Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
163Trip End May 02, 2013
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Rising into the Andes, we accumulated altitude and quickly crossed the 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) mark, commonly known as the height above which altitude sickness becomes a concern.
First we visited some shapely rock formations on a slope with the volcanoes visible in the distance. Erosion had removed the softer rock to expose these natural sculptures.
Further on, mountain wildlife began to appear, including vicunas and alpacas, both similar to llamas
Traversing a mountain pass, our elevation topped out at just over 4,700 m. The air was fresh and chilly but the sun shone brightly, providing panoramic views of the surrounding peaks, including Ampato where Juanita, The Ice Princess, was discovered.
We descended into the town of Chivay for a delicious buffet lunch. The dishes included several soups made from alpaca meat, potatoes and corn as well as alpaca ribs, fried chicken, french fries, quinoa croquettes, beets, a few salads and other fresh vegetables. We had a sweet creamy dessert that may or may not have been spiked and some tea with coca leaves.
Sergio drove on and stopped a few times so we could take in the terraced hillside views and Salome pointed out high caves used to keep harvested crops cool for long periods of time. On numerous occasions, the road ahead was blocked by alpacas, cows, sheep, donkeys or dogs, but we didn't mind a bit.
Colca Canyon has claimed, lost and reclaimed the title of deepest canyon in the world
A marvellous twilight engulfed the mountains as we made our way down to Cabanaconde for dinner and an overnight stay. The hotel was quite nice and we had a spacious room with a comfortable bed.
Dinner was a sociable event. We all sat together as a group and discussed the similarities, differences, pros and cons of our respective parts of the world. We quite enjoyed the company of our group, guide and driver. Sylvia savoured local quinoa soup with chicken and vegetables as well as grilled trout from the Colca River far below. On the way back to the hotel the sky was full of stars and the silence was broken by a small child crying in the middle of a dusty intersection. At 3,300 m, we had our highest sleep so far.
After breakfast at the hotel we took a morning hike along the edge of the canyon. Directly opposite we observed a few small villages perched on the mountainside and surrounded by agricultural terraces
From there we returned to the condor viewpoint and observed several more of them soaring gracefully on the thermal breezes.
During the tour, we sampled sweet and sour local fruits, some sourced from cactus plants, including granadilla, chirimoya and tuna, not to be confused with the fish.
As we drove the dusty road we passed an older woman walking uphill in brightly coloured clothing with a big bundle of sticks on her back. Several men worked the harsh land, each plot bordered by a metre high stone wall. Man-made aqueducts fed water to the crops and controlled burning ensured that the land remained fertile. Those are but a few examples of the hard life led by the highland people of Peru.
Despite it being a little bit crowded we enjoyed basking in the warm sun and water at a hot springs site near a river. Another tasty buffet lunch was served in Chivay where a fire swept across a hill, appearing well out of control. It hadn’t been burning the day before.
On the sleepy ride back to Arequipa we narrowly missed three vicunas racing across the highway through the altiplano. It was sad to see so much garbage littering the national reserve. We continued to follow our strict policy to 'leave only footprints and take only pictures.'
After saying goodbye to our group and staff at Colca Trek, we caught another overnight Oltursa bus to Cuzco.