Colca Canyon, Peru
This morning we were up bright and early, I was still super sick and people avoiding me like the plague. Not that I blame them. Still Jem sooner rather than later! I perked up at breakfast though because there was toast and where there is toast – I can eat my beloved Vegemite. I think I had three pieces but I hadn’t eaten much the last two days and had missed the group dinners so was excited for food.
On the bus and saying goodbye to Arequipa, we headed off towards our next destination, the Colca Canyon! Our first stop was about forty minutes out-of-town to stock up on coca leaves/lollies/cookies and loads of water. Our guide Gladys had made it very clear that although we were likely to experience altitude sickness in some form or another, it would be much more apparent/worse if we failed to stay hydrated. I may have heard wrong but I think she said at least a litre of water for each 1000m? I drank so much more than that though. I was really concerned about how I was going to go in altitude with a cold.
We then stopped in the shanty towns further up the mountain and met a man who earned 5 soles a day to make these rocks from the mines. I’m unsure as to what mineral it was. It was heavily labour intensive and his only tool was a crow bar type thing. Apparently he was able to make up to 5-7 of these a day. My heart went out to him because I had a look around and all I could think about were the mines in central Queensland and how many machines are used and how much truck and machinery operators are paid. This guy used one tool and a seriously busted up wheelbarrow and he worked 14 hours a day, no food breaks (just chewing coca leaves for energy and to subside hunger and to help with altitude). He was happy to get photos with us and we tipped him and our tips added up to three or four days of work. I think it’s likely that these hard-core labour era probably work up until the day they die. No compo. No annual leave. No penalty rates and no $150k a year jobs for driving a truck back and forth.
Next we started our crawl higher up. We stopped for a bit as a truck had collided with another truck on this hair pin turn coming down the mountain. It looked pretty nasty. Most of us took the opportunity to have a bathroom break in the hills by I guess in our excitement to be off the bus we A) forgot about the altitude and B) forgot about cool temperature outside. From sweating in Lima and then facing milder temperatures in Arequipa to icy wind in the mountains was pretty cool.
Another hour or so and we had reached our lunch spot which was at just over 3000m. Monica had arranged packed lunches for us so like eager little school kids we stumbled towards the eating area, all feeling a tad drunk on altitude. Except Jemma who had possibly overdosed on coca. Coca lollies and coca leaves and coca cookies she was ready to go. We ate our delicious packed lunches and saved left overs for any kids we saw along the way. The kids here are on school holidays and so they work out on their properties with the llamas and alpacas. Sometimes they walk two hours there and back. All on foot and these kids would be 12 and under. Again, we take a lot for granted back home. How many kids chuck a wobbly because their mum asks them to take the rubbish bin out?
We then reached the highest point at over 4000m and you could FEEL it. It was so quiet and it felt compressed, if that makes any sense. Breathing was harder for most, I wasn’t too bad because I was already pretty sick. It was also really cold. A wake up call for me that we would be needing jackets and perhaps the things wouldn’t cut it anymore ;).
As we drove towards Chivay, Gladys explained to us the different breeds of alpacas up in the highlands. We were lucky enough to stop a few times for some amazingly scenic photos with them. We also saw some llamas about an hour up the road and we stopped for photos and three little children were there looking after them. The eldest boy, no more than 10 or 11 picked up a baby llama who was the cutest thing you EVER saw and brought her over to us. We traded the left over lunch for photos and pats and we couldn’t have been happier.
Next stop, Chivay! I bought mittens and Jem bought leg warmers. You know if your friend from the South Island of NZ is cold, that it’s cold. We then tried Peruvian Donuts (yum) and some other fruit from the stalls and jumped on little tricolos for a race up the hill to our next stop. Our poor tricolo was suffering and we were second last and that was only due to a bus overtaking us and the last one. Some of our group went to the hot springs and about six of us went zip lining. Zip lining is something I always wanted to do but at the same time I would have probably enjoyed it a bit more if I wasn’t a walking tissue of sickness. It was really beautiful though and I am absolutely not good at it. The only thing you have to be good at is breaking and I completely sucked at it haha.
