Colca Canyon - another highlight of Peru. Until recently, the deepest canyon in the world until a new canyon was discovered close by. Still being deeper than the Grand Canyon it had to be impressive. It is also famed for its numerous condors that linger in the thermal updraft. We were also on the hunt for a bloke who had left our hostel 2 months before on his own and never returned.
2 cabs waiting for us at our 6.30 start but no tour guide. However Alvaro soon turned up with 2 Germans to join our group of 8 from the Arequipa beach party. From then on, Alvaro was in complete control organising taxis, buying bus tickets and making sure we were in the best place.
5 hours and 2 bus journeys later, we were at the starting point for our Colca Canyon trek. What caught us all off guard was that being a tour from Arequipa, we all thought that the Colca Canyon would be a desert canyon like the Grand Canyon. However we were back in the mountains and rain looked very likely. Fortunately I had packed my waterproof but Dave and Neil quickly marched into a shop and bought another poncho (otherwise known as a blue sheet with a whole cut in for your head).
The 1st day of the trek was the easy part. A 4 hour walk down the 1200m canyon. Covered in cloud at the top but still very impressive polychrome rock. Not the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon but still very steep mountainsides. The Colca river cutting an impressive meandering line through the middle.
Dave and I spotted our 1st condor before Alvaro said it was not the best time of year to spot them. Pretty steady walk down to the bottom but then needed to climb 500m back up to our overnight accommodation. Needing to cross a thin but fast flowing river in which several of us nearly went in, we started back uphill when the rain hit. 1st proper drenching of the South American adventure. All of us trudged on in silence. However made it up to our accommodation which was a converted mud barn outhouse with bamboo beds. Pretty cool and enjoyed the sound of the rain pounding on the tin roof. Had another great meal before a power cut at 8 meant an early night.
Up at 7 but after 10 hours sleep feeling great. Watched Alvaro cook breakfast in kitchen using open fire and managed to produce scrambled eggs and coca tea.
Weather much better and Alvaro turned the 10 minute walk to the next village into 90 minutes by stopping every few minutes to talk about the vegetation and their medicinal properties. With the sky clear, got to appreciate the canyon at its best with one side an arid baron hillside with the opposite lush green jungle. Got to see 5 condors including a pair. When we finally reached the next village, greeted by a museum owner who allowed Alvaro to demonstrate the artifacts from cooking items to farming tools to clothes. Plenty of stuffed animals as well. Afterwards the owner insisted on us trying the infamous Chincha drink, drank by most labourers including the Inca Trail porters. Its uniqueness is that it is unfermented but ferments in your stomach to keep you feeling drunk for over 24 hours.
2 sips was enough for me as it tasted of stale wheat beer. Continued on walk down to bottom of canyon to an oasis paradise that has been turned into several basic hostels but did include a nice swimming pool for us to make use of, making up for the lack of showers. Relaxed in the sun and had lunch before the 1200m ascent. Given the backbreaking Dead Womans Pass of the Inca Trail being only 700m and took 4 hours, the prospect of needing to climb the 1200m in 3 hours was not too inviting. However, far more easy than expected at a steady pace. Dave claimed king of the canyon with me close behind. Timed to perfection as the rain closed in again as we hit the top. The rest of the group trudged in later having got soaked again.
Got taken to a local restaurant for dinner that was probably the worst food of the trip with Right Said Fred playing in the background and a 13 year old barman.
With the trekking over, the last day of the trek was a 20 minute trip to a condor viewing area. Neil and I were ready for the bus that turned up 15 minutes early. The rest of the group were crushed standing at the front of the bus. The viewing was a little disappointing as saw only 3 condors from a distance. Got the next bus back which goes down as the busiest bus ever with locals standing 3 abreast in the aisle. Those of us with seats still not comfy as had 2 people each just about sitting on our knee. Buffet lunch and found the new David Oxley in the guise of 8 plates Dave Salad.
The food was excellent so I didn´t do too bad myself. Turned down the chance to go to the thermal springs which was soon vindicated as it bombed down with hailstones. Instead our group went to the bus terminal where Neil and Justine taught us all the card game "shithead". I produced the toilet paper for the crown which I soon regretted as I was loser of the last game and had to wear the crown on the 3 hour bus journey back to Arequipa.
Another great trip.