Cruz del Condor
As is usually the way with stupidly early starts it came around far too quickly for my liking, the more irritating fact was that the bus didn't arrive for almost 45mins, that's valuable sleep time that is! This lost time was to prove even more critical when we arrived at Cruz del Condor some four hours later as it meant that we had less time there than we should have had, strangely no one told the Condors this. There are two main viewpoints from which to witness these magnificent birds as they soar overhead and close by but it seemed like every time we moved they in turn moved closer to the other viewpoint, damn you nature! After deciding to head to the main,and higher viewpoint, we actually only ended up with about 10-15 minutes of decent viewing time and missed out on that all elusive photo where the Condors get right up close, I think I might have only got one decent picture.
Looking into Colca Canyon from Cruz del Condor
In times like these though I reminded myself that the photograph can't always be as good as the actual experience and I will just have to live with the memories in my head, which isn't all bad. We then got back on our bus and travelled a little further down the road to begin our trek towards Cabanaconde
, where we'd stop to have lunch. Getting off the bus we finally got to meet our fellow trekker, also called Anna, and our guide Ellar, we'd been told by the office that be six of us in our group but I was disappointed about the group size in the slightest. Lunch was at a hotel in Cabanconde where Ellar picked up walking sticks for us all, I politely declined on the grounds that they seemed a bit big for my pint-sized stature and was as a result worried they'd be more of a hindrance than a help.
Condor's soar overhead
The rest of the afternoon was spent trekking down into the canyon and part of the way back up the other side to reach the small village of Cosnirhua. The four hour descent was hard core on the old knees and it was a slippery affair with loose rocks upending me on several occasions. The views were incredible and you simply had to stop and admire it every so often and also to take a breather. After making it to the base of the canyon we crossed one of the bridges spanning the river and stared our ascent to the village of San Juan de Chucco where we told a well earned break, it felt good to sip on ice-cold Coke in the shade. After about an hours break we had another hours climb up and along the valley to get to our final destination and I was certainly a relief to finally arrive after 6 hours of hiking.
We were surprised to find that there was a hot shower available, which actually to turned out to be more powerful and hotter than some of the hostel showers I'd used so far on this trip, it felt like an indulgence after a hard days work. Dinner was cooked by our host family and although it was certainly delicious I felt a little disappointed that we didn't get to share it with our family, I always prefer it when you get to spend time with the people who are graciously looking after you, at least Ellar ate with us which meant we got to chat with him for a while. The chat didn't last too long as we were all wiped out and knew that it was all going to start again early the next morning. I awoke to find a nice surprise from the girls fro my birthday, birthday messages on the table, sweets and a little Kinder Egg as a little token present plus singing - who says birthdays aren't as fun when you get older? After breakfast we headed down to the base of the canyon to one of the oasis' there.
It was a relaxing walk down and the sight of the oasis was serene indeed. The pool itself was artificial (but beautiful none-the-less) with urns pouring water into the pool but it was its beautiful positioning against one of the huge rocks at the base of the canyon that really made it, well that and the glorious sunshine! The facilities themselves were unexpected; changing rooms, toilets, hammocks, a little shop and kitchen, all-in-all it made for a great place to chill out without feeling like it was too resort like. the beauty of spreading our trek over three days rather than two was that we got to spend 3 hours at the oasis, I decided that as soon as I saw the place that it was a pretty cool place to spend my birthday, admittedly not as much as it would have been if I could have timed being at Macchu Picchu
but it was still up there in the awesome locations stakes and lets face it, it could have been a whole lot worse, I could have been stuck behind a desk back in the UK! I have to say not having the usual cards, present, cake almost made it feel like just another day of my trip and a bit less special, I think its also the first time ever I haven't had a birthday call from my Gran! It certainly was a birthdya to remember though; its not everyday that you are at one of the deepest canyons in the world (only Colcahuasi is deeper, and Colca is nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) and the day would get even more surreal later on.
Starting our trek into the canyon
We spent our three hours basking in the sun, lying on the giant rock by the pool like lizards in the Galapagos, swimming in the crystal clear pool and chilling in the hammocks before a quick bit to eat for lunch and then the behemoth of a climb back to the top. After such a lazy start to the day the three hour trek ahead felt daunting to say the least, and the first 20 minutes felt like murder as my muscles screamed their objections, but always up for a challenge I powered on. After the first hour I got into a rhythm and was off out in front at my own pace. I didn't mind the solitude so much as it meant I could stop and take photos without any pressure and take breaks as and when I need to. We met some crazy guy who planned to go down and up again in a day, this wouldn't have been perhaps so bad if it hadn't of be about 3pm when we saw him and he had about an hour to go to get down plus any time he wanted to spend at the bottom (I got the feeling that was going to be not much) AND he needed to do it all before the sunset at round 6pm as he had no water, no sleeping bag so he could stay at the bottom if he needed to, no food and hardly any money on him - and this is why they make 'survival' programes about stupid tourists getting lost in the wilderness! After leaving our wannabe Bear Grylls behind we trekked on, Ellar had told us to look out for a cluster of trees at the top of the canyon, we'd also seen a flag near the top and from the bottom they looked as though their location was one and the same.
