01.30.2013 - 02.01.2013 75 °F
Today I am back in Arequipa chilling and recuperating from one of the toughest trekking experiences of my life. It wasn't technically that difficult but I ended up spraining an ankle and getting some of the stomach problems at precisely the wrong time.
The tour left from Arequipa at 3 AM on Wednesday morning and after stopping by various lodging to pick people up we were on our way. We drove up out of the valley across a high mountain pass. The view was spactacular and the air really thin at 16000 feet.
A volcano lookout high in the Andes
Then, we descended into Colca Canyon, at 2 miles deep from the highest volcano to the river, one of the deepest in the world. We ate breakfast in Chivay and then drove along the canyon on a crude dirt road between small towns. The views were spectacular of the canyon with more towns, pre-incan terraced farmland, and snowcapped volcanoes visible above the river cutting through. We stopped at Cruz del condor a viewpoint at 12000 feet and actually saw an andean condor!
Andean Condor video
A cactus at Colca Canyon
The hike descended about 3500 feet to the base of the canyon. The sun was powerful in high elevation and sunblock was a must as the trail was completely exposed. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon descent in that there was desert foliage and mules on the trail. However, it looked quite a bit different. Due to it being the wet season everything was really green.
Me on the trail
On the way down into Colca Canyon
We got to the village we stayed in San Juan de Chuccho by mid afternoon and had a lunch of soup and a dish with a rice, vegetables, and little sausage. The group was 6 people and the guide. It included people from France, Germany, Taiwan, and Canada. I heard more French and Mandarin on this trek than Spanish! My Canadian friend knew enough Mandarin to converse with the girl from Taiwan which was really cool to witness. That afternoon we all played cards for awhile and one guy smoked. The second hand smoke was the beginning of me feeling ill. I lost my appetite and could barely stomach dinner which was soup and a carb loaded dish with little protein. I wouldn't see meat again in a day and a half.
The village I stayed in San Juan de Chuccho
the bungalow I stayed in
In the morning I though I was feeling better although my stomach wasn't right. I went and talked to a local store owner in Spanish, which was refreshing and he was telling me about his store and family. After that we ate breakfast, crepes, and began a 4 hour walk to our next local. We climbed about 1000 feet to another village before descending to oasis, a resort type place with pools and bungalows. on the way, our guide explained and allowed us to sample many fruits found on the trail such as pacai, pera (pear), granada, marambrillo, and tuna (prickly pear). The guide also showed us how a mold growing on cactus was used to make pigmentation (cochinilla) and I wore it on my face.
Wearing my cochinillo in Colca Canyon
Crossing the river
We got to Oasis in early afternoon. There was a bar and a pool. We waited an hour and then ate lunch, the usual. Some went swimming but the sun was so strong I decided to wait. A few of us played soccer in late afternoon. I should have known better! I had to choose between barefoot, rugged sandals, or light hiking boots. I chose barefoot and cut my toe so then I went to the sandals. Early into it I sprained my ankle awkwardly. It was painful! Being down in the canyon there was no ice. I just went to the bungalow and elevated it all afternoon. It seemed bad as I could barely walk up or down to the bathroom and was almost certainly resigned to taking a mule ride up the next day. After a game of Uno and a dinner of soup and spaghetti, which I couldn't eat much of (I was craving protein), my ankle felt better and stubbornly I decided to do the hike.
After a restless night with stomach issues, 5:30 came early. With a bad ankle and little nourishment I began the 3500 foot climb out of the canyon. between these challenges and the high elevation 7500 - 11000 feet, this was the most exhausing experience ever. I had nothing left by the top but I did it! At the restaurant I put my head down on the table. They served eggs, protein ... finally!
A mulo on the trail
Our group at the top
The countryside around Cabanaconde
Terraces and town in Colca canyon
An iglesia in Maca
After breakfast we stopped at a viewpoint of the countryside and the town of Maca. Then we went to a thermal spring. That was nice! After a buffet lunch in Chivay, where I tried alpaca meat, it was back to Arequipa.
A local with her llama
Llamas on the altiplano
Overall I am having a good time here although my point of view is changing. The idea of sightseeing and meeting other fellow travellers is nice but feels incomplete. I wanted to see everything before I left and now I am looking into enriching the experience somehow. One of the biggest things that my adventure has lacked is the need to rely on the language. In fact, I haven't had to use much Spanish at all. When the opportunity and place is right I will probably volunteer or take some sort of class.
Admin note: I have updated the last three blog entries to add photo descriptions and fix typos and grammar. I also added several new photos in Lima.