Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Colca Canyon

the past two days have proven to continue the adventure.

We got picked up by our tour company to see the Colca Canyon at 8:30 Monday morning, and we made the rounds to pick up some other people before we began the tour.  All in all we had a pretty interesting group of people: A Brazilian couple, a Danish family, a French couple, 2 American women traveling together, and a French guy that is now living in Berlin. 

We started off stopping at a small store to buy any snacks or drinks as well as cocoa leaves and candies.  Apparently they are supposed to help you adjust to the difference in altitude.

We then started heading to the town of Chivay, which is at the entrance of the canyon.  Before we arrived there we made multiple stops with amazing views of the scenery.  There are 3 main mountains in the area, and the volcanic ash is used to help construct houses and buildings.  The first few hours were completely desolate with no sign of vegetation whatsoever, but other parts had cacti and other small plants growing.  There were llamas and 3 other species that are very similar to them that we got to observe along the way.

We came to a rest stop where we could drink cocoa leaf tea and buy more snacks, and there were also natives selling textiles and other touristy things. 

As we went higher and higher, we were feeling the effects of the altitutde.  At the highest point we were over 16,000 feet in the air.  We took our tour guide´s advice of walking slowly when we were outside, and you could feel yourself short on breath and a bit dizzy if you walked too fast.  The Pre-Incans had built small offereings out of rocks, and they left lots of them intact.  Here we are at the highest point of the trip so far:

We had another stop at a mirador (look out point) before we went to lunch, and there were natives selling things.  One of them even had an alpaca (llama like animal) with her.

Then we went to lunch.  It turns out it was an all you can eat buffet, and the food was delicious.  They had a variety of food that is Peruvian, such as alpaca, chiles filled with ricotta cheese, and some rice and stews.  Here is what I ate:

Afterwards we checked into our hostel in Chivay, and I was really feeling light headed and started with a nasty headache.  We were supposed to go to the hot springs a few hours after that, so I decided to rest while Isabel went out to snap some pictures and do some shopping.  I continued to feel worse and worse, and I am glad that I kept the trashcan next to my bed.  I told Isabel to go to the hot springs and to not let me hold her back, and when she came back I was still sick.  She got me some cocoa tea, medicine, and water before heading out to the dinner and folklore dance show.  When she came back, I had gotten to rest up and got sick a bit more, and I was feeling a lot better.

Out of this I learned one important lesson: all you can eat buffets and going to high altitudes do not mix.  Apparently your digestion is more difficult to do at higher altitudes too.  I wish that our tour guide had told us that before we had lunch, but it is a lesson learned.

The following morning we were up at the butt crack of dawn (5:30) in order to get a light breakfast before going into Colca Canyon.  We stopped in the square of a small town called Yanque for about 20 minutes, and there were women with condors and alpacas that let you take pictures for a small donation.  There were also young girls performing a native dance in the square.  At this time it was about 6:30 AM, and one of the other people in the group talked to one of them.  She was 10 years old, and she arrived there every morning at 6 AM to dance for the tourists until they left.  It was also probably about 35 degrees out at that time.  It´s really sad to see something like that, so I was sure to make a donation to the girls walking around with small tip jars.

Now that we were actually arriving into the canyon, we had more amazing views.  Apparently Colca Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon, but as tourists you can´t get to the top of the mountain to see the entire distance from top to bottom.

Then we got to the main part of the canyon.  This is where you can see condors flying around.  There was a lower mirador and a higher one, and we hung out for about an hour looking for them and admiring the view.  I also bought some tapestries and crafts before we headed back to the bus.  We only caught a glimpse of a condor from afar when we were walking back to the bus, so we were a bit disappointed.

Once we were back on the bus, our tour guide suggested we wait another half an hour to see if the condors would come out a bit later.  We were a bit ambivalent, but in the end we decided getting out half an hour later would not be a big deal.  We went a bit further up in the canyon, and we waited for about 20 minutes with only seeing a condor here or there far away.

Then it was like someone told them that all of the tourists were waiting.  One started flying across the canyon, and then another joined it.  Before we knew it, there were about 6 of them putting on an air show for us.  I took a video of it, and I also snapped some pictures.

And here is a short video of the condors:

I was one of the people that didn´t want to wait, but now I am glad that we did.

After that, we stopped at another small town called Maca on the way back for lunch.  It was another all you can eat buffet, and I was nervous with the altitude sickness.  Luckily I was able to order just a sandwich:

We made it back to Arequipa around 5:00, and we dropped our bags and went out to do some exploring before it got too dark.  Now that we were down at a normal altitutde again, we decided on some brick oven pizza for dinner.

Back at the hostel that night we just took it easy.  I chatted with some other people there, and it turns out they are from Edmonton, Canada.  That´s about 20 minutes away from where Amanda lives in Fort Sascatchewan, and so we talked about the things I liked visitng there and our travels.

And the day wouldn´t have been complete without one last adventure that evening.  While I was out of the room Isabel left to find me.  She locked the door and assumed I brought the key.  We were locked out, and the reception spent about 20 minutes trying to find the key to get us back in.  The key they gave us to lock the room when we got in on Monday didn´t work, but luckily they found a master key (which was the last one they tried).

Today we had the day free in Arequipa, and we hop on a night bus at 8:30 that will get us in to Cuzco around 5:30 tomorrow morning.

Let the adventures continue!

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