We arrive in Cabana Conde after 5-6h of a small uncomfortable bus and having admired a beautiful succession of landscapres. It is almost moonlike in some places and from afar i manage to glance my first alpacas !
Now that we are there, we realize there is no way to withdraw cash and that we can only pay by cash for the next four days. Luckily, there is a hostel that agrees to let us cash out for a pretty high service fee of course. We buy our tickets to enter the Colca canyon trek, THE biggest canyon of the whole wide world ! We get told later on that if we would have started before 8am, there are no guards to control us. Well.
We start our trek early in the morning. At last we are in the countryside ! We pass by huge cultivated terraces and a lot of small fields. Here, as in a lot of places in Peru, agriculture is still being done on a small scale. There are a lot of people still working in the agriculture sector – it can go from 40% up to 80% of the population according the region ! People have their own small fields, a lot of them cultivated with only little mecanisation or using animal power.
It isn't like this everywhere of course, there are regions where industrial monoculture is present as well but it can still be noted that even with its large development, it didn't succeed in killing the great host of little farms that occupy the agricultural land of the country.
We go down with our backpacks, relieved of the unnecessary for three days of trekking. 1000 meter down the first day. Thighs and calves are hurting at the end of the day ! Luckily, at our first stop, there are hot baths from a natural hot spring. We soak for a good long time, enjoying the nearby river, it is such a treat !
Even so, the next day, my legs feel like wood and we need to go up now with our bags that don't seem as lightened now. With our filter, we maintain our water bottles filled with drinkable water. It was really hot the day before and it does not change. However, this second day brings us along the flank of the canyon around small villages and small cultivated fields, corn or cactus of orchards, mainly under the cover of shadows. At the highest point for the day, we don't even have time to greet the tourists that were taking a rest before us, one of them shouts « Condor ! » and sure enough, out to welcome us up there, we discover amazed a huge black bird that fly around us in the immensity of the canyon below our feet. +700m then -700m, a small day all in all, which is a good thing for my legs which even if they haven't rested are not worse at least in the evening. In the Sangalle oasis, we are astonished to discover a beautiful waterfall and luscious green area full of tropical flowers, bright hibiscus and water everywhere. What a contrast with the dryness of the canyon sides ! We even get to see a hummingbird ! In the same day, we will have seen one of the biggest birds and one of the smallest ones !
The next day, I am in pain, a disaster ! I could go back up riding a mule, the « donkey taxi » like the young lady we came across the day before on the treak towards the end of the day and who was litterally crying from fatigue. Finally, after grinding my teeth on the first few steps, i find my rythm through a strong but constant pain. We go up. Today, we only have 3 liters of water. After a few hours, we don't have water anymore, the slope is really straight up and there is no hiding from the scorching sun. We did ration our water as much as we could, sip by sip, when we realized the conditions but it wasn't enough. We nearly fall into a kind of transe, we do need to continue going up and my legs hurt like crazy and my mouth is totally dry. I spend each minute telling myself it's only a passing moment and that we are going to get through this, we just need to put one foot in front of the next. I swallow my saliva telling myself as long as i still have some, we are not yet dead of thirst. It's hard.
Thomas gets stung on a cactus to reach reach the only mature and accessible fruit on the path, I get stung in turn in the thumbs pealing it with my knife. The fruit is so small, we share it, it is delicious, like paradise in the form of the small pink sweet juicy flesh. It enables us to continue for nearly another hour before falling back into our hellish transe. When we finally see the first trees, we know that we don't have much longer to go, what a relief !
Soon the landscape flattens, we have reached the plateau. A fresh water canal goes across our path, we rush to it and are so grateful for our water filter. We fill up the bottles and drink long deep sips before looking at each other : « This water, doesn't it have some kind of straw taste ? Yes, rather like manure taste actually... ». Whatever it is, it did refresh us !
We end our trek in Cabana Conde, so happy to have made it through, only to discover that we have missed the last bus of the day to go back so we'll need to wait for tomorrow. The next day, before we leave the town, we go back into a small local restaurant to eat a lomo saltado of alpaca. I am a bit suspicious of the meat... A few minutes later, we have stomach cramps and a five hour bus ride ahread of us, followed by another full night bus ride...