March 17-20, 2017
Colca Canyon is one of the world’s deepest canyons, and just 5 hours away from Arequipa by bus. We chose a tourist bus which leaves Arequipa at 3am, so we could make it to the condor viewpoint by 8:30am. Waking up before 3am does not make me happy, and having just 20 minutes at the condor viewpoint didn’t make things any better, especially since the condors we saw were all far away. (Through binoculars you could tell they weren’t turkey vultures, but that was about it.) So we decided to stay there longer, and take the local bus which stops there at 10am.
We didn’t get a much better view of condors, but we did talk to a retired German couple who had shipped their RV to South America and were taking their time. At 10am there also wasn’t a local bus. It was at around 10:25 when we saw the first vehicle travelling in the right direction at all. It was a rental driven by a Dutch couple who stopped briefly, saw no condors, and went on. But we apparently did a good impression of down-on-our-luck tourists, because they agreed to give us a ride to Cabanaconde, which was their next stop as well.
Cabanaconde, and in general the region we’d been driving through, is dominated by farmland. The farmland is made up of small lots on ancient terraces, which are worked by hand, and plowed by teams of oxen. Most roads are dirt, and most buildings are made from clay bricks and have corrugated tin roofs. Chickens, sheep, and dogs roam the town. In many ways it feels like a very old way of life. Newer buildings are made from brick and concrete (mixed by hand in a wheelbarrow), have red satellite dishes, and it appears preferrable to add a storey to an existing building over starting a new one on a lot that has a falling down unoccupied one on it. We saw maybe a few dozen motorized vehicles while we were there, mostly buses to neighboring towns.
We had come to Cabanaconde to hike down into the canyon, and on our way down we got a great look at some condors. The floated by us, just 15-50 feet away, completely silent because they’re not flapping their wings. We saw 3 of them, pretty soon after each other, each one on its way up, and further down the canyon. The fact that they can be so close and still silent makes me wonder how many we didn’t see because we were focusing on the trail, or simply looking the wrong way.
The canyon itself was a beautiful mix of greenery and rock faces. We saw a mix of cactus, creeping vines, many ornamental flowers that we see in gardens at home and some small pretty birds as well. The sides of the canyon showed various interesting rock layers which inspired me to pick up a book on geology but I can’t say much about right now.
There are several small villages in the canyon, and we spent two nights there. Every day we’d spend about 4 hours walking, and the remainder of the day relaxing. There’s nothing in the way of entertainment in the canyon beyond what we brought, which for us meant electronic books, and talking to other travelers. It was a very peaceful time. It was an odd realization that sitting in the shade, reading, and having my meals catered is something I could do at home without having to hike to the bottom of a canyon in Peru. At home I can also drink the water, take proper hot showers, and flush the toilet paper. Home does have the downsides of too many things that need doing, or that I could be doing. I wonder if I can capture some of the same feeling by turning off the Internet once a day.
The trails we walked varied from full dirt roads to single file and somewhat overgrown. The most exciting part was probably the bridge pictured above, which is sturdier than it looks, but I’m happy it wasn’t any longer than it is. On the last day (the “up” day), Danielle decided that it wouldn’t do her knee any good to walk up, so she took a mule. I followed, slower, on foot. I’m glad I walked because it gave me the chance to stop to look at something or take pictures when I wanted. This is also why we didn’t do this hike as a guided group activity, and it worked out well. We did hear (after we returned) of one guide who was amazing and knew all the plants and animals. But apparently that’s the exception. Once back in Cabanaconde we took a bus back to Arequipa.