Peru! Peruperuperu. I kicked off my newest love affair in Arequipa with a three day trek through the deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon. After a 2:30 am wake up, followed by a sleepy bus ride, we arrived at Cruz del Condor to watch the condors do their morning hunting. I had no idea just how big condors are, it was impressive to watch them glide in circles over the canyon, on occasion swooping close enough to hear the sound of their wings cutting through the wind. Afterwards we continued our drive up through the Chivay Valley, 14k of land purely dedicated to cultivation. The farmers still maintain plots built during Inca times, creating a colorful patchwork divided by ancient stone walls for me to gaze at out the bus window.
Around 9 we started the long, switch-back filled descent to the bottom of the canyon. About a half hour in I was starving (what a surprise), and when I asked the guide how long it would be until lunch his only response was to laugh and point towards the distant village on the other side of the canyon. When we finally reached the bottom my knees were ready to revolt, and the two slices of wonder bread and butter I’d eaten for breakfast were long gone. We crossed a bridge, and began our journey through several villages only accessible on foot. Luckily along the path between the villages there were avocados, pacayas, figs, oranges, prickly pears and pomegranates to snack on in abundance.
While walking through the villages we were surrounded by tall stone walls, leading us to feel pretty isolated, until suddenly a pig or a little kid poked their head down from above. Finally, we took a break for lunch, which consisted of llama (like a really lean steak) with a side of rocoto salsa, the first spicy condiment I had tasted in months. After a little siesta and a short walk we arrived at the village we would be sleeping in, just in time to watch the sunset over the canyon. For dinner, we were able to pick out which guinea pig we wanted to eat from their little home in their corner of the kitchen, like a lobster out of a tank at a seafood restaurant. I decided to pass,and instead ate a delicious avocado salad and potato/ cheese pancake, followed by tea with toronjil, mint and lemongrass that we’d picked along the way.
The next morning after a breakfast of mango and banana pancakes smothered in homemade honey, it was time to hike to the oasis at the very bottom of the canyon. I made this little video if you want to see, it was pretty amazing to look around and see how far we had come. Along the way we learned about the cochinilla beetle that lives in cacti, and is used around the world in women’s makeup. The oasis was all that I imagined it would be, most of my day was spent next to the pool, relaxing in a hammock under a mango tree.
The final morning involved another early start, and what would prove to be the most challenging hike of my life. While we only had to climb 1km, we also gained 1000m, which basically means that I lunged uphill for 2.5 hours, dying every step of the way. Two of the people in my group were fresh from trekking in Nepal, so they breezed up laughing and chatting the entire time, while my new buddy Nacho and I suffered in the back. Most of the hike I listened to him eloquently using my favorite madrileño swear words, while I fantasized about throwing a tantrum until someone brought me a mule to ride the rest of the way, cursing the extra dulce de leche and Argentinian empanadas weighing me down, the only “souvenirs” I’d managed to take with me. It was a relief to finally reach the top and sit down while taking in our last views of the canyons.
After a short walk through fields of corn and quinoa, I ate what I’m pretty sure were the best fried eggs and toast of my life. From there we drove to a little town called Cabanaconde, and I immediately had an indigenous woman make me a stiff colca sour. With that priority taken care of, I visited one of the oldest churches in Peru, where a man who looked like he had been working there since it was founded was eager to show me the patron saint of single women, begging me to make an offering. After an enormous buffet lunch, the trip ended with a stop at the cool altitude of 5000m, to take in the 6000m peaks of the Andes surrounding us.
Just as I managed to stop feeling guilty and settle into the idea of being a grateful traveler, the unexpected occurred. I am finishing this post from California, while spending time with family and celebrating the life of my late grandfather. Almost everyone who knows me has heard me share a story or two about him, and there aren’t quite enough words or ways to arrange them that would adequately express what he has meant to me over the years. It’s a strange thing to realize that you’ll spend the rest of your life missing someone, but so much of who I am today is thanks to him, and in that way I hope I’ll be able to carry him with me.