Flight of the Condors

Depending on who you speak to Colca Canyon is the biggest (deepest/longest) canyon in the world and at over 3km deep it’s a great challenge for a 2 day trek, and a perfect warm up for Machu Picchu! Not only this, but its also home to the world’s biggest flying bird – the condor, which has an impressive 3m wingspan, so whilst in the area it’s pretty much a must do.

Having spent a couple of rainy days in Arequipa we decided to take the plunge and book ourselves onto a trekking tour of Colca Canyon… a bit of a risk as it gets pretty dangerous in the wet, with regular landslides etc, and of course theres a significantly reduced chance of seeing the condors (which is a highlight for most). But, we thought it’s better to try and be disappointed than to not try at all…. Carpe Diem after all!

We set off at 3am from our hostel in Arequipa with 5 other people and took the long rickety bus journey over the mountains to Chivay (sleeping most of the way!). We were chatting to the other guys over breakfast about their trekking plans and quickly found out that they were all on the 3 day 2 night option – basically the same trip as us but at a more sensible pace. Which meant that we were an exclusive and perfectly formed group of 2, plus our guide Sandro & we’d selected (accidentally!) the intensive trek, the same distance over less time- eek!

After breakfast we headed straight over to the Cruz del Condor to try and spot a few of the feathered beauties! After 45 minutes in the viewing area we managed to spot 5 circling specs in the distance, which we all agreed just had to be condors (!?) and walked away not too disappointed, but wishing we’d been a bit luckier.

We took a short bus ride onto our start point to set off on our 2 day trek and as we reached the Canyon we stood there awestuck at how massive it was (and how hard the next 2 days were going to be). As we were discussing the route with Sandro I noticed something swooping by out of the corner of my eye……….
“Hey, What’s that?” I asked excitedly….. “It’s a condor!!”
Sure enough one was circling close by to us as we stood on the edge of the Canyon – Jackpot!! How lucky are we………

You really cant appreciate the size of these guys from the photo, but believe me they were pretty big!

So then began the trek, the basic plan was to head down all morning to the river – cross the bridge and make our way to one of the local villages for lunch. Then in the afternoon walk for about 3 hours through the small villages across the mountainside and finally reach the oasis where we’d sleep for the night around 5pm. The morning walk was pretty tough on the knees but the spectacular scenery always took your mind off any pain you were experiencing. Along the way we shared the path with other trekkers, the locals (taking the 1 day walk to get their shopping) and several donkeys and mules who are used for taxis and load bearing.

One local here making the long walk up hill…

This lady stopped to chat for a while with our guide, she only spoke Quechuan, the original language of the area.

Looking pretty exhausted and ready for lunch!

Lunch was great – cooked by a local family in the village, with locally grown and toasted maize (like popcorn), freshly picked and cooked vegetable soup and the main course – Alpaca steak (tastes like a cross between Pork and Beef), but as we finished the rain started to come down, not a good sign based on us having a 3 hour trek to our rest stop for the evening.
As we plodded on through the villages the rain started to dampen our spirits slightly, but on we went until we reached the oasis at the bottom of the canyon (where you can see the swimming pools in the photo below)

The path on the right is the one down, the one on the left is the journey up and our challenge for day 2…. eeek!

There’s nothing like a comfy bed, a good meal and a warm shower to perk you up…. but unfortunately that’s not what we got. Our cabin had bamboo instead of glass for a window, no electricity (so the head torches came in handy) and the showers only dispensed icy cold water. Oh well…. at least the evening meal was good and the bed was comfy and warm!

With the next morning came the big challenge – getting back up again! It was up at 4am in the pitch black for a 5am start…. we were promised that it was only a 3 hour trek up, but also promised that it was gonna be hard!!
With regular stops to take in the awesome view, a bit of music on the ipod and a few cereal bars we eventually made it up to the top with red faces and achy legs in 2 hours 40 minutes, not a bad time!

Whilst reading back through this you might think that it wasn’t too great, we genuinely had a really good time. There’s something really special and humbling about being lucky enough to spend time in local villages which carry on the same way they have for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years – and being welcomed into their houses and shown how they live. All in all it was such a great experience and one we’re really pleased we decided to do! But the big treat was still to come on the journey home. We rendezvoused with the minibus at the top and stopped off at a few vantage points on the way back – some showing the terraces made hundreds of years ago to allow the locals to farm the lands (check this out).

As we waited for another couple to meet us for the drive back we spent some time chilling out in one of the small local towns (who’s name unfortunately I can’t remember). The place was absolutely great – a little central square surrounded by shops and a little market, full of locals going about their business, with most of the ladies wearing the traditional dress that’s been worn for hundreds of years. Such a beautiful sight! We spent over an hour there, but agreed that we could have stayed for days!

A local lady with her grandson

Here she stops for a photo for us

Some local ladies chilling out on the side of the road in their beautiful traditional clothing, the hats signify which village they belong to

At home we take the dog for a walk, here it’s a different story

We arrived back in Arequipa tired and aching but grinning from ear to ear. What a great couple of days!
Tomorrow (Saturday) we’re gonna check out the carnival in Arequipa, then it’s off to Nasca for a couple of days to see the world famous Nasca Lines……………

But for now, all our love to everyone back home
Stefan and Claire

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