Heaven at 4800 meters - Colca Canyon

Trip Start Nov 13, 2010
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Saturday, April 9, 2011

From the beautiful ''white' city of Arequipa we joined a group headed to  the Colca Canyon, said to be the deepest canyon in the world.  Everywhere, everyone claims their canyon is the deepest, their mountains the highest and so on.  It is with the new GPS's and National Geographic and Discovery Channel crawling all over the world that these claims are being verified or denied.  So, supposedly, since the last few months, Colca Canyon wins - at least amongst the local guides.  No matter what, it is spectacular.  As spectacular as Tiger Leaping Gorge last year in China.  Big big WOW factor. 

The van wound its way around the three massive volcanos that loom over Arequipa, then rose over the Andes to a highest point of 4800 meters  Nearly everybody had been sufferring with some form of Altitude sickness down in Arequipa, at 3200 meters and now many were getting very sick - nausea, severe headaches, chest pain, difficult breathing - all symptoms of the sickness.  Last year just outside of Tibet I suffered at lower altitudes - my ears just would not settle down and the pain inside the canal limited my access to Tibet.  I am happy to say, with the aid of lots of Coca tea and Coca candies and some other herbs - I have been fine.  Definitely shortness of breath on exertion but I am one of the few not suffer ring substantially.  Having had two months previously at high altitudes in Ecuador probaly is the biggest reason. Josie has been suffering with headaches and fatigue a bit but also is coping better than most.

The scenery over the mountains up to the Altiplano - the plains at the top of the Andes - is spectacular.  Thousands of Alpacas and Llamas and Vicunas (slim little Alpacas) roam the mountain sides and are herded all over the plains.   Every person dresses in traditional clothing - such detailed skirts and vests and always a hat.  The hats particularly tell you what indigenous group each person belongs to yet they all live together.  This dress stuff kind of blows me away as so much of it is so impractical for the harsh weather.  The sun is so intense, directly overhead, as we are not far from the equator, yet many of the traditional hats are the goofy Bowler Hats, brought over from the British.  They provide no sun protection whatsoever and seem like a hassle for the women wearing them.  The nights are very cold and the skirts and leggings and vests just don't seem to offer much warmth - most of the women wear Alpaca blankets over their clothes, wrapped around their waists. or snuggle under them as they watch their herds. 

It would be fascinating to just spend a year wandering around looking and documenting the hats - Jos and I are quite fascinated by the hats......



The canyon is home to many of the world's condors and we were lucky enough to catch about 6 of them soaring through the canyon as we sat in awe furiously trying to capture their immense wingspan on our cameras - some of them have wingspans of 15 feet - making them the largest land-based birds in the world.  Well worth a headache to get here......the canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon if that helps anyone with their image making.

Our guesthouse was in a tiny sleepy town that seems like history forgot.  A farming community, crops set on the steep terraces built by the Incas over 500 years ago.

Sunday morning I was out exploring the town as it woke up and found a number of groups of women frying up massive chickens along the town square.  They serve up huge chicken dinners - chicken, potatoes, salads and sauce every Sunday morning to their local neighbors.    Many of the people were arriving on foot to buy up takeaway to eat later.  I had already eaten breakfast or it would have been a nice big feed.  It was certainly not for lack of invitation - the people are quite shy but friendly and very kind and thoughtful. 

Everywhere we go we are learning how important community is here in Peru.  Many places half a person's income goes to the community, half of what is left goes to their family and they keep the other 25 percent.  The terraced mountains are spectacular and the biggest crops are potatoes - 3000 to 6000 types and corn - 300 varieties. 

In the villages they are as curious about us as we are of them.  My Keen shoes seem to be of great interest to the women.

The distances between towns and cities is vast - miles and miles - all in a comfortable van with really really nice travelling companions.  Ramiro our guide, one young Canadian mining engineer from Vancouver,  - Corrine, 4 nurses from Malta - my first Maltese friends - Hi Guys!!! and 5 Brazilian high maintenance women. A really nice crew to spend a few days with.  Great accomodation.

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Hilary Ramsey on

You are seeing so many beautiful places......really want to visit South America now!! I am in the USA at the moment & leave tomorrow. Will have been gone 3 weeks & looking forward to seeing my family in a couple of days time.
Keep having fun exploring the worldXX

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