1) Blog About Colca Canyon.
It's like the second biggest canyon in the world, twice as big as Grand Canyon, there are condors there, and we went to the bottom and climbed back up (though not at the really steep parts). It's gorgeous and there are photos on Facebook but I don't have the photographic knowhow to capture the beauty of what I'm seeing: the camera doesn't catch what my eyes do. Whether it was the shade of blue of the sky, the features of the rock, the cotton-ball clouds, or the oasis below, I couldn't capture good photos at all.
That being said, here's what happened. We got up at like 1:30 AM to catch a bus that'd take us to Colca by around 7:00ish. The ride there was uneventful, though the chairs were very uncomfortable. I hate uncomfortable chairs. We got to Mirador de los Cóndores, which is where condors circle around to gain altitude before heading down into the valley to find meat.
2) Have a tangential reflection on condors.
Look up "El Condor Pasa" on Youtube. Make sure it's not Simon and Garfunkel or that version, because that has nothing to do with Condors and takes away (for me) from some of the majesty of the song. When imagining that 10-foot wingspan, catching thermals and soaring above Andean greenery, the panpipes and flutes really make for an awe-inspiring effect, and the condor has some elegance. Then I remember that they eat dead things and their nobility diminishes. I'm sorry, I have prejudices against scavenging birds: they just don't have the majesty.
3) Resume discussion of Colca
We had breakfast at this viewpoint. Unfortunately, we saw no condors, being out of season and all (I guess they just don't like to eat during some seasons? I didn't really ask, but it's funny to imagine that condors just don't eat for the rainy season. Perhaps that's why they're so rare). We then moved on to the beginning of our 2-day trek. The beginning was a fairly painless downhill venture, but possibly a knee-killer for those not prepared. Lots of loose rock, too, so it wasn't just a "Let's run to the bottom!" excursion. Our team: Me, Alyssa, Tania (CapCorps folks), Kelly and Jessika (from California), and Paul (token Welshman), with Marcos, born in Colca, as our guide. It was a nice blend of people, and when we stopped for small breathers it was cool to get to know them. Because I'm me, and sometimes not all that distinguishable from a dog that continually runs ahead, pauses for everybody to catch up, then runs ahead again, I didn't do much conversation otherwise. I was okay with that, but I did love hearing Paul's story. He dropped out of high school, became a janitor, but was given a chance to get back into school and become a teacher in Cambodia through an organization with the help of a good-hearted person who saw potential in him and gave him a chance. He now works in Colombia as a teacher. Cracked us up for a good portion of the second part of the day.
So we reached the bottom of the canyon and crossed over to the other side of the river that runs through it, where we encountered slightly more difficult terrain (read: uphill). We were carrying our backpacks, and after a nice lunch in a small village about 10 minutes away from the river, we began phase 2, though I was now carrying 2 backpacks. I was later affectionately nicknamed the pack mule.
4) Tangent about getting anywhere in South America
I warn you that this may be a gross and unfair generalization. It seems to me that a communal societal mindframe is at the heart of South America, and as such there's an importance in keeping balance and harmony and tranquility. As such, people are willing to give directions even if they don't know where a location is, will try to encourage you and boost your spirits by telling you that your destination isn't far off even if you need to walk 20 more miles, and other such things. I can appreciate the kindness that is at the heart of these gestures, but as somebody hailing from a more individualistic culture that cares about a different kind of harmony, these are somewhat off-putting. With that in mind:
5) Phase 2 of Day 1
Paul wasn't too thrilled about the amount of uphill terrain we were encountering during Phase 2. He asked Marcos how much of the rest of the hike consisted of uphill, to which Marcos replied that we'd go for another 10-15 minutes and then be done with hills. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, we were on flat land and trekking on fairly even terrain. Marcos pointed out a sour fruit that is used in the cocktail "Colca Sour" (a variation of Pisco Sour, which is lime juice, egg white, ice, and pisco) and a plant whose leaves are very acidic and whose sap is strong enough to kill a pig in less than a day with a few drops. He said it'd be an interesting alternative to asking for a divorce from one's spouse. In honor of that, and the fact that none of us spoke Quechua and its name was in said language, we were on the lookout and avoiding "The Divorce Plant" for the rest of the first day.
About half an hour later we started climbing uphill again, which prompted some frustrated comments from Paul. Marcos said, "Yeah, we finished THAT uphill section in 15 minutes. Now we're on another one." This did little to assuage said frustration. As we finished climbing uphill, it began to rain (we were surprised it hadn't started earlier, although grateful) and we donned our ponchos. Wearing 2 backpacks under my poncho caused several people to ask when I was due. Despite lame pregnancy jokes, we arrived at our destination shortly thereafter.
