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Colca Canyon - Day 1

Written on: Tuesday November 13th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Cabanaconde, Peru

Author: Julie


Like all early morning pick-ups, this one came too early. The entrance doorbell rang at 6 AM just as we were putting our extra bags in the storage room. We quickly ran out of the door to meet our guide Jose and hoped into a waiting taxi. Only later did we realise that Kevin had forgotten to leave the room key behind. Oops! We were to meet the remainder of our group at the bus terminal where we would catch the first of two buses for Cabanaconde. At the same bus terminal we had just arrived at 2 days before, we made the acquaintance of Jay and Helene from England, Claudia and Dana from Switzerland, Alison from England, and Fausto and Betty from Italy. Right from the beginning we got along well and I knew this was going to be a great trip.

The bus ride to Chivay, the first stop was uneventful and we all fell asleep quickly during the ride. I would occasionally wake up and look outside the window to see the high Altiplano passing us by with long valleys and the occasional sighting of a herd of Vicuņa, the wild and endangered cousin of the Llama and Alpaca. We had been warned of the possiblility of getting a headache by the time we arrived at our stop as the bus would be going as high as 4800 meters before coming back down the other side to 3000 meters. Luckily for both Kevin and I, we didn?t feel any side effects. At some of the highest points of the bus ride, I looked out to see a dry, barren moonscape with the occasional bright green moss growing on rocks. Outside, frost had accumulated on our window. A dozen workers in thick jackets, mitts and toques were digging trenches and laying small piping. I assume it?s a form of irrigation to bring down the water of the few rivers we crossed to the communities farther below.

Our arrival in Chivay was quick and we spent 10 minutes before re-boarding the bus to continue on to Cabanaconde, our destination for the day. The road went from asphalt to gravel and we bumped our way along the Colca valley which would soon become the renowned canyon. The sun was shining and few clouds could be seen for miles, which made us jump in surprise when things became quite dark. We had entered a hand-carved tunnel. Unfortunately, we didn?t make it through on our first try due to an oncoming bus. There is only enough room for one bus at a time, so the driver?s assistant jumped out with a tiny flashlight and guided the bus down the 300 meters we had travelled, in reverse. We were both impressed at the driving skills of the drivers because he managed to always be in the middle of the winding and sloping tunnel. If it had been me, there would have been a few new scrapes on the bus! Out we came and parked on a little bit of free space between the tunnel and the sheer cliff dropping into the valley below. Once the tunnel cleared, off we went at much faster speeds than before. The driver wanted to make it through the 1 kilometer tunnel before another bus came along. Down the other side of the mountains he continued and soon we arrived in the tiny, dusty village of Cabanaconde.

We were starved and Jose took us to a nice little restaurant before starting our 3 hour hike down to the canyon floor where we would stay the night. Like most restaurants in Peru, they had a set menu and we had a choice of pasta with veggies and beef or chicken, or a rice dish. Both are always served with a chicken noodle soup as a starter. This country might be poor but no one starves since the normal price would be between 1-3 dollars for all of that food. Stuffed, we headed out and hit the little road that led to the trailhead for our descent. For the next 3 hours, we walked down a trail that switched back and forth, covered in loose stones and gravel, and lots of horse and donkey manure. We could see the river below that cut this canyon over the last million years.  A tiny bridge would lead us to the opposite side where we would spend our night in a cabin.

We could see a stark difference between both sides of the canyon with our side being incredibly dry and dusty. Each footstep would launch a tiny clouds of dust in the air and our legs were quickly colored beige. Across the canyon, three small villages could be seen running along the length of the canyon slope, above fields of green. These were the villages of San Juan de Chuccho, Malata, and Tapay. High up above, in the sky, we sighted a couple of Andean condors riding the thermals. Condors are the largest birds in the Americas, with the Andean Condor being slightly smaller than the California Condor. The condors in these canyons can grow to 1.8 meters in length from beak to tail and the wingspan can reach up to 3 meters. The female is slightly larger than the male, but the male has pretty wing markings with a white underside.

After three hours of slogging and sweating in the hot afternoon sun, we arrived at the cable bridge which crossed the slow running river. A few women from Cabanaconde were there selling chocolate, water and soft drinks. We had a few spare soles in our pocket so we bought a couple of chocolate bars and a cold bottle of water. We had brought our own supply of chocolate but it had melted under the heat of the sun. Break over, we headed up the other side of the canyon towards the first little village we had seen. It felt good to stretch a different set of muscles after having walked downhill for the past few hours. Our climb quickly levelled and we were now in the fruit fields of the local farmers. We could see pear trees, orange trees, fields of cactus growing prickly pears, prune trees, and avocado trees. Unfortunately, the growing season had just begun so none of them were ready for picking.

Ten hours after having left the hostel in Arequipa, we arrived at our campsite in the little village of San Juan de Chuccho for the night. The enterprising owners had built a group of small cabins, an outdoor sitting area, a couple of outdoor showers, and a kitchen area for the guides to cook. It was a lovely little place with the fattest dog I had seen since leaving Canada. He was over 14 years old, which is almost never heard of in South America. He moved very, very slowly and loved nothing better than having his head scratched. Unfortunately, he?s probably never been bathed in his life so he was incredibly dirty. Kevin used his hiking pole to pet him to avoid touching his dirty fur. Luckily, the dog loved it and sat beside him for hours, begging for more. For supper, our guide cooked up and amazing meal of Alpaca steaks (taste like moose, but less gamy and more spicy), rice and vegetables.

We retired that evening to our cabin to find out we were sharing it with a few critters. Kevin killed a small scorpion which was on our door and I killed a couple of loonie-sized spiders on the wall. I was a little unsettled by the scorpion, so we pulled the bed off the wall and hung our mosquito net and tucked ourselves in under for the night.


From Greg K on Dec 4th, 2007

Great stories and pics guys! Love the ninja pic Jules.