Oh the PAIN!!!

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Feb 01, 2005

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Where I stayed
Hostel Roy

Flag of Peru  ,
Thursday, July 1, 2004

Okay, so I was a little ambitious, or maybe just naive, to think that I could trek for 3 days in the deepest, or second deepest (it`s controversial) canyon in the world. I don`t think I really understood the concept of `steep mountains` until now.

Day 1: Getting to the Canyon
After a day in Arequipa where we declined the US$40 tour company and went with the US$45 company option that Emily and Tanja (our German travelling buddy since Lima) felt more comfortable with.

We were picked up at our hostal at 6:30am and in the other taxi I saw a woman who I thought had been selling us the $40 tour. As we had told her that we weren`t going to do the trek, I suddenly got worried about our lie coming back to haunt us, but thankfully I just mistook a Peruvian girl, Esmeralda, coming on our tour for her.

Emily and I had the front seats, and the two bags of groceries for our meals. We looked inside the bags to find eggs, pasta, rice, tuna, vegies and some milk. At the first stop, just outside Arequipa, a little old granny with a walking stick got on, and since the bus was full, I relinquished my seat in the hope of her getting off soon, except she was headed all the way to Cabanaconde, our destination, 6 hours away.

The bus was chock full of people and I spent most of my time leaning over the granny, who the conductor even called "abuelita" or little grandmother. At one point, a stinky man missing his front teeth (common in Peru) decided to sing for his passage and let go of the rail and leaned on me while he clapped in time to his song. Thankfully after 2 caterwauling songs, he moved further down the bus to torture them.

Emily and I swapped halfway and then we both got seats at Chivay, 3 1/2 hours later, when most people got off. The bus then filled at the numerous stops in between Chivay and Cabanaconde when massive groups of indigenous women wearing long embroidered skirts with about 5 layers, floral blouses, embroidered vests and embroidered hats got on.

We arrived at Cabanaconde and when the bus driver didn`t stop at the market where they wanted to get off, there was a massive protest from all the women screaming "Pare, pare" and "Bajo, bajo", stop stop and we want to get off.

Day 1: Oopsy Daisy
We had a dirty crappy lunch at a restaurant where a zillion other tour groups were stopped. As there wasn`t any room for us inside, we had to sit in the courtyard and I pulled a chair up to the table and sat down. The second my backside hit the chair I knew there was a problem. I got up to find a knicker-revealing hole in my pants from a stray nail, to the amusement of my tour companions. The problem was fixed temporarily with some elastoplast plasters which were very effective.

We then started off on the hike. I felt great. I should have bottled this great feeling, as it wasn`t going to last long. The flat bit was okay, but when we got to the edge of the canyon and looked down 1,200m below us at our midpoint, I was a little daunted. The path down was steep and rocky and I brought up the rear of our group of six.

We stopped a few times for Pedro, our guide, to explain something and at one of these stops I got my bottle of water out of my bag, only to have it slip through my butterfingers and go over the edge. It stopped about 5 metres below us, and Pedro went and rescued it for me. He then related a story of some dill who let their backpack go over the edge and that landed in a difficult to retrieve spot.

About halfway down, I was over the whole descent thing, even though we still had 2 hours to go. The scenery was rocky and dry, and the river at the bottom of the canyon never seemed to get closer. Making everything worse was the local kids climbing, or more accurately, scampering up the path. I was jealous. Every time a donkey or mule or horse passed us, we had to stop and stand against the rock wall while they passed.

I was happy to get to the river and do some rock jumping, a pastime I am quite fond of. From there it was a nasty climb up a bit further. During the climb, Tina (from Germany) got altitude sickness and couldn`t walk. Pedro led Emily, Tanja and I to the hostel as it was getting dark and then went back for Tina and Esmeralda.

We spent the night (or as Pedro would say "We passed the night") at Hostel Roy, perched above the canyon, in little mudbrick huts. In the middle of the night (after a delicious meal of soup, omelette, rice and chips cooked by Pedro) we all woke up to what sounded like a huge rainstorm. The next morning we discovered a rushing waterfall outside of our room which was part of an irrigation channel that had been opened during the night.

Day 2: The Hummingbird and The Nasty Pastie Alpaca
The second day was much more pleasant. Our legs were a bit sore, but we walked along the side of the canyon for awhile before making a further descent to the Oasis where we would spend the second night.

We walked beside the irrigation channels and learned that families living on one side of the reservoir could irrigate their crops (all sorts of citrus, apples and stone fruit) for 3 days, and then the families on the other side could irrigate for 3 days. However, come harvest time, they had to freight their produce out of the canyon by donkey or mule, as there were no roads, no electricity and only one solar phone servicing 4 villages. Dad, think yourself lucky you don`t have to rely on stubborn old mules to get your produce to the market!!!!

