Colca Canyon Without A Guide – Day 1
We didn’t know if Rachel would be able to come or not. Our hostel reception, past trekkers, even the lady at the kiosk said bus tickets must be bought the day before. 7am saw Vickie and Rachael taxiing to the terminal, amped and hoping. By 7.15am Rachael had the last ticket in her hand and at 8 our bus pulled out to the tiny town of Cabanaconde. This was the beginning of our four-day hike in the fabled (amongst outdoorsy backpackers anyway) Colca Canyon, Peru.
A couple of days earlier, I’d been planning this trek with only two, a lovely Dutch couple called Tom and Sanne I’d met in Ecuador. The night before we were due to leave, I’d heard Vickie enquire about the organized tours of Colca at our hostel reception desk. I walked away, out the door, down the street before turning back on the off chance she’d like to join us. A “Yes” later and our team was one stronger. Then, 9 at night Rachael checked in to our hostel, Arequipay. I told Vickie about a “tall Aussie” (Rachael’s a Kiwi and a forthright one at that, whoops!), then introduced them… Vickie: “No way!” Rachel: “Oh my God Vickie!” Turned out they’d been travelling together for a week and had seen each other only days before. Then there were five.
Colca Canyon is the world’s deepest canyon, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. At its deepest it’s a staggering 4,160m – over four kilometres! However that wasn’t the bit we hiked, it’s not as tourist-friendly. Colca had held a mystic place in my mind ever since Bronson had told me about it on the first day we met. Since then I’d talked to several travellers who had gold starred it with the word, ‘highlight’. This dry rocky landscape of huge proportions and green rivers beat all expectations. I’d been keen to eschew guided tours and tackle it myself with a detailed email from Bronson and a basic map from the tour operators. Now with a gang, I had my chance.
Six hours and a crowded bus full of incredibly colourful indigenous women later and we were deposited at our starting point, Cabanaconde. After wolfing down a typical Peruvian dish of pasta chicken soup and then lentils with rice, we set off down the canyon wall to the pretty oasis of Sangalle. Our first glimpse of the oasis stopped us dead. It was so far down! Very few trees, bare jagged rock glancing out of cliff faces with beautiful crevices as if drawn by a graceful hand. Cacti and grasses would be the most common flora dotting the landscape with pale green. The wind was up, helping us against the heat of the sun, bringing a quiet whirring to the air. It was quite a rush the first day; we were aiming to beat the sun, but we made it in two and half hours. A view of palm trees and swimming pools quietly waiting in the canyon crack made us barely notice our scramble down the hairpin goat track.
Our cabins looked like oversize wendy houses. Wooden plank walls with curved-cornered cut out windows and doors were topped with neat corrugated iron roofs. Vickie, Rachael and I dived into one, quickly changed and dived into the pool. Well, to be truthful we hot stepped in, it was pretty shallow, and about as quickly cold stepped out. We were in the desert. The yellow sun had gone and the valley was blue. Soon we would be too if we didn’t race back to our temporary little home. After lights out (you can take the girl out of boarding school, but you can’t take boarding school out of the girl), we yabbered for a good hour. It felt so good! Talking in the dark releases care about what others think. Secrets and deepest ideas can be exposed and long silences of thought can be savoured. Vickie and I had uncanny empathy. Perhaps it was because we came from similar backgrounds and grew up relatively close to each other. We didn’t notice the nine-year age gap, I felt like I’d known her pretty much forever. Rachael is incredibly sweet and kind, I think of her face made small, encircled by the neon rainbow earflap beanie she’d shove on to ward off the cold night air. In the three beds squished into our garden shed house, tucked under blankets, we were toasty and secure in the desert night.