Tuesday, July 05, 2011


At the moment, Jason and I and nine other travelers are huddled on the side of a mountain road 40 minutes outside of Chivay. Being stuck here for the foreseeable future, I immediately wrapped my scarf over my head refugee-style, and we each claimed a patch of dust to wait with our belongings for the hopeful return of the van.

We have actually been enjoying the tour up until now. We have seen everything we wanted to see, the guide didn't make us dwell too long at the "villages' (i.e. souvenir stands), and he has been good about moving the group along and keeping to a tight schedule.

The journey from Arequipa to Chivay takes about 3.5 hours and crosses over an incredibly high pass, as you saw. It was fun to walk about in the snow on the 4th of July, and the terrain was covered with stacks of rocks left by wish-making travelers, which gave the entire scene a delightfully eerie feeling.

We stopped at one point and hiked to a bridge stretched over the Rio Colca where Ali, the guide, pointed out the storehouses built into the side of the canyon walls. The local language calls the storehouses "Colca" - hence everything in this valley having that name.

The hot springs we visited in the late afternoon were essentially warm swimming pools. They had 5 different pools, and although Jason, the Belgians, and I tried three different ones, we couldn't really discern a temperature difference and they certainly weren't as hot as Jason and I hoped they would be. Still, it was fun to lounge a bit in the warm water, especially given how cold we were to become.

The tour included an optional folk show last night, but between Ali's promises that they would make us get up and dance, his description of a "very funny Parkinson's dance", and the other travelers' lackluster reviews of similar shows, we opted instead to go out to dinner with the Belgians at the first place we found that looked decent in the main square.

The food was only decent, but the company was nice. The young woman is a pre-school teacher, which led to many comparisons between our experiences in the profession in the two countries. The young man is an engineer who has worked drudging jobs in Dubai and other interesting places. They were both amazed by the idea of living so far away from our families, of traveling like this, and by how much Americans pay for college. It was also highly entertaining when a group of Dutch tourists sat at the table next to ours and the Belgians gleefully mocked their "strange accents."

After dinner Jason and I went back to the hotel to get my iPad for some stargazing. It was the first night without cloud cover since we got here, and the stars were magnificent despite the street lamps above us and the bus headlights that kept blinding us. We could see the Milky Way and, thanks to Star Walk, identified many of the constellations we don't normally get to see.

(Side note: and now it's raining on us refugees! Must pause typing to save iPad from moisture!

...Okay, I am now holding my umbrella telephone-style between my shoulder and chin to keep typing. Hopefully a sudden gust of wind doesn't take it down the canyon. Back to the story:)

We went to bed fairly early, huddled under the apparently now-requisite many layers of clothing and blankets. Breakfast was at 5:30 the next morning, so we dutifully set the alarm for 4:30 so we could both shower.

When the alarm went off, neither of us was inclined to leave our warm beds to brave the cold, cold room, but Jason, gentleman that he is, got up to shower first. I stayed semi-awake, figuring I would get up when I heard the shower turn off.

The sound of the running water stopped, but Jason stepped out of the bathroom fully dressed surprisingly fast. "There's no hot water," he announced grimly.

Much griping ensued about the hotel, the weather, the state of a nation with a high-but-not-very-high HDI. Just as Jason finished getting ready for the day and I summoned the courage to get out from under the covers, our wake-up knock came at the door. Jason asked about the hot water, and the hotel worker assured us that they had just turned it on. I tested it, and sure enough we had hot water... 10 minutes before we were both supposed to leave for breakfast. Jason opted to go without showering, since he was already ready for the day. I hopped in and enjoyed the warmth as quickly as I could.

The tour van picked us up at 6:00 so we could get to the Cruz del Condor by 8:00, prime bird-watching time, apparently. The road to the condor spot was unpaved, despite it's popularity with tour groups. All through the bumpy ride Ali warned us that we might not see condors, fickle animals that they are.

But see them we did! We had about 90 minutes to watch them, and by the end there were five or six condors circling over the canyon with some hawks. I'm not an avid bird fan, but it was pretty spectacular to see such big birds in their natural habitat. I'll attach some of the many, many pictures I took.

Back in the van for a bumpy ride back down the canyon (which, by the way, is the third deepest canyon in the world), we stopped in Chivay once more for lunch.

We were about 30 minutes outside of Chivay when one of the tour group members figured out that she had left her Blackberry back in Chivay. After a lot of discussing, the driver pulled over to the side of the road and Ali ordered everyone out. He explained that the van would be able to travel faster without the extra weight, so only the young Americans who had forgotten the phone took off with the driver to go back to town while the rest of us wait here. Ali half-heartedly tried to keep us entertained by delivering a quick lecture about the local flora, but no one's especially interested. We are getting a lot of stares from other passing tour vans and buses, though, as the passengers thank heaven that they aren't the ones on the side of the road.

P.S. The van did return, the girl found her phone, I dismantled my Les Mis look, and we survived the 3.5 hour trip back to Arequipa. On to the next adventure!

Pre-Inca and Inca Terraces:
Terraces, etc

Rock Towers and Snow at Highest Point
Alien Landscape


Condor Again!

Condors Flying!

Refugee Jason

A Girl in the Plaza in Chivay

And finally, What was stuck in my head the whole time I was watching that girl.

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