Interactive map of our travels through Peru-Ecuador-Bolivia

Matt created this cool map and I wanted it on my blog as well.  It has our route and if you click on a town where we have been, our blog posts pop up as links.  Now you can visualize where we are in the world with our blogs.  Neat, eh?

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Canyon de Colca

We decided against the rip-off tourist agencies and spent 3 beautiful and physically exhausting days in the 2nd deepest canyon in the world.  We thought about going to the deepest, but it was 12 hours by bus from Arequipa and the road is not the best…nor is the trail knowledge.  The Colca Canyon sounded like an adventure enough, and it was. 

We had a frustrating start, as usual.  In Arequipa there are multiple travel agencies and we have only heard horror stories about using them and even hiring guides independently (one girl’s guide was 3 hours late and they had to do part of their hike in the dark—which is NOT safe.  He also had his ipod on and ran ahead of the group….and this guy’s getting paid to keep them safe…).  Our guidebook says it’s possible to do it yourself, but there are NO good maps of the canyon.  We bought a topo from Colca Trek and realized too late it only had half the canyon and there were errors on the map.  We met an couple who gave us a cartoon map from a hostal that was the best map we saw (and it was free).  We also had problems with travel agencies telling us it wasn’t safe and we should hire a guide, while all other sources (travellers, guidebooks, locals) said it was fine to hike independently. 

There’s also a pushy annoying guy that tries to make you buy a boleto turistico for sl. 35 (about $12) just to visit the canyon.  Our LP book says the boleto is NOT for the canyon, just the viewpoints along the highways (and NONE of the money goes to trail maintenance, social services or to the villages in the canyon.  It all goes to the town of Chivay, hours from where we were).  I got upset and started a little verbal fight with the guy and we had to walk away for me to cool off.  I’m just at the end of my rope of people lying to us and trying to take advantage of us just because we’re tourists.  White skin doesn’t mean I’m rich or that I don’t care how much things cost.  We talked to other travellers who hadn’t paid for the ticket, so we decided to blow him off and just head into the canyon.  (Rumor has it there is a troll inspecting tickets on the bridge to San Juan de Chuccho…but no one asked us about the ticket while we were in the canyon).

Let’s talk about the hike and no more about the corrupt bureaucracy.  This canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, but the walls of the canyon are not as steep.  It still felt pretty steep hiking it, though.  We took a bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde (sl.15, 5 hrs) and found the trail to the Oasis/Sangalle from town.  It took us about 2.5 hours to hike the trail, which was pleasant at first, going through farms, then it was just straight switchbacks downhill in a dusty, dry canyon, until we came to the Oasis…which was just that.  Palm trees, spring waters filling swimming pools, bungalows made of bamboo and grassy areas for camping right near the Rio Colca (the bottom of the canyon).  We finally got to use our tent and set up next to the swimming pool, had a swim, talked with the owners and passed out.  It rained during the night, but we had clear skies the next day.

Day 2 we hiked across a bridge, straight up the other side of the canyon (bleh! uphill AND elevation..but the top of the canyon wasn’t much more than 9,000 feet) for about an hour, where we hit a crossroads with a big cross.  We took the right to visit a local village (people live IN the canyon, way up there and have pigs and dogs and chickens) called Malata.  It wasn’t anything exciting: dirt houses, sheet metal roofs, a church and a nice view. 

The cool thing about the villages is that the women wear the most intricately embroidered hats and matching jackets and at least 3 skirts at a time.  The outer skirt is heavier and they tuck it up halfway in front to reveal the other layers, which are each embroidered at the hems. 

After our sidetrack to Malata and talking to a local, we turned around and took the upper trail towards Llahuar, where there is a HOT SPRING (our other option was a shorter trail towards San Juan de Chuccho with no hot spring).  This part of the trail was great…it was mostly a ridgeline with great views of the canyon and the Oasis, where the pools looked like little specks.  We were on that trail for about 1.5 hrs and we came to another crossroads and met a cool couple travelling solo like us from Austrailia (who gave us that map and we swapped stories and commiserated about corruption). 

From there we took the trail to the left and went down a steep grade (my calves felt like iron) for at least another hour and we came upon a cute town called Paclla that had date palms, cacti gardens and trees (and shade).  We had a little picnic lunch and then continued on to Llahuar (1 hour more), which was easy since someone had painted arrows on rocks.  We had another steep downhill to cross another river, then a quick uphill and we were there!

The day was clear, the views were great and we even saw a few condors playing in the thermals.  We saw some cute birds, tiny grasshopper type insects and beetles (I think they were cochinillas, which is a natural red dye found in yoplait yogurt and makeup and such) and that was it for wildlife.  Llahuar was pretty cool, too.  No swimming pools but the hot springs was right next to the raging river.  The springs looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in a while (algae on the bottom) but the water was great and we were there for about 3 hours, rubbing each other’s feet and trying to work out the day’s hike.  It wasn’t all day of hiking but it was hot, exposed and STEEP.

