Andean Explorations – 8: Trekking in Colca Canyon

This post is part of my Peru travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

“[…] Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Over a span of 100km, it averages 3.4km vertical depth. However, the canyon’s walls are not as vertical as those of the Grand Canyon. Since it is such major features of the landscape, the Colca canyon is easily recognizable in even low-resolution satellite photos of the region. The Colca Valley is a colorful Andean valley with towns founded in Spanish Colonial times and formerly inhabited by the Collaguas and the Cabanas. The local people still maintain ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces. […]” (Read more on Wikipedia)

We started our 3km descent into the valley at around 9. The plan was to reach the bottommost point by noon, have lunch at 13, relax for a bit and then start the ascent till 1km, then descend again into the oasis at the bottom of the valley. The southern mountain of the valley is very barren and had wild shrubs and cacti. The northern side, however, feels like very tropical green. The vegetation, the red soil and the smells reminded me so much about our own Sahyadri range and for a moment I thought I was hiking to one of Shivaji’s forts.

Lunch was simple – based on potatoes, vegetables and bread. The family that served us lunches also let us relax in one of their guest rooms and that 30 minute nap was the most beautiful one I had in a long time. It usually happens that way, doesn’t it? We city people love the countryside, and sleeping on earthen floor inside a hut made of straw, at least I do.

After lunch and relaxation, we were too lazy to go further, but we had a schedule to keep. The route climbed up, up and up until it hit two tiny hamlets. They hold a huge annual festival at this square outside the Church in which hundreds of people from neighbouring villages participate. This village reminded me so much of the village called Datmir somewhere in Himachal during my trek to Har-ki-doon. The guide informed us that the religious practises of these people were hardcore Incan, but the only difference the Spanish imposed was to worship Christ instead of the Inca deities. But the locals still revere the earth, water, wind, and other elements of nature.

Finally we reached another village called Oasis because it was really one (literally). My friends thought that this name was funny because tomorrow someone might name their village ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Peaceful forest’. But then there are Indian villages called ‘Sundar nagar’ (beautiful city) or ‘Shantivan’ (abode of peace) and they found this interesting.

There was no electricity. We slept in tents; with mosquitoes. My mosquito repellent emptied into my bag mysteriously and my clothes for the next day got soaked in it completely. I get the feeling that the leader of mosquitoes did that on purpose so that the repellent that blocked their feast would be gone the next night. Alas, we had no intention to be there for long.

The next day we woke up at 3 AM and started climbing the mountain with our torch lights. After a while, my eyes rivaled that of an old owl and moonlight was enough. We got spread over a distance because everyone was hiking at their own speeds. Four hours of climbing got us to the top. Thanks to my friend who gifted me an iPod before this trip, it became easy to sustain.

The Colca Canyon is an interesting place. Imagine yourself are standing on a huge block of cheese. Now imagine that a sharp knife being plunged into the block, forming a slit. There you go, that’s a Colca canyon. Last night we were at the bottom of that crack. It was a relieving feeling to be on the surface again, after four hours of climbing, my shirt was totally dripping sweat. Now I had a choice – sweat drenched and smelly shirt or mosquito repellent drenched but fragrant shirt (I carried only a tiny backpack on this excursion).

So in the last two days, we started with a body ache from the Condor watch point, went up and down the Colca canyon and emerged all sore and smelly on the second day. By evening we reached Arequipa by bus, signed off from the trek, exchanged email addresses with others and finally parted ways. I didn’t know what I was doing next, there were a number of options but that will be my next post.

This post is part of my Peru travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery