20th - 21st October
20/10/2011 - 21/10/2011
Leaving Arequipa, we drove towards Colca Canyon our destination for the next 2 nights. Just outside of town we stopped off to buy supplies as we are headed to a higher altitude. We were advised to buy plenty of water along with some coca leaves. As we reached altitudes of 3000m, then 4000m, we were shown how to chew the coca leaves by our guide. They do not taste very nice at all, but mixed with a catalyst such as charcoal and some flavouring such as banana or aniseed the taste is slightly improved. Chewing away at the leaves and then placing them between the cheek and teeth, I was careful not to swallow too much of the leaves themselves just the liquid they produce with the saliva. Keeping them in the mouth for about 15 minutes to take effect, I could feel the tip of my tongue and the side of my cheek start to tingle and become slightly numb. All completely normal I am told!
Drive up through the hills and mountains away from Arequipa you could see the small communities that live up there, all very isolated and completely self-sufficient, comprising of more than 8000 hectares of agricultural terraces and canals. We stopped enroute to look at Vicunas, Llamas and Alpacas before reaching the highest point at 4910m above sea level. Just climbing down from the bus and walking the short distance to the lookout point I could really feel the lack of oxygen in my lungs and I was feeling a little light-headed and dizzy. You had to be very careful not to overdo it as the air was very thin at this altitude and any overexertion could make you feel very ill.
I built an apacheta which is an Inca tradition to protect you on your journey. You can also use it to make a wish to the Inca Gods.
We also stopped off on the way at various stalls by the side of the road where the locals try to sell you things. At one in particular, there was a young girl in traditional dress helping her mother.
Continuing our journey, we finally arrived at our destination of Chivay and checked into our hotel. As I entered my room there was a radiator plugged in and on full blast, an ominous sign for the night ahead as we had been warned that it can get very cold at night in the canyon.
After a very filling lunch we went for a trek up into the mountains to work it off. This was a chance to test our bodies and see how they would react to walking at altitude. It was hard work climbing up and I had to make a conscious effort to take my time and go much slower that I normally would, feeling the strain on my lungs as I gasped for air I made sure I concentrated on my breathing and slowly inhaled and exhaled. At the top was a Quechua cemetery overlooking the village below, and our guide told us all about the history of the local people and the rules by which they live: do not steal, do not lie and don't be lazy.
After such a packed day it was nice to relax in the hotel with a few beers and some music whilst we all sat around chatting.
A 5am wake-up call the next day got us up and out of bed for the drive into the canyon itself, which is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Here we were hoping to catch the giant Andean Condors. A 2 hour drive later and we arrived at the canyon where we took a short walk along the mountainside to see what wildlife we could spot. Passing several lookout points we waited (patiently) just standing and staring out into the canyon below for about an hour, only spotting the Condors from afar, deep down in the depths of the canyon as they rode on the thermal winds. We willed them to rise up the narrow crevice as the winds got stronger and stronger. About 10 minutes before we were due to leave, we were rewarded when two Condors, who seemed to appear from nowhere, soared up the canyon and close over our heads. The excitement in the air could be felt as everyone who had been waiting there for what felt like ages began snapping away trying to capture the moment. I was pleased to be able to come away having seen these huge creatures up close.
Following another hearty lunch, we had the afternoon to relax at the hotel and grab a few beers, before we headed to La Calera Hot Springs in the small village of Coporaque. The hot springs reached temperatures of upto 40 degrees, and as we relaxed in the sulphur waters with a Pisco Sour in hand, the sun set over the mountains surrounding us.