Rambling into the Colca Canyon

Early Stages of the Trek down to Sangalle in the Colca Canyon

The descent into the canyon started around midday.

The excitement of the new natural surroundings, combined with a bright sun, wilted my fatigue and altitude induced nausea.

I’d slept at 3,635 meters or 9,843 feet above sea level in Chivay the night before.  There I’d woken up dizzy, cold and nauseated. 

But all that was gone.  I was where I enjoyed being, walking in nature.  I made sure to do extra yoga sessions in the days prior as I knew that my legs would be in for a heavy-duty workout.

The Path Just After Setting off From CabanacondeThis flat part of the path wouldn’t last for more than a half an hour.  Even though there’s no ascending or descending here, you have to be  careful about not twisting an ankle. I didn’t see it happen, but I didn’t see many people either.  

On the three hour walk down, I ran into one person, an older French gentleman who was heading up in the opposite direction.  He had an altitude gauge on his watch and told me that I was one-tenth of the way down.  it was tough to measure the distance to Sangalle with my eyes.  I was impressed by the man’s fitness and hiking ability as he must have been in his early 60s.   

We had a conversation for maybe 10 minutes, when I had to bid him adieu.  I couldn’t make enough sense of what he was saying through the thick French that was embedded in his Spanish.

Coming to Where the Descent Would BeginHere you can see how dry this part of the canyon appears.  Apparently rainy season should have started this month, but it hasn’t yet.  This was lucky for me as I didn’t have to worry about slipping and falling like at slippery Tayrona.

I walked and walked, stopping to admire the views, drink water, and ponder on the natural beauty, and the nature vibes I felt, while slowly stepping down into the unknown.

I’d often stop and turn my android back on to take a few shots, before turning it off to save the battery.  There was  no electricity where I was going.

A Piece of PathIt’s a straightforward path.  It’s just important to watch where you’re walking.  I was glad to be hiking solo. It gave me the freedom to stop and take in the scenery as I felt fit.

Which Way Do I Go?Here the oasis looks closer than it really is.  I took a guess and went right here.  I think I ended up at the cheaper accommodation.  I was told there are five hotels/resorts/posadas. Call them what you will.

Mystical Canyon FormationsI could feel the oasis getting much closer now.  The calf muscles that had never descended almost 1,200 meters or 3,936 feet in a few hours were aware that this was a first.

I gazed at this canyon wall and found the infinite shapes enticing.  Then I just wanted to get down and complete my hike and enjoy a few hours in the oasis, before darkness set its claustrophobic cover.

The Canyon Oasis of SangalleHere I was very close to the canyon oasis of Sangalle, where I’d relax and eat before trying to rest the weariness that would regain its momentum.

The resort I had all to MyselfAs I walked along the fringes of the oasis, a man approached ensuring that he had a bed.  I took it.   Dinner would be ready at 7 pm.  

I had the yard to myself while looking up at walls in each direction.  Civilization was four hours straight up, but not until the next day.  Until then I was in a giant chasm, to feel trapped, or completely at ease, whichever scenario I chose.

The earth’s natural art was beautiful.  Water flowed constantly, almost masking the sometimes whizzing wind.  I watched the strong breeze blow the fruitful nature of the small valley floor.

I took it all in while lying in the fresh, dark, green grass.

Set down and away from the dry, brown, cactus riddled mountains,  the oasis is perfectly fertile.  The greenery boasts other budding colors.  There are fruit trees and herb plants.  Most if not all of the food served at the resorts is organic and from the oasis.

I was reminded of a late spring day, except, I was at the bottom of a huge canyon.  

My legs began to stiffen from the walk down.  The altitude adjustment started to consume my fatigued head again. 

The Hostel RoomUsually I enjoy having a hostel room to myself.  During the day it was fine to be the only one in the resort.  I talked to the co owner while eating the Spaghetti, soup and tea that she’d prepared.  Then I retired to my dark room.  The bottom of the canyon felt spooky.

As mentioned, there was no electricity.  As I lay in bed listening to the wind and water and other sounds of the oasis, a small part my ayahasca experience returned.  I was reminded of being in the shaman’s home, and the sounds of spirits.  

My fatigue felt heavy.  I felt claustrophobic.  I got up with my flashlight and went to the bathroom, like I did at the medicine woman’s house in the jungle.

I wandered in the yard and up to the pool area as a partial moon lit up a bit of the valley.

I was in an enclosed area. I felt nauseated, held down, trapped, exhausted.    I wanted to take my flashlight and hike up to the town of Cabanaconde.  I knew that was irrational and almost impossible. I had to stay till sunrise.

I returned to my bed and was very fortunately asleep within a minute, not to wake up until a bit after sunrise. I’d gotten a deep night’s sleep.

The tentative plan was to hike from Sangalle to Yawar, another oasis deep down within the canyon.  That’d be about 7 hours of ascending and descending over and over.  Instead I opted to walk back up to Cabanaconde, the same way I came down.  At this point I felt fine being in at the bottom of the canyon, but I wasn’t ready to entertain the idea of another night on a small valley floor.

Just after starting the ascent at around 6.30 am, I was offered a mule.  The man explained that with a mule it would take two hours, and walking would be four.

Plenty of Mules For the AscentI’ve always felt fit enough to tackle any trek, so I opted to walk.  Riding a mule felt like cheating.

As the altitude got higher, the soroche or altitude sickness came back, and got worse as I went up.  You’re supposed to take time in a place to acclimate.  I should have spent two days in Cabanaconde to acclimate before exerting myself.  

Hiking straight up a canyon requires exertion and adrenalin, something you’re not supposed to do until you’re used to the altitude.

