It has been too long since I last wrote, and if I don´t put pen to paper soon, figuratively speaking of course, I will forget what I have done this past week or so. I have just returned from a six day trek through the Peruvian Andes, the “Salkantay“, ending in Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley…but before I get ahead of myself- I will continue my travel account from where I last left you…standing alone in the middle of the night outside my hostel in Arequipa waiting for someone to let me in.
Here is the latest link to pictures from my last trek-
Well thankfully, someone eventually listened to my persistent banging on the door and cries for help. “No, we are not open all night,¨I was told by a solemn faced young man who finally came to my rescue. ¨”Well, then don’t advertise that you are on your website!” I madly responded as I set my bags down in my room which would be my home for the short four hours I had before my tour leader to the Colca Canyon was picking me up.
The Colca Canyon is advertised as the deepest canyon in the world (which technically isn´t true..the Cotahuasi Canyon a few hundred kilometres from there is 150 metres deeper), over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. I was excited to hike down to the bottom of it and spend a couple of days exploring its famous villages that house people who live at the bottom, isolated from the world around them, separated from the conveniences of public transport and a grocery store by a five hour climb straight up!
It was about a four hour drive to the canyon in our minivan…and I tried to sleep, to no avail. The altitude immediately started affecting me, especially since I hadn´t spent any time in Arequipa, and we were driving over a 4900 Metre pass. I felt lightheaded, dizzy, and generally quite out of it. We first stopped at the “Stone Forest” for some pictures, and though it was only a five minute walk, I was completely winded by the time we got back to the van.
My travelling party consisted of a lovely Dutch girl by the name of Mirjam (who I´ve been travelling with on and off since), as well as a couple from France, a couple from England, a guy from Montreal, Francois, and myself. It was a lovely eclectic group, but I struggled yet again with the fact that the French language is stored in the exact same space in my brain as the Spanish language, and switching one to the another is next to impossible!
After a fabulous buffet lunch we continued on to the “Condor” viewing area and took a few kilometre walk to reach it. Unfortunately it had begun to rain and the temperature had plummeted to the point where I was extremely grateful I had bought that winter jacket in Nazca. We didn´t really spot any condors and by the time we made it to our hotel on the canyon rim for the first night in Cabanaconde, we were all shivering and chilled to the bone. Some hot coca tea helped warm us up and (though I never really felt it) alleviate the symptoms of altitude.
The town itself felt extremely authentically rural Peruvian. There were only dirt streets, and women walked carrying their traditional parcels of goods wrapped around their shoulders, muddy children ran playing in the streets, chased of course by the obligatory plethora of homeless street dogs.
I slept under six blankets that night, and though I felt smothered, managed to keep somewhat warm (no heating in the hotel).
The next morning we started bright and early on our long trek down, down, down, into the canyon. We were blessed with warm sunny skies this morning much to our relief. The views were stunning (as you’ve probably already seen in the pictures I´ve sent) and the shades of grey rock turned to yellow and orange as we got closer and closer to the Colca River. Upon arrival at the “Oasis” where we would be sleeping, I was surprised to find an almost “resort like” set of swimming pools, palm trees, lounge chairs, and green grass…where our guide was busy setting up our tents. We all relaxed and swam in the pool while our lunch was prepared.
The food on this trip was amazing…the freshest of soups..asparagus, corn or vegetable, lots of stuffed avocado, chicken with rice and salsa…all home prepared. Wonderful.
After lunch, a few of us set off for our excursion to the next village up the canyon, Mallata, which was another 2 1-2 hour hike away. First we descended to the bridge across the river where we hungrily snapped pics of the churning frothy rapids before huffing it up the switchbacks over to the next “valley” within the valley itself. We had Alicia, an indigenous girl from Cabanaconde, accompany us on this trip and she showed us many of the plants along the way and the medicinal uses they had. For instance, we came across the Aloe Vera Plant, and placing its juice directly on the sun burnt arms of one of my fellow hikers, within five minutes there were two healthy brownish patches of skin in the middle of the red…amazing. Alicia was also a force of nature, hiking with barely any water, without let up straight up the hill wearing sandals. When it got really dark on the way back, she didn’t even need a flashlight…it was as if she knew the location of each and every stone as she walked.
The town of Malata was fascinating…so small and full of mud and stone huts, a little town square where we engaged a group of local kids in an impromptu game of soccer. I tried imagining what life would be like here, so far from the world far above, and found it very difficult. As I had mentioned before, it was dark by the time we made it back to the Oasis, but hiking with headlamps and seeing the glow of the stars overhead just added to the atmosphere and adventure of it all.
After another fabulous meal we all exhausted headed off to our tents. I had a quick swim in the pool under the night sky first, and climbed into my sleeping bag feeling somewhat worrisome alert as opposed to sleepy.
