Colca Canyon is definitely one of my faveourite places in Peru. Breathtaking nature is something I am determined to look for even if it requires taking a flight into the other side of the world. I mean it. If you spice it up with some wildlife like condors (not that big on bids but they are spectacular) and a therapeutic session of cuddling baby alpacas to reduce the pain after one of the toughest cardio ever – I’m sold.
Hitting the road Peruvian style.
As you already know, in Peru, we mainly travel by bus. I am desperate to try one of the local bus companies, as I’ve heard many crazy stories about them, but when I ask people at my hotel it seems that there is no alternative to the expensive tourist bus. Not sure, if they say so, because they want to sell me more expensive tickets or they are really concerned about the safety of the regular public transport. I’m not the one to give up easily and I manage to get us 2 tickets for a DIRECT bus from Peru to Arequipa. Direct. No stop from A to B. Not in Peruvian dictionary though. An hour later we realize we’ve just arrived to Juliaca. Do you remember that awful industrial town on the way to Puno from Cuzco? No? Well, good for you. I don’t know how much time we spend circling around the town while the driver was shouting “Arequipaaaa!” through an open window. At least we know we are on the good bus and when it’s full we can finally start moving towards Arequipa.
There is no fancy service on that bus, but I swear that things happening on board provide an excellent and unforgettable experience themselves. First some women selling sweets but that is pretty normal, wait until you meet the local witch doctor trading some weird looking liniment that cures everything. I feel a bit upset as the quack doesn’t target us… not even a single gaze… and I would be the one actually buying that crap (as a souvenir of course – dragon tears can you believe it!?)!
In the middle of the road the bus stops and we have to go through a custom control, but after that we reach Arequipa with no further surprised. It’s Sunday and time doesn’t fly here. Most of the places are closed, but I’m still able to fall in love with the city. I wanted to go to Arequipa since I discovered Vargas Llosa and his books – if you haven’t ready any, it’s a must before you go to Peru. It was just like I imagined it to be – lovely! The historic centre, considered a Cultural Heritage, preserves beautiful colonial and republican houses made of ashlar, with volcanic stone from Misti. Plaza de Armas, the main square is surrounded by beautiful portals, archways and the imposing Cathedral. I heard a lot about the enviable gastronomy of this place but as we are on tight budget we don’t have a chance to try it. The city centre is full of places where you can get the typical Peru plate – chicken broaster – so enjoy 😉 And if you don’t know what I am talking about check out my post from Cuzo here .
Our usual thing to do in any new city is a free walking tour. We spent the afternoon wandering around – walking through the streets is like visiting a live museum. At the end of the tour we go for lunch at Picanteria Mondial – highly recommend even though it is a bit further out of the center. I’m fuming coz I lost my memory card with all the Peru pictures 🙁 all you can see in my Peru posts were taken by Mario, so you have to believe me that the food at this restaurant was great and hearty. We were the only tourists there (I guess no one else could be bothered to walk that far) and the owner came to us for a little chat – so really nice of him. Speaking about gastronomy it’s worth mentioning that only in Arequipa you can get cheese – ice cream (don’t be put off by the idea – the taste is just amazing!) or drink the authentic hot choc – not to confuse with the dishwater you usually get in London. The only thing I didn’t like that much was the fact that we stayed in a not very nice hostel, but this was the cheapest option and they served amazing pancakes for breakfast!
We didn’t go to Arequipa for food though, nor for its architectural beauty and rich heritage, but for the real gem outside of the city – Canion Colca – 2nd deepest canyon in the world. Oh yeah! I have to tell you that the canyon was officially opened for tourist after discovering it by a group of Polish rafters making the first descent below Cabanaconde, since then the Colca River. They managed to go there one more time in 2008, which allowed them to set the Guinness World Record. Polish Pride, but sadly, I think that not many Poles actually know about it.
