Colca Canyon, Peru

Jan 6 – 9, 2005

Colca Canyon is supposed to be the second deepest canyon in the world. The deepest is close to this canyon, but I guess it’s not as developed or doesn’t have the same marketing staff. Lou found a place selling a three day package to Colca Canyon with everything for $/40 per person for three nights. We asked all the tough questions, and got them answered to our satisfaction. The plan was for us to take public transportation, with our guide, to Chivay for lunch, then another bus to Cabanaconde, then hike down into the canyon. On the first night we we spend the night at the bottom of the canyon. The next day we hike to a hot spring, where we frolic and spend the night. “Make sure to bring bug spray!” they said. On the morning of the third day we are supposed to wake up at 2 a.m. (AKA, the time I normally go to bed) and hike out of the canyon, in time to catch a 6 a.m. bus. From there, we go to Mirador Cruz del Condor, which is supposed to be a great place to see Condors if you are awake. Then back to Arequipa late in the day.

We were picked up from our hotel on a Friday morning, again, very early. And once again, we were the first ones picked up. The ride to the bus station is uneventful, and I end up sleeping on the bus for a large part of the drive. I was happy to be sleeping through the bus ride, since I HATE bus rides. But when you can sleep through them, it’s like a time machine, and that makes it better. We get to Chivay and grab a quick lunch made by Luz, in a restaurant, which includes her soon to be infamous soup, and start introducing ourselves. In keeping with the Machu Picchu post, here are the cast of characters.

Lou and I – resident studs, and all around manly men.
Luz – Our guide. She’s pretty young, and I don’t think she’s been doing this for very long.
Pete – Another Australian. When traveling, it’s always good to have an Aussie with you. For luck, and for a drinking partner. Made me feel good, because he too only spoke English.
Giny – French woman. Used to work for a Mars, the candybar company. She was touring S.A. helping with nutritional training in indigenous communities (OK – that’s a very loose description, but she was doing good for the world.) She, like every other non-American/Australian spoke many languages, and has traveled to many countries.
Marjolein and Eric – The Dutch Couple. He was an engineer of some time, she was in medical school.

After lunch we head into the canyon. It’s supposed to be 1Km (or .6 miles) from rim to river bottom. Probably the first thing you notice is that it’s nothing like the Grand Canyon in the US. It’s nowhere as dramatic. It is deeper, but it’s really just another hike into a canyon. The trail itself is OK, but good god is it dusty. We cover a pretty good amount of ground the first part of the trek, mainly because it’s downhill. Most people have pretty small packs, since we don’t need sleeping bags, tents or food. We reach the river crossing, and take a short break. Due to some twist of fate, Giny didn’t use her position in the Mars company to secure a lifetime supply of candy bars, so we have to make do with the snacks we brought. Luz, our guide is looking a little tired.

After crossing the bridge, we head up the other side of the canyon into the village we are supposed to be spending the night in. It’s a relatively steep climb, but most of us are doing OK. Luz, however, is having a very hard time. She’s carrying the food for the entire trip, plus god knows what else in her pack. Her pack is easily twice the size of mine, and she’s pretty little (I do have a picture of her with her pack in the photos, but it doesn’t do it’s size justice.) Early on the uphill side, she’s having a very hard go it. I offer to help her with her pack, carry some of her stuff, but she won’t have any of it. So we slog along behind her, taking quite a few breaks until we reach our goal for the night. Luz was sweating in a way I’ve never seen anyone sweat. There was a line of sweat across her nose and under her eyes. I stared the first couple of times I saw it.

Our hotel/campsite/bedroom is an adobe structure in a somewhat large village – maybe a couple hundred people live there. It’s amazingly primitive, and the only way in or out is on foot. All goods have to be brought in by donkey, which is probably OK, since I imagine they grow most of what they need. There isn’t any electricity, but there is a solar powered phone. I assume it to be either a satellite phone, since there is a pretty good sized antenna on it, pointed to the sky, but it could have been a cellular phone too. We saw these phone in lots of small villages on the inca trail, and on bus rides. The US did something like that many years ago to make sure all communities had access to telephones, and they are still doing it, to some degree, with broadband access.

Where we are to spend the night is a somewhat large adobe building with a dirt floor and two very small windows (or rather holes in the walls.) Oddly enough, there was a broom in the room. How would you know when to stop? The beds were thin mattresses set upon a frame made of bamboo. I don’t know if Luz gave Giny an option or not, but she ended up stuck in the same room with Lou, Pete and I. The Dutch couple got a different, separate place to themselves. Near our adobe slice of heaven, down some stairs, and behind a light blue curtain was the Our bathroom. As far as holes dug into the ground where you relieve yourself, it wasn’t bad. It was clean, and the footing was concrete. The bamboo part of the bamboo palace didn’t allow for much privacy, but that’s pretty much par for the course.

