Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Colca Canyon to Arequipa – El Valle de los Volcanes - Peru

We got up early again to view the condors, again. Just like yesterday there were some sparse sightings between 6:30 and 8:15. Then for the next hour, they glided, soared and swooped, skimming along the canyon walls, then catching an updraft of thermal use it to climb higher only then to glide graciously overhead. They are magnificent and clearly visible from our vantage point. Afterward, we went back to the lodge where they had breakfast waiting. It was then time to checkout, say a fond goodbye to Jessica who had been our charming hospitality hostess and we were on our way. We decided to take the back way out of the canyon driving on a little used dirt track but which we were told would take us through some fantastic scenery. At this point the canyon is at its narrowest and runs the deepest until the tiny town of Huambo. The canyon reaches its greatest depth in this region, where from the river there is an elevation of 3,497 ft (1,066 m). Steep zigzagging paths wound up and down the canyon and again we marveled at how the farmers manage to cultivate the steeply terraced sides. But manage they do and every arable piece of land is used. Colca Canyon can be visited any time of year, but it is most beautiful at this time of year, springtime. During the rainy season through the summer months of November through January, active volcanoes are nearby and seismic activity can cause landslides or otherwise make the ground unstable and the roads impassable. Now, during the dry season the roads are simply very, very dusty. Leaving the hamlet of Huambo behind, we drive through an amazingly scenic area called El Valle de los Volcanes (the Valley of the Volcanoes) located at the foot of a large range in the Andes called the Nevado Coropuna. Here the valley floor is made up from ancient lava flows which is dotted by large cinder cones, some up to 250 feet high, lined along a major fissure in the earth. Each of the cinder cones and there are maybe around 100 of them were formed from a single eruption. This 65km (about 40 mile) drive through the valley gives us great views of not only Coropuna Volcano but also Volcan Sabancayo an active volcano and Ampato which is where a very famous ice mummy was found. There is a museum dedicated to the mummy dubbed “Juanita – the Ice Princess” in Arequipa which we will visit during our time in that city. At 20,630 feet (6,288 meters), Ampato is one of the highest mountains in the area and is now considered dormant. However the whole range seen together is snow capped and quite majestic. Even though the scenery and landscape are incredible, we were nevertheless happy to reach the paved road of the Panamericana Highway. It had taken us the better part of five hours to jostle and jolt the 160km (100 mile or so) from Colca Canyon. It is now easy sailing to Arequipa making a half circle around that city’s two spectacular, sentinel volcanoes, El Misti (5,822m) and Chachani (6,075m). Although we did notice that since we left, much of the snow atop of peaks has diminished substantially. We received a big welcome from German and Pablo the two guys that work at Las Mercedes, especially Winston who looked very happy to be home. As we unpacked, we looked at the car. “Think I need to wash it before taking it back” Tom said and I agreed. After all the traveling and the dirt roads the car was dusty both inside and out. But we both agreed that it had been a fun 10 days.

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