up the Altiplano. Still, it is a very imposing sight when you pop out of a little cobblestoned lane way and are greeted with a volcano.

Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru, and although somewhat geared towards tourism (mainly for the Colca Canyon) it is cheap, safe and has a good food and bar scene. We stayed in a great little hostel not far from the main square where over a few games of table tennis we met Shane and Tom. Shane is a crazy free-spirited Irishman who has been living in El Salvador for the last 2.5 years teaching gringo's to surf, and Tom is a wide eyed law graduate from England who had just arrived in Peru a few weeks back and was being shown the ropes (read corrupted) by Shane. We got along really well, and decided to do a 3 day Colca Canyon trek together.

The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the grand canyon at 4160m, and is a remarkable sight. We looked into doing it ourselves but for an extra $20 we could do it with a small group and have the accommodation, food and transport arranged for us, so it was a no brainer. On our first day we were up at 2.30am, despite only getting one hours sleep, and driven up over the range to the canyon. Our driver thought he was a WWC rally driver, tackling the numerous switchbacks up and down the pass at twice the speed he should have, and driving on the wrong side as he went round hairpin corners at a hurtling speed. This would have been ok if the road was closed to other traffic and he was in an AWD Subaru, but instead we had oncoming trucks and he was driving a mercedes minivan! Let alone the fact that there was snow and ice on the side of the road, i closed my eyes, put my mp3 player on and hoped that we did not encounter any ice on the road or an oncoming vehicle.

We survived and after a quick breakfast comprising of the standard stale bread and jam that we have long become accustomed to on this trip, we arrived at Cruz del Condor, a lookout over the Canyon at 3900m where Condors catch the thermal winds early in the morning looking for carrion. When we arrived there was around 10 of these magnificent birds flying above us, below us and then resting on the cliff face next to us. At various stages they would fly as close as 10metres, showing off their immense size and gliding capabilities. With a backdrop of ice covered mountains behind them it was a spectacular sight and we had to be dragged away an hour later in order to drive to Cabanaconde where our trek would start.

As i mentioned before, we had decided to do the 3 day trek, although it can be done in 2, or if you are really keen/stupid 1 day. By doing it over 3 days it meant that we only had to walk 4hours each day and then chill out in the Canyon for the rest of the day. The first day involved getting down to the canyon floor, a knee wobbling decent of 1000m straight down the side of a cliff. Luckily, there was not too many stairs, just a steep path that had been carved by the locals and their donkey's who live in the canyon, ferrying supplies from Cabanaconde. At 2/3 of the way down, looking back up the canyon it was hard to believe that there was a path that got us there, as it appeared that there was just sheer cliff faces.

After another hours walking we crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon and arrived at our pitstop for the night, a small little community with some mud brick houses with bamboo roofs, one of which we would sleep in for the night. After a feed of Alpaca, we realised that there was not a helluva lot to do, so we all decided to have a few drinks and head back down to the river to soak the feet and some beers. Egged on by Shane, Tom went for a swim in the glacial fed river and nearly got hypothermia, saved only by the fact that he had to put on all the available clothes including Jo and Maria's jackets. He looked quite the sight to the immense hilarity for the rest us.

The village does not have electricity nor a generator, but the beers were kept cool in buckets of frigid river water and when we got tired of those the rum came out... By the time dinner came round we were all in some state, and did not last much longer heading to bed early after watching the stars. As there is no inside or outside light in the Canyon, the stars are amazing, pitched against a jet black sky we saw numerous shooting stars and satellites against the sliver of sky we could see up through the canyon.

The next day we were up at 7.30 and on the trail by 9, cruising along for the first hour as we wound our way just above the river on the canyon floor. The Canyon floor is extremely fertile, with a lot of fruit trees being grown, and an even greater amount of Avocado trees. Then we were presented with what our guide Sergio, called the exam. A tough little climb of around 150m up a cliff face. It's called the exam, as the time taken to get to the top will determine what ungodly hour we have to get up the next day to walk out of the canyon, 8 times the heigh at 1150m straight up.

From the top of exam it was another two or so hours of walking, initially along the flat, then down 200m into the Oasis. The Oasis is a green patch of wonderland in the middle of the Canyon, with spring fed waterfalls feeding into the river, and a number of swimming pools to wash away the dust, sunscreen and general grime. Although a little fresh, the water was much warmer then the river and a welcome sight for us dirty souls. Once again, we started on the drink early in the afternoon, along with another 20 or so trekkers who had all aggregated in the Oasis. A very messy night was had by all, not the best way to prepare for a hard walk out the next morning at 5am.

The next morning saw us rise with dusty heads and legs that refused to wake up from their slumber. It took us 3 hours to walk up the 1150m in elevation, the sun just appearing over the other side of the Canyon as we stumbled up the last section. A few of the group had decided to catch a ride up on a mule, which looked like a good option at the time. But looking back on it, if we had done that it would not have been the same experience for us if we did not walk out of the bastard. After all, we had self inflicted our own damage the previous two nights.

After breakfast in Cabanacode, we were all knackered and just wanting to get back to Arequipa. But the bus stopped at a number of impressive lookouts, as well as an hour in the hot springs just outside of Chivay. This involved crossing the dodgiest bridge, 2 at a time, over a river full of trout some 15m below. The pools ranged from lobster cooking hot, to nice bath temperature (around 38 degrees). It was good for the tired muscles, however the thought of having a soak with a bunch of dirty trekkers made us get out fairly quickly. In Chivay we had a buffet lunch sampling all of the local delicacies, including my favourite, rocoto relleno, stuffed spicy peppers. Arriving back into Arequipa it was decided that we would all go out for dinner again, which resulted in staying out till 4am hanging out with some locals in small darkly lit bars playing drinking games and guitars. Some people don't learn eh...

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 28


Tom warming up in Jo's and Maria's clothesTom warming up in Jo's and Maria's clothes
Tom warming up in Jo's and Maria's clothes

while shane is cacking himself
Jo, me, Tom and ShaneJo, me, Tom and Shane
Jo, me, Tom and Shane

And their beloved bottle of Inca Cola

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