Savannah Grace

Colca Canyon Has it All

Wakened by a knock at our door, I leapt from my bed in a frenzy. Grabbing my phone, “What? It’s only 2:50a.m. They’re early!” Shouting through the door, “We’re coming!” We were downstairs within ten minutes, but the bus was gone. Oh no! This was the ONLY chance we had to see the Colca Canyon.

You can only imagine our relief when they came back for us! Everyone on the 23-seater bus looked as tired as we did so early in the morning. We were grateful when our English/Spanish speaking lady guide handed out blankets for the ride.

12001023_519631928199265_3065825325230883269_o

Running on just 4.5 hours of sleep fuel, we were about to enjoy the longest day of the trip at the highest altitude. So I will try my best to keep this post as brief as possible, because it’s already going to be an essay of photos. For some reason the bus wasn’t heated so it was a slightly miserable drive on bumpy mountainous, winding roads. Not quite teeth-chattering cold but definitely uncomfortably cold, and I was wearing every piece of clothing I could, including two pairs of pants.

12002429_519631274865997_6914132654049508519_o

It was a long and sleepy three hours from Arequipa to Chivay (3,700m) where we stopped for a quick breakfast before visiting the small local square. Local girls, all dressed up in their colourful, traditional dresses were dancing around, ready to impress the buses of tourists. Older women waited, confident they’d be able to lure us with their exotic hawks and llamas.

 12034378_519631214866003_8182719571299654876_o 12032845_519631398199318_273195686546531738_o 11999668_519631331532658_5677597567513607136_o

Naturally I gave into those soft eyes and big lashes, and of course I was drawn to the hawks with their supernatural, big claws. Kees and I still couldn’t believe it’d taken us this long to see our first alpacas in Peru. We had the preconceived notion that they would be leaping around every bend in Peru.

 12022374_519631371532654_9070595028254033658_o 11999549_519631234866001_8801519257371834191_o

There is something bizarre about being in a remote and historic place with so much culture, and then turning to see an equally special, traditionally dressed woman, hawk and cellphone in hand.

12002521_519631728199285_4818854052819736695_o 12021918_519632154865909_541522387_n

From there we drove along the canyon, looking out at the beautiful views and the dry, cacti strewn landscape. There were many rock tunnels along the way, one of which was 480m long. Entirely natural with rock walls and a dirt floor, the driver turned off the headlights and showed us the definition of darkness.

12029732_519631808199277_5421357372114066091_o 12027289_519631744865950_1234610379429339963_o

They dropped us off and gave us an hour to watch the condors flying in the Colca Canyon. When we didn’t instantly see a dozen flying around, our hearts nearly stopped. It hadn’t crossed my mind that we may not SEE condors, because the tour had come so highly recommended by everyone we talked to. We were even more nervous when we heard someone say they were there for an hour and didn’t see a single bird. What?

12041813_519632174865907_480247584_n (1) 11155123_519631761532615_7389555099859942935_o

A few anxious minutes passed. Then the crowd, lined along the edge of the canyon, let out a gasp in unison. The Andean Condor, a member of the vulture family, is second only to the albatross when it comes to wingspan. Having that bird, with a whopping 274-310 cm (8.99-10.17 ft) wingspan fly right up close and over the heads of the crowd was surreal. Every time they did so, the crowd would predictable cheer and go “ooohhh, aaahhh”.12027289_519632008199257_8768176626499314343_o

The guide had joked on the drive there that normally this bird should be shy, but after generations of tourists, they are now total divas, loving to flaunt their elegant wings at us. I think she may have been right, they seemed to love the attention.

12010624_520569171438874_7931764203998106773_o 12002561_520569074772217_6145204818709055870_o

12002636_519631961532595_4379487160256497717_o

Before heading back to the bus, Kees was drawn to an overland truck parked at the canyon. His travel bug was instantly sparked when he saw the truck had Dutch plates. It had clearly been shipped to South America and his hope of one day doing the same was rekindled.

 12015020_519631891532602_7686537065554836802_o 12000813_520569488105509_6319791194515764633_o

The family has always talked about doing an Alaska to Argentina trip and when we met Kees in Africa with his big yellow truck, it seemed an obvious next step to ship the truck to South America one day. As time has passed, the truck getting old and dusty in a dark shed, the dream has faded. Seeing this truck definitely inspired him.

“I thought I was done with the whole overland thing. But I’m not.” Because I don’t like jinxing myself, I won’t leak any more of our outrageous travel plans until they’re more concrete.

