September 01, 2003

Hiking in the Colca Canyon

After breakfast on Saturday it was time to leave Arequipa for the Colca Canyon - the world's second largest canyon (twice as big as the Grand Canyon). Having not slept the night before I spent most of the 7 hours on the bus in a vertical position fast asleep. I did wake up when we stopped for a break at the highest pass on the trip measuring 4,900m in altitude. Before crossing the pass we also indulged in some coca tea at a small restaurant next to the road. Apparently coca tea, or mate de coca as it's called in Spanish, is supposed to help alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness. Luckily I haven't suffered any form of altitude sickness yet on this trip, but a cup of coca tea is never wrong. The drink is made simply by soaking coca leaves in hot water. It tastes alright and gives you a funny feeling afterwards. A step up from drinking coca tea, however, is chewing coca leaves. The effect is much stronger, but the problem is that your cheek goes numb after a while (it feels just like you've taken a local anaestetic).

Before anyone asks, no I cannot bring home any coca leaves. You are not allowed to take them out of the country. So if you want a cup of coca tea or some leaves to chew on you simply have to visit Perú (or any of the other countries where coca leaves are legal).

In the afternoon we arrived at our hotel in a little village in the Colca Canyon. Having checked in and rested a while it was time for the first hike - a simple one hour stroll up a mountain to enjoy the sunset over the canyon. The funniest incident occured as we came across a cow (or it came across us) who was blocking our path. Trying to not disturb it and take a detour through the bushes we instead put the cow on the run, much to the dislike of the indigenous woman who apparently owned the creature. Ten minutes and a few cactus bruises later (damn they hurt these things) a few of us had finally managed to direct the cow back towards its owner. Having reached our destination we stayed and enjoyed the view for a while after which we returned down the same way we'd come.

In the evening we had dinner in a peña - a type of small restaurant where there's a show every night. Typically there's a band playing (yes, with panflutes) and a few people dancing local dances. Later the guests are invited (or almost forced) onto the dancefloor to take part in these dances. The highlight of the evening came as Martin's food arrived. He'd ordered Cuy (guinea pig), a local delicasy, but even though we'd read and heard about it, the sight of the complete fried guinea pig (very similar to a hamster) on the plate still shocked most of us. Even the teeth were there. You just have to see the pictures.

The next day we made an early start to drive up to Cruz del Condor to watch the gigantic birds flying in the morning hours. After an hour's agonising wait we were finally treated to a grandstand show. Flyby after Flyby just meters away yielded a few nice pictures.

Next it was time to pick up a few things in town for a picnic in the afternoon, after which we set off for a second hike in the Canyon. This one was slightly more demanding, especially since Martin, Owen and I decided to race a couple of local girls to the summit. We reached the summit in about half an hour chipping heavily for air.. the altitude really takes its toll. I even had blood in my mouth after the ascent. The reward was nice however, as we sat down and had a well deserved picnic in amazing surroundings.

The stroll down from the summit was around two hours. At the end of the trek we arrived at a hot springs complex, and I can't describe how good it felt to get into the hot water after the slightly chilly end to the hike.

Back on the bus I was struck down by a fierce headache, and after sleeping through most of the bus journey back to the hotel I skipped dinner and went straight to bed. After a good 10 hours' sleep I woke up feeling a lot better in the morning however.

After breakfast we left the hotel and steered our path towards Puno on the shores of Lake Titikaka. More about that later.

Posted by markus at September 1, 2003 09:02 PM
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