The bus ride from Arequipa to Cabanaconde was our first experience with a “Servicio Economico”, that means the normal local buses, not the luxury ones for tourists. These buses cost 3 times less than the latter, but still offer an acceptable level of comfort, at least for a day trip. Actually Heidi liked them better because there is no air-conditioning, just windows. And people watching is so exciting, especially looking at the local women in there bulky, brightly-colored skirts and hats. All these women entering the bus carried a huge bundle on their back wrapped in a woven blanket. Male passengers would wear a slick, white sombrero, but they all wore modern clothes.
After leaving Arequipa in the morning the scenery was rather dull and we thought we would see of lot of “Altiplano” for the next 6 hours. But soon there was a lot of excitement when we started driving through the “Parque Nacional Salinas”. We got to see many Lamas, Alpacas and Vicunas, the latter are especially cute and can be only seldom spotted.
After driving for half an hour on the “Altiplano” at more than 4.000 meters, the next climax was crossing a mountain pass at 4.800 meters. Even sitting in a bus and doing nothing, breathing became more difficult, even thinking … Gilles clearly felt the effects of altitude on the highest points, Heidi claimed not to.
Once we passed Chivay, the entry to the Colca Canyon, the scenery became really dramatic, against the backdrop of the Andean summits all you see are terraces carved out from the steep mountain slopes. These terraces were made by the Incas and many are still used today, cleverly all of them are located in places that are exposed a lot to the sun.
We watched local farmers tending these fields: it is still done by wooden ploughs pulled by oxen. After such a laborious day, the farmers head home, around six o’clock, after sunset, carrying these huge ploughs on their shoulders.
From Chivay the bus follows the southern slope of the Canyon on a dusty road, passing various tiny villages, until it reaches Cabanaconde, the trailhead for hikes in the Canyon. We must say we have never enjoyed a bus ride more than this one, there was so much to see that we did not feel bored for a second. We also must admit that we were lucky because the ride only took 5 hours against a normal 6 to 8 hours, do not ask us why … Maybe we will be able to tell after the return trip.
Upon arrival we checked into Hostel Valle de Fuego described in the Lonely Planet as traveler accommodation with simple rooms, but with a newer addition. Well, we stay in the “newer” section and simple it is indeed! In the backyard are donkeys, sheep and dogs, which are having a barking competition at 10.00 o’clock at night. This is the reason why Heidi turned on the laptop because sleeping is impossible. And of course the roosters would start at … 02:30 a.m., this seems to be their time in Peru!
Before we retreated to our freezing cold, simple room, we had dinner at the hostel’s restaurant which actually has quite a nice ambience. They have a fireplace and candles on the table, quiet romantic. There were two dishes to choose from: trout and alpaca, we tried the latter. We guess we have to give it another try to be able to judge.
In the village life comes to a stand still around eight at night, it is simply too cold to spend any more time outside and we guess the people here are used to the infernal barking of fleecy looking dogs and just sleep off …
In the afternoon, which was really warm and sunny, we went to a “Mirador” and luckily saw three condors gliding through the Canyon in the evening sun. It truly is a majestic sight. The Mirador is a bit outside of the village, it was a lovely walk and out there it was absolutely quiet, all you could hear was the wind and the wings of birds flying by. Heidi cannot tell you how much she enjoyed this little excursion. Once the sun went down, we had to return because the drop in temperature was significant.
Strolling through this small village in the afternoon, which is quiet but really not beautiful, we discovered another hostel called Hospedaje Villa Pastor. It is right on the main plaza, surely the nicest part of the village right across the bus stop. It also only costs 10 Soles per person but it is a modern building and there is a roof top restaurant with a great view. Downstairs they run an Internet café, but the speed of the computers is rather random. We could have kicked our butt that we did not give it a try when we saw it arriving by bus.