Archive for October, 2008

Colca Canyon-Day 3

When we last left you, we were again sleeping by 8pm before our hike out of the canyon last Sunday morning. What Adam didn’t mention was that after dinner on day two, our guide came over to our table and asked if anyone wanted to hire an “emergency taxi” (a mule) for the next day to ride up, rather than hiking. I’m not going to say that the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but I didn’t sign up for mule-riding, I signed up for hiking!! When he asked, I was sitting at the table with just the smallest seed of doubt in the pit of my stomach. We all responded to him that we were planning on hiking out, but we appreciated the offer. His response was, well, pensive. He looked concerned to say the least. He asked one more time, pausing deliberately on me as he was looking around the table, “Are you sure that no one wants to have a mule to ride out of the canyon in the morning?” I still refused, but that seed of doubt was growing at the rate of Jack’s beanstalk…

We retired to our awesome little hut, and here is where I have to put in a plug for my Colca Coach, as I’m now calling Adam. He completely calmed me down and psyched me up for the hike in the morning. He’s good at what he does, this husband of mine.

The plan was to get up for breakfast at five and get on the trail by 5:45 so we could avoid the direct sun–hiking straight up for three hours would be hard enough without doing it in the sweltering heat. I insisted that I wanted to get a head start because despite being much more confident after my pep talk, I still knew that I was going to have to take it slow. So we scarfed down our breakfasts and hit the trail about 20 minutes before the rest of our group. We were greeted with the first picture in this post. Not a bad start to the day.

One thing I had been wishing for was walking poles, so when we spotted some bamboo poles just lying next to the trail, I was thanking every deity I could come up with. They helped immensely, although I think they may have been just a tad bit too long:

I know, DORK. I didn’t care though, those things were lifesavers. Some of the steps on the trail were hip-height on me. I have never been so jealous of the long-legged as I was on that day! As much as I loved my bamboo poles, I was even happier to be able to tell the mule driver that walked up behind me and asked if I wanted a ride, “No Gracias.” There were a couple of people from other groups riding up, and we noticed that the mule driver had brought an extra mule. When I declined it, he told the others to wait and took the extra mule back down. It occurred to me that perhaps our guide, Victor, had suggested to him that he might be able to pick up another rider on the way up. (An idea that I later confirmed with Victor himself.) So while I always enjoy contributing directly to the local economy, I felt pretty badass to be able to turn down the ride after all the altitude sickness drama the day before. Yeah, I owned that canyon. 😉

We continued to trek out, managing to do it in just over 3 hours while enjoying more amazing views:

And finally, success!!


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Disconnected in Cusco

I know, I know, our next post was supposed to be a recap of our triumphant ascent out of Colca Canyon (or, in my case, our veeeerrrrryyyy slow, but “I am going to make it out of this canyon on my own two feet if it is the last thing I do” ascent out of the canyon 🙂

However, our computer is not cooperating and won´t let us connect to any wireless networks.  Well, it seems to think that we´re connected, the wireless network list says we are connected, but we are not, in fact, connected.  No Firefox, no internet explorer and no skype.  That makes blogging difficult.  We´re going to try to get it figured out soon, but we´ve tried everything we know to do with no luck (culminating with the occasionally successful ´turn it off and take out the battery´ approach), so it may be a matter of trying to find a repair place.  That is, unless any of our intrepid readers have any other suggestions. 

In the meantime, the Incan ruins of Cusco are calling, so we´re off to explore.

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As we’ve mentioned several times in the past few posts, we hiked Colca Canyon this weekend. We had heard about Colca while researching Peru and knew we were interested. However, since we had already booked the Inca Trail, Colca wasn’t at the very top of our priority list–we just hadn’t spent much time looking into it. When we decided to add in Arequipa before we went to Cusco, we did so partially because Arequipa is the jumping-off point for Colca Canyon. We knew that Colca would be difficult, given that it is the second deepest canyon in the world, but we didn’t really give it that much that thought–we were doing a longer hike in November, so surely we could handle it. It occurred to me after the hike that when we hiked the Grand Canyon in 2002, we spent months preparing for the trip. We researched online, we bought special gear, we watched documentaries about the Grand Canyon and we built training programs around getting in shape for the hike–we were prepared. For Colca, however. . .

Day One

We were picked up at our hostel a little bit after 4:00 am. Our group of eight piled into a comfortable tourist bus and proceeded to zig zag through Arequipa picking up other tour groups and guides. By 5:00, we were on our way out of Arequipa, headed to Chivay, the main gateway village to Colca Canyon. At Chivay, we purchased tickets for our first stop, Cruz del Condor, the primary viewing location for Andean Condors. The condor is an impressive bird with a wingspan of up to 10 feet and the ability to fly at altitudes of up to 16,000 feet. Adam was less than thrilled about going Condor-watching. The condors must have known, because they didn’t make an appearance at all that morning. After an hour of checking out views of the canyon, but no condors, we loaded back on the bus and continued on to Cabanaconde, the small village at the rim of the canyon from which we were to begin our hike.

The drive to Cabanoconde afforded amazing views of the canyon, including Incan and Pre-Incan terracing, still used by the local farmers. I was immediately struck by how much life there was in Colca Canyon. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Colca is peppered with villages, large and small. The villagers at higher elevations make a living by raising livestock–mostly alpacas. Those at lower elevations farm vegetables and small fruit orchards. Throughout the weekend, we were regularly surprised by how well the inhabitants of the canyon were able to live in such a harsh environment.

In addition to the views, we got one of our first tastes of the difference between the Peruvian and American road system. There were numerous places where small streams crossed the roadway winding along the side of the mountain. Since we were in such a large bus and the streams caused dips in the roadway, we had to slow almost to a stop to cross each of the streams (even though they were tiny streams). At one of the larger dips in the road, we came to a complete stop. After a few moments, the bus driver and all of the guides piled out of the bus. They began rearranging large rocks into rows across the stream. When I saw them produce railroad ties from the cargo hold of the bus, it dawned on me what they were doing–building a bridge!! After a good ten minutes of adjusting and maneuvering, the bus slowly crawled across the makeshift bridge. Only after we made our way across did I realize that I had been holding my breath–as I breathed a huge sigh of relief, the guides cheered for the bus driver. This bus ride was nothing if not eventful.

Once we arrived in Cabanaconde, we met the rest of our group–Tom and Foy, a couple from England about five weeks into a five month trip; Gregg and Dion (he’s British and she’s Irish, but they’ve been living in Australia for four years. They were about halfway through a yearlong trip); and Phillipe and Emilie, a French couple traveling in Peru for a few weeks; and our guide, Victor, a native of Chivay. After we ate lunch together, we began our hike for the first day– it was about five miles long, descending about 3300 feet into the canyon. The trail was steep and mostly made of gravel, so despite being downhill, it was a tough hike. Reaching the village of San Juan de Chucho at the bottom of the Canyon was a relief. We were excited when we reached our destination for the evening, the home of the Rivelino family. This was our bedroom for the night:

Rustic, yes, but thoroughly impressive given that the only way to get to the village is to hike or ride a mule! Our candlelit dinner was cooked and served by our guide and the Rivelino family. After dinner, we had an exciting night that consisted of going to sleep at 7:45. We were beat!!


Day Two

We were supposed to be awake by 7:30 the next morning for breakfast, and we were a little worried since we didn’t have an alarm clock, but the Rivelino family rooster took care of that for us. The loud little guy started cock-a-doodle-doo’ing at about 3:30am. He kept it up off and on throughout the morning until we got up around 6:30. Even though I was less than thrilled about our new alarm clock, once we went outside our hut, I was quite happy about being awake to watch the sun come up from the bottom of the canyon.

After getting up and having some pancakes for breakfast, cooked again by our host family and our guide, we set off for the day. We were on the trail by about 8am, and it was supposed to be about a 3-4 hour hike, ascending and descending across the bottom of the canyon until we reached “The Oasis”, our accommodations for night two. The hike started off going straight up a steep trail for about a half hour. Unfortunately, Megan and I were right behind our guide, Victor, and since he does this once or twice a week, he moves at a pretty quick pace. Before Megan knew it, she was out of breath and couldn’t get it back. Since we were going up a really steep part, and we were at about 8000 feet above sea level, the altitude was really getting to her. Next came a headache and feeling of nausea.

