Days: 305-306 (26 April 2015 – 27 April 2015)
Total distance travelled: 58,284.8 kilometres (36,201.74 miles)
I’ll be the first to confess, that other than the name (Colca Canyon) and that it’s reportedly one of the deepest canyons in the world, we actually knew little about the place.
Still, that didn’t deter us from committing ourselves to a two day/one night trek first in, then out of the canyon.
We were collected from our hostel well before dawn, and bundled into a bus which was full of the folk who’d become our companions over the next few days. A bunch of Israeli’s, a couple of Swiss guys, an English couple, two girls traveling together (one Dutch, the other Swiss), ourselves and I’m certain there was a German or two in there as well… a real melting pot of culture, but also very reflective of the traveling peoples we’d met in our travels to date.
There was a stop somewhere along the way, where we partook in a slightly unsatisfying breakfast (it was just too small), although it did give us the chance to try something new in the form of a Quinoa juice.
Surprisingly the drink was warm, but actually pretty good!
A small drama was encountered when it was discovered that the two travelling girls (the Dutch and the Swiss) had left Arequipa with insufficient funds to pay the park entrance fee (the place they’d bought their tour had neglected to mention this important point), but with enough folk on board, they were able to borrow a sufficient amount to get by, and we continued on.
It was a lengthy morning journey, however our first big stop was also our first real chance to appreciate the canyon itself, the Cruz del Condor viewpoint.
For me the name immediately brought to mind a Biggles book I’d read as kid (‘Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor’ if you must know), and as the name suggests, this was a viewing point for that most South American of birds, the condor.
The Andean Condor to be precise.
When we first arrived, the few that lingered simply sat on their rocky perches, taking in the world, but they soon took to the air in numbers, showing off their graceful cruising style above.
I was a little surprised at their real vulture like appearance (I think I’d always just imaged an oversized hawk or eagle), but I got over that shock pretty quickly, happy to simply marvel at their impressive forms.
Did we mention that the canyon was pretty impressive as well?
We had plenty of time here, and with several viewing areas (one which you can see above), despite the crowd, you could usually find some vantage point where you could get a different view of proceedings.
Slowly our group made its way back towards the area in which our van waited, but not before one final condor took it upon itself to put on a bit of show. Something of a last hurrah for us.
I contemplated for some time whether to add that video, but figured it only fair that I show at least a bit of a teaser after talking up their graceful flight… and don’t worry, it didn’t really crash into the side of that young woman’s head!
Back aboard our bus, we travelled on a little further, before it was time to abandon our wheels, and get ready to work out the legs.
It was time for us to trek (although I’d call it more a walk or a hike, to me trekking is a bit more hardcore) into Colca Canyon.
Our motley bus crew was divided into two groups, so our posse of eight included the four Israeli’s, the English couple and ourselves.
Thus sorted, we began our descent.
Other than the path proving a little gravelly at times, it wasn’t all that difficult a descent, the biggest difficulty we had to contend with being the heat, and relatively slow pace of the rest of our group.
But that was okay, there was no expectation or requirement that we’d all hang together (doesn’t sound very sociable, but there were other people with which to chat all along the trail), so we all proceeded at our own pace.
It first we were loosely together as a group, but slowly the distance between us all lengthened and we just did our own thing.
At times, especially when the path was rocky, we had to remind ourselves to pause so we could just take in the magnificent scenery around us.
The lower we descended, the deeper the canyon felt, and it wasn’t long before we could gaze upwards and see the long basalt columns above.
Our day was to be a two stage affair, the first the seven kilometre descent, after which there’d be a short walk on to our lunch stop. After this feed, we’d continue on to the oasis where we could then relax for what was left of the afternoon and evening (in total, roughly eleven kilometres).
With us finding ourselves some distance from the bulk of our group by the time we’d reached the bottom where a bridge allowed passage across the river, we ended up tacking ourselves onto the back half of the second group when they were ready to head on to lunch.
Lunch was actually served in a proper restaurant (at least by local Peruvian standards), and given our small breakfast we were by now pretty ravenous.
We grabbed a couple of seats and with surprise noted a dope (marijuana) plant growing in the garden just beside us… although it had been stripped almost bare (I wonder if by our hosts, or opportunistic backpackers)!
To our frustration, we were to remain hungry at this point, as the meals were served by group, and as the remainder of our group still lagged well behind… we were ultimately to remain hungry until they finally made an appearance about forty minutes later!
The other group had dined and continued their journey well in advance of us, but given that we were essentially at the base of the canyon and there only remained a few kilometres to travel, this final leg shouldn’t be too bad.
Well for us it wasn’t, although at times the elastic nature of our group did return (we were often stretched out quite a ways), our guide at least lifted his own pace so we were now going faster than we had on the climb down.
It was a lovely trail to walk at least, although a bit too up and down for some of our groups liking, we did get great canyon views, the chance to ford the river on foot at one point, and although the skies had turned a dull shade of grey and rain threatened, we were lucky enough that the clouds above never got us wet.
Suddenly (for some eventually), our goal, the Oasis Sangalle sat just below.
To our surprise, as we made the final descent towards the oasis, from behind (or was it above), members of the other group (which had left a good half an hour earlier than us) began to appear.
Incredibly, by taking a different route we’d found ourselves ahead of them, and now essentially completed the walk together!
At the end of the day we relaxed in the semi dark with a beer, unfortunately a warmish beer, but hey, it was better than nothing, shared travel tales and the like until our again ravenous stomachs were able to indulge in a much anticipated dinner.
With plans to begin our escape from the canyon at 5am the following morning, for us at least the night was not long, and when our group assembled nice and early at the appointed time, it was with surprise that there were suddenly only three of our eight ready to make the ascent.
Just the two of us, and one Israeli.
The other five would all be departing an hour later… on the back of mules!
It was supposed to be a three hour climb, and suddenly we had a new determination to make it to the top before our companions on their asses (figuratively and literally)!
Treacherous at first because we were climbing a rocky slope in the dark without a torch between us (we ended up using Sarah’s cell phone as a light for about half an hour), as the pre-dawn light grew, it became easier from a navigation perspective.
From the outset it was always much harder work on the lungs…
It was a good chance for us to spend plenty of time in conversation with our Israeli companion, Yval (okay, so I’m not certain of the spelling there).
I may have mentioned it in earlier posts (at times I do like to whinge, so it is highly possible), but along with other Australians and Americans, we’ve found Israeli’s to be amongst the worst travellers (in general, not in totality, there are many great people we know from those countries as well) that we encounter.
For us it was refreshing to meet one who was so much friendlier, and willing to engage with others (in fact their whole group of four was actually really good), so we spent a wonderful morning climbing with the man we dubbed ‘our favourite Israeli’.
Well you know what, we did it.
With about twenty minutes to spare before they began to bounce along up the trail, the three of us completed our hike and were able to watch and wave at the mules down below!
Colca Canyon proved a great little excursion (our very same trip can be done over two nights as well, but it simply takes the journey at a slower pace), and for us was a great opportunity to find new friends, as well as deconstruct a few more global stereotypes.
* Our 2 day/1 night Colca Canyon tour cost us $105.00 Soles per person (and despite us shopping around, was ultimately just booked through our hostel).
* There was a separate park entrance fee of $70.00 Soles each, which needed to be paid before our group could proceed into the park.