After spending too much time in La Paz (and Bolivia in general), it’s time to move on to the next country–Peru. I randomly ran into the girls I met in Medellin in Colombia, Morin, Chantal (and Tamara) in La Paz and since we’re headed towards the same direction, decided to travel together (minus Tamara who went to Argentina). I have to mention though that La Paz is the likeliest place you’d ran into people again. It’s cheap for food, party (alcohol and coke bars), and shopping. I’ve re-met few other travelers.
Cross border Bolivia to Peru by land
We took the bus to Copacabana (Bolivia, not Brazil), spent one night to visit Lake Titikaka and Isla del Sol and then again a night bus to Arequipa. The border crossing procedure is quite easy. About 10 minutes from Copacabana center, you arrive to the border where you get exit stamp from Bolivia then walk the 200 meters no man’s land to where you get entry stamp Peru. You can exchange your remaining Bolivianos at either ends.
Arequipa is quite a breath of fresh air from Bolivia. It’s touristy, but then I’m a tourist and following the tourist route. People are nice and the city looks bright with beautiful parks, lovely white buildings, and magnificent snow mountain backdrop. There were plenty of restaurants and cafes and here starts my eating quest with the Gougain sisters. I must have felt so energized and invincible that when Morin suggested doing the Colca Canyon Trek, I had very little qualm. I have no idea why the 7-8 hour trek on the first day didn’t trigger a warning bell. And so we booked.
Colca Canyon is a canyon in the Colca River in southern Peru. It is located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Arequipa. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States 4,160 m. The Colca Valley, our destination, is an Andean valley with towns founded in Spanish Colonial times and formerly inhabited by the Collaguas and the Cabanas. The local people still maintain ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces. Beside it’s magnificent view, the main attraction of Colca Canyon is that it is home to the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), a species that has seen world-wide effort to preserve it.
Colca Canyon Trek – DAY 1
The day started horrifyingly at 3:00 a.m. where we were picked up and hauled into a tight van. We were so sleepy anyway and I luckily got the seat at the back where the aile ends, meaning leg space. I try to sleep. It will be 6 hours drive to Cabana Conde in Colca Canyon with stop over for breakfast at Chivay and the La Cruz del Condor. As I normally couldn’t sleep while sitting, it might as well be because the ride was absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could take photo but I was sandwiched in the middle. I saw my seat mate tried and failed, so I content myself with admiring the view. La Cruz del Condor is a popular tourist stop to view the condors. The condors are best seen in the early morning and late afternoon when they are hunting. At this point the canyon floor is 3,960 ft (1,200 m) below the rim of the canyon. The site is amazing.
After another 20 minutes of car ride, we arrived where our trek down hill starts. Down hill might sound easy as you thought you just go down. That is true except that while your lungs rest, your knees take the toll. We broke into 6 person group + the guide. A few meters into the hike, I knew it was a bad idea to come. It was steep, hot, hard, high, narrow, slippery path, everything I’m scared of! Ok, so maybe it’s not the hardest trek in the world. It certainly looked easy for the rest of the group, except for Chantal, who did pretty well although not too thrilled. But it’s definitely hard for me which made me do a quick evaluation of my sanity. Why didn’t I check what was the trek like?
It was cold when we started and then quickly became hot. I didn’t carry much, just a sweater, a change of shirt, toothbrush, and water, but they quickly felt like a ton. The path was dry with those tiny pebbles that made it kind of slippery and I slipped quite a number of times. At first I blamed it on my worn out trainers, which after 1 year of walking on them, were kind of thread bare. But then I looked at my guide’s battered shoes who does this trek 3x a week. I was so slow because I kept slipping and was so scared to fall into the cliff. I was so bummed out even the amazing view did nothing to encourage me. I really just wanted it to be over but the road stretched forever!
The next 4 hours or so, we descended from 3,300 m. to 2,100 m. to a small village where we had our lunch and short rest. It was also a chance to bond with our trek mates and make fun of me. Then in no time at all, my agony began again as we continued our trek. It will be another 3-4 hours to our destination, Sangalle, a village deep in the canyon where we’ll spend the night at bamboo resort ala honolulu hotel with swimming pool, gardens, fountain, and temperatured water. Except we didn’t get to enjoy the “resort” because it started raining halfway into the trek and we just wanted to be dry. There’s no electricity in this place and it got dark quickly. It’s quite a challenge getting from the room to the dining to the toilet. It’s definitely not the modern honolulu.
Colca Canyon Trek – Day 2
The day began at 5:00 a.m. Sin breakfast, we started climbing uphill in the dark. It’s going to be 3-4 hours with a little bit of pressure because we will have to be there at 9:00 a.m. to catch our van (after breakfast). What occupied my mind that helped me get through were the following: (1) This is better than a death march. (2) Hunger Game–borrowing Katniss’s determination to survive. (3) Left. Right. Left. Right. One foot ahead of the the other. Left. Right. Left. Right. (4) Imagine myself running away from a serial killer or communist or godzilla. (5) To finish with as much dignity as I can, meaning no donkey! Because there is actually a way out. It is possible to hire a donkey at 60 soles (25$). I’m so happy nobody offered me because I would have caved in.
And so I survived
I thought the road will never end but of course it did. I didn’t die thank God because I’m yet to do Machu Picchu and the Galapagos. After climbing out of the canyon, there’s another 45 minutes walk on flat land for breakfast. It’s amazing how you can keep going even if you swear you couldn’t anymore. We had breakfast, waited for the van, took another 2-3 hours ride to be back in Chivay for the hot spring “La Calera”. It was really nice ending to the trek, if only to be able to take a shower. It felt good to soak my numb and battered legs into 38°C water, even if it was sunny. Lunch and another long ride until we are back in Arequipa.
The reward of this trip is that the people I’m with were so nice. On the first day, in the beginning Morin and Chantal kept me company because the guide went ahead. She found how slow I was and later stayed behind with me. Emmanuel from Canada offered to take my water, which was a nice gesture, but when he saw I had a 2L bottle decided he had no room in his backpack. Then super nice Christian, Swiss, said to put it in his. Chantal later pointed out the difference between European and North American men. European men are generally more sweet and nicer to women even if they have no intent of sleeping with them.
And of course the next day, as if to prove a point, when I was almost completely destroyed yet had to climb out of the canyon, tripping already at the beginning of the trek, Christian took my rucksack and carried it the whole way up. I am so thankful and so touched with his super niceness. I gave my contact to his girlfriend Moreen and offered to host them in Philippines.