Arequipa to Colca Canyon

Trip Start May 22, 2010
Trip End Jun 03, 2010

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Flag of Peru  , Colca Canyon,
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Our day starts early as we head northwest following a paved road towards Colca Canyon. Along the way we pass through Pampas Cañahuas (3500 m /11,482 Ft) and the Aguada Blanca National Reserve where we spot some vicuñas and alpacas. Both vicuñas and alpacas are camelids, but vicuñas have not been domesticated and still can be seen running freely on these high plateaus. Soon the road changes to gravel as we ascend to the highest point of our drive, "The Lookout Point of the Andes (4,800 m /15,748 Ft). Here you can see a vast landscape with the volcanoes Ubinas, Mismi, Misti, Chachani, Sabancaya (active) and Ampato surrounding you. Throughout this area we see “apachetas", a stone cairn (small pile of rocks) built along the trail. Apachetas were built by Incas as they climbed the trail up the Andean mountain passes. They picked up a small stone and carried it for a short distance to the summit and then added the stone to an existing apacheta located along the trail or left the stone as the beginning of a new apacheta. Travelers then said a prayer to the gods for luck and protection during their travels. The road changes back to paved as we descend in small switchbacks to the village of Chivay, the biggest of about 14 villages in the Colca Valley established by the Viceroy Toledo in the 16th century. We arrive in to find a festival in the town square. They are celebrating a good harvest and the kindergartners in the town are dressed as chickens and rabbits and dancing to a lively tune. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best. After lunch in a local restaurant we walk through the market where everything you could ever need is sold. It’s only another 45 minutes and we are at our hotel where we quickly take advantage of the natural hot springs along the Colca River.

The Colca river begins high in the Andes, at Condorama Crucero Alto, and runs down to the Pacific changing its name to Majes and then Camana as it goes. The canyon is the deepest on earth and at some points twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Unlike the Grand Canyon with its steep walls, the Colca Canyon has wide gradually sloped walls where the Collagua and Cabana peoples have created terraces to cultivate a variety of food and grains. The name Colca comes from the holes in the valley walls which were dug by natives as places to store food and bury their dead. The Spanish built several towns throughout the canyon but they did not thrive and were eventually abandon. Not until the 1980's was the area opened up to outsiders when the Majes Hydroelectric Project built roads into the area. The canyon is also home to the Andean Condor which can be seen in great numbers near the Cruz del Condor overlook.
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