I fought the Canyon (and the Canyon won)
Trip Start May 27, 2011
26Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Los Andes, Calle Merced, Arequípa
What I did
Eat, drank, trekked and river ran.
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..
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
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
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
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,