The plan for today was to drive to the Colca Canyon, 103 miles from Arequipa. The departure scheduled for 8 am was an unusually late start for us. Although the typical driving time was 3-4 hours, we enjoyed numerous stops for photo opportunities and did not arrive at the Colca Lodge until 3:30 pm. Because the drive took us over the 16,100 foot Patapampa Pass, aka Mirador de los Andes, we prepared for the high altitude by stopping at a small convenience store on the outskirts of Arequipa to purchase coca leaves, coca wafers, and coca candy. Use of coca leaves is a used to combat the effects of attitude sickness. The leaves grow in the rainforest, as well in the areas of Cusco and Lake Titicaca. Containing caffeine, it is said the leaves will provide extra energy, control body temperature, reduce headaches and stomach upset. People consume the leaves by drinking in tea, chewing, or consuming in food products.
Passing through the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca populated only by large herds of grazing domesticated alpacas and llamas, we stopped for photos and learned the differences between the animals. Llamas are tall with a long neck, a large hairless face, and large ears. Their tail points upward when they walk. Llamas have a less fine fiber and are more suited as beasts of burden. Alpacas are about a foot shorter, have smaller heads and ears, and walk with tails pointed downward. Alpacas produce about 10 pounds of extremely fine soft lightweight fiber per year.
Further down the highway at an elevation of 12,000 feet, we stopped at a large lagoon known as the Zona of Vicunas. The vicunas prefer the higher altitude where they travel in small packs feeding on the yellow grass of the altiplano. Females give birth once per year as the gestational period is 11 months. Their lifespan is 12-15 years. The rare and threatened vicuna is a national symbol in Peru, which is home to more than half the world's vicuna population. Its fibers are considered the finest in the world and sell for nearly $1600 per pound. Cutting of the fibers is regulated and done once every 2 years.
Although the altiplano landscape is bare and bleak, the towering snow-capped volcanoes remained in the distance. A few small villages were scattered throughout the valley and both young boys and women shepherds were seen using slingshots and dogs to herd their llamas. Llamas were frequently decorated with bright colored strands of yarn that served as owner identification, sexual identification or leadership. Regional schools were established by the central government to provide education for the young children while older children were sent to live with relatives in the larger communities for their education. Public universities were free for students.
As we continued to gain altitude, the landscape again changed. The hills were covered with short green grass that had the appearance of moss. Numerous small lagoons filled with different species of birds were also present. At 16,100 feet we reached the highest point of our trip, the Patapampa Pass, aka Mirador de los Andes, at which point we stopped for pictures. Needless to say, we explored this area slowly. Eight snow-capped volcanoes surrounded the pass and a small army of apachetas, tiny towers of piled stones that mark the spot locals considered closest to the mountain gods, covered the roadside. Originally apachetas were offerings to the gods, but now mostly are left by tourists. I also left my offering.
Slowly we began the descent to the valley's main town of Chivay where we stopped for a wonderful buffet featuring local dishes. Roasted alpaca meat, beef hearts, chicken, trout (which had the appearance of salmon), numerous kinds of potatoes, rice, breads, quinoa, a variety of soups, fresh vegetables, fruit, passion fruit flan and chocolate cakes were available and delicious. After lunch we (meaning Carlos) spent some time in the Plaza speaking with a young boy and his two llamas. Upon departing Chivay we left the paved road and headed about 10 miles down the dirt road to the Colca Lodge, our home for the next two nights.
The Colca Lodge is a small beautifully maintained rustic lodge located on the banks of the Colca River. Several hot thermal springs are located at water's edge, along with walking trails, llamas, a red quinoa bed, and a spa. After discussing plans for the next day's early morning tour of the Colca Canyon, we retired to our rooms. Dick opted for a short nap while I headed for the thermal springs that were lovely but quite chilly as the temperature dropped when the sun dipped behind the mountain. Dick never got up from his intended short nap as altitude sickness left him extremely fatigued and with an upset stomach. Upon my return, I also retired for the night after experiencing chills, which are also a symptom of altitude sickness. With the window open to enjoy the fresh air as well as to listen to the sound of the water flowing over the rapids, sleep came upon us quickly We were both sleeping when the lodge attendant knocked and entered our room to turn down the bedding at 8 pm. However, we did wake during the night to view the full moon and sky filled with brilliant stars.