6) The Oasis
The Oasis is a nice little place with zero cell phone reception, little lighting, lots of green, a nice pool, bungalows, a mess hall, a volleyball field, bathrooms, and not-so-nice biting insects. We got there, used the facilities, bought some water for the night and the following day, and relaxed. There was a raucous group of fellow expatriates who were doing a 3-day-trek: they were all very friendly, and the blend of accents was pretty cool. We broke up into our trek groups for dinner, which was a nice spaghetti. We discussed how smoking was a bad idea on this trip, the excellence of Peruvian desserts (though the lack of real cheesecake, the substitution of real cheesecake for a gelatin-mousse-THING, and a severe privation of pies are disturbing), Paul's love of Peruvian cake, the possibility of hiring a mule for the following day, and other things. Afterward, we chilled a bit and headed to bed. The sky was AMAZING. There was so little natural light, and though the cliffs and some cloud obscured a bit of the starry splendor, the effect was not lost on me. So many stars in such a different array than I'd ever seen (we don't see stars in Lima, generally, and so this was my first view of the Southern Sky)...you know, I can understand where a lot of MesoAmerican and South American Indigenous artwork comes from, how they depict their gods, etc...I could almost see it all painted in the sky. How truly awesome. I then went to sleep in my slightly soggy bungalow with bedbugs for company and a rock-hard pillow, but it beat sleeping outside with no sleeping bag and minimal dry clothes.
7) Day 2
Day 2 was a 3-hour trek, but this trek was entirely uphill. The monster that we had descended became the monster we had to ascend. The plan was for people who wanted to walk leisurely to leave at 4:30 and for people who walked more quickly to depart at 5. Those riding on mules (Paul decided to do this so he could say that he'd ridden a mule in the Andes) could sleep in a little bit, because mules are beasts (I'm a bad writer). Our guide, however, had a bit of a beer-induced oversleeping problem, so we all started at about 5:45 with the other groups. I was carrying 2 backpacks again. I stayed with Marcos for a while, but got antsy, so I moved ahead.
Kyle Bakas has said that when he encounters hills during his runs, he gets a very joyful feeling and feels compelled to zip up them. I still consider this grounds for having his head examined, but I suppose I gained some understanding of what he means through this trek. I wanted to CLIMB, I did not want to slow down, I did not want to take breaks, and I lived for the climb.
If anybody is even THINKING about Miley Cyrus right now, I will frown upon you singing "The Climb" and connecting it in any way, shape, or form with me.
9) Day 2 continued
So there was a guy from Scotland, a guy from Australia, a guy from Ireland, and a guy from London, and they practically took off running. They reached the top in 90 minutes. I continued climbing upward, feeling a competitive part of me refusing to let anybody I passed while climbing catch up with me. As a result, I reached the summit in just under 2 hours. I've been told the locals can do this climb in 45 minutes. We hadn't yet eaten breakfast, as 3 hours of solid uphill exercise doesn't bode well for a full stomach, but I was hungry. The Australian joked that I was a beast for carrying two backpacks and my beard up the canyon.
We had breakfast, made our way to Chivay, enjoyed the natural thermal baths there, and had some lunch. We then headed back to Arequipa. As we drove through the canyon, I noticed something black in the opposite window. Sure enough, upon closer inspection, I realized I was in fact seeing a condor. This first sighting was followed by two more, so the experience was very complete. The road we had to take to get back to Arequipa, however, was NOT complete, making for a very bumpy and slow ride in uncomfortable chairs. I HATE uncomfortable chairs.
Upon our return, we had some dinner and cleaned up, then headed to the central plaza to meet up with Kelly, Jessika, and some of the folks from the raucous gang. We had a good time watching them eat Cuy for the first time (and probably the last. Note that cuy is guinea pig), not to mention watch Ben, the American in their group, waltz by himself to the garbage truck's tune as it passed by, as mentioned in the previous post on Arequipa. We then went to check out the bar scene. The first bar had some decent deals, so we stayed for a while, and listened to Robbie (from London) name 49 of the 50 states. We then all admitted that none of us knew how many counties were in England, not even Robbie. People then moved to another bar, and that's where I began to realize that I really don't like bar/club scenes much. As such, I left early.
Before going to the second bar, Ryan told me that he wanted to rub his face in my beard. While I was already thinking that I needed to do some trimming for hygiene's sake, this was definitely the clincher. I think beards are cool, but sometimes I get scared when I see that more men are attracted to men with beards than women. Regardless of which gender is more attracted to me, I'd hate to think that they were using me just to cuddle with my facial hair.
10) Becoming self-aware
Sometimes I say really weird things.
11) Random memory
My junior year of high school in Spanish IV was an interesting one. There was this guy Slade Norris who now plays on the Oakland Raiders in my class. One day, out of the blue, he came over and started stroking my chin. I'm not sure what prompted this. The next day, he did the same thing. Sometimes it would happen in class, sometimes not, but he made it a ritual. It's just strange to think that I'll remember somebody as the professional football player who used to stroke my chin during the 2003/2004 school year.
12) In conclusion
I'm very tired, and have sacrificed sleep to make this post, so I apologize for adverse effects that has made on this post. But then again, my posts are all weird, so I'm not sure that I can blame any of it on sleep deprivation. I'm (kind of but not really) sorry for my personality, in that case.