Okay Waykis!!!

Trip Start Jul 31, 2006
Trip End Aug 24, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Monday, August 7, 2006

Today has been without a doubt the most interesting day since arriving in Peru. Thatīs not to say the sandboarding wasnīt brilliant, but it now feels like Iīm experiencing the Peru I envisioned before coming down here.

We left Arequipa, via mini-bus, for the Colca Canyon. Since we were climbing to altitudes that were about 4000 metres above sea level, we had the chance to try out the infamous coca leaf. As the story goes, if you take some coca leafs, put a catalyst (which was a type of rock) in the middle, wrap it into a bundle, and stick it against the inside of your cheek, then it will help one against altitude sickness. We were all given some on the bus. Truthfully, Iīll never know if it worked or not, but it was just interesting to try.

Up to this point, I had not seen any of the stereotypical, or typical, wildlife that Peru is reknowned for. As we travelled higher and higher into the altiplano, we were afforded our first chance to see a camelid. The vicuņa!

Unbeknownst to myself, the wool of the vicuņa is some of the most expensive wool in the world. I canīt remember the exact price but it was literally hundreds of dollars for a few square feet. Understandably so, these animals have to be protected from poachers. It would be too easy to make a quick buck by killing one of them.

The vicuņas we saw were in a protected park. There were probably about fifty of them just grazing on the hills. They looked a lot more slender than their other camelid cousins.

Later on in our journey, we saw hundreds upon hundreds of alpaca and llamas just standing about. It was an awesome sight.

We stopped quite a few times on our way to our hotel in the canyon. There were photo-ops, chances to buy warm clothing from the locals, and many sick gringos. Quite a few of us were feeling the woes of altitude sickness. I wasnīt too bad off. I just had the shortness of breath, which I believe is inevitable.

The accommodation we stayed in was extremely luxurious. It was a little hacienda transplanted into a relatively poor town. The charm and mystique to the whole place was a result of a few things:

1. Other than those at our hotel, there were no tourists nearby.
2. The views were some of the most spectatuclar I have ever seen. The hotel looked out over a valley of terraced hills.
3. Without being bothered, we could sit around the fireplace, play the guitar on the wall, and drink hot coca tea.
4. And most importantly, there was a resident baby Alpaca who just wandered about the hotelīs grounds. He was only 6 months old and was the cutest little thing. He would find his way behind the reception desk, poke his head through windows or just hang out at the hammocks.

After checking in at the hotel, our local guide, Fernando, took us for a 1.5 hour hike into the hills. As the path left town, there were kids lined up along the road dressed in traditional garbs. The idea was that you could take their photo, as long as you gave them a propina (tip). Not a bad investment for a nice picture... it only set me back 1 sole ($0.30 CDN). I also ran out of soles along the way, and gave them some candy I had with me. They were very keen about the offering.

The hike would not have been streneous in Canada, but at this altitude, it was 4x harder. We constantly stopped to take photos, which was merely an excuse to rest our lungs. It was interesting though... you could stop for 30 seconds and then set off again, and you would feel well refreshed. The legs werenīt weary, it was just our lungs that had to catch up.

I can only hope I acclimatize more so to the altitude, otherwise the Inca Trail may be rough.
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