On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me; the Colca Canyon.
We were to spend New Years Eve in one of the most remote places possible. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the 100km-long Colca Canyon is set among high volcanoes (6613m high Coropuna and 6310m high Ampato are the tallest) and ranges from 1000m to more than 3000m in depth.
We set off early from Arequipa and spent most of the day travelling along windy roads throughout the rocky countryside. Once more we got to try coca leaves and this time I tried hard, losing feeling in my mouth before the taste got too much and I had to spit it out. We stopped at different points along the way to take pictures and enjoy the scenary. At the highest point (around 4000m) we stopped and saw the piles of rocks, created for wishes and in honor of various Gods. It was a beautiful ride but tiring.
We stopped in the main town of Chivay for lunch and to buy some items for the evenings celebrations. In Peru the traditional colour for New Year celebrations is yellow and they take this seriously. There was yellow confetti we had to buy to sprinkle on our house, yellow hats, yellow glasses and even yellow pants which had to be wore only after midnight- all for goodluck. Even more exciting we got to buy fireworks. There was a variety on sale and no sign of the British safety measures I have got accustomed to. You could buy firecrackers which went off pretty much as soon as it was lit, a Bin Laden bomb and even fireworks as tall as my shoulder. It was an impressive area of Chinese danger. Some of the fireworks even our guide warned us about buying due to the danger. By this point we were giddy with excitement, much to the bemusement of the locals!
The area that we were in consisted of 14 villages, but only Chivay had the market. Therefore, when we reached our village where we would stay for the next couple of nights, it was like entering a ghost town. Our hotel was really quaint with impressive views over the valley. We were even given our own quarters for the group, a circular building with the rooms circling an inside catcus. With our continued giddiness this poor catcus got decorated with all the gear we had bought. It was quite a sight.
The sunset that night was spectacular. It was blood red and full of intense oranges, blues and purple. The pictures I took looked like it had been photo shopped. A great end to the year.
We met for dinner with hats and 2010 glasses on and a variety of banners and streamers decorating our body. The alcohol was opened and the celebrations began. At 10pm the boys thought they would test some of the fireworks. We duly trooped out to watch. To say they were a let down is putting it mildly. I dont think a single one went off properly. It didnt help that the boys were also slightly illiberated and made it quite a scary event. At the point the firecrackers started to come towards us, we decided to leave the boys to it and headed inside.
The time seemed to fly by until midnight approached, which may have been due to the alcohol. We headed back out just before 12. Our guide gave us 12 grapes which we had to eat at midnight and make a wish on each one. We brought out the yellow pants and had them ready to put on. As midnight approached we all lit a sparkler and counted down the seconds. Happy New Year!!! We hugged, danced, played with the sparklers, ate the grapes and showed off the yellow pants! The boys went off to play with more fireworks which was even more disasterous. Looking back it was also really dangerous. When a firework did not go off the boys would peer down at it or point at others. We were lucky no one got hurt. Then when one finally did go off we thought it had landed in a building and we started to see smoke down the road. Panic ensued until our guide told us that locals set fire to effigies and this was one! Phew!
All in all it was an excellent New Years Eve, even in such a remote place. Being in a group definitely helped.
On the eight day of Christmas my true love gave to me: tombs in a mountain range.
We spent the next morning recovering, lying in hammocks, reading and generally enjoying the lovely morning. By the afternoon though our guide was rounding us up to walk up the nearby mountain.
Littered on the way where hundreds of terraces left by pre-Incas and the Incas themselves. The climb was stepped and reminiscent of the Inca trail. Half way up we got the reward of a spectacular view over the valley. At this point half the group turned back, but egged on by our guide a few remained to reach the top. I was one of the suckers and boy was the climb hard. Puffing and panting we got to where the path evened out and stopped, the mountain going vertical above us. We were rewarded with tombs left from the Incas. The locals in the area worshipped the mountain and so when they died they created tombs right at the foot of the peak and left their dead there. The area was littered with skulls and bones.
Our local guide gave us more history of the area and explained about the human sacrifices. In the nearby distance was a volcano. A virgin girl was chosen and made to walk from the valley for 3 days until she reached the volcano where upon she was killed and left as a sacrifice to the Gods. Knowing the climb she would have faced and knowing she was walking to her death we could really empathise. The sight was incredible and worth the climb. Who know what lurks where!
Following our hard work, we were rewarded with a trip to the local hot springs where we relaxed in the warm water, watching the sun set behind the spectular mountain range. Unfortunately our idyllic day was somewhat marred by our evening meal. We were taken to Chivay to watch traditional dances whilst we ate. Unfortunately the singers had been drinking too much and were over an hour late! By this point we had eaten a hideous meal and really just wanted to head back. After a couple of dances we sneaked out and left them to it.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me: the flight of the Condor.
This was our last day in the canyon and we headed out very early in order to watch the flight of the Condor. We drove along the spectular canyon range until we reached an area that we could walk along and admire for ourselves the depth of the canyon. We did not reach not the deepest part as that would involve a 2 hour ride and 2 day walk! But it was still quite deep though. As we wandered along we kept our eye out for the magnificant bird who we had been told uses the rising heat pressure to glide along the canyon. We reached the spot specifically set up for viewing the birds. Unfortunately we were there at the wrong time of year when the birds nest and hardly any are seen. We waited for over an hour but only got a glimpse of some far off. I took some pictures and when you zoomed in you got an idea of a speck of a bird!!! A bit disappointed we left the canyon for the long ride back to Arequipa.