Arequipa and Colca Canyon – Peru

Somewhere during the last day at the oasis we forget to book our tickets to Arequipa because we are enjoying ourselves a bit too much. We arrive at the tour agency in the afternoon and find out that there is only one bus left with tickets… it’s not a good one. To make things worse the bus is overnight and if you’ve read my past blogs you know how much I hate night busses with a passion. Luckily I do manage to get a few hours of sleep and when I wake we are coming over the mountain range above Arequipa.

Arequipa is one of those places that people either love or hate. We ended up loving the place. The whole city is built up around the old colonial centre with a couple of cathedrals, lots of buildings with Spanish style architecture and a really nice central square. Just behind the city are two massive volcanoes that reach around 6000m so from most parts of the city there is a cool backdrop of the mountains. The main thing to do in the city is visit those volcanoes, the altiplano above the city and Colca Canyon which is a few hours away.

It’s also a really great stop to adjust to the altitude before going to Cuzco or Bolivia. We use the first day in the city as a rest day and don’t really do anything worth mentioning it’s just a great place to chill out and wander the streets (if you stay in the good neighbourhoods).

The next day Mariska, Alex, Conor and I woke up really early in the morning for our tour bus to Colca Canyon. We have been promised some amazing things. The trip is supposed to cover a trip to the altiplano, visiting a volcano, a hike to the source of the Amazon, seeing some Condors and some sort of mystery accommodation.

Getting onto the bus we know right away that some of these things are not going to happen. The bus is not full of young fit trekkers ready for a bit of adventure but instead is full of middle-aged-to-retiree’s looking for a hot cup of tea. We’ve been totally stooged. It’s not a huge problem though because as the bus starts the long climb up the mountain range the incredible scenery more than makes up for the hike we won’t be having.

The bus gradually climbs higher and slows to a walking pace around 4000m, there’s just not enough oxygen to go any faster. Inside we aren’t doing much better. Some of us are tired, some have headaches and we are just generally feeling like shit. Around this time we pull over at a small restaurant/café and the tour guide happily announces that we can stop here and get ourselves some coca tea.

I hadn’t had any coca up until this point but we’d all heard about its magical altitude sickness curing abilities, so we jump at the chance. We have a nice chill-out drinking the tea, which tastes like green tea by the way, and just in case we need a bit more help I buy some coca lollies as well (what a great country!)

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A spring on the altiplano and lots of llamas

Everyone climbs back onto the bus and the trip continues. Up until this point the bus had been really quiet but something interesting has happened. Now the bus is full of talking, laughing and seems more like a trip to the football game rather than us being out of breath sitting still. Interesting eh. Driving on, the bus weaves around volcano’s and dodges llamas until we pull over at the highest point on the trip which our guide tells us is 4900m. Again the view is incredible. In every direction there are snow-capped volcano’s, mountains and desert. We get a bit too excited and walk quickly across the road to get a better view and all get winded by the altitude and need to take a minute to catch our breath.

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The squad and the volcano

Late in the afternoon we arrive at a little town in the Canyon called Yanque where we meet our guide who will be taking us on our hike that afternoon. The hike definitely isn’t to the source of the Amazon but is still a really cool side trip to an old Pre-Incan ruin on the side of the canyon that has been restored for tourists. What really surprised me about the whole experience is that we are the only people there. One of the best preserved sites in Peru and we had the place to ourselves to explore and walk around by ourselves!

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The ruins and the valley

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As we start to descend from the ruins the sun is beginning to set and the place really looks like a part of paradise. Our guide leads us along the valley for a couple of km’s and we arrive at the entrance to some hot springs. Walking inside it becomes obvious pretty quickly that we are the only gringo’s there and I’m definitely the whitest gringo. Looking back now I think it may have been more of a communal bath than hot springs, the water was a few shades of green… Something else that was a bit green at this point was Mariska.

She’d been looking a bit sick all day but was now starting to get a fever and really looked like something serious was starting. We decide to settle in for the night and have a quiet one to see if she gets any better before doing anything more serious. Just on a whim the group decides to have dinner at a restaurant a few doors down and it turns out to be the best meal we’ve had in South America at that point.

Our wake-up call the next morning is cannon fire going off every 5 minutes. We are too far away for it to be Russia attacking, but the area is one of the biggest producers of Quinoa and Maca in the world so me and Conor are pretty sure it’s some kind of hipster coup d’etat… It turns out to just be Easter Sunday but I still think it was a great theory and they should be on the look-out for hipsters. Our last stop on the adventure is at the deepest part of the canyon to watch hundreds of condors take their morning flight. There is something incredible about watching a bird that might be 90 years old with a 3m wingspan fly around without ever flapping its wings.

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