5th July – We leave today for the town of Chivay (approx. 150-200km north of Arequipa), the entry point to reach the Colca Canyon.
We skirt around Volcan Misti and Chachani with their snowy peaks and turn north toward Vizcachani and Chucura. We are just over 4000m as we pass along the edge of the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, with snow-covered mountains to our left. This reserve covers a huge area and shelters a variety of flora and fauna
We are soon above the snow line and clear the Patapampa Pass at 4800m before descending into Chivay situated in the valley and the largest town in the canyon.
We buy our tickets to visit the canyon tomorrow (70 soles each) and then plan to continue to the hot springs at La Calera, just outside of town, where we know they allow camping in their very large parking area for the night.
Just as we enter Chivay however, we are amazed to see Graeme and Louisa (who we imagined to be in Cusco by now) in the road in front of us, waving for us to stop. They unfortunately have had a problem with their expansion tank cap, losing water at high altitude and only just making it to Chivay. They have been here ever since, trying unsuccessfully to find a replacement. We spend the evening together discussing their options and come to the conclusion, that driving back to Arequipa is probably the best solution and we will accompany them to make sure they arrive safely. A new cap can then be ordered from Lima.
We drive to the hot springs to spend the night and set our alarm for 5.30 a.m. as we need to be at the main viewing point in the canyon by approx. 8 a.m. to see the condors.
6th July – Peruvian music wakes us at 4 a.m. however, the unearthly hour that the hot springs open to the public and it’s not long before the visitors begin to arrive!
Fantastic scenery as we enter the valley of Colca, through which the Rio de Colca flows. We pass many villages, all with beautiful churches – Yanque, Achoma, Maca and Pinchollo but we will stop at these on our return journey.
Canon del Colca is one of the deepest canyons in the world, reaching a depth of 3400m. Almost 2000 years ago, the valley was inhabited by the Cabana and Collagua people who carved out a huge area of terracing, in an an effort to control irrigation and erosion in order to grow crops. Today, the communities living in the valley still cultivate the terraces.
The tarmac soon gives over to a dirt road covered in powder-soft dust, which billows in clouds from passing traffic. This continues all the way to the MIrador Cruz del Condor, the most popular viewing point to watch the Andean condors, the Cruz (cross) del Condor located on the canyon’s highest point there.
It is breathtaking to watch these huge birds as they fly above and below us, soaring up from the dark depths of the canyon into the vast, blue skies and against a backdrop of enormous, snowy mountains.
The scenery is also breathtaking and these majestic birds (the world’s largest flying bird with a wing span of approx. 3m), can fly for hours, just gliding on thermal currents. As they circle above us, I am sure they are curious of this colourful crowd of people with cameras clicking!
We walk to the different levels to admire the views and there are still a few condors flying around by the time we decide to leave.
On our return journey, we stop at the churches of Pincholla and Maca, the latter also having large, eagle type birds tethered in the market place.
Yanque also has the very large and beautiful Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion, overlooking the main plaza.
We stop at many of the miradors, where some of the views are quite spectacular and have to wait for a bus to be dug out of a hole.
We arrive back in Chivay to see what Graeme, Louisa and children have all decided to do, and although Graeme needs a little more persuasion, we feel sure they have made the right decision when they say they are going to attempt the drive back to Arequipa. They have made some make-shift repairs that they hope will get them through the mountains and up and over the pass. We celebrate with delicious hot chocolate at a little cafe in the plaza, that specialises in these and a variety of coffees. We return to the hot springs for camping again, but much colder tonight!
7th – 10th July – Very cold this morning also – we have to wait for the sun to come over the mountains before we can have any warmth. The Peruvian music begins playing again at the same time, so we have no problem in waking up. We drive back into Chivay, and whilst the men are putting finishing touches under the bonnet, I take Jessica and Keelan into the little cathedral overlooking the plaza and then along one of the side streets, where we take pictures of each other by the many statues in various traditional dress.
After another hot chocolate each, we set off with walkie-talkies and fingers crossed that they will make it at the high altitudes.
Their landie is still with us as we top the 4800m and now it’s all downhill to Arequipa, with only the occasional uphill climb!
Fortunately, our grassy camping area in Las Mercedes is still vacant and Patrice and Veronique are still there waiting for their daughter to arrive. I visit the Monastery de Santa Catalina again but this time with Keelan and Jessica. Tom and Angela from California arrive, Tom being American but Angela is English having originally come from Sittingbourne in Kent…..small world! She tells us that we are the first people that she has met that have heard of this town. She also lived in Kuwait for a while when she was younger…again, small world! We are not allowed to leave until Keelan has celebrated an early birthday party, kindly arranged by Tom and Angela and which even included a big chocolate cake!
Tomorrow we will leave for the west coast, to visit Nasca and the oasis at Huacachina near Ica.