Arequipa to Colca Canyon to Puno

Saturday, May 17, 2014

015-35.832 S
071-52.752 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket in southern Peru!

Desolate territoryWhen you last heard from us we were in Arequipa, which is the 2nd largest city in Peru. From there we headed to the Colca Canyon which is the deepest canyon in the world. It has a a depth of 13,650 ft (4,160 m), which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. To get there we had to drive about 100 miles (170 km) NW from Arequipa across some very desolate territory. This is not to say that it isn't beautiful, which it is, but you're just struck by how vast and remote the area is.

AlpacaMuch of the area that we drove through was range land which is primarily inhabited by herds of Alpacas and Llamas. Alpaca farming is big business in Peru as they raise them for their wool and for their meat. Their wool is used to produce fine textiles and is graded based upon the age of the animal and the color (there's something like 52 natural occurring colors). Alpaca meat is also quite flavorful and is very low in cholesterol, making them very valuable product and export.

4910 metersAlpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level planes at an altitude of 3,500 m (11,500 ft) to 5,000 m (16,000 ft) above sea level, making this a prime area for them. It wasn't so much a prime area for us, as we sure weren't adapting quickly to the altitude. We were definitely huffing and puffing as we hiked around some of the areas. The picture to the right was taken at 4,910 m (16,109') above sea level. That provides great views, but it's tough for someone who is used to living at sea level. As far as views go, look at the volcano smoking just to my left, as it will come into play the following day...

Terraced fieldsOne of the things that I really enjoyed looking at was the terraced agriculture. Due to the steep inclines of the land, the Inkas utilized terraces to raise their crops. I can not fathom the amount of work required to build these supporting walls from the stones in the fields and to excavate the soil without machines, but they did. The views from above are a delight to the eye. The green color is probably Alfalfa, the tan color is probably wheat, the reds are probably quinoa and there are fields of potatoes and onions and lots of other crops. The diversity of foods that are raised in Peru was absolutely amazing and many of these crops are "super foods" due to their nutritional benefits.

Harvesting quinoaDue to the irregular structure of these fields, the vast majority of maintaining and harvesting these crops are done by hand. Take quinoa for example: Quinoa is a grain which is very high in protein and is gluten free, making it a very popular food in the US and elsewhere. It's also very tolerant of dry conditions, making it a perfect crop for raising in the Andes, which they've done for almost 4,000 years. It used to be a staple in the Peruvian diet, but since the rest of the world discovered it, the cost has gone up about 10 fold and the vast majority of it is now exported. I was quite amazed to watch it being harvested. The stalks are manually cut down, carried to a sheet where someone stomps on the stalks to dislodge the seeds and finally someone throws the seeds into the wind to finish separating the seeds from the chafe. Wow, what a labor intensive task! You can see photos detailing this operation here.

Traditional clothingOne of the other things that I really enjoyed was seeing the traditional garb that people wear on a daily basis. This clothing, in general, isn't for show, but just part of their daily lives. Each village has it's own "uniform" and everyone from that village wears the same pattern or color spectrum. So just by looking at what someone is wearing, you can determine where they're from.

Meat deliveryMost shopping is done in the markets, where you'll find a huge variety of local products. From what I've been told, Peru raises something like 300 varieties of potatoes, which are a standard part of every meal. You'll also note that things aren't done in ways that you're used to seeing. For example, one day I watched a vendor push a cart full of skinned beef carcases through the market, in the full sun, and deliver them to vendors in the meat section of the market. Not exactly US FDA standards I suspect!

Colca LodgeAfter a long day of driving we eventually made it to the Colca Lodge and Hot Springs, which was our destination for the night. It was a beautiful lodge located at about 11,000' (3,350 m) with fields of red quinoa growing around the buildings. Along the river there were a series of pools fed by hot springs and across the river there was an Alpaca farm. It was absolutely beautiful, but the food wait staff left a lot to be desired.

We were up early the next day so that we could see the Colca Canyon and then make the long drive to Puno. Like the Grand Canyon, the Colca Canyon more or less just appears before you and all of a sudden you're presented with an amazing view of the start of the canyon. What is also amazing is all of the terraced farm land which was built by the Inkas, 500-600 years ago.

Colca Canyon

Colca CanyonAs you drive deeper into the canyon, the canyon gets deeper and deeper and the sides become more steep. I continued to be astounded at the terraces the lined the steep cliff faces. Just imagine having to walk up and down these slopes to maintain the crops and then having to haul the harvested crops up these slopes and then to 11,000'! Wow, these people are hard workers!

Soaring CondorEventually we made it to the prime viewing area for Condors. When we first arrived we didn't see any flying, but after a while they appeared one by one and eventually there were dozens in the air. The Andean Condor is part of the vulture family, but they're much larger than any vulture that I've ever seen with wing spans reaching over 10' (3 m) and they can weigh up to 33 lbs (15 kg). I sure wouldn't want one of those to be going after me as it appears that they have been known to scare animals, causing them to fall down the cliffs. It was absolutely wonderful to watch these birds soar effortlessly on the thermals rising up the steep cliffs. According to what I was told, they can soar to 18,000' (5,550 meters)!

All too soon we had to get on our way and head to Puno, which was about 200 miles east of us. We had to retrace our path back to the Colca Lodge and then continue onward. Had we realized the distances involved, we probably would have spent a 2nd night at the lodge and taken the time to explore the area, as there were some interesting things to see in the area.

Ubinas eruptingUbinas 
from spaceAs we were driving along I looked out of the van window and saw what looked like a volcano erupting! We pulled over and sure enough, we could see Ubinas erupting with a large ash cloud raining down debris. Luckily we weren't too close, but it appears that it didn't do any real damage. Later my brother pointed out a NASA image showing the volcano from space. Pretty cool to have seen this up close and personal.

FlamingosAfter a long day of driving and seeing Flamingos (who knew!), we eventually made it to Puno, which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500', but that's a blog for another day.

Photos from the Arequipa to Colca Canyon section of the trip are located here and photos of Colca Canyon to Puno are located here.

-- Geoff & Sue

Log ID: 2248

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