I really never know what to expect when traveling. Well, sometimes I do, but to envision a sight that I know of but have refused to look at any pictures of, my imagination can have difficulty solidifying the vision beforehand. And that’s fine, I try not to put too much thought into it anyway. It helps make each and every experience that much more astonishing. This characteristic is just a single element of what makes Colca Canyon a legitimate candidate for the label of “epic”, a word often overused and, from my understanding of its meaning, ill-applied in this day and age.
It had begun as a very lovely gorge in the earth, boasting bright green pastures and increasingly tiered levels into the mountains.
Small scatterings of homes and family businesses emerged along the roads. Hectares of farmland lay in between, holding all variety of animals and crops.
We were driving on the south side of the growing chasm and had really begun to take in what we were seeing. I don’t know why I had expected something different. For some reason, I’d always assumed that we would be sleeping in a small town before going to the canyon the following day on what would be a relatively brief experience whether walking or riding a motorbike. But Colca Canyon is so justifiably epic that all of the towns, all of the hiking trails we’d be partaking in in the days to come are just tiny dots on the spanning Andean range. We’d be either traversing along one of the ridge-lined summits, or descending deeper and deeper into the abyss, swallowed by rocky, cactus-riddled cliffs.
At some point before reaching Cabanaconde, we stopped at a lookout point briefly.
I was so excited I bolted out of the bus to the edge, only to double over in a complete loss of breath. I was too happy to care, but it really drove home the reality of the chemical reaction the body undergoes as it struggles to function with oxygen levels much lower than it’s used to. I made a video right then and there, but it was unfortunately lost to technical difficulties on my phone. The views truly are epic, though, and it just kept getting better and better as we got closer to our destination. Two young German ladies that we’d met at the bus station in Arequipa actually left the bus at this junction to begin their hike, well into the day and perhaps only beginning to adjust to the altitude.
When we finally arrived in Cabanaconde after 15 hours from Lima and another 6 or so from Arequipa, we were happy to see what a small, quiet town it was. This type of atmosphere is right up our alley and every last person we interacted with was completely pleasant to us. There are 3 or 4 hostels to choose from, and we picked the one that was around the town square. It was far cheaper than anywhere in Lima and our host, Caesar, was the nicest dude ever. We settled in very quickly and stepped out to get something to eat.
Even just walking around was killer on the lungs. It did not take long to run out of breath and we weren’t sure if we would be properly adjusted for our planned hike the following day. After eating, we ventured out to the northern edge of the village.
The sounds of animals filled the air, some more brutal and agonized than others. It’s all a part of the way of life out here, I suppose.
The air is as fresh and clean as I’ve ever breathed. There’s no substitution for the kind of peace you can obtain from being in a place where only a few thousand people exist in a hundred square kilometer space or more. In the evening, as the sun was setting, its glowing rays literally penetrated the clouds at the most picturesque of angles, making it look like a painting, almost too beautiful to be real.
The prisms of light specked the bright green earth for a little while before finally fading away. We burned one in this atmosphere and it was as relaxing as it could have been.
As it turned out, we were more than ready when we woke up the next day.