We ate breakfast at 6am, and then left to tour the canyon. We noticed that all the other tour busses were going one way, and we were going in the opposite direction. That had been the case this entire trip, and we loved it! Adventure Life goes out of the way to give their guests a real experience beyond the typical tour offerings. With them, you always go on the road less traveled. We drove along the rim of the canyon viewing the Rio Colca, the beautiful river that runs by the lodge and throughout the canyon. We admired the ancient terraces presently being farmed by quechuans as they have for centuries. The 10,607 feet deep canyon unfolded in scenic majesty as we drove along. We saw many eucalyptus trees which are not native, but have thrived in the canyon. We also saw beautiful saw pine trees growing in the canyon.
As we drove, we passed through little pueblos such as Yanque village, Pinchollo, Ichupampa, and Lari, where we stopped and viewed the old thatched roof houses and enjoyed the early morning sunshine. Even at 6:30am, the natives were up and about, and busily going about their daily affairs. We then traveled on, working our way to ever-higher points of the canyon, and always marveling at the ancient terracing dating to pre-Inca times. Along the way, we saw our first condor a good distance away.
Eventually, we arrived at Cruz Del Condor, the famous tourist viewing point. It was packed with hundreds of tourists and dozens of tour busses. We drove right past it! Our guide Carlos knew where to go! We went a short distance farther to the Mirrador de Tapay, where we saw many Andean Condors soaring in the sky as well as other birds including a buzzard eagle, puna hawk and a red back hawk. In addition, we saw lizards and other wildlife. It was awesome! From that lookout, we took a short high altitude hike along the rim of the canyon between two viewpoints. This hike gave us the chance to admire the many beautiful wildflowers and view the vizcacha, the Andean rabbit with its funny curly tail. We saw more condors, and just generally had a great time on this hike. But we also started feeling the altitude a bit. When we returned to the bus and resumed the tour, Carlos kept us informed about the culture of the canyon. When we passed a cemetery, he noted that the red and blue crosses marked where teens were buried; the black crosses marked the adults. He explained how the women’s hats designated who they were. The white hats designated women from warrior tribes; the embroidered hats designated farmers. If women had safety pins in their hats, they were married. Eventually, we made a later afternoon visit to Cruz Del Condor, and were amazed to see that there were very few tourists present.
On the rest of the tour of the canyon, we stopped at various vista points and saw Hualcahualca, Sabancaya, and Ananta the northern volcanoes that surround the canyon, and Chachani, Misti and Pichu Pichu, the volcanoes to the south. We noticed that Misti was spewing smoke in the distance, and we remembered the tremor we had felt in Arequipa. We also viewed the volcano Mismi, and Carlos told us that it is the source of the Amazon River. We stopped near Choquetico to see the Hanging Tombs that were used by pre-Incan people. They were drilled high up the mountain side to protect them from grave robbers. When we passed through the last village on the canyon tour, Carlos described how the villagers made bricks from Colca mud and produce maca, a type of diatomaceous earth. We then returned to El Balcon de Don Zacharias, the Chivay restaurant, for more authentic Peruvian food. After lunch, we toured the Chivay local market in pouring rain. There, we had an interesting conversation in Spanish with a local lady who insisted that we needed to buy her alpaca meat so that we could feed the condors. That way she insisted, we could get a good close look at them. After that, we returned to the lodge for more hot springs and dinner. We met a nice couple of ex-Peruvians from North Virginia in the hot springs and had a great conversation with them. That evening, Karen started feeling poorly, and by morning she had developed a bad case of “Soroche’, the altitude sickness that so many tourists to Peru have the pleasure of experiencing.