I don’t exactly remember what we were thinking when we agreed to a two-day, 20 km (about 12.5 miles) hiking trip into the belly of a canyon, but I can honestly say that I would do it again and recommend it to any who get the chance to spend a few days in Arequipa.
We purchased the tour tickets at a recommended agency, one of the many that surrounds the Plaza de Armas. For a two day tour including transportation, food, shelter, park fees, and a visit to the hot springs, we paid less than you would on a single crazy night out dancing. As budget travelers, we were thrilled.
The bus picked us up where we were staying promptly at 3:30 am and rounded up the other tour go-ers before we were on our way. We said sleepy hellos before attempting to fall back asleep on the four hour bus ride ahead of us. Breakfast included a hot glass of coca leaf tea and toast with a friendly Colorado couple joining us on the adventure.
The first stop was to watch condors flying over the canyon with all the other 200 or some tourists on the bus tour, but we knew we were in for a special treat after we got to the starting point of the trek and 20 of us had separated from the pack. The first part of the hike was a 17 km, full day ordeal from the top of the canyon, down to the river below and then across the mountain side to the spec of a village our guide Maria pointed out below.
The canyon was fantastic. The vistas were gorgeous and the culture of the valley matched the mystery for which Peru is famous. Something that amazed both of us was that everything that came in or out of the villages that lined the canyon side was either walked in by foot or by mule. There was no road passable in or out of the canyon, yet people had lived here for years before the Spanish arrived.
For lunch, I tried a bit of alpaca meat, a test for a vegetarian like myself, but a cultural experience. Maria pointed out different herbs and plants along the second part of the trek that natives used for healing purposes. I grabbed a handful of the tummy taming plant and sniffed at it for the rest of the hike. Our guide was fantastic at caring for us exhausted travelers, while carrying on a conversation in Spanish with me about the ‘culture of domination’ prevalent in Peruvian society. And my boyfriend was thankful to have someone to answer his questions in English.
By the time we reached camp, it was beginning to get dark. So after dropping off our pack in our bamboo hut, we jumped in the fresh water pool, which felt great and sufficed for our daily shower. Both my boyfriend and I were feeling a bit under the weather, which made an 8:30pm bedtime an excellent idea. My favorite part about this remote oasis was the stars in the southern sky. It was overwhelming how bright and dense the stars were. It was the first time in my life that I can honestly say I have seen the Milky Way.
We left our oasis at 5 am for a 3 hour, 3 km hike straight up the mountain. As older ladies in leather sandals barreled down the mountain for the 10,000th time in their life, with mules leading of course, we gladly took a break and stepped out of their way. With a bit of hard work, we made it to the top of the canyon, feeling a sense of gratitude for the legs that carried us all the way to the top.