Before heading to the volcanic stone-town of Arequipa, we thought we’d spend a day hiking the “nearby” Colca Canyon. Perhaps this section of Lonely Planet was a bit vague or we just wanted to believe this could be done in a day trip, but this town was about two connections and two days away by bus. We realized this only after we landed at the halfway point in northern Nowheresville. This day seemed like it was turning out to be our first botched endeavor of the HoneyTrek but instead it became one of our favorite adventures to date.
We were about two hours from the start of Colca, the deepest canyon in the world (at 13,650 feet, it’s more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), so we sucked up our pride and shelled out the dough for a private car. Our driver was actually enrolled in tour-guiding school so he was quite knowledgeable about the area and how to maneuver the curves…and cows in the road.
The cross placed at the start of Colca Canyon, filled with condors soaring in its updraft, gives this lookout point its name, Cruz del Condor. It happened to be a saint day so a group of locals had adorned it with flowers and gathered for a service. We stood in the back, mentally translating the Spanish sermon, admiring the intricate embroidery of the ladies’ garb, and noticing the bottle of jungle juice being passed around the crowd while some celebratory bottle rockets were going off. Church has never looked so fun.
We took the short hike around the ridge, carefully peeking down to the river below while trying not get pushed over by our canine escort.
Though this wasn’t the smartest idea, this little ledge hovering over the canyon was calling our name. To feel the wind pushing up from the bottom, mixed with a little vertigo made this vantage point quite a rush.
We continued our drive popping into small towns like the stone village of Yanqui. Most of the old houses were crumbling beneath their weight or had been overtaken by creeping vines…two of our favorite characteristics for a self-guided photo hunt.
Passing through the village of Achoma, we got pulled over. Not by a cop but a band of dancing elderly Peruvians. A cute old lady literally comes to our window and says, “Ven aqui. Vamos a bailar!” Essentially, get out and dance. Before you know it, Mike and I had a pint of homebrew in our hand and we are doing the South American Hava Nagila. For some reason they kept telling us to drink faster, just thinking they wanted to get us completely trashed but then we realized there was only one glass for the entire group (germaphobes, try not to think about it) and we were hogging our turn with our cautious sips. Down the hatch it went. Then the ancient shot master comes up to us, he insists on having corn liquor shooters with him. So within the hour we were proper tipsy, rocking out to this strange triangular harp-guitar with our 30 best new amigos. Classic.
Having so much fun, this couple insisted we stay the night in their house. Though we were tempted to abandon our driver, miss our bus back, and spend a raucous night in the village, we decided it was best to go while the going was good.
Finally we get back to Arequipa and pick the cheapest hostel in the book. When we told the taxi driver where we were going, he literally said “are you sure you want to stay THERE?” We started to have second thoughts but got there and realized this towering pink complex had the best views in town! Using all three of our roof decks, we enjoyed our breakfast each day looking out to the snow-capped El Misti volcano that hovers over town.
The star attraction of Arequipa is the historic Santa Catalina Monastery. Founded in 1579 by the Dominican order and built entirely out of sillar volcanic stone, this five-acre plot houses three cloisters, a network of streets, a square, church, art gallery and eighty houses where the nuns lived…and some still do. Walking through this walled city is like slipping into an abandoned world.
The Santa Catalina nuns were famous for their baking so most of the apartments had these incredible kitchens with their cast iron pots and wooden spoons still out and ready for a bake-off.
The central square with arched passageways along its perimeter, grand fountain, and cathedral was spectacular. We stopped to admire the church one last time before we caught our overnight bus to Cusco, the Inca Capital.