..ah an optical delusion! Upon reaching the flag it became apparent that there was still a fair way to go, I muttered a 'oh b@#*@%!s' to myself and trudged on. I passed more locals descending to their villages with their over burdened horses that frankly looked quite terrified as they skidded down the slippery paths - and I can't say as I blame them! Well my inner competitive streak had kicked in which meant that I reached the canyon a good 20-30 minutes under Ellar's estimated time of 3 hours, the girls and Ellar weren't too far behind either and after we'd enjoyed a good rest proceeded to take some pictures of us congratulating ourselves by munching on a Snickers bar and other sweet treats. Although it was probably only a short walk to the village it felt like an eternity but we finally made it to the hostel where hot showers and clean(er) clothes awaited us.
We're almost at the bottom
We met Ellar downstairs at the hostel at 7pm to go for dinner and this is where things got even more surreal; the guy who owned the place was just a little bit crazy and also I think half-cut when we arrived, we were the only ones in the place so it made for an interesting night! Firstly when the owner found out it was my birthday he gave me all of my drinks half price, then he had some of his friends turn up for drinks, then he had a blazing row with some crazy American chick who came in, who then proceeded to give us some kind of warning about the owner like she was one of the three sisters from Macbeth, very dramatic! So after the owner (I forget his name) had chilled out after the string of expletives he'd screamed back at the departing woman and we'd eaten dinner we got to make our own playlist for the evening on his PC which was rigged up to the sound system - cue the dancing! The owner, his friends and our guide all hit the make shift dance floor and this was a pretty fun little event until the booze took over and the bar owner and his friends decided to get a little too friendly for our liking - time to bail ladies, we grabbed Ellar and headed for the hostel.
The sun starts to set at the end of day one
Sadly we were in bed before midnight but at least we were alone, it will definitely go down as one of the more surreal birthday's I've had that's for sure!
The final day of the tour was a little disappointing as after a brief walk in the morning to see if we could see anymore condors we met the bus outside the village to complete the last part of our trip with all of the other groups - boo hiss! We had another brief stop at Cruz del Condor before heading to Chivay to visit the hot springs, which were actually more like a swimming pool complex with different pools that individual groups are allocated so that it doesn't get crowded. Anna (from the States, very confusing writing about two peeps with the same name) and I decided on a dip but other Anna was happy to chill outside and work on her journal.
Local church in the canyon itself
After three days with pretty much just the four of us I found being surrounded by other tourists again a bit of a sensory overload and Anna and I tried to find our own little corner of the pool to find a bit of peace and quiet to have a chat and relax our weary muscles as best we could in the time we had. The warm water was actually rather soothing and particularly more inviting when the changing cubicles are outside! We only had about an hour there so it was a bit of short dip by the time you'd allowed time to get changed before we had to meet for lunch back in the main part of Chivay. As we;d planned to stuff ourselves silly on pizza when we got back to Arequipa
we opted to grab a sandwich instead rather than get the s.
/ 20 all you can eat buffet that some of the guides were trying to pressure people into, you'd have thought this would have been relatively simple but as the place was rammed with tourists there didn't seem to be enough staff to cope especially as so many people seemed to be ordering of the menu like us and not plumping for the buffet.
We made one more stop on the way back to Arequipa, which was at a look out point where you could see all of the mountains and volcanoes in the area; the wind was howling at this point so I ran out to take a few obligatory snaps and marvel at El Misti before scrambling back to the bus to escape the weather. The journey back was painfully slow as there appeared to be some kind of problem with the bus (flat tyre? slow puncture? who knows) and even the chugging, belching lorries were overtaking us.
I just sat back and enjoyed the beautiful sunset instead (the pictures I hope will do it some justice), other people on the bus however weren't taking it quite as well as some of them had buses leaving that night from Arequipa, at this point Anna and I felt smug in our decision to postpone leaving until tomorrow night. About an hour and half later than we should arrived in Arequipa (much to the annoyance of some), Annas and I headed back to our hostel and got straight on the case with ordering the much fantasied about Dominos Pizza. Anna decided to crash at our hostel for the night so she could hang out and not have to disturb her host family. To complement our feast we decided that red wine was in order, usually you could buy it from the hostel (yet another thing I loved about where we were staying) but on this occasion they'd run out - cue the slow mo cry of "nooooooooooooo!" Resisting the urge to mug the girl who had just bought the last two bottles we remember there were a few small supermarkets at the entrance to our complex and maybe we'd have better luck there, luck was on our side and with our prize in hand we arrived back just in time to see the Dominos dude arriving, timing is everything! The pizza turned out to be humongous but after the energy we expended trekking we ate like it was our last meal on earth, with red wine a plenty to swill it down with it wasn't long before tiredness kicked it and it was sianara.