South American Adventures travel blog

The last two days were spent in Colca Canyon about three hours outside of Arequipa. Lucia and I got a taxi to the hostel where we would be leaving most of our stuff that we didn’t need for the trek around 2:45am to be picked up by a van to head out to the canyon area. There are two canyons in this area that connect in one spot that is one of the deepest, if not the deepest, canyon in the world.

After a bouncy 3 hour ride with minimal sleep we finally arrived at our first stop that is known for having condors flying. I guess the condor and the alpaca have special meaning to the Inca people, but I didn´t really follow more than that. Oh well.

We finally began our hike around 10:30 that morning. It was supposed to take around 6 hours plus an hour or so for lunch, it took me about 8.5 including the lunch. Since we signed up for a “tour” which included a “guide” I would expect to have something along those lines. While I have come to accept that things are usually less regulated and left open to interpretation, this was a bit to the extreme. I might as well of just caught a ride to the canyon myself and hiked alone since that was pretty much how the day went anyways.

Since the first 3-4 hours was entirely downhill, steep, my knee was not doing very well. My “good” knee has now become the bad – at least since I got a cortizone shot in the former “bad” knee before I left. Now I wish I had gotten both done! (Thanks Mom for the amazing knees!!!)

Anyways, besides the knee my feet were rubbing pretty bad with all the steepness and slipping. I found myself somewhere between the faster group and the slowest group and hiked on my own the majority of the day. In a way it was nice because I got to enjoy the beautiful scenery around me and stop whenever I wanted to take pictures, but it was also scary to think what could happen if I got hurt or fell somewhere. (Luckily I didn’t).

At the bottom we continued a little longer before stopping for lunch. I ordered vegetarian just to be safe and good thing since the others were served alpaca. I did however try a small bite – I think I will stick with complete vegetarian from here on out! For our hour break I took my boots of to give my feet a rest and assess the damage. Blisters were starting for form, completely formed, or already rubbed raw at this point on multiple parts of each foot. And let’s not even talk about the knee! We were then told that the part after lunch was the hard part. Great!

Before I continue and sound like I didn’t enjoy the canyon, I did… a lot! It was so beautiful with Inca terraces all over, amazing snow capped peaks above you, and little villages dotted throughout the hills. Minus the pain – I loved it!

The second half of the hike was a bit ridiculous. Straight up for about an hour, then down, through a couple small villages, then up and down a few more times before finally reaching the oasis well after dark (25km total for the day). Luckily when it started getting dark the 4 of us that were lagging behind stuck together to help each other through the tricky parts and share head lamps. Where was the guide you ask??? I was wondering the same thing. I did find him at one point when I had accidently taken a different trail and we asked me why I did that… maybe because I didn’t have a guide to tell me which way to go? Just a thought…

The oasis was really nice. We had cabins that slept about 5 people each, a nice dinner, and way overpriced beer, which I willingly bought in hopes to dull the pain a bit. To be fair though, someone had to carry all that beer there - probably the mules.

I slept okay during the night and luckily made the right decision to hire a mule to bring me up the next day. It is supposed to take but 3 hours and is straight up the entire way. I probably could have made it myself, eventually, but with the condition my feet were in it would not have been a quick or fun hike. Everyone that did walk said that they wished they had a mule since it was straight up the entire time. One girl even broke down crying at one point and took a donkey for the second half – someone had been nice enough to switch with her.

I swore after the cliffs on Molokai (Hawaii) that I would never again ride a mule. I take it back. I think at that point it was the lesser of the two evils, lots of pain or lots of fear – I’ll choose fear. I will say my thighs are quite sore from squeezing the poor animal so hard! I felt really bad for the mules though. The guides (yes we actually had them this time) didn’t give them a break and would just smack their butts when they would stop for a second to breathe. All the mules were sweating and breathing hard. And I don’t blame them, it was a tough trail.

I think I was matched perfectly with my mule though, he was my mule equivalent. We were similar in that we would both stumbled quite a bit, stop to catch our breath when no one is watching, and are equally as stubborn. The only difference I found is if someone was hitting my butt each time I stopped to breathe I would have kicked them (I was a little worried my mule was going to do this and knock me off in the process). I kept petting him nicely and telling him he was doing a good job whenever the guide wasn’t watching – that way maybe he knew that I wasn’t the mean one.

Once we got to the top we had a quick breakfast before jumping in the van and heading to a few other stops. The best stop was to thermal springs which were like an extremely hot, but natural, hot tub. It made my knee feel so much better and it was great for everyone’s sore muscles. Awhile later our next stop was at 4,900 meters (about 16,000ft) to view the valley of volcanoes. I have never been at that elevation before and ended up with a really bad headache and dizzy until we started to descend, despite the amount of cocoa leaf tea I have been drinking. It was really pretty though. You could see six different volcanoes and one is active so it had an ash cloud coming out the top. We also got to see lots of alpacas and llamas, stop in a little village for lunch and a little shopping, and drove through a reserve to see vicunas (a tiny, wild version of the alpaca) but unfortunately we didn’t see any.

Finally, we arrived back in Arequipa. I had originally planned on leaving the next morning (today) for Puno, but decided to delay my departure a day to give my feet a rest and go to a museum. While my feet haven’t gotten much rest, I did do triage on them as much as I could last night with my first aid kit and moleskin blister kit. My supplies are much depleted but at least my right foot feels somewhat better. The left is not doing so well, but it is rather multi-colored with all the pretty color Band-Aids I have! The museum was really interesting and all about “Juanita the Ice Princess” and two other preserved Inca sacrifices that were found on the nearby volcanoes.

The rest of the day I just need to get my things together to head out tomorrow. This whole Canyon advneture has got me more then a little worried about the Inca trail, which I have been told is that much harder. I will need to reassess once I arrive in Cuzco and decide if I want to stick with the 4 day trek or change to a 2 day one (if that is even an option).

Next, I will be going to Puno/Lake Titicaca area.

Until then…

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