A trek into the world´s deepest canyon

Residents we encountered during our hike down into the canyon


We went on a 3 day hike into Colca Canyon in Peru, which is 13,650 feet deep, nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Both the Guinness Book of Records and National Geographic have proclaimed it the deepest canyon in the world. As we trekked down to the bottom of it we did agree that it´s deep, but it isn´t particularly beautiful.

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The kitchen stove where we stayed one night. It´s made of adobe and only about 5 years old.  Note both the holes in the surface that the pots sit on, and the way the firewood sticks out, because they don´t have chain saws.

The kitchen stove where we stayed one night. It´s made of adobe and only about 5 years old. Note both the holes in the surface that the pots sit on, and the way the firewood sticks out, because they don´t have chain saws.


One of the things we found interesting about Colca Canyon was the people who have been living down there from before the time of the Incas. For some communities, the only access is by mule or on foot, but roads are being constructed at this very moment, low wattage electricity became available about 5 years ago, and cable TV became available last year. Also, tourism has jumped from a few thousand in the 1990´s to 150,000 in 2010.


For thousands of years the people farmed small stepped fields irrigated by aqueducts, and herded alpacas and llamas.

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A couple of moms and their kids meet on the trail.


Now many ancient homes stand empty. Our guide, Omar, explained that a fairly new law requires that all children attend high school from the age of 11 through 15. The only schools are in larger cities. Frequently one or both parents accompany the students. The net result is that both the students and their parents experience city life and frequently don´t return to the Canyon.

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Colca Canyon is home to a large group of Andean condors, located in a place called La Cruz del condor. With a wing span of up to 10´ 6″

they are one of the world´s largest birds. They are the national symbol of 6 South American countries and they play a deservedly important role in mythology. For the Incas, condors represented the upper world of the Gods. In Colca canyon they gather to soar where the winds generate a nice updraft for them. They mate for life, and live about 50 years.

We were told that sometimes when one of a pair dies, its mate commits suicide by flying high and then diving into the ground.  At one point they were endangered here, so some of the Andean baby condors were taken to California to take advantage of  the preservation program there.  After awhile the condors were brought back to South America.  A 48 second video is here.

 

 

Omar our guide

Omar our guide


Our guide, Omar, was raised in Colca Canyon by his grandparents. He told how one day, when he was about 8 years old, his grandpa said “let´s go for a walk”, put a few snacks in a satchel, and headed up a trail. They walked and walked. As it started to grow dark they were into the snow near the top of one of the peaks towering above the valley. It was then that his Grandfather told him to stop and look out over the whole valley. Then they dropped down a bit and collected some dung and dead cactus to burn. Omar put his sandals near the fire to dry them out. In the night he awoke to a bad smell, and realized his sandals, which were made from old tires, had curled up into little useless shapes, so he had to walk home barefoot the next day.


Omar taught us about many of the plants and animals:

Red pepper tree

  • Red pepper tree
  • You can pick one of the tiny red berries, rub the red color off, and then bite the black seed. It has a sweet peppery taste at first and then turns bitter so you spit it out right after the bite.
  • Crush up the leaves for a smell that opens up the blood vessels for better oxygenation
  • Rub the leaves on your skin for mosquito repellent
  • Crush the leaves and mix with Coca for a salve to reduce inflammation.

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  • Cochina is a bug growing on the palmate Nopal cactus leaves in a white powdery nest
    • Their blood is used as a die for lipstick, and it is combined with baby pee to die fabrics
    • People collect and sell it. 1 Killo sells for about $50.
Char and Omar show off the Chacana symbol Omar tatooed with blood from the Colchina bug found on cactus leaves

Char and Omar show off the Chacana symbol Omar tatooed with blood from the Colchina bug found on cactus leaves

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  • You can make juice from the cactus leaf. It tastes terrible but it is good for gastric problems
Tuna

Tuna fruit on the left is very similar to our prickly pear.  Sancayo fruit is on the right.

  • Sancayo is a round cactus fruit with spikes from which you can make a Colca sour by getting the juice and combining with pisco and sugar. The fruit looks like kiwi fruit (green with black seeds) but tastes way different. To be honest, We didn´t think it was any better than a standard pisco sour.

.The hike out


All good things have to end, and this one ended with a 4 hour hike straight up.  We started at 4:30 AM, literally before the cock crowed, in the pitch black with headlamps, to avoid the heat and allow time for exploring on the way “home”.

More favorite photos are below.

Click on one to go into slide show mode with captions.

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