22.06.2007 - 24.06.2007 25 °C
Well, can´t say I was as enamoured with Arequipa as eveyone else seems to be. Mabye it´s because I´ve seen far too many beautiful colonial cities in South America, many of which I think are nicer than Arequipa. Or it could have been the stike - there´s nothing like barred up shops, empty streets, smashed bottles on the roads and protesters in the plaza to ruin the beauty of a city! Still, I managed to spend a few days there, mostly because I was staying in a really nice hostel with a huge library of pirated dvds! And of course the strike put me back a day or two. It was my first strike so far in South America, and I consider that to be pretty good going for 5 months! Oh, and there was also the most interesting musuem I have ever been to. It was for these 500 year old ice mummies they had found on a mountain. One in particular, know as Juanita, has been nearly perfectly reserved, she still as skin and all her internal organs. Fascinating stuff.
My main reason for going to Arequipa was to visit the Colca Canyon and the condors (the before mentioned Inca cartoon has a lot to answer for!!). Not being at my fittest (too much sitting around drinking beer and eating ice cream), it probably wasn´t the best idea to book a 3 day trek into the world´s deepest canyon, but what the heck, I´m on holiday!
First day, we were picked up nice and early at 6am to take the public bus to Cabanaconde where we would start our trek. In the taxi transfer to the bus stop, I was suprised to see that I booked the same tour as Serena, the girl I had met in Cusco (I was making a habit of meeting people accidently I already knew on tours!). After a typical lunch consisting of soup, a main meal which always is served with plain rice and coca tea, we were off. First part of the trek was the descent into the canyon. There are tracks all over the canyon linking the occupants of the tiny villages that are perched into it´s edges. It´s crazy to think of these people living their lives in this canyon, their only way in and out via these tracks, their only transport, their own legs and their trusty mules.
It as a 3 hour walk down some pretty narrow and hairy paths. I took it pretty slowely, because of the afore mentioned unfittness and also because I am clutsy enough on level ground, let alone on narrow and slippery paths! I nearly slipped over about 40 times (no exaggeration, I counted!) One does not feel good when you are overtaken by a couple of 10 year old peruvian boys...running down the path...in sandles made from old tyres...with a mule in tow! And no, the fact that they probably do it everyday, did not make me feel better! After the descent, and a little rest, we crossed a bridge and started our way to our first nights accomodation, on a narrow path that ended in a steep 20 minute scramble in the dark. I was pretty sure that it was never mentioned that I would be walking on paths with sheer drops in the dark when I booked the trip, but no matter, I made it up alive and there was beer at the top, so it was all good! Needless to say, we were all pretty exhausted and with a long day of trekking ahead of us, we had an early night.
Next day, after breakfast, we headed to our next stop, an oasis in the middle of the canyon. Along the way we visited a musuem that the villages had set up that explained about their dress and food and some of the animals that lived in the canyon. Our guide explained to us that tourism within the canyon was helping the villages survive. Many people leave these villages when they finish school, but because of the money and jobs that tourism was bringing into the canyon, more people were staying. At the same time, they´re aren´t too many tourists there, so the small village atmosphere has been maintained.
The next couple of hours we continued our descent downward. All this walking down was killing my knees and I found myself looking foward to walking up at some point! We reached the oasis around midday and it as a really beautiful and welcoming sight! Not really an oasis as such, but there were palm trees and lovely pools to swim in. We stopped here for a few hours to swim, lie around in the sun and eat lunch before we had to make the journey back up the canyon.
It was 3 hours walking up zig zagged paths. We had the option of hiring a mule if we wanted, and my pride was a little hurt when the guide asked me if I wanted one! Apparently he had noticed how unfit I was! I politely declined the offer and decided to try and walk. I was actually petrified at the idea of getting on a mule to take me up the steep and narrow paths, sounded about as much fun as having teeth pulled to me! So I started the walk and pretty quickly became the last one at the back. My guide, Pepe, stayed with me and looked at me hopefully whenever someone came past with a mule and offered me a ride. I kept politely refusing. Meanwhile, my breathing was getting harder and harder (as well as being unfit, my breathing had not been the best at these high altitudes) and my legs were turning to jelly. About three quarters the way up, another man and mule came by and I took pity on Pepe and decided to give it a go! Terrifying. My mule was at the back of three and kept trying to overtake the other two, on the outside, where sheer drops awaited me! And no, again, the fact that this mule probably did this everyday, did not make me feel better! I was torn between being absolutely petrified and the knowledge that this was so much easier than walking. I decided to hold on, close my eyes at the scary bits and hope for the best! Of course, I have lived to tell the story, but I won´t be doing that one again in a hurry!
We arrived back at Cabanaconde at dusk, checked into our hostel, had much deserved showers and then headed out for dinner and some salsa. We were all too tired for a big one and we had an early start the next day for some condor watching.
We awoke to cloudy skies which was not good for condor viewing. And in fact, we almost missed them. After waiting around for 40 mintues, about 5 minutes before our bus was due, the sun came out and so did the condors. They were magnificent, soaring through the canyon. Absolutely huge and they come pretty close too. I was happy. I had now seen Macchu Picchu and condors, two of the main reasons I had come to Peru.
After the condors, came the hot springs in Chivay. Aahh, just what we needed after all that walking! As lovely as they were, the experince was slightly ruined by a weird man video taping an old man and two young peruvian woman frollicking in the pool. Hmm, pretty sure you can get arrested for that sort of thing in Australia!! And that was the end of the tour. A bus took us back to Arequipa where we all went our seperate ways, a few of us got on overnight buses onto our next destinations (me to Pisco) and the others I can only imagine were either talked into more salsa with the guides, or collapsed into their hostel beds - I´m going with the latter!