Exploring a new continent

Travel time: March - June 2010  |  by Dominik Weber

20 - 23 April Arequipa: 21 - 22 April Colca Canyon

In the morning at 9, I got picked up at the hostel. But even the guide had problems finding the hostel - they were standing outside but couldn't believe that this is the hostel so they called. Anyway, a few minutes later I was sitting in a Mercedes mini van with about 15 other passangers on my way to the Colca Canyon.
The Colca Canyon claims to be the deepest canyon in the world with up to 4160m, but in comparison to the Grand Canyon in the US, the sides are usually not as steep. But still, pretty deep and sometimes you don't want to make one step forward because it also means 100m down. But the main attraction is a point from where you can see some condors flying. We were hoping to see some, since there is never a guarantee.
Our destination and our place for the night was Chivay, the first and most important town in the canyon. From Arequipa to there, it is almost a four hours drive. A tour like this always depends a lot from your guide: like in the jungle, I was lucky, this time with Irene. Her parents came from the canyon, while she grow up in Arequipa. And she had to tell us a lot about the country, the culture and the people.
On our way, we stopped several times to enjoy the landscape, the view onto the vulcanos or to see some Vicuñas, a wild living kind of llama. But unfortunately, we also made a stop at a place where we can use the bathrooms, drink a coca tea and buy some souvenirs. As it will turn out, the tour to the colca canyon reminded me a lot of a grandma's Sunday afternoon coffee trip with shopping possibilities... But right at this stop, I also met an American guy who I saw first in the jungle lodge. How small is the world. Up to this point, the street was very good, but what was to follow was an unpaved and dustry street over 30 km...

Driving further, Irene told us about the flowers and trees that we can see in the various levels of the montains. While Arequipa lays at 2350m, the peek point of our tour was a mountain pass at 4910m. I think, this will be the highest point of my entire South America trip. Well, at least, I was already so used to the high altitude that I didn't have a problem with that.
The main business for the few people that still live in the colca canyon is agricultural and tourism (most of the people moved to Arequipa). And they know how to make money: in order to get to the canyon, you have to pass a control point where you have to show your "entrance ticket". Yes, they do charge every tourist 35 Bolivian Soles (around EUR 10, which is a lot here!) to get into the canyon! But this is something that I will see several times in Peru: I think they should be happy that tourist are coming, but as a tourist, I felt more like a melking cow. They really try to get as much money out of you as possible.
But finally, we arrived in our village. But it continued there: We could (and I thought it might be a nice idea) have lunch with the entire group. We were brought to a restaurant were we could have lunch from a buffet for 20 Sol (to compare: the restaurants around were offering the three course menu of the day for 2.50 Sol!). The buffet offered "Peruvian specialities" and a guy was playing Peruvian music on his harp in the background. Of course, in traditional cloths. The food was ok, but I didn't really felt good in this atmosphere. When I was traveling alone and not in a tourist group, there are always little things that happen between locals and me, but here? Everything was planned and fully touristy.

Although we were one group, almost everybody had booked his tour through a different travel agent. With the result, that some had their lunch included, others had to pay. This also meant that we stayed in several hotels. Well, it is just strange. I stayed as the only one in a simply but clean hostel. It was just fine for one night.
The afternoon, we were invited to go to the nearby hot springs which we did. The water that comes out of the mountain gets warmed by vulcanic steam. It was nice and relaxing, but I should have take a photo before I got into the water - when I got out of the water, it was already dark.
In the evening, I had a beer in the "highest Irish Pub" (at 3 650m) with two guys from California. (I found out later that this tour was to celebrate one's 50th birthday). And I played some pool billard with two guys from Chile and one from Mexico. We changed the rules constantly, which was fun, because they couldn't speak English...
The next day, we got up at 5.30 because we had a long day ahead of us. But we were greeted by a yellow mountain: the sun was shining beautifully onto one of the vulcanos. It was so beautiful and it happens so rarely that even our guide took a photo. Five people of our group (includijng me) where brought to the next village (because the bus had to pick up the rest of the group in a different hotel about 40minutes away). It was not yet 7 am in the morning, but the entire village was already on the main place in order to greet the tourists. They were selling their products, school kids were dancing around the fountain in traditional habits (and were asking for money to support their school trip), others had llamas or alpaquas that you could take photos of (of course they were asking for money), or you could carry a hawk on your arm (against some money). For me, it is wired to be part of the tourist group since this is so much not my kind of traveling.