We learned lots about the plants, canyon and village life, although I won`t bore you with it here (I`ll sound like a walking fact book otherwise). But it was most exciting when Pedro pointed out a hummingbird eating from a cactus flower. It`s little wings were beating so fast that all we could see was a blur, and it flew forwards and backwards as it got the nectar out of the flower.

After another descent and bridge crossing, we were at the oasis and had a free afternoon to relax and rest. We made full use of the gorgeous swimming pool wedged in between two big rocks, and swam near the warm waterfall coming over a rock and into the pool.

In the afternoon I was a bit restless and while everyone else was lying beside the pool, I decided to harrass the two sheep and the alpaca grazing on the edge of the campsite. I got close to the alpaca, who was eating the grass, and tentatively put my hand out to stroke it`s back. I was a bit afraid of it biting me, so I was very careful and slow. The fleece was so thick that it came up to my knuckles. The alpaca made some grunts and I backed off, but pulled out my camera to get a picture. I got close and was willing it to look up when it did and turned straight at me. I took a picture and about 2 seconds later, the nasty pastie spat grass at my camera!! Frightened, I jumped back, and then laughed! The picture I got captured the "Prelude to Spit" look perfectly.

I told the girls about this, and Emily wanted at picture so we went to bother the alpaca again. She took a picture and then I said "Are you afraid to pat it" and she said "No, I`ll pat it" and started patting it. He half grunted, half growled and turned his head at her and spat a great wad of grass in her face!!!! She had such a stunned look on her face, and bits of grass on her forehead, cheek and chin that I dropped to the ground, rolling around with laughter. It was the funniest thing I had seen for so long!!!!

We went up and told the girls, and then Pedro came up with some popcorn. We were discussing the Nasty Alpaca, and I said how I wanted to spit back at it. The girls dared, me, and I took the remains of our popcorn (the bits that had fallen on the grass) down and threwn them at the alpaca. I would have spat on it, except we were very close to some French trekkers who were watching me abuse it. The girls came down and I demonstrated patting the alpaca, and then he spat on me again!!! This time I could see it coming so managed to back off and he only got my hand. I tell you, I think his problem is that he is sexually frustrated, being a the only male alpaca in the area.

Pedro demonstrated how to fish unsuccessfully with a net down at the river while I did some more rock jumping. Emily and I then threw stones at the big rock just under the waterline. I managed to get one to bounce from the big rock, to another rock and then to the opposite wall of the canyon.

After dinner we went to our bamboo hut for a few hours sleep before the 3am start.

Day 3: Me and my mula
I knew that I was never going to be able to climb all the way to the top. 1,100m and 7km of rocky trail in the dark. My legs were seizing up and my sandboarding injury playing up, so I told Pedro I would need a mule. He arranged 3 mules, even though Tina was the only other person who wanted one, Esmeralda ended up riding one most of the way.

It was such a good investment!!! S/30 and my mula, Sandy did all the work. I now understand the saying "As stubborn as a mule". Sandy, and the others, Balthazar and Tattoo, would stop in the middle of the path and the muleteer would shout "Vamos, vamos" and "Siga, siga" and "íCaramba!" I had to cling to Sandy when going up the steep stone steps and hope that I wasn`t going to fall off over the edge of the cliff. Thankfully it was dark and I couldn`t see the bottom of the cliff beside the path.

Sandy didn`t like Balthazar being in front of her, so when she spied an opportunity, she did an excellent overtaking manoeuvre, up the inside of a corner. Later, all she needed to get her going again, was feeling Balthazar`s nose on her side, trying to get past.

After a couple of hours, just before it got light, we stopped to wait for Pedro, Tanja and Emily. I was bored of riding my mula, and so I swapped with Tanja who was tired. My fresh legs carried me up what was probably the steepest bit without too much bother (which surprised me). Emily was the only one of our group to go the whole 3 hour 20 minute climb to the top. She is the champion climber!!!

Day 3: Doing the Condor Rock
We got a bus to the Cruz del Condor, where zillions of tourists in their polar fleeces, Gore-Tex jackets and big cameras were waiting to spy the condors on their morning flight up the canyon to find a donkey carcass somewhere. I wasn`t confident of seeing a condor, and thought that we would have to make do with our little knitted condor finger puppets that Emily and got, when off in the distance, condors were flying our way.

There were about 7 of them that circled around and overhead for about 4 minutes before soaring off to some dead meat. They were massive and one flew directly over my head, it`s head peering down and moving from side to side in an elegant move similar to the Golden Flying Condor in Seven Cities of Gold (one of my favourite cartoons from when I was a kid).

After that, we went to the hot springs at Chivay, lunched and then managed to climb, albeit like robots, up the bus steps for the trip back to Arequipa.

Things I Learned
* The wooden clog-like stirrups are handy when your mule passes close to the rocks.
* I don`t think I`ll be trekking in Cuzco, my body won`t let me climb or descend (or maybe I`m just super lazy and don`t like to push myself!)
* Alpacas are NASTY creatures!
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