This morning we woke at 4:20am, packed our few belongings and ate a small breakfast of toasted bread with jam. While there, JT played with the puppy Rico (many dogs are supposedly named Rico in Peru) during and after breakfast – but was careful not to get bit, just in case. We then started the 3500-foot climb out of the canyon. To put this in perspective, this is like climbing from the ground floor of the Sears Tower to the observation deck… 2.5 times! Except here, there were not nice stairs, but loose gravel, rocks and dust. Although tiring, we did not think it was as difficult as climbing Dead Woman’s Pass – perhaps because of less stairs, getting to sleep in a real bed the night before, and knowing that all the hard climbing was over after exiting the canyon.
We were probably one of the slower groups exiting the canyon today, although we only took 3 hours and 1 minute (we were told it was a 3-3.5 hour journey). Katie spent much of the climb out of breath, but kept a generally steady pace and avoided any asthma attacks.
We were passed by two sets of mules that were carrying people to the top that did not want to walk (for 80 soles). At least we didn’t take the easy way out.
There were 5 trees at the end of our climb. It was rewarding to see them keep growing larger and larger. Juan Carlos played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for the last little bit of our climb, which helped motivate us to finish quicker.
Then we walked along paths – through fields and dry stream beds – for about 25 minutes before reaching our breakfast restaurant in Cabanaconde. Here we had bread with butter and jam, eggs (scrambled or fried – over medium today), and some ham and cheese. To drink: assorted tea bags, juice, and “normal” hot coffee. The couple from Australia that we had met the previous evening at dinner was already at breakfast when we arrived.
Then we walked back through the main plaza to catch our bus. We joined a bus full of Spanish-speaking people taking a 1-day scenic tour of the Colca Valley. We ended up sitting on the back row, since most seats were already taken, and we also figured the extra space would be nice. This ended up being a terrible choice, as the back seat experiences the bumps on the unpaved and very rough roads in the valley much more than other seats. Somehow we did not get sick, which JT thinks proves that we cannot ever be motion sick. 🙂
After picking up the other people on the bus from the Cruz de Condor, we drove to a viewpoint overlooking where the Colca Valley becomes the Colca Canyon.
Next we visited a village where we used the bathroom (0.5 soles each) and bought a Colca Sour (6 soles, like a Pisco Sour, but using a local fruit for sour). This village also had 3 poor birds (described as eagles) tied up for people to take photos with for a tip. While they were beautiful and we wanted to interact, we did not want to reward this behavior (catching wild birds and tying them up). There was also a man begging at the door to our van when we tried to get back in.
After detouring to pick up two seemingly random Peruvian people, we were dropped off at the Chivay hot springs. There were many check points that our van had to go through both coming to and going from the Colca Valley – on this trip our van was stopped for 5-10 minutes as the guides and driver argued with the police working in the valley. Katie thinks it might have been due to the random non-tourists being on the tourist bus.
Once at the hot springs, we rented a towel for 3 soles, and went to change. We got in pool 1, which was supposedly the coolest – but we thought it was plenty warm. After spending about 30 minutes in the water, we showered and changed back. The time in the hot springs really lifted our spirits and helped us feel cleaner after two days of hiking. JT described feeling like a cooked noodle afterwards, but in a good way.
Then we went back to the restaurant that we ate breakfast at the previously day for a lunch buffet (normally 25 soles, but included for us). The buffet had many types of food, but as we have found, usually few are actually good. Katie thought the fried squash or potato was good, as well as the frosted banana bread.
Our next stop was for 10 minutes at a 16,010 foot mountain pass between Arequipa and Chivay. It was sleeting (remember: it’s summer in Peru!) and pretty cold when we got out of the van. Juan Carlos pointed out the various surrounding mountains, told us about a rabbit that lives in that area with a long tail, and explained about moss on the rocks that grows only a few millimeters a year – and thus needs to be very well protected.
Next we stopped along the road to see a herd of llamas, alpacas, and sheep. There were probably over 200 total animals out in this field.
When we were about 75 minutes outside Arequipa on a curvy, mountainous, 2-lane road – where people tend to make crazy, dangerous passes and there are literally hundreds of crosses by the side of the road – we saw a crashed bus. Most of the damage was in the front – so hopefully no passengers were hurt – but we assume crashes like that occur pretty regularly. People in Peru don’t seem to use seat belts much. After seeing the crash, we tried to put on our seat belts, but half of each of our belts was impossible to retrieve from between the seats, and Katie’s belt was difficult to retrieve and looked like it hadn’t been used in months. We eventually ended up buckling the two of us together using one buckle.
Everyone was dropped off near the Convento de Santa Catalina. Carlos (who we arranged the tour through) came to meet us, and to make sure we were happy with our tour.We said our goodbyes, and headed to El Alberque Espanol (the “youth hostel” we stayed at prior to our trip). We picked up our bags and then hung out on the rooftop repacking bags and relaxing for about an hour. We could have taken a shower at the hostel, but opted not to.
Then we asked the front desk guy at El Alberque Espanol (Booking.com) to help us get a safe taxi. He happily complied, and passed over at least 10 empty taxis before selecting one for us. It cost 6 soles to get to the Arequipa Terrapuerto, but JT gave 10. JT cannot figure out how the taxi drivers make any money! They seem to drive around empty most of the time and then don’t even seem to charge enough for a ride to cover gas out and back.
Once at the bus station, we exchanged our transaction number for our real tickets, checked our large backpacks, and got some snacks. When trying to go outside to check if our bus was there yet (as we did in Turkey), we found out that you must go to the Cruz del Sur departure lounge – you are not allowed to just go out to the bus via the normal exits. In order to get into the departure lounge, you must show your ticket, pay 2 soles each in departure tax, and subject your bag and body to security screening. Here JT also found that you are not allowed to carry on alcohol. So he had to quickly drink the beer he had purchased for the bus ride.
Boarding the bus started late, so we got on the bus shortly after its scheduled departure time of 7:30pm. We have the VIP seats again for this trip (150 soles each), so hopefully we get some good sleep on this 12 hour journey to Paracas.
Notes on our Colca Canyon 2 day / 1 night trek with Carlitos Tours:
- We booked group service, but it ended up just being us and our guide. Apparently this is somewhat common for Carlitos Tours outside of high season.
- We were never hungry. Carlos went to the store the night before our trek and bought a bunch of snacks (juice boxes, crackers, oranges, bananas, ect) for our guide to carry.
- It seemed like a lot of money at first when compared with tours given by other companies. But ours included everything but water and we had a very small group so we got to go at our own pace.
- The included city tour by Carlos was great.
- Juan Carlos seemed to know almost everyone in the canyon. He offered snacks to some tired locals we came across on the trails, and the kids we saw in some of the villages really seemed to like him – greeting him with friendly kisses. It seems like Carlitos Tours focuses on making and maintaining good relationships with the locals.
- Juan Carlos noted that he has a cat (that lives in the Oasis – I guess he makes sure it is fed and taken care of) and his family has two guinea pigs and one rabbit. Interestingly, he will eat guinea pig but never rabbit.
- Carlos really and truly seems to care about your experience. He came to meet us at the bus drop-off point, made sure we were satisfied, and offered to help us with transportation.
Rocky, narrow, and dusty path out of the canyon.
Almost to the top!
We made it!
Breakfast in Cabanaconde
One of the poor birds tied up for people to take photos with for a tip. JT took photos from afar.
Hot springs in Chivay
16,010 foot mountain pass between Arequipa and Chivay
A herd of llamas, alpacas, and sheep near the road between Chivay and Arequipa