Volcanoes, vicuñas and hot springs

Trip Start Sep 24, 2010
Trip End Dec 11, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Colca Canyon,
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Maybe I didn't read my itinerary well enough, but I hadn't realised we would be going on a separate tour to the Colca Canyon from Arequipa. Not that I'm complaining, it was fantastic! A private mini bus picked up the group from the hostel and took us to a local shop to buy some coca leaf products for the trip; coca leaves are meant to help with altitude sickness and it seemed wise to give anything that might work a go. I opted for some coca leaf toffees, which were actually nicer than they sound!

After another quick stop to take some photos of volcano El Misti, we continued to the national reserve Pampas Cañahuas, where we saw vicuñas, alpacas, llamas, flamingos and a chinchilla! The vicuñas look a little like a camel crossed with a deer or alpaca and belong to the state, whereas the llamas and alpacas are owned by local farmers.

The views were, once again, awesome - it's difficult to describe the journey that day because we passed through so many different landscapes. I was most excited when we started coming across more Incan terracing; it was the prospect of seeing those terraces up close and personal that inspired me to visit Peru.

The next stop was for some authentic coca tea, complete with the leaves, to prepare for hitting the highest point of the tour at 4,800m. From the view point you could see the volcanoes Ubinas, Mismi, Misti, Chachani, Sabancaya and Ampato - and it was freezing! I bought a nice pink scarf from a persistent lady selling her alpaca merchandise - a bargain for 10 soles.

Eventually we arrived in Chivay, a little town that is clearly geared up for the tourists. The square in the centre had a handful of extremely cute children wandering around in traditional dress, with baby alpacas and llamas in tow or lambs in their arms. It was very tempting to give them a couple of coins for a photo, but we'd already been warned that it puts the children, and their parents, off the idea of school when money is to be earned elsewhere.

After an alpaca loin and avacado sandwich (actually very tasty, I felt a bit mean but they are the equivalent of cows and it's good that they use all parts of the animal), it was time to hike 3km to the local hot springs. We'd been told it might be hard going because of the altitude, but actually it was very flat in comparison to past hikes in Ecuador. Emma (lovely Aussie girl - there's your mention Em!) and I were having such a good conversation we hardly noticed and it felt like a stroll!

The hot springs were lovely. There are a couple of pools nestled into the side of the valley that have great views and are very warm and relaxing. So much so we stayed for ages and shrivelled up like prunes!

You'd think that was enough for one day, but the experience was topped off by eat with a local family. There are two clans or tribes in the valley, the Collaguas and the Cabanas. Originally the two tribes could be told apart by the shape of their heads (one wide and flat; one cone shaped) as they practiced cranial deformation. This was banned when the Spanish arrived and replaced by different shaped hats (I have to say, this does seem preferable to having your head squished as a baby!).

We were eating with a Cabana family (tall, hard hats) and 'helped' to prepare the meal. I say helped, I'm sure we were in the way half the time! I had the pleasure of stirring corn in a metal pot over the fire and then peeling some rather unappetising-looking black dehydrated potatoes. It was a bit of a mission to not singe the rather unflattering traditional skirt (hippo hips wasn't in it!) and to keep my nice North Face jacket from catching fire; I couldn't take it off because it was freezing and we were cooking and eating outside.

These tasks where infinitely preferable to catching, killing and skinning a guinea pig, which unsurprisingly the boys of the group handled. I wasn't exactly impressed when they tried to show me the photos, especially after I'd told them the story of Rosie, my school pet guinea pig! I couldn't bring myself to taste it, but I tried the alpaca. I felt a bit mean as there was a cute young female alpaca trotting around while we were cooking. She was quite affectionate and took a bit of a shine to Paul, the group's older single man, who has a bit of a reputation for being popular with the local ladies. 

While she lay at his feet, gazing adoringly into his eyes, she somehow rolled back right onto the fire!! Rather than jumping to her rescue (like a true gentleman), Paul ignored his poor admirer until the owner came dashing over and pulled her from the fire. Luckily, the alpaca was unharmed, but the same can't be said for the alpaca wool jumper her owner was planning on!

A great day!

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