Cabanaconde, PeruJuly 4, 2017 in Peru
Cabanaconde is a quaint wee town sitting pretty on the ridge of the world's second deepest canyon; Colca Canyon. Colca's not like the Grand Canyon. It has a mountainous surround which makes the actual extent of the canyon and it's ridges almost impossible to discern. Nonetheless, it's jolly deep. It took us all day to get here by bus. The bus we hoped to catch didn't run on Sundays (of course) so we ended up waiting in the bus terminal for two hours before we even left. Not a good start.
Fortunately we decided to splash out a little on our hostel in Cobanaconde (Pachamama, $15 pn ea) and were greeted by a fantastic group of staff when we arrived in the early evening. It was definitely what we needed after that painstakingly long day on crammed buses. Pachamama has it all, restaurant, bar, happy hour, bikes for rent, tours, a pizza oven, hot and powerful showers, great staff and a wealth of information on how to approach the canyon. (Seriously they made their own map with trail routes and explanations in incredible detail - much more valuable than the gimmicky tourist map the Canyon Authority gives you on paying your exorbitant $30 entrance fee).
After much debate and a good old fashioned game of option-slinging we decided to spend two nights in the canyon. Then a German couple joined us for dinner. Now, I've seen tired people. I've seen grumpy people. I've seen upset and I've seen hungry. In fact, I've been all four. At once - and I'm sure most of you have witnessed it. But this was next level. This girl had long since bitten off more than she could chew and had spent most of her day on the back of a mule making an ass of herself in an effort to escape the depths of the canyon. Whilst she made good headway putting us off a canyon trek altogether, her boyfriend made feeble attempts to stick up for her lack of tenacity. It wasn't before long that we realised her recovery meal of choice was a lousy vegetable soup and swiftly disregarded all of their advice and further compressed our hike into just two days. If she'd been eating a llama steak or a family sized pizza we might have taken her more seriously. You are what you eat, right?
We started day one nice and early to beat the heat. I finally accepted the weakness of my knee (in the face of a 1200m descent) and succumbed to a walking stick, much to my own disgrace. I'm glad I did 'cause walking that far down what is essentially steps might just have caused me to be the one on the back of a mule. We hit the base of the canyon before midday and after another hour or two more of up-downing we reached our destination of Llahuar; a tiny town at the base of the canyon. We lunched, changed and spent about four hours in the riverside hot pools like seals in the sun. I will note the trend of an increasing number of French (close to every single person staying here was French); a trend that will continue the more we explore Peru. The lack of power and therefore light, was cause for an early night which we embraced at the prospect of a daybreak start the following morning.
Day two in the canyon was tough on the legs. The map told us we had nearly nine hours walking which would cover nearly 2000m in elevation gain. We left Llahuar fueled by two pancakes, half a banana and a quantity of strawberry jam so exessive it put the waiter in shock. The elevation of the oasis at Sangelle (our destination for lunch) is barely higher than Llahuar. How much climbing could there be? Only a fool would ask that question and fools we felt as we climbed virtually out of the canyon before descending all the way back down to river level. A cruel track.
Sangalle is an oasis and a remarkable one at that. Usually oasii (what is the plural of oasis?), at least those I have seen, are not so vividly distinguishable. Sangalle is not one of those. Diverting water from a nearby tributary, they've created lush green foliage and several enticingly blue pools, which sharply contrast against the dry and dusty canyon walls. It's a glorious retreat from the dry canyon heat. Cat and I sussed a pool to ourselves and spent two lazy hours lounging and lunching in midday heat. The idea of ascending 1200m under a baking sun seemed to take a back seat to, well, not.
Finally we pulled ourselves together and started labouring up. It was 3.5 hours of steep, rocky uphill on legs that had already carried us for four hours on similar terrain. They tired quickly but our lungs appreciated the lower altitude and we had great laughs picturing our German friend having the (worst) time of her life. It was also fantastic to have the trail entirely to ourselves, save for trains of mules which we passed hauling goods (not tired Germans as we expected). We made it to the top just before dark and returned to the comfort of our hostel with what a Peruvian calls a cold beer (off the shelf). All that remained to round of our journey to Colca Canyon was the great Andean Condor and an excessive amount of busing.
The following morning we watched the flight of the Condors from a nearby mirador with about 300 other tourists. It was quite the spectacle and the giant birds swooped within just a few metres of us to really excite the snap happy bunch. We proceeded on two dreadfully long buses to Puno (Peru's equivalent to Nicaragua's Rivas - the town nobody wants to visit but everybody has to) with gratitude only for a swift transition and the front seat.
We stayed a night in transit in a splendid but cold hostel (Inka's rest), where I came down with an unidentifiable illness which I carried onto the bus to Cuzco the very next day - to share with Peruvian passengers as they have shared with me. Cuzco will no doubt be a long stop. Cat and I are well and truely over the bus.Read more