Colca Canyon – Valle de Colca

After a very long what seemed at times endless for Mr.C5 winding road trip, we arrived in Chivay the 1st community, a tourist trap so I had planned for us NOT to stay there.  Mr.C5 got to have his smoke, I got to pee and got us some super cheap sandwiches to eat for the last leg of the bus trip.  Mr.C5 was not happy!!  I tried to console him – only another hour or what ended up being 1.5 hours since this part of the trip was lots of stopping to drop off and pick up locals as this was the means of transport for the majority in between all the small communities that dotted the canyon on both sides.  Again too much sign of human activity – where were the tiny villages quiet?

Cementery in a community we drove through:

Here in Cabanaconde a typical street:

Some artistic walls instead of simply brick:

Outside wall of our hostel, Arum Qurpawasi Hospedaje so painted mural:

Cabanaconde, the final destination for the bus and where we were going to spend the night, ended up having a population of 3000 – I don’t consider that small really.  Folks here really do have way too many babies – what do you expect when some families still celebrate when girls turn 15 – fiesta de quinceañera.  It was nice to see very few cars, narrow cobbled (rocks) stoned streets.  A question – why do mainly women dress in traditional dress but overall the men don’t except for maybe hat.  On the topic of hats almost everyone is wearing a hat with the women’s hats being very colourful.

More lovely terraces – the wonders of agriculture:

Cabanaconde in the distance & walkway amongst the terraces:

Some nasty prickly cactus:

We arrived with some daylight left so we easily enough made our way to the hostal/hotel which again ended up being a nice place.  And once again BEER was in order.  I remembered reading about another hostel that had a great bar & pizza so off we went again just a short walk.  Here we spent a great evening, chatting with a Danish woman and the bar staff & owner.  We didn’t stay out late but I guess the town was kinda asleep when we went to our hostel and discovered we couldn’t get in.  I had had this thought when we left to go get food & BEER of maybe I should ask how do we get back into the place if it is late – need to listen to that little voice!!  We went back to the other place, got a pen & paper to go note down the telephone #s written on the door, back to other place where they tried to call the folks but no one picked up.  So we went back to hostel with bar staff guy this time knocking really loudly on the doors, not caring about walking up neighbours this time around.  Well lo and behold one of the so-called doors just happened to be open – we hadn’t even tried to push it since it didn’t look like a door.  Phew!! In we go and cold we are – no heating in these places – but the alcohol helped us crash pretty quick.

I had asked the hostel family if they knew a farming family so that we could visit their farm and ask questions about how they farmed and help out a bit if need be. Well the family who owned the place were such a family.  After breakfast I gather the son walked us to his family’s farm, maybe about 1 km, right on the edge of the canyon with million dollar views.  Besides carrying supplies and some other family members coming along, he had a bag with 4 turkey chicks who chirped away.  They had of course dogs, cats, chickens, the turkey chicks and quite a few pigs!! As well as a garden where they were growing alfafa for animal feed.

After a little tour, he took us for a short climb down to see a very old burial site located in the side of the canyon.  I actually didn’t realize where he was taking us with my not so great Spanish.  But I do know he offered for us to see this.  There were lots of bones – I understood it had been used for generations.  There was this giant bolder that had slide down who knows when and had lodged itself crushing lots of bones and destroying somewhat part of the walls of the burial chamber.  Out so respect we did not take any photos.

Farm visit, camouflaged side with eucalyptus treest, alfalfa growing for feed for animals:

Interior of their home:

Farm home & buildings:

Cooking area:

Piggies and more piggies:

Look at their view:

A pic of us:

Along the road just outside of town is the local museum dedicated to the Momia Juanita (Mummy Juanita) – had to read up about this on wikipedia. Our ‘guide’ told us that the community has been asking for the return of the mummy but so far the folks who have it are keeping it in Arequipa (if I understood correctly it is in private hands):

After this he offered us a bottle of wine which I initially thought was a gift (the wine was actually not from the region as they do not grow grapes here), but then we were invited into their home where we sat and shared the wine amongst all the family members.  I hope I did not make a cultural faux pas.  As they took sips from the one glass we shared, they would also drizzle some wine on the ground as an offering, a thanks to pachamama (mother earth) for providing life.

All in all it was a lovely experience.  I thought there was huge potential for some agri-tourism with Cuso perhaps being able to have a project there to help such an industry. There is plenty of eco-tourism – trekking – but this seem to benefit tour companies based in Arequipa mainly, not surprisingly little benefits going to the local communities with the exception of Chivay which tends to the jumping off point for the excursions.  When I later suggested this to my Cuso ‘supervisor’ I found out it was inappropriate for me to suggest to potential project partners such opportunities. I was like okay, I thought Cuso would always be looking for project partners and communities that could have some help in developing sustainable businesses – my bad – I guess – I think not!.  Cuso does have a weird way of operating sometimes.

After our farming excursion we headed back to town and hung out in the main plaza for a bit drinking some coca tea. Couldn’t get anything but instant coffee which was what we were drinking with our breakfasts and I was like nope so coca tea it was. We waited for the next bus to take us to Yanque, pronounced yanquay, which would begin our journey back to Arequipa.

Well that bus ride was an adventure – way more people than seats but so what right? The aisle was full of folks that just had to stand.  We were comfortably set up as we could be in one set of front seats with folks me strategically thinking we were going to be getting off early than the bulk of other passengers who were tourists, when an elderly woman got on. So I gave up my seat knowing this was supposed to only be 1 – 1.5 hr bus ride.  (Folks are really good here giving up seats to elderly and women with children so I of course followed the customs).

