Back to our Peruvian story this week.

Chapter 8 – Colca Canyon

 

Breakfast in the garden, as we had come to expect, bread rolls, strawberry jam and coffee, once again with white cheese and fruit juice, we also had the choice of tea and coca tea liberally served to the tourists as Arequipa was situated at 2,200m a.s.l. and we were fast approaching higher altitudes where people suffered from sorochi, altitude sickness. The group had formed the previous day, most of the same people we had been travelling with. Twelve people in all, after breakfast, bags downstairs and we were ushered into a microbus. Our guide was Freddy, he was young and gay. He was a perfect tour guide, great sense of humour and knowledgeable. He conducted the tour in English and Spanish.

 

Our first stop was a roadside restaurant, where Freddy advised drinking coca tea because we were ascending slowly from Arequipa and would soon be passing a plateau of 4,500m a.s.l. We dunked our coca leaves in the steaming enamel mugs and were joined by a nosy alpaca who had entered the place like he owned it. The amicable beast visited each table in turn looking for friendship in the form of tidbits. Photos were taken as the animal wandered among the tables.

 

avicuña

Herds of vicuña on the high plateau – image: AV

Again, on our way, we passed vast expanses of plateau, herds of guanco and vicuña were pointed out guanaco are a smaller version of alpaca, and the vicuña smaller still and the bearer of the finest wool of any animal, making it very expensive and very sought after, this fact had consequently placed the animal on the endangered species list. The vicuña was now protected, but still subject to poachers.

 

Some of our number began to feel woozy. Headaches and nausea, the first signs of altitude sickness. We all felt the need to gasp for air in this rarified air. The oxygen bottle was assembled and distributed amongst those who needed it, the mood was very quiet in the bus as those who did not suffer could sense the obvious discomfort of those suffering.

 

At last, we came across the sight of Chivay, way down in the green valley, and the bus started its long windy descent. Into Chivay, it appeared a sleepy hollow as we stopped in the main square, surrounded by trees and neat little paths.. We were herded into a small restaurant where we were told we could sample alpaca steak. I did, I wasn’t impressed despite being told it was a local delicacy. The meat was as tough as old boots, so tough as to be unpalatable.

 

acabanaconde

Our hostel in Cabanaconde – image: AV

We didn’t stay in Chivay, but continued along the Colca Valley stopping at a small town for refreshments. We arrived at Cabanaconde, several degrees more primitive than Chivay. Streets were not paved, no power after 8pm, extremely simple lodgings with friendly people. “Mate de coca” was freely available and our sufferers began to feel better now that we were at 3,600m a.s.l. With no light other than candles, we were in bed early.

 

Woken in the morning to a mountain fresh day, a walk before breakfast. Yes, our bread rolls and strawberry jam were waiting with hot steaming mugs of coca tea.

 

acruz

Cruz del Condor – image: AV

Now for the return journey to Chivay. Our first stop was “Cruz del Condor”, a high point above the canyon where the Colca River flowed 1,200 metres below us. Here, if we were lucky, we would see the giant condors flying from their nests in the canyon walls to soar gracefully on the updraughts out of the canyon.

acondor

Condors soared gracefully out of the canyon

We were lucky and the condors did appear as graceful and magnificent as we had been promised. Some groups are not so lucky due to the fickle condors deciding to spend a morning indoors. Several of the great birds soared out of the canyon so they sported themselves above us on massive 3.5m wingspans. Camera action was immediate and frantic.

 

Around the area several women and children dressed in traditional garb sold wares, souvenirs and “tuna” (no, not the fish) tuna is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. The women and girls peeled the fruit in various stages of maturity, green, yellow and red. Each with its unique flavour. The rock hard seeds were hard on the teeth, but the flesh quite tasty.

 

 

The hanging tombs - image: AV

The hanging tombs – image: AV

After the condors we travelled on down the canyon, Inca agricultural planning was shown to us, as were the hanging tombs on a cliff face, long since raided for their textile riches. We stopped at Achoa, a small dairy shop. Here we tried natural yoghurt and local cheeses. The yoghurt was fabulous, quite unlike anything you’d find in a home supermarket and much superior to the taste. The 90 day cheese was quite tangy, seemed like a good idea, so I bought a wheel that weighed about a kilo.

 

Rumillacta (Stone Village) our hotel - image: AV

Rumillacta (Stone Village) our hotel – image: AV

By then it was already after lunch and we continued on into Chivay where we stayed at Rumillacta (Stone Village), a three star hotel. Billeted in stone chalets. Lunch was served and the rest of the day free. Most of us went to sample the local hot pools, hot natural spring water, the smell of sulphur and a luxurious scolding in the pools soothed our travel wary bodies.

 

The evening was taken by a small band who played local music with zamphir of varying size. Complimentary Pisco Sours, dancing and dinner were the finale. The group also sold several CD’s of their music which was hauntingly beautiful.

 

Bed and a cool night under massive covers. The temperature here dropped to below freezing during the night.

 

A walk in the crisp morning air removed all vestiges of sleep as we circled the square and returned for, yes, bread rolls, strawberry jam and “mate de coca.”

 

After breakfast, back into our microbus for the return to Arequipa. I was travelling on by plane to Juliaca, most of the others were going to Cusco by bus or south to Chile. I collected my left luggage from the hotel and taken straight to the airport by the travel agency for my flight to Juliaca.

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