Thursday, October 18, 2007

Colca Canyon Trek - 16th - 18th October 2007

So that was how at 4.30am I was up and getting ready to go trekking in the Colca Canyon, without really knowing what I was letting myself in for to be honest!

Rosevelt, our guide, picked us up at 5.30am, there is just myself and Jordan doing the trek so we have a bit of a personalised tour going on.
I really hadn't made myself aware of what the entire trip involved so it wasn't until we arrived at the local bus terminal that I even knew it was gonna be a 6 hour bus journey to the start of trek! The bus to Cabanaconde, the start of our trek, was a local bus which seemed to have the sole desire to pack as many people onto it as possible, and that was even before we had left Arequipa!
Our entertainment as we leave Arequipa is a guy playing pan pipes which was nice, but then asking for money, its almost like the tubes in London, almost but not quite!!
It was an interesting bus journey to our starting point with lots of sights to see, about an hour away from our destination around 20 Peruvian women all in national dress (although everyday dress doesn't seem to be any different) came running towards the bus with multiple bags of goodies (I'm guessing) and attempted to board the bus, well there wasn't too much room before they boarded and with them and all their bags it was a tight squeeze!
We arrived at Cabanaconde (3200m) around midday, just in time for lunch, Ive opted for the vegetarian option as I thought it the safest way to avoid Alpaca!
There´s 3 tour groups doing pretty much the same trek, we all had lunch at the same place then got ready to start the trek, everyone was feeling excited, I was just beginning to feel pretty nervous wondering how or if I was gonna be able to make it!
At this point I should point out that my trekking buddy, Jordan, is from Alaska 10 years younger than me (!) and in his spare time, apparently they get a lot of that in Alaska, he goes mountaineering, rock climbing and worst of all mountain racing!!!!!

Anyway we set off and I was beginning to feel the moderate effects of altitude sickness, a horrid permanent headache, which then lasted for the next two days.

The two lighter parts of the picture are actually two villages, a long long long way away!!!

After just a 10 min walk we got to what can only be described as the edge of the Canyon, we could pretty much look right down into the canyon and see where we were about to walk.

Rosevelt pointed out to us 3 villages. The first, San Juan had 80 occupants, the second, Cosnirhua where we were gonna stay the night had 180 people and the third village had 220 occupants and had only had electricity for the last 8 months, which took 3 months to install! I thought it insensitive to ask if they had Internet connection, least if it was broadband!

And so we began our 3 hour walk to the bottom of the Canyon. We started off at good pace, which of course was not going to continue. It was as seriously tough walk to the bottom, going down hill is sooooo much tougher than going up! And don't let anyone ever tell you different.

The scenery was amazing though, I don't think I have ever seen anything quite like it and I'm not sure a photo quite does it justice but Ill give it a go.
Once at the bottom we had just a 10 minute break before we started back up again the other side, the two other groups all stayed at the first village but we still had an hour and a half trek straight uphill to our village, it sounds a nightmare, and it was, but I'm glad we did the uphill trek then and not the next morning, as there were tougher parts still to come!

At our homestay we were given a fabulous welcome, a well deserved (cold!) shower and settled down for dinner. My veggie option was rice with fresh avocado and tomato, very nice and healthy!
The kitchen at our homestay with our host, complete with guinea pigs in the corner being fattened up for dinner!!

When we arrived at the village we could hear music in the distance which Rosevelt said was some kind of village party so after dinner we headed off to main street to see what was going on.
Main street is a 5ft wide rocky pathway, fine really as there´s no vehicles of any description here! Oh except donkey of course!
The only way to travel, apart from feet!!

Up on main street and coming towards us in a procession was the village children all carrying individually made elaborate paper lanterns with candles inside them illuminating them, following behind was a very good village band being played by the village men. They went all the way to one end of the village where it appeared that the end house was giving the children goodies, before they came back past us again. All the children were very excited and were calling out hello to us as they went past. As the adults at the back of the procession came level with us they then invited us along to the party they were about to have, so off we went following on behind.

