Thursday, October 24, 2013
Puno to Colca Canyon – Peru
After two exceedingly frustrating days at the border trying to enter Bolivia, we have given up. We had already delayed our trip so the agent in Arequipa could get all the paperwork for the rental car to enter Bolivia. We first tried crossing at Cocacabana, only to have the custom people tell us we needed to cross at Desaguadero, which is two hours further. This is without doubt, the most chaotic, corrupt border we have ever encountered. As we waited we watched many people give the border patrol money to pass and even though we were prepared to pay the outrageous cost of $160.00 US dollars each way, we still could not get the paperwork advanced through their “system”. On the second day, by 4 pm, we had had enough. Even then, we had to pay $20.00 for them to give us our paperwork back. Bolivia is still on our list of places to visit but we have abandoned the idea for now. It has just been too much hassle. Instead we fall back on Plan B, which is to travel to the Colca Canyon region. We spend one more night in Puno while I make reservations. There is a lodge in Cabanaconde which sounds nice and is pet friendly. Leaving Juliaca was a police checkpoint. They pulled us over – not unusual, they ask for Tom’s license, also not unusual then… they tell us that the license in not legal in Peru and it is $100.00 US fine! Huh. We said “no”. They reiterated saying the fine was one hundred dollars. We stood our ground and said “No, we won’t pay you”. I pulled out the paperwork for the motorhome and told them we had entered Peru, been approved for driving and had been given the temporary import permit. I told them Tom’s license was legal. Eventually after about 15 minutes, they waved us on. What is wrong with this area in Peru? Do they think that they are so far from Lima that the rules don’t apply to them? I later did report both encounters, the one at the border and the checkpoint at Juliaca on a government website, but I’m not sure what good it will do. We shook it off and determined that it was not going to spoil our trip and settled in to enjoy the countryside. No passable roads existed into the canyon until the 1940s, when a road was completed to serve the silver and copper mines of the region. More roads were built in the 1970s and 1980s by the Majes Hydroelectric Project, a program to divert water from the Colca River to irrigate crops in the Majes region. However only parts are paved and the rest is a dirt and gravel road which in some areas was little more than a narrow trail cut into the side of the mountains. Slowly we made our way up the steep, winding passes before traversing the high plains of the vast, barren Reserva Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve. While crossing through the Patopampa Pass we reached the highest elevation achieved so far, 16035 feet or 5,010 meters above sea level. At this altitude most of the farming has been replaced by the raising of livestock; primarily llamas and alpaca with a few sheep and cattle thrown in. We also glimpse herds of the wild and very beautiful vicuna. From this high point, we gradually start our descent into Colca Canyon towards the main town of Chivay. Here we got our first glimpse of Colca’s manmade terraced fields stacked up like gigantic staircases on the steep canyon slopes. Many of the terraces date back to Inca times and most are still tended to by local farmers who grow crops such as potatoes, barley, beans and quinoa. Chivay is located at the midpoint of the Colca Valley and is the main entrance to the national park. After stopping at the guard house, paying the entrance fee, we get a map and ask directions to Cabanaconde. With our frequent stops along the way for photographs, bird watching and bathroom breaks for Winston, it is getting late and we want to be at the lodge before dark. From Chivay to Cabanaconde is about 40 miles but with the road conditions it will take us about two and a half hours, passing by a series of small villages. Cabanaconde sits on the canyon’s rim and is a smaller version of Chivay, getting only about one fifth of the tourist traffic. The streets in town are narrow and completely dug up. It is a mess with piles of dirt off to one side. We are later told that the streets are being prepared for cobblestones. So, anyone coming in about three years will have excellent streets but probably a lot more tourists. After checking into the lodge, we discover we are the only guests. Our room is lovely, opening to a gorgeous walled in garden, large enough for Winston to roam and be happy. We are asked what we would like for dinner and what time we want to eat. It is now almost seven, so we request dinner for eight which gives us enough time to clean up, walk and feed Winston and then walk him again. The dining room is set apart from the main lodge and has a beautiful table set up for us inside. Javier who assisted with our check in and luggage, is a man wearing many hats. He has changed into a tuxedo and will be our waiter also. He gets us seated and goes to check on dinner. We have both ordered the fresh catch of the day with rice and veggies. Returning, he brings a bottle of wine and generously pours two glasses. We toast. Memories of our earlier frustrating encounters slip away and are just that; memories. We are hungry and looking forward to dinner. In addition, we need to be up early in the morning, we have Andean Condors to seek out.