I am always amazed at how what we would consider strict rules for anything in this case bus transport (not public but the private way of doing things), are non-existent here (except you are legally allowed to complain if a bus is going over 90 k.m. which imho isn’t really that fast).  Finally we were dropped off but not in the plaza as I had expected.  By this time I was not a happy camper reaching my limit of too crazy full bus.  We easily enough found our family run hostel, got settled and then went on the hunt for food this time not beer.  Found the one open restaurant and actually had some real coffee and some good food.

Now it was time for our gem experience.  I knew this place had its own private hot thermal bath so I asked and after our bit to eat we were driven by the son a few kms down the road. There we met up with what turned out to be the father of the place, and we proceeded to hike down they say about 2 km down to the river where the hot baths were located.

I am so glad it was light when we did this since we got to see the surroundings.  As we soaked in the wonderful waters – my 1st ‘bath’ experience since being in Peru (for folks who know me I am a bath person not a shower person but I get it I am living in a desert so how dare I seek out baths) – we then watched the skies darken and the brilliance of the milky way with its billions of stars shining through.  It was a lovely way to bring the day to an end.

Ross against a typical – actually very nice – rock wall which was surrounding a hidden complex – not your typical farm home at all but an upscale place:

Some garden flowers and passion fruit:


Me snoozing in the comfy bed with super heavy blankets just like from my childhood:

Next day after breakie we had some time to kill before catching the bus back to Arequipa so we walked along a road that lead out of town towards the other side of the canyon to where there was a bridge that one could use to cross the river.  As this was quite high altitude we were not going to do anything strenuous so instead we watched the views from up above.  We encountered some family trying to get their two cows to cross the bridge but you know how stubborn cows can be.  The first guy was just not going to move. While we hemmed and hawed about whether we should go down and help, other family members arrived but still no success.  So I said come on we should do the neighbourly thing and help out.  But of course just before we reached the bottom, the cow decides to cross and easily enough the 2nd cow followed with some coaxing.  Oh well back up we went – slowly.

Colca river canyon & terraces:

Granaries in the canyon walls:

Now this is what I thought the whole canyon would look like:

Gorgeous wheat growing:

Families and livestock on their way to a new grazing area:


Drying corn stalks and corn (maiz):

Time for next bus ride.  I had asked if there was another way to get back to Arequipa – perhaps a taxi collective and yippee there were plenty of minivans that did this trip and it was actually cheaper than taking the larger buses and far quicker.  Why was this info not available on all the tourist blogs?  So we had a very pleasant 3 hour ride back to the big city.

So Colca Canyon.  It certainly was stunning I guess but not in the way I had imagined.  I have never gone to the Grand Canyon, never really wanted to because of the masses of tourists and all the rip off tourist prices one has to pay to get access.  So I thought cool I am going to see a canyon even more spectacular.  It turns out that this area has been inhabited probably for 1000s of year, definitely pre-Inca with many ethnic cultures – they would not be called nations as the separate nations in Canada of Original Peoples according to a local I asked about this (On Wikipedia it says “The Quechua-speaking Cabanas, probably descended from the Wari culture, and the Aymara-speaking Collaguas, who moved to the area from the Lake Titicaca region”… and “The Inca probably arrived in the Colca Valley around 1320 AD”.  So wherever possible along the sides and tops of this canyon were signs of human activity – the andenes as they are called (or terraces) for agricultural production – corn, alfalfa, some wheat is what we saw during this season, and of course some grazing areas for livestock.

I had expected pristine nature but it was instead feats of human engineering.  It was still pretty spectacular – it reminded me of Holland actually because of the use of every possible bit of land for agriculture mainly crops but also grazing of farm animals. However, I was initially actually quite disappointed for the first little but then began to appreciate the beauty that can be found in human impact on the planet.  (I remember being distinctly in awe of the lights that were visible while driving during a very dense fog – super dangerous – in Rotterdam’s Europort area).  But for me this shit about the longest, the deepest, the highest of whatever is just so ….juvenile or should I say boy childish??  Men and their issues with size!!

We had no interest in really hanging out in Arequipa – after a while all cities are just too alike, but I had booked us into another place a block from the plaza de armas (almost all main plazas are called this), a hostel recommended from a Suco volunteer.  Well it was your stereotypical hostel – filled with  young folks, noisy, drinking… need I say more.  And to boot this was Peru’s national day of celebration – Ferias Patrias.  What were we in store for especially since our private room was on the roof where was located an outdoor terrace with bar and music.  Thankfully I had ear plugs.  So we decided to imbibe in some drinking since the beer was cheap and well we had nothing else better to do.

Our ‘vacation’ trip was coming to an end.  Up early the next day as the sun was rising, taxi to bus station and then long ride back to Tacna.  Spent a very quiet night in Tacna before flying out the next day back to Lima with of course a flight delay for good measure.  Always glad to be home.  Have needed this past week to recover.

Some Tacna graffitti:

I am glad we did this excursion as I am now feeling I have seen many different landscapes in Peru. Yes there are more Andean mountains to see but these don’t make me feel awe since the west of Canada has its own amazing mountain ranges.  I do just love the desert landscapes which I now puts me in a minority group.  Don’t get me wrong I would not want to live in one unless it was super close to a very large river that would not dry out thanks to climate change which in all likelihood will happen to the majority of rivers in the South American countries that are fed by the Andes.

Now begins the planning of the vacation to the Amazon rainforest and river in 2nd 1/2 of September.  Now this is something I am so looking forward to, having only spent some quality time in a tropical rainforest in Australia where it was magical.

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