The Longest Day

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Monday, August 23, 2004

If he was still alive I would tell that Dr Atkins bloke to take a hike - into the Colca Canyon in Peru. When I left the States I was a "healthy" 13 stone (or 182lbs in American money), which is positively Biafran by US standards. I don't know what I weigh now, but after less than two weeks in South America it's a good few pounds less. Not only is the food pretty bad, but there's just not enough of it.
Take last weekend, for example. Together with Aussie Tim (Yankie Pat dropped out with strep throat, the tart) and another Aussie (named Kylie - no really!) and a Kiwi, I went on a three day hike of the Colca Canyon. It only took six hours to get there on public bus from Arequipa, stopping at every village along the way to pick up and drop off local farmers. We also suffered a blow-out at nearly 16,000 feet, and even getting off the bus left me feeling dizzy and breathless in the oxygen-depleted air, but after 15 mins we were back bouncing along the unsealed road as llamas and alpacas grazed around us, admiring the amazing terraces of the farms on the slopes.
We met our guide Marcial at the town of Cabonaconde (12,500 ft) on the edge of the canyon where after a brief lunch of soup and pasta we began a three hour descent to a remote village. It was fairly easy going to reach our bungalow on a small farm on the other side of the Colca River where we spent a fairly chilly night snuggled under alpaca blankets.
Now I'm no geologist, but I thought a canyon was caused by a river eroding a steep-sided channel into the ground, rather than a river flowing between some rather large volcanoes which is what this "canyon" seemed. No matter, it was still pretty steep.
Day Two and we hiked up to the small village of Tapay, where we visited the 300 year old church and watched the locals go about their business (i.e. being drunk on homemade whisky while growing crops in terraced fields which would be taken four hours by donkey to market). Hard to imagine living the way they still do, and it seems the younger generation do as well, as many have buggered off to the cities of Arequipa or Lima.
The walk down to the very bottom was pretty steep and slippery on the loose shale. We all fell at least a couple of times, us in our expensive hiking boots and even Marcial in Peruvian Payless bargain bucket shoes.
After five hours in the sun and dust, we were at the Oasis at the bottom, where natural spring water has been channelled to form swimming pools. We jumped in immediately, but then the sun went in and it got cold. Bloody marvellous. Lunch was soup and spaghetti, but again not nearly enough. The one good thing we did get to drink - and is very popular in Peru - is cocoa tea. Everywhere else in the world it is illegal as it is made from the leaf of the cocoa plant. Process it into a white powder and shove it up your nose and you'll be dancing all night. Drink it and it's supposed to help with the effects of altitude sickness and make you hike, apparently. I liked it a lot.
Marcial then went net fishing and came back with about 20 small rainbow trout, for which we would have been imprisoned for in Alaska but here it was dinner. How we only managed to get two fish each I haven't worked out. I needed more to eat as day three was to be tough: up at 3am to hike the vertical mile out to catch the bus back to Arequipa.
So up we got. Holding my small torch to light the way I began the 3 hour trip in good spirits, but soon the combination of the altitude, my fitness level and hunger pangs took their toll. I can honestly say it was the hardest hike I've ever done. It didn't take long before I was seeing stars, literally and figuratively. The last half an hour was utter lung-bursting, leg-cramping pain, dragging my feet over the rocks and along the numerous switchbacks.
At last I made it to the top, where the cold wind soon froze my sweat-soaked back. It was half-an-hour back to Cabonaconde where we wolfed down breakfast and caught the bus to the next destination, Cruz del Condor. Here we stopped with lots of other tourists to watch the magnificent condors swoop just a few feet away from us before diving down into the canyon to look for dead animals or perhaps lost hikers. Going into it I wasn't expecting much, but I came away being quite impressed.
And so it was back on the bus at last for the journey back to Arequipa, so imagine the frustration of the bus breaking down again, this time on a wind-swept section of road still four hours from home. Two hours of waiting and some of us managed to jump on another bus where we had to stand the rest of the way jammed in like a Monday morning on the tube. If we weren't all squashed in I probably would have collapsed as my legs were like jelly and I was so tired. After an interminable few hours we finally arrived back about 7pm dirty, exhausted, definitely smelly and obviously hungry. At the time I was close to snapping, but after a few days' reflection I suppose it wasn't as bad as that (oh who am I kidding, it was awful!). It was by far the longest day of my trip so far - even longer than June 1st and I had two of those! Such is the joy of South American bus travel, so I'd better get used to it.
Next stop: Cusco, where I hope to eat more food and sign up for another four days of climbing on the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu.
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Dave on

Peruvian food is the best food i ahve ever tasted. Pretty ignorant of you to complain about the quantitiy and quality of food provided by these simple people. These people are not rich by any means.

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