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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Peru 2012 - Arequipa & Colca Canyon

PERU | Monday, 15 October 2012 | Views [835]

Start of the Colca Canyon

Start of the Colca Canyon

A 1 hour flight from Cusco saw us landing in Aequipa, the Capital of the Arequipa region and Peru's second largest City.  The City itself is hectic with masses of vehicles on the road so it took a while for us to get to our hostel (Hostal Solar), which was set back from a busy side street. Met up with a representative from Carlitos Tours to discuss our next 3 proposed days in the Colca Canyon and got a good recommendation off of him for empanadas (Josies latest favourite food).  It was just off the main plaza and turned out to be a good choice, great empanadas but odd ingredients - meat, potatoes, onions, olives, egg and raisens !  We then sat in the central  plaza eating ice cream and admiring the Cathedral, which along with many other colonial buildings is made of a pearly white volcanic rock called silla.  This has led the city to be nicknamed 'La Ciudad Blanca' (the white city).

We both had a case of sightseeing fatique and really couldn't be bothered to do anything other than go back to the hostal and chill.  That evening we ate at 'Hatunpa', a Pereuvian restaurant that serves anything you want as long as its potatoes, basically you get a plate of sliced boiled potatoes and choose the type of sauce which is poured over the top.  Josie had ratatouie whilst I had corn in a yellow sauce (!), very tasty actually and the owner was really friendly and a great host.  We washed in down with 'vino caliente' (like mulled wine) and chica ( a sweet, cool, purple non alcoholic drink made from purple corn).  At the hosts suggestion we tried a rice pudding style desert (look and consistency), but made of course with potatoes !  Once your brain overcame the texture it was delicious and creamy.

The next 3 days we  were to be hiking the Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and promoted as the 'worlds deepest cxanyon'.  Its a colourful andean valley with pre-inca roots and towns founded in Spanish colonial times, still inhabited by the people of Collagua and the Cabana cultures.  The local people maintain there ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre Inca terraces.  Access into the canyon and towns is still by foot only, there is no road access which has helped to protect its people from too much modern development.

Awoke at the ungodly (and probably illegal) hour of 02:30 for a 03:00 pickup. Clambering aboard the minibus we were furnished with a blanket as our next stop was in Chivay, a 3 hour drive away. I awoke at 05:00 with my head pressed against the window, feeling cold and uncomfortable - the cold was the result of there being ice on the inside of the windows !  After breakfast (why more eggs how kind) we continued to 'Cruz del Condor' to hopefully view the Condors riding on the early morning thermals.  It was an amazing sight as they gracefully glided and swooped over the canyon, it was almost like they were showing off and we were lucky enough to see at least a dozen.  We eventually arrived at 'Pampas San Miguel' at 10:00, this was to be the starting point for our hike.  The sun was already hot and there was not a cloud in the sky, although there were about 20 people doing the hike, they were with varying tour agencies and soon spread out, Josie and I had a guide to ourselves and it soon felt like we were the only ones on the trail.  It was a very barren terrain, the only real evidence of life being the river at the bottom and the odd pockets of fertile land on the opposide side.  It took us about 3 hours to descend to the bridge at the bottom, once on the other side of the valley the terrain completely changed, babbling streams fed from the galciers and lush foliage, including avacados, figs, maize and  local fruits (that means I don't know what they were).  Couple this with surround sound birdsong and you had a beautiful and peaceful setting.  We reached the first village of 'San Juan de Chuccho' at about 1:30 and enjoyed a much earned lunch of soup, meat (?), onions, rice and avacados.  We snoozed in the shade of a tree until 4:00 when the sun was not quite as punishing then set off again on a more gentle downhill trek; the fertile land soon gave way again to a more barren terrain of cacti and sisal, then a final tough uphill climb to the village of 'Cosnirhua' where we were scheduled to stay overnight with a local family.  The look on Josies face when we were shown to our room was priceless - a mud hut complete with hard packed mud floor and tin roof, furniture comprised of our bed and a single chair.  There was an outside toilet and shower (hot water courtesy of solar power) with a ragged draw curtain to protect your modesty.  The sun started to go down at about 6:00 and the temperature almost immediatly dropped.  The family (Rufina & Mauricio) were really friendly and we managed to communicate with a combination of my broken spoanish and their broken english.  We ate with them (and their dog 'Rico' - which means 'tasty' in spanish) in their kitchen.  The kitchen was also a mudbuilt building with the cooking all done over an open fire.  We had soup, followed by pumpkin with rice, all washed down with hot tea (which had been made from lemon style leaves plucked from their garden).  There was absolutely no light pollution in the valley and the night sky was out of this world.  Tired and content we settled down for an early night.

