Saturday, June 04, 2005

El Condor Pasa

I have just spent about five days in Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. In fact, it was the deepest canyon in the world until just a few years ago, when they did some re-measuring and found that Cotahuasi Canyon, just a bit east of here, is a little deeper. I hadn´t met anyone to go with, so I signed up for a two-day tour. Luckily, another American guy in my hotel, Rick, also wanted to go hiking in the canyon, so he came along on the tour as well. The tour turned out to be really touristy--we were dropped off at plenty of places where we could buy things, or take pictures with baby llamas and people in traditional outfits, for a small fee, etc. Actually, very reminiscent of the tours I used to help organize for my old job, but completely different from the kind of traveling I´ve gotten used to on this trip. We even went to a folklore show at night, where we listened to a band play and watched dancers perform traditional dances. Of course, it wouldn´t be Andean folklore if the band didn´t play El Condor Pasa (made famous by Simon & Garfunkel--"I´d rather be a spider than a snail" etc--but now the National Peruvian Heritage Song.) We also watched the most bizarre dance, where one person pretends to eat from some kind of poisoned orange, then falls on the floor in spasms, and the other person tries to revive them by whipping them, hard, with a rope! It was totally bizarre, but hysterically funny, especially when some unsuspecting members of the audience got pulled in to try it out for themselves.

Anyway, the next morning we went to the Cruz del Condor, a spot where condors rise on early-morning thermal winds. We saw about 10 or so condors; they are very impressive, huge birds. Then Rick and I left the tour, and hiked the steep path down the canyon to Sangalle, more often called "The Oasis". It´s a beautiful spot, surrounded by palm trees accented against the orange and yellow canyon walls, with a microclimate of its own, which makes it almost tropical. There we found a big group of other hikers, with whom we spent two nights, sitting around the pool by day and the campfire by night. It was a totally idyllic spot, where a bed in a bamboo hut and dinner cost about $1.60 each (though a bottle of beer costs nearly twice as much!) and one could be tempted to stay for a long time. But instead we continued along the wall of the canyon to the tiny town of San Juan, and yesterday, resisting the temptation to hire a mule to carry us up, hiked 4 hours up the steep cliffs of the canyon, back to the top, starting at 6 AM to avoid the heat of the sun as much as possible.

Tonight I am off to Cuzco, which means in just a short time I will be at that tourist mecca, Machu Picchu!

If you want to check out some other photos from my hike, just click here.