Condors, Convents and Canyons: Arequipa
Trip Start Dec 29, 2011
26Trip End Jun 18, 2012
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Overlooking Arequipa's colonial centre is the snow-capped and properly volcano-shapped Volcán Misti, at 5822m above sea level. Pamplemoose turned down several offers to help her climb it and instead arranged to be picked up at 3.30 the next morning for three days exploring Colca Canyon (1.6km down) instead.
The trip to Colca began with a long cold drive, over a 4700 m mountain pass, in a crowded and uncomfortable bus. But things started to look up when the bus stopped in the Colca National Park for breakfast, and the toutists were allocated to their guides
The bus continued along the road to a viewing point where the tourists could stand at eye-level with the condors flying over the canyon below. It looked like a long way down. Soon the group was finding out just how far down as they started to walk down the side of the cliff.
Colca Canyon was beautiful. As the group walked down the zigzag path, the were introduced to the different plants that live at different levels. At the top, small high altitude flowers and tough grasses. As the moved further down, cactus with fruit called 'tuna' (possibly, the original prickly pear) and tiny parasitic cochinea bugs which, when squashed, turn into the deep red mush which the incas used to colour their cloth and which, until recently, was also used to colour red smarties.
At the bottom of the canyon was the tiny village of San Juan, complete with guesthouses for tourists and a cook who created excellent 3 course meals on a simple wood stove
The next morning, the team awoke to banana pancakes and set out along the base of the canyon, walking past Inca terraces and aquaduct systems, pretty villages and the gushing river. They stopped briefly to meet a man called Señor Molesta (which means 'bother') who fed them chicha (fermented corn 'beer') and showed them his small museum to local life. The villages of Colca Canyon have no road access - the only way out, as Pamplemoose was soon to realise, was back up the 1600m cliff - and as a result methods of agriculture have changed little in the past 500 years. Just as in the time of the Incas, when the crops are planted, the men go out to the fields to dig them up and it is the woman's job to croach behind, spreading seeds.
By lunch time, they had reached their next stopping point - Sangalle, or 'the Oasis'. The Oasis is so called because, at this depth, the canyon is the perfect environment for palm trees and pinapples. But also because the villages have capatalised on this by digging swimming pools for passing trekkers. And so, the intrepid trekkers spent the afternoon swimming, drinking Pisco Sour and contemplating the amazingness of there being swimming pools at the bottom of the canyon, but no road out
There were, unfortunately, no pancakes for breakfast the next morning. The group was up at 4.30 and on a mission to get to the top of the canyon before the sun got too strong. And by 8am, they had done it! At the top of the path was a woman in perfect Arequipan country dress, selling twix bars. And then there was a proper breakfast in a near by town, and visit to some hotsprings, a buffet lunch and a very gentle drive back to Arequipa.
In their final day in Arequipa, Stanley and Pamplemoose met Juanita the Ice Maiden (another Inca child mummy who, like the children in the museum in Salta, had been found by archeologists in the high mountains) and visited the stunning St Catarina's monastery. The monastery had been founded by the Spaniards to house their most privileged sisters and is a stunning complex of austere cells which yet needed to be big enough to house each nun's personal kitchen and personal slaves. The complex has 'streets' named after Spanish towns and is painted in reds and blues which bounce the light in all sorts of picturesque - and sometimes, slightly spooky - ways.
Pamplemoose would have liked to stay longer in Arequipa. But she had to move on: in Cuzco awaited another host family....