We spend some time in our room, talking and getting to know each other over a little El Gato Negro I brought, before heading over to the kitchen to eat dinner. In this kitchen, again, adobe, with a small fire burning to cook the food, were about 7 or 8 running all over the place. Some were cute, some looked tasty, and one or two were very ragged looking. Giny, every the French woman, wanted to cook them. She had a bad experience with Guinea Pigs as a child, and is always looking to get even I guess. There were animal dropping everywhere, which was kind of gross, but nobody got sick (not even Lou.) Dinner was soup – apparently the only soup Luz knows how to cook, followed by, well, I forget what. Lot’s of rice and some type of meat. It was good, but not great.

It’s dark by this time, so we head back to our room for sleep. The beds proved to be remarkably comfortable and everyone slept well. I slept well, but woke up shortly after dawn because I was cold. I got up, took a few pictures and sat by the kitchen area reading for an hour or two waiting for everyone else to wake up, and for breakfast to begin. Breakfast was very good. It was Pancakes, jam and butter and Coca Tea. After breakfast, the woman who ran the place offered to let the women dress up in traditional Peruvian clothes, and get their picture taken. It was a nice and unexpected gesture, and I’m pretty sure Giny and Marjolein appreciated it.

We packed and headed out. As we were getting ready to leave, an old man passed us by. Giny, who speaks Spanish, was told that he was over 100 years old (104?) He looked like he was maybe 80, and was moving pretty well. The path back down into the canyon (so we could cross the river) took us through the rest of the village (it might have been two villages, but I don’t know how you’d tell them apart.) There was an adobe church that is only open twice a year for festivals. I wonder how Catholic these festivals are, and how much of the old religions are used. The abode church, while not in very good shape was set against a magnificent background, and I got a few pictures.

As we headed out of the village, there was a large, terraced amphitheater, that looked liked it seated a couple of thousand people. I never figured out what it was for, if it was built in Incan times, or if I just have an active imagination. We passed some guy selling the fruit from prickly pear cactuses, and Luz bought one for each of us. Lou even had a couple of bites, and he hates fruit. It was OK, but there were a lot of seeds in it – too much work for not enough food I say, but I was glad to try it.

This day was supposed to be a very short day. We were only to hike to the “Oasis”, where we were supposed to spend the night. However the night before we’d decided we didn’t want to get up at 2 a.m. and hike out. “It’s not Human”, to quote Paulo from our last trip. When we got to the oasis, we were pretty sure we made the right decision. The pictures show a pretty nice place with a pool, bamboo huts and a river running nearby. What they don’t show is the huge number of bugs. All of us were getting eaten up when we weren’t in the pool, especially the Dutch girl. The schedule was pool for a while, then lunch, then hike out. We did spend some quality time in the pool, which was kind of fun, and I got some sun on my pasty white torso, enough to peel eventually. The pool was pretty fun. We got to watch Eric, the Dutch guy, play in the pool with his girlfriend by doing fun things like bounce a ball off her head. Not my thing, but if it works for them. Come to think of it, I think he was the only one enjoying it. Eventually we all tire of the pool and get our and try to cover ourselves in bug spray.

These insects were amazing, and quite painful when they bite you. I don’t know what kind of bugs they were, but I must admit I liked the bite they left. It’s small, maybe 1/4 of an inch across, and red. In the middle, about the size of a pencil lead, is the actual bite. it’s dark red, with the rest of the bite a lighter red. I think it’s kind of pretty, or at least I did until it started itching a whole lot. After a day or two, the bites didn’t itch, but writing this, almost a week later, they itch like crazy. I guess I didn’t cover my elbows or my hands well enough, so I’ve got a LOT of bites on those areas. I’m surprised, since these bites are in the thickest parts of my skin.

While we are eating Lunch at this “Oasis”, we start talking to other people on the trail. Every other group is a couple (man/woman) and a guide. And they all got a much sweeter deal than we did. One couple got to pick what they ate (Trout or Chicken.) Another couple got a hot shower, and they all paid less money. Granted, this was much like our Machu Picchu hike in that we lucked into a very nice group of people to hike with. I don’t know that just Lou and I would have been as much fun. We got to have Luz’s soup again, followed by rice and some meat. It was starting to get old.

