Journal 10 - November 21, 2002

Colca Canyon and Arequipa » Go Back

Journal 10
The journey from La Serena wasn't all bus rides. I did have a nice stop in Arequipa, Peru, where there is a beautiful Art Deco-style monastery. Only six short hours away from Arequipa is the world's deepest canyon, which I realized thanks to the two English girls I met, Claire, and Milian. How's that for British? And the adjectives they use, they're wicked, brilliant, lovely! I met them during my bus ride from La Serena to Arica, Chile, and they happened to be headed to Cusco too, so we joined up for a few days of traveling and had a well nice time, it was loads of fun. Thankfully they had been reading their guide books, unlike me, so they knew that Colca Canyon was near Arequipa. Up until that point I had been using other travelers as my guides, which was OK, but the book does come in handy, especially when I want a cappuccino.

I have to say though, that I'm not the only person to not have heard of the Canyon. For being the deepest canyon in the world, they should probably do some more marketing. Several other people I've met haven't heard of it either. Fortunately the girls had. We arrived in Arequipa at 1:30 Wednesday morning, which gave us exactly 24 hours before our tour left at 1:30 Thursday morning. Later Wednesday morning, about nine hours, we woke up and had some breakfast, my first Peruvian meal. Peruvians are the known as the culinaries of South America, much to my pleasant surprise, and to make things better, you can eat a meal for a little as $1.25, which we did later that night. Soup, chicken with rice as a second course, followed by tea and dessert, not bad. Not every meal is such a bargain, but I have yet to pay more than $5, and the food has been great, especially here in Cusco. The $3 rooms aren't bad either.

After our breakfast in Arequipa we visited the monastery, during which time my camera was temporarily out of order thanks to a leaky bottle cap, and thankfully only temporarily. I'll happily trade one day's use for a whole trip's worth. It had dried out and was working fine when I got back to the hostel. The monastery was brilliant though, very picturesque. I would have easily added another 25 pictures to my growing digital portfolio. Monasterio de Santa Catalina is not your typical, whitewashed, sterile looking monastery. On the contrary, Santa Catalina boasts vibrant orange, blue, and pink walls, with high arching walkways, courtyards, fruit trees, a museum, etc. With El Misty, an 18,000 ft. volcano as the backdrop, Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a photographer's dream, provided said photographer has a functioning camera.

Following the monastery I fell in love, albeit for a short time. Juanita, the 500 year old pre-Columbian Inca mummy was a sight to see, and so were some of her mates, a few old frozen blokes, and a couple of frigid lasses.

After the Monistary and cool Inca babes, we had just enough time to get our bus tickets, eat the aforementioned $1.25 meal, and get a three hour nap before leaving at 1:30 Thursday morning for Colca Canyon.

The Canyon was incredible, and deep, but I'm not sure what kind of measurement they're using down here, maybe some funky Inca measuring stick. It was deep, but it didn't appear to be as deep from top to bottom as our own Grand Canyon, which I have hiked before from the top, all the way down to the bottom, and back to the top in one day. Maybe Colca Canyon didn't seem as deep because I didn't make it anywhere near what they consider to be the top, the many snow capped peaks that loom above the canyon rim. Nevertheless, the canyon was spectacular; snow covered peaks surround the valley on both sides, while ancient villages appear as green specs on the valley walls, miniscule in contrast to the huge peaks surrounding them.

Milly, Clare, Nino the guide and I hiked down to the Oasis, a lush green parcel of land at the bottom of the canyon, complete with Palm trees and several pools with water from the local hot springs flowing into them. After hiking down the Canyon for six hours, including numerous stops for pictures, lunch, and an hour nap, we arrived at the Oasis and found a private, lukewarm hot spring for us to bathe in before dinner. Off came the layers of dust that had accumulated as a second skin on my body. Although temperate, the springs weren't warm enough to keep us in them long enough to miss dinner. We also had to go to bed early in anticipation of the following day's 3:00 a.m. wake-up call and alleged 1400 meter ascent.

1400 meters, let's see, I was trying to do the math in my head; I estimated that was approximately 4800 feet. This, according to our guide, was what we were facing on Friday morning. I wasn't overly worried about myself. Although I'm not in great shape these days, I have done similar hikes, and although I didn't imagine it would be easy, I figured I would at least make it. The English lasses were another story. Both had earlier admitted the hike down was their third hike ever in their lives, and Claire, a smoker, was just getting over pneumonia. In my experience, at my speed, 1000 feet an hour is a reasonable pace for hiking up a steep trail, especially one as steep as the trail leading out of the canyon. After asking our guide again, he assured me that the climb was 1400 meters. I figured we'd be in for a long day, about five hours of hiking for me, and Claire said she just plain couldn't do it.

Less than three hours after starting we were at the top. Must be that Inca measuring stick again. Fortunately we made it, and fortunately, at least according to my rough estimations, it wasn't close to1400 meters. Nevertheless, we were still too late to see the famed condors of Colca Canyon, which are one of the main attractions in the valley, but also one of the most exceptional. It would have been nice to spend more time at the canyon, but thanks to some poor planning I wasn't able to. In the future I think reading the guidebook ahead of time will help me avoid that kind of mistake. I was in a hurry to get to Cusco though, every traveler has raved about it, and I want to hike the famous Inca trail before we get further into the rainy season. I leave in a few days for my four day trek.

In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving, eat lots of turkey for me, down a few cups of gravy, maybe add some stuffing and mashed potatoes to that, and throw a leg or something in the freezer for me when I get back.

Cheers again from the American bloke,

Justin