losmorris (losmorris) wrote,

Travels - Arequipa and Colca Canyon

Well we have finally wandered outside of Lima! For the Veterans Day weekend (one of the joys of working for the federal government is that we get all the U.S. and Peruvian national holidays) Richard and I headed off for a long weekend trip to Arequipa. Arequipa is an absolutely delightful colonial city in the mountains to the south east of Lima. It sits at about 7,000 feet, has delightful clear blue skies and is remarkably clean. We were fortunate in getting a hotel – Sonesta Posada de Inca – on the central Plaza de Armas. Our view was terrific with a balcony overlooking the plaza. I highly recommend this hotel for any of you folks who plan a trip to the central mountains.

A lovely view of the Plaza de Armas in central Arequipa.

And a lovely view of Richard enjoying the view.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to wander the Plaza and then head off on a scheduled tour to the Colca Canyon. I had never heard of this site before coming to Peru. It is a canyon roughly twice the depth of the Grand Canyon and with the added attractions of soaring condors and hot springs. The bus trip out of Arequipa to Colca was also a bit more of an adventure than I would have expected.

We passed through extreme poverty on the outskirts of Arequipa – pueblos with no water other than what is trucked in daily and with terribly unstable homes. Given the frequency of earthquakes in the area, it is evident that life is very difficult for much of the highlands population.

We stopped at a Peruvian mini-mart on the way out to buy coca products. Not Coke as in the cola, not coke as in the illegal drug, but rather products made with the indigenous coca leaf that are comfort products for the locals and visitors. The leaf is used in the mountains to open up the blood vessels to allow more oxygen absorption. As it turns out this was pretty important for our trek as the bus ride passed over mountain passes of up to 4,900 meters – about 16,000 feet I think. As we climbed we made many stops to see wildlife – llama, alpaca, vicuna and other small animals as well as the local people selling goods and the opportunity for a good photo. Our stops also helped us acclimate to the altitude and provided views of the 3 volcanos that sit behind Arequipa. Here is Richard in front of the most prominent - Misti.

Throughout the trip we happened upon "oasis" with sufficient water to maintain the various herds of llama and alpaca.

And saw brightly dressed Amerindians along the way....

While Richard and I are from high altitude we were very much humbled by the climb and pretty slow, sleepy and uncoordinated when we made a stop at the highest point.

It was all worth it when we descended to our night’s lodging in the Colca Canyon. We stayed at the Colca Lodge – also highly recommended for future Peru venturers. The lodge was built in the last 50 years and is an eco-lodge sitting alongside the Colca River, on top of natural hotsprings, and just below an incredible display of terraced farms dating from the Incan and pre-Incan periods.

A view from above - from a very scary dirt road! - down to the lovely lodge.

The restaurant and common areas of the lodge.

The main hot spring - yes, that is 80 degrees Celcius. It feeds the more comfortable, people friendly hot springs.

Kathleen enjoys the people friendly version.

While Richard makes a friend with one of the lodge's residents....

After a lovely evening in the hot tubs and dining in the lodge restaurant we were down for the night in anticipation of a very early morning. The bus/van left at about 6 am to bring us to the Condor Crossing - a high altitude viewpoint above the canyon where the condors soar in search of food and mates. We were most fortunate in being able to see quite a few condors at relatively close range. Their wing span extends from 3-4 meters at full adulthood and they soar, rather than actively flying, on the currents above the canyon.

We clearly need a better camera to capture the majesty of these birds but you get the idea..

Another delightful element of the trip was our travel group - including Spaniards, a Peruvian lawyer and a young gentleman from Brazil. What a test for Spanish accents and terms!

And finally, a trek back to Arequipa enjoying views along the way.

The great scenery with Incan farming terraces all about....

And the people...

More on Arequipa in the following blog entry...

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