By the time I made it to the top all I wanted to do was take my nausea to bed.  But I made it in time to get the five hour bus ride back to Arequipa which is at a comfy, non nauseating altitude.

A Place to Store Your BagThis is one corner of the small plaza in Cabanaconde.  To the right you see a little hostel.  To the left is a small store where you can leave your bag for a couple of soles.  You see the light blue chair; go in there and the lady will be more than happy to hang on to your bag if you ask her.  If you use this option I suggest you buy water for the trek from her and not someone else.  The opposite side of the plaza, diagonally, is where the trek to Sangalle starts.

COSTS

My bed cost 12 Soles or $4.32.  The shower was a one-minute walk away and the water was very hot.  I paid 2 Soles or $.72 to rent a towel. The spaghetti with soup and tea cost 10 Soles or $3.60.  The local bus ride from Arequipa to Cabanaconde cost about 17 Soles or  $6.13. The only thing that’s a little bit expensive is the recently added charge to enter the canyon from Cabanaconde.    About 15 minutes into the walk, before the descent, a man approached  and charged me 70 Soles or $25.23 which is shockingly high for rural Perú, but that’s life.  

24 Responses to Rambling into the Colca Canyon

  1. Agness says:

    I’m truly amazed by this stunning landscape and crystal clear sky. Adding it to my bucket list!

  2. Freya says:

    I really want to return to Peru to visit the Colca Canyon and Arequipa. When I was in Peru last May, all time was focussed around doing acclimatization hikes in the Sacred Valley and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but there’s so much more to see and do in Peru. I definitely need to return. It looks like a wonderful hike and your photos are stunning. Sorry you did not feel well but glad to see you got over it once you made it back to Arequipa. Happy New Year !

    • Mike says:

      FREYA: Thanks! I haven’t even heard of acclimation hikes, but I sure could have used a couple. :-) Actually the places you can visit in Perú seems endless, especially all those places way up in the mountains.

  3. memographer says:

    Ah-h-h! Beautiful views, Mike! I miss hiking so much.
    Happy New Year full of great adventures!

  4. INCREDIBLE photos. Wish I was there…

  5. David says:

    Hi Mike, Nice “trip”. So the “spirts” came back to visit you. That is a good sign I would say………I walked from my desk to the bathroom a few times today, but I did not need my flashlight..

    • Mike says:

      DAVID: Ha ha! I know you’d love to be out there walking in the mountains, soon enough again is my guess.

      ‘Hmm, a good sign, I’ll have to look into that. Fortunately I was so tired that I was able to fall asleep quickly. That was good because I realized that I get claustrophobic at the bottom a canyon at night. Whether it was spirits or my imagination or a combo, that aya return of sorts enhanced the feeling of being closed in.

      • David says:

        Yes I miss the mountain days you know it. I remember our Hike, but what mtn was it in franconia notch?.. I will be back up to northern NH to hike soon in the next few years…have done local little hikes with my kids…right now we are having a blizzard and will get about 10 – 15 inches of snow..Have fun MIKE !

        • Mike says:

          DAVID: I honestly miss the snow believe it or not. I’m sure your kids love it. All of a sudden I find myself heading south, into the South American summer, seriously I’d prefer a blizzard now because it’s been so long. The grass is always greener…

          I forget which mountain it was as I wasn’t documenting back then unfortunately.

  6. The views and the sense of accomplishment are worth it.

  7. Shing says:

    You always manage to transport me to the places you write about Mike. The time you had at the hostel sounds quite surreal and uneasy but and I’m glad you managed to talk yourself out of going to Cabanaconde in the middle of the night! I think you described how testing solo travel can be at times.

    • Mike says:

      SHING: Thanks! Attempting that hike at night would have been dangerous, cold and beyond foolish. I’m glad that reasoning and the feeling of exhaustion won the crazy idea over. :-)

      Interesting point: travel is often far from glamorous, like everything it has its constant flux of ups and downs.

  8. Maria says:

    Mike those paths look scary yet exhilarating and the views are stunning.

    Nice crash pad too btw.

    I lived at altitude for a couple of years – sounds like you suffered a little from altitude sickness and if you’re not going down the mountain then drink 2x the amount of water you think you need… it’ll help you avoid headaches and nausea.

    • Mike says:

      MARIA: Thanks! Yes, water is the elixir of life. I should have had more for the way up. I ran out when I was almost at the top and that really hurt me. More water and breakfast would have helped. The problem is when you feel the altitude you don’t think you feel like a lot of water, but it’s the key for sure!

  9. Al says:

    Thanks for another armchair adventure for those of us stuck outside the drifting life. That island of green looked amazing, the sheer contrast between the lush environment and bone-dry desert containing it, wow!

    • Mike says:

      AL: Thanks! Yes, serious contrast, I told the French guy that I’d never seen anything like it. He was like: “Ah but Nepal, they have this there too.” I thought: Of course, what you see in the Andes you’re bound to come across in the Himalayas.

  10. TheTuscan says:

    I’ve never been particularly comfortable with French culrure, but one thing they’re for sure not lacking is spirit of adventure.
    What a wonderful hike! It feels strange to me to see all that green at such an altitude…

    • Mike says:

      TUSCAN: I try to believe that people are people, that nationalities are mere labels, but it’s impossible for me to understand the historical rivalry you guys have with your close neighbors, the French. :-)

      The small, fertile valley oasis sits at 2,180 meters above sea level, a drop of 1,107 meters from Cabanaconde above, where the terrain is rough and dry. These numbers are according to a Colca Trekking Map. Depending on where you get the info, the numbers change a little bit, but you get the gist. :-)

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