After a restful week in Arequipa, we were ready for another
beat-down trekking adventure. Arequipa is a main launching point for the surrounding canyon country and Jason had been itching to trek the Colca Canyon, which is about 200km north of Arequipa.
The Colca Canyon is one of Peru’s spectacular natural sights, although it’s often overshadowed by the country’s other attractions (i.e. Machu Picchu). It’s twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon in the United States and is actually the world’s second deepest canyon – just few kilometers shallower than the nearby Cotahausi Canyon.
We decided to set up our base in nearby Chivay, a popular market town that still retains a lot of its traditional country origins.
It’s a logical entry point into the canyon country, and holds it own with many hiking trails and some of the most impressive and expansive Incan farm terracing on the continent.
We spent our first day in Chivay on rented bikes, touring the surrounding smaller towns further up the valley.
We started off making our way to the nearby town of Coporaque. There are a couple of ruins in the small town but we didn’t stop long. Out of Coporaque is a (mainly) downhill ride to the orange bridge which crosses the Rio Colca and brings you into Yanque.
Unfortunately, the downhill out of Coporaque meant a crazy uphill from Yanque back to Chivay. My thighs are burning just thinking about it.
Just a warning to non-bikers: it is NOT a quick ride. We were told it’s a quick 2-3 hours bike tour. We took about 5-6 hours because we were not anticipating the intense uphill riding (i.e. walking our bikes uphill) we encountered at the end of our circuit.
Successfully warmed up, we embarked on our 2D/1N trek into the Colca Canyon the next day. Although almost all tour companies in Chivay offer Colca Canyon treks, it’s pretty easy to do the trek solo.
To properly experience Colca Canyon trekking, you have to make it as far as the little town of Cabanaconde. (Only about 20% of Colca Canyon visitors get this far – most only make it to the scenic viewpoint of Cruz del Condor). The shortest way to the canyon floor is the 2-3 hour hike from Cabanaconde to Sangalle (aka ‘the oasis’).
It’s a 1200m descent on steep, zigzagging paths, where upon reaching the bottom of the canyon, you can stay overnight in basic thatched-roof bungalows (S/.15 or CDN $7/pp) or campgrounds.
The ‘oasis’ is almost immediately visible once you start the trek into the Colca, but like any desert oasis, it’s deceptively far. (and here’s hoping it’s not just a beautiful mirage)
After 2.5 hours of watching the oasis grow closer and closer, we finally made it.
Sangalle (“the oasis) is beautiful. A rich patch of green bound in by the Rio Colca and the sheer canyon walls.
With no electricity, no phones, and no internet access, there was no choice but for us to relax. I even finally perfected the art of lounging in a hammock!
Thanks to Jason’s tutelage:
After a evening of candlelight dining (out of necessity, not romance), card-playing, and star-gazing, we called it a night.
The next day, we left around 8am to start the tough climb out of the canyon. We were told it’ll take 3-4 hours, so we wanted to start in the cooler morning air. I’m a slower trekker than Jason, so I decided to get a head start on the trail, while Jason was packing up.
As I was climbing up, I noticed that the trail seemed much narrower and steeper than the climb down. ‘How did I climb down this yesterday, with such ease?‘, I found myself wondering. Typically, the climb down requires more concentration than the climb up, since the trail is covered with loose rocks. Any momentary lapse in concentration would likely result in me losing my footing and slipping (not enough to make me fall flat on my arse, but enough to make me concentrate hard for the next 30 minutes).
However, on the climb up, I was concentrating way too hard for it to seem right. After about 20 minutes up, I realized that I had taken the wrong trail (Groan!) And by ‘wrong trail’ I meant the crazy-steep, really narrow trail that perhaps only mountain goats were sure-footed enough to take. So I had to turn around, edge slowly back down, and start all over again. By then, Jason had already caught up with me! So much for my head start 😛
On top of that, (oh, you’re gonna laugh) after we trekked up for about half an hour, I suddenly realized that I had left my iPhone in our bungalow. Back in the oasis. Back at the bottom of the canyon!
So Jason decided that I should keep on going, while he turned back around to trek back down into the oasis to get it. He gave all his valuables to me, tied his backpack to a nearby post, and sprinted back down. I continued my slow ascent up the canyon. Every 10 minutes or so, I would turn around and see if I could catch a glimpse of him.
Two and a half hours later, I was finishing the last leg of the trek out of the canyon and I still hadn’t caught sight of him. I was really getting worried – until some power trekkers caught up with me near the top and told me that they had seen my husband (i.e. the only other Asian person in the canyon) further down. About 20 minutes after I reached the top, he rounded the corner into view.
And he had my iPhone with him. That’s my hero! 🙂