The next day we woke up around dawn, soaked in the springs again and took the trail out via another bridge (which is kind of downhill from Paclla, but there’s another trail that’s a ridgeline above the river and it’s more direct).  The day out was tough.  We heard the hike was about 4, maybe 5 hours (It took us 7).  After the river crossing, it was straight uphill for most of the way back. 

I got into a zone, felt great and just kept hiking like a mule.  Up, up, up.  After a few hours of steep straight uphill, Matt started feeling bad.  It could have been anything from heat exhaustion, altitude sickness to dehydration (although we were drinking a lot of water, we were sweating most of it out).  We took our time, had breaks but Matt wasn’t doing better.  The trail just kept climbing and there seemed to be no end.  Luckily, a local came by and told us we were close (perhaps in his terms, without any weight) so we plodded on and eventually reached town, me with throbbing feet and Matt feeling ill. 

We got into town and had some soup and juice and coca tea and he felt better.  I think everyone should carry some Tang or EmergenC powder to spice up the water because that’s all Matt was craving at the end of the hike, some sugery juice solution.  I had some superfood powder in my bag and he said that made him feel better for a bit.

So my legs have recovered and Matt is back to normal and the canyon was an adventure.  If Matt was worse, we always had the option of hiring a donkey to ride out of the canyon (we saw a handful of travellers doing the uphill portion of the canyon on donkeys).  So no worries, it was fun and beautiful and challenging and I’m glad we didn’t waste our money on an incompetent guide…but there should be a better map out there (even though all the trails are visible from most places in the canyon, which is helpful).

Enjoying Arequipa

We took the Ormeño bus line from Lima to Arequipa. The bus was supposed to leave at 4pm, but there was some mechanical problems and we had to sit in the most boring bus terminal for 3.5 hours. Luckily, there was a TV and we got to watch Seinfeld and that 70s Show so the time passed well. The bus was pretty comfortable (NO babies or crazy women) and I slept well. There was even a meal on the bus (chicken, rice and mashed potatoes). I’m glad we packed our own food.

Anyways, after about 14 hours we arrived in Arequipa, a city with the same population as Trujillo but with a coolness factor of x10. The city is quieter, cleaner and feels more efficient. The plaza de armas is beautiful (fountain, palm trees, well-lit, great architecture). It’s a touristy town but it’s not that expensive if you look around. We found a veg restaurant and had a sl. 3.50 menu lunch today that filled us up (apple juice, vegetable stew, locro de soya de carne with rice, salad and arroz con leche). We know we’ve hit the gringo circuit because there’s alpaca everything, everywhere, but the vendors aren’t pushy and it’s pleasant to walk around the city. Our hostal is full of friendly tourists and we’re really enjoying this city.

Have I mentioned that we like it here? Good food, good weather (in the 60s during the day, 50s at night), volcanos on the horizon (we haven’t seen it yet) and cool buildings. Everything here is built with white volcanic rock and it’s called the White City. It’s really unique and the whole place has character. The restaurants have personality (not someone’s living room like most of the restaurants we’ve been to).

We visited the Santa Catalina Monastery today, which was intense (it’s a nun city within the city). We were shocked at the entrance cost ($10 each! We’re used to maybe $1 if not less). But it is highly recommended in the guidebook so we checked it out. It was interesting. I think I’m still digesting it. It’s basically a nun fortress built of the volcanic rock and every nun has her own apartment within nun city complete with a kitchen, a bedroom, a prayer room, a potty room, and a room for her servent. The current 40 nuns live in a newer, closed off section of the abbey. The section we were looking at was inhabited from the 1500′s to the 1800′s. Most of it has been restored and there’s gardens and streets with names (I said it’s BIG). I was pretty impressed how much individual space the nuns had, it must have been a good option back in the day: a roof, food, safety, and barbed wire underwear….well maybe not the best option….but it was pretty neat.

Heading south down the coast

After a few days in Mancora, we returned to Huanchaco to pick up some things we left there (tent, sleeping bag) and visit with friends. It was really nice to return to a familiar place after all our travelling and run into people we knew just walking down the beach. Huanchaco may be dusty and give you diarrhea, but there is definitely a supportive community vibe of international travellers that makes you feel welcome. We only stayed one night and were able to fit in a few hours of surfing (or I should say trying to remember how to surf…but the waves were much gentler than in Mancora and we had bigger boards, so we were catching the waves until sunset) and spending time with David and some other locals we know. All of the volunteers from our “era” have gone back home or moved on, as we have just done.

