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The Second-Grandest Canyon

June 18, 2012

The day before we took leave from our adoptive family in Moquegua, the two kids, Maria Fernanda and Jhonatan, gave us a surprise farewell gift by washing Berenjenita while we weren’t looking.

Berenjenita hasn’t looked this clean since we left Lima!

We took a sunset stroll with Maria Fernanda after the car washing, to a lookout point over Moquegua, and tested the swinging wooden bridge just for thrills.

The next day, we made it to Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city. Arequipa is known for its signature dishes of rocoto relleno, a spicy pepper stuffed with minced meat, vegetables and sauce, which is normally served with pastel de papas, a kind of scalloped potato dish that satisfied my mac and cheese cravings:

And cuy chactado, deep fried guinea pig:

The city has a picturesque Plaza de Armas with a lovely cathedral on one side, and pretty, cobblestoned streets lined with colonial buildings.

The Volcan Misti looms above the city.

Arequipa is a short drive from the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!). That is, it’s a short drive if you take the normal, paved route from Arequipa to the town of Cabanaconde. We had heard from other overlanders that you could take a back route to Cabanaconde and avoid paying the $24-per-person entrance fee. We neglected to research the route sufficiently before setting out, and found ourselves on a gravelly, unpaved, washboard road an hour after leaving Arequipa.  Much of the way was uphill, climbing from 8,000 feet to 16,000 feet at the highest point, and it took us a full 7 hours to drive the 200 km to our destination. The last two hours, we were driving in the dark, which is something we try to avoid at all times. There’s a myriad of nighttime driving hazards in South America, ranging from herds of black cows hanging out all over the road; to people leaving big rocks as hazard warnings in the middle of the road when their cars break down and then failing to remove them once they leave the scene; to crazily caffeinated bus drivers who pass on blind curves. Luckily, the road we took was very lightly travelled, so we only had to deal with the cows and the rocks in the middle of the road. We finally made it to the canyon in the pitch black with an extra five pounds of dust on and in our van.

The Colca Canyon is full of wide open spaces – sometimes we felt like we were in the steppes of Mongolia:

deep green valleys:

snow-capped peaks:

bracingly cold, fresh air:

intricate Incan agricultural terraces:

and villagers walking around with their alpacas:

A few other interesting wild animals that can be seen in the area are giant hummingbirds, vicuñas (wild alpacas), Andean condors (boasting the largest wingspan of all land birds) and viscachas (high-altitude rabbit-type rodents with long tails). We saw a lot of domestic sheep, donkeys and llamas as well.

The nights are cold up here, so it’s easy to forget that it’s summertime back home. We’ve started using two duvets at night. Next up, we’re looking forward to visiting Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest-altitude lake, with floating villages on islands woven out of reeds, and Macchu Picchu — one of the New7Wonders of the World, and a lifelong dream for me.

No matter where we are, though, we still miss the ocean. It’s been several weeks that we’ve been far from waves, and every time we catch our breath at the beauty of the landscape around us, we can’t help thinking how much more perfect these places would be if they were located right beside a surf break.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2012 11:35 pm

    but was the guinea pig any good?

    • June 19, 2012 8:54 pm

      I don’t want to offend the lovers of cuy, but it was a little like duck, only more difficult to get meat off the bone.

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