Colca Canyon – Part Two
We woke to melodic Aegean sea alarm tones at 3am, gently stirring us in preparation for what was to be a mammoth day. The -2 degrees air was harsh and refreshing against our uncovered faces whilst we waited for our 4am bus. We bundled onto the local bus, caged alongside native people with their huge daypacks full of souvenirs for the tourists. Sounds of friends chatting filled the bus as we studied our Google maps, ensuring we weren't to miss our destination. A frosty 75 minutes later the call 'mirador condor' came from the driver, confirming to us the bus was vital, as you well know, one does not simply walk into mirador. Right, that's enough of that…
Mirador Condor is a viewpoint for the huge native condors, who fly over the canyon at day break. As we weren't with a tour we had to take the only local bus that morning, which got us there at 515am… sunrise was 6am but the sun didn't come over the mountains until 645ish! It was a long wait in the freezing cold but we had a wonderful 'conversation' in extremely broken Spanish with the ladies selling souvenirs. It mainly consisted of 'muy frio! Si, si, muy frio!'... They must be on that bus every morning, which is crazy. The first tourists didn't arrive until just gone 7am so they all sat together wrapped up in many blankets trying to keep warm for 2 hours!
When the sun did finally decide to join us it was lovely. It exposed some amazing views and got us a bit more toasty. We probably spotted our first condor around 7am, it was just before any of the tour groups arrived which validated us going solo on this one! The condors were tiny specks in the distance circling above the canyon, we could only see them due to the sunlight reflecting off their feathers. Even from a distance they looked pretty menacing. Over the next 40 minutes more and more condors appeared, flying much closer to us. They kept dipping behind rocks though making it hard for anyone to get any good photos or videos. At 745am we decided it was time to move on and start our trek towards the canyon, reluctantly accepting that the photos we had couldn't be bettered. We had walked for about 100m when we turned back in hope (not anger, never turn back in anger) and to our amazement we had a view of a condor sitting on a rock under the viewpoint, hidden from everyone else. This let us get some great shots and a great video of it launching off the rock! We then began our walk very satisfied.
Now, our decision to not take a tour was based on speaking to the tourist information lady. She said that there was an obvious path down the canyon a 1 hour walk from Mirador Condor. If we were to take a tour they would have driven us to Cabaconde, which is a town around a 2 hour walk away, where there is a different path down the canyon. We liked this idea as the path we'd take would be less crowded and more adventurous. We walked along the road for an hour, no obvious path yet but some beautiful scenery. We spotted more condors on our walk, some flew directly over us, they were so close, I got a great video (see below!). After 90 minutes we came to a farm with a path, there were no signs but there was a Peruvian farmer.. Again our broken Spanish came into play, with some very exaggerated hand movements we gathered this path would take us in the correct direction. He said it was a 3 hour walk to the town San Juan de Chuccho where we planned to have lunch. This seemed to be as expected so we were happy to follow the path. After 30 minutes down the rocky path a town emerged into view, Cabaconde! Turns out we'd walked all the way to the path the tours use. Never mind, it was quite satisfying seeing big groups of walkers taking our path, it meant we were definitely going the right way!
This is where the descent began, to begin with it wasn't very steep, it was a gently path along the side of the canyon. The views were breathtaking and the drop from the side of the path deadly! It was still quite early, around 10am, but the sun was beaming down and it was getting very hot. Then the path got very rocky, it seemed to consist of broken stones and gravel, making the surface unsteady and walking extra tiring. We took it very slow, taking our time, drinking lots of water and eating our snacks. This was probably the most challenging walk we had done, after 2 hours of concentration, blazing sun and blisters we could finally see the bridge at the bottom of the canyon! It looked a long way away! Another hour of winding path around the canyon we finally made it to the sheltered area next to the bridge! Triumph! And a lady selling cold drinks, who cares that she was charging 5 soles for a bottle of water (still only £1.25 but extortionate here), 2 bottles please, downed in one.
