Sorry that I am still finishing up my Peru entries!
When we finally got out of Cusco, we headed for Arequipa. I loved and still love Cusco as one of my favorite cities. However, it was time to leave. As a little going away gift I had my purse stolen while leaving a club on my last night. After spending five hours at the police station, with the full realization that they were not going to actually accomplish anything and I was simply losing out on precious sleep, I finally made it back to the hostel red eyed and ready to get out of Cusco. We took a night bus and ended up at The Point in Arequipa because I got a free night for being a formal bar staff employee.
Arequipa was exactly what I needed. We went there to trek Colca Canyon and see condors. Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US, and thus is promoted as the “world´s deepest canyon.” We left on a bus to the sleepy little town of Chivay and basically just slept the whole time due to complications with bus routes and times. At 4:00 the next morning we left Chivay and headed for Cruz del Condor. We waited at the viewing point overlooking Colca Canyon and Rio Colca below for approximately four hours with not a single condor sighting before we left on a bus to take us to the Mirador San Miguel where we began our trek. Despite the unfortunate lack of condors, watching the canyon fill with light during the morning sunrise was oddly serene and meditative. There is not much like sitting quietly with few noises while staring out across a beautiful landscape.
At the San Miguel we lucked out and were able to follow a guided group to the beginning of the trek. Aaron and I decided to trek the canyon loop on our own without a guide. I still believe it was the right choice. The use of a guide is completely unnecessary, and we saved about 60 soles not taking a guide. From the mirador we trekked down to the Rio Colca, crossed the bridge and began the ascent back up the other side of the canyon, passing through San Juan de Chuccho, Cosñirhua, and Malata. Once at Malata we descended once again down to Sangalle (Oasis), which is the lush green patch of earth in an old flood plain of the Rio Colca. The whole trek is very hot and exposed to the sun, but once you round a bend and first glimpse Sangalle, you properly realize why it is called the Oasis. The “town” is nothing but little resorts with lush grass, sparkling pools, and small thrush huts. According to the map we collected from a travel agency, the trek from San Miguel to Sangalle should have taken us seven hours, but Aaron and I made it in five. Which is quite impressive when considering that we had just spent a month with very little exercise and an alcohol diet. We arrived to El Eden, this quiet little residential, just after 14:00, giving us plenty of time to relax by the pool drinking a cold beer. Another early night to bed due to exhaustion and the need to head out at 4:00 the following morning. This was the most arduous part of the trek. Sangalle is located at the bottom of the valley. We had a gruelling three hour trek uphill about 1,000 meters to reach Cabanaconde, the town at the top of the valley edge. With no proper idea of how long it would take us to reach the top or when the morning bus would be leaving Cabanaconde for Arequipa, we left before daybreak. This was actually in our favor as the climb quickly causes your body to heat up and start sweating. I cannot imagine that trek uphill while the sun is baring down. In fact, the ascent required so much energy that we did not realize how cold it was outside until we reached Cabanaconde and could barely write our names on the bus tickets due to frozen fingers.
I really appreciated having a fairly easy trek to stretch my legs a bit. Though I must say that the second day while climbing up to Cabanaconde was the most breathtaking part of the entire trek. About half-way up, looking back at the valley, while the sun it slowly draping golden light across the land. That was a sight to remember. I have been to the Grand Canyon and think it is more impressive geologically and aesthetically, but that one view of Colca Canyon rivalled both sunrise and sunset views of the Grand Canyon. Simply gorgeous. Though still no condor sightings. 🙂
Once in Cabanaconde, we had the perfect amount of spare time to eat a hot breakfast, change clothes, and play a game of scrabble before leaving on our bus for Arequipa. I thought that the adventures were over once en route, but I was completely wrong. I slept the whole way into the valley, but I did not close my eyes once on the way out. It was one of the scariest and most beautiful drives I have ever been on. For three hours you are driving along a single lane, dirt road which has been carved out of the hillside erosion debris. That unsteady, conglomerate mash is the eroding debris from the higher peaks above. Every time an oncoming vehicle came towards us, we simply pulled to the side of the road to let it by before continuing our journey. Several times this required pulling off the single land road as it was almost never sufficiently wide enough for two vehicles. Then we passed through a tunnel that was carved into a chalky parent rock material. I suspect the hillside debris was not secure enough to actually support a road so they carved out the tunnel. However, the tunnel was too long to see the light on the other side, yet there were no interior lights or supporting walls, and the actual road was a several inches thick layer of loose dust from the walls. This tunnel was barely the width of one vehicle and yet I do not remember seeing any type of warning system that an oncoming vehicle was already within the tunnel. Despite the adrenaline rush of utter terror every time we came close to running off the road, leaving the valley was absolutely stunning. Colca Canyon does not have the extreme and immediate cliffs of the Grand Canyon, but the diffuse canyon with surrounding mountains is mesmerizing. The trip to Colca Canyon was definitely worth the lovely sunburn I acquired over the two days´ trek. We stayed in Arequipa a few days after our trek due to a misplaced bank card. However, it gave us some time to meet up with the fantastic Alice from Cusco who was staying with her aunt in Arequipa. We also had the pleasure to see Melanie (again from Cusco) and meet three of her friends. Beyond seeing friends, we had the opportunity to acquire new friends from the hostel who were equally amazing.