Main street in the day light!

At the main plaza there were more even more people and what looked like a bonfire pile ready to be lit, there were people drinking an interesting liquid from various bottles like shots, as well as a kinda doughnut stall, unfortunately we were both too full from dinner to try any but they looked really good! Instead we treated ourselves to a couple of beers and sat back in prime seats that had been offered us and enjoyed the party.
There was a prize giving for the best lantern and then the lighting of the bonfire with the children dancing around it, it was a great atmosphere and we were the only two westerners there, we felt very privileged to be part of the festivities but by 9pm we were shattered and so left the villages to their party in private while we opted for an early night!
Bright and early the next morning we were up and ready for the off, just before breakfast Jordan was laying on his bed when what he thought was a rain drop fell on him, but no it was a scorpion, a very small one but a scorpion all the same, and in our room all night!!
The trek this morning took us down to an oasis where we could swim or just relax for a couple of hours over lunch before we attempted the very long trek back up the other side of the canyon.
Once at the bottom of the canyon there was a very small trek uphill to the oasis, literally 10 mins, then down again, I was shattered!
Now I know that mountains go up and down but when you´re going up it is seriously irritating to find yourself going down when you know you only have to go up the same amount again soon!!
Once at the Oasis we had the option to hire a donkey for about $12 to take us to the top, no more walking mmm! and I was seriously tempted but with the encouragement of Lynsey and Julian, a couple from one of the other groups, I decided to give it a go on foot and I´m so glad I did, thanks loads guys. It was a good trek up, it felt like a real achievement to get to the top and everyone who had made it to the top already were giving encouragement as I neared. I am so glad I took along my trekking poles though, I really don´t think I would ever have made it without them, and the rucksac dad bought me was also a god send, so comfy and easy to carry even with a slightly heavy load, thanks loads dad.
Of course my mountain racing trekking buddy had already been at the top half hour by the time I got there!!
We stayed that night at Cabanaconde and ate dinner before once again grabbing a very early night, I could get used to those!
Bright and early the next morning we headed off to the main plaza to catch the local bus to Cruz Del Condor to go Condor spotting, apparently these huge birds (3m wing span) just know exactly where and when to turn up for the tourists, handy huh?! Well kinda!
The bus we caught was already packed with just about the entire town and the surrounding villages I think! Rosevelt managed to get me a seat but I think I was one of the lucky ones, tourist wise. Once the bus started it off it then stopped perhaps every 50 yards to take on more passengers, they were piling them on everywhere they could, I even saw several people get in the luggage compartment, an interesting way to travel!

On arrival at Cruz Del condor there were so so so many tourists, now if I was a condor I would be hiding behind one of the many rocks and saying no chance!! I think that´s perhaps what they were doing as we were there for a good 40 mins without seeing anything, then just as we were leaving one came flying by. We had actually seen a couple on the first day of the trek so we were ok with the show.
Then it was back on the bus to Chivay for lunch. Despite perhaps needing it we decided to give the hot springs a miss in order to get back to Arequipa before it got too late as we were pretty shattered and were both planning on moving on the next day.
From Chivay the bus journey was due to be about 3 hours, this time we had the joy of a movie, although for the first 20 mins the chap in charge couldn´t decide whether to have it in English with Spanish subtitles or in Spanish with English subtitles, in the end we got the latter, good movie though, Autumn of Change I think it was or something like that, Brad Pitt.
About 40 mins away from Arequipa we had a blow out on one of the bus tyres, for a mo we thought they were gonna just carry on driving but I guess they decided against it. At least it gave us a chance to get out and stretch our legs and with the help of the majority of the tourists on board they managed to change the tyre and we were soon on our way.
Back at the hostel it was a quick shower and bite to eat and bed, mentally planning my next move!

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