After abandoning the Jungle option we had one day to plan and book our trip to the Colca canyon. We met a guide that got outstanding reviews on Tripadvisor who quoted twice as much as the rate quoted in a local travel agency. When we asked him why he told us about his years of experience, when we asked again he said something about not doing the “standard” experience. When we asked the third time he finally told us his trip departs at 1 am rather than 3.30 am and he includes a visit with a local family and a Guinea Pig lunch. We said no thanks and booked with the travel agent, a young mom who breast-fed her daughter in one hand while she filled out our forms with the other. You got to love Peru reserved about some things and open about others. For 280 soles each ($120) we would get a three-day two night tour with a private guide, transportation and meals.
That evening we ate at “Norky’s” a Peruvian chain restaurant with a North American casual dining theme. I do not know who comes up with the names for these places but by 3 am the name was mud to us as both Eliot and I had the runs.
At 3.30 am the mini bus pulled up outside our hotel and we were met by our guide Roy who had tons of energy despite the hour. There were also some comatose tourists from various countries including France, Japan and Germany. The driver drove like a maniac (see driving sample) to the sound of this Andino singer called La China Maria. He was also a business man as he stopped at a bus stop where he picked up passengers for a fare equal to what the bus charges.
The Colca Canyon is about 160 KM’s from Arequipa. The canyon has a depth of 3,270 meters, and the attractions include multiple geysers and hot springs, a Condor viewpoint and 2 isolated lodges. After driving over a 4900 meter alpine pass we arrived in the town of Chivay at 630 am for breakfast (toast, margarine, coffee or coca tea included egg for 3 soles more).
Next stop was the Cruz del Condor a view-point over the canyon where the condors soar in the updrafts. I expected to be disappointed but was happily surprised as we saw at least four Condors (2 juveniles and 2 adults) soaring right in front on us. One of them perched in front of us.
After viewing the condors we picked up some more paying passengers including a bright blue-eyed girl from Saskatchewan who was hyper enthusiastic about Peru telling me that the canyon was just sick.
We headed to Cabanaconde. On route we passed through an unlit unventilated 1 km tunnel through the rock. It was full of dust. The french engineer sitting next to me indicated that we would have about 3 minutes of air if there was an accident.
Cabanaconde or Qhawanakuntia is a small town above the entrance to the Canyon. As the mini bus left, Roy started swearing profusely as he searched his pockets and backpack. He had lost his wallet and he ran off to find the bus leaving Eliot and I in the square wondering what we were going to do. However, Roy soon returned empty handed and off we went.
eliot, roy and a villager
Before dropping out of cellphone range, Roy called the bus driver and other tour guides to ask them to look for the wallet. Eliot and him both agreed that the shady bus driver took the money. Another guide laughed at Roy and said you always lose stuff, maybe you will lose your virginity next.
We hiked down a switch back pass then curved around and were under an avalanche slope. We saw dust above and some rocks tumbling down. Roy indicated that it was another tremor and that they happened almost daily. We walked single file over the debris. On the descent to the river the trail deteriorated and Eliot fell and cut himself. But he got back up and continued.
We descended to this brown river with steam rising. The geysers were spewing water and sulphuric steam. Roy took off his shirt and told us to do the same for our health. It was very hot and the steam would blow over us and scald us before the cool air would return. Here is a video of the geysers.
After the Geysers we had to head uphill in the heat to reach llahuar lodge which is located on a hill top overlooking the point where two rivers meet. The lodge has a restaurant with a deck raised on stilts, hot tubs by the river and a collection of huts and camp sites. It is family run and donkey/foot access only. I tried not to think of earthquakes as I looked through the gaps in the deck floor to the river below. The meals are vegetarian and the power is solar. Our room was a hut with a rock wall, a bamboo door with a wire lock.
After a lentil lunch. I went down to the hot springs and sat with four Germans named Tony, Simona, Stephanie and Arne. The hot spring pools had a funky smell and as I entered I stepped in a pile of mud and said “oy schmaltz” They asked me if I “sprechen sie deutch?” I said not but I speak a little yiddish. I said this not to raise the issue of the holocaust but rather to make the concept of Jews less abstract to them by giving them a live example sitting in a schmutzy hot spring in Peru speaking in funny German. In my mind it is a way of saying here we are descendants of two peoples with a very difficult history but that history does not determine how we interact now. I guess in the same way that I out myself as gay, I also need to out myself as Jewish. In any event before I could say more we got distracted by the slurping noises made by a skinny topless french woman sucking face with her boyfriend.
The women are both doctors and the men work in computer/software. Later that afternoon there was a thunder and lightning storm but not a lot of rain.Eliot and I sat with the German group at dinner. The women planned the next day hike while the men kvetched (complained).
Stephanie & Simona
We slept like babies. The next day we hiked up to a small town then down to the “oasis”. Roy brought us this fruit that came in pods and joked and chatted with us. He seemed to have forgotten the lost wallet. We watched the tour bus go along a narrow dirt road on a steep slope and were thankful to be walking. Roy was a great guide he knew a lot about the plants and minerals of the area, the people and the gossip. Best of all he was tons of fun and charmed everyone he met. He also shares my love of prunes polishing off my supply.
Us and Roy
We visited this town called Malata. The church had the saint dressed as a farmer.
From the town we descended a steep trail and crossed the river to the oasis tourist lodges on an old town sight where the water from an underwater river comes out of the rock face. The water was used to irrigate fields and grow crops in a warm micro climate. Our lodge had a swimming pool cut out of a field with a rock wall, and avocado and mango trees. Roy brought us mangos that he got from throwing rocks at the mango tree.
Our room was kind of gross, I asked for the room with the en suite as was promised, thinking it would be nicer. Wrong it was equally gross. We were too tired to care.
That evening we watched the stone wall of the canyon turn red as the sunset and had dinner with the Germans. Next day we awoke at 5 am to climb the 1200 meter trail up to Cabanaconde. We met a couple of Norwegian guys that were travelling for 9 months before starting their jobs in child protection. Eliot told them his war stories and they were fascinated. It was interesting to hear that Norway is no utopia and that they have lots of issues with children and that social services are underfunded and workers have very large caseloads.
After breakfast we piled into a van through the drivers seat because the sliding door was jammed. We hit a hot spring and a buffet before retiring to Arequipa. In the process we met some great people including a French engineer, and a physiotherapist, an Italian guy with a “wolf pack” shirt from Canada and various others. There was this travellers camaraderie as we said good bye like best friends knowing however that we would never see each other again.
Norwegian social workers, Roy and Italian guy with wolf shirt.