After leaving Arequipa, we headed for Puno and Lake Titicaca. This was our last city to visit within Peru. Arriving to Puno was like entering a relaxed time warp. Between Puno and Copacabana (the lakeside town on the Bolivia side of the border), Aaron and I spent a week in total relaxation. There was lots of sleeping, reading, and movie watching. In Puno we stayed at Bothy Backpacker Hostel, where we were two of maybe six guests and the only two in our nine person dorm. We walked along the beach of Lake Titicaca where the city of Puno has established a lovely walking area. I tried out my new camera. Third time´s a charm. I will be protecting this camera with my life!…or at least the pictures on the camera. We explored Puno. Changed out money. Then headed for the border en route for Copacabana. There was a strike that day, very typical of Bolivia, and headed for a more northern border before heading back down to Copacabana.
Troubles of being U.S. citizens. When traveling within South America, U.S. citizens have a few surprise entry fees and visa requirements for Suriname, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Chile. Fortunately, Chile only requires a reciprocity fee of $131 when entering Chile through the Santiago airport. Woot! When traveling as a backpacker with a very strict budget, these fees can be quite unfortunate. Upon arriving at the Peru-Bolivia border crossing, Aaron and I were required to fill out two lengthy forms, turn in two copies of our passport, (supposedly two passport-sized pictures as well, though they luckily waived that requirement), and $135 USD. We were both quite early in the queue but left last due to the extended entry process.
We arrived to Copacabana that evening under a torrential downpour. The bus stopped outside a hotel near the beach, thus Aaron and I, plus two nice Korean guys we met on the bus, took off running uphill through the rain to reach a cheaper accommodation. After not finding the places on our map, we settled on a hotel/hostel place above a restaurant. After peeling off our drenched attire we headed out to grab some fresh lake trout fished directly from Lake Titicaca. Delicious! The following day we headed to Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), where there are Incan ruins. We stayed in the village Yucumani at HI-Inka Pacha, located at the top of the island up, surprise surprise, a long, steep Inca staircase. This was gorgeous, though, with a panoramic view of Lake Titicaca and the island. We explored some of the walking paths on the island, though were not successful in finding a proper trail down to a delightful looking little beach, and saw the Inca temple of the sun.
Lake Titacaca (3,800 masl and 400 m depth) is the ninth highest lake on Earth, and the largest commercially navigable lake on Earth. Boasted as the highest lake in South America, Laguna Colorada (4,500 masl) in southern Bolivia near the Uyuni Salt Plains, Poquentica Lake (5,750 masl) between Chile and Bolivia, Aguas Calientes Pool (5,831 masl) Chile, Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde (5,916 masl) at the base of the Licancabur volcano in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in Bolivia, Acamarachi Pool (5,950 masl) Chile, and Ojos del Salada (6,390 masl) Argentinian-Chilean border, are all at higher elevations. Lake Titicaca is still quite an impressive feat, however. The name Titicaca derives from the wildcats that live on the lake’s islands, called titi. Titicaca was a sacred place for the Inca civilization. The first Inca king was said to be born here and according to Inca mythology; Titicaca is where the world was created, by the god Viracocha. Legend has it that the god Viracocha rose from the depths of the lake to form the sun, the stars and the first people. The area is still very dear to its inhabitants today, especially the Uros people, who live on the lake on floating islands made of reeds.
We headed back to Copacabana the following afternoon. When we left Copacabana, our next destination was La Paz. Stay tuned…