It has not even been a full two weeks yet in Peru but the village of Chivay is a perfect representation of what you would expect when you picture Peru. But before all of the amazingness of this town and Colca Canyon and Colca Valley we had quite an adventure getting there. We left the city of Arequipa at about 9am and we stopped into a store to purchase coca leaves, which acts as an excellent remedy for altitude sickness. I personally did not need to chew them because I felt fine and honestly they have a very pungent scent but I will still try them before I leave this country. After we get the leaves we drive in our collectivo van and drive through some amazing landscapes. The city of Arequipa is surrounded by dormant and active volcanoes, some of which were snow capped. But once we made it out of the city we started to see more and more of the Andes, which as most people know is the longest continuous mountain range in the world.
After about and hour and half of driving we reachedSalinas Aguada Blanca Nature Reserve, which is known for vicuñas. Vicuñas are in the cameloid family, basically like smaller llamas. We stop over on the side of the road in this desert environment, with the Andes in the background, and we see about 20 or so vicuñas and they are just so adorable. There are roughly 10,000 vicuñas in the reserve which is good because they were almost once extinct due to hunting and the use of their wool. 80% of vicuñas live in Peru. The fibers from their fur make clothing items that sell for several hundred USD to several thousand depending on the clothing item because the fibers are incredibly soft. Nowadays some Peruvian people are able to sustainably gather wool from them without harming the animals. In this reserve there are also roughly 300 guanacos which are similar to vicuñas but far more rare to see as they tend to live higher up in the mountains.
After our stopped to check out the vicuñas we continued driving north on our way to Chivay. On the way we pulled over several times because there were incredibly small villages (more like a few makeshift homes) and we saw Quechua woman herding llamas, alpacas and sheep and selling their handmade artisan crafts and clothing.
Overall we saw dozens of cameloid mammals and I will admit I loved the movie The Emperors New Groove, so I really wanted to see some llamas haha. We learned that there are two species of llamas and three species of alpaca and we saw them all. We continued driving and gaining elevation, and when we made it to the top we were over 16,000 ft above sea level. I have been to the lowest point in the US at Death Valley which was 282 feet below sea level but never have been as high as 16,000 feet above sea level. You could literally feel how thin the air was and I admit at such high elevations I have had difficulty breathing properly. When we were at this elevation we had spectacular views of about half a dozen snow capped volcanoes that were 15,000-17,000 feet above sea level. When we stopped there were Quechua women selling alpaca clothing items so of course I had to buy something. I found a chulpa, or knitted sweater, that I fell in love with that is made of alpaca wool and super soft. After we take in the view of the mountains and volcanoes around us we continued on and made our descent to the village of Chivay.
I cannot even express how incredible this place was, I will literally remember these views for the rest of my life. The pictures I post will give you an idea but will not do justice. The village is located within the Colca Valley and is surrounded by mountains and amazing terraces that date back to Incan and pre-Incan times. Although some terraces are still used today. When we got into Chivay we went for a buffet lunch where mostly meat was served but still some incredible tasting veggie options. But Michelle and I each tried a bite of alpaca which was not bad but simply tasted like meat and I did not need to eat more. After lunch we hiked for about an hour to head to some nearby hot springs, which felt amazing and was surrounded by such beautiful landscapes. We left the hot springs and crossed this rickety Inca bridge that was constructed with wooden planks and alpaca wool, kind of freaky but really cool also.
In the evening we all went out to dinner to a pizza place (strange how many there are here) and a local band played wonderful Andean music for the restaurant. Also a woman and man came out dressed in full Quechua clothing and perform dances which were interesting yet slightly strange. They each had a little rope and would have the other lie down flat on their back looking like a cross while the one with the rope would whip the one laying down. After a few dances, the man pulls me to the floor to dance with him and he lays me down so he could whip me also. It wasn't hard but it was still strange yet I was laughing the whole time. Michelle got a video so I'll post it so you can get an idea how this dance occurred. Afterwards we left to head to our hostel and concluding day one in Colca Valley.
On the second day we left the hostel @ 6:30am and head to the village of Yanque. When we arrived there were about eight young women dressed in full Quechua clothing and they were performing a dance in the middle of the square. There were also more older women selling artisan crafts and clothing and even a few women with alpacas or large eagles for people to take photos with. We left Yanque so we could start leaving Colca Valley and into Colca Canyon.
On the way we stopped at a viewpoint, El Mirador de Cura, and we saw about six juvenile Andean Condors flying around. Even though they were not adults yet, they were still massive and so majestic to watch. We were watching them simply soar above us for about 20 minutes and then we moved on to another viewpoint where we could see the canyon and more condors. We made it to El Cruz de Condor where we had our first view of an adult Andean Condor. The juveniles were brown and the adults are black with white on top and bottom of their wings and a white band around their necks. When we were at this viewpoint there were probably about 100 other tourists so Michelle and I wander off away from the people to take in the beauty of the canyon. As we walked away from people we saw a couple Andean Hummingbirds as well as the Giant Hummingbird (Patagona gigas) and in comparison to other hummingbirds, it really was pretty massive.
We also looked around us at the expansive Colca Canyon, sadly we did not see the deepest point which is 13,650 feet (about twice as big as the Grand Canyon). There is debate as to which canyons are the deepest in the world but the Colca Canyon is the deepest in South America and within the top three deepest in the world.
Michelle and I take photos and simply take in the beauty around us and then we headed back to our group for our departure. We drove away from the canyon and back to the valley and made a couple more stops on the way to take photos and interact with the local Quechua women. A few women were selling strange fruit, one was called tuna interestingly enough and the other fruit was like an incredibly sour kiwi. Both tasted interesting but then Michelle bought cactus ice cream which tasted really good actually. We got back to Chivay for another lunch buffet, which was not good and a rip off but our tour guide basically wouldn't let us go anywhere else... Honestly probably because she gets a cut of the profit for every person she brings in. But overall this has been the highlight of the trip so far.
We left Chivay and the Colca Valley and start making our way back to Arequipa. The only s*** part about this entire trip was when we got back to our hostel we were rushed out of the van and I left my $200 Patagonia jacket inside, not realizing until about an hour later. Because of this and how upset I was I decided to go out for some drinks with our new Irish friends. Basically we all got wasted, had a great time and stayed out past 2am and then woke up at 5:30 to get ready to leave Arequipa. A great night followed by a s***ty day of being hungover and on a bus for about 12 hours driving on terrible roads and going through high elevation.
Luckily I did not get sick but poor Michelle was miserable the entire day. On the way from Arequipa to Cusco we stopped at Juliaca (near Lake Titicaca) and then stopped in a small village called Pucara for lunch. Right outside the town there was a tourist bus that had somehow flipped to the side and was on the side of the road. It was scary to see because it could have maybe happened to our bus. But alas after another grueling day on the bus we finally made it to Cusco. And damn it feels good to not be on the move or on a bus for some time. So I am in Cusco now for about a week. Will update again this week.