We went down, down, down, the flames went higher

Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
Trip End May 31, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostal Valle del Fuego

Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Thursday, October 8, 2009

I've spent a few days ruminating on our experience, and have hesitated to cement it into blogdom because overall, it wasn't a bad experience.  However, it was very very nearly, overall, a bad experience.

The scenery, as you can see, is pretty amazing.  It was just as amazing through the bus window (a six-hour trip over hellishly bumpy roads) as it was on the horrendous cattle trail we walked, a 2500m descent to the tourist trap of all tourist traps.  Going down was difficult, especially since we started later than we should have, and with more gear than was necessary, but we'd planned on a longer trek than we would accomplish, and gave up on the second and third leg of it because we were so discouraged by the first.

Tourists:  this is your warning--DO NOT do the Cabanaconde-Sangalle trek.  If you must, take no gear other than water, sunscreen and a hat, and a few soles to buy the overpriced, lukewarm beers and bottled water at the "oasis" at the bottom of the canyon.  Also, plan on coming back the same day, either around 5pm to avoid the sun, or at 5am the next morning to beat the heat that will be overpowering by 9am.  Consider it a 2 hour descent/3.5-4 hour ascent, no matter what the locals say.  The Oasis itself, owned by the hostal where we stayed (which, we liked best of all) is a bunch of nasty huts on a plateau that exists just to have a reason for tourists to trek from Cabanaconde at all.  We had our tent, and though we paid for the weight of it on the way down, we were glad not to be bitten to pieces as everyone else was, sleeping in dusty linens over a dirt-floored, bamboo-sided festering holes romantically called bungalows.

That aside, the entire trail was full of ankle-rollers--rocks about the size of a baseball, that hold no threat to the overpriced mule teams carrying defeated tourists back up to civilization, but to a person, they mean attention paid to every step you take, so the opportunity to take in your surroundings diminishes to the cliffside and five feet in front of you.  After our trip with the mules, of which we are still somewhat ashamed, we hurried to get on the 9 o'clock bus back to Arequipa and forget the whole thing.  We learned after the fact that we should've trekked from Chivay, another town inside the canyon, and the treks were lower-impact and more prolonged.  However, the guide at Colca Trek, an outfit recommended by Lonely Planet, for reasons unbenownst to me, charged us a s#itload for a topographic map and gave us next to no essential information on the tour they suggested.  Colca Trek gets one big F-U from myself, and by way of me, from Pablo, owner of Hostal Tierra del Fuego.

(Mollies Notes: I HATE THE DESERT AND THE CANYON! It gave me some serious bowel problems. I've decided to never go to the desert again, and I now know, forever and ever that I am a cool weather person... and I will miss winter this year because I hate the desert so hard.)

The hostal's price was right, and its restaurant was surprisingly good, with nice ambience, though the smoke from the two fireplaces inside was a bit overwhelming.  We still had a nice night, preceding the death race to come the next day, the highlight of which was spotting three condors from 50 feet or so away.  They were big and looked like vultures with feathery heads.

(Mollies Notes: eh. birds. Nate woke up in the middle of the night jumping and shaking his sleeping bag, it was something like a seziure... he thought there was a bug on his thigh. Scared the bejeezus out of me, but it was really funny...)

So, now we're two days back in Arequipa, at our lovely hostal, Sol de Oro, and we've just been invited to leave with the owners and tag along on their promotional tour in Puno and Cusco, the two largest tourist centers in Peru.  This will probably mean some sweet discounts for us, which is awesome, since we blew thirty bucks on the mule trip.

(Mollies Notes: LOVE Arequipa. Clean city, great food, beautiful hostal, lovely buildings... I'd consider staying forever.)

We did learn some valuable lessons:  the right questions to ask, what gear we could leave behind, and how to say, "the hell with it," and stick together, when the plan fell to pieces.  Two cases of heat exhaustion later, we've come to agree, the snow and ice of home beat the dry desolation of canyon country any day of the week.

(Mollies Notes: I hate the desert.)
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jal on

cabanaconde the best litle village in peru (one of dozens )Going down the colca the best thing I did in Peru.OK it was 5hrs down and 2 up by mule.I am 65 years old that is vthe reason of my timing and the mule.Oh ya and I am a smoker.Everything was perfect,no one complain.Colca Canyon,see you next winter for sure.
Jose (from Canada)

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