Our highlight of the day was the Cruz del Condor viewpoint, but before we got there, we made several stop at several view points and at each there was something else to see: once the Inka tombs, once the Inka terraces, once the Inka water system. And at every stop, be it just a small parking spot at the unpaved and stony street, there was someone selling you local tourist products.
I was talking about that earlier: we were lucky. Some people getting there and they don't see any condors flying. We were lucky and for about 30 minutes we saw up to 14 condors flying around. They don't care about the tourists at all, they are coming as close as a few meters! And they are pretty impressive with their 3m wing span! I don't know how many people were there with how many cameras and how many photos they all took together. It would actually be interesting to know. But then, within a a few seconds, the condors were flying around the corner and didn't come back.
After a few stops more, we were back in the town of Chivay to have again lunch. This time I declined to have lunch at the buffet so I went to the local market to get a soup there. But even there, you are only the tourist: I only had a soup for lunch and I think my Peruvian neighbor paid 1 Sol for it. She ask me for 3 Sols. Of course, it is not a lot (about 0.80 EUR), so I paid without saying anything. Only later I was angry with myself that I didn't remember that I could have a full menu in a regular restaurant for 2.50 Sol. It is not about the money, it is just how they locals regard the tourists.
A few stops later we arrived back in Arequipa. We saw some wonderful landscapes, got some great explanaitions from our guide, but I was happy being back. It was simply too touristy for me!

In the highlands, there are only very, very few wet spots. But they are very important for the pecuñas there - if they don´t it this moss, their fur won´t get soft.

In the highlands, there are only very, very few wet spots. But they are very important for the pecuñas there - if they don´t it this moss, their fur won´t get soft.

On our way to the canyon, the peak at 4910m.

On our way to the canyon, the peak at 4910m.

And at every stop: souvenir vendors.

And at every stop: souvenir vendors.

A solid church in a little town. An other remain of the Spanish conquestors.

A solid church in a little town. An other remain of the Spanish conquestors.

Scene at the market place at 6.40am. Vendors are selling and school girls are dancing for the tourists.

Scene at the market place at 6.40am. Vendors are selling and school girls are dancing for the tourists.

Finally, a look at the canyon.

Finally, a look at the canyon.

Everybody is expecting the condors...

Everybody is expecting the condors...

One of the few good shots. It is difficult to get the condors close to the camera.

One of the few good shots. It is difficult to get the condors close to the camera.

One step further means 1200m down...

One step further means 1200m down...

Traffic!

Traffic!

Last look at the green canyon. Since Inka times, the canyon´s treasure is its agriculture.

Last look at the green canyon. Since Inka times, the canyon´s treasure is its agriculture.

© Dominik Weber, 2010
You are here : Overview The Americas Peru 21 - 22 April Colca Canyon
The trip
 
Description:
After working for too long without a real break, I decided to go on a long planned backpack trip. After changing the departure date and the destination several times, I decided to go to South America. Starting in Colombia, then Peru and finishing in Bolivia. At least, this was the plan but once on tour, you never know what to expect. This report is for all people asking how I am doing, but also for those who are thinking about doing something similar. I hope I can inspire them.
Details:
Start of journey: Mar 19, 2010
Duration: 13 weeks
End of journey: Jun 15, 2010
Travelled countries: Colombia
Peru
Bolivia
The Author
 
Dominik Weber is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 11 years.
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