Next stop was to our Colca Canyon lodge which was quite rural, down a rocky, unsealed road. It was gorgeous though. Our rooms were comfortable if not really basic and I thought us Gen Y’s were going to go into meltdown over the no wifi but to be honest I was so ready for sleep. We had a delicious dinner and tried alpaca and then sat around the fire place for a bit. We were also held hostage in the hallway by the half alpaca, half llama which we had been warned off. It was hilarious actually. This whole trip I have wanted a llama-selfie and so far it’s not really worked in my favour. I think Cusco will be my chance!
Early bed because we were up at 5am to explore the Colca Canyon!
This morning we woke up in our rustic lodge in Colca Canyon and had left the hotel by 6am. Our tour manager and tour guide had told us that it would be the longest day on the road for us. The sight at 5:30am was almost worth it as one of the volcanos in the distance which is still active was smoking and it was a perfectly clear day. No sign of the allegedly hostile Allama on sight.
We jumped on the bus and made our way to the Colca Canyon, our first stop being a small hike out to a couple of look-ours before making our way to where the condors can be seen. By the time we had our first few stops and took some amazing photos it was still only 7:30am. It was also really cool to see the countryside and see where the Andean people live, it was starting to feel like a real holiday. Cities kind of feel the same everywhere so I was glad to be out in the canyon.
Our stop for the condors saw us one very relaxed looking condor just hanging out. The tourists were crazy. People perched out over rock ledges all to get the best photo. Had they realised they could walk 10m to the right they would have had a ether view like I did ;). Some idiot was whistling and trying to call the wild animal ad get it’s attention. There is always one or one group of tourists who just take the title of travelling dickhead. I mean, here we are in this absolutely beautiful area. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful and we are lucky enough to observe the worlds second largest bird and you have some absolute wanker ruining it for everybody. Apparently the lady he was with who had also been whistling at the bird ended up throwing rocks at the bird to see if it would fly. I didn’t see it but there was a lot of shouting. These are the same people who tap on the glass of pet shops where there is a big “DO NOT TAP GLASS“, for their own gratification. Yes you might get the photo you want but you’re ruining it for everyone and the condors will wise up and not come back. You’re an idiot.
Back on the bus for our drive back to Chivay, with a quick stop in Maca along the way. We had the opportunity to dress up in the traditional dress which almost all of the girls took advantage of. Some of the photos came out ok. Though all of us twirling in one direction at altitude for a photo was a bad choice! Also had the chance to try the Coca Sour which is made from the prickly pear fruit. Similar to a kiwi but more bitter. Really nice though.
We made it to Chivay and had our buffet lunch, guinea pig (coy) included. It definitely wasn’t for me. I had every intention of trying it but all I could hear was mum saying “it’s a giant rat”. Took a bit to swallow it without gagging. That may have had something to do with the hair and teeth still on the guinea pig though!
On the bus for our four or so hours to Puno. We reached altitude again and something amazing happened! There was snow and I have never seen it before. Jem being the most awesome friend anyone could ever have had organized for our bus to stop briefly to play in the snow. It was AMAZING. There wasn’t just snow but it was actually snowing so I experienced for five minutes the pleasure of snow. I absolutely loved it, could not wipe the smile off of my face. Thanks Jem :).
Our local guide Gladys who we had grown to love over the last three days left us at the top and we continued on to Puno. We still had quite a few hours to our destination so watched a Mexican/Spanish movie which was really good until it ended and then Monica, our guide had a bus full of altitude sick, blubbering idiots.
We picked up our new local guide in the city just outside of Puno and he told us all about the black market and easy and cheap access to drugs thanks to Bolivia. He was smiling while he told us so I’m unsure as to whether he is really friendly or was hinting.
As we drove into Puno we were hit with this crazy ice/hail storm. The streets looked like they were full of snow and the bus was caked in this slushy ice water. Our walk from the bus in the freezing rain and pouring cold and flooded streets was hilarious.
We had dinner locally and then spent the night not sleeping as there is some festival going on this weekend in town. All part of the experience I guess!!
I swear if I could get a hold of that music on a cd I would haunt Jemma with it, in a similar fashion to that iPhone ringtone that haunts me from our first night in LA!!!