The Passage to Cabanaconde
Trip Start Nov 08, 2011
21Trip End Feb 21, 2012
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Colca Canyon is one of Peru's star attractions. It’s the second-deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and located in the Andean highlands. Because its walls aren’t sheer cliffs, the area had been developed by the Incans as farmland, and continues to be used for that purpose today (villagers still use the original Incan terracing). The canyon is filled with trails, including one that’s a straight shot down to the bottom of the canyon from Cabanaconde, so, intrigued, Chris and I willingly subscribed to torture in the form of a 6-hour bus ride (after a 10-hour bus ride from Nazca, mind you) to get a piece of the (unspoiled, kind of off-the-beaten-track) action
We chose to go with Andalusia, the bus company that all the locals take, and were assigned to the seats at the very back of the bus, wedged between a little local girl, her mother, and her grandmother, squeezed into two seats, and a nice man who fell asleep and whose leg kept knocking against mine whenever the road got too windy, which was most of the time.
At one point, I looked out the window and imagined we were in a turbulent ocean of imposing grassland, which rose and fell away from our lone little road in huge sweeps (as if the road parted the sea, if you can imagine).
I saw a cloud that looked exactly like a whale, and tried frantically to take a picture of it before it dissipated into a shapeless fluffball, but was unsuccessful, just like I was unsuccessful at capturing photos of the villagers in their traditional wear because I didn’t want to seem like I was exploiting their cultural differences to get a good picture (that was my excuse—really, I’m too self-conscious).
The bus broke at one point (understandable, given the fact that the road is just dust and pebbles at some points), so we all got off and stared in fascination (it really was a huge public spectacle) at the bus driver while he and several men attempted to replace the bus’s back wheels
This happened in one of the villages along the way, so we ended up chatting with a group of Cabanaconde teenagers who were also trying to take the bus home after having lost a football game against the local team. In my broken Spanish, I explained to one of the girls that I was traveling with "mi hombre," my man, unable to say fiancÚ or boyfriend or husband, and Chris liked it so much, he called me his “mujer,” woman.
Finally finally finally we arrived in Cabanaconde. It was early evening, and the sun was still blazing hot, but long shadows were beginning to form on the streets. After setting our things down at our hostel, Pachamama (fantastic, by the way. Really cozy at night when all the backpackers returned from hiking and communed in the bar area. Oh, and the breakfast provided was excellent.), we set off to explore the town; our mini investigation proved that we had come to the right place. Cabanaconde is wonderful. Imagine long lines of traditional stone buildings towering over narrow dusty streets, contrasted by dramatic peaks on all sides
Right away, we heard in a back alleyway somewhere nearby the poignant notes of a traditional song, which were repeated over and over again, reminding me of the game Marco Polo except we were trying to guess the position of the musicians. Suddenly, they were before us, along with a procession of townpeople following closely behind. The stream of people walked down the cobblestone road before abruptly making a left turn and the music faded away. We found out later that we’d witnessed part of a village funeral.
The feeling of peace emanates in this village. Roosters crow in the morning (and even before), men on horses trotted past our window many times a day, the sound of children playing was a constant. Outside the circumference of the village proper are terraced stables made of stacked stone milling with donkeys, horses, and mules; further out are terraced fields lined neatly with growth. And always, in the background, the canyon stands steadfastly.