Posts Tagged ‘trekking’

Trekking Colca Canyon

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

One of the most popular tours available in Arequipa is a Colca Canyon trek. There are options for two, three or four day treks. The afternoon I arrived in Arequipa I didn’t fancy the thought of getting up at 3am next morning to do a three day trek. I chose instead to spend the day in Arequipa and do just a two day trek. It actually follows the same route as the three day trek but covers two thirds of the distance on the first day and the final third on the second day.

It still involved a 3am start on the first day. True to form the 03:00-03:30 minibus pick-up actually happened at 03:45. I could have had almost an extra hour in bed…

Colca Canyon is the deepest in the world and is several hours drive from Arequipa. Our first stop after about three hours was for breakfast. Roughly an hour later we reached Cruz del Condor on the canyon rim, often a good place to see condors. We joined many other bus loads of tourists, lined up along the edge of the canyon with cameras at the ready. On a good day there are fifteen to twenty birds seen. We only saw four. The guides said this was probably because a helicopter had entered the canyon the previous day and disturbed the birds. Helicopters don’t normally enter the canyon but this one had to recover the body of a boy who was lost there 200 days previously. We may have only seen four but they were magnificent. Once again a longer lens would have been very useful. The birds soared effortlessly along the canyon wall, riding the thermals. The thing that impressed me most was the size of the shadow they cast on the sloping canyon rim.

Some distance further along the road to Cabanaconde the bus dropped us off and we split into groups depending on whether we were doing the two or three day trek. There were four others in my group, Rick, Marika, Annie and Laetitia. Huber, our guide, explained the itinerary to us and we set off. We descended about 1200m vertically into the canyon and travelled about seven kilometres before reaching San Juan de Chuccho, the village where we stopped for lunch. The three day trekkers spent the afternoon and stayed the night there. Us more hardy, or foolish, two-day trekkers continued for another three and a half hours along the canyon to Sangalle for our dinner and overnight stop. Sangalle is also known as “the Oasis”.

During the wet season from December to March the terraces are full of crops and the dead looking scrub and cacti turn a wonderful green. At this time of year the canyon looks pretty barren.“The Oasis” is the exception. Water from a geothermal spring above the level of the river supplies a small oasis where there are trees, bushes and lush green grass all year round. We arrived hot and sweaty and caked in dust. There are a few “resorts” here. There is no electricity, the accommodation is extremely basic and the spring provides the running water for the showers and swimming pools. Unfortunately by the time the water reaches the resorts it has cooled from about 35 degrees to only 18-20 degrees. If not for this then “the Oasis” would be an idyllic spot and no-one would ever want to leave. The three-day trekkers get to spend the whole afternoon of their second day here.

We were up at 5am next morning for the eight kilometer trek out of the canyon to Cabanaconde. The trick is to do as much of the 1200m ascent before the sun comes over the canyon rim as possible. Most people took between two and two and a half hours to reach the canyon rim. The slowest struggled out in about three hours. The fastest took only an hour and a half; obviously younger and fitter than me. After breakfast in Cabanaconde the minibus drove us to hot baths a short distance from Chivay. There were five separate pools, four outdoors and one indoors which really were hot – between 35 and 42 degrees. We spent an hour there, two or three hours and a massage would have been really nice. After lunch in Chivay we drove back to Arequipa with a couple of photo stops.

Our guide, Huber, was very entertaining and informative and the whole tour was really good. The first day was very long and quite tiring. For anyone reading this and considering doing a Colca Canyon trek I’d recommend doing the three day one. There are dozens of agencies offering basically the same tours for almost identical prices. The differences are in the choice of operator and quality of services included. I booked through my hostel (Sol de Oro) and happily recommend them and the operator they used (I did email the hostel and ask which operator it was; they answered a different question. So much for my Spanish.)

In the jungle

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

The plan was to have a day in Chiang Mai before going trekking but when we arrived at BMP Residence they were keen for us to join the group leaving the next morning. Two nights and a day in relatively comfy accommodation after the trek sounded appealing so we agreed. We just had time to drop our bags in our room before the briefing meeting with our guide, Joshua, and our trek mates Julian, Chiraz, Renee and Chiara.

