Colca Canyon Trek (near Arequipa, Peru)

The mighty Colca Canyon
I admit, when I first heard about Colca Canyon from a Brit at a bar in Lima, my ignorance shone like one's greasy lips after a meal of fried cuy (guinea pig).

Fried cuy, a meal served on special occasions in Peru. Photo Credit: DAlanHirt
"There's a canyon bigger than the Grand Canyon?" I asked.

"Not only that, but it's twice the depth of the Grand Canyon."


- - -

I knew nothing about Arequipa when I booked my two-week stint, but I soon realized that Colca Canyon was at the top of the can't-miss list for the quaint little city ("little", yes, but also the second largest in Peru!).

Here's how I spent my weekend trek to Colca Canyon:

1. Booked a last-minute 2-day guided tour through Ceica Spanish School.
The tour cost S./130 (about 38 USD) and included the round trip bus ride from my host family's house to Colca Canyon on a comfy touristic bus (as opposed to a colectivo, the somewhat rickety, locally-prefered minibus); 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 1 dinner; 1 night stay at an oasis hostel; trekking guide; and a few touristy stops at Condor's Cross, some view points to see terraces and volcanoes, a town, some thermal baths, and a stop for lunch in Chivay.

Not included: cost for entry ticket to Colca Canyon (S./70 for general admission, S./40 for volunteers, S./20 for students and Peruvians), admission fee for thermal baths, and lunch in Chivay.

2. Woke up at 3:00am to catch the "3:30am tourist bus to Colca Canyon".
Which, by the way, did not actually show up until 4:20am.

3. Lost my breath (after knocking out on the bus) when I woke up to the beautiful sunset behind the mountains and volcanoes.
Granted, my breathlessness may also be attributed to the inhumane heights of some 4,000 meters above sea level we were approaching.

4. Stopped for a typical Peruvian breakfast at a guesthouse of a bread roll with marmalade, freshly blended papaya juice, choice of instant coffee or tea (including coca tea), and 1 egg for an extra S./3 (1 USD).
The meal definitely was not enough for the trekking that was to come. Everyone around me seemed unprepared for the cold at that altitude. My host sister insisted that I pack her fleece blanket, so I was perfectly fine all wrapped up like a pig in a blanket. A little girl in our tour group threw up on the restaurant floor, presumably from either the altitude or the gut-wrenching, high-speed twists and turns of our tour bus. I'd hazard to say it was 60% due to the altitude and 60% due to the bus because both were just that terrible if you hadn't acclimated to the altitude and bad driving of Arequipa.

5. Pressed forward by bus; pulled off at Condor's Cross to watch 1 condor sit on a branch at about 100 yards away and 2 other condors glide at the very, very far distance. 
All this, while surrounded by about 400 tourists.

6. Continued on in our Mercedes bus (for the last time) to our meeting point with our trekking group and guide.
Paid S./1 to use a toilet. Met my trekking guide. Grouped up with an American couple, a British couple, a girl from Lima, and a Dutch family of five.

7. Hiked down the canyon, across a bridge, and up the other side a bit for ~3.5 hours.
Very, very slowly.

After this sign, I was glad I sprung for the trekking guide.

8. Stopped for ~1 hour at a guesthouse for lunch for a typical Peruvian lunch of soup and the best alpaca with rice I'd had in my whole stay in Peru.
And that's saying something--alpaca is as yummy as they are cute and fluffy.

9. Hiked up and down and across another little river and up and past cactus after cactus and down, down, down, and across another bridge for ~3.5 more hours until we finally reached the miraculous green oasis.
You know that cartoon image of the dehydrated wandering man in the desert who comes across a green and blue oasis with a palm tree and a swimming pool? Yeah. This was literally that.

10. Swam, relaxed, read a book at the oasis.
Well, not so much book as e-book on my iPhone. Backlight was necessary. Electricity was non-existent.

11. Dinner of soup and spaghetti...
...by candlelight because of aforementioned non-existent electricity. Well, there was electricity, but it only seemed to run when water was flowing (somewhere... the details of this was not disclosed), and the water was not flowing that night.

12. In bed by 8pm.
My pack proved to be waaaay heavier than necessary, as I never needed my blanket again and probably could have forgone my fleece and water-proof jacket and would have survived with my one insulated long-sleeve shirt. The one-room adobe hut was surprisingly warm and the heavy wool blankets were more than enough for the night in the oasis.

13. Woke up at 4:30am, enjoyed the stars for approx. 3 minutes, brushed teeth, grabbed bathing suit off of the clothes line, and set off by 5:00am.
Lucky for us, it was a beautiful, full, blue moon that night/morning, so our headlamps weren't that necessary.
The moon.
14. Anticipated sunrise for about 1.5 hours, before realizing that we wouldn't see any of it, as it was on the other side of the canyon.
Oh well.

Still the moon.
There it goes.
Still there.
Yup, still there.
My one and only glimpse of sunrise, before we disappeared into the dark side of a cliff.
15. Hiked up, up, up, side to side, and up some more for a total of ~3.5 hours.
And stepping aside for the occasional solicited taxi mule for exhausted trekkers.

16. Reached the top. Was happy.
Three cheers for not dying!

When joining tour groups, I often manage to look like the product of an international adoption by a well-meaning White family.
17. Breakfast of TWO bread rolls (yay) and an egg.

18. Switched tour buses to a very cramped, rickety bus, full of tourists from what must have been every corner of Europe. Stopped for the occasional touristy picture and a well-deserved buffet lunch.
I want to re-live the green fried rice, purple corn pudding jello, quinoa fritters, and endless alpaca meat.

Hundreds of ceremoniously-piled rocks; smoking volcano in the background.
Where the llamas, alpacas, sheep, and vicunas graze happy and free. 
19. Knocked out (again) on the bus ride back to Arequipa; woke up forgetting what country I was in, where I lived, and how in the hell I was getting home; got dropped off at the town center and walked 1 more mile (pack and all) home.
What a weekend.

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