Crumbs, condors, canyons and cold showers

Colca Valley

Wow, today has been one incredibly long, challenging day!  We woke up at 2:30 a.m. to get ready for our 3:00 a.m. pickup by Colonial Tours to start our 3 day Colca Canyon trek.  We were picked up by  a large van that ended up with about 14 people in it, which seemed a little off to me since our group was supposed to be 5 or 6 max, and more likely just the 2 of us.  I asked about it and it turned out everyone else was just doing the day trip to Colca and to see the condors.  We would be meeting our guide when we got to the Cruz del Condor later in the morning.

Spotting a condor at the Cruz del Condor

The ride to Chivay, the entrance town to the Colca Valley, was about 3 hours and incredibly bumpy!  The van was also pretty tight with zero leg room so it was extremely uncomfortable.  To make matters worse, the guy sitting in front of me felt the need to recline his seat, completely squishing me!  At Chivay, we stopped for a very short, sparse breakfast.  Basically rolls and tea.  Kelsey and I had gotten box breakfasts from the hotel but they weren’t much better – an old banana, ham and cheese sandwich, soda crackers and some juice.  We continued on from Chivay and I made the mistake of putting my box breakfast on top in a storage rack.  Well, with the bumpy roads, it tipped over and crumbs started flying everywhere!  They guy sitting behind me made every attempt to try to rectify the messy situation but it was a bit embarrassing!  And poor Kelsey, sitting on the aisle, was practically covered in crumbs. 

Anyway, once we finally arrived at the Cruz del Condor, our guide Maria de Jesus was there to meet us.  We were supposed to spend about 20 minutes there, looking for the condors, and then get into a local bus to the town of Cabanaconde, where we would start the trek.  Well, we lucked out and saw a condor within about 15 minutes.  I think I got some decent pictures.  But then we waited and waited and no bus!  Finally, shortly after 10 a.m., Maria said she found out that our bus had broken down and the next bus wouldn’t be for another hour.  So she gave us the option to start walking the 2 hours to Cabanaconde, hoping that at some point we could flag down the bus when it finally passed.

Church in Cabanconde

We walked for nearly an hour and a half and finally the bus came.  It was a local bus, but fairly nice (cushioned seats!).  So we piled on – and it was absolutely packed!  And boy was it bumpy – I was flying out of my seat!  I just tried to stick with Maria and followed her to the back where there was an empty seat, but Kelsey stayed toward the front since she gets motion sickness (I really don’t know how she survived these busses!).  Around 12:20 or so, we finally arrived to Cabanaconde.  The “restaurant” we went to was quite primitive – dirt floors, shabby walls, numerous flies flying about…but I was pretty starving at that point and would eat pretty much anything.  Lunch consisted of a soup to start – not the best with something large and chunky floating in it in that we could not identify.  Then rice, veggies and alpaca meat.  I didn’t ask what the meat was before eating it, but I kind of assumed alpaca.  It seemed similar to the alpaca I had in Cusco.

The path ahead of us into the Colca Canyon

Around 1:10 p.m., we finally started our hike into the Colca Canyon (at this point we had already been up for nearly 11 hours!).  Maria is quite short, maybe 4’11”, so it seemed early on that our pace would be reasonable.  The beginning was fairly flat going through some farmlands out of town.  Then it got rockier and more full of gravel.  After a while, we were doing pretty regular zig zags down the canyon, but in some places the path was quite narrow and the gravel and rock felt quite unstable.  I was terrified of slipping and flaling over the edge, so I slowed down my pace, trying to take very careful steps.  I have to say, a good part of the trek was not all that enjoyable for just that reason.  We also didn’t stop very often so I didn’t take as many photos as I would’ve liked.  But I still took a lot.

Maria had said it would take us 4-5 hours to make it to our stop for the evening, Llahuar.  We made it in 3 hours, 40 minutes.  I had no idea what to expect in Llahuar.  The person we spoke with at Colonial Tours had said we’d be staying in bungalows without electricity and that cold showers would be available. It was primitive, but cute nonetheless.  The settlement was up on a cliff, overlooking the river.  The restaurant portion was literally built out over the river (and felt very scary!!).  Our bungalow has 3 stone walls and then a door and 4th wall made out of what appears to be bamboo.  It has 3 good size beds in it with pillows and thick blankets but the door is dirt/gravel.  I personally kind of liked it and felt like it was a big step up from camping in tents and sleeping bags!  We also have 2 sheep and a cat living right outside the bungalow and some chickens/roosters seemt to be in the vicinity as well.

Our bungalow in Llahuar, at the bottom of the canyon

The bathroom/shower is even better – made entirely out of wood/bamboo sticks on 3 sides to it is really quite see-through.  There is a flush toilet (again, step up from camping) and the shower is in the same room as the toilet.  It’s basically a nozzle hanging from the ceiling and a drain on the stone floor.  I decided to brave the cold shower, which was quite the adventure! I’ll spare the details, but the cold water did feel surprisngly good even though it wasn’t all that warm outside.  I just needed to get all the dust and dirt rinsed off of me!

Dinner was at 7:00 (this seems to be the standard time to eat dinner when hiking in Peru). Rice, veggies and a fried egg once we told them we didn’t eat fish (otherwise we would’ve had trout).

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