TRAVELLING in Peru is all about altitude, and today we got our first serious helping of high.
We started the day at 2335m in Arequipa, tonight we’re sleeping at 3635m on the edge of the Colca Canyon, and we crossed an Andean mountain range that took us up to 4910m to get here.
It cost us the best part of the day to get to Chivay, the hamlet considered the gateway to the Colca Canyon, and it was a slow journey with bad roads and slow traffic combining to reduce our pace to a crawl.
We also had to stop on a couple of occasions to help our bodies copy with the drastically increasing altitude, and we lingered over a morning tea of cocoa tea and Anzac cookies – it’s Anzac Day, and one thoughtful member of our group came prepared – at a way-side stop near the base of the day’s steepest climb.
There was a break in the trip to take in the view at 4910m, we paused on several occasions to look at gaggles of alpaca and lama, spent some time observing two local girls who were looking after the family’s animals, and even found a couple of places to shop.
The sisters and their dog were watching a herd of mountain alpaca – I got the impression the girls we watching the animals, and the dog was protecting the girls – as the flock grazed on a rare patch of grassy mountain land.
Our guide had a quick chat with the kids and discovered the big one was about to start school so was training her little sister to do the guarding job for the few hours a day she would be away learning to read and write.
We made one last stop of the long journey just outside Chivay, after the bus crept down from the highest point on the trip with our driver taking it very easy on the breaks, to take in our first view of the Colca Canyon.
The attraction is the world’s second-deepest valley, slightly smaller than another Peruvian landmark not far from here but twice as deep as America’s Grand Canyon which is a baby in comparison, and that first view was awesome.
The lookout was a market where local ladies, dressed in the regional costumes that define this part of Peru, sell handmade goodies and a few members of our group parted with cash to purchase alpaca scarves.
Every part of Peru has a slightly different costume, and while all are bright and colourful little things are unique to a district like the shape of a hat or the lace on a shirt.
But all the women wear a full skirt and our guide told us this was so they could relieve themselves while out in the fields without showing any skin.
Sounds like a good idea to me as there’s not a a lot of vegetation at the altitude to provide privacy.