I have so many alarms set – and yet it’s almost unnecessary. I barely sleep and all but jump out of bed when my first alarm hits. After a shower and a quick dress, I take another look at my bag and make some final adjustments before deciding it’s as good as it’s gonna get. Ironically, my speed to get ready was almost unnecessary – although my pickup said 3-3:30, I didn’t get picked up until 3:40, and I was only the third pickup. Regardless, once everyone was on board, we headed out of Arequipa, and to the canyon.
For my trip, I chose to go with Peru Andes 3 Day/2 night trip on FindLocalTrips.com. They also offered a 2 day trek that covers the same ground, but this one goes at a more relaxed pace, and I figure will be a good warm-up for Salkantay.
It was about 6:30 when we entered the valley, and the sun blessed us with amazing views. It’s one of the greener areas of Peru I’ve seen, and the park is filled with small towns, still using the terraced gardens created pre-incan time to grow crops.
Our first stop is at a small building for breakfast, which we reach by driving up a dirt path we barely realise is a road until we’re on it. It’s a basic breakfast – a small portion of scrambled eggs and 2 Peruvian buns, which I admittedly am growing very fond of. I also get a chance to finally try coco leaf tea for the first time. Made from cannabis leaf, it’s supposed to help ward off the effects of altitude sickness – it also tastes quite nice.
When we get back on the road, it’s easy to just sit there and gawk. This is Colca Valley rather than the canyon, but between it’s immense walls, vivid greenery and landscape, and the domestic animals wandering the roads, there’s not much comparison in beauty.
We eventually stop at a lookout point for 40 minutes, as not only does it give give fantastic views of the canyon, but is also a great place to go condor spotting. We have a lot of luck when we arrive – in the first five minutes I spot 3 in the air, and later spot another 3 at different times. Impressive considering there are only 64 condors in the canyon on last census.
At not long before 9:30, we pull into our final stop. There’s a toilet, small shop, and a woman selling bamboo sticks for 3 and 5 soles each. I spring for one with a crochet handle, and meet up with my fellow 3 day trekkers and our guide, Armando.
When we start, the altitude definitely has an effect. It’s been less than ten minutes but I’m already winded. Thankfully, today most of the trek is downhill, and this is what we’ll be looking at.
We’ll be walking about 7km today, about 3-4 hours, and since we’re finishing in Colibri Lodge in San Juan de Chucco, we can take as long as we like.
Honestly, this takes more out of me than I expect. It was cold this morning, requiring 3 layers – but now it’s shot up to over 30 degrees. Even just going downhill is a major commitment – it’s so steep I’m slipping regularly, and everyone is stopping whenever we find shade to rest and drink.
However, after about 2 hours, I break ahead of the group to chase after 2 girls who’d gone ahead because the pace was too slow, and the final leg once you leave the mountain rock is torture. Every time you think you’re in the home stretch, it turns and you find five more twists to go!
Finally, at 12:30, I make it to the bottom by the bridge, where we need to meet and catch up with the other girls. I’m so happy get into shade, and grab a powerade from a woman selling drinks for 7 soles. Now we just need to wait for the others to catch up.
Twenty minutes later, one guy appears, and we keep waiting.
Fifty minutes later, our guide appears – the rest of our group is just a little slower.
In the end, it’s 70 minutes for the last of us to make it down – but the slower 3 choose to hold back, while we head to our accommodation for the night.
Going up in a new kind of hell, especially after resting for an hour. In five minutes my throat is raw, and my chest in burning. Going uphill is so much harder than I expected, especially in this heat. That said, with regular breaks of a few minutes I keep to the front of the line, and after 30 minutes we reach the lodge.
We’re in very basic accommodation – 4 beds to a brick room and a thatched roof. However each bed is loaded with heavy blankets to offset the night cold – but before we relax, we can finally eat lunch.
For the first time in Peru, the portions are quite small, but still very good. We start with a quinoa soup, and finish up with alpaca meat stir fry and rice – which was so good but so small I could have happily eaten again.
Afterwards, we have about 4 hours to ourselves, and after showers, most people crash and sleep, while I wander around the immediate area and make friends with the local animals, such as Pepe the dog. I’m kicking myself for only bringing a few pieces of paper instead of a notebook, but make do and spend an hour writing before one of my fellow travellers brings out a deck of Exploding Kittens, and everyone gets really into playing it. At one point, we even make up our own rules for the picture cards to spice up the game, and it starts to get a tad crazy right before dinner comes out.
Tonight, we have corn soup and a type of cheese curry, which is nice but not quite as good as lunch. The curry was interesting though – I never considered cheese as a curry option and wouldn’t mind learning how to make it myself.
Afterwards I’m getting ready to retire so I can enjoy a long night’s sleep, when I walk over to the sink in the darker part of the social area – and immediately rush back to get everyone. I completely forgot that since we’re miles from heavy civilisation, the night sky will be amazing. It dripping with stars, and we have a great view of the milky way popping out from the mountains.
It takes me a good 20 minutes to pry myself away from the painting in the sky. I really hope our next stop will have equally amazing views.
Tomorrow, we’re having breakfast at 7:30, and heading for the oasis at the bottom of the canyon at 8:30.