Dusty Shoes in Colca Canyon

Trip Start Sep 25, 2013
Trip End Apr 15, 2014

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Flag of Peru  , Puno,
Wednesday, October 2, 2013

For me, traveling alone has many joys: dine when you wish, rest when you feel you need to, explore wherever you feel drawn- you set your own itinerary, without compromise. But there can be challenges as well, such as being told you cannot venture to an area alone as it isn't safe, or hiking a canyon, where, although there are maps of the many routes, you just aren't... sure. This was me. I fell into the "unsure" category-unsure of finding my way. I am admittedly directionally challenged. Not to mention that I am toting Monster, et al, which weighs( pardon the pun) into my plan of getting around. After all, who would watch over them while I was gone? So I researched smaller, local tour companies that might be able to help me find my way, while also offering me a journey a bit off the beaten path( so to speak). Pablo Tours came highly rated for their guides and their service. I was in. It turned out, I had good timing, as no one else wanted to come along on the day I was interested in, which meant a private tour guide for me-perfect!
It was an early start to the day-2:30am for the 3-3:30am pick up. Getting Monster packed was nearly a full days work, but alas- I was ready to go!

In Peru, you are not given a key for your hostel room. You have to ring a bell each time you return to your room. This presents problems when you pull an all nighter (refer to "Reflections
on Lima" if you aren't sure what I am talking about) or need to leave at 3am. These ladies have a tough job-a reception room couch for a bed during the work week, and woken at all hours of the night for late arriving (or departing ) tourists. I felt terrible waking up my second hostel señora in a week!

Apparently, she wasn't happy about it either, as I think she got tired of hearing me shuffling around in the wee hours, and decided to just open the door and put me out on the stoop to wait in the quiet dark streets of Arequipa for my ride. This isn't really the best idea, mind you. But there I sat for only a mere three minutes before I saw my van reeling down the cobbled street towards me. Town men jumped out and, Marcos, my guide, loaded Monster, et al, into the van of 20 rumpled, sleepy travelers, all with varying departure spots.

I watched the sun rise over the dry barren landscape- as it seems I have and will do many times on this adventure. The moon smiled its crescent in the morning light... lovely to watch the landscape wake. Marcos, it turns out, is a raging flirt- a jokester-but also kind, helpful, informative, and loves his job. He talked to me on the way about the history of the areas we were seeing from the window, telling of the local people being descendants of two conflicting groups. These groups distinguished themselves by using cranial deformations related to the shapes of the neighboring volcanoes. Currently, these descendants use brightly colored hats to set themselves apart and show their ancestry.

Along the way, we stopped at the famed Cruz del Condor, a viewing point for the Andean condors that nest here in the rocky canyon walls. We hit nesting season so the condors are not as commonly seen this time of year, as they are taking turns caring for their eggs. We waited a bit at the top of the 1200 meter viewpoint but, alas, no condors were spotted. We later arrived in the town of Chivay, dropped a load of folks off for the classic Colca hike and proceeded on to Cabanaconde, to a sweet hostel where we had breakfast and chatted with some friendly French travelers. After a brief rest, we stored our bags for safe keeping in our absence, and set off through town to the trail!

A lovely young woman from D.C., named Monica, was traveling alone and asked to join us on the trek down as she was a bit unsure about finding the trail. I was glad to have her company on the five hour hike down. Along the way into the golden, dusty, canyon, we learned of local medicinal flora, the history of the Incan land and peoples, and viewed pre-Incan terraced landscapes. We were alone on the trail except for an hombre with burros in tow, and a local man taking a s@*% along the roadside. Nice.

It was amazing to see the ancient, crumbling stone structures and the small villages sprinkled along our path-some with only 2-4 residents and no electricity. Hours passed quickly as we neared the depths of the canyon and the Colca River. Below, we could see two small metal rooftops perched on the ledge of the hillside overlooking the river. Two families accept visitors here, one is a hostel of sorts with bamboo huts( Monica was staying here) and the other was a small family homestead hosting lush gardens, cement rooms with dirt floors( more charming than they sound!) fresh floral sheets, warm blankets, and a bonus shower and flush toilet! We crossed the river and climbed to the entrances of our homes for the night. I stepped through the arched flora-lined doorway, and it was like stepping into the Garden of Eden, lush greenery and flowers surrounded me, and a direct view down the line of the Colca River into the canyon. I met the warm, smiling Señora, immediately cracked a cerveza from the bin of beverages, and put up my dusty legs and feet to enjoy the view of the canyon. A bit later, Monica came by (her place was just steps away) and we ventured down to find the rumored hot springs. Along the beautiful path we encountered a baby alpaca, bleating and tethered. We stopped to let him nibble our fingers and feel its soft fur. Probably one of the cutest creatures I have ever seen!

