Cañon Del Colca,Chivay,Cruz Del Condor and Coca

Trip Start Jan 08, 2007
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Trip End Mar 13, 2007


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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

We just got back from an amazing 2 day trip to the Colca Canyon (Cañon Del Colcá)outside of Arequipa. Our guide Percy picked us up from our hotel along with 5 other tourists.  There was Mike and I, a man from Brazil, a Brazilian couple and 2 girls from Chile on our tour.  We headed out in a small van toward Chivay which was about 4 hours away. The road from Arequipa climbs northwest to Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca.  The road continues through bleak altiplano (high Andean plateau) over the highest point of 4,800 m before dropping to the small town of Chivay.    During our 4 hour drive through the highlands, our guide Percy gave us alot of information about Arequipa, Peru and the Colca Canyon.  He was very knowledgeable.  He told us how the city of Arequipa and the country of Peru got their names.  An ethnic group in Arequipa called the Collagua who spoke a language called Aymara called it Arequipa because this word means ´´city behind the big mountain´´.  Peru got it´s name when the Spanish came to the country and asked the antive people what the name of the area was.  The natives thought the Spanish were asking their names so one answered Peeru.  The Spanish though the native was telling them the name of the country so the Spanish called it Peru. 
During our drive we had the opportunity to see llamas, alpacas and vicuñas.  There are 4 different types of camelids in Peru; llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos.  Llamas and alpacas are domesticated in South America were as vicuñas and guanacos are wild and protected.  It is illegal to kill a vicuña or a guanaco.  Vicuñas are only used for their wool and a person has to have a special license to use it.  Vicuña wool is quite expensive and item s made from it are expensive as well.  Llamas and alpacas are used both for their wool and their meat.  Items made from alpaca wool are quite cheap here.  Baby alpaca wool is the best quality and is a little more expensive.  Llama and alpaca steak are very popular to eat here and i must say alpaca steak is very delicious.  It was hard to try at first because they are so cute but after my first taste I was hooked.  Counldn´t help but order it again on a few occasions.  We saw a whole herd of llamas and alpacas cross the road right in front of our van, so we stopped for pics.  We were also fortunate to see a few vicuñas.  They are so cute, they kind of look like a cross between a deer and an alpaca.  They only live in the highland areas. 
Percy also told us about Peru´s National tree called the Quina.  A chemical called Quinina is derived from this tree and used in making anti-malarial pills.  Also at 4,500-4,800 m a plant called Yareta grows.  This plant looks like a moss growing on a rock and is very green in color.  It is used in making fire and also for medicinal purposes.  The highlnad people make a herbal tea from this plant and it is good for diabetes and the flu.  We were able to see this plant when we reached the highest point in the trip at 4,800 m above sea level.  The highest pojnt is called Patabamba, which means ´´high platoon´´ in Quecha.  Quecha is the official first language of Peru before the Spanish came.  At this elevation we were also able to see hundreds and hundreds of stones made into small piles, almost like a rock statue.  People make these rock piles as an offer to the mountains which is an ancient Inca custom. Mike and I made our own rock offering while we were there.   
Also during this drive we saw the Chali mountain chain.  This chain of mountains divides the oceans in the highlands.  We also saw Mt. Ampato (6288 m), where ´´Juanita, the ice princess´´- the frozen Inca child maiden sacrificed on the summit of this mountain over 500 years ago, was found.  For the Incas, mountains were gods who could kill by volcanic eruption, avalanche or climatic catastrophes.  These violent deities could only be appeased by sacrifices and over 20 similar child sacrifices  have now been discovered atop various Andean mountains since 1954
When we got out of the van at this altitude of 4,800 m, we were feeling a little ill.  Altitude sickness is common for tourists, but some people get it worse where they need to have oxygen via mask, etc.  We were feeling dizzy, nauseous and had really dry mouthes.  I also had a killer headache.  Mike said he felt like he was drunk.  It was also a little hard to breathe.  Our breathing was abit more laboured.  I had jumped over this rock to avoid a muddy area and was out of breath after I did it.  It was so crazy!!!!! To help with altitude sickness South Americans chew coca leaves.  Growing coca leaves is one of the biggest agricultural industries in South America, these leaves are used in the production of cocaine.  The practice of chewing coca leaves goes back centuries and is still common among peasant farmers of the Andean altiplano and miners.  The leaves are chewed with a little ash or bicarbonate of soda, as the alkalinity releases the mild stimulant contained in the leaf cells.  Prolonged chewing dulls the pangs of hunger, thirst, cold and fatigue, which are all symptoms of altitude sickness.  They also increase oxygenation in the bloodstream enabling breathing to be easier.  If you don´t want to chew the bitter tasting leaves, you can drink coca tea or suck on coca candies. Mike and I prepared for the trip by buying some coca candies and usually with every breakfast you have the option to drink a coca tea.  You can order it almost anywhere or buy the leaves.  We did stop at a restaurant at about 4,000 m on the drive for a coca tea and a visit with the loca llama. 
The end of our drive for the day brought us to the town of Chivay.  Chivay's population is about 10,000 people.  In Chivay we could see the Rio Colca (the Colca River).  This river is the longest river in Peru.  Our guide dropped us at our hotel which was a little place sort of in the coutryside, away from the town.  We prepared to go for a dip in the local Hotsprings as it was raining and we didn't want to walk around.  The hotsprings were wonderful.  it was raining a little bit and was a bit foggy out so the atmosphere with the mountains around us was sort of muysterious feeling.  We both ordered a Pisco sour and sat back and relaxed.  The waiter just brought us our drinks right in the hotsprings, we didn't have to move.  After the springs we prepared for dinner with our group.  We went to a peña, which is a bar/restaurant that hosts informal folk music gatherings/performances.  We had dinner and i ordered a plate of alpaca steak.  We then watched the performance of musica folklorica (traditional Andean music) and dance.  We even had the opportunity ti go up and dance as well.  I tried really hard to avoid eye contact with the dancers as I did not want to go up and dance but they saw me!!!!!!!  Traditional Andean music involves playing wind and percussion intruments.  The quena (flute) is made of bamboo.  The zampoña or siku (in Quecha), is a set of panpipes with 2 rows of bamboo cnaes.  The percussion drum (bombo), shajshas (rattles) and charangos (a tiny 5 stringed guitar) are also used. 

