I fought the Canyon (and the Canyon won)

Trip Start May 27, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Los Andes, Calle Merced, Arequípa
What I did
Eat, drank, trekked and river ran.

Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Thursday, June 16, 2011

So we have been in Arequipa, the White City, for 10 days. We didn't intend to be here quite that long, but a bout of - travelers D (I think you can work out what D stands for) and the taxi drivers / miners strike have stranded us here for a bit.

Arequipa is a lovely city to be stranded in, so we can't really complain. There are a lot of places to eat, and if you are not picky you can have dinner for 1 pound. Yeap, 1 pound. Its usually meat (alpaca generally), rice, chips and some salad. PLUS a drink and yogurt/fruit for pudding. The portions are quite small (as Trevor pointed out, so are the Peruvians so they don't need to eat as much as us hulking westerners) so you can usually subsidise during the day with snacks. Sweet snacks are sold by EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. I'm sure there is probably a Peruvian expression along the lines of It Tastes Better with Sugar. My tomato pasta had sugar in it the other day.

The shopping areas in Arequipa are fascinating, they seem to have zones which sell (very) specialist products. From the obvious; clothes, shoes, sweets, electronics, liquor, more sweets to the less obvious, typewriters, saddles, leather coat repair, shower curtains and a shop dedicated to shoe laces.

STREET SANTA UPDATE: We spotted the rozzers having a word with him one afternoon, the next night he was back... with a high vis-jacket over his Santa outfit. :)

When we were feeling a bit better, but not strong enough for a trek we had a lovely day looking around the Monasterio de Santa Catalina (a Convent). To be honest its more of a Citadel, its huge - with beautiful little alleyways and courtyards - the nuns had it made. Well, apart from the barbed wire undergarments they had to wear to 'to remove themselves from their body'. Rather them than me.

When we were not needing to be within 30 metres of 'the facilities' we decided to book the Colca Canyon Trek. This is a three day hike up and down the deepest canyon in the world (twice the depth of the Grand Canyon). Now, I'm not quite sure why alarm bells didn't start ringing when I heard this... maybe I thought we'd do the whole lot by travellator? But they weren't kidding about it being big. It was reminiscent of that bit in Jurassic Park where they do the sweeping tracking shot of the jungle - it is VAST.

We stopped off at a prime Condor nesting spot first and managed to see quite a few flying overhead. They have a wingspan of 2 metres so they're difficult to miss. Trevor managed to get close to 3 condors who were perching on a rock.

We arrived at the top of Colca Canyon in the afternoon with our guide, Onario, two american girls and an australian couple. On the descent our guide gave us running commentaries about the flora and fauna (a cactus plant that gets you high for 15 hours, a plant that you can make heroin from and a tree that cures impotence) amongst others! The descent was pretty grueling as weight is constantly on your knees and toes, and it took 4 hours in the blazing sunshine. Not that I'm trying to get sympathy :) The scenery as mentioned is stunning, so it takes your mind off it a bit, but man is it hard. I kept focusing on the bridge at the bottom of the canyon but it never seemed to get any closer, not for 2 LONG HOURS.

After 6 hours of walking we got to the town where we were staying with a local family in a homestay. I feel the homestay element was slightly oversold as we actually stayed in their cattle shed, yup, mud floor and a tin roof. But I was so knackered I didn't care as long as there wasn't too much insect activity in the bed. We were also so hungry by the time we got there we could of eaten each other. But strangely my appetite disappeared quicker than our travel funds when we saw the kitchen. Now I want to caveat this next bit, I know the Quechua people are poor, they have only got electricity in the last couple of years, and EVERYTHING they have is brought by Mule on the steep canyon paths - it takes 12 hours for a round trip. It is the very definition of remote. However, a simple kitchen I was expecting, the mud floor - fine. What was a bit of a surprise were the guinea pigs, 30 of them, roaming free on the floor. Guinea Pig is a national dish, which I do want to try at some point (sorry Lauren), but I didn't expect them to be quite so 'freerange' :) As I sat with the girls drinking tea, I feared for their little furry lives everytime I stood up in case I trod on one. Please look at the video below so you know I'm not making this up. (In the morning the Guineas were joined by 2 dogs, a kitten and some chickens... the more the merrier!)

We left our host who graciously let us stay in his outbuildings - (I'm pretty sure he was laughing at us when we left) and headed to the Oasis, a further, much gentler, 2 hour descent to the bottom of the canyon. There we stayed in a lovely little straw hut, which although also simple and without electricity, was a bit more cosy. We all crashed out around 9pm as we had to be up at 4am for the final climb.

So, as we really needed sleep that night, I tried to relax and drift off, listening to the sounds of the water (we were close to the river that flowed at the bottom of the Canyon) water is a lovely soundtrack to restful sleep after all. However, around midnight the sound of the water seemed louder, in that way that sounds are amplified in the dark. Or so I thought... Trevor started shouting for the torch and shone it in the general direction of the noise. We were horrified to be met with the sight of water was gushing into the corner of the room. We quickly grabbed the soggy floating clothes off the floor (and my beloved iPhone which narrowly missed a drowning) and ran out of our hut. Just what you need the night before the ascending the Deepest Canyon in the World (have I mentioned that?)

But, the next day we made it, in the dark, breathing so quickly I thought my heart would burst out of my chest in a bid for freedom... we got to the top in about 3 hours in a delirious state, amazed we did it and about as physically exhausted as its possible to be (London Marathon? Pah! Bring it).

After saying goodbye to the Aussies (who climbed the mountain quicker than the guide, what do they feed them over there?!) and the lovely American girls, we headed back to Arequipa via the hot springs to soothe our aching everything and a pit stop at the highest point in the area 4900m.

The next stop was Cusco... if only we could get past the angry protesters in Juliaca, who were pelting tourist buses with rocks. We spent 3 days calling bus companies to be told, "No bus. Strike". Luckily we found a company that traveled the old way to Cusco... the bumpy dusty way, which takes 12 long old hours. But its amazing how tolerant you are of even the most uncomfortable situation if you want to just keep moving on. (Yeap, The Littlest Hobbo is my soundtrack)

The day with left Arequipa we went river running (white water rafting) down the Chili River, Trevor promised me that his boat has "always capsised" in the past. But we didn't, ha! It was still a good adrenaline rush (class IV rapids, no less) and we got soaked through anyway.

By the time we publish this we should be trekking/camping/putting plasters on blisters, on our way to Machu Picchu,

Hasta Luego!
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Derek on

Sounds like you're toughening up on the outside while softening from the inside :-) But are you having fun yet?

Stevie B on

Banged up abroad stylee. Beard coming on well (Trev)

Ed on

Lol, those guinea pigs! the cannon looks epic, bet it was great to be there.

Camilla on

Love the Broster shop, think I might open one here xx

trevfi on

You could open a chain in Wales maybe? But it has to only sell roast chicken, chips and Inca Cola like the ones in Peru :) xx

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