Trekking the Colca Canyon and Beyond

From the jungle, we hopped back through Cuzco for 2 nights, and then flew on to Arequipa. Arequipa is one of the largest cities in Peru, and is surrounded by beautiful active volcanoes.

We were pleasantly surprised when we were dropped off at our hotel in Arequipa. Jeff had booked a place for $37/night on booking.com, and based on our past experiences in that price range, we knew the room would be ok (a.k.a. bedbug free, private toilet, maybe some hot water). Luckily for us- the place ended up being a 4 star hotel (by Peruvian standards), and was the nicest place we had stayed in in awhile! We spent 2 days getting a lay of the land, booking a 3-day trek through the Colca Canyon, taking a free walking tour, and of course- eating! We needed to book a hotel in Arequipa for a few nights after we trekked the canyon, and were disappointed to find out that the nice hotel we were staying in was charging $117/night- a little out of our budget backpacking budget. With no rooms available on booking.com, we walked down to the reception desk and asked what the rate would be to book directly. We expected them to quote us the price that was posted on the wall in the lobby ($100/night), but luck was with us again when they told us we could book for the same price of $37/night! We had to ask the front desk multiple times how much it was because I didn’t believe them. An excellent bargain for a private room, super-hot water, good buffet breakfast, and the rooms looked like any decent Marriot at home! Thank you Casona Plaza Arequipa!

 A big step up from all of the hostels we have been frequenting lately!

A big step up from all of the hostels we have been frequenting lately!

 My smarty-pants husband actually paid attention on the free walking tour we took and won us a free hot chocolate by answering a hard trivia question. I have no recollection what the question was, but the hot chocolate was delicious!

My smarty-pants husband actually paid attention on the free walking tour we took and won us a free hot chocolate by answering a hard trivia question. I have no recollection what the question was, but the hot chocolate was delicious!

On May 18, we woke up at 3am and loaded up into a van headed for the Colca Canyon. The date is significant because it marked exactly one year since we drove the moving van out of our driveway in Oceanview, Virginia.

 1 year ago, all of our worldly belongings fit inside of this truck

1 year ago, all of our worldly belongings fit inside of this truck

Flash forward to the present- we got into the 20 passenger van, picked up random gringos from other hotels around town, and sort of slept/got carsick during the 3 hour drive toward Colca Canyon. We stopped in Chivay for breakfast around 7:30am, and then continued on to the Cruz del Condor (condor viewing). I’m not sure when it started, but Jeff really has a thing for birds of prey. If I let him, we would have a pet hawk or falcon. (Something about him wanting to train it to hunt…) Anyway, he has been looking forward to seeing the Andean Condors in the wild for a long time (we saw one condor at the zoo in Sydney). And our stop at the lookout did not disappoint! These are some of the biggest (and ugliest, in my opinion) birds in the world. They are from the vulture family, eat dead animals in the area, and live in caves on the side of the canyon. Their wingspan is huge, and really impressive when you see them flying around!

From the Cruz del Condor, we drove on to a small village named Cabanaconde where we started our trek. The first day we hiked about 5 hours down into the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. Our guide, Luz, was amazing! She stopped and taught us so much about the local plants and let us try anything edible along the way. We made it to our ‘lodge’ in the early evening, and spent some time soaking our tired feet in the hot springs. I use the world ‘lodge’ loosely, because we literally slept in a mud/bamboo hut. But it had a real bed! And Luz carried beef all the way into the canyon so we could have a carnivorous meal that night, since the lodge only served vegetarian dishes. (I’m guessing this is due to the fact that the lodge only has power at night via generator, and they have to pack everything in and out with mules).

We walked up out of the other side of the canyon the next morning, and made it to a very small village for lunch. After lunch, we stopped by a museum (1-room hut), and using Luz as an interpreter, a lady taught us about local life. She also served us Chicha- the fermented corn drink that is the Peruvian alcoholic beverage of choice. They used to make chicha by chewing up the corn and spitting it into buckets and letting it ferment. Many people have assured me that this is no longer the practice, but the few times that I have tasted chicha here, I’m not convinced. It still tastes weird.

From the village we then walked down back into the valley of the canyon to an area called the ‘Oasis.’ There are a few lodges clumped together near the river in the valley, and they all have impressive swimming pools- complete with waterfalls! It’s hilarious because they literally let water from a nearby (real) waterfall feed the pools during the day, and at night, they stop the flow so the pools are empty when no one is using them. We had another nice meal, cold shower, real bed to sleep in, and then we woke up and hit the trail at 5am the next morning for our last day of the trek. After an intense climb, and getting passed by the numerous sissy’s that hired a mule to carry them out, we made it to the top and ate breakfast before getting in our van to return to town. Below: Jeff and I, our guide Luz and I, guinea pigs awaiting the dinner plate, fancy pools in Oasis, flowers on the trail that only open at night, and mules carrying the weaklings (or smart people) out of the canyon.

We made a few touristy stops for souvenirs on our way back from the Canyon, and got to soak in more hot springs! There is so much geothermal activity here with all of the volcanoes, that there are hot springs everywhere. The Sabancaya Volcano was extremely active that day, and we got to see the ash from multiple ‘explosions’ from a few different vantage points. We’ve never seen an active volcano! Note: There is one volcano that is within striking distance from Arequipa, as in- if it erupts, it will kill everyone in town. It’s something like, hundreds of years overdue to erupt, but people in town told us that they have emergency procedures to follow. Below: active volcano, sights along the trail, and me relaxing in the hot springs!

We spent 2 more days in Arequipa after our trek relaxing. We visited the Museo Santuarios Andions UCSM, which houses ‘Juanita.’ Juanita is an extremely well preserved corpse of a young teenage girl that was found on top of the Ampato Volcano in Arequipa. She was sacrificed to the Incan gods around 1470 AD on top of the volcano. She is one of multiple children that have been found sacrificed on top of mountains all over Incan South America. It was fascinating, if a bit morbid, to learn more about Incan culture, and the museum had an excellent display of artifacts.

The next day, we took a cooking class at the Peruvian Cooking Experience. No one else had signed up for class that morning, so Jeff and I had a private tour of the market with our guide, Lady, and then we got cooking! Below are some photos from the market- Peru grows something like 3,200 different kinds of potatoes (this is not an exaggeration), a woman pouring some hot sauce for us to cook with, and good looking fruits and veggies. I'm going to miss being able to buy fresh produce in markets like this!

We made saltero de queso (cheese salad) for an appetizer, potato pie (kind of like a potato au gratin), rocoto rellenos (stuffed hot peppers), and quinoa flan for dessert. It was DELICIOUS!

I absolutely love Andean stuffed peppers, and this meal was a great way to finish our week in Arequipa! Sights from around town:

-Cara