“As long as the tears from the grapes keep falling, I will carry on drinking wine.”
(Elias – Our Colca Canyon Tour Guide)
We decided to extend our stay in Arequioa, Peru’s second city. We were using Arequipa as a base to explore the Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon, apparently twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
After lots of online research it became apparent that we faced a choice between dozens of similar Canyon tours which cost similar prices or we could pay a supplement to take an enhanced tour with better facilities and one that avoided the tourist crowds. A tour with Colca Trek looked particularly good but it was a fair bit more expensive and it would have taken us, for the first time, above our daily budget. We liked Arequipa and so we decided to extend our stay for three nights and live really frugally for the days in between. The plan worked a treat, we got an extended stay in a beautiful city and easily managed to recoup the extra money that we had spent on the Cola Trek.
The day before we left for the Canyon we were having lunch in a lovely rustic restaurant when, Segundo Rosero, a musical legend from Ecuador walked in. It was the gasps of delight and the rapturous round of applause from adjacent diners that gave it away. At first we thought that a wedding party had arrived, but a diner on the table next to us pointed to a poster on the restaurant wall which was advertising a concert that evening in the city centre. Approximately 90% of the poster was dominated by the man who had appreciated the welcome of his his admiring fans and was now seated on the table right opposite us. We got in on the post meal photo shoot, Segundo asked where we were from……Manchester, “arghhhh” was the response.
Arequipa is a beautiful, compact city adorned by occasional whitewashed buildings in a slightly Greek style. We stayed at Hostel Le Foyer (£9 per room per night) and it is to be recommended if you can cope with the noise from the surrounding bars and nightclubs. The city had a more upmarket feel to it and it was the perfect place to recharge our batteries after the busyness of the first two weeks of travel and before the stresses of the Colca Trek that were to come.
Colca Canyon with Colca Trek
The Participants in no particular order:
- Mary & ” Dog Whisperer” Javier- Ireland /Spain.
- Chuck (Justin) & Alex “Honeymooners” – USA (Manhattan).
- Paul – Germany/Swiss and perhaps others.
- Christine & Andrew “very well travelled, full of tips” – Austria/Austrailia.
- Jake & Kat “positive folk” York, but soon Cambridge and London.
- Paul & Tracy – United Kingdom.
The tour with Colca Trek proved a brilliant unforgettable experience and was worth the extra cost. We were picked up by private bus on the first day and mosied with frequent stops to the luxury Colca Lodge (the Colca Lodge is one of enhancements that we paid for). On the way we stopped to view Vacunias, animals similar but different to a camels that live happily on the high (3,900m) baron, mountainous landscape that stretches out as far as the eye can see and is only interrupted by the tarmac road upon which we stood. We stopped again at the highest point of the road (4,900m) to take pictures of the hundreds of ceremonial small cairns that had been built as offerings to Pachumamma the mother God of nature. Lunch was excellent, Peruvian buffet style (eat as much as you
can like) at a restaurant on route to the Colca Lodge.
We arrived at the Colca Lodge at 5pmish, just before sunset. The Colca Lodge is a great place to stay. Each room has outstanding views to the mountains, in the foreground we watched the local people tend to their land in the last of the evening light. The beds were big and comfortable, the lodge had a chalet mountainous feel about it and it was fitting for the remote location, at the foot of the Colca Canyon in which it stood. In the later evening we gathered around a table with the others to enjoy Quinoa soup and fresh trout. We wished could have stayed longer at then Colca Lodge, a theme that was to continue the next day.
Day two involved our descent into the Canyon but not before stopping to admire the huge Condor birds that glide majestically over the deep mountain ravine which marks the upper end of the Canyon. We were lucky to see a plethora of other Peruvian birds and we were just as lucky to have a Peruvian “twitcher” , Elias as our guide. After Condor spotting it was our time to glide, we mounted mountain bikes and flew at speed down the road into the village, Javier taking out a village dog on the way!
The descent into the canyon began at a remote town called Cabaconde. From 3,287 meters we would descend about a thousand meters into the ravine below. The views from the top were spectacular, the bright sunshine illuminating the surrounding peaks. During the descent we could make out a small blue puddle that was the swimming pool at the foot of the deep canyon. The pool marked our destination where we were due to stay for the night. We had now been joined by a local woman, Alishea, who led our group from the front whilst, Elias guarded the rear. Occasional rest breaks were interrupted by Alishea’s cry of “Vamos Chiccos!” (lest go!). We journeyed on together in the heat of the sun, through this magnificent arid landscape until we reached the bottom.
