Colca Canyon

Ok—this is it. It only took me SIX MONTHS to finish editing and posting my photos from PERU. And I have so many more plans for them! Stay tuned for some other projects that may come up (time allowing) around my images from this trip.

From Arequipa, we were trying to figure out how to get to Colca Canyon on our own. We spent the trip making our own way to the things we wanted to experience, and our one time with a guide, at Machu Picchu, was laughable. Turns out Colca Canyon is quite a haul from where we were, and our time was becoming limited. We stumbled into a tour company to ask for advice—we had no intention of buying anything—and we’re so glad we did. At the Colca Trek Arequipa office, we were swept over to a table where we were sat down and told all about the services this tour had to offer. Conveniently, there was a tour leaving the following day, heading down into the canyon with stops along the way to view all kinds of Peruvian wildlife, an overnight stay at the company’s lodge, followed by a trip back with opportunities to see Andean Condors wheeling out over the canyon, returning to Arequipa the day before we were flying back to Lima, heading home. There were two seats left on the tour—go figure. With very little deliberation, with signed up.

And boy are we ever glad that we did! Our guide, Sabino, was very knowledgeable—we learned so much about the history of the areas we traveled through, as well as the current status of political and social issues facing Peru and this region.

Indeed we had the last two seats on the bus. We stopped and saw vicuñas, a rare relative of alpacas, incredible stone formations, herds of alpacas being watched by their traditionally-dressed keepers and a high mountain pass at 15K feet, from which we could see an active volcano! From there we headed down into the town of Colca for a delicious lunch, and then deeper into the canyon, terraced hillsides rising up all around us. At the lodge we dropped our things in our room (by far the most luxurious place we’d stayed) we joined the group for a walk down to the edge of the immense canyon to watch the sunset.

The next morning we were up early to get to a favorite site of the famed Andean Condor—a truly majestic bird of prey. I am not ashamed to admit how shutter happy I got during this portion of this trip—I took about 500 photos that day, about 300 of which were of the condors. Let’s put that in perspective—on the ENTIRE THREE WEEK trip I took a total of three THOUSAND images. It’s all relative.

So—that wraps up my images from Peru, for your viewing pleasure. I hope you enjoyed seeing what we saw! It’s such a big country—I can’t wait to go back and see more.

Arequipa

We rode on a luxury overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa, Peru’s aptly-named White City. We stumbled into a beautiful colonial hotel made of huge stones and high ceilings, right off the main square. What luxury. The city was beautiful. We took it in and then, again, stumbled into a great opportunity that took us out to the Colca Canyon, and then back to Arequipa. More on that in the next posts. For now, here’s that pretty city! This is one place we didn’t spend enough time in and I’d love to go back someday.

Making Friends

I know my posting frequency is low, so it may seem that we based out of Písac for months. At times, it really felt like it. We loved out hostel, and we loved going to eat at Ulrike’s, and had our favorites daily stops in the local market. One of my strong desires for this trip was to take a weaving lesson. One vendor in particular had beautiful wares, and we spent some time chatting with her to learn about the craft—her husband designed most of the patterns, and the work was done by nieces and nephews, from wool that came from her family’s alpaca herds. The wool was all hand dyed with natural materials. I mentioned that I would like to learn to do this, and she invited us to come and stay at her family’s house, in the tiny weaving village of Chahuatire, located high in the mountains above the town, where her husband could teach me to weave.

My partner, being the fluent Spanish speaker, chatted with her about the details of when and how to get to her home, and we made a plan. We headed up a few days later, bearing gifts of fresh fruit from the market. We took a colectívo up endlessly windy mountain roads and got off at their house, where their teenage daughter took us for a walk up to see some casual cave paintings, since her parents had gone to the city for the day. When we returned we were fed an amazing lunch and had a rest out in the yard, where they taught us the traditional Quechua way to offer coca leaves to each other. It was pretty cold by now at this high altitude and I had left my camera up in our room. So I don’t have many pictures to share, but I feel like the story is still worth telling.

Then they started dying wool. Boiling huge pots of water over a fire in the back yard, they first added some ground up freeze-dried worms--that makes red. They dunked the white wool in the pot, swirled it around, and hung it up to dry. Then they added some plants to the water, making a rich burnt sienna, dyed the wool, and hung it, steaming, from the clothesline. Then they added some minerals, which can only be gathered during a hoarfrost, and made yellow. The process continued until there were several skeins of wool handing from the line, in rich colors from red to yellow, a couple shades of green, blue and purple. They never changed the water—they just kept adding more ingredients to change the colors.

While this dying was happening we each got to take a turn at the looms, stumbling through the steps that this family does with such deftness. We both gained immense respect for the effort that goes into these beautiful textiles.

We ate dinner with the family that night, watched some Spanish-dubbed movies (Finding Nemo! Mad Max!) on their tiny TV, and then climbed the stairs to crawl under the pile of blankets on our bed—huddling close to get warm as the temperature had dropped close to freezing.

The family was up early the next morning to head down for the big Sunday market. We left after they did, taking another colectívo back down to Písac. We wandered, for the millionth time, through our “home” market. We went back and forth, stopping each time at our friends’ stall, and ended up making all of our purchases with them. They live in a home with a dirt floor and no running water inside. Their girls are dreaming of going to college. They create beautiful things with their own hands, and carry them to town each week to peddle in the market. They were so generous—they offered us hospitality, giving us the best room, the best food, the biggest servings, and refusing every offer of compensation. We all shed tears when we finally said goodbye at the market.

We headed back to our hostel to plan our next move, preparing to leave from Cusco to head south to Arequipa. Leaving Písac was bittersweet; it had become home in a short time. We left so much richer than we’d arrived.

Sacsayhuamán and Cusco

Machu Picchu will blow your mind, and the Písac ruins will, too, as will, it turns out, the ruins at Sacsayhuamán (pronounced kind of like “Saxy Woman.” These ruins are situated where Cusco is now, and were the Incan capitol. The ancient city was laid out in the shape of a giant puma. It was sacked by the Spaniards, recaptured by the Inca, and sacked again. And by sacked, I mean sacked to the best of their colonial ability. Though the Spaniards had horses, they still couldn’t topple the massive stones of the Incan fortress. The city of Cusco was built on top of the ruins, which makes for a really fascinating display of historical architecture as you walk through the modern city streets—Colonial building coming right up out of the Incan stonework. The head of the puma is all that’s left of the original fortress, where the Trono del Inca (Inca’s Throne) and the Sun Temple were located. As you flip through the photos you’ll see the zigzag walls—these were the puma’s teeth. Yet another instance of minds being blown. Also mind-blowing is the size of the stones—some weigh as much as twenty tons, came from twenty miles away, and were moved without wheels or draft animals, and were cut, shaped and assembled without metal tools or a written language. Unbelievable! Yoga pic—photo by the boyfriend—for scale.

We took a colectívo from Písac to Sacsayhuamán and walked around the ruins before a downpour started, motivating us to walk down into the city, where we found a coffee shop and some art museums to warm up in. We wandered through the remarkable city streets to find a dinner spot before catching a ride back “home” to Písac, to helplessly contemplate the wonder of human ingenuity.