So much easier, but no less enjoyable. On day 2 of Colca Canyon, we anticipated a similar or even greater level of difficulty compared to the first day, which had taken us a little by surprise. Because of this consideration, we decided not to bring Princessa with us this time around. After we had discovered that it wasn’t completely atypical for village dogs to follow hikers from town to town, we didn’t feel so bad. It seemed that the entire area was home to many of the domesticated animals, not just one particular village or locale. We realized afterwards that she would have managed this hike with ease, but we could never have been certain until it was done so we didn’t risk it. We departed early in the morning, alone.
We were far more conscious of hydration, ultraviolet radiation, and overall nourishment. We still didn’t have any sunscreen; in fact, we had absolutely nothing on us that we didn’t have the day before besides some extra snacks that we’d purchased from Yola after we’d downed a hearty 4-course meal. Today, we were scaling the northern side of Colca Canyon and the road was an actual road, one which cars and trucks drive on, although we didn’t see a single one while hiking. It wasn’t a slippery, gravely network of endless pathways with little opportunity to hide from the blazing sunlight. We’d left early enough where the sun’s rays hadn’t yet crested from behind the mountain’s peaks. We took full advantage of the shade and were constantly hugging the cliff side.
I have far less to relate on this day besides the relief of its ease. In my opinion, we could have done this part of the hike the day before had we known how much easier the land was to traverse. But after the dehydration and the heat from day 1, there was no way we were going to risk it. That first day destroyed us.
I forgot to mention last time, but we’d taken a nap after arriving at Yola’s. Waking up from it was a painful and highly unpleasant experience. That’s when we realized how badly we’d been burnt. My skin was red and raw, like someone had been whipping my neck, forearms and face with a stiff leather belt. It was, hands down, the worst burn I’ve ever gotten and the thought of potential long-term consequences scared the hell out of me. I’ll never forget sunscreen again; it’s light enough to pack where it isn’t at all worth the risk of leaving it behind, even for long hikes.
So day 2, we were extra cautious. Our skin feeling so horrible, we were hyper-aware as to the risks of the intense sunshine. After a couple of hours, it became nearly unavoidable. We stuck as close to the mountainside as we could, and we rested underneath rocky protrusions as much as possible. If we’d been as vigilant about it on day 1, we probably wouldn’t have been in such a vulnerable position.
The hike was over in seemingly no time, though. We arrived at our next town: Malata. From here, we had to make a decision: either hop on a local truck that would take us back to Cabanaconde, scaling the ridge of the mountains on a new trajectory until we arrived at the rear of the town, or, hike another hour into the valley, and then upwards another 4 hours or so on the very terrain that contributed to our bodily destruction the day before. The sunburns are what guided our decisions in this case. We opted to chill in the town for a little bit, snacking on some of the cactus fruit whose sweet, almost skunky aroma we’d been inhaling throughout the mountain. Apparently, it’s called tuna, although the locals only ever pronounced in tona. We’d been seeing it growing out of the tops of cacti, but always out of reach. I assume it’s because they are harvestable/sellable crops and the cacti were on plots of land owned by local farmers, even though it was difficult to map out the boundaries amongst the jagged, sloping mountainsides.
Tuna is absolutely delicious and we paid 1 sole per. Later, we’d find out that we were overpaying, but we’d been dying to try it, and by my standards, it’s still pretty damn cheap. I’ve never seen this fruit anywhere in the world, let alone for sale at overpriced rates in a Canadian marketplace. We had to have them. We bought one, enjoyed it, bought more, enjoyed them, and kept going. We were waiting on the side of the road with an old lady selling them and her little grandson who, to be honest, was kind of a dirty kid, peeing all over the place, whipping out/holding his junk in his hand all the time and then going around touching everything else. Teresa was scared he was going to touch the nozzles of the water bottles we’d been drinking out of so she kept trying to hide them from him. It was pretty funny.
In the same town, we stopped by a lady’s home which also served as a restaurant, coffee shop, chicken coup, and a place to stack cages of live guinea pigs which she fed bundles of some kind of grass or greenery to. It was the first time we’d seen guinea pig, or cuy, a Peruvian delicacy that I had to try at least once. We had some coffee, used her washrooms before making our way to the tuna lady where we waited for a man and his van to pick us up and take us back to Cabanaconde.
The drive back was scary as hell; no one seemed to care that we were about to go over the edge of a cliff the entire time, but we were. All I could really do was constantly tell myself that if it happens, it happens and there isn’t a damn thing I could do about it…besides constantly have my hand on the door handle, ready to grab Teresa and tuck-n-roll if we were about to tumble off the side. But it really depended on our position on the mountainside. Sometimes the driver was on the cliff side, sometimes the passenger side was at the edge. After a while, I just kind of accepted any possible fate and told myself that if I’m gonna go out, I’d way rather it happen out here, in nature, with the woman I love. It’s going to happen either way and a lot is beyond our control; I refuse to waste any of my energy stressing about it.
But, as you may have guessed from the existence of this article, our van didn’t tumble off the edge of an Andean cliff and we managed to make it back to Cabanconde in one piece. The drive there was absolutely gorgeous, taking us on a westerly trajectory that we hadn’t experienced yet. It also took us in through the rear of the town which we’d never seen before, an absolutely beautiful expanse of land, nestled in the cusp of the highest ridge in sight (with the exception of the snow-capped peaks we could see in the northern distance). We came back here afterwards for a nice long walk through the rolling, pastoral fields.
I ate guinea pig that afternoon. It was interesting. Crispy and chicken-like at first, it soon descended into a less appetizing, and at one point even gag-inducing experience. There were a few locals around watching me eat it (Teresa had some, too) and I didn’t want to offend them. So I projected utter enjoyment as I scarfed down the guinea pig which was served whole, fingernails and all.
The next morning, we packed our stuff and Caesar saw us off on a bus that would take us back to Arequipa and another, very uncomfortable overnighter to Cuzco. Cabanaconde and Colca Canyon rest peacefully in my memories as a place of epic beauty, serene solitude, and positive vibes coming from every direction.
Be sure to check out my Facebook page for VLOGs from Colca Canyon and Cabanaconde’s scenic surroundings!