I have been awoken by many strange things in the morning, however, the braying of a mule was certainly a first.  Up at 06:00, and after a cup of coffee and Josie feeding the pigs,  we were off for a 1 hour uphill walk to 'Tapay' (biggest little town in the canyon).  Rico accompanied us the whole way, on the trail we passed trains of mules and women herding sheep along the way. Tapay is home to about 50 subsistence farmers , is surrounded by fruit trees and in its centre has the most beautiful plaza and church which looks down on the valley.  It was well worth the effort of getting there.  Retracing our steps we had breakfast with our hosts - pancakes, not eggs :), then Mauricio showed us around his farm holding. We got to eat fresh off the tree oranges, limes and peaches, as well as prickly pear and yacon (a sweet tasting root which  provides a welcome source of refreshment during field work). Also growing were lemons, avacardos, maize and onions, as well as various herbs and plants used for seasonings, teas and for medicinal purposes.  It was a really intersting hour and probably Josies highlight of the trip.  Had our final lunch with the family - soup, chicken and rice before a leisurely 1.5 hour walk down to the oasis (Sangalle).  Once there we swam in the pool and relaxed before our evening meal.  With no electricity (or solar power) it meant an early night.

It was still dark when we were roused at 04:30, a quick coffee and we set off just as dawn started to break.  It was a steep climb out of the canyon but we were in the shade of the mountain; the early morning coolness counteracted our radiating body heat.  The climb was not too tough, we just took it slow and steady; we were passed by 2 rides of shame - those that had opted to take a mule up rather than attempt the walk !!!!  The trek took about 2.5 hours, the whole experience was certainly a highlight of our time in Peru.  We walked into the town of Cabanaconde were we had breakfast; all the women here were dressed in traditional clothing, however here it was their way of life, not for the benefit of the toursit camera. 

After breakfast we jumped on the bus for what is termed the 'japanese tour' - sightseeing without the effort !  Our first stop was at a viewpoint to look over the beginning of the canyon and agricultural terracing, then onto the small town of Yanque, which had a picturesque colonial church.  As usual there were opportunities to have your picture taken with lamas and eagles, as well as numerous trinket stalls.  I chose to have a 'colca sour', which is made with prickly pear and was tasty.  Continuing onto Chivay we stopped at the hot springs for about an hour where our bodies could unwind in the 39 degree waters.  A buffet lunch then we were back on the bus, next stopoff being Patapampa; a chain of volcanos and the highest point in the region at 4900m. Breathtaking views, but chilly and desolute !  Continuing through the national reserve we saw hundreds and hundreds of lamas and alpacas grazing by the roadside, finally arriving in Arequipa at about 5:30PM

Our final day in Arequipa started with a visit to the Monestary of Santa Catalina which really should be a 'must' for any visitors.  Arriving at 09:00 we hired a guide (10 soles) which was well worth the cost and at that hour we had them to ourselves.  We spent an hour with the guide, then another hour retracing our steps, its a real network of rooms and alleyways, all brightly painted, the tranquility is in complete contrast to the City.  Next stop was the museum of 'Janita' (the ice princess), which is dedicated to the Inca princess found of one of the volcano peaks of Patapampa.  It is believed that willing human sacrifices were made by the Incas to appease the gods of the volcanos, 5 sacrfices have been uncovered so far.  We watched a half hour video then had a guided tour of the museum which contains artifacts that have been recovered from the site, before finally seeing 'Janita' who is still encased in ice.

We located a highly recommended locals reataurant called ' La Nueva Palomino' for lunch, and ate one of the traditional meals in Arequipa - rocoto relleno - pepper stuffed with chopped meat, peanuts, boiled eggs, olives, cream cheese, and milk, seasoned and baked in the oven; it is served with baked potatoes.  It was all washed down with more chicha.

We jumped into a taxi at 8:30PM and headed to the busstation for our overnight bus to our next destination - Nazca.

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