The next day we were up at 5 a.m. to prepare for our drive from Chivay through the Colca Canyon area.  We passed through the small town of Yanque where we had views of the sacred mountain Walcawalca.  There we saw an old church(Iglesia De Cabanaconde), traditional dancers and highland women standing with their llamas and alpacas for photos.  of course you have to pay them if you want a photo of them.  Some of the women also had hawks sitting on their shoulders or on a perch and you could pay money to have the hawk sit on your shoulder.  I managed to sneak a couple of pics without paying. We continued on after this to the Colca Valley lookout.  It was breathtaking!!!!!!  You could see all of the pre-Incan terracing down in the valley.  These terraces were used for crops back then and are still used today.  Our next stop was Cruz Del Condor, which is a lookout to spot teh condor.  Condors are protected today as farmers were killing them due to their beleifs that the condors were attacking baby llamas and alpacas.  But this beleif is not actually true as condors' claws are not like the eagles' claws.  Eagles claws are all long and enable then to grab their prey with their claws whereas the condor's claws are all long except for one which is short and so they cannot pick up prey like an eagle can.  The condor's life is in 2 stages. When they are young, they are black with a white collar and white feathers under their wings.  When they are older they are a brown color.  They stay in the nest after birth for 2-3 years before they leave to try to fly.  At about 3 years of age they start flying.   The condor typically lives for 25-30 years. Condors were sacred to the Incas becuase they could communicate with all 5 worlds (the sky, the moon, the sun, the earth anf the underworld).  At the lookout we waited for an hour with no sightings of condors.  Our guide said we would wait 1 more hour.  Unfortunately we did not see any condors as during this time of the year (the rainy season) there are too many clouds and so the sun cannot heat the earth as much.  Condors like to fly with the heat that comes or rises off the cliffs during the dry season, so during the rainy season they stick more to the cliff sides.  Oh well, the scenery and the drive were worth the trip.  We headed back to Arequipa after this stop.  On our way back we had the oppurtunity to try a cactus fruit called tuna.  It had a tough skin on teh outside and all the thistles are picked off.  The skin is peeled off and you eat the fruit inside.  It is loaded with seeds and has a very mild flavor. We arrived back in Arequipa around 6 pm and slept for the night.
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