Friday, June 4, 2010

We woke up early, and Justin was still irked about the screwed up schedule. A van came by around 7:45, and we picked up several other people - in the end, the van was full with 16 passengers. There was lots of traffic in Arequipa - this was all we saw of the city (in the light) before leaving it. On the way out of town, our guide Mari Luz told us the schedule, and for most people there were no wasted days - drive up one day, see condors and drive back the next. For others, they were leaving to Puno from Colca Canyon, which is what we wanted to do but were told it was not feasible. So basically, our preferred itinerary was not only doable, it would have had the least amount of wasted time, least amount of backtracking, and would have been the cheapest.

Justin was peeved, so peeved that he "entered the zone" (that elite athletes enter occasionally) and grabbed a bouncing coin out of the air in the mini-market where we picked up water and sugar snacks to combat potential altitude sickness. After Justin calmed down a bit in the mini market, we asked Mari Luz if we could change our reservation to come back to Arequipa the next day, so that our "wasted" day would be in Arequipa, she said she would check, which we appreciated.

The scenery around Arequipa is phenomenal - there are lots of snow-capped peaks and rolling hills on the outskirts of the city. Every time we would lose sight of some large peaks, others would appear. All of the peaks were right around 6000m (20,000 feet), some higher and some lower. As we passed the first set of peaks and got into a higher valley, we saw a bunch of llamas, alpacas, and a couple of vicuna as we got to 4000 meters in elevation.

We stopped for a bit at the small town of Patahuasi, where we got some shots of a baby llama (or perhaps alpaca?) that had wandered off from its handler. There were also some cool rock formations that looked a bit like the Cappadocia mountains in Turkey, which we intend to go to one of these years.

We drove a little farther, then stopped because a large herd of llamas was coming right for us. We were able to get quite close, and they didn't seem the least bit phased to be around us. A little later we stopped at a lake with some birds, but the birds were overshadowed by reflections of the mountains and clouds. As we rose even more in elevation, we chewed on some Coca leaves, which tasted horrible, but did cause our headaches to subside a bit. The high spot on the road is 4910 meters, which is a bit over 16,000 feet. We stopped there, and got some good shots of llamas looking at the mountains (or at least in that direction). We started to feel better as soon as our elevation started to drop. We saw a couple vizcachas, but they seemed smaller (and less well-fed) than the ones we saw in the Atacama. We also saw a potato "storage" area - they lay the potatoes out to freeze, and then store them until they want to use them at a later date.

Chivay is the main town in the Colca Valley, and the road descending into Chivay afforded a number of opportunities for good views of the city. We got a nice buffet lunch at Urinsaya in Chivay, and chatted with Mari Luz about numerous topics, including the fact that the Colca Canyon was only connected to society roughly 25 years ago when the highway was completed. She also told us that we could see the condors and go back to Arequipa the next day, but that we'd have to pay for the extra night in Arequipa (which is what we expected, and were fine with).

Our hotel, the Colca Lodge, was extremely nice, but it was 15 minutes down a dead-end street, and there was not much to do there, so we weren't sure exactly what we were supposed to do for a whole day with no planned activities. Someone like a writer or a poet would probably be ecstatic to be "stranded" there, but not us. When we checked in, we saw a boxer with brindle markings like Cabo. Most of the other dogs we had seen were mutts, so it was weird to see what appeared to be a purebred Boxer in the middle of nowhere. Our room was two stories - we're not sure why that was necessary, since it would seemingly increase the heating costs with very few people using the upstairs. We checked the internet, saw that our Uyuni tour had been confirmed, so that was nice, especially in view of our other issues with the itinerary.

A little after sunset (and after the wind subsided), we went to the hot springs, which were roughly 100 degrees F (37-39 C). It was nice to be out there in the dark, with a crystal clear sky and tons of stars, but sufficiently warm in the hot springs. Amazingly, we didn't get too cold on the short walk back to the room (perhaps because it was so dry). We got cleaned up and then went to dinner. For us being so isolated, and the hotel having no real competition for our patronage, they did not seem to be gouging on prices - the most expensive item was only $15. Crystal got fettucine with pesto, Justin got Lomo Saltado with rice and papas fritas (muy bien). We went back and got packed (3 rooms in 3 nights, knowing it was soon to be 4 in 4), since we'd have an early wake up call to see the Condors.