XXXIV. Arequipa to Chivay [Colca Canyon]
Colca Canyon is the second-deepest canyon in the world, more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, although it’s narrower than the Grand Canyon or Mexico’s Barranco del Cobre [Copper Canyon]. (The deepest canyon in the world, Cotahuasi, is less than 100 kilometers further from Arequipa on the map, but a lot longer by road because the direct route would involve a technical climb.) Colca Canyon is almost 3200 meters deep, and Cotahuasi roughly 150 meters deeper. (The Grand Canyon is about 1500. Mexico’s Barranca del Cobre is 1,870.) Unlike the Grand Canyon, people live in Colca Canyon, although few live all the way down at the bottom. Treks stop in villages. The parts of the canyon that are not sheer rock cliff are terraced fields. In Perú, Canon de Colca is also noted for the distinctive dress of its women and for its condors, who can be seen enjoying the updrafts from the canyon floor near the start and end of the day. The canyon is 100 km. long.
We start by driving uphill through Cayma to the road that continues between Misti and Chachani into the reserve. We’ve driven this part several times on short outings, enjoying the view back down toward Arequipa and the remote silence of the place, but regretting the spots that have been used too often as dumping grounds for trash and garbage.
Soon after the turnoff for _________, the road becomes a dirt road, often a rather bumpy and unpleasant dirt road. We spend a long time climbing gradually along this dirt road, with intimate views of Misti, then start across a high plateau.
We spot an interesting bird, and then begin to see occasional vicunas, though they are shy and none too close to the road. Just before we finally reach Canahaus, we come upon a herd of alpacas grazing.
Canahaus (?) is an unappealing little crossroads, but the harbinger of a mostly paved road toward Chivay. We stop periodically for photos, and once for mate de coca at a tiny restaurant.
As the afternoon shadows deepen and the country grows more dramatic, it’s exciting.
A hundred meters further on, a woman sits on the ground with a loom, working. With her alpacas strolling past her toward wherever they spend their evenings, it’s a great scene to which my pictures don’t nearly do justice.
Soon we are in Chivay. We’d hoped to stay at the Tradicion Colca Alberque over near Yanque, a few kilometers further on, but a phone call yields the sad news that they’re fully booked for the evening. We explore a couple of other places Ragna rejects, then find a small hostal on the Plaza de Armas. Hostal Anita. The room is tiny, and arranging ourselves and our gear so that we can work a little on our photos and video is dicey; but there’s a heater, for a few extra soles, and the room is comfortable.
We get a quite good supper at a small restaurant just off the Plaza, enjoying the fireplace, the food, and a video of some of the territory around us, then retire early: it’s cold outside, although well into the darkness and cold of evening there remains a lot of activity at the market and shops just off the plaza; and it’s cold even in our room, where we struggle at first to work on photos in cramped circumstances.
We didn’t see La Casa de Mamayacchi in Corporaque, across the river from Yanque, but it sounds very inviting.