Week 63 - Colca Canyon
We left Arequipa nice and early and headed in the direction of Chivay, which was situated on the Eastern end of the famous Colca Canyon. It was all tarmac and winding roads, so it was quite enjoyable, and before we got to Chivay there was a huge layby on one of the plains with a great view of a smoking volcano in the distance. We pulled over and looked out at the vast landscape in front of us, full of volcanos! Only one was actually smoking but it was so beautiful. We also met some other tourists who had stopped in their tour bus and they were very interested in our trip. We then got back on the bikes and meandered down the numerous switchbacks before arriving at the gates to enter Chivay and pay for the five day tourist ticket which would allow us to explore the whole area.
We hadn't arranged with Kirsi about meeting up but as luck would have it, she had parked on the other side of the road to look at her map when we pulled up. They give you a map with lots of information it when you pay so we stood around looking at it for a bit, and being only early in the day we decided to head to Cabanaconder, a small town on the East side of Colca Canyon. On route we stopped at several of the miradors, the first of which was of the shallower area of the valley with hundreds of stepped fields. It was beautiful We also stopped at 'Cruz del Condor' which is one of the best places to get a glimpse of the amazing Andean Condors. The best time to go is around 8am, so being around 2pm there wasn't an awful lot to see, but we did get to see one or two and not a tourist in sight. We'd definitely come back in the morning.
We decided that it would probably be easier to stay in Cabanaconde due to its proximity to the Cruz del Condor viewpoint and we found a place called Arum Qurpawasi Hospedaje, which fortunately would allow Jack in and had a secure parking area. Unfortunately the parking area was full of mud and the lady made a few interesting faces as we came in with our newly muddied boots. Oopsy! After a suprisingly hot shower we wandered into the plaza and found a little place called Las Terrazas for some tasty pisco sours and food. Again, it was one of those places that got very cold as the sun went down so we had to return to the hostel temporarily to retrieve some warmer attire. It's really lovely in all the places in South America we've been so far...no matter how small the village, they all seem to have a main plaza, which becomes a key social point for locals, especially in the evenings.
We got up and headed to Cruz del Condor for 8am, at which time it was absolutely swarming with tourists. Not being on a tour we were fortunate to be able to stay as long as we liked, which ended up being about an hour and a half! It was like clockwork, around 8am the Condors began to start swooping overhead and below us in the valley, landing on various points of the canyon, most tucked out of sight. They were magnificent. They are really huge birds, in fact they are the largest flying bird in the world by combined measurement of weight and wingspan! It has a whopping maximum wingspan of about 3.3m (10ft 10"), generally has a mass of around 7.7-15kg (upto 33 lbs) and can stand at a massive 1.2m tall!!! To see them fly is awesome.
Colca Canyon gets it's fame from the fact that it is actually the second deepest canyon in the world at 3400m and is about 100km long, making it about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but in all honesty it's probably a bit more impressive than Colca Canyon due to it's vastness, whereas Colca, although very deep, isn't as wide and it's a little more difficult to appreciate it maybe. There is another canyon not too far away called Cotahuasi Canyon, which is actualy the deepest canyone in the world, however we decided not to go because it would be an eight hour ride there and eight hours back, and to be honest we didn't feel up for it.
On leaving the viewpoint and with about 1000 photos of condors, we headed to Pinchollo geyser. We followed the tarmac road and then peeled off up a dirt track for maybe 9 km or so. It was beautiful and it wasn't a place that any of the tours really went to, so there was not another person in sight. I'd never seen a Geyser in my life, so for me it was amazing. Not as amazing as the ones I would later get to see in Bolivia, but still cool to see nonetheless. We walked down to take a closer look and then had a snack lunch of chocolate and cereal bars! What more canyou ask for?! We took the opportunity to fly the drone and then we also noticed that the volcano above us was smoking. It was such a tranquil place, we must have stayed there two to three hours, before heading back to Chivay.
We found a little hostal called Rumi Wasi where we could get in Kirsi's 4x4, our two bikes and they liked dogs. Score! The only slight downside was the cold shower and freezing room but you can't have it all! Luckily there were hot water bottles and hot tea on offer in the evening, which we gladly accepted! We also found a place with really tasty soup, so that helped. We actually ended up staying about four nights in Chivay ust chilling out and seeing what the area had to offer. There were bright statues everywhere and they had also made statues of Minions out of tyres and pipe, some with normal 'Minion' wear and others with a football kit attire, I'm guessing because Peru had been in the World Cup.
Kirsi left after about two nights to head to Puno because her vehicle 'title' was due to be arriving there, which was the replacement after loads of her stuff had been stolen out of her car in Lima. We said goodbye and headed off to La Calera thermal baths, just a few km down the road. It was so relaxing and much needed, although it was a little bit on the hot side at 40 degrees celcius. Apparently it's normally around 37 degrees, but not today! We dipped in and out as we could tolerate, however it was so relaxing because for the most part, we were the only people in the pool.
It was then time to leave Chivay and we set off to a tiny village called Tisco, on route to Choqolaqa, a huge area of rock formations that we'd seen a picture of but oddly was not routed or even marked on Maps.me, Google maps or my paper map. We'd just have to wing it! We knew it was further than Tisco and nearish to a place called Ancco Choco, so we headed that way and just followed the dirt roads. We asked in Tisco and they pointed us in the right direction. After nearly another hour of riding we wondered if we'd gone the right way because there was absolutely no indication that we were headed in the right direction, however about five minutes before we were about to turn around we got to a small wooded sign that told us to turn right. The road was a bit more bumpy and rocky but very rideable on a DR650. We kept going and eventually got to Choqolaqa.
There was a tiny farm house, and a lady came out to greet us with her bag full of Coca leaves. She pointed us in the direction of the rocks and off we went. Now, we were in full bike kit and at approximately 5000m altitude, so it was hard going. We got almost to the firt huge area of rocks and then I caught a glimpse of the lady literally skipping up the hill we'd just climbed! She came to meet us and took us on a one hour tour of the rock formations which were incredible. It was so interesting and although she spoke no english and I think Quecha was her first language, we got by just fine. We gave her a tip to say thanks for her time and then headed back along the way we'd come. It was a huge detour just to see a pile of rocks, but I have to say it was worth it. Not only did we get to see the really interesting rock formations, but we got a really fantastic off-road ride with no traffic at all and amazing views which stretched for miles! In fact I think we only saw two people on motorbikes in several hours!