On Thursday morning we checked out, left some laundry at reception, put our bags in the store room, ate breakfast and set off in the back of a pickup for our trek. On the way out of Chiang Mai we passed a big Tesco Lotus store and a Makro. The road gradually got narrower as we left the city and reached the countryside. First stop was a market to buy any last minute essentials. A poncho seemed like it might be useful. A couple of hours after leaving we were definitely in the countryside bumping down a single track road with fields both sides. We passed a handful of low lying rice paddies under irrigation with young rice growing. Most of the paddies won’t have rice in until the rainy season starts in a few weeks time. There were lots of orchards but I couldn’t tell what kind of trees they were. Suddenly the air was full of yellow tissue paper. A few fluttered through the pickup – butterflies!

About two and a half hours after leaving the hotel we reached the start of the trail we’d be trekking. We set off under the full midday sun, following and frequently crossing the path of a small stream. After about half an hour or so we stopped for lunch at a small farm. Cows surrounded our lunch table after we sat down and stared at us inquisitively. It felt like we were the animals in the zoo and they’d come to look at us. One of the calves sucked and licked the salt from a rucksack strap.

After lunch the going got a little harder. Still mostly level but the jungle was a little thicker. A long way from impenetrable rain forest but thick enough to require a bit of concentration on where to place feet or duck branches. Walk or look at the scenery or take photos but not more than one of these safely at a time.

A couple of hours later we were going more uphill with thunder rumbling in the distance and continued that way until we reached the Karen hill tribe village where we’d be spending the night. Big spiders and big plants were the theme for the day so far as I could tell. There are some photos in my RTW2011 set on Flickr. Our accommodation was a dormitory hut on stilts with room for twelve people. Soon after we arrived the rain started and fell for an hour or more. Compare and contrast the accommodation for our hosts and the crazy foreigners: close fitting wood planks and galvanised steel roof versus draughty bamboo walls and leaky leaf roof. The floor in the hut was bamboo matting over bamboo joists. Holes in the matting made some parts of the hut unusable. Actually the roof only leaked in a couple of places, one of them just happened to be directly over Hannah’s sleeping mat. The mosquito nets were doubles so we moved our mats under a free net where the roof wasn’t leaking. Later we discovered the net wasn’t actually big enough to properly enclose two mats so we moved back to our original position and hoped for no more rain. The weather gods were kind and the night stayed dry.

Next morning we did a lot of sitting around twiddling our thumbs before finally setting off at about 10:30, or “9:00-9:30” Thai time. Some of us thought it would have been sensible to leave earlier and not be walking during the hottest part of the day but never mind. We spent the morning going uphill and in the early afternoon we heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. Joshua picked up the pace a bit which made it a bit too fast for some but was fine for me. We crested the ridge we had been climbing and started downhill, quite steep and a bit slippery in places. The theme for the day was even bigger spiders and waterfalls. We arrived at our overnight stop – a Karen farm – at about 16:00 and it still wasn’t raining. There was a hut where the farmer lived, a dormitory hut for about a dozen people, five huts for two people each and a toilet hut. Hmmm, no shower. But wait! Joshua hurried us into swimming costumes and a hundred metres further along the river to bathe under the waterfall we could hear roaring but hadn’t yet seen. He was keen for us to use the waterfall before the rain started and the river turned muddy. We hadn’t expected that when we set off in the morning. The water was a little cold at first but OK once we got used to it. It was very picturesque and a real pleasure to be in our own little paradise splashing around under the waterfall. We hauled ourselves out to dry out on the warm rocks. Dinner was excellent just as it had been the night before. The weather gods continued to smile on us and there was no rain except a light shower overnight, but it was delivered with a lot of lightning and the rumble of thunder.

On our final morning we set off again after a filling breakfast of boiled eggs, a mountain of toast, butter, jam and tea. Only an hour and a half of walking brought us to a waiting pickup truck and we were ferried to our lunch stop where we were joined by a couple of Brit girls and an American guy. After lunch we did an elephant ride and went bamboo rafting. Two people per elephant and three per raft. Our elephant or it’s mahout seemed to have a bit of an independent mind. While the others stuck to the gentle slopes ours liked to show off how steep a hill it could manage. Songkran was still in the locals’ minds and there was lots of splashing as we passed them on the banks and on rafts. This time we could join in so it was much more fun. Soaked after the rafting we dried off and took about an hour in the pickup to return to Chiang Mai.