One of the main reasons that Lewis the Lion had visited Arequipa was that he’d read in his guide-book that just 100 miles away is the world’s deepest canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States of America). It is also Peru’s second biggest attraction after Machu Picchu due to its extraordinary natural beauty and the outdoor activities it has on offer. Lewis the Lion was quite keen to go hiking and explore the beauty of the landscape but as far as he was concerned, the biggest draw there was that he’d heard that condor birds lived there and could be seen circling the skies around the canyon. The Andean Condor bird is a revered bird in many South American countries and is indeed the national symbol of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. It has the largest wingspan of any land bird at 3.2 metres. Lewis the Lion just had to go there and see it for himself!
Therefore, one time in the middle of the night (at 3 o’clock to be precise) he was picked up with Helen and his friend Ofer (who had joined them again after first meeting them in Bariloche in Argentina) to be driven to a place called Chivay near the Colca Canyon. There were approximately a dozen other tourists who were also picked up in the minibus to take part in this two-day adventure (although there would just be 6 in his particular walking group).
When they arrived in the Caylloma Province at 7 a.m. it was positively freezing and Lewis the Lion was grateful for a simple breakfast of bread and jam but more importantly, for some hot coffee so that he could warm his tail on the side of the cup! It was cold because once again he was on high ground. The depth of the canyon is 4,160 metres alone and Lewis knew from his travel in Bolivia that that meant very cold nights and hot days. However, it wasn’t long before it started to warm up again as the sun started to rise. Helen paid the 70 soles entrance fee into the National Park (Check out Lewis the Lion’s next blog on the Peruvian currency) and the group headed for the Cruz del Condor; a spectacular viewing point for watching all of the cruising condors.
Lewis the Lion couldn’t believe that he was up so close to these giants of the sky in their natural environment.
Here are three short video clips to give you an impression of what he saw. He found the condors quite tricky to film as although they moved through the sky gracefully, they were actually very fast too!
He also took some photos which you can see later on in the photo gallery.
Together with 4 other hikers and a guide, Honorio, Lewis the Lion, Helen and Ofer were dropped off at Pampa San Miguel overlooking the spectacular Colca Canyon. It was a breathtaking view from the top at 3280 metres above sea level and looking down on the Colca River and valley below. They would now descend a thousand metres to the river below but as Lewis the Lion had predicted, the weather was now getting very hot. The hikers were lathered up with suncream and had lots of water with them, but silly Helen had forgotten to bring her sunhat to shade her from the sun. At one point she started to feel very hot and faint and Ofer cooled her down by pouring cold water on her head and wrapping a wet t-shirt around her head. Lewis the Lion laughed his hearty laugh: she did look ridiculous! It was a lesson learned and she would certainly make sure she had her sunhat with her in future!
About 3 hours’ later, the friends crossed the suspension bridge to San Juan de Chuccho (2300 m). The scenery from the bottom of the valley was very dramatic and Lewis the Lion couldn’t believe how high they had started off as he craned his neck to look up at the top of the canyon.
As they walked along, Honorio told the group about many of the fruit trees and medicinal plants known to the natives. (See some of the photos below). Lewis the Lion was particularly impressed by the cactus from which you could extract a red dye from the parasites living on it! He also thought some of the cactus fruit was very juicy and tasty.
Along the way, Lewis the Lion was impressed by the rock formations of the landscape and by the flora and fauna. Some of the communities they passed by were very remote, e.g. one village only celebrated mass once a year in its church as it was too difficult for the priest to get there otherwise. However, Lewis enjoyed meeting the villagers who wore colourful hats to represent their village and who sold local products by the pathways, e. g. honey and bottles of water and other soft drinks. He was also charmed by a little boy called Andreas who talked to Lewis the Lion about football and who then showed him his cute, puppy dog.
After lunch, the path through the countryside rose and fell as they followed the river to the town of Sangalle at 2160 metres above sea level. From a distance, for those hot and tired hikers the hostel they were staying at seemed like an oasis in the desert with its inviting blue swimming pools. But looks can be deceiving: Helen had rushed to get her swimming costume on, had jumped in the water but it was freezing cold! The hostel was in fact very basic with cold showers and bungalows with thatched roofs with no electricity. That meant that after the sun went down, the group of hikers had to use torches. Lewis the Lion thought it all added to the excitement of the adventure and furthermore, from deep in the canyon, as he gazed up at the sky, the stars shone brightly and magnificently above his head.