Our efforts were rewarded by beers in the cooling waters of the swimming pool. At the foot of the canyon there was a small complex that reminded me of a scene from my favourite film, Pappillon. Small huts (our bedrooms) were dotted around multi level grassy fields. There was a volleyball net on the grass and hammocks swung lazily from nearby trees. There was bar and a terrace, 100 percent relaxation territory at the foot of the World’s largest ravine, happy times!
After lazing in the pool with the others we got a bit more active. I had met Jake, a 3:13 marathon runner living in York. Naturally we talked running and naturally it wasn’t long before runners did what runners do – we began to plot a challenge, perhaps we could run out of the Canyon together the next day?
Jake was a typical runner the type that is fun to be around, very positive and very enthusiastic, a glass half full type of person. Whilst it is fun to be acquainted with such people it can also be dangerous and it wasn’t long before I found myself perched on a rock about to dive into the Colca river which winds its way through the Canyon eventually out to the Pacific. Jake had gone with before me, I watched him dive. I heard the cries of cold and watched him shiver but the first challenge had been set and I couldn’t lose face. I plummeted in, it was freezing, as cold as I have experienced. I bumbled straight back out my pace matched the speed at which I was trying to catch my breath.
Just before dinner Jake and I ran a test run a few metres up the ravine. It was immediately clear that it was too steep to run especially coupled with the effects of the altitude that would increase as we gained height the next day. We resolved to knock the idea of running out of the canyon on the head, but we are runners and although we resolved not to run, that wasn’t of the end of our plans.
We all enjoyed a dinner by headlamp before retiring early to bed. The climb out of the Canyon was due to start the next day at 5.30am, the early start was planned in order to make hey before the sun shone, At 4:45am we were eating breakfast.
Tracy and a few others had booked mules to ride out rather than face the difficult 1000 metre climb. Tracy was a bit disappointed not to be able to do the challenge on foot but she had been struggling with a throaty cold and so a lift with a donkey was the right choice of transport. We gathered in the dark at 5:15 ready to face the challenge ahead. It was at this point that Elias our guide, after hearing mutterings of Jake and I’s plan to run out gave us the opportunity to go ahead alone. Before I could think of the consequences and a decent excuse, Jake’s youthful enthusiasm took over and both of us were away in the dark, power walking alone by headlamp up the steep initial phase of the canyon.
Not long after we left, Jake told me that he had promised his partner, Kat that he would keep turning back to descend to meet her and top up her water supply but he (and I) were enjoying of cardiovascular workout and Jake faced a quandary about whether to keep his promise or carry on at speed to the top. I felt I could help at this point and assured him that a strong relationship would survive abandonment and so after much contemplation we decided to leave a water supply at about half way with a note to Kat. We then carried on at pace.
The journey up was brilliant, we had stood in the Canyon in the dark at 5am gazing up the mountain at lines of white dots representing the head torches of those that had left camp before us, each small white blob bobbing diagonally up the dark mountain in the upper distance. We were now passing these folk whilst offering pleasantries of Buenos Dias! (Good Morning).
We were relived to reach the top in 1 hour 25 minutes much faster than out descent the previous day but some time outside Elias, the Guide’s record of 58 minutes. Just as we reached the summit the sun broke affording beautiful postcard views across the Canyon. Jake and I took pictures and talked about our ascent as we waited for the others who arrived some time later. Tracy had bonded with the Mule and came trotting to the summit like a local. Kat had missed the water and message that Jake had left for her but she didn’t hold a grudge against Jake or I for pushing ahead (thanks Kat!). The atmosphere of accomplishment increased with every person that came out of the Canyon and eventually a throng of like minded people sat on the rocks in the crisp, thin morning air admiring the view and discussing each others canyon experiences and achievements.
We strolled back to Cabanaconde where we took the same private bus to Chivay where our group sadly split. Tracy and I were continuing our journey to Puno whilst most of the others returned to Arequuipa. We said goodbye to a great bunch of people with whom we had been glad to share the Colca experience.
We are now in Puno, tomorrow we are sailing on Lake Titicaca to visit the reed islands of Uros and on to Taquile before returning for our final night in Puno ahead of our first border crossing into Bolivia on the Friday.