At the bottom of a long stairway we found two small cold water pools. Luckily for us, Monica peered over the edge and, there below, was a ladder accessible hot springs pool, nestled into the edge of the river. Here, we gladly soaked our tired calves and quads and watched the sun set while chatting with a few French and Spanish travelers. They were traveling without a guide and had two dogs that had been sent with them from their hostel in Cabanaconde to show them the way to the waterfalls. So cool! I wanted dog guides! After a good soak, I went up for dinner with the family in their small, basic, kitchen, enjoying the warmth of the stone oven, the veggie soup and frittata, and the conversation with both my new Peruvian friends and two fellow Oregon travelers who had arrived shortly before the meal. It was so helpful to have Marcos to translate! After some Muna and Coca tea ( helps with elevation) I stepped down the stone path to meet Monica for a glass of wine, and was stopped short by the view of the constellations above. It was as if I could pluck a star from the sky, they seemed so close. A twinkling hat. Incredible. Bedtime came soon after the wine, as we had a 5:30am wake up call. Off to bed I went, to candlelight and fresh sheets. It doesn't get much better.

Morning light came early as the handsome, resident rooster felt we should be up a bit earlier than planned. I shuffled to the kitchen where I was met with coffee, fresh eggs, bread( Marcos hauled a special loaf for me thinking the local bread offering wasn't as good as the one he bought for me :)) papaya and bananas. The sunrise filled the canyon as Marcos and I gathered our things and set off, back across the river, up the trail, and around the canyon bend for five more hours of awesome views and steady steps.

Eventually, we made it to the small village of Malata where we ran into a few folks from the classic Colca hike( a more common, popular hike). Malata hosts the local festivals for the neighboring villages. We rested at an ancient church and then made our way further down into the bottom depths of the canyon. We slowed to delicately cross a bit of washed out trail. The road work above had caused four small landslides along the trail. One wrong step and we would slide down the canyon as well. My tummy flipped a bit :)

We passed a huge cross with many rock offerings surrounding it. Here, you wish yourself and fellow travelers a safe journey. Maybe I should have wished an extra blessing for my own journey, as I soon turned my ankle just as we were nearing the bottom greenery, signaling our arrival at Sangella(or Oasis as it is more commonly referred to), but luckily, it was just a bruise and I was able to walk it off. Ahead poured natural waterfalls and a bridge bringing us to our next nights stay. We walked into a vision of a pool with waterfalls, sweet cabins, and a restaurant bar. Here, several Europeans sprinkled the poolside with cervezas and Pisco Sours in hand. I found a shady spot and ordered a cerveza as well, as the resident cat found haven in my lap. The evening led to a pink sunset filling the canyon-a warm shade of gold and pink hues, a candlelight dinner of alpaca( gamey and tough- but I had to try it!), potatoes, and a special celebratory champagne from the Oregon couples' guide, Maria. Lights were out by 10pm as the whole camp was up at dawn(or earlier) to climb the three hour trail back up to Cabanaconde.

And a climb it was! My legs were tired from the two days before, and the air is so damn thin. But I was eased by my steady steps, the golden glow filling the canyon, the breathtaking views, and Spanish lessons from Marcos. I was also sombered by the various shrines along the way of those less fortunate: a baby who was thrown from a burro, a local man who had laid his head for a siesta and never woke, and a young Brazilian whose burro was bumped by another, both falling to their death.

As we reached the top, and I turned to view the network of the many traversing lines across the canyon's waIls that I had journeyed over the past three days, I felt so very grateful.

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sandra sanchez palacios on

you are getting closer and closer to Cuzco... another place a have not been but i dream about... the energy is what i want to feel when i get there... i really like that line about traveling solo... it is lingering in my soul... i like the way you see it... no fear... as if you were home in the road... so comfortable. Maybe it is your new normal... keep writing, intertwining the images outside and the space within... they are beautiful places to go!

audrey on

and I caught sight of a YES! canteen with your feet and the canyon! what an adventure!

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