Meeting up with Lori and Monty! Last stage of the journey..!!
01.05.2013 - 07.05.2013 25 °C
Getting closer and closer to a trip´s ending, I often face increasing senses of denial and ambivalence. Asia and I left Bolivia super-excited to see Lori and Monty. At the same time it marked the definite beginning of the last stage of our trip, the beginning of the end. Nevertheless, the reunion was a very happy one. Asia and I arrived at our hostel about 15 minutes before Lori and Monty got there, so we were able to receive them straight out of the taxi from the airport, our joy so tangible that the air sparkled with the electricity of it.
Five years ago I fell in love with Arequipa, and I was now happy to learn that the feelings then were well-grounded. Arequipa is called “the white city” as it is built mostly of white stone. It is very pretty with cobblestoned streets and alleys and buildings in a colonial, “older European” style. Towering over the city (which is quite flat) are snowcapped peaks of numerous mountains.
One of the main attractions of Arequipa is the Colca Canyon – the world’s deepest canyon (depending on who you ask). Five years ago I visited it and was awed and amazed and stunned by the beauty of the place, and ever since then I’ve been itching and yearning to go back. It is very common to hike through the canyon, and numerous tour-companies offer numerous different ways of doing it. However, as there is only one path (and we have Monty) we decided to hike on our own so as to be able to spend our time as we wished and not have to pay.
The canyon was, if possible, even more dramatically beautiful than I remembered. It is basically a sheer drop of 1100 meters from the rim to the bottom. Somehow, there is a trail leading down to the bottom. The trail is (of course) all switchbacks and rocky and narrow but still surprisingly well-kept. It takes a couple of hours to get to the bottom, and all the while you have to watch your step so as not to accidentally make that trip a whole lot shorter. I had to keep reminding myself to STOP and look around – gazing at the glorious surroundings while walking was much too dangerous.
Once we were all the way to the bottom, had crossed the bridge spanning the river running down there and started walking along the other side of the canyon, we could barely tell where the path we had just walked actually went. From below it looks only like a steep, rocky cliff-face and even though we had just hiked down, we were almost convinced that there actually was no trail and we had all just been played some clever trick.
Anyway, the sun was setting and we made our way to the little town (I forget the name, something like San Juan) situated half an hours walk from the bridge to spend the night at Gloria´s hostel. (Gloria being a Peruvian woman whom we had just met at the bridge as she still had empty rooms and wondered if we would like to stay the night). We were served a surprisingly good dinner, surprised to be able to buy beer to go with it, spent a surprisingly comfortable night and were in the morning served a surprisingly amazing breakfast. Why all this surprise? San Juan is situated at the bottom of the Colca Canyon and as such, has no road that leads to it. All supplies must be carried down for at least an hour or two by man (whereafter this same man has to hike back up) (unless, of course, the man starts in San Juan and has to begin by hiking up… You get the picture).
Being sore from all that steep downhill the day before, we were happy to have a relaxed 3-hour hike to the next stop – The Oasis. The Oasis consists only of hostels (is not, as San Juan, an actual town), most of which have a pool and little bungalows or huts to sleep in. It is where all people hiking the Colca Canyon spend the night (some start in the morning and hike all the way to the oasis in one day, skipping the leisurely pace we took, along with a relaxing afternoon at the pool and Gloria’s wonderful hospitality) before starting back up to the rim again the next morning, finishing the hike.
That morning’s hike was stunning and amazing and gloriously beautiful.. if you haven’t realized it yet, I am totally blown away by the wonders of the Colca Canyon. It is SOOO BEAUTIFUL!! (That is really Dad’s line, but in the absence of his presence, someone has to step up to bat…). We arrived at the oasis just in time for lunch, then proceeded to bask in the sun and swim in the pool all through the afternoon.
The next morning we had to get up at 5 am to begin the 3-hour hike back up the canyon. This is partly because busses leave from Cabanaconde (the town at the top) at 9-ish in the morning and partly because after the sun comes up it gets freakishly hot, and you REALLY want to not be walking on a steep uphill without a chance for shade at that time. Well, it was tough, but we kept a steady pace (led by Lori – you’re the best!) and had a great time walking upwards. It’s probably one of the first times in my life where I’ve actually enjoyed walking uphill, and the whole experience was something of an epiphany for me. In Cabanaconde we had a great breakfast (never before has bread and jam tasted so good..!) and then we got on a tourist-bus back to Arequipa. This was something of a feat to accomplish as most tourist-vans are fully booked by people actually taking the tours, and there were several other tourists we had seen on our trek that where desperately trying to get a spot on a bus that morning. “Luckily” a woman in a couple taking the trek had fallen ill with bad diarrhea and left all their medicine in Arequipa. Their guide approached us at the oasis (as we were the only ones there at lunchtime..) and asked if we could help, and we were more than happy to give her some of our pills. We were also more than happy to receive a promise of four seats on a tourist-van the next morning (Of course we didn’t bargain for this, but it might have been to our advantage when we asked the guide if he knew of a van with extra seats).
We had taken the public bus to Cabanaconde, and it had not been a pleasant experience. It hadn’t been exceptionally bad or anything, but let’s just say that the tourist van is –much- nicer. Lori spent some of the traveling time making a list of 25 reasons why the van was better than the public bus. Apparently she did not find it a very difficult thing to do. (Especially since one of the perks was getting to stop at some hot springs for an hour to soak our weary muscles).
Back in Arequipa that evening we were tired and more than happy to check into our hostel and look forward to two days of relaxing, walking through the city, drinking coffee and just enjoying life. (Oh, did I say that Monty, Asia and I had originally planned a hike up El Misti, towering 5800 masl and visible from all parts of Arequipa, the next day? Well, we changed our minds at 5 o’clock in the morning while hiking up the Colca Canyon. It was one of the best decisions made on this trip. Especially since it involved getting up at 1 (!) am to hike up to the peak from the base camp).
After Arequipa we headed for Cusco on the last nightbus on this 4-month journey! It was sad as well as spectacular as we all got a full cama bus with great food and individual interactive screens to watch whatever movie one might prefer. All in all, a good bus to have be the last on this trip (and first for Lori and Monty. Although in their case it might actually also be the last one. Ever.).
Stay tuned for our Cusco adventures!! (I’m sitting in Lima now. We have only one sleep left in South America. Only one more breakfast. I just took my last shower in South America. Buenos Aires feels like it was a whole other trip in a whole other lifetime. What we’re doing now simply feels like… Life.).