Mules and stuff...the Trek experience

We returned from our cañon trek a couple hours ago, so I thought it was time for an update. Monday morning, we left at 1am with our guide to catch a bus for the Cañon de Colca area. Needless to say, I failed to get any sleep before leaving, and, as I was soon to find out, sleeping on the bus was out of the question (at least for me). The bus ride was a 6 hour medley of crying children, old women conversing across the bus in quechua, and the occasional, seemingly random outbursts of Latin music over the bus´s loud speakers. I decided that the best course of action was to pull my hood over my head and feign sleep, as the alternative was to look out the window and watch the bus careen around hairpin curves, dangerously close to the edge of a dark abyss, or make eye contact with the people who got on the bus at later stops and were forced to stand in the aisles.
When we finally arrived, we had a nice breakfast at a local hostel of eggs and these really nice rolls that were shaped like triangles and were hollow (I didn´t get a name). After that, we bought food supplies at the local stores, and set off to the trailhead. We were greeted at the start of our trek with a sight that was rare and auspicious; four