Friday, April 17, 2009

The Canyon

2:57 AM
Arequipa, Peru
Koala Backpackers
the 'Koala' Room

I awaken with a start. It's almost 3 in the morning - Fuck! Either one of the girls had set her alarm for 3 or, worse yet, the bus is here early. I doubt I would've woken up at three minutes till three all on my own, well, not today anyway. With those thoughts I go back to sleep... 15 minutes later, the lights are on and there's commotion in the room, I struggle to think of a way to ignore all this a moment longer, failing at that, I suppose it's time to get up.

There's ten of us in the Koala room on this (rather short) night. It's sort of a mini-Ireland in here: there's a group of five Irish girls (Cara, Hazel, Laura, Marie, and Roshyn), Dave, Kevin, and Sandra are also Irish (but Dave and Sandra are actually in a neigboring double room). Rounding out the dorm is me, Ancilla and Miercoles (well, that's not the right way to spell that...) from Holland, and Kylie from Australia. Somewhat ironically, Kylie is the only one I know, as she was in my hostel in Rio over Carnival a couple of months ago. The rest, I met yesterday evening, and Kylie's irony lies solely in the fact that she's the only one of us who is actually not getting up at 3 this morning... the rest of us are booked onto a two day tour of the nearby Calca Canyon, leaving between 3 and 3:30 this morning. And the bus got here early. And soon enough, we are off, picking up an Israeli couple to round out our group of thirteen (plus two guides). First order of the morning is to figure out a way to get some sleep on the bus as we spend the next three hours bouncing around the rough Peruvian roads heading for the canyon. Not very much sleep is achieved - the 'tourist' bus is not particularly comfortable and crossing a 4,900m pass at 5 in the morning gets rather cold, in spite of the blankets we were all handed.

First stop at the canyon does not disappoint: Cruz del Condor. Not sure why, but this is where the Andean condors like to come and hang out

Pretty majestic, with approximately a 3m wing span

From the condors, we get another 20 minutes on the bus, and, finally, freedom! Well, freedom to hike down, then up the side of the canyon over the course of the next eight hours.

Now, I don't think I've seen all that many canyons in the world, but this is the second biggest (by depth), barely trailing another one somewhere nearby in Peru. However, the Grand Canyon in Arizona really is a grand hole in the ground. This looks more like a valley with two big mountain ranges surrounding it - I wonder how one actually differentiates between a canyon and a valley? Either way, the sights were quite impressive nonetheless:

Getting started at the top

Looking down at the canyon, and another condor comes by to say hi

There's lots of cacti here too

From here the hike was pretty straighforward. We zigzagged our way down the side of the canyon for some three hours getting to the very bottom, then came across to have lunch. The excitment on the way down came from an occasional slip and slide on the loose gravel (amplified for some - Sandra - by a fear of heights) and the blisters that were quickly growing on some of the girls' feet. Later that evening, after going up and down the far side of the canyon for a bit, we arrived at Paradise... Paradise is a little complex at the bottom of the canyon, where we were spending the night. It featured a pool (beautiful diversion after a full day on your feet, no matter that the sun had already set by the time we got in), bungalows with surprisingly comfortable beds (that could be the full day on your feet talking again, of course), a nice spaghetti dinner, and absolutely no electricity... A hot shower would have to wait!

The next morning, our wake up time was at a far more reasonable hour: 5AM... But we got up, bitched a bit, packed up, and eleven of us took off on a three hour expedition straight up the canyon wall back to the starting point (and breakfast!). There were 13 of us that came down of course - Laura and Sandra did not perish, they just got convinced that 50 soles (~16 dollars) was a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a ride up the hill in the comfort of your very own donkey. They also got to leave an hour later. The sun wasn't quite up when we all left a few minutes before six:

The sun began lighting up the far side of the canyon

Early on there were a few droplets of rain too, all this culminating in a bright and clear rainbow

And two hours and fifteen minutes later, I was joining Dave and Kevin at the top - they'd gotten there 5 minutes earlier. Hazel joined us in another five minutes. Twenty minutes later, the mules showed up. The rest trickled in over the next hour and a half

After a very satisfying breakfast at the top, we got a ride to a thermal bath for another very satisfying hour spent soaking in 39 degree (Celsius...) waters, followed by lunch, and then back on the bus, and back to Arequipa.

Views from the 4,900m pass we couldn't see the previous morning

By 5:30, we were all back in Arequipa, for a well earned massage for me ($7 for an hour!), dinner, and an evening out with the Arequipa night life - it was Sandra's birthday. Heading back to the hostel around 3 in the morning, we saw our bus roaming the streets, no doubt looking to make somebody else's early morning highly uncomfortable...

And finally, a few sites from the city of Arequipa:

The city, with the white stone buildings everywhere, the bustle of tourists all around, and the tops of the churches lit up at night reminded me of Istanbul a bit... Or maybe it's just because I had kebabs for dinner a couple of times!

No comments: