Peru V-An Adventure in the Land of the Incas

Friday, November 24, 2017

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Part V

A tradition in Chivay, Peru is that young local girls will perform dances in the town plaza early in the morning. Dressed in their colorful dresses, we were treated to their performance, but also involved in this morning ritual were local women offering their items for sale, photo ops with colorfully adorned llamas and a woman with a falcon all in a very festive atmosphere. The festive mood was not lessened despite the chilly, yet bright and sunny morning air.

In the background was visible the nearly constant plume from a nearby volcano. This was a bit disconcerting, wondering if there was any danger of a major eruption while we were there. Apparently this is just a common, daily sight which does not disrupt life for the residents.

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Henry, our guide, headed his group onto a bus as we began a hopeful day first visiting Cruz del Condor a cliff top observation point to marvel in the flights of condors gliding on the thermals rising from Colca Canyon.

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The best time to view the condors is early morning. Already there were hundreds of people awaiting the chance to view the magnificent birds, a crowd that jostled for the best views and spots for photos. There were not as many condors soaring this morning, but the few we saw presented an impressive site.

Henry, passed Tom and I off to our next guide, Nancy, who was to guide us on our first Peruvian hike, deep into and then out of Colca Canyon, which is purportedly deeper than the Grand Canyon. This was to be a two day hike beginning at 11,000 feet and down over 3000 feet into the depths of the canyon, crossing the bridge over a river, climbing up a short distance to the village of San Juan de Chuccho where we were to have lunch, then proceed for 3 more hours to the Oasis of Sangalle. At Sangalle we were to overnight with a local family, then rise early on the second morning and hike 3 hours up to the village of Cabanaconde for breakfast.

Were we ready for this adventure? Oh yes we were! 

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At the trailhead, hopeful and pumped with energy, Nancy, Tom and I began the descent into this deep canyon, From this starting point we could see the two villages that were our day’s destinations. The moderate grade of the trail led to the beginning of countless switchbacks.  Being a bit older than most of the other hikers on the trail, we were content to proceed at a slow and steady pace. Others on the trail were also in happy moods, as we allowed them to pass us. It should not have been surprising that the trail was very uneven, lots of rocks, and steep, but it did hamper any quick pace. Tom had acknowledged some knee issues prior to our hike and although not yet bothersome, we followed his lead. 

While the early morning had been chilly, by now the day was heating up, as were we.  Plodding along, slowly, the trail was continuously rugged. After a time, Tom began to feel his knees start to protest, but having brought along knee braces, we stopped so that he could slip them on over this aching knees. Nancy typically followed behind me as we continued onward and downward. It was becoming apparent that our 3000 foot descent would probably take longer than three hours as was the supposed time for most hikers. 

At one point, deeper into the canyon, there was a sudden appearance of smoke or dust in the air. From our vantage point we could not see up toward the horizon. Nancy guessed there might have been a landslide. Well, that thought was a bit unnerving. A bit later, Nancy revised her first thought to the possibility that the volcano may have erupted. Geesh, what could be worse, a landslide or a volcano erupting? 

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Hardly halfway into the hike, it was past 3 hours. The bridge we were to cross was visible and yet so far away. Other hikers were passing us, seemingly uneffected by the challenges of the trail. The relentless and difficult steepness of the trail slowed us with frequent rest stops, yet we forged onward. Our water supply was more than adequate and we had snack bars to help replenish our energy, which was depleting quicker than we could replace it. Still, we plodded on. 

Within the last mile, my left upper thigh began quivering - spasms that spread up into my hip. Knowing my body and hiking habits, I knew that I had to be taking longer strides to keep my muscles continually stretched. While Tom rested his aching knees and Nancy accompanied him, I continued on ahead to the bridge. Though aching, my leg did start to relax. At the bottom, others were resting in the shade before crossing the bridge. Tom and Nancy arrived and together we dropped everything and collapsed in exhaustion (well Tom & I, not Nancy). 

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There is the bridge crossing the river and the village of San Juan de Chucclo. Oh so close, yet so far.

