Saturday, December 18, 2010

Canyon Country - Perú

In the trekking spirit, we headed south from Cusco to Arequpia, a city known for beauty and nightlife, with surrounding volcanoes and canyons for extra excitement. After renting a tent, buying a cheap sleeping bag and some necessary food items, the three of us (Douglas, Nicolas & myself) headed into the Colca Canyon with our gear and a crappy (free) map from a tour agency. The Colca Canyon is the second deepest in the world, second only to its neighbor, the Canyon de Cotahuasi. For some perspective, it is 3,191 meters/10,469 feet deep, or twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!

After 6 hours on various forms of transport, we arrived in Cabanaconde, the nearest town to start the descent into the canyon. We put our tent in the garden of a hostel for 5 Soles for the night (about $1.50) and headed out early the next morning. We met some others along the way; our friend Felipe from Rio that we kept running into in every city, Lucy from Sydney, Nik from Holland and Axel from Belgium. After the initial dramatic views from the top, we started to make our way down the path of loose rocks to the river that runs along the length of the bottom of the canyon.

view of Oasis from the top. went hours to the right to get down, then hours to the left to get back to this zig-zag road, then hours to the bottom to camp for the night

A few hours and some sore knees later, we made it to the lowest point of the gorge, where you theoretically should present the guard at the bridge with your “tourist ticket” (about $13). As we had no intention of buying said ticket, we decided to cross the river before the bridge. Dougie crossed it with monkey like efficiency, Nipi also had no problems. I was weary about their way because the leaps from rock to rock were huge, so Nik, Axel and myself headed farther down to find an “easier” way. Axel made the first attempt…. and fell in the water with his backpack and all. Not cool with a big, nice camera inside. Nik and I tried yet another route, and after he made it across I felt some confidence. Half way through I realized it was harder then it looked, and Nipi came out to meet me on the rocks and be there for stability after each jump. Like a real brother, always looking out!

The quest to avoid the tourist ticket didn’t end there, as we had to make it up the side of the mountain without a road, just cutting through farms and forests straight up the side of a hill. When we all finally re-convened in the nearest little ‘town’ at a restaurant that served lunch, we were exhausted and hot from the rising heat of the desert, yet triumphant in the fact that we’d made it that far. The second half of the day should have consisted of an uphill walk, then a flat walk, then another descent to again reach the floor of the canyon in the Oasis where there are bungalows for the night. However, our modest map and not-so-keen sense of direction got us lost twice, and we spent time and energy going in the wrong directions. Frusterating after an already long morning and under the intense sun, but when we finally got back on track it all became beautiful once again. Just before sundown we made it to the Oasis, a green spot in the midst of the desert, complete with pools and palm trees, “just like Miami”. Well, maybe it was just a mirage, but it looked damn good in any case!


Camped there for free and only had to buy the slightly overpriced dinner and beer in return. A nice bonfire warmed the cold night, and it wasn’t hard to fall asleep huddled in our little tent on the soft ground after such a long day. While the others were up and out by 5 or 6 a.m., we took our time and left around 9:30. Big mistake. The hike back to the top of the canyon was literally straight up; no descents, no flat parts, no rest for the weary, just straight up. Soon it was scorching hot and the desert sun was beating down on us. Oh, and we opted to skip breakfast that day, as the place we stayed was charging way too much for a simple desayuno (about $2.25). The 5 liters of water we were carrying between the 3 of us was soon gone and at points I thought we were all going to die and the vultures were going to have a feast that fateful day.

Finally, after 3 unbelievably long hours, we made it to the top. Alive! By the time we got to a little restaurant in the main square, we collapsed at the table and then inhaled the normally mundane chicken and rice set lunch. Then a Snickers. Then an ice cream. Then massive amounts of water. The cramped bus ride back to Arequpia was painful because our tall bodies weren’t exactly meant for the Peruvian buses – the aching muscles and stiff joints were shoved in tiny seats for 6 straight hours. Good thing the bus was already dirty and stinky, at least we had that going for us.


Kari said...

What an adventurous young lady you've turned out to better write a book when you get home honey.

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