Once over the bridge it was a relatively easy 30 minute walk to San Juan de Chuccho. Where we sat down and had some lunch! After our 3am wake up, our 5.5 hours trek it was a well deserved rest and necessary energy recuperation as we still had another 3 hours to go to get to Sangalle, where we were planning to spend the night! Jess had the menu of the day, soup, rice, salad, omelette and avocado whilst I had a massive avocado sandwich and strawberry, banana and yogurt for dessert, oh and an inca cola (sugary deliciousness).
It was around 1:40pm when we finished lunch. We stocked up on water and headed off. When in the planetarium yesterday we were given some sunglasses to allow us to watch the solar eclipse which was due to happen at 2pm. So as we headed off we got our glasses to hand! We had hoped the walk to Sangalle was going to be flat all the way, as we were already at the base of the canyon and so was Sangalle. However, turns out the only way there is to walk back up the canyon about half way (500m), then walk through a couple of towns and then back down to the bottom! The initial incline was extremely steep and difficult, we took lots of breaks, mainly to put on our glasses and stare at the sun. 2pm came and went with no eclipse. We got to a section of the walk which was extremely steep and in shade, so we decided the eclipse wasn't worth waiting for and we began the climb. It probably only took about 30 minutes to get to the first town up the steep climb but it was so difficult. I'd gone slightly ahead and got to the top first, where I immediately put on my eclipse glasses… eclipse eclipse eclipse! I shouted to Jess, who was still a way down the canyon. She emerged about 5 minutes later, bright red, nearly in tears, out of breath, fearing death, I sat her down she drank some water, recovered very quickly and popped on the sexy glasses to look at the beauty of the eclipse!
The next stage of the walk was relatively easy, the sun was going down so it was cooling, the terrain was solid and flat. We walked through the two towns (Cosninhua and Malata) and we arrived at the final descent around 4pm. From here we could see Sangalle, a beautiful oasis in the canyon. It took around 45 minutes for us to get down. When we got there we sorted our private accommodation and both collapsed onto the bed.
After a 5 minute rest we popped on our swimmers and had a dip in the natural swimming pool in the oasis, made from the canyons river water! It was so nice to stretch out our legs freely against some cold water!
Dinner was served at 7pm, soup and spaghetti! Lots of carbs. They put the copa america semi final on the TV, Brazil vs Argentina, but we were so exhausted after out 9 hour day (and my watch tracked us as walking 30km, down 1000m, back up 500m, then back down 500m!) that we retired to our beds and fell asleep instantly!
Day 78 - Colca Canyon 2
Our 5am alarm woke us, our bodies hadn't moved an inch since our heads hit the pillow last night. A great night's sleep! We got up and ready, our plan was to leave at 6am when it was starting to get light. Today's trek was a steep 1000m climb straight out of the canyon and to Cabaconde, where we were going to have breakfast and catch the 1130am bus back to Arequipa. We'd been told the climb would take around 3 / 3.5 hours but that it was really steep and altitude sickness really came into play (even though we were at the bottom of the second deepest canyon in the world we were still around 2160m above sea level, the climb would take us up to around 3296m above sea level).
It turned out not to be that challenging, again we took out time, regular breaks, taking lots of photos and drinking lots of water. Luckily most of the walk was in shade so it was a lovely cool temperature to walk in, nothing like the blazing heat of yesterday. We got to the top of the canyon in around 3.5 hours, then there was another 30 minutes walk to the town. We found the bus station, bought our tickets then headed to a restaurant for breakfast and a morning beer. I've decided a 10:30am beer is acceptable after you've climbed in and out of the world's second biggest canyon (and at Christmas). The restaurant also knew exactly what food we wanted, both our portions were piled high, lots of carbs!
A stiff walk back to the bus station and then a 6 hour bus ride back to Arequipa, where we jumped into a taxi back to our hostel, had a quick shower and packed up our bags, then a taxi back to the bus station in preparation for our overnight bus to Cusco! Whilst in the bus station the Peru vs Chile semi final was on TV, which we watched until we had to depart (with Peru winning 3-0!).