Arequipa and the Colca Canyon Trek

Trip Start Feb 13, 2012
Trip End Jul 31, 2012

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What I did
Zig Zag's Restaurant

Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

After such a long time in Cusco it was nice to get back on the road. We had a good 10 hour overnight bus ride with Cromotex (bus company), and a quick taxi to the hostel. As usual, HolaHostals had come through for us and we found ourselves at a nice hostel with internet, a cozy communal kitchen, and breakfast included. However, since we arrived at six in the morning (sometimes a drawback of the overnight bus option), we were directed to the "movie room" until our room was to be ready 3 hours later. Not a bad option at all despite the fact that the room was freezing. We cuddled up and watched a Jackie Chan/Jet Li flick in Spanish until our bed was made. Once we got the word, we moved our bags to a nice, little room and collapsed on the bed for a morning nap.

Not long after, we awoke refreshed and ready to explore the city. However, it was still too early as shop keepers were only just waking up. We settled on breakfast as our first stop. Nothing exciting there but, we were refreshed and refueled. So, we headed out with a focus on gathering information for visiting Colca Canyon. The hostel provided a cheap (S/ 140, or ~$70) 3-day hiking option in the canyon. Baseline info captured. We then checked out the fancy, Lonely Planet recommended company, Colca Treks. They put on a very comprehensive presentation. By the end, we were drooling over the itinerary. Finally, we got the price - a whopping S/690. We politely left saying we would think about it, but the agent knew she would not see us again. There was also a do-it-yourself option, but when we costed it out it was only a $20 total saving over the three days. We booked the hostel trip and headed to lunch J.

This time we went with the Lonely Planet recommendation and dined at Crepisimo. We took advantage of the set menu, which was a yummy and cheap option. The delicious meal carried us right into an afternoon nap. That's pretty much the extent of the excitement we could handle for that day.

The next day was more eventful. We had a lovely breakfast at the hostel and took care of some personal administration for the morning. Then after another good meal at a restaurant called ZigZag’s, specializing in volcanic stone grills, we headed to Monasterio Santa Catalina. It was extensive. Not just a little building or some ruins, but an actual city inside a city. It was home to a group of nuns for hundreds of years. In the beginning, the women had been taken from rich Spanish families and relocated behind the walls of this monastery. However, for many, many years, the nuns had carried on with their privileged way of life. It wasn’t until some Dominican nuns arrived and saw what was going on that they forced a more conservative way of living. There is still a small group of these nuns who currently live in an addition built within the grounds. Walking through the small city, you could really picture how the original nuns lived and worked, much more than some crippled ruins. A definite must-see if you’re in the neighborhood!

The next morning we were meant to be picked up at 3:15 am, but as usual in South America, the tour did not go to plan. An hour later we got picked up and we were on our way. And three or four hours after that, we were in Chivay where we had breakfast. Sleepy-eyed, all the passengers shoveled in the continental breakfast and started to perk up in time to re-board the bus heading to a Condor lookout point.

We joined the small mass overlooking the canyon in hopes of seeing a condor. After all, when observing wildlife, there’s no guarantee. Then, two condors came into sight and everyone pulled out their cameras in unison. The two were joined by three more and they all took turns soring in front of the group of paparazzi. Aaa-mazing. Condors are supposedly the biggest land birds that can fly.  Their enormous wing span and white collars were spectacular to observe, if not impossible to capture with a point and shoot camera. We continued to watch as they swooped around the top of the cliff where we were standing to the point where it was a little uncomfortable.

Next stop was the start of the trek with our mini bus full of people. These tours can be quite deceiving. You turn up in a bus full of people, then wind up with a group of six (plus a guide). We were dropped off on the side of the road and our guide, Juanito, explained that we would be starting our hike from there. The first hour along the canyon, we started to get a feel for the group. Juanito was a fun and energetic Peruvian who had been guiding tours for just over a year. Then there was a lovely Belgium/Spanish couple who were quiet, but very friendly, and a female French couple who were very funny and engaging. Quite a diverse bunch.

We only walked for a few hours each day, but it was a nice pace and a nice amount of work. The first day was nearly all downhill. The canyon was not what we were expecting. We were imagining something like the Grand Canyon, but instead there was a lot of vegetation and the walls were not as steep or dramatic as pictures we’d seen of the Grand Canyon. Even so, at the bottom our legs were shaking and felt like jelly. Going down for three hours is harder than you think. We ended the day at a very primitive village with straw hut accommodation. The mattress was hard, the toilet was a walk away, and at night there was no light whatsoever. We were in the middle of nowhere! And really, it was quite peaceful.

The next day was an early start to avoid the heat of the day. It was mainly flat with one big climb, which Juanito said was practice for the huge climb the next day. Half way through the walk we stopped at another primitive village where a man gave us an explanation of some of the old Inca practices that are still used today. The amazing thing was how long they could preserve corn in bamboo baskets (10 years), potatoes in baskets covered in straw (over a year) and salted meats (several months). We continued on and eventually arrived mid-day at the oasis deep in the valley of the canyon. We enjoyed lunch, relaxed by the pool, and took advantage of the hammocks. In the evening, after a few card games and some star gazing, we turned in early for the night.

The following morning we were up at 5 am to start the three hour climb out of the canyon. The path didn’t seem quite as steep as the way down so we made good progress initially (it also helped that we were still half asleep). Then came the steps. Nicole’s short legs struggled with this while David got into his stride. After 2 hours the roles reversed. Without a breakfast and only snacks David began to crash. Half an hour before one of the guides from another group told us we had an hour to go, so we struggled on. Just before the top the French couple caught up with us which gave us the motivation to keep up the pace. We reached the top together about 30 minutes ahead of time. After a quick rest the French girls led us in some professional stretching exercises. It pays to travel with chiropractors. The other couple arrived about half an hour later and we celebrated our victory with a team photo…and eventually breakfast.

The journey back, we stopped off at a couple of places, including one lookout point of at least five volcanoes, and had lunch in Chivay. This was a buffet with lots of vegetables and different Peruvian dishes. We ate way too much, but the food was great. Perfect recipe to induce a food coma for the ride home.

All in all, the Colca Canyon trek was one of our favorites so far!

The next day we left Arequipa for the big city of Lima.
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