Condor soaring in the Colca Canyon
Travel Dates 28th - 29th March 2010.
Please click on a picture to see the larger version.
There are two ways to drive from Arequipa to Puno on Lake Titicaca. The simple way is to go direct. The road is smooth, the buses are good and the trip takes about five hours. Or you can go the hard way, turning off about a third of the way to Puno to take the rough, steep and spectacular road to Colca Canyon. That was the way I chose.
I won't write a lot in this post because I have uploaded lots of pictures. I will let them do most of the talking; just adding a few notes between them.
After taking the turn-off to Chivay the road changed from bitumen to dirt; it later included sporadic stretches of bitumen closer to Chivay but it is pretty rough in those early stages. These were the stages where we saw most vicunas, alpacas and llamas – as well as sheep and mules. The vicunas (first picture) are wild and cannot be farmed but provide the most sought-after fine wool. The alpacas provide both wool and meat; the llamas are heavier and bred mainly for wool and beasts of burden.
Until the turn-off to Chivay we tended to follow the rail line. Unfortunately it is now only used for occasional freight. A pity, but I don't know the economics of the line so it may be unfair to comment. The track looked in good condition but I didn't see any trains on it. This is an old maintenance shed.
We gradually rose well above the tree line and the sunny day suddenly turned bleak. The heavens opened with a sudden thunderstorm which turned to sleet and snow. That was when we reached the peak of 4900m above sea-level. That's a bit over 16,000 feet. These baños (rest rooms) were at that highest point. They are “pit” toilets. I had the highest pee I will ever have in two senses of the word...
Shortly after that the bus skidded on ice. We survived.
Chivay is the big town in the background; however I stayed a little further into the valley in the tiny quiet village of Yanque. The Killawasi Lodge was quiet and restful, partly because there were only two of us staying. I hope that business picks up for them now that Machu Picchu is open again. The dancers are young girls from the village on Sunday morning.
Our tour guide explained that there were two different native cultures in the valley, one living generally higher than the other at the time of the arrival of the Spanish. The main difference between them was the method of binding baby's heads to distort their shape: long and narrow or broad. About the only good thing the Spanish did was to stop this practice.
The Spanish built some new towns then forgot about the valley when it stopped producing gold and silver and their interests were focused elsewhere. With no roads in from the outside the valley was effectively forgotten by the outside world until the mid-20th century. The roads we were on were built only in the '80s.
The Colca river goes through several name changes as it rushes down its valley, but at this stage it is called Rio Colca and goes through two significantly different sections: the Colca Valley and the Colca Canyon. The pictures start in the settled and terraced valley and continue to the rugged canyon.
The tour group did not actually reach the deepest section of the canyon,which is deeper than the US Grand Canyon, because we stopped at the Cruz del Condor. This is the place where the largest birds in the world can be seen soaring on the rising air currents. We also stopped to watch some on the way to that point. The final pic in this set is a flowering cactus.
We stopped in Maca for a quick drink and a short break. The drink is a variation on a Pisco Sour, using a skinned chunk of cactus added to the mix and blended. It tastes better than it looks and did seem to help with the queasiness that comes with altitude sickness. I was already following the local method of chewing coca leaves, which were provided freely on the bus and helped a lot.
The Maca church was being prepared for Easter. All of the various statues and pictures show a noticeably Quechua version of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. I noticed that all of the statues of Jesus on the Cross were rather more bloodthirsty than those I have seen elsewhere.
On the road back to Chivay we saw these ancient tombs. They are holes in the rock-face, sealed after entombment. There are not many like this and the reasons for them are unclear.
After a pleasant lunch, including Alpaca and lamb, in Chivay I wandered down to the market while I waited for the bus to Puno. I wonder if I would have made the same menu choices if I had seen this first. Note the pooch.
En-route to Puno we stopped for a "baño" break at this high-altitude flamingo lake. 4450 meters = 14,600 feet
The system at the baño was to pay the guy as you went in. There was no flush; he went in after you came out and flushed using a hand-held bucket of distinctly yellowish water. Good luck to him. He was the only soul within many kilometres of that place and provided a needed service; what a job.
The road to Puno, after the initial rough section, was fairly good with few delays. There were almost no settlements until we were close to Juliaca, a large city 30km short of Puno. We left Chivay at 1:30 pm and arrived in Puno around 7 pm.