Feeling the altitude  

Title: Feeling the altitude
Location: Arequipa, Peru

I´m back in Arequipa after a 3-day trekking tour in the colca canyon. With my return came all the basic things that I´ve been missing for the past few days...a warm bed, toilet seats and paper, clean clothes...I´m not hard to please these days. After leaving Huacachina and Ica I embarked on an overnight bus to Arequipa which is the second biggest city in Peru. The city is around 2500m and I definitely felt a bit off from the altitude the first day I was here but all is well now. After a day in the city with two of my dorm mates, we took off painfully early Monday morning for the canyon along with two Polish guys. On the overcrowded local bus I spent the majority of the 6 hour trip with a Peruvian woman on my lap and a man leaning on my shoulder...I tried to act natural while taming my claustrophobia by looking out the window. We set off from the small town of Cabanaconde in the afternoon and hiked down into the canyon for four hours. The canyon is the second deepest in the world at 3191m from top to bottom after another in Peru. The view was beautiful although I spent most of the hike looking down at where I was putting my feet...until we crossed the river at the bottom and walked to a little hostel run by a local family hidden in the mountainside. The night was amazing...the villages on the mountainside don't have any electricity so we had dinner and beers by candle light and slept in tiny cabins with thatched roofs. The second day we hiked along the mountainside and visited a few villages - it's amazing to see the way of life in these tiny towns...everyone grows their own crops and they keep chickens for eggs and alpacas and guinea pigs for meat. They have irrigation channels all over the place that divert spring water to the towns but everything else has to be brought into the canyon by foot. We stopped for lunch at a little clearing with spring fed pools and cooled off before the long trek back up. It took a grueling 3.5 hours to get to the top...and I managed to develop massive blisters on both of my heels that left me limping until I made it back to Arequipa. Over the course of the hike I saw women wearing layer upon layer of clothes, men and children wearing only rubber sandals and quite a few donkeys making the trek up with bags of supplies...they seemed to have no trouble at all scrambling up the trail in the scorching sun and took every available (and crazy steep) short cut. Apparently they do this a few times a week...they are definitely tougher than me. Thankfully for my damaged heels we didn't do any more trekking on the last day. The local bus wasn't running in the morning when we got up so a bunch of guides herded all the tourists into the back of a truck to go condor watching. I enjoyed the view and the locals got a good laugh. After lunch Sam and I ditched the bus back to the city and rented a dirt bike to tour the countryside...needless to say it was a highlight. Apart from torturing my heels in a way I didn't know was possible I've had the opportunity to sample some more Peruvian food over the past several days...the alpaca steak was a bit tough but tasty, although after seeing so many alpacas roaming the mountainside on my bus ride back from the canyon I feel a bit guilty about it. Another story entirely is the cau cau I ate for dinner at the shady bus stop on the way from Ica. I picked the curried potato and rice dish because it looked the safest but after my first bite of a strange chewy white thing hidden amongst the potatoes I knew something was wrong. I ate around the suspect white chewies...my guide on the colca trek confirmed that I'd eaten bugs. Chalk it up to experience I guess - here's hoping that's the first and last time I eat an insect. The next week should be calm for me. I'm going to stay in Arequipa and take some more classes de español and hopefully brush up on my salsa moves. I love taking Spanish immersion classes, they are of the most help.



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