12039175_519631588199299_3730421805363676102_o 12017735_519631614865963_1714432438711688111_o

Back in the bus, we stopped to look up at the rock wall shooting up from the edge of the road. Pointing up, our lady guide explained what we were looking at. The Tumbas de Choque Tico are ancient tombs in the cliffside dating back before the arrival of the Incas in the area in the early 1300’s. There are no signs of stairs or footholds so it’s believed that they must’ve lowered the bodies down from above, then hung from ropes as they closed the tombs with rocks. My goodness! All around the world you see this common trend of putting SO much effort into death and the afterlife… Mankind’s biggest, unsolvable mystery.

12038776_520567068105751_8219228084478802946_o

Peru a few years ago was considered the best country gastronomically around the world. Having tried their famous ceviche, a traditional dish made of raw fish marinated with lemon, and Lomo saltado (my favourite), it is easy to believe.

12038728_520569494772175_1890283225608250444_o

We stopped and ate a buffet style lunch, which gave us yet another opportunity to try guinea pig and alpaca. My opinions of both remain the same. Guinea pig tastes like chicken but the eating approach is similar to very small, boney fish. Alpaca is delicious.

12017726_519631628199295_7993017594249518518_o 12030482_519631694865955_7494460017635479134_o

During our tour we were also given the chance to try a cactus fruit called sancayo as a tea and also the fruit itself. WOW! That is my new favourite fruit and I hope to import it for my own personal consumption.

The fruit itself looks very similar to kiwi but it’s aggressively sour. Our guide clearly had a lot of good laughs with this. She loves to see the reactions from tourist’s faces when they try it, expect sweet kiwi, only to bite into a lemon bomb. It was the most deliciously sour, juicy thing I’ve ever tried. My mouth is watering as I type.

We stopped at the Chivay hot springs, but while everyone else took a dip in the warm natural spring, Kees and I trekked up a small hill that was comparable to Kilimanjaro at that altitude, and went zip lining across the shimmering river.

11922835_519631464865978_1144054942692108007_o 12014978_520569531438838_7410903245614515996_o 12031462_519631538199304_2552270227500902393_o

When we were finally headed back to Arequipa with full bellies, everyone was exhausted and passed out in the bus.

12017649_520569638105494_2880706905401962314_o 12022389_520569551438836_4626219862254572845_o

Though we’d passed over in the morning, we stopped to get out at the high pass of 4,900m (16,070 ft). The last time I was at that altitude was on top of Kala Patthar at 5,640m (18,505ft) in Nepal looking up at Everest and down on base camp. The entire snowy field was filled with stacked rocks. Naturally we had to make our own.

12027136_520569528105505_7761107768228562374_o 12045252_520569561438835_6845765574115823675_o

Our guide was very informative throughout our whole trip which was great. She pointed off in the distance and told us that not too far from where we were was Misti Volcano. The glacial stream from Nevado Mismi’s 5,600m peak is the starting point of the Amazon River, the longest river in the world. Amazingly, it is marked by nothing more than a wooden cross. Fortunately, we had zero problem with the altitude! Having gone without any medication or Gingko this time, it only made me more confident that what I had before was just a serious cold with fever. This time around Kees took Diamox and thank goodness had no problems.

11143733_520569578105500_2478335697839979556_o

We made so many more stops than just the condors which made it a more than fascinating day. Jam packed with information and beauty, I could hardly remember what the morning had held.

Sometimes you can’t quite comprehend why you’re going to a certain destination, the only reason you’re going is because everyone said you had to. This was one of those places that I knew I would feel stupid if I didn’t visit but couldn’t quite grasp how a few birds could make a 3am morning worthwhile. Like everyone else before me said, you have to go. It really is an amazing place!

Savannah Grace

Without Google cheating, how OLD do condors get? Leave your guesses below.

TIP/INFO:

  • If I wasn’t so determined to go on this tour, I may have missed it because others (including tour operators) tried to imply the ONE day tour of Colca Canyon was too difficult, too long. Well, if you have just one day don’t miss this. The early morning wasn’t that bad at all.
  • The bus ride in the morning, the breakfast “restaurant” and the high pass are FREEZING. Make sure you dress warmly. But wear layers because it gets warm in the day.
  • Don’t forget to hydrate! Bring or buy water. I didn’t see anyone else on the tour drinking water, I couldn’t believe it. We went through a few litres. There are toilet breaks at almost every stop and they let you know how long the drive is between stops.
  • We paid 50 soles ($15.50USD), excl. the Colca Canyon entry fee, per person for this ALL DAY (3a.m.-6pm) tour. Once again, a sign that Peru is very affordable. For another 50soles/person ($15.50USD) we took the quick, two-line zip-line. I’d say for that price, it was worth it.
  • There is an additional entrance fee to enter the Colca Canyon area. 20 soles for Peruvians, 40S for South Americans and 70S for tourists.
  • The sun is intense at that altitude, lather up several times in sunscreen or you will pay.
  • Another reminder to HYDRATE. I was drinking constantly and still my lips were cracked and I was so dehydrated.

4 replies »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s