I am flicking through colourful pages of fancy catalogues offering trips to Canyon Colca and we finally decide to go for 3 day/2night option to get the most of it. We are advised that it is a fairly easy trek, so for people who are far from being couch potatoes it should be a piece of cake. After 3 days I am authentically shocked that I survived!! It makes me wonder what does a “moderate” level of difficulty stand for… in that category among others: climbing an active volcano Misti (the top of it covered with ice and you need a special equipment to do it). Ah Peru, living la vida loca!
No pain, no gain they say, but the pain is especially painful when you have to get up at 3am in the morning. Just to enjoy the dawn at Patapampa pass overlooking all the volcanoes – 4910 m above the sea level – holly molly! Later in the morning we get to Cruz del Condor, to observe the enormous majestic condors flying over the canyon. You can consider yourself lucky if you spot 1 or 2 of them, coz sometimes if the weather isn’t nice they don’t fancy to show off. We are super lucky as there are 3 of them! Watching that amazing spectacle I know that my morning horror wasn’t in vain. Our guide for today is Fabian – I feel so blessed to speak fluently Spanish so I can have a chat with him about life in Peru.
If it hasn’t been for Fabian I wouldn’t have known that there is a presidential election in Peru in couple of days and one of the candidates Pedro Pablo Kuczyński who’s father was a Polish Jew. Canyon Colca is the place, where everybody has heard about Poland and Poles – how cool is that? It gets even better as he won the election and now is the president of Peru!
First day is all about descending down the canyon. I used to think it’s the easier part, but after couple of hours my neck start hurting, not to mention my legs. So when we reach our first stop I just collapse and refuse any form of socializing. I’m in Eat-Sleep-Eat-Sleep mode. Mario is a real hardcore as he has tonsillitis and fever. I feel bad moaning…
The second day starts way better. Feeling fresh we start our trekking after breakfast – it’s easier today as the route is mostly flat and I know that at the end of this trek there is a half day of lazing around in Sangalle – a natural oasis at the bottom of the canyon. This place has a unique micro climate which means it’s very warm and they even have a swimming pool! There are tiny houses with leaves roofs, very basic but lovely hidden among palm trees, flowers and greenery. It’s my paradise! Being so excited I fall down from a hammock when I try to sit on it – what a complete disaster!
It starts raining in the afternoon so people who reach this place after us aren’t as amazed with it. In the afternoon some of them are organizing a donkey-taxi to take them back to the top of the canyon as the worst is yet to come. Now we have to climb thousands of km up and I prefer not to think about it. My colleague who has been to Peru just 6 months after me told me that now you can get out of it on a shuttle bus – honestly I can’t imagine a shuttle bus or any form of transportation different to a donkey operating there but I get they have to cater for all kind of people. The same girl claimed to me that Colca was her worst experience in Peru… I won’t lie – it was extreme but you know what they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We wake up at 5am to star the climb. We start as one of the first groups but I finish as one of the last persons. Literally every 5 minutes I have to stop to catch my breath. Mario, even though sick, he took over me ages ago – he is so persistent! In the meantime I feel well – jell of those Polish guys on donkeys, but I try to repeat my mantra “no pain, no gain” until that damn donkey treads on my foot. Arghhhh!! It’s been to much. I sit down on a rock waiting for a miracle to come and a condor to take my weak body straight to heaven. The miracle doesn’t happen so I guess I have to stop whining and start climbing. Finally I reach the top of the canyon welcome with people clapping when they see me. “I managed!” – I say and I collapse.
Extreme Peru! Let me find that joker who decided that the difficulty of this trek would be “easy”. I will have a word with him to say… thank you! Los Peruvians are smart – if they told me before the trek that it is so tough I would be in pain, I would probably give up instead of going hard. Now I’m so proud of myself! It was intense but Colca Canyon is beautiful and definitely worth the sweat!
We spend the rest of the day on a bus and I am so exhausted that even a herd of wild alpacas (sic!) can’t make me go out of it. I would kill to have a relaxing afternoon in hot springs but we have no more money (no cash machines in the canyon so take cash with you!) so all I can do is to stare at my fellow travelers having fun (or hurting coz the water was really hot!) After coming back to Arequipa we can only take a quick shower and we are back on a bus for a really long journey. We see each other in Nazca for the last post from Peru. Adios!