On Thursday and Friday, we visited the Colca Canyon. Our bus picked us up super early Thursday from our hotel in Puno and drove us up into the altiplano. The first part of our drive took us through llama and alpaca country. We made stops at Laguna Lagunilllas, Laguna Salinas, and Laguna Sakakani, where we saw some Andean flamingos and Andean geese. At some point we entered the Pama de Toccra, part of the National Preserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca. Except for the llamas and alpacas and their wild relatives, this was some of the most desolate land I’ve ever seen. It was nearly a desert; part of that is the altitude (we got up to 4910 meters at the Paso de Patopampa, where we could see something like 8 volcanos), and part is the season. There were little rivulets we would run across sometimes, and between that and the wind there are some truly weird rock formations up here. One very common one looks like a bunch of jagged teeth poking up out of a ridge. Very eerie.
Around one in the afternoon, we got dropped off at our hotel in Yanque (the Killawasi, which was excellent, and which I would love to come back to someday to spend a few days at). The hotel organizes daily hikes into the Colca, and we joined the 3 o’clock one up to the ruins at Uyo Uyo. There were two other guests, a Spanish father and his Chilean daughter, both of them down from NY. He was a hotel critic for a Spanish magazine and once you got him going he had some very strong and well-informed opinions about hotels and restaurants throughout the world, not all of which I agreed with (example: the only thing you can eat in NY is a burger). I feel like we lucked out on hiking companions because they were such nice people and because they spoke Spanish, which allowed our guide Edwin—in the running for the nicest person I have ever met in my life—to really cut loose in terms of talking to us. It was beautiful in the canyon, of course, and at some point I hope to add some pictures to these posts, but what I enjoyed most was being able to learn about how people have traditionally lived in the canyon. The whole thing has been terraced for hundreds—if not thousands—of years, and farmers still work the land pretty much the same way their great-grandparents did (they plough with bulls…uncastrated bulls, weirdly). Uyo Uyo is the ruins of a Collagua town burned down by the Spanish in order to encourage resettlement of its citizens in Yanque, where they could be properly supervised to make sure they had converted to Catholicism. One thing Edwin mentioned is that the citizens of two separate villages were relocated to Yanque by the Spanish, and that to this day they keep apart. One group farms lands in one area of the canyon, and the other group farms lands in another. Their water comes from different sources, and each has their own irrigation channels, which they clean every year around this time (in fact, Edwin was headed up to the big cleaning/festival in the mountains after dropping us off… a six hour ride by donkey). Edwin told us an extremely charming folktale about a fox and a condor, which I wish I could remember but can’t.
Friday, we got picked up early again. I stole someone’s seat on the bus because there was a total bullshit situation going on wherein people got to pick their seats for the whole trip on the first day and since we got picked up last we got the worst seats, all spread out everywhere. I was sitting in the middle seat in the very back, smack dab in the middle of a family of four. They were ok, but it’s always awkward when people are talking over you, so on the second day, when they left the bus, I took one of the windows and pretended to fall asleep. Part of me was guilty, and the other part was giving everyone on this bus the finger. Basically, buses are the only feasible way to see the Colca, but if I ever were to come here again, I’d make damn sure I was in a super comfortable minivan where there are just two seats per row and everyone gets a window. Travel!!
Anyway, our main activity for the morning was a two-hour stop to see the condors. They’re very impressive, although on the other hand they are also just giant birds. It’s fun to see up close how they use the thermals in this massively deep part of the canyon. Also, the walk up to the observation area is lovely (and dangerous; apparently one year a woman got dizzy watching the birds circle overhead and plummeted into the canyon…in the second weirdest thing to happen to her that day, she got caught on a branch, which saved her life). Once I got back on the bus, I started to feel like a real sourpuss. I don’t know if it was all that time on the bus or what, but from then until we got dropped off in Arequipa around 5, I must have rolled my eyes 500 times. The only thing I didn’t roll my eyes at was when the guide claimed highland people who raise llamas marry them to each other. I really want this to be true.
The drive to Arequipa passed through a town called Yura where there’s a massive cement factory. What a blasted landscape that was. Coming out of the Colca, where people have lived for hundreds of years in balance with their surroundings, to this environmentally devasted place made me quite sad and anxious. What a wretched place. Arequipa itself, however, would turn out to be lovely.