Friday, September 25, 2009

The exploration of the Colca Canyon.

One of the most exciting activities in the Arequipa area is the trek of the Colca Canyon. This 1000m (3250fts) deep canyon is inhabited by a few thousands countrymen living in small villages linked by small paths that need to be travelled by foot or by mules. But this we didn’t know yet when we chose the 3 days and 2 nights trek in the canyon. According to our travel guide this was supposed to be a nice little walk in mountain but we didn’t think that maybe the guy who wrote the book could be a trained alpinist. Here’s our adventure in 16 pictures.

The canyon in question is not exactly on the other side of the street and this is at 3:00am that the bus arrives at our hotel in Arequipa to pick us up. We are the first ones in the bus and every time it stops to pick up someone we look at the people coming in with our sleepy eyes to realize that almost all of them are less than 30 years old! This should have been a clue clear enough to tell us that this trek may not be as easy as we thought but eh, we are sailing around the world so it is not a tiny canyon that would impress us isn’t it? After a bus ride of about 5 ½ hours on unpaved roads and crooked like the mind of a politician we finally arrive at the village of Cabanaconde. This village is located at the top of the canyon and this is where our trip starts. The mountain people are mainly farmers and live in a very traditional ways. Here not tractors or even cars. We have the impression of going back 150 years back in time. The people living with almost nothing are taking every opportunity to benefit from the many tourists going through the village. Thus, the lady carrying the hay stack on her back asked Danielle 1 sol ($0.35) for the picture. Of course, this after the picture was taken! This is what we call fair tourism.

After breakfast in the village we start the descent in the canyon. Since there are no roads the descent is done on foot and takes about 3 and half hours. The zigzag shaped path is directly on the side of the mountain and in many places gets very narrow. But our biggest concern was not the precipices but the tourista. You see, for almost two days our intestines were working very hard and to venture into a trek with no toilettes within many kilometers is sure to make you sweat! But fortunately we ate light and everything went well with this.

Even though we are going down the trek is physically very demanding but we are generously rewarded by the awesome scenery. The sight of the sides of the canyon is simply breathless and talking about breath, the village of Cabanaconde is at an altitude of about 3400m (11,000fts). At this height the air is thin to a point where every effort makes us out of breath. We thus walk in a geriatric way one step after the other slowly without talking to not show that we are completely out of breath! We may well descend we have the impression that the bottom of the canyon will never come. At one point we almost would like to put ourselves in a ball and roll down to the bottom. Also, look carefully at the little white dots on the side of the mountain at the bottom left of the picture. These dots are in fact the roofs of the village we are going to spend the night.

Finally we arrive at the first village where we will spend our first night in the canyon. The beer is well appreciated even though it is twice the price we pay back in town. However, when you know that it was brought to the village on the back of mule across the mountain you shut up and pay! For the trek we had a guide for a group of six peoples. From left to right you can see Claudio and Rene from Switzerland, I then Phil from England. Nicole from Australia was missing for the picture when Danielle takes the picture.

Some of the villagers have built these little shacks to host the tourist in the canyon. Danielle enters the first and I look for the switch on the wall until our guide shows up with a candle! Danielle says “Oh this is fun; the candle light will be so rustic.” The bed is comfortable enough and the blankets are very warm. However, the floor is made of small round stones embedded in the cement, which makes it impossible to walk bare feet. Also, the mattress is infested by bed bugs; these almost microscopic critters, which generously gave each of us about 30 bites during the night! But this we didn’t know when we arrived and this is only the next morning that we realized how rustic the room was.

The next day, after a delicious pancake breakfast, we leave in direction of the second village at the bottom of the canyon where we will spend our second night. It seems that we caught some sort of a virus or we have a hard time with the height since the night before I went to bed with a fever, which thankfully disappeared during the night. But Nicole, one of the members of our group, had two big blisters on the big toes and Danielle, who thinks of everything, gave her a needle and bandage tape, which allow her to keep going with the trek without problems.





Along the path our guide Veronica shows us a very interesting small insect. It is a half round shaped insect living on the many cactuses growing in the area. When we crush the insects we realize that they are almost completely composed of blood, which is very red and stains a lot. The people of the area collect these insects and sell them in town where they are used for cosmetics or for dyeing. Dried they weight almost nothing and are about the size of the tip of a needle. The countrymen will receive $10 per kilograms, which represents a few cents per hour of work. This is what we call unfair trade. But the people of the region have other tricks with the cactuses. They have a cactus from which they extract the juice and drink it to have hallucinations during shamanic sessions. I told Danielle, “I hope they don’t take that juice during a walk on the sides of the mountain because with the precipices they have here you wouldn’t want one of them to start believing he’s a condor!”