Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chivay and Colca Canyon, Peru

We left Arequipa and headed towards Colca Canyon, the 2nd deepest canyon in the world. The first is not the Grand Canyon as most people guess but another canyon just an hour away from this one. We spent several hours in Arequipa speaking to different tour agencies that offer two to four day guided treks. We decided that our previous trekking experience (ie. ZERO) was good enough to do it on our own.

We first headed to the town of Chivay, a few hours outside Arequipa. We really liked Chivay and have been recommending it to everyone who is headed that way. We started the morning walking around the market and admiring all the old women in their traditional clothing. One lady was selling fried eggs and cheese sandwiches for one sole (about $0.33). They were amazing and we were so grateful to eat something that resembled what we might have had for breakfast back home.

Alpacas resemble small llamas and are very common in Peru. You can buy Alpaca sweaters, hats and socks at every market and Alpaca steaks are on the menu at every restaruant in town. I had it for the first time in a pineapple stirfry and it was delicious. In the market you could buy their heads, hearts and I´m sure alot of other parts I didn´t recognize. Check out their heads and hearts on the left in the pic below!

One not so glamourous part of traveling is using the toilets in third world countries. They aren´t exactly like the heated self-cleaning kind I used at Google every now and then. I remember when I was traveling abroad in college and was at one of the best restaurants I´ve eaten at in France. I was with a group of friends including my dear friend Evan whose wedding I just went to and wrote about. I´ll never forget the look on her face when she returned from the bathroom and we all found out she had accidently stepped in the hole in the ground that was the toilet.

I have traveled alot since that moment in 2002 but had yet to experience the pleasure. Finally before our 5 hour trek I got the chance. It was magical. It was actually kinda cool, but its definitely something that you never need to do again.

We set off on what was supposed to be our three hour hike and immediately passed by this lady walking between these two huge statues.

An hour into our journey we passed by these donkeys and their shepherd. He asked us where we were going and we pointed towards the small village on the map we were using. The map we were using was actually a hostel leaflet with a small map on the back. It was really just a line that showed three towns on it. He informed us we were walking in the wrong direction. Of course. My sense of direction is probably the worst in the world. If there are two ways to go, I always go the wrong way. Its my moms fault.

To our credit, the sign below was facing the wrong direction. We came from the road in the left side of the pic and kept walking to the right, not seeing the huge sign on our left that pointed us in the right direction. People of Chivay, please place a sign on the other side of the road.
We turned around and got back on the right track. It was a beautiful hike and the scenery really blew my mind. One of the things I´ve been looking forward to on this trip is getting to see the rice terraces in China. Well I felt like I got to see them already after coming around a corner to see this:

And here is the small cactus that stuck into my leg as I was taking the pics above.

Along the way we walked past this lady and her two alpacas. She brought them out of the yard and let us pet them and get a few pics.

We ended the hike at a local hotsprings. It was just the two of us and about 20 locals chilling in the pool. We left and hiked the last thirty minutes in the dark before we made it to our hostel. This wouldn´t be the last time we finished a hike in the dark.
The next day we headed to Cruz del Condor, a lookout point where you can view the giant condors that live in the canyon. We read you have to get lucky to see them and unfortunately we didn´t. We did get a chance to see a few over the course of the next few days hiking in the canyon but not close up as we´d hoped.

Then we got a bus to Cabaconde where we would start off on a three day trek up down and around the canyon, visiting four small villages along the way. The first leg of the journey was supposed to be about 4 hours. After hiking for 20 minutes I noticed a path that led towwards the canyon but it looked steep and difficult. I thought maybe we should take this route but Gemma said she felt better about taking the road to the right. We hiked this Loooooong, winnnnddddding, uphill road for two hours. It was like a slow March of Death. It was so hot. We finally found a man who led us to a path that took us all the way back guessed it, the point where I thought we should have gone in the first place. No big deal, just a little two hour uphill and unscenic detour.

By this point it was 2pm and it was supposed to be a four hour hike which we were now at the beginning of despite our two hour trek. We were a little unsure of continuing because we knew it would be dark by 6 and if we got lost again we´d be spending the night in the canyon. We decided to go for it. After a couple hours we ran into a guide who told us we had four hours left and that we wouldn´t make it. Sweet.

We started running down this little tiny path down the canyon. It was really rocky and once you started running it was impossible to stop. We made it to the bottom in about an hour. No idea what that guide was talking about. A little peruvian woman was waiting for us at the bottom and asked us if it took us two hours. I told her more like five. She said, "No, No, muy rapido" referring the last leg of our journey in which we ran down the mountain. She hadn´t seen the slow March of Death or other detours we had along the way. The red dye in her hand below was from the beetle dung on the cactus behind her. Apparently they used to sell this to cosmetic companies in the past.
She led us up to her hostel which turned out to be a little slice of heaven in the canyon. We hadn´t planned ahead and couldn´t have gotten luckier. Here is a pic of the candle light dinner she made for the two of us.

After dinner I set up my camera and although it was completely dark outside was able to capture the mountian we had just raced down along with the stars in the sky in the pic above and below. Click on it to make it larger and you can probably see all the stars better.
Here is what the mountian we climbed down looked like from our dinner/breakfast table the next morning. If you look closely you can see the path we raced down.

We left the little village and had a really really steep uphill trek to the next small village. From there we walked another twenty minutes to the neighboring village before heading to our final stop of the trek, The Oasis. Of course we got lost once again literally 10 feet before the finish line because we thought we needed to walk down closer to the river. We got to the bottom on the canyon and realized we´d gone too far down. But I wouldn´t have got this nice shot of the river bed if we hadn´t gotten lost so I think it was worth it. You can see the Oasis in the bottom of the pic on the left and the river bed on the right.

We spent the night there and had a great time sitting around a bonfire talking with a Dutch couple and an Israeli guy drinking wine out of a carton. I also took some time to model my new alpaca sweater. Nice huh?

The next morning we climbed from the bottom of the canyon to the top up a super steep cliff. By the time we got to the top we were exhausted but also really proud of ourselves for completing four days of hiking in this huge canyon without a guide. We felt prepared for Machu Picchu which was our next stop.

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