Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Desearia tener alas - I wish I had wings

Colca Canyon, Peru

Desearia Tener Alas. I wish i had wings.

 That is how this place made me feel. In New York i suffer from a form of vertigo that makes me imagine falling from every high building i am on. I move close to the edge and see the ground rush towards me. Spat, gringo pancake. Here on the other hand i feel as if i could step off the edge, spread my wings and drift like the condors that make this canyon their home. And why wouldnt they choose to live here? It is spectacular.

Our trip began with a bumpy early morning bus ride from Arequipa, six hours with no leg room and very little sleep. We arrived at Cabana Conde, which i thought meant Home of the Condor (altho apparently it does not) a bit before noon, had some lunch consisting of alpalca meat, rice, and papas fritas (a meal i would eat 5 or so times in the three days we spent here) and set out.

The canyon immediately spread out to our right, offering spectacular views the likes of which i have never seen before. We began our journey at 3,300 meters and hiked for about 5 hours to our destination within the canyon depths, at 2,000 meters. I can spend pages trying to describe the beauty here but i have not the words to define it, nor was my camera up to the task of capturing it. The mountains are massive, peaking at over 6,000 meters and the colors range from snow capped white, to red and green river beds, and everything in between. Raphael showed me a cacti extract that when smeared turns from white to royal purple. Literally every color you can think of can be found in Colca Canyon.

Our first day was mostly all down hill on often narrow always rocky switch backing trails that took a pretty nasty toll on my right knee. Old basketball injury that reared its ugly head. Regardless we made pretty decent time, and arrived at Llagua Lodge just before sundown. Claudio, lodge owner and host, spear fished us some trout and as he prepared dinner i immersed myself in the hot spring pool near the lodge with a warm cervesa. Never has warm beer tasted so good, and i literally licked the rim of the bottle after swallowing my last drop. The mineral rich hot spring worked wonders on my knee, and i bathed in pitch darkness with only the steady drizzle to accompany me. I reflected for a moment on where i was and what i was doing and was nearly overwhelmed with happiness.

Dinner smelled better than it tasted and my trout ended up in the belly of a kitten that took a liking to me. I was dead tired and asleep in a bamboo hut before 9. 

Raphael woke me before 6 am. I moaned and whined about sleeping 15 more minutes but he was already gone, so i gathered my gear and followed his lead.  My thighs felt like they had been beaten by rolling pins but the pain in my knee was gone.  We wanted to get as much hiking in before the sun crested the canyon and made life more difficult for us. We partook in desayuno a couple of hours later on the trail near the village of Pallca population 68. I cut some rolls i brought and smeared them with strawberry jam, followed by an orange and some purified water. As a side note micro-pour purifying tablets make yur water taste like a public swimming pool so buy some Tang or Emergen-C (which i had) for flavor. We crested our summit at 9:45 or so at an altitude of 2,900 meters and were treated to an amazing panorama view of the canyon. To call it spectacular would be an understatement. Breath taking, stunning, incredible, amazing, unbelievable, fucking CRAZY are all adjectives that fail to convey the beauty. I was filled with a deep sense of contentment, satisfaction and awe.  

Desearia tener alas.

Switch backing down into the canyon depths we passed two small villages. Malata, population of 60 or so, where Raphael's father was born, and the relatively larger village of Cosnirhua. Most of the villagers were out tending to life stock and crop so we didnt see many people but passed pigs, mules, and lazy dogs all hiding from the hot sun.

Stopping for a few minutes to dip our hot feet into a cool rushing river we made good time and arrived at our destination the San Juan de Churcho lodge in time for lunch. We met some travelers there, Gillis a 28 year old from Switzerland who was half way thru a 3 month journey across Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia and Sea-Ho a man from Queens (Sunndyside Queens, 15 minutes from Greenpoint Brooklyn where i live!!) who quit his job in December and was on the 4th month of his journey around the world. Raphael and I spent the next 6 hours talking to both of these awesome people about their travels, the history of South America, its rape by the Spaniards, and the NBA Playoffs over some cervesas before heading to bed. We had another early start the next morning.

True to his word Raph woke me up at 5am, and we quickly prepared for the last day of our trek, an accent from 2,300 meters to 3,400 hundred, again racing the sun.

This proved to be the roughest of the three days. I was fine for the first 700 meters as we switch backed along a narrow and often treacherous trail winding its way along ridges leading up and out of the Canyon. At 3,000 meters my strength suddenly left me, my legs became rubbery, and i couldnt catch my breath. I chewed Coca leaves furiously but even that, which had imbued me with strength and served me so well since arriving to Arequipa did not help much. The last 300 meters took two hours as a labored along the cliff side, almost oblivious to the stunning views. Raphael offered to carry my pack but i couldnt not succumb to such an ignoble fate so step by step, short rest by short rest i labored my way out of the canyon.

Desearia tener alas!!

Once we crested the top of the canyon we stopped to reflect on the views and on our journey. Altho i was weak towards the end of the trek, mostly due to the altitude i was very proud of what we accomplished. Raphael, who is an old pro at hikng the Canyon, admitted that he had never before covered so much distance in such a short time with a gringo. We high fived, took some pictures, and walked back to Cabana Conde to catch the 11am bus to Arequipa.

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