Today we drive from Arequipa to the Colca Valley with Liliana and a driver. We leave Arequipa and on the way out of town stop for Gatorade and coca leaves, as we will reach an altitude of over 16,000 feet today and will need all the help we can get!
We drive through a national park that is a refuge for vicunyas, established to help ensure that the vicunya population continues to thrive. We stop and eagerly take lots of pictures of the vicunyas and alpacas, not realizing that before the day is over we will have seen tons of them! We also see lots of cactus, which surprises me a little, as I thought they preferred hot climates. There is one cactus that looks like a small ottoman and Liliana tells us it's called a mother-in-law's seat! It is quite cold and windy. We stop to look at birds, including Andean geese and beautiful Puna Teals, ducks with bright blue beaks.
We arrive at Patapampa, which literally means 'high flat place'. This is the spot that is over 16,000 feet. From here we have views of the mountains Chachani, Misti and Pichu Pichu. There are literally thousands of apachetas here--rocks stacked by travelers to give thanks. Of course, we each make one, too. When in Rome!
We stop in the town of Chivay for lunch. I have alpaca spaghetti, and Andrea has an alpaca burger, so we are continuing our Peruvian food theme! After lunch we start descending into the Colca Valley. (although it's hard to call anything sitting at 14,000 feet a 'valley'). The scenery is beautiful, alternately flat and prairie-like and mountainous and green. There are many terraces throughout the valley, and Liliana explains that they are from pre-Incan times. The people in this part of the country were captured by the Incas. So, while I was giving the Incas credit last year for coming up with the brilliant idea of farming in the mountains using terraces, apparently they got the idea from their captives!
As we approach the Colca Lodge, where we will spend the next two nights, the road gets rough and winding. Eventually we are able to look down on the Lodge, and it is gorgeous. When we arrive we check in and quickly change into our bathing suits. We go soak in one of the four pools outside the lodge that are fed from the hot springs. The water is warm and heavenly, and as luck would have it, the Lodge has a bar at the pools that makes divine pisco sours! Siting in a hot mineral bath, looking at breath-taking scenery, with a pisco sour in hand-- Priceless! There are a few others at the pools, mostly Italians, and it's just a great way to mingle!
The Lodge is isolated from any town, so we have no choice but to eat at the Lodge restaurant. The good news is that the food is wonderful and so is the atmosphere. We have aji de galina and wine for dinner, followed by dessert. Then, stuffed, we return to our room and read for a while. We have an early start tomorrow.