The Grander Canyon

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
Trip End Nov 29, 2014

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Saturday, May 10, 2014


Colca Canyon; 100 miles from Arequipa, yet feels like another planet. At 4160m, it's more than twice the depth of the US' Grand Canyon and was formed by the river Colca. Unlike metropolitan Arequipa, the Colca Valley is rich in Andean culture, Inca traditions and the quaint towns dotted throughout the canyon maintain the Spanish colonial architecture.

Clambering upon the rickety bus to Cabanaconde, with no plans or ideas, we just wanted to hike down, up, through and around this monster Canyon. A gaggle of giggling locals boarded our jitney, we assumed these girls wearing white cotton boater hat adorned with sparkle and glitter to be on a hen do.

As the vehicle swirled the brim of the canyon, I noticed the people here maintain their ancestral traditions, cultivating every Inca stepped terrace until the land disappeared into the ravine. Fascinating. "Look at those flamingos!" David shrilled down my ear, shattering my thoughts. He signalled my attention to a field; "can you see them Tash?!". Now, my short distance has failed me in the before; but not today. Residing in the field below was not a pat of flamingoes, but a load of pink bin bags billowing in the wind, like scarecrows.

It felt like we'd fallen out of Bill and Ted's phone box when rolling through this town. Children haphazardly herded sheep across the dirt road. Crumbling houses protected by walls planted with cacti. It seemed the hen party weren't the only town gals wearing their Vegas headgear. Tradition around here, rather than Bolivia's bowler hats. However, it was us who attracted glances and nudges once off the bus and were pounced on by several women offering their hotels.

The nursery rhyme "Old Macdonald" ran through my head as the town is awash with farm animals vocalising their own ballads. One evening we observed a naughty runaway pig, in hot pursuit was it's owner who had a couple of kids strapped to her back. Surveying this scene, while resting on the sombre steps of a bullring, we wondered if it was still used today, as our companion dog of the day 'Teddy' unnerved, ears pricked up, he eased a snarl from his minute snout. Beyond the evening shadows, within the bullring, a bigger dog gnawed on the carcass of what we assumed, a bull. This must be the weekend's entertainment.

The entire town was buzzing, we assumed it was harvest season. Families united in the arduous fieldwork from dawn through till dusk, mules ran crops back into town and a celebratory brass band looped the village continuously, with their rousing melodies; Kay Owen would have been in her element. How you can play a wind instrument at that altitude and temperature is beyond me. It all felt very neighbourly with a strong sense of community, although we were aliens to them it felt a little like home. This place reminded me of watching 'little house on the prairie' with Mellissa, then we would play in our orchard rein-acting the episode.

On the big day, our hike down the canyon, the clock struck 11am before we'd left the village. Hearing that the descent and return only took a few hours, we were in no rush. When the tantalising sight of the 'Oasis Paradise', a kilometre down the canyon, appeared around the first corner we felt ever so far away. The altitude, blistering heat and the fact we hadn't exercised in quite some time took it's toll. Cowering in what little shadow there was, we sipped our water as much older and more spritely Peruvians ran down the steps in their battered sandals with five packed-up mules in tow. Caps off to these guys, who happily explained they raced up and down the valley every day with their mules who carried produce to the hostels in the depths of the canyon. Some slackers hire mules to journey back up the canyon, but in our eyes, if you're fit and healthy enough to get down, then you've got the legs to carry yourself back up. There's no need to park your ass on an ass.

A few hours down, burnt and dehydrated I looked down and my left leg was doing an Elvis. It was spontaneously shaking, I informed David, but his too was dancing away. As we jived and jittered down the steep steps we agreed it would be impossible to attempt the return today and prayed they had room for us down at the oasis paradise. Racing down, slapping the hummingbirds out of our way, we reached the green paradise. With the last of our energy, we clambered across the lush lawn, past the ever so inviting pool to ask at the bar if they had a room spare. I rejoiced when Jennifer showed us to our reasonably priced room. Boots off, flip flops on, collapse by the pool. Ahhh paradise, the sound of the river entwining the oasis, the heat, the beer; we'd left the hard working harvesters well and truly behind.

It was a fine night down in paradise; feasting on veg soup and spag bol, supping on suspiciously unlabelled beer and chatting to other guests about their expedition. Turned out everyone else came down as part of a tour and paid over the odds for it. The milky twilight shone down as we headed for out hut, when I caught David nearing a couple of ducks cozying up; "What are you doing?", I quizzed. "I'm going to stroke them!". Clearly, he's been spending too much time with me.

Up early the following day, the sun was just as harsh, legs aching and with little food to snack on we began the trek before 9am. It only took five hours. FIVE hours! Five hours of staircase hell. The only thing that kept us going was the stone baked Alpaca pizza awaiting us at our hostel. Imagine the donkey and carrot or the fat man on a treadmill with a cupcake enticing him, but with us and a pizza.

The primary attraction drawing backpackers and tourists to Colca Canyon is the 'Cruz del Condor', where Condors grace and own the skies. The canyon is home to the Andean Condor, a species at the epicentre of global conservation efforts.

Up at the crack of dawn, we caught an early bus out of Cabanaconde to popular Cruz del Condor. Some spectators were up at 3am and drove all the way from Arequipa. The scene was worth it though. The condors, like clockwork, swooped out from the rock face, one by one. The exhibitionist birds circled the valley and with a two metre wingspan, it wasn't hard keeping an eye on them. Fifteen in total, half of them taking a recess upon a ledge a few feet from the surrounding tourists, it was as if these egoist creatures were here to show-off. It wasn't long before they headed our way, gliding over our heads, I felt like prey. Both so impressed, we imagined our fathers bonding over this; David's dad is an avid bird watcher and mine, he used to train and keep birds of prey.

As the Condor and the weary traveler tired of one another, the birds of prey headed to the coast for their breakfast and the beard and blonde headed to another valley; the Inca's Sacred Valley of Cusco.
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Emma on

Can't believe we missed this! Sounds amazing.

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