Sunday, January 31, 2016

Colca Canyon

Wow, there is no way I want to get up at 2:00 in the morning ever again!  We were out in the courtyard of our hotel dark and early at 2:45 for pick up. The van was right on time, which turned out to be because we were the first ones they picked up!  We settled in our seats as the van drove in circles around the Plaza stopping at other hotels and picking other people up. After everyone was picked up our tour guide told us that this was all just a dream and we should go back to bed. ;) It was a three hour drive to Colca after all!

I slept the best I could on those bouncy, rough roads, careening around other traffic, etc. Sunrise was beautiful. 

The landscape as we got up into the mountains was very harsh - not much but rocks and grasses and scrubby bushes. There was very little life to see - I didn't see any animals and very little sign of human habitation. 

We stopped in a small town, Chivay, for breakfast. This was the weirdest part of our journey. Our tour information said breakfast was included. I don't know what I expected, but not what we got! We came into a big room where there was a sort of buffet set up. The buffet was bread rolls and some tiny pieces of ham and some Inca Corn (basically puffed corn kernels).  They had some hot water for tea too. If you wanted eggs for breakfast, you had to let the cook know and that wasn't included. We had to pay 2 or 3 soles for the eggs. One woman on the tour was from Lima and she said the ham they served was the absolute cheapest available and eggs were not as expensive as they were charging. I'm not sure if they were trying to make some money on this part of it, or if that's all they could afford with what we paid. I don't know, but it was kind of a disappointing and sad breakfast. 

Afterwards we were dropped in the local town square for a few minutes where some local girls were doing a traditional dance around the fountain. It was pretty cool, but I got the sense that these poor girls danced around that fountain all day, every day for all the tourists coming through and they were hoping for tips. There was a girl going around passing a hat. There was also a little market and a guy with a huge hawk. For a few soles you could hold the hawk and get a picture of yourself. 

Every town, and I mean every town, has a town square with a cathedral. 

Back on the road driving toward the valley. I believe this is quinoa growing in this field. Everywhere we went there was corn, quinoa, and potatoes. Acres and acres and miles of it, and they farm right up the sides of mountains! They take advantage of terraces where there are any, or they just farm on the slopes. I don't know how they make that work, but somehow they do!

fields of quinoa. 

fields of potatoes.

Starting to get up in the canyon, and you can see all the terracing. 

Another town, another cathedral and a great view. 

These tiny little flowers were growing in the cracks around the rocks in the cathedral courtyard. 

You could also get your picture taken with a baby llama! I just snuck a picture from far away. ;)

It's hard to capture on a camera just how huge this place is, how vast and grand. How big the mountains are, how deep the valley is, how immense it all is. You'll have to take my word for it. 

We finally got to the main viewing point on the road and stopped for about an hour to look at the valley and look for condors. It seems like the main point of this trip is to see condors. Our cathedral guide had said it wasn't really the season for condors so I didn't have too much expectation. 

Others did...there were a lot of people! 

And we did get one condor that flew sort of close by. It doesn't seem close in my pictures, but it's much closer than the 8 or so that were flying of the tops of mountains on the other side. So I felt pretty luck we got to see one as close as this. Maybe some day I'll get to go back during condor "season" and see one much closer. Though... given how big they are maybe this is close enough! 

Back to the vans and back through the valley!

Our next stop on the tour was a stop at some hot springs. We came down into a smaller valley and I believe it was Colca River running through. This bridge (for people only) led to a path up the side of a bit of a mountain. 

Turning around, there was a rickety bridge across the river leading to the "rustic" hot springs. 

Just past that other bridge were the "modern" hot springs and swimming pool. I skipped both and walked down to the river looking for a place to hang out and stare at the beauty for an hour or so. I found a pretty good spot to enjoy the view. =)

On our return journey we stopped at a few more places. First, our driver came to a screeching halt as we saw vicuna on the side of the road. Not the best picture, but it's all I've got. Vicuna are the wild cousins of llama and alpaca. They aren't kept or farmed like the others. They are basically owned by the government. Once a year local folks will have a festival, round up the vicuna and shear them. Their wool is the most expensive stuff you can get. 

Then we stopped at the highest point on the journey, about 16,000 feet. We could see the volcanoes ringing Arequipa in the distance. This point was high up, cold and windy, and hard to breathe. We didn't stay long!

Coming down from there we spotted an enormous herd of alpaca and llama. Maybe hard to see in the picture, but there were loads of them as far as you could see. 

They were crossing the road left and right and stopping traffic. 

Why hello there!

We got back to Arequipa in the late afternoon and took it easy. I think we walked around the plaza a bit, but we didn't do too much. We had leftovers from Zig Zag for dinner. 

We arranged for a taxi ride to the bus station for the next morning. Next adventure: 6 hour bus ride to Puno! 

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