I didn´t sleep a wink that night. I tossed and turned and felt each hour drag by till the dreaded time of 4am approached and I knew we had to wake and tackle the monster climb out of the canyon before the heat of the day hit home. I later realized that insomnia is one of the popular symptoms of altitude adjustment. Ugh. To make matters worse, my period had started.
That climb kicked my ass. I was beginning to wish I had decided to book a mule the night before for the 1400 metre climb, which took over 4 hours. It was horrendous. I don´t know if Ive ever been so tired in my life. But I made it through a sheer force of will.
Back in Cabanaconde, we greedily packed away a second breakfast before collapsing in the van and making our way to the hot springs! That was a welcome refreshment and offered some relief to my aching limbs.
I tried sleeping on our drive back to Arequipa but was unable to because of the windiness of the road we had to drive. However, after bidding our adieus, I grabbed my bags from the stupid hotel where I´d spent the first night and checked into my hostel which was just a few blocks from where Mirjam and Francois was staying. Knowing that if I didn’t go out for dinner right away I would simply pass out….I set out to find my new friends and grab some drinks and food with them.
We found the cutest little pizzeria and ate the melted cheese and welcome “taste of home” washing it down with a glass of red wine. It was some of the best pizza Ive ever tasted. At about 9pm, I´d been awake for over 48 hours and I crawled into my bed bunk and passed out.
The next two days were spent in a blissfully relaxed fashion, and I needed it after the crazy travelling of the past week. The first day I had breakfast with Mirjam and some of her friends she´d met in Bolivia in the main square overlooking the cathedral….they were a couple from Canada-UK and were travelling for TWO YEARS!! Wow. They had quite some stories to share…and encouraged me to move to Vancouver! Hmmmm..Food for thought. I then wandered the streets with Mirjam, dropped off some laundry, bought our night bus tickets to Cusco for the following evening, and then we both decided wed treat ourselves to massages!
Well, we got a little more than we bargained for. A cab driver dropped us off at a massage place….and the strange thing was that all the masseuses were blind. Weird, eh? Well, I thought….Blind people might make excellent masseuses since they have such a stronger sense of touch. Wrong. My female masseuse, who refused to listen to even the most BASIC Spanish commands like, “NOT SO HARD”, or “THAT HURTS”, kept insisting on punching me with her fists with all her might, and then trying to loop her arms around my neck and legs, contorting me to try and crack my spine. NO WAY. I put a stop to that.
Turned out I fared better than Mirjam, who´s male masseuse also massaged her breasts, which made her extremely uncomfortable. Feeling very weirded out, we ordered some chicken mole burritos and tried to laugh over the whole strange event.
That afternoon, I watched the sun set on my hostel terrace while swinging in a hammock. Ahhhhhh. Lovely. Then I treated myself to a movie! My hostel had a little cinema room with tons of pirated DVDs and Mirjam and I settled in with some chips and hot tea to watch “The Last King of Scotland”…which was a riveting albeit disturbing film which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was the perfect antidote to the last 3 days of hiking.
On my last day in the beautiful, white, second largest city in Peru…I decided to go be a tourist and spent the morning and most of the afternoon wandering around the incredible Catalina Monastery…a veritable city within a city. Nuns still live a cloistered life here, but in the times of the first Spanish settlement, they had quite the life complete with servants, flowing wine, and lots of parties! The buildings were absolutely gorgeous, all brightly painted in hues of blue and orange set against the white volcanic rock of the buildings themselves. If I had to be a nun, I would do it here…I thought to myself.
After more wandering, repacking of my backpack, collection of laundry, trip to the Internet cafe, and a lovely meal…it was time to meet Mirjam for our cab ride to the bus station….and our bus journey of 11 hours to Cusco….a journey that I shall fondly remember as “Death by Pan Flutë“.
Music videos of some guy playing Pan Flute for the first two hours was replaced then by incessant Pan Flute music for the rest of the journey while we tried to sleep in our reclining seats, which were so large, that for small women like Mirjam and I…made it impossible to get comfortable since we were sloshing around in them each time the mad driver took a hairpin mountain road bend doing 60mph…like feet in shoes four sizes too big.
We were exhausted upon arrival in Cusco (I seem to have begun a trend of a good nights sleep followed by a night of no sleep, and then a night of good sleep etc etch) but I was happy to see someone greeting our bus with a sign with my name on it! We got to my hotel (which was included in my trip to trek the Salkantay) around 6am…and were told that check in wasn’t until 11am. However, the very kind man at the front desk gave us a key to a twin room where he said we could sleep for a few hours until my real room was vacated. I could have kissed him, I was so elated. And I didn´t even have to tell him that it was my birthday!!
I´ll leave it there for now and pick up from here, probably tomorrow, where I will relate my stories of the trek and Machu Picchu!