Week 2 saw our intrepid quintet leave Arequipa and set out for Cabannaconde and the start of the Colca Canyon trek.
Seven hours on a bus later, we felt we hadn't gone far as nothing in Peru is close to anything else in Peru. When we finally did arrive in Cabannaconde, we decided to hike the closest mountain just because we hadn’t moved in seven hours. We belted Mama Mia at the top of our lungs on the way up, and that helped distract us from the fact that we still couldn't breathe when we tried to hike up. We then - naively - thought that we were prepared for the hike down through Colca Canyon to the oasis at the bottom. We were very, very wrong. Now, I really don’t want to scare anyone away from doing the hike in the future because we were all glad that we did it and proud of ourselves for getting to the bottom. However, I also don’t want to sugar-coat it and say the hike was a breeze and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because that would be a straight lie. In the words of Emma and Abi: “It was an experience, and we’re glad we did it, but we wouldn’t do it again”.The hike down was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Like, I cried. Twice. My toes hurt, my feet hurt, my calves hurt, my knees hurt, my thighs hurt. I had blisters between both my feet, and none of us could walk like normal human beings after we descended. We kind of looked like the aliens from the beginning of The Fifth Element. But like I said, literal sweat and tears aside, we were all immensely proud of ourselves for finishing. Plus the oasis was absolutely gorgeous. Lush and green with plenty of palm fronds and an actual avocado tree that kept terrorizing Davina and Abi (it kept grabbing Davina by the hair and whacking Abi in the face with hard little unripe avocados).
But I think the most amazing part that made the hike worth it was when we went stargazing. We must have been out there for at least an hour. We saw Mars, Venus, Neptune, and Saturn; two meteors and a satellite; we found all of our zodiac constellations. That alone was worth the cramp-y legs. Plus we rented horses for the trip back up (well, Abi, Emma, and I did). India and Davina walked back up. In their words: “Be prepared. Don’t forget your inhaler.” Fast forward another 7 hours on a bus (BUT THIS TIME WE SAW CONDORS) and our group (how many times can I say “intrepid quintet” before it gets old?) is back in Arequipa and on our way to see Juanita, the frozen Inca girl.
We learned the history of Inca ritual sacrifice and got to see a myriad of artifacts recovered from different volcanoes around Arequipa. We ended week 2 with a full-day trip to the Uros Islands and Tequile Island in celebration of Abi’s 19th birthday (we also had one very loud confetti cannon, some extraordinarily mismatched balloons, and a cake that we’re pretty sure had corn in it). The Uros Islands are the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca that have been around since about 500 BC. We got to see a demonstration of how they layer the reeds to keep water out; how they construct their houses; how they eat the ends of the reeds (tastes a bit like cucumber). We got to ride on the reed puma boats and get our passports “stamped”. We ended up making an inadvertent hike at Tequile Island from the harbor to the main plaza, but it ended up being totally worth the view. The locals fed us a light lunch of quinoa soup and trout (or omelets for the vegetarians among us) and then treated us to a demonstration of two traditional dances, plus a lesson in knitting hats and marriage belts (super cool and I couldn’t describe all the nuances if I tried; you’ve gotta look them up). They concluded with a demonstration as to why store-bought shampoo is a lie and we should all make our own shampoo out of plants all the time (again, you’ve gotta look it up). In sum, week two was simultaneously very cool and very strenuous. But hey, nobody had to go to the hospital this week, so I’d say it was a marked improvement over last week.
We leave tomorrow morning for our first stint with our host family in the local community of Carina (so please no one panic *cough* Mom *cough* if we drop off the face of the earth for a few days - it’s well known that llamas interfere with cellphone reception)!