Eventually we broke Luz away from her friends at the oasis and headed back to civilization. The hike up was pretty difficult. It involved a pretty good vertical gain over not a very long distance. But, we all made it, and I got some great pictures along the way. We managed to barely beat the rain back to Cabanaconde – it started just as we found a house we were supposed to spend the night. I imagine they got this place because it was cheap, cheap, cheap. The people were very nice, and it was clean and somewhat new (and not adobe.) There was a room and bed for the Dutch couple to share, and a room for Giny (I think it would have been on a very bad mattress – we didn’t get that far.) But Luz wanted two of the three guys (Lou, Pete and I) to share a bed. I really like Lou, and I really like Pete, but there ain’t no way, AND I am paying for this. We all felt the same way, so we go out into the rain and end up sharing a large room again, but this time, the Dutch couple had to share the room with the rest of us. We asked about getting separate rooms, but were told that they were sold out (but we never saw other people in those rooms – I think she didn’t want to cut into her profit margin.)

We go to a bar/restaurant for dinner. They are playing music videos non-stop while we are there, but otherwise, they don’t use electricity. When we ordered a beer, they would turn on the light to get it from behind the bar, then turn the lights out again. Dinner was a candlelight affair, and kind of fun. The music they played was American, and horrible. Luz again used their kitchen to cook dinner, which was once again the only soup she knew how to make, and rice with other stuff in it. The other couples had fantastic meals (well, compared to ours – fresh trout, an omelet dish, etc.) We stayed there quite a while drinking beer before retiring to our room.

Our room had a fireplace, but no vent. We spent some time trying to get a fire lit, but all we did was fill the room with smoke. After a few complaints about burning eyes, we abandoned the effort. Lou and I both brought a liter paper jug of El Gato Negro wine. We’d drank most of the one I brought at the bottom of the canyon, so we still had Lou’s to drink. We cut up some old water bottles and made glasses for everyone. It was a fun experience, sitting around sharing wine in an unheated room with dirt walls and dirt floors. It’s why you do stuff like this. Eventually we all changed and made it into bed for a short nights sleep.

We were up at 6 a.m. the next morning. Apparently I was snoring. Usually I don’t snore, but sometimes I do, and some of those times, it’s horrible. I guess if only one person mentioned it, it wasn’t too bad. We meet back at the restaurant from the previous night (it might have been the only one in town) for breakfast, again cooked by our guide. We are already jealous of the other people’s guides, and it didn’t help that the next couple over had pretty tasty looking Omelets. I don’t know what we had, but we’d had it before. Sigh…

We grab a bus to Mirador Cruz del Condor, which is the condor overlook. Lou and I aren’t really into it, since the condor is a rather ugly bird. We are there an hour, and see one flying around a little bit. I ended up with a picture or two of the bird, but otherwise we just sat around. It was a decent place to see some amazing mountains, but I was looking forward to a hot shower and some clean clothes. The trail was really dusty and everything I carried was coated in dust.

Lou walks up next to me and says ” did you see the Dutch girl changing last night.” Of course I snuck a peek – she was hot, and wearing her underwear for the briefest of moments. About 30 seconds after that Pete walks up and says “did you guys get a peek of the Dutch girl changing last night.” Alas, there are no pictures. It’s good to know that men the world over share a common appreciation of beauty. It’s enough to make tears well up in my eyes.

On the bus ride back, I get a seat up front, so I get a little more leg room, and am able to grab a nap. Pete comes up and sits across the aisle from me, next to a German girl he met. When I first saw her, I thought she was Australian, mainly I guess because she was talking to an Australian. I was surprised because she was the first dour Aussie I’d seen. I was glad to find she was German. Pete spends some time talking to her, and eventually she raises her arms, where he proceeds to get lost in the hair for about 15 minutes. He got out safely, just in time for our bus ride to be over.

We agree to get together for dinner later (well, Pete, Giny, Lou, myself, and the German bird) and grab a hefty chunk of meat. It ended up being a nice dinner, even though Lou got the last T-bone steak, and we eventually each went our own way. It was a good time, with a lot of unique memories.

Two last points…

The German girl was weird, but I think we all ended up liking her. She reminded Lou of a friend of his. Lou and I walked her back to her hotel at the end of the night.

Pete went by bus to Lima the next day. He took information from Luz on when to catch busses, etc. She was very wrong, and he ended up spending 16 hours on a bus getting to Lima. It’s a 30 minute flight. That’s my idea of hell.

Giny had to leave dinner early to catch her bus. Lou mentioned he thought Giny was kind of grumpy. I didn’t see it – I thought she was very nice, had a great view of the world, and was pretty entertaining. I had a great time with her. Eventually it dawned on me that Lou has been calling me grumpy all along too, and I think I’m very nice, have a great view of the world and am pretty entertaining. Maybe that’s why we got along so well.

Lou flew back on to Seattle on Monday (he didn’t get to Seattle until Tuesday.) I’m all alone now.

I got stuck in Arequipa until Thursday – more on that later. Meanwhile, HERE are the pictures. Enjoy!!