Saturday, 28 August 2010

Arequipa & the Colca Cañon

Arriving to Arequipa with a night bus form Cuzco, we (the family & I) found ourselves in the main plaza at 6am. Dad & I search for a place to eat breakfast, and the rest guard the bags. After a good meal, with crepes (with Nuttela toppings) as desert, we do the same for finding a tour operator for the famous ``Colca Cañon Trek``.
We found three major price ranges:
1. Scary cheap - 150 Soles for a 3 day trek per person. We thought it was just to good to be true.
2. Lonely Planet price - ``Colca-Trek`` company recommended by the guidebooks just raised their noses a bit to high - 650 Soles for a 3 day trek per person.
3. Reasonable price - ``Pablo-Tours`` offered a different route from the others (off the bitten ``trek``), for just 280 Soles for a 3 day trek per person.
Talking to Pablo-Tours, we have a problem convincing Edwin (the owner, funny how his name isn`t Pablo..) we truly are a group of 6. We planned on doing a 4 day trip, just in 3 days, connecting the first to days together. In order to do so, we thought it would be better if we just took a local bus the same day all the way to Cabanaconde, a village located on the cliff of the canyon and the starting point of the trek. The bus is 7 hours - local bus - which means it stops A-LOT on the way. Before setting the deal, Edwin reports us that there aren`t any running water in the small town of Cabanaconde.
21:00, Cabanaconde, Time without shower - 29 hours.
After leaving our belongings in the hostel, we sit at the nearby restaurant. Long story short:
We had to wait an hour and a half for our meals, which were served cold. The nice owner kindly explained that it`s the new (and bad) chef`s fault, and the whole meal (6 dishes & 2 bottles of beer) is on the house.
08:00, Cabanaconde, Time without shower - 40 hours.
A very good breakfast was served in our hostel (owned by Edwin`s brother). Satisfied, we greet our guide with ``Buenas Dias``, and leave to witness the deepest canyon in the world.
We all know our abilities from the said to be harder Inca-Trail, but still, when finally seeing the 1200m descent we have to pass - all of us have just on thing in our mind - the last day, and the climb back (to the same height off course!).
Half way down, Inbal twisted her ankle. We all walk slower, and thoughts about the length of the day play with our minds. Edison, the guide, which was promised to be a good guide that speaks just Spanish, says (in perfect English) that we`ll keep on going to the lunch village, and see what goes from there.
The way down is long and hard on the knees. Surrounding us are cliffs and mountains dry and bold. On every other curve in the mountain side in front of us, there`s a small village with very few crops around it.
Edison turns out to be an excellent guide and a very interesting person. His main job is not being a guide but growing Cacti. On the Cacti, grow valuable parasites, which he collects, dries, and sells. We already knew about those parasites, but this time we got a very good explanation from a first hand informant.
Reaching the bridge is good & bad. Good - the way down is done for. Bad - I`ll just let you guess.
Just an hour more, this time up hill, and we reached the beautiful ``Llauar``, a true oasis. It sits with an astonishing view of the main Colca river, and another smaller river connecting to it just bellow the hosting huts.
Inbal is dog tired, Llauar is lovely, and knowing the World-Cup Final is now in play, we easily decide to stay for the night as well.
On arrival, we found Edison (already in the kitchen making lunch) hooked to the Spanish speaking radio. Even though I understood only a few words, and needed Edison`s translation every enthusiastic shout, all the guys of the family were listening to the commentary like it was in Hebrew. Football is certainly a game made to be broad casted in Spanish.
There are also thermal baths in Llauar but you`ll have to walk a long way down (not a problem) and up (a bit...), to enjoy them. Kobi & Igal were the only ones with the powers.
08:00, Llauar, Time without shower - 64 hours.
The next morning we were all feeling better after the long unexpected rest, and were doing our way towards ``The Oasis``. On the way, we passed a nice small village called ``Tapay`` were we stayed to rest and were offered the local ``Chicha`` as a refreshing beverage. Don`t have it mixed up with the famous ``Chicha Morada`` (a sweat corn-drink served cold). The Chicha is a strong alcoholic drink better served cold, but not always. When leaving, I told the owner how good his home-made drink was - in return I was asked to pay for tasting it. I didn`t.
In Tapay, we decided it would be better to split our forces. Kobi (who is really cute but also knew there was a pool waiting) offered to go with Inbal and her twisted ankle. The rest went for a longer walk, in order to site ``San Juan De Chucchuc``.
In the evening we regrouped for a football match (Boxermans + Edison Vs. the local team) so I could re-twist my ankle (worst than you Inbal! - not that it`s a competition or anything) and have a better challenge for the upcoming day. Igal, Kobi & Edison played amazing though - and off course - we won!
We went to bed (not before another favorite family game of ``Wist``), setting our alarm clock for 02:30am.
03:00, Oasis, Time without shower - 83 hours.
Waking up way to early, we couldn`t find Edison. After searching, calling and waiting for over 15 minutes, we decided we have to try and walk by ourselves if we want to catch the early 06:00am bus to the Cruz del Condor view point.
The climb from the Oasis, is not an oasis at all. It`s a 1200m ascent back to Cabanaconde. In order to not loose our moral, I started to count the curves of the climb, all was dark, and that was the only sure thing we could see during the long ascent. Edison met us mid way to the top, and apologized for the fact that his alarm just didn`t ring. We understood the human mistake. The climb was hard, and due to some more family difficulties, we separated again to the fast and the slow. The goal was that at least the fast could get in time to the view point and see some condors.
Thanks to Edison - Kobi, Igal & I got to the bus on time. The condors were amazing and flew far away at first, but got closer as the thermic winds got stronger.
Edison (who waited for the rest of the family in Cabanaconde) & the rest of the team met us on the next bus in the view point, and we were on our way, all together again, back to Arequipa.
16:00, Arequipa, Time without shower - 96 hours.
We got early enough to Arequipa in order to buy bus tickets to Nazca for the same day.
Edwin set for us a hostel, with showers, so that we could get to Nazca without killing the driver and passengers on the bus on the way.

Tips for Arequipa & the Colca Cañon:
1. Never take a taxi from the street - Edwin warned us to much about the danger included. Every tour agency would be happy to order one for you.
2. Pablo-Tour, run by Edwin is a wonderful agency. Edwin is a lovely person and will be happy to help with any question. Checkout thier website at .
3. Edison was a great guide, and even though Edwin promised he doesn`t know English - he does.
4. Llauar is one of the most perfect places I`ve been to in South America, and isn`t in the touristic route inside the cañon - go there!

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