Saturday, September 19, 2009

Colca Canyon, the deepest in the world!

30 August - 1 September

Note to self... Drinking the night before a bus ride, especially one that takes you on a dirt road and up over 4900m altitude, is not a good idea!

I felt very seedy this morning and the bus ride was a killer, although very scenically beautiful. Along the way to we stopped at a little tea house to sample some Coca Tea and it is amazing how much better I felt afterwards. On the journey to the highest point, our guide, tought us how to chew coca leaves. According to the Peruvians, coca leaves are not a drug (It takes 100kg of leaves to extract 1kg of cocaine) but instead they use it like medicine to stop altitude sickness, supress hunger, and just about everything else. The people who live and work in the mountains chew it all day and they even worship these leaves. So as they say, when in Rome... I tried chewing some, hoping it would make me feel better, but instead I wanted to vomit and I couldn´t get the taste out of my mouth all day!
We arrived to the Colca Valley to a little town called Chivay for a late lunch. The restaurant provided a traditional style buffet and we tasted some Llama and Alpaca meat. While we ate we were entertained by a band playing Andean music, I loved it although some of the other members of our group weren´t so impressed.
Once we finally made it to our luxurious hotel, we had some free time before heading back into town to the thermal pools. What a great way to end the day, floating in a pool heated to 38 degrees by water flowing from a nearby volcano. But the day didn´t end there. For dinner we headed to another traditional restaurant where we were again entertained by Andean music and this time there were also a couple of traditional dancers. Not sure whether it was fatigue, the culture or the energy, but I got quite overwhelmed and got tears in my eyes, just like I do at the start of any live stage show. However to anyone that asked, I blamed it on my scratching contact lenses. After dinner some of our group (the ones who weren´t too cool) got up and joined the dancers on the floor. We got some very weird looks from other diners, but I´m sure they were just jealous that we were having so much fun.

We had to rise early the next morning to make our way to see the condors. The drive to get there was a bit nerve racking as the road was right on a cliff edge but the views were spectacular and at the end we got to see the majestic flight of these incredible birds. We saw about 10 all up and they came so close that when they soared above us we could hear the wind ruffle through their feathers, similar to when you fly a kite. Unfortunately when the condors stop flying, they are terribly ugly and awkward looking, but their 3m wingspan is amazing.
Shirley insisted that we go for a short 1 hour walk before lunch so that we could start getting used to hiking at altitude, so we wandered along a narrow track overlooking farming terraces and into the amazingly deep Colca Canyon.
We then returned to the hotel for lunch and after siesta (love this tradition) we set off on another hike. This walk took us up a nearby mountain and I thought I was going to die. Altitude was not a problem for me on flat ground, but give me the slightest incline and my heart starts to race and I heave for air. I was buggered! I had to stop every 10 steps for a break, and at every rest I asked myself how I was going to do the Inca Trail? Along the way we found a tomb where many bodies had been buried (we could tell by the skulls) and then we just made it to the top of the mountain as the sun went down and turned the sky orange. It was magic.
We were very excited to go to a pizza place and play some pool that night.

On our way back to Arequipa we stopped at the highest point on the road (4910m) to make a wish. This is a popular tradition in the Andes which requires burying a coca leaf (because you must give an offering to Mother Earth if you want something back) and then covering it with a cairn of rocks. This was a nice gesture but there were so many cairns that I was a little worried I would steal someone elses wishes!
When we finally returned to town I did some shopping for Alpaca products to give as presents and instead spent a lot of money on myself!

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