Luckily for her, the rest of that day’s hike wasn’t too grueling. It was mostly flat, with a descent for the last hour into The Oasis. We passed several little towns along the way, and we were given a local drink (chicha-a fermented corn drink) by one of the local women. We were told that chicha was only made for special occasions, and our visit to their town was that special occasion.

As we got closer to The Oasis, Victor told us that once we got there, we would have the rest of the day and evening to relax and prepare for the next day’s ascent back to the top. The Oasis was quite the place to unwind after a tough two days. It is a little village at the bottom of the canyon that has many bamboo huts for the hikers to stay in. It also had two pools, the water coming from nearby waterfalls. And what would an oasis be without a bar to help with the unwinding process?

It was a gorgeous place to spend the afternoon and evening unwinding and preparing for the next day’s hike. Our hut wasn’t the most luxurious of places, but how many times does one get to stay the night in a bamboo hut at the bottom of the second deepest canyon in the world?

After our guides cooked everyone dinner at around 7, it was back to bed by 8 again, as we had to get up at 5am to start our journey back to the top.

We have to leave soon to catch a bus to Puno, which is about halfway to Cusco. The bus strike is still going on and they are not letting any buses into Cusco, so we still aren’t sure how we’re going to get there once we get to Puno, but several travel agents have suggested we go that far, and there may be some alternatives once we arrive in Puno, or the strike could end, and we’ll be 6 hours closer.

We don’t have time to talk about the last day of our Colca trek, but we will update as soon as we get a chance.  In the meantime, here is a link to the Flickr set of all of our pics (it’s a big set!!)

Cruz del Condor (4)

Until then….


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Colca Canyon-Conquered

This is going to be rather short.  We arrived back to Arequipa last night, very tired and worn out.  The Colca trek was amazing.  We are not able to get internet access in our room right now, so we are unable to upload any photos.

Our plan was to go to Cusco by overnight bus tonight, but there is a bus strike that is preventing buses from going from Puno (about halfway in between Arequipa and Cusco) to Cusco.  Our first major snag has occurred.  We knew it was going to happen, but we weren’t sure when.  So we really don’t know what’s going to happen at this point.  It was too late to find a travel agent last night, so we have to wait until 9am this morning to talk to someone about what our options are.  We’ll keep everyone updated.


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Heading for Colca

Cathedral Basilica, originally uploaded by Meg&Adam.

Just a quick update with some pics from Arequipa before we head to bed for the night–we have a 4 am bus to Colca Canyon in the morning, so we have to get to sleep soon!

We are already a little short on sleep because I wanted to get up this morning to see the sun rise over El Misti, the volcano towering over Arequipa. Adam indulged me, so our alarm went off this morning at 4:45. We took a few sunrise shots and then headed off to Plaza de Armas, the center of town. I proceeded to drag Adam around the city taking pictures, and the one you see above is my favorite from the whole batch. Here is the link to the rest of the set if you’re interested in more shots from Arequipa:

Mountain view from Arequipa

We’ll be hiking all weekend and won’t be able to update until Monday or Tuesday. Have a great weekend!


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Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Calle Cordoba, originally uploaded by Meg&Adam.

Obviously, we love to travel. We wouldn’t have left our jobs, packed up all of our stuff, and headed out to do this had we not loved traveling. Many of the reasons we love traveling are obvious. Seeing great natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, taking in huge and energetic cities like New York, camping, hiking, and biking in places like Utah and Colorado. All are things we’ve done in the past that have helped feed our hunger for travel.

When planning this trip, we planned it around wanting to see and experience places like these. We know that Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, Angkor Wat, Bangkok, the beaches of Thailand, the Taj Majal, and India are all going to live up to expectations. But another great thing about travel is the unexpected wonders we’re going to encounter. And last night here in Arequipa, we experienced one of those unexpected experiences that literally took our breaths away.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a convent over 400 years old right in the center of Arequipa, the second biggest city in Peru. It was one of the more expensive “museums” here, so at first we weren’t sure it would be worth the price of admission given our budget. Boy are we glad we didn’t miss it.

