Arequipa and the Colca Canyon are major tourist destinations in southern Peru. They are not necessarily places this girl would go if it weren’t for a certain Aussie husband of hers, but even I have to admit the beauty we saw there was incredible. I just wish I could have seen it from a car window rather than having to do so much darn walking. Arequipa was a neat town and much warmer than Cusco. I actually wore a dress while here and it was a nice change from the sweatpants. It was in Arequipa that we visited Santa Catalina (a huge monastery that is almost like a city within the city).
We also did an Andean food cooking course on Callum’s birthday.
We also booked another trek for two days. Yet another ridiculous god-forsaken hour of 2:30am is when the alarm went off for our 3am pick-up which turned into 3:30am. We shuffled into the very back of a white 18 seater Mercedes Benz and drove for hours and hours to the start of our trek. Actually, the first stop was visiting a place where the Andean condors fly, which was pretty awesome. Condors are the heaviest flying bird in the western hemisphere and have a wingspan of up to 3 meters. They require sunny days to fly as they need the thermals rising up from the valley to aid them in their flight. Luckily for us, it was a blue sky day and there were at least two dozen birds flying. None of our pictures are perfect but, we did get a few okay shots and enjoyed watching them as well. We were waiting and waiting to see them ever since we got to Bolivia. I guess the thermals were just perfect on this day.
We then drove to a small town where several of the people on our bus got off to do their own tour and Callum, me and a Brazilian guy as well as our Peruvian guide named Eddison walked to a small restaurant. We got our things together and started walking at around 10am. Already, the views were stunning. Already, my camera bag which I wear diagonally across my body was digging into my chest and constricting my breath. I had forgotten to transfer my camera and batteries to my fanny pack which I normally wear on treks for this very reason. Cal came to my rescue and all I had was my small day pack.
So, we hiked down. Down down down and more down. 1100 meters of down. I took strategic breaks to take photos and catch up to my feet. My poor knees after all this hiking, I tell you. Apparently this Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the states. At its deepest, it is over 4kms deep. We were not going there, obviously. Eddison told us it was only for crazy people. I thought we were crazy enough doing 1km down.
We made our way to a small oasis at the bottom which took us 2.5 hours. It was here we had a bit of a rest, a dip in the pool (just my swollen feet) and lunch before embarking on a lot of up. I thought that after my victory at Machu Picchu I’d basically be a super-human made of muscle and never-ending strength and energy. That is not so. I’m still pretty plump and my breath gets lost a lot and I sweat from every pore. We climbed quite a steep hill and I was thinking to myself “If I just get to 100 footsteps, I’ll take a 30 second break.” I made 50 steps and wondered how I’d get to 100. I made 100. I felt like I could do another 100. I made it to 200 and thought I’d go for 300. Did that, thought “I can get to 500 steps.” I did, struck my pole in the ground like Neil Armstrong sticking the American flag into the moon and declared “that is 500 steps, and I need a break!” Our guide Eddison glanced my way with an unimpressed look on his face. “Rachel, tomorrow we will need to go 15 or 20 minutes before taking a break.” I nodded but thought to myself “We’ve basically just walked for 15 minutes.” Then I checked my watch. Crap. It had only been 8 minutes.
So it was like that. I huffed and puffed and got to the top of the hill we were climbing and God sent a miracle: it started to rain, so we couldn’t continue walking just yet. Thank you! We rested under a little make-shift shop where a woman was selling drinks and candy bars. I longingly eyed the Snickers but knew I’d get a lecture from the husband. I instead bought another water.
We continued walking a few moments later when the rain stopped, and it was actually the most enjoyable part of the whole trip for me. There was more of a variety on the trail: up, down, flat, Peruvian flat, etc. Have I told you about Peruvian or Incan flat? Yes, we were introduced to it while doing the Inca trail. It is not really flat. Sometimes it’s as “flat” as 20 or 30 or 45 degrees, usually slanting up. It’s significantly easier than what they consider “up” but I always argue with the guides “this, my friend, is most certainly NOT flat.”