With no light and after a long 6-hour hike, the group retired to bed early and it was just as well because it was a very early start the next morning. Lewis the Lion couldn’t quite believe that he was riding along in Helen’s rucksack at 5 o’clock the next morning: the sun hadn’t even risen, the group were all walking along with torches and you could still see the stars in the sky! Having walked the previous day in the blazing sunshine, Lewis the Lion understood why. The reason being was that this time the hikers would be climbing a thousand metres back up the other side of the Colca Canyon and the cooler it was, the better especially as this was a 3-hour climb uphill. This was a very physically demanding walk and at times up very big steps and Helen was grateful that Honorio had given her a walking stick to help. She learned that when continuously climbing it was best to try to take as small a steps as possible rather than lifting your leg high for lots of big steps. She also discovered that it was best to try to alternate your leading leg. Although she found the climb difficult, she did not give up and she took short breaks, along with sips of water from her water bottle when she needed them. (Some hikers following behind found the walk too challenging and so rode on donkeys up the mountainside instead. Honorio told the group to make sure that they stood to the inside as they passed by so as not to get pushed off the mountainside! A great piece of advice, Lewis the Lion thought!). Honorio was also very good at encouraging the hikers and giving them time-markers telling them how far they had to go. As Lewis the Lion peeked his head out of Helen’s rucksack he could see that daylight had flooded the sky and the colour of the canyon was spectacular in the morning sunlight.
Unbelievably, at 7:40 in the morning, Helen and her fellow hikers had all reached the top. One of the hikers, Clement, had even done it in an hour and a half! Honorio praised the hikers saying that they were a really good group. Helen felt especially proud of her achievement as she was not used to this sort of uphill hiking but she knew that it would stand her in good stead for her next hiking challenge: Machu Picchu. (Watch out for Lewis the Lion’s amazing adventure to Machu Picchu in some of his next blogs!). In less than 3 hours, she had climbed to 3280 metres and Lewis the Lion was proud of her, Ofer and all the hikers there that morning. He was also in awe of Honorio who did this on a regular basis: he must be very fit indeed and he clearly loved his job!
When the group had had a little moment to catch their breath at the top, their walk continued across some fields to the sweet little village of Cabanaconde. It was time for breakfast and boy, did they think they’d earned it! Here they enjoyed some fresh eggs and some of the local honey which Ofer had bought from the villagers the day before – delicious! The hikers then had an opportunity to have a wander around the town and Lewis wasn’t surprised to find a big statue of a condor in the central plaza. He also enjoyed watching some of the townsfolks coming onto the streets, clearly practising for some kind of procession or parade.
Fron here, the minibus took the group to an extraordinary place called Wayrapunka. Here were some of the finest examples of Inca and pre-Inca farming terraces and Lewis took the time to enjoy the view and you can see it too: Wayrapunka.
Even as the group of hikers were driven along to their next destination, Maca, with the most beautiful church in area, he couldn’t quite believe that the hikers had done their walk already for the day and they could just simply enjoy being in this picturesque area. Near the church, Helen risked a falcon sitting on her arm and head, and Lewis the Lion got very close to an intrigued llama! Inside the church, Lewis the Lion found it fascinating with its mix of Catholic and indigenous culture in the artwork and statues.
Following on from Maca, the group were taken to perhaps the best place possible and it certainly made up for the shock of the cold swimming pool the day before: the thermo-medicinal Baths of Calera. For just 15 soles the hikers got a chance to rest their weary muscles, arms and legs and relax in some natural hot spa pools. At 38 degrees, in the open air pool, Helen made sure she stayed in the water for as long as possible until her fingers started to go all pruny!
After a buffet lunch in Chivay (where Helen tasted the hottest pepper in her life in a dish called Ceviche – Lewis the Lion will tell you more about Peruvian food in one of his next blogs), the adventurers had one last stop at a very high vantage point called Patapampa (4900 m). Here they appreciated the view of the volcanoes of the Andes. Lewis the Lion felt very insignificant when he saw the height and size of some of these rocky monsters and he could almost imagine why the Incas in times beforehand would have revered them so much. Lewis the Lion noticed that Ofer looked especially hard at the plaque stating the height of Chichani Volcano as he would be climbing that in a few days time. Lewis thought he was very brave!
As the bus then drove along back to Arequipa through a national reserve, Lewis the Lion watched out the window, and just like in Northern Argentina and Bolivia, he noticed llamas and alpacas in the surrounding fields.
What an action packed couple of days it had been! To relax that evening, for the first time during his trip in South America, Lewis the Lion went to the cinema where he watched a film called ‘Sombras Tenebrosas’ (Dark Shadows) starring Johnny Depp. He thought it was a great way to practise his Spanish as the audio was in English but the sub-titles were in Spanish. A perfect end to a perfect day!
Lewis the Lion hopes you enjoy his picture gallery of his adventure to the Colca Canyon.
Lewis the Lion was excited to see the condors in their natural environment.
Which animal would you like to see most in its natural environment and why?