Sunday, July 18, 2010

Arequipa and the Colca canyon

Having said farewell to the hippie bunch on top of the hill near Cusco, we headed out for Arequipa with Karan, a first Indian from India we have met on our trip. He was excited about becoming our apprentice in the art of hitch-hiking for a few days. Travelling once again in a group of three did not slow us down, and by the end of the first day we disembarked in a small town of Pucara. It was already dark and freaking cold, so we headed for the church in hopes of finding its doors open and a pastor sitting inside. Our expectations were crushed very shortly, but a kind couple passing by got interested in our plea to find a room free of charge. They took us on a tour of the town and then to a restaurant, which also functioned as a hotel. Our guide-lady had a quick chat with the owner, and soon we found ourselves resting under heavy wool blankets in a room.
Early next day, after a few short rides, we were picked up by a truck going to Arequipa. The slight inconvenience was the fact that we were riding inside a closed box with only a few light beams penetrating the steel walls. The noise inside was deafening and we felt every bump in the road with our bums. After the ride Anastasia´s hearing was impaired for one day. This is what we saw of the landscapes we were passing with this 6 hour ride:We got to Arequipa after dark, where we separated with Karan. He went on a cheap-hostel search while we headed to our CS contact in town. Paul and his family welcomed us with hot tea and dinner, and then even gave us our own room, with a bed and a dresser! We stayed with them for four days. This is the view form the top of their house.After we have rested in Paul´s house, we went off to the Colca canyon, the second deepest in the world. It lays some 200 kms from Arequipa and there are two ways to get there: the easy way and the hard way. Sure enough, yours truly chose the hard way: a long winding desert dirt road that approaches Cabanaconde from the south-west. As we found out later, hitch-hiking there was not an option: all the traffic takes the OTHER easy way, and this road is only traversed by two buses a day. The bus was expensive and full of campesinos carrying loads to their hometown: onions, beans, mattreses and the like.
Once in Cabanaconde, we embarked on a search of a camping spot. We met some french tourists (most tourists in the canyon are french) who informed us of all the dangers of camping out in Peru and suggested a ¨nice¨ hostel which only charges 5 soles per person to camp in a fenced off (read: safe) area. We chuckled, walked a few doors down and obtained a permission to camp on the lady´s lawn for a night for free.
The next day we went down to the bottom of the canyon. It was not as spectacular as we were made to believe (what a surprise!), but it was indeed deep. The trail was steep, long, and rather boring. We met lots of guided (!!! who the hell needs a guide on a meter wide trail???) french tourist groups and a few locals. The ascent the next day was hard. We figured out whose idea it was in the beginning to hike down here at all, and placed all the blame on her. When we reached the top, our hiking day was not over, as we wanted to go to the famous Cruz del Condor the same day, to see the majestic Vultur gryphus early next morning. Here, the ¨Peruvian hour¨ played yet another trick on us. ¨Two hours¨ until the mirador turned out to be a good five, and unaware of it, we mistakenly camped on the first mirador we came across after 3 hours of hiking (well after dark). We woke up early next morning and something felt odd... May be it was the absence of a big sign saying ¨Cruz del Condor¨, or may be the absence of a huge parking lot, or the absence of the birds... We walked to the road, stopped a truck and found out that Cruz del Condor is only ¨30 minutes¨ of walking ahead. After an hour and a half of hurried walking (the sun was rising, the thermal currents were already carrying the birds on their wings high up in the skies, the precious time was going out) we spotted the point. As soon as we got there, an official-looking dude approached us and inquired if we had a ¨boleto turistico¨, which goes at 35 soles. We told him no, spread out our hands, and said that we have absolutely no money for him. He then asked us to pay at least 3.5 soles entry fee (a ten times difference!), but got a negative reply once again. He then nodded, and left us alone. The few tourists who were around looked at us with big eyes, as they were obviously charged for the privilege of observing the birds. We got there for the last ten minutes of the show.As soon as the last bird soared high up, the tourist throngs started pouring in. There was no end to the caravan of buses, big and small, steering into the enormous parking lot. We hanged out there for a few more minutes and started walking towards Chivay. The lanscapes were breath-taking. There was no traffic except for the tourist buses, and, needless to say, these never stop. Finally, we were picked up by a minivan carrying a loar of American volunteers to Chivay. There were excactly two spaces left inside for us.
In Chivay, we went to the market, had a big ¨menu¨ lunch for a dollar and headed for the hot springs. There, we took a long hot shower and soaked in a hot pool for a while. Clean as never before, we walked to the other side of town and got a ride in the last rays of the setting sun with a truck, which dropped us off at the crossroads to Juliaca.
Literally within seconds of disembarking we were already talking with Manuel, an agronomist working at the check point there. He told us that the temperature there drops down to -17 C at night. He then invited us to sleep in his room, and we gladly accepted. The room was built in a shipping container, and it was nicely furnished with a brand new kitchen, two bunk beds and a gas heater. Manuel turned the heater on for the night, but it did not prevent the water in the teapot to freeze solid in the morning!!! We slept under three thick alpaca blankets, in all our clothes and hats.In the morning we shared some mate de coca with Manuel, walked across the road to the truck stop, chatted with the first driver we saw and, in a few minutes, rolled off towards Juliaca.


  1. ooh such a great entry as always. let the adventures continue! :)

  2. P.S. the pictures in the beginning of the entry are AWESOME

  3. What is better "Peruvian hour" or " Georgian kilometer"? :))
    Check you e-mail, please.

  4. You guys might like this one: (in russian)

  5. Awesome adventure! :)
    So happy for you guys!!!

    Anna & Danny Granovsky