We are now in Lima, getting our bearings and preparing for heading further south. We lost our only Nalgene a long time ago and need to find another one for our water purification needs. Buying bottled water gets expensive and it’s such a waste, especially here where litter is such a problem and plastic recycling is almost unheard of. Best to just not be a consumer of plastic and stick with one bottle. The only place we didn’t drink the tap water was Huanchaco, but that’s because it tasted horrible. I need to find another shirt and we plan to leave a bag of some things we can live without for the next few months and lighten our load as we plan to do some camping. I can’t get a hold of Effie’s cousin (I think she’s in labor probably) so we’re probably going to join South American Explorers, who will store our luggage for free and are an amazing source of information.

Matt’s feeling much better and we’re recovering from our sunburns. I’m already overwhelmed by Lima’s people density and noise and am ready to head south to see some mountains and canyons.

Back to coastal Peru: Máncora

We stayed an extra day in Tarapoto, enjoying woodfired pizzas while Matt fought whatever flu virus attacked him. We took the Sol Peruano night bus to Mancora. It was not a good busride. We were told it was pretty direct and was a semicama, and the bus made a LOT of stops and the seats barely reclined. I think my karma lately has been to attract bratty kids to sit behind me and kick my seat, pull my hair and have parents with no sense of discipline or consideration. I don’t know how to make right my karma, but I’m trying to be patient. Anyways, I do NOT recommend anyone taking Sol Peruano bus. The only good thing is that they didn’t play any movies and barely any music (if you don’t count the mother singing and stomping her feet behind me). Oh, just so you know, after 8 hours of listening to them (it was a 20 hr busride), I asked them nicely to hush up so I could sleep, they were the ONLY ones talking and they laughed at me and said lovely things in Spanish like who am I to prohibit them from laughing and singing in their own country. ohhhhhhhhh…

But onto other things, we arrived in Mancora, on the coast, via Sullana (note to travellers: avoid transferring in Sullana if you can help it. Stay in Piura, there’s food and other buses to choose from and they don’t charge you a transfer fee.) Mancora is known as the year-round sunny spot in Peru, on the northern coast. Unlike the rest of the coast, which is desert, this area is less deserty. There are palm trees and some green and it is HOT.

It is also very touristy and the most expensive town we have been to in regards to lodging and food. But the food’s good, we found a breakfast place called Green Eggs and Ham that has genuine waffles, hashbrowns (cooked perfectly), homefries and french toast. It’s a little pricey but it’s worth it with a view of the ocean. We also found our first vegetarian restaurant (Angela’s Place) that has an emphasis on whole grains, legumes and vegetables. She has gluten free bread, cookies and all vegan items are marked on her menu. That’s a first! Most veggie places here are peruvian food with carne de soya replacing the meat, or really high on the starch and really low on green veggies and protein. It’s run by an Austrian woman and yesterday Matt had a bean and veggie burrito and I had a spinach pie and stewed quinoa.

We rented some surf boards yesterday and attempted to remember what we learned in October. We both got thoroughly thrashed. I almost made it past the wave breaks and spent all my energy fighting the monster waves. The surf was strong and hard, I think I’ll wait until we go back to Huanchaco for another lesson from Juan Carlos. Matt eventually made it behind the wave break and sort of caught a wave, which means he didn’t get tossed like a rag doll. Neither of us were able to stand up on the boards, but it was fun to try again. And since it’s so warm, we just surfed in our bathing suits. I almost lost my bottoms each time the wave broke on me, though. I don’t know how those surfer girls keep their clothes on while surfing; there’s a challenge that never occurred to me.

We also got sunburned while surfing. We have nice waterproof sunblock, but we should’ve reapplied every hour or so since the sun here is STRONG. We’re at 4 degrees from the Equator and it feels like it. It cools down a little at night and there’s more mosquitos here than we saw in the jungle town of Tarapoto.

It’s nice to back on the coast, although I am already missing the mountains, clean air, somewhat drinkable water and friendly people there. I forgot how badly the locals on the coast take advantage of the tourists. They double the prices and you have to call them out on everything from a simple moto ride to a bottle of water. It’s frustrating and the taxi drivers are angry at you if you would rather walk. I’ve had a few guys yell and make the kissy sounds at me when I walk down the street without Matt. Laundry is a bit more expensive than Trujillo but a lot cheaper than the jungle (they tried to charge us sl.42 in Tarapoto, here it’s sl.23, but we paid sl. 12 ($4) in Huanchaco), but another traveller warning, don’t go to Encuentro for laundry, they lost one of my nice rei breathable tank tops and refuse to take responsibility for it. I’ll have to readjust to noisy, dusty, coastal Peru again, but at least it’s warmer than in October. We feel like swimming because it’s so hot. And it’s so nice to swim in the ocean. There are mud baths outside of town that we may go to later today, but it’s so hot the prospect of a hot springs seems a little counter productive.