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Latin America Kevin Dispatch

Visiting a Canyon... No Longer a Void in my Life

Colca Canyon in Peru

I had never seen a canyon before I came to Peru. But the one I saw is arguably the deepest canyon in the whole world! While this may be just a statistic, being there felt far more special. My two day journey from Arequipa to Colca Canyon and back was filled with several wondrous sights, many of which I was seeing for my very first time!

Let me share with you what happened during those two fabulous days...  
 

Day One
9 AM Movin' on Up

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Charlotte, Estelle, Julie
"Beep, Beep!", sounded the horn of the mini-van as it approached my hotel, I was waiting at the door. As we quickly drove off leaving Peru's second largest city of Arequipa behind, I turned around to see a diverse group of fellow travelers behind me. In the far rear sat a Peruvian family from Arequipa, in front of them two Japanese girls, and right behind me three French girls, Charlotte, Estelle, and Julie. Erfel began our tour, in both Spanish and English, describing the grandeur of the volcano El Misti and the enormous mountain Chachani that overlook Arequipa. The route followed a continuous uphill climb through a dry desert, allowing for dust to be kicked up from the road by other passing vehicles and make its way into our van.

12 Noon - A Different World
Our first stretch when exiting the van was more exhilarating than we had imagined. Surrounding me were three different volcanoes sitting up at 16,300 feet from Patapampa: Ampato, Hualca Hualca, and the still active Sabancaya.

Hovering over Sabancaya was a mass of dark clouds, a powerful storm pouring down on the volcano. A reminder that no matter how aggressively it climbs and explodes, it will forever remain earthbound. As I breathed heavily, my greedy lungs became introduced to an air stingy with oxygen, but a compromise would come with time.

2 PM Eat, Drink, and be Merry
If you think that I was so wrapped up in admiring the scenery that I forgot about lunch, guess again! I was absolutely famished! We arrived in the town of Chivay, and stopped at a typical Peruvian restaurant in this tiny Andean town.

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Kevin had one of these for dinner!
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Everything seemed typical except that the joint was packed with other tourists from all of the other tour vans that were seeking the same adventure as we were. I myself recognized dashes of French, German,Hebrew, English, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, and although my mind may have been playing tricks on me, I thought I even heard a little Spanish too. Well, at least the food was Peruvian. The choices of cream soup, choclo (corn), mushroom, tomato, asparagus, alpaca and chicken were just what we all needed to warm up our bodies. We washed our meal down with a "Mate de Coca", which is a tea made out of coca plant leaves that help adjust the drinker to the high altitude.

Afterwards, we took to swimming in a Peruvian thermal bath, already a favorite pastime of mine. This bathing experience was quite different than the one I had at the Inca Baths near Cajamarca because the pool was an outdoor, full size swimming pool. What a relief it was to dive into hot water when the air above was near freezing.

8PM Gettin' Down, the Peruvian Way
Not too soon after my large lunch, I found myself seated in another restaurant known as a "Pena" which is a place that has live music. Translation: a rockin' great time drinking and dancing to a "Grupo Folklorico de Musica Andina" (Andean Folk Music Group). Even the restaurant owners and servers pull people away from their tables to dance in the lively folk style dance, familiar to the Andean people as hip-hop is to kids in the States.

Although the Pena ended around midnight, we continued only blocks away to the town's sole discotheque, where the music was a varied combination of Peruvian and Latin dance music mixed with techno, hip-hop, and disco music from the US. I realized the only way you can keep warm...was to DANCE!  


 

Day Two
6 AM The Earth and Its Magic

Once again, packed into the van, we ventured off towards Colca Canyon, yet another two hour amazing ride. Erfel pointed out an interesting plant that sprouted up out of the ground often covering the mountainside. It's called "Chachacoma" and its resin is used to make a medicinal tea good for treating stomach aches, gas pains, and muscle aches.

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Agricultural terraces
Along the way, stretching for miles and miles lying on both sides of the Colca Valley were thousands of agricultural terraces built into the land. These terraces date back to pre-Incan times but are in such goodcondition because the Campesinos that live on the land, still grow their crops on them to this day. Terraces of this sort are suitable for the cultivation of potatoes, cebada (barley), quinua (a type of cereal), corn, habas (beans), and oca (related to the potato). Their different shades of green and brown looked absolutely beautiful. Perhaps more so than a mountain or a castle.

9AM Taking a Special Breath
Approaching a canyon can be compared to graduating high school. It is a long uphill climb, but once you look over the edge you see everything in your life that you can proudly call your own, and you want to dive right in. I suppose the desire to truly soar from that point on would make anybody envious of the great Andean Condor, the largest flying bird in the world.

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Condor flying in the canyon
The largest condors have a wing-span of over ten feet, and they can weigh over twenty pounds. At the Mirador Cruz del Condor (Condor Cross Viewpoint) we were lucky to see no less than five of these rarelyspotted birds gliding effortlessly, hovering above our heads. For them the altitude means nothing but greater freedom and the ability to appreciate the beautiful scenery of the Colca Canyon, their home.

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Two young studs
From there we decided to leave the van behind and hike to the next lookout point about an hour away. At times I found it difficult to watch where I stepped because I was absorbed with depths of the canyon and the mountains around me. Along my way I passed two fully grown bulls (with big horns). Unsure of how my presence would affect them, I stepped cautiously by, only to learn that they, like I, believe that the canyon can be shared and enjoyed by all creatures.

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"I'd rather lean to the right!"
The tourists' voices at the lookout-point slowly became softer and their presence faded away entirely, until all that was left was me and the Colca Canyon. All of the worries, the fears, and the stresses of traveling disappeared completely. I could see nothing but beauty before me and I could feel nothing but warmth within me. I closed my eyes and took a breath, then another, and I realized that as long as one breath led to the next, I could go on living forever.

12 PM Taking It All With Us Forever
Back in Chivay for the last time, we ate our third typical Peruvian meal, a lunch that would hold us over for our long trip back to Arequipa. As we drove off, I noticed a small plastic bag of leaves sitting on top of the dashboard of the van. Before I could ask what they were, Erfel had already pinched several with his fingers and within moments I was chewing on a wad of coca leaves.

The makings for a tasty spit-wad
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Like the mate de coca, chewing the raw leaves can also help your body overcome minor discomforts such as headaches, stomach problems, muscle tension, and the effects of high altitude. As I was chewing Inoticed that the side of my face where I was harboring the little wad was becoming slightly numb. You're not supposed to swallow the leaves but I had chewed them into such small shreds that some of the pieces seemed to be making their way down my throat on their own accord.

After about ten minutes Erfel told me that the time had come for me to do what he personally loves best about chewing cocoa leaves. Following his lead, I worked the wad into a tight ball, sucked out all of thejuice, shifted the ball to the center of my mouth, took a deep breath, and forcefully shot that ball so far out the window that I could hardly see it as it disappeared down into the Colca Valley.

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Can you fit the canyon in the background?
From there, we followed, driving in the same downward direction, the sun beat down and the air became too hot, the dust kicked up once again, but we didn't care because we had lived at least one perfect day and were now traveling among new friends.  
 
 

Kevin  
 
 
 
 

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