Colca Canyon

One of the most popular side-trips to do out of Arequipa, Peru is a hike in the Colca Canyon. Many tour operators run 2 or 3 day trips to the area and we did a bit of detective work to determine what we wanted to do and if we wanted to do it ourselves or go with a group. We opted to do it independently and decided upon a 3 day/2 night excursion.

Though we would normally take a local bus to our starting off point, a national election had made bus travel super busy as many people had to return to their home towns to vote locally. So wonderfully, Ted was able to bum us a ride to our starting point with a tour operator that was leaving on a guided trip.

After a fairly sleepy first day in a very small access town, Cabanaconde, we headed down into the canyon. Colca Canyon is advertised as being twice as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon and though it is certainly the case, the canyon itself is actual not nearly as grand. The canyon is beautiful but it rather than wide, it is long and skinny. As you would imagine, the first day of walking was all downhill. There are a handful of little towns at the bottom so when we reached the river around lunchtime, we were happy to be met by a young boy that was hoping we’d be customers for lunch at his home. We happily agreed and were treated to quite a delicious midday meal in a tiny little place that also provided overnight accomodation for weary hikers.

After lunch we hiked some rolling hills and just when the heat of the day and the miles of hiking were starting to tire us out, we caught a glimpse of our final destination: the Oasis. We had heard a lot about the Oasis but nothing quite prepares you for the shock of green vegetation and the sparking blue swimming pools seen from above that contrast with the brown hills and desert cactus that we’d been hiking through all day. From above, the oasis is just that. A beautiful, welcoming respite that marks the end of a long day and place to relax and cool off. I couldn’t get there fast enough!

The accomodations were basic to say the least, but we got to take a dip in a pool and were fed a big heaping plate of pasta so no one was complaining.

The hike out the next day started early to avoid the direct sunlight on the pretty demanding hike up. However, after quite a few hikes under our belt already we made it up and out of there without too much trouble. Little did we know that it would be the bumpy, long bus ride back to Arequipa that would prove to be an equally challenging experience for our sore muscles!

The White City

Following our time with family in Lima, Ted and I made our way to Arequipa, Peru. Arequipa is known as the “white city” as the main plaza and many of the buildings in the city center are built with a spectacular white brick made of volcanic rock (the city is surrounded by amazing volcanoes). The city is quite beautiful and walkable and we enjoyed our time there immensely just wandering around, eating at delicious restaurants and watching the sunset from the rooftop deck of our hostel. Upon arriving, we couldn’t help but feel like Arequipa, Peru was the equivalent of Cuenca, Ecuador. Both cities have beautiful architecture, proud local residents and are clean and beautiful.

When we were in Arequipa, it was several days before a nationwide election. Though the President was not up for re-election, the mayorial equivalent in all the regions was and as it is MANDATORY to vote in Peru, the political parties go all out to get votes. We were told that Arequipa is a particularly politically-active city and we couldn’t help but agree.

While there we were treated to quite an elaborate parade that stopped traffic for blocks and blocks. There were fancy dancers in both traditional and far from traditional dress; there were local school bands playing and marching; there were cars decorated and thumping music; there were people dressed up in animal costumes; there were old and young, dancing and walking, smiling and laughing. All of this was randomly interspersed with fireworks (beginning at 6 am outside of our hostel window!!!) and announcements from a megaphone. It was entertaining and overwhelming and impossible to ignore. All the staff from the shops and restaurants along the streets came out to the curb to watch both because they were interested (I assume) and because it was impossible to continue to working with the amount of the noise this parade produced. Ted and I were staying in a hostel on the street and these photos were taken from our window.

Another thing we found interesting about the election is that alcohol sales are banned for roughly 36 hours before the voting. In this case, the election was on a Sunday and as of Friday evening, the grocery stores and restaurants were required to stop selling booze. Though we were unable to buy wine from the grocery store, we were sold a beer at a restaurant as it was obvious to the owners that we were not Peruvian nor would we be voting on Sunday!

After all the build up and fanfare, we happened to be in the middle of the wilderness on the actual voting day so we can only assume that the election went off without a hitch. When we returned back to Arequipa after our trip, it appeared the election was a thing of the past and everything was back to normal.

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