It is open 7 days a week, but it closes by 5pm, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays when it stays open until 9pm. We decided to see it at night, and we got lucky because there was a concert going on in one of the rooms inside, and it only cost us a third of what it normally does. Because of the concert, the rest of the convent was virtually empty, so we got to explore as if we were the only ones around.

Shortly after walking in, we knew we were in for a treat. This place was not just any convent. The Santa Catalina de Siena Convent was founded in 1579. The unique thing about it, though, is that no one besides the nuns who lived there saw the inside of this city within a city until 1970. Ever since it was built in the 16th century, many women entered the convent to serve as cloistered nuns and live in total seclusion to the outside world.

Like the majority of the city of Arequipa (which sits at the bottom of El Misti Volcano), the convent was constructed from Sillar, a white volcanic stone quarried locally. Because this part of the country has been hit by earthquakes throughout its history, the structure of the convent is particularly unique. The nuns constructed private cells within the convent where they could be isolated in prayer. The huge walls surrounding the entire convent sheltered them from the rest of the city. Inside these walls lie narrow streets and maze-like bedrooms, cells (very small rooms for prayer), kitchens, dining rooms, courtyards, cemeteries, and chapels.

We were lucky enough to go at night and see this without many other tourists around. We got to wander in and out of the streets, tiny doorways, and rooms while snapping photos and standing in awe. It truly was one of the most remarkable things I have personally ever experienced.

After the convent sustained damage from earthquakes in 1958 and 1960, it was restored and opened to the public on August 15, 1970, the 430th anniversary of the city’s founding. During this restoration period about 400 pieces of original religious paintings were found and professionally restored by art experts.

We didn’t have the best first day in Arequipa, as we didn’t really take to the chaos and crowdedness of the tiny streets and sidewalks, but the trip to Monasterio de Santa Catalina seemed to change our outlook on this city. We entered wondering whether we made the right choice in skipping Huacachina for Arequipa, and exited mouths agape thankful for the experience we just had.

The internet access is not as quick here, and it is taking a long time to upload picture to the blog, so the two here are just to whet your appetites. Here is a link to our Flickr page with the rest of the pictures from the beautiful and amazing site (from the Flickr site, you can also access the rest of our pictures from the trip that we did not upload to our blog; we plan on linking it somewhere on the front page of our blog soon): http://www.flickr.com/photos/7845154@N06/sets/72157608275243505/

We have our room booked for tonight and tomorrow night, then Friday morning we take off at 4am to do a 3 day, 2 night hike into the Colca Canyon. So if we don’t update until next Sunday/Monday, don’t worry, we’re safe, we’re just going to be at the bottom of one of the deepest canyons in the world.

Until next time….


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Lima Wrap-Up in photos

After a fifteen hour bus ride, we’ve arrived in Arequipa.  The bus ride was better than we expected it to be–the seats were big and reclined quite a bit.  We thought we had it made when no one sat in the seats in front of us, but someone boarded at a stop along the way and took the seats in front of us, reclining right into our laps.  Still, it was a pleasant ride and we’re looking forward to exploring Arequipa.

We wanted to post some final pictures from our last day in Lima.  We were hoping for sunny skies to help capture the drama of the Lima coast, but no such luck.  The Lima haze held strong.  So the pics in the following gallery are of the Lima coastline, including a view of Parque Del Amor (a Gaudi-esque park modeled after Parc Guell in Barcelona), the church on Parque Kennedy (the center of Miraflores, the district we stayed in in Lima), and one of the Lima buses.  That open door on the side of the bus is where the bus driver’s assistant (?) hangs out the side shouting the destination of the bus, recruiting passengers and taking fares as you exit.  We discovered that the best way to figure out were the  bus was headed was simply to ask these daredevils directly.  As you can hopefully see, the side and front of the bus are covered with various destinations around the city, so are of no help in deciphering where the bus is headed (at least for us).  Adam became quite the expert in dealing with them and has decided that if he’s ever reincarnated in Lima, he’ll be going after that job.  Somehow I have no doubt that his voice would carry over the traffic 🙂


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