We got to our homestay location at about 5:30pm which meant we’d been hiking for 3 hours. All together we did 8km in a 5 hour 45 minute period, which I think is not that many kms. It felt more like 16 kms. At least we beat the average time of 6 hours of hiking for Day 1. Small victories are worth a lot to me.
No electricity, very basic concrete rooms and absolutely no hot water provided even though they had promised us at the time of booking our tour that we would have hot water for showers at the end of the day. I wonder if “Peruvian hot” basically means “not freezing cold, but still pretty frickin’ cold”. We did not shower. We were shivering in the Andean air from all the sweat on our bodies and quickly rubbed ourselves down with the baby wipes that I had thankfully remembered to bring. Got dressed in fresh clothes and got under the five blankets on our bed to warm up. We fell asleep HARD and only awoke because Eddison knocked on our door at 7:30pm to get us up for dinner.
The next day we again awoke in the dark at 3:45am. We had a very very small breakfast of white bread and the weird cheese they have here in Peru, and half an orange. Oh, and a cup of tea. That was all I could handle at that strange time. On went our headlamps, our shoelaces tied firmly and our walking poles adjusted and off we went into the cold dark morning, starting our hike at 4:30am. I was not particularly happy about hiking in the dark at 4:30 in the morning. I kept quiet but kind of fumed in my head. I used that anger to fuel my footsteps. The first part was downhill so not that hard. After about 20 minutes we came to the very bottom of the mountain we were going to climb up. I was already sweating so peeled off a layer and tied my hair up. “Right,” I thought. “I’m going to count every single step I take to see how many we have to take to get to the top.” There is something about counting that gives me a rhythm and a purpose. I decided to strive for 700 steps before taking a minute break and did fairly okay for the first 3000 or 4000 steps or so. Then I started worrying. We had started at km 6 and were making our way up to km 0 which was at the top. I had so far only seen km 5 and km 4 and it felt like we should be at least half way up! It finally started getting light at 5:45am so the headlamps could be turned off and put away.
At 5000 Rachel-sized footsteps, I had a bit of a melt-down. I was tired. Very, very, incredibly exhausted. I was out of steam. I had no fuel to do this. I wasn’t having fun. I hated all three boys. I hated the stupid mountain. I hated my stupid bangs stuck in my stupid face. I hated the stupid view. Nah, that’s not true. The view was good but I didn’t really care about it. I am ashamed to say that I was being a sissy. I realised it, though, so I smeared the tears and snot off my face as best I could with my stupid moisture-wicking shirt.
The Brazilian guy was very kind to me. He encouraged me with a lot of know-it-all phrases that made me want to kill him. He said nice things like “You can do it; you can do anything another human can do,” and “let your body work” and “it’s all in your head”. I needed a minute (10) and finally started again, never losing my count. Got to just under 6000 steps and finally saw km 3. Half way. Again, the Brazilian spoke up and said that I needed sugar, not “f—ing granola bars”, which is what I had eaten 30 minutes before. May I mention that this guy was an actual doctor, basically prescribing me Snickers bars? He didn’t have any, but shared some lovely little “biscuits” (cookies) with me which I ate one after the other until the packet was empty. I felt a bit better after that.
Long story short, we made it. It took 11, 167 Rachel-sized footsteps to hike 6 kms up a steep mountain in the Colca Canyon. I thought it would take 12,500 so I was pretty happy it was less. At the km 0 mark, I barely mustered up a smile for a photo.
Callum’s take on all this is much different. He said it was one of his favourite things we’ve done in Peru. He did acknowledge to me that perhaps we should take a break from all the trekking and hiking and that perhaps he was a teensy bit tired too.
Yeah, so I hated nearly every moment of that hike. Callum was the photographer for these two days and I endured everything with the patience of a saint real woman. Please enjoy the photos. Several days later and I finally care about them a little.