The Deep Abode of the Rio Colca

Day 2 Colca Canyon

I was awakened the next morning at 4:45 am by someone yelling outside the hostel. Figuring it was some local yelling at a stubborn burro or lost chicken, I dismissed it and went back to sleep. A couple hours later, it was time to rise for real and get breakfast. The room had been decent; though rustic, it was better than sleeping in a tent, and a bathroom without hot water is still a lot better than a hole dug in the ground. We had wished for an electric light, but changed our minds about that the next night.

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This day’s hike promised to be relatively easy. We would follow the river…first climbing moderately to pass through a pair of villages (Cosnirhua and Malata) before descending, again at a mostly moderate grade, to the final crossing of the Colca River and on to the Oasis of Sangalle, located in a broad bowl formed by a bend in the canyon. Sangalle, somewhat famed as a resort, would be our destination for the evening, and the place from where we would launch the ascent of the canyon wall on the last day.

This was scenically the best day of the trip as we hiked across the canyon’s north side, down a slot canyon, crossing over a stream via a rickety bridge (for those brave like Sylvia…chickens like me just hop the stream) and then along a road that become a narrow mule path with outstanding views. The north side is the more inhabited, but higher up it is wild and rugged…there is only one sketchy dirt road plowed through the hillside as far as Tapay, above Cosnirhua.

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The Canyon’s 11,000+ South Wall
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A very ‘rustic’ bridge

Looming above these tiny havens is rough, uninhabited country…the white capped peaks of the Cordillera Chilla and the otherworldly landscape of the Valley of the Volcanos. Almost unsettled, sparsely traveled and not connected by any major roads, these are formidable wilderness challenges not lightly undertaken even by a guided hiker. While staying in San Jaun de Chuccha, we met a French hiker who spoke little English, travelling alone, on his way to the falls of Fure some three days further along. Our guide expressed dismay that he was attempting this daunting route by himself; we have no idea to this day what became of him.

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Speaking of lost adventurers…while resting in a small market we met another pair of French hikers who arrived breathless from a climb out of the valley and told a strange tale. It was they who I had heard yelling in the early morning hours. Apparently, they had gotten lost, and the sun had set on them before they could find their way to safety.  They had called the police in desperation, but had been told there was nothing the police could do for them; they would have to wait until morning. After spending a cold night in the open by the river’s edge, and had come in towards the lights of the village as soon as it was light enough for them to walk. By the time we crossed paths with them, they had effectively self-rescued. It was reminder that in the remote areas of Peru, there is virtually no possibility of safe evacuation, unless you pay for a horse to carry you. No helicopter is coming, so if you want to do trekking here, be prepared to walk yourself back out to safety. We left the French couple in the center of the village, waiting for the police to come back from patrol, and continued on.

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Past the villages of Cosnirhua and Malata we went, along the only dirt road in the region, down which a bus winds its way once per day. Then we followed a narrow burro track down along an arid plateau that appears to be extinct farmland; here, we stopped at a trailside market run by a friendly local man who assured us he was “popular with the French girls.” I assured him in return that I was popular with at least one Peruvian girl, most of the time anyway. After the market the trail turned steep again and we descended to the final crossing of the Colca; here, we got our first glimpse of Sangalle, the tourist oasis where virtually every visitor to Colca Canyon eventually ends up. The only caveat is, you must walk to it…and you must walk out again, too. No easy thing, this.

Before Sangalle, though, we had to cross yet another suspension bridge and this one was five or six times higher than the first…a spectacular, if unnerving, vista from which to observe the canyon. After this it is a short hike uphill to the Oasis, which looks more like a spring break resort than the wilderness hiking mecca. Blue swimming pools and tiki bars proliferate here, as mostly tired hikers pile in at the end of each day to lounge by the pool, enjoy Mojitos and beer served by shockingly rude bartenders (it’s a long hike to the next saloon) and in general relax and enjoy before leaving the next morning. The majority of hikers are college age Europeans who do this as a two day trek; for these, the Oasis is their first nights destination.

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Sylvia jumps for joy

Here we spent some time talking to a couple from, shockingly enough, Durham NC. And another couple who we kept seeing at every stop on the tour, these two being from Tenerife in the Canary Islands. They had apparently been on vacation for months, hiking around the world and had done world class treks in Bolivia, Patagonia, Spain and Africa before coming to Peru.

Accommodations here were rustic, maybe slightly better than Roy’s or maybe not, depending on how you looked at it. There was running water and showers but bathrooms were shared, and while each hut had an electric light, what it lacked was a wall capable of keeping the insects out (picture the hut Gilligan and the Skipper shared and you’ll get the general idea.) We slept, or tried to, with moths attempting to land on us all night. And at least three times during the night, the entire canyon exploded with the barking of scores of dogs, two of which decided to bed down right outside our door. I would mark this the less comfortable of the two nights, and we also faced a very early ‘alpine start’ the next morning to beat the heat on the canyons high south wall.

View our day 2 Colca Canyon Video!

NEXT UP: We hit the (3500 foot) Wall

 

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