The grander canyon

At 4,160m deep at its deepest point, the Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It’s also 100km long. The slice that we spent two days trekking in was awesome. We’ve talked a little before about how, coming from New Zealand, we can get a little jaded with other countries’ ‘nature’ based tourist activities. But at home we’ve nothing to compare to the ginormous, continental scale of this gash in the earth.

We started out viewing condors, and were so taken with their flight that we missed the bus to the start of our trek. That added another two hours walking to a fairly torturous day descending into the canyon, though the scenery from the canyon edge was beautiful.

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We walked about eight hours on the first day. Down a vertical kilometre and halfway up the other side. Our descent probably seems less impressive than an equivalent mountain climb, but it sure was hard on our knees.

The canyon is populated by a range of small villages who farm crops and llamas and offer services to tourists. Like about a quarter of Peru’s population they speak Quechua as their first language. We spoke to one woman who ran a restaurant about why she lived in the canyon. It’s tranquilo she said, and beautiful. We couldn’t argue on either count. She also felt some people outside the canyon were rude and materialistic. Her sons had their primary education in the canyon but are now studying at university in Arequipa.

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The track we followed in the afternoon climbed and traversed high across the side of the canyon. Sometimes it was broken by landslides which left unstable scree and dirt which we had to shimmy across. The whole walk was demanding physically, but shimmying over the landslides was definitely the hardest part.

We reached our lodging for the evening as darkness fell, just in time for a dip in the frigid pool before dinner and bed.

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The next morning we climbed out. The gradient of the zig-zag was quite manageable but it was still a taxing climb. At the top we faced the prospect of sixteen hours on a bus to get to Cusco, but at least we’d be sitting down.

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