Friday, December 2, 2005:
While in Arequipa we took a weekend trip to see Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. At nearly 11,000 feet deep, the canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. There were many organized trips out of Arequipa to the canyon, which was only a few hours away, but we decided to go on our own instead of with a tour. We figured we would have more flexibility in our plans and could save a little money.
We took the local bus to the small pueblo Cabanaconde, just a top the canyon. When we arrived at dusk, a few of the local children had a volleyball game going in the street. We found a comfortable hostel to stay the night and went to the corner store to pick up some food for our trek into the canyon in the morning. While at the store a few children came in, cute as can be, we couldn't help but offer to satiate their sugar cravings. After packing up on crackers, candy and drinks we found a small local restaurant for dinner and had an after dinner drink at a hostel down the street that was listed in the guidebooks. We didn't stay there because it was over-priced and the accommodations weren't very nice...typical of what happens to the hostels that end up in the Lonely Plant or Footprint handbooks. In any case the hostel had a wood fire burning, the perfect atmosphere for a cold, dry night.
Saturday, December 3, 2005:
We got up early in the morning to begin our hike, since we planned on walking down to the base of the canyon and back up the same day - quite a trek we were told. We wanted to be able to begin our ascent back up before the midday sun made it unbearable. The hike down did not take long but one could see how the hike up was going to be much more challenging, especially the dusty, rocky and steep switchbacks. We passed a group on donkeys riding up the canyon, which didn't look especially comfortable but certainly a lot easier on the legs, heart and lungs than walking. We were also passed up by a couple of locals carrying building materials and supplies down into the canyon. Since there are no roads to the base of the canyon, donkeys are the method of choice to get supplies down to the small villages.
The view walking down the canyon-side was quite impressive. Near the top of the canyon, before it gets too steep, the locals still farm the land, cultivating the pre-Inca stepped terraces. The view from the side of the canyon is beautiful, especially as you descend and begin to glimpse the Colca River. Once at the base of the canyon, we took a brief break to eat lunch and sit riverside. The small village was quiet and without much activity. After eating we began our trek back up, which proved to be much more tiresome, especially due to the effects of the altitude and hot sun.
We were both exhausted when we reached the top, even though it was still only the early afternoon. We tried to catch the LSU football game via a local internet cafe but did not have any luck.
Sunday, December 4, 2005:
We spent the night in Cabanaconde and got up early again to catch a bus back towards Arequipa to Cruz del Condor with hope of seeing a condor or two. As expected, the Sunday morning bus packed. As our luck would have it a local drunk and his wife were standing in the aisle next to our seats. The wife hid a bottle of cheap liquor beneath her layers of clothes, while her husband, likely still drunk from the night before, drank a little of it out of a plastic cup and spilled the rest of it on those around him, including me.
When we made it to Cruz del Condor, we were both ready to stretch our legs. The view was beautiful but was a definite tourist trap. The local women had souvenirs laid out right to left to tempt the tourists exiting bus after bus. We waited around for quite a while but no condors were to be seen, so we eventually got on a bus heading to Chivay (small town near Arequipa). In Chivay we stopped for a couple of hours to visit the local thermal baths, La Calera. The baths were warm and inviting after a long day of trekking. Afterwards we got back on a bus back to Arequipa.