OK, we are out of order a bit here, but before we went to Lima, our first stop after our triumphant return to Peru was Arequipa--Peru's "second city," and the gateway to Colca Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon and which is where we planned to do a 2-day hiking trip.
I insisted on a day of relaxation in Arequipa before heading to the canyon, and this was a very good decision. Here is a pic of Andy lounging in a city park. Andy is about as good at relaxing as I am at hiking, but he did his best.
So the next day, a bus picked us up at 3:30AM for the six-hour drive to the canyon. Our first stop was Cruz del Condor, where you are supposed to be able to watch enormous Andean condor birds rise up from their nests in the canyon for their morning flight. When we got there it was a little past peak time and we only saw three or four condors, plus the place was overrun with tourists.
This was kind of disappointing for me, because the whole reason I wanted to go to the canyon was to see condors. The hiking trip that was to follow was kind of an afterthought--we'd spent about 30 hours on buses in the previous three days, so I thought a little exercise was called for. Turns out we had signed up for nine hours of strenuous hiking--six hours down and across the floor of the canyon on day one, and a grueling three-hour climb out of the canyon on day two. Oops.
Here's a shot of the canyon. Beautiful surroundings if you have time to appreciate them...which I didn't, really, because I was struggling to keep up with our group.
If you know me, you know that I'm not a very fast hiker on the best of days. But making matters worse, we had been placed in a tour group with six French physical therapists, who apparently like to tear up and down mountains in their spare time, because even at a flat-out run downhill, I couldn´t keep up with them and our guide. They quickly left me and Andy (who surely could have kept up, but was a gentleman and kept me company) in the dust.
I found this frustrating and mildly humiliating, but Andy assured me that it was all in my head, and that no one would care if we were a few minutes behind. Well, no sooner did we catch up with the group at a resting spot, than the guide and one of the French hikers rushed over to me. "Are you OK?? What's the matter?" they asked in very concerned voices. I managed to mumble that I was just fine, but they kept up the solicitations. Thank goodness for Andy, who jumped in. "Nothing is wrong!" he told them, "We just hike a little slower than you do. If you could slow down the pace just a little, we'd appreciate it."
Then the guide knelt down next to me, like I was five years old. "It's hard, isn't it?" she said. "Hey, I like your hiking stick!" It was all I could do not to whack her with it. Luckily, Andy jumped in again and distracted me by challenging me to a twig sword-fight. My twig quickly cut his twig to pieces and I felt much better. How great is Andy?
So the Frenchies took off at breakneck speed again that afternoon, and I did better at keeping up once we switched from straight downhill to more undulating territory. I even managed to pause here and there to enjoy the cool scenery. For instance, these neat striated rock formations...
...cacti in bloom...
...and the light and shadow on the canyon-sides.
Also, at our lodging that night on the canyon floor, there was a swimming pool. Andy suggested we both dunk and take an underwater self-portrait together, which resulted in my new favorite picture from our trip so far. So flattering!
Also of note was that, when the couple who had the cabin next to ours opened their door for the first time, out ran a pig. Apparently he really likes that bedroom, and tried to sneak back in again while they were at dinner. They had to bar the door to keep him out at night!
So, the next day we were up at 5:30 for three hours of climbing to get out of the canyon. Ugh. I'll just say that my energy failed about halfway up and it was ugly. Ignore the smile on my face here at the end of the ascent--I'm delerious.
The last stop on the tour was some thermal baths, and boy did they feel good. We then rode the bus back to Arequipa, and were treated to a showing of the movie "Twilight" (I think I liked it better than the book--yes, I admit I've read the book)...and an incredible sunset.
Three days later, after our trip to Nazca and Lima, we were in Huaraz, a town in the Andes and the "trekking capital" of Peru. Yes, more hiking, I'm a masochist.
But rather than starting off with a hike, we decided we would do a horseback trip instead. You know, take it easy. Unfortunately, the horses had other ideas.
Here is the only shot we got of either one of us on a horse.
About five minutes after we took this picture, some fireworks went off (yes, in the middle of the day--the town where we got the horses was having a festival), our guide's horse bolted, and Andy's and my horses followed. I pulled on the reins for dear life, and I believe I screamed a lot, too.
So we dismounted and walked the horses through the town. 10 minutes after that, we ran into a construction site along the horse trail and had to dismount and do a complicated detour. When the guide told us we could get back on, he came over to help me first. We heard a noise behind us, and turned around to see Andy hanging upside down off the side of his horse! He had apparently tried to mount on his own and overshot, ending up in a handstand on the other side of the animal. I WISH we had a picture of this. Everyone was fine, so the guide helped him mount properly and we continued on.
Then at lunchtime it started to pour, so, no more riding for us. We squeezed into a very crowded collectivo van with our guide and went back to Huaraz. A dissapointing outing all around.
The next day, we did a day hike to Laguna Churup. We were told that it wouldn't be too hard, that we'd only ascend 500 meters, and that our guide would speak English. These turned out to be all lies.
Still, it was a beautiful hike, and this time we had the leisure to enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and countryside.
Our guide was really nice, and we practiced a lot of Spanish on him. He was always offering to take photos of us at scenic points, like this one.
So, after four hours of mostly uphill hiking, including an unexpected bonus section of slippery rock-climbing, which saw Andy wipe out and me be hauled up by my arms by our guide, we finally reached the lovely elevated lake with the spectacular snow-capped Churup mountain behind it.
The hike down was even more treacherous, because it started to rain, and we had to go down the steep, muddy sections on our butts. We felt appropriately filthy and exhausted by the time we got back to the little town at the base.
Also filthy, but cute: These two little pigs eating garbage in someone´s yard in the town.
That night back in Huaraz, we embraced the piggy spirit by downing a "broaster platter por dos": Six pieces of fried chicken, a monstrous plate of fries, a pitcher of limeade, and two salads (you know, for health). The one thing I like about strenuous hiking is that I can eat absolutely anything I want after and not feel guilty about it!
That wraps up our tales of hikes in Peru. Andy promised me that we would have no more hiking for at least a month after Huaraz, but of course we have already been on a four-hour rainforest hike in Ecuador since he said that. I plan to exact my revenge in Colombia and subject him to many hours of salsa dancing lessons. Stay tuned!