Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Colca Canyon: In

All sorts of hyperbole describe the Colca Canyon. By someone's warped metric it's over 10,000 feet deep (but you can hike from what sure looks like a rim to the bottom in less than 3,000 feet), it's swarming with man-eating condors (they are scarce, and they could probably only eat a small child at best), it has towns and hostels in its depths with nicknames like “Paradise” and “Eden.” Canyonwise, it's not too bad. It's no Grand Canyon, but it's a pretty darn good one.

Despite the siren promises of the 1.5 million tourist agencies in Arequipa, we escaped to hike by our own devices. We left Cabanaconde, a few hours later we arrived in San Juan de Chuccho.

Leaving Cabanaconde
From arequipa and colca

Baby-eating condor

Even 60 years ago, the towns on the north side of the canyon probably seemed unremarkable, apart from their spectacular position. But now, to my modern urban eyes, they are in a kind of quaint stasis, many without electricity, all without cars, relying on gravity-fed aqueducts for their water. We followed the aqueduct up to the hostel in San Juan and ate a dinner of textured vegetable protein by candlelight. The next morning, we trailed the hostel owner's son out of town, to San Juan's school. Four students attend.

We passed through the larger and more metropolitan Coshñirua and Malata, then started uphill towards Fure. The sun was unrelenting, so when the path changed aspect and a pool of shade appeared, we quickly sat down and took off our boots. A moment later, a Peruvian appeared and sat beside us. We offered him some banana chips. He munched on the chips, then asked if I spoke Spanish. I foolishly answered yes, and before I knew it I was the recipient of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical screed. Apart from learning that the Pope has the mark of the beast tattooed on his head (presumably that's why he has to wear the hat), I learned that the rapture was imminent. Isn't it always?

My neck was stiffening, but I was helpless with my socks and boots off to make a graceful exit. Fortunately, Erin took the initiative and began packing her bag so I started tying my boots while I dumbly nodded along with the apocalyptic Bad News. We stood up and started backing away slowly and he took the hint that his congregation was going to move. He offered to accompany us to the trail junction, but we demurred. We breathed a sigh of relief as he disappeared around the corner. The book of Revelations has got to be the most abused book in the Bible.

Pooping misadventures of the cactus kind. (Editor's note: this marks the second such misadventure of Gringo Tur.)

Threatening to dash myself on rocks in the Río Huaruro after the apocalypse hour.

Fure has a dramatic entrance. It's tucked into a fold in the canyon of the river Huaruro, invisible until you are right upon it and the guardian waterfall that towers over it. We crossed the waterfall and met Lucy, who took us to her family's hostel. After playing with her younger sisters and brothers for what seemed like an eternity (one we nearly had to throw into the river to be rid of), we had dinner.

Despite what it looks like, I don't like kids. Almost had to toss him into the river.

Fure and its waterfall

We brought a bag of pasta and some sauce to help sooth our consciences. Even though we paid for dinner, it still seemed unfair to eat their food that takes so much effort to supply. It's ten hours round-trip and 5000 feet elevation gain to Cabanaconde to bring food in by mule. Erin remarked to Lucy that she'd enjoy living somewhere without the devil's contrivances of electricity and cars. Lucy smiled politely and said that she wouldn't mind a little electricity. I told them that they should trade places.

Lucy's parents collect cochineal besides housing the occasional tourist. Cochineal are aphid-like bugs that feed on sap from the prickly-pear cactus. When crushed, they turn a deep red. Besides being the traditional dye for cloth in the Andes, they are used in food and cosmetics. It takes over 100,000 beetles to make a kilo, which wholesales for US$80. It sounds like hard work.

Cochineal on a cactus outside of Lucy's house

Campaign promises of electricity, irrigation and roads

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, Can you bring back some red aphid dyed cloth? There also appear to be many (wild or cultivated?) bright red Geraniums in many of your photographs. Red must a favored color.