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Rehydrading and munching on energy bars we tried to revive ourselves. Good lord, that hike had really zapped our energy - and enthusiasm. While resting, a local man, through Nancy asked how old I was, to which I replied, “how old do you think I am?’. My Spanish is very limited, but his response of “ocho” something was enough for me to understand he said “8” something or other. Did he mean 18? Through Nancy, she translated to 80”! What? Good gravy, did I LOOK that bad? Everyone chuckled, but I had to admit, I was FEELING closer to 80 at that moment.

Although we had finally reached the bottom of the canyon, we were several hours beyond our lunch stop not much further up the other side of the canyon. After we had rested for quite some time, we crossed the bridge and I started up the trail. Looking back, Tom had seated himself on a boulder as Nancy stood by. Tom was in considerable pain. Returning back to them, Tom said he just could not climb up in his condition. We wished we had horses or mules, but none were at this place on the trail. Nancy took control of our situation telling us she would go on to San Juan del Chuccho to see if she could find someone with mules who might then come to have us ride the rest of the way. While Nancy was away, the two of us stretched out and rested as best we could. I dozed off for awhile as Tom managed his discomfort as best as he could. It was well over an hour, maybe two before our guide returned - without mules. She had no luck in finding someone who would be of assistance in that way. The only car in the village was also in use. However, she had been able to call back to Chivay and arrange for a driver to come and pick us up, then take us back up to Cabanaconde, with one catch - not until the next morning. 

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The Oasis of Sangalle, where we should have ended our first day.

OK then. We had no choice but to pick ourselves up and carry on. By this time Tom’s discomfort had lessened enough for us to hike on to the town. Thankfully we had a short ascent up to a level trail and then into San Juan de Chuchho. There, where we were to have had lunch we were served dinner. That is how late we arrived. Originally we were to have hiked another 3 hours to Sangalle after lunch, which, obviously we now could not accomplish. As luck would have it the family providing our meal had a rooms for us. Ours was extremely spartan - just two beds, nothing else. The beds were comfortable and we were under the covers not long after we had our dinner. 

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Next morning we arose at 4 a.m. and began hiking up to a road where a van was to be waiting for us. There are roads into Colca Canyon but actual car owners were limited to a few, thus the driver having had to come from Chivay. The roads are narrow, rough, unpaved and often hugging the cliff sides. It took more than an hour of uphill hiking to reach the road and the waiting driver and van. We wasted no time getting onboard to begin the long drive down one side of the canyon, crossing the river and then the slow climb up the other side to the main, paved road. Along the way Nancy pointed to the hiking trail we would have had to take if we had actually completed the hike. It traversed back and forth up the other side of the canyon. Looking at each other, we both knew there was no way that we would have been able to complete THAT hike - not in the condition in which we found ourselves.

As our driver drove, bumping and bouncing along the rocky road, I began to enjoy the early morning light now streaming over the mountain tops and pushing the shadows of night downward into the canyon. Although the sun was not yet visible, the golden light it cast cresting over the upper reaches of the canyon foretold a beautiful day lay before us. It took several hours to descend and then ascend out of Colca Canyon to Cabanaconde. There we stopped for breakfast before continuing back to Chivay.

Our Colca Canyon guide Nancy. She was terrific. 

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Across the canyon, the trail leading up to Cabanaconde

We were disappointed that we had not been able to complete this hike. Although I had thought I had trained enough with robust leg exercises at my gym, I still was not adequately prepared for THIS hike. Grueling and strenuous, this had  been a hellish hike, more like a  a death march. 

This experience promted us to have Nancy contact the tour company and arrange for us to have mules ready for our use on our last, longest hike to Choquequirao.

Our next several days would require much less effort, but we were headed to 12,000 feet above sea level, the highest point of our stays in Peru. 

A full day of travel ended at the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca at the city of Puno.

Hopefully we had become sufficiently acclimated to the higher altitude.

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IMG 3629.jpg © Donald E. Kline 2012