Colca Canyon

Trip Start Apr 01, 2011
Trip End May 07, 2011

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Monday, April 11, 2011

On Monday morning we were picked up by the tour company Colca Treck. We signed up for a 3 day tour of the Colca Canyon. Colca Cayons claim to fame is that it's supposed to be the second deepest canyon in the world and Karen and I really wanted to hike the canyon. 

On the way we passes through a wildlife reserve named Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca to see if we could find any Vicuņas. Vicuņas are a wild relative to the llama and alpacas and the national animal of Peru. They made in onto the threatened species list but the population has recovered nicely. The Vicuņa produces a small amount of wool that can be collected every 2 to 3 years. They are very cute and much smaller than I expected them to be. 

We then stopped at the highest point along the road which has an elevation of 4900 meters above sea level. I was a little surprised to see venders at the road side pullout selling scarves, sweaters, embroidered purses and all the other stuff but have quickly learned that if there is any chance tourists will stop there will be vendors. 

We continued our journey towards Colca Canyon where along the way we stopped to talk about the terraced valleys. The first terraces were built about 2000 years ago and in the Colca Valley extend half way up the mountain sides. They are still used today and the main crops planted are corn, quinoa and potatoes (there are over 3000 varieties of potato grown in Peru). 

The Colca Valley also provides great condor viewing opportunities. The type of condor that lives in the Colca Valley is the second largest bird in the word with a wing span of 3 meters. Man they are ugly birds. They are related to vultures and like vultures have no feathers on their heads and necks. The lack of feathers allows the birds to stay clean while they are scavenging on dead animals. 

We spent the night in the rural village named Cabanaconde. There really isn't much tourism in Cabanaconde so we mostly saw the local people going to and from their fields. It was like traveling back in time. The local people walk to and from their fields, there is no vehicle traffic, no need for stop lights and you can still find women dressing in the traditional clothing.

The hike down the canyon was pretty easy. It was a long down hill but nothing very strenuous. It actually became easier as I went down because I was feeling the effects of the elevation Cabanaconde at 3290 masl. It was also really nice to have a mule carry my gear into the canyon and all I had to carry was water, camera and sunscreen. Once at the bottom we were greeted by an oasis type setting and pampered to the max. We didn't even have to set up our tent and our guide Elise was an amazing cook.

The next morning wasn't so glamorous. The day started with a 4 am wake up call and a 5:30 departure time the only good thing about the first part of the day were the pancakes we got for breakfast. The hike bask up was pretty standard for the most part. I could watch the sunrise as I was hiking up and there were a tone of birds to watch. The only complication occurred during the last quarter when the elevation started to be a factor. It's amazing how you can feel fine one minute only to cross some magic line and become dizzy and light headed. Hopefully I'll have the elevation thing fixed before the Salkantay trail as that is a substantially more difficult trail. 

We them headed back to Arequipa where we boarded a night bus for Cuzco. 
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