Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Peru Trip: Cabanaconde and Colca Canyon

We flew into Arequipa on Saturday, April 15. It was 9pm by the time we reached our hostel on Jerusalen Street, a few blocks from Plaza de las Armas, the town square. We dropped off our bags and decided to go out for a walk to see the cathedral.

The streets were alive with people going for walks, sitting at restaurants, hanging out on the plaza or visiting the cathedral for a late mass. The building itself was probably the most beautiful Catholic church I’ve seen since arriving in town. It took up one entire side of the square and was built with white stone, similar to the SLC temple. It had two bell towers flanking the main entrance. I think what I like most about it was the fact that it was not as highly ornate as some of the other churches we’ve seen here. There were beautiful architectural details but not excessively done. The landscape lighting accentuated its beauty.

The interior was just as pleasant, the walls and ceiling were painted a light yellow with white decorative molding adorning the twelve marble columns that ran the length of the building. On one end was a very large organ, while on the opposite end was the main area where the priest conducted mass. The walls were sparsely decorated with depictions and statues of Christ or the virgin Mary giving the space an airy open feeling, instead of musty and old.

The next morning was Easter Sunday. Our cab driver informed us that mass was at 5 am with the burning of a Judas effigy at around 6:30 am. Sure enough, at 6:30 we were awakened by the sound of fireworks. After our experience in Cusco, with the sea of people on procession, we decided we didn’t want to see it.

Later that morning, people were walking on town square dressed in their Sunday best and little kids were wearing Easter dresses. That’s something you don’t see often in big cities anymore. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru.

That afternoon we traveled by public bus to Cabanaconde. It is a small town just outside of Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. Twice as deep as the grand canyon. The bus ride took six hours on a crowded bus, with no bathroom and no air circulation. It was probably the worst bus ride to date. We pulled into Cabanaconde at 8:30 pm and headed to our hostel Pachamama where our host helped us plan our hike for the next two days.

The next morning we woke up early and after eating a delicious breakfast of eggs, crepe, fresh fruit salad and bread with jam we began our trek. We left town at 7:30 am and headed down the canyon through a series of switchbacks that took us 2 hrs and 30 minutes to complete. On our way down we came across several groups of hikers making the opposite trek. They had started at 3 am and were slowly making it to the top. It is a difficult hike down because the ground is covered with shale, loose rocks and sand making it slippery. It is a difficult hike up because of the series of steep switchbacks
with no flat areas.

At the bottom of the trail, we reached San Galle a small oasis with two hotels and thermal pools. The water seemed really inviting to us at that point. We started at an altitude of 10,900 feet and descended to an altitude of 6, 700 feet.  After resting from the heat for a few minutes we continued our trek along the bottom of the canyon for a short distance. We eventually crossed the river and began our ascent to Malata and Cashnirwa. There were more switchbacks on the opposite side of the canyon from where we had just descended. This time we climbed up to 8,800 feet and reached the village at around 12:45. 

There was not much to see and do there so we continued on our hike headed toward San Juan. We arrived in San Juan at 2 pm at which point we had to decide whether to stay there and hike out the next morning at 3 am or to continue on.

The village is minuscule, perhaps a total of 10 families live along a central path that hikers take through their town. There is not much to it and I couldn't imagine what we could have done for an entire afternoon. We also didn't really fit in with the college hippie crowd staying in the hostel so we decided to continue on across the river and up on the other side of the mountain.

We knew that it was going to be dark by 5:30 pm so our goal was to make it in 3.5hrs so we didn't have to hike with headlamps. Probably the worse part was the lack of signage and information. At that time of day there were no hikes traveling on that part of the trail so we relied on the directions of some kids to know where to go and hoped they knew what they were telling us.

After walking along the trail for approximately 15 minutes we finally spotted the bridge that crossed the Colca River and then the climbing began. I can't describe how exhausted we were from already having hiked up and down already that day. 

I was so glad I had been exercising at home for the past few months and had the muscle and cardio strength to climb back up. I set the pace and we slowly hiked the switchbacks up the side of the mountain. They were so steep at times, it was hard to know if we were getting closer to the end or not. There were a couple of occasions where we thought we had arrived only to discovered we actually hadn't so we began to downplay whatever milestone we came across. Finally, just as darkness started to set in we spotted a pavilion in the distance. We were able to reach it in dim light and realized we had just reached Mirador San Miguel. The last 20 minutes of our walk was in the dark, but we were out of the canyon, just walking along the side of the road with our flashlights on.  When we finally reached Cabanaconde we had hiked 18 miles and hiked around 13,100 ft in elevation in one day. 

At the hostel we checked back into our room and had the most delicious pizza I've ever eaten. I am not sure it was my huger or the cook that made it taste so good.

The next morning we joined a tour group and headed back into Arequipa by private bus. In daylight we were able to really admire the beauty of the area, which we had missed traveling by public bus the night before. We even got to see a couple of condors flying above us at one of the overlooks.

We also visited the Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa. It was very interesting to learn about the way they lived. The convent takes up a city block and it is a small city within the walls, with streets and a market, several gardens, a wash area and of course a church.

Only the daughter or rich families would be accepted into the convent. Their dowry would be used to pay for their admission equivalent to $150,000 today. The girls would bring with them their servants to cook and clean for them and live in their own private homes with not only private bedrooms, but also kitchens and parlors. 

At its height, the monastery housed approximately 450 people (a third of them nuns and the rest servants).The day we visited the monastery was open late and we got to see how they lived after dark when the only illumination came from candlelight. Let me tell you, the floors are uneven and they use narrow channels in their stone floors to channel rain water away from their home as I found out when I tripped on one. Living there would definitely take some getting used to.