Sunday, July 7, 2013

Our final trek

       From La Paz, Bolivia we made our way back to our South American motherland, Peru. It was so good to be back on Peruvian soil. I just love this country so much. This time adventure awaited us in Arequipa, most famous for being the gateway to the Colca Canyon. Arequipa is known as "la ciudad blanca" (the white city) because many of its colonial buildings are made of sillar, which are bricks made of compacted volcanic ash. Hence, these buildings are white. Why volcanic ash? Because Arequipa is surrounded by volcanoes. The nearest one being Volcan Misti, which stands in the background of the city.

Peruvian-Bolivian border. I <3 Peru

Arequipa's Plaza de Armas with the snow-capped peak of
Volcan Misti in the background

La Ciudad Blanca

       My main goal in the city of Arequipa was to see Juanita, the ice mummy. Each time my friends went to Arequipa in the past, she was not at her home display case in the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos. I heard rumors that she'd be back on exhibit in June. I was so excited when we entered the museum to discover that she was back on exhibit. "Juanita" was discovered by archaeologist and mountaineer, Dr. Johan Reinhard, after whom she was named, on the summit of Volcan Ampato at 6, 380 m elevation. In fact, she was found perfectly preserved in ice, exposed in the open snow. Two weeks prior, a nearby volcano had erupted and the resulting earthquakes ejected her out of her burial site and out into open air. What luck that Dr. Johan Reinhard stumbled upon her just two weeks later!

A postcard I got at the museum. Taking photos is prohibited.

        Juanita was a chosen child from Cusco to be sacrificed to the gods (the mountains) to appease them and ensure the Incan People's safety and prosperity. There had been volcanic eruptions, which the Incas believed were expressions of the gods' anger. The "chosen" children were of nobility, educated and pure. Only the creme of the crop were chosen to be human sacrifices. Thanks to carbon dating and the perfectly preserved state of her body, Juanita was about 12 to 14 years old when she was chosen to be sacrificed. The chosen children were raised to believe that it was an honor to be sacrificed to the gods and that they themselves would join the gods in the afterlife. With her shaman entourage, Juanita trekked from Cusco to Arequipa and ascended up to the summit of Volcan Ampato, where she was given sedatives and then killed by blunt force to the head. Up at the summit she was buried with ceramic and gold offerings.

       My other goal in Arequipa was to do the free walking tour, which I didn't know existed until seeing its business card/coasters at our hostel. It is run by the same company that does the free walking tour we did in Cusco way back in November. It's appropriately called, Free Walking Tour Arequipa. We even had the same guide we had in our Cusco tour. These tours were both more commercial than historical, but nonetheless informative and enjoyable. It was mostly about showing tourists where they should go hang out in Arequipa outside of the main Plaza de Armas. I did learn a few interesting tidbits about Arequipa. For example, The original name of the city in Quechua was two words: "Ara" - "Quipay", which means "stay here". Later the Spaniards screwed up the pronunciation and the city was named "Arequipa". At least it wasn't too far off. My favorite part of the tour was going to the alpaca/llama farm and wool factory. We got to feed the llamas! We also learned about the difference in the quality of llama, alpaca, and vicuna wool. Firstly, "baby alpaca" is the best quality of alpaca wool. However it is not wool from an actual baby alpaca. After all, if you shave a baby alpaca it will die from exposure in the cold Andes highlands. "Baby alpaca" is actually the wool from the very first time a grown alpaca is sheared. Every time the alpaca is sheared afterwards, the quality of its wool decreases. Llama wool is used for more durable things. It's not soft enough to be used for clothing. The highest quality wool is from vicuna. Vicuna is a smaller cousin of the llama and alpaca. It is also a wild animal, not domesticated. There is a cap on how many vicuna can be hunted for its wool. Vicuna wool is so expensive that its value is equal to the value of gold!


The 30 natural colors of alpaca wool

Vicuna wool. Feels like touching a cloud!

Weaving alpaca yarn on a loom attached to her waist

      Our main goal for the Arequipa area was to trek the Colca Canyon. Our final trek in South America :-(   Good thing it was only a 2 day trek and easier compared to other treks in Peru because I was definitely out of high altitude trekking shape by this point in our travels. We were picked up by our tour agency's bus at 3:30am and drove 3 hours to the top of the Colca Canyon. Here we stopped at the Cruz del Condor where we took photos of the canyon from up high and of the condors soaring through the canyon.

Cruz del Condor


       Then we started our trek. Day 1 was all descent, deep down to the bottom of the canyon. According to National Geographic, the Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States with a depth of just over 4, 000 m. It is arguable that Cotahuasi Canyon, the other canyon just outside of Arequipa (which is far less popular for some reason I don't know), may in fact be deeper.

The beginning of the descent into the Colca Canyon

A look down to our oasis goal

Cool rock face

       At the end of our descent, we arrived at "the oasis" at about 5 pm where we would be spending the night. The oasis even had a pool fed from the water from the river that cuts through the canyon. Most of us in our trek group got in. It would have been nicer if it wasn't winter and the warmth from the sun was still shining over us at that hour. Oh well. I'm sure it was therapeutic for our muscles anyways.

Nearing the oasis at the bottom of the canyon

       Early the next morning we started trekking back up the canyon at 5:30 am. Our guide said it was a 3 hour trek up to the top. The guys in our group made it their goal to reach the top by 2 hours. They accomplished their goal at exactly 2 hours. Well done, boys! I reached the top after them at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Eventually we regrouped with everyone as they all trickled up the trail. After regrouping we walked for 15 minutes over "Peruvian flat" (a term said by our guide as he made wavelike up and down motions with his hand, which is hilarious because the description is so true. As I've learned in my previous treks in Peru, "flat" does NOT exist) to the nearest town, Cabanaconde, for a well deserved breakfast.

View of the ascent trail from the oasis

Our group back at the top of the canyon. 

       Afterwards we stopped by a tiny town where we could check out the artisan markets and try a "Colca Sour", like a Pisco Sour but made with juice from prickly pears (cactus fruit) instead of limes. It was very tangy, but that's just how I like my fruits and Pisco coctails. Then we drove to the highest point of our trip to a vista where you could see all of the surrounding volcanoes, including Volcan Misti and Volcan Ampato. We stood at 4, 810 m above sea level and it was cold. Finally we made it to the town of Chivay where we got to soak our very sore muscles after climbing down and up that very steep canyon in the thermal baths. Thermal baths are a big plus to traveling along volcanic areas. I couldn't believe how sore my leg muscles were after that Colca Canyon trek. It was only for two days and it wasn't nearly as hard or as long as Choquequirao or the Inca Jungle trek. Nonetheless it was well worth it and we had a fantastic group. It was the best final trek I could have asked for.

Travel tips:
Bus from La Paz to Arequipa (stops in Copacabana and Puno) with Titicaca bus tours - 200 Bolivianos
Hostel in Arequipa: Wild Rover Hostel for 25 soles per person in 6 bed dorm (do not stay here if you want to be able to sleep at night)
Free Walking Tour Arequipa: meets Monday-Saturday at Plaza de San Francisco at 11:50 am
2 day Colca Canyon trek: Andina tours 110 soles
Juanita: Museo Sanctuarios Andinos -entrance 20 soles plus tip for the museum guide who takes you to see Juanita
Bar scene: Retro bar for live rock cover bands and really good pisco sours

No comments:

Post a Comment