Monday, July 5, 2010

Colca Canyon and Huacachina

I was up at 2:45 AM & off on a bus at 3:30 to see the Colca Canyon. We had to leave so early so we´d see the condors. Ever since I lived in California, I´ve wanted to see condors. But I never made it to the refuge when I lived there. So I was quite excited to see them!

On the bus, everyone slept until the sun started to come out. Then the light revealed mountains and a crazy-windy road all around. We followed the contours of the land, which was a bit nauseating. But it was beautiful. There were mountains, a valley, terraces, llamas, sheep, donkeys and more. As we continued, we finally made it to the canyon. The walls dropped off at the bottom, and you couldn´t see below. This made me very happy that I was about to hike to the bottom, so I could see it all. We stopped with all the other tourists at a spot where the condors fly just about every day. It was so cool to see a bird with a 10 foot wingspan! I didn´t realize that the young ones are brown & the older ones are black & white. Very beautiful to watch flying! I guess they mate for life, and only have 1 baby a year. They´ll kill the other egg before it hatches if there are 2. If the female bird dies, the male will starve himself to death. If the male dies, the female will find another mate! The giude said that an 8 year old condor is old, but they can live to something like 40 years old!

We drove on to Cabanaconde (a town), and had lunch before heading into the canyon. I ended up with another small group...2 girls from Holland, myself, and the guide. The people who briefed me told me to carry a lot of water. So I had about 9-10 pounds of dead weight on my back! But we didn´t need to bring too much else.

The hike down was beautiful! The mountains have the nicest contours that I couldn´t stop taking pictures of! The river at the bottom was a nice shade of emerald green. We could see a few small towns across the canyon. The only way for these people to get to their towns is by foor or donkey. They will climb up with things they grew to sell & resupply in town. This is why water costs 3 times as much as in town (no exaggeration!). In the handful of towns, there are only about 100 people living down there. Part of the reason is that there is one school there, but it only goes through elementary school. When the kids reach high school, they have to rent a room in the small town at the top of the canyon during the week. They hike down to their home for the weekend. More kids are going on to college & not returning to live in the canyon. This is a fascinating way of life to me!

We hiked to a town & stayed with a family. This isn´t what I expected, but it was pretty cool. They have some extra rooms for hikers & they cook you meals. Our room had a wonderful view of the canyon! In the morning, our guide told us to check out the guinnea pigs in the kitches. There were at least 20 of them! And some of them were keeping warm in the bottom of the oven! This is pretty funny since they are there for food.

The second day, we hiked to an oasis at the bottom of the canyon. They have built it up for tourists by channeling the water into some pools. I must admit that it was quite nice to swim there! We were there for about 3 hours or so, so we swam, laid in the sun, ate, and laid in the hammocks. Then we had to climb the 1000 meters in less than 3 hours to the top! It wasn´t too bad, though, because there were switchbacks & we didn´t hike too fast. I was impressed that the altitude didn´t bother me at all.

We stayed in the town at the top of the canyon that night. I thought we were sleeping in the canyon, so I was a little disappointed. It turns out that I ended up with a company that wasn´t the one I was signed up with. That´s why the itinerary was different. I didn´t know this until that night!

The next day, we hiked an hour round-trip to a viewpoint of the canyon that was very nice. It was good to get one last good look. Then we took off on the long journey back to Arequipa. We stopped a few times along the way. One disturbing stop was a tourist trap that had birds of prey that you could put on your head or arm & have your picture taken. I wasn´t a fan of that.

We stopped at some hot springs to soak for an hour, which was nice. We also stopped at the high point of the road at almost 5000 meters! It was cold there! We could see some volcanoes from there, mostly with snow on them (it´s winter here). We could see the one that Juanita was found on, too (the frozen girl).

When we got back to Arequipa, I ran into Kathy, the woman I spent 5 days with in the jungle! We caught up & had dinner, which was really nice. Then I went back to get my stuff at my hotel, take a shower, & repack before heading to Ica on the overnight bus.

I slept much better on this bus, so I felt pretty rested when I got to Ica. I immediately got in a taxi with a Belguim couple & we headed to Huacachina. This is an interesting little town of about 500 people. It has a lagoon in the middle of town and buildings surrounding it. Behind that are these huge sand dunes! I found a hostel, then hiked to the top of one of the dunes. It was pretty steep! When I got to the top, I discovered that the dunes go on & on! It was so pretty.

Except for fact that tourists are ruining the place. There is trash everywhere in the dunes. People take dune buggy rides in the dunes, which I´m sure is bad for them. Some people sandboard, too, which can´t be good. Yes, I know that walking in them probably isn´t great, either.

I can´t believe that I leave in just a few days! I have been having a wonderful time, but I am ready to go home and have familiarity and ease of life again :) I look forward to a comfortable bed, a comfortable pillow, home-cooked meals, and English...perfect English :)! But until then, I have a few more days to take advantage of.

I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July!

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