Title: Does Coca tea help to learn Spanish faster? Location: Arequipa, Peru
We arrive in Arequipa at night time, the city looks huge, and we manage to ignore the taxi drivers stories about how bad our chosen hostel is. We have been recommended this choice and taxi drivers sometimes get commission from hostels so will try to persuade you to go to their hostel.
Glad we stuck it out, this hostel looks like a grand mansion compared to what we have been staying in. We get offered coca tea as soon as we get there and sit up on the roof with a view over the city with an English girl who was on the bus with us. We all go out for tea at well presented but cheap Turkish kebab place. I like Arequipa already! The city is full of life and much cleaner than the other cities we have been in so far. The staff at our hostel are really friendly especially the in house travel agent Marlin who organizes a tour for us and Anne into the Colca Canyon.
So at 5:30 in the morning Marlin cooks breakfast for us then we get squashed into a tiny yellow Suzuki taxi with our Guide Rico, and off to the bus station. The bus ride into the Colca valley offered spectacular views but as the bus had no suspension to speak of and my stomach was already not the best it was along ride. Lunch at Cabanacondes would become very familiar, overcooked pasta soup then rice and meat and fruit, not bad but became repetitive.
Cabanacondes is a town high up above the canyon. Buses go to there but the only way down into the canyon is on foot or donkey. Everywhere there are terraces growing corn and quinua and potatoes. The track down into the canyon is steep and we drop 1000 meters to the cannon floor. Views were amazing, donkeys and mules carrying huge packs constantly coming and going bringing supplies to the villages at the bottom of the canyon. Most the women we meet are wearing traditional dress. Huge multilayered skirts and embroidered hats whether they were working in the fields or leading donkeys up the track or selling bread and cactus fruit. Our guide unlike many of the guides that come here was born in the canyon and went to school in Cabanacondes so we keep meeting friendly faces greeting him either in Spanish or Quechua, the indigenous language which is still the first spoken language in the canyon.
We finally make it just before dark to stay at our guide's mother's hostel. Cold showers and a hot meal. We sleep in an open Bamboo hut. The next day we walk through some of the villages nestled along the side of the canyon all with lush looking terraced fields. We saw an old Inca irrigation channeled going across a cliff this one unused, but in many places the original Inca channels are still used to get water to the terraces to irrigate the crops.
We reach the Oasis at lunchtime. This is a little bit more touristy, a camping ground but very beautiful.
After lunch we have to climb 1000 meters back up to Cabanacondes. We made it but it took from 3pm until dark just after 6. Suzan got half way and decided that 15sol was a bargin to catch a donkey the rest of the way.
The bus home the next day was an experience in itself. Everyone was going to work so we were packed in with at least 80 people. Every time we thought they couldn't possibly fit more people in the bus would stop and more would squash in. All the women were wearing embroidered hats and most also embroidered waistcoats and huge skirt. The hats are worn folded up at the front if you are single and folded down if married.
We stopped at the Cruz del Condor, a viewing platform where the Condors usually fly up to in the morning. The place packed with tourists but we got a pretty good spot and after about an hour we saw some dark shapes appearing from deep down in the canyon. Circling slowly these magnificent bird eventually flew within 5 meters of our heads. We probably saw about 20 condors, some juvenile and some adult with the distinctive white neckband. At 3 meters across and 10 to 12kgs in weight it was amazing to see them so close. They looked somehow gracefully heavy as they flew.
Soon we are planning to take Spanish lessons at a local immersion Spanish school. I am looking forward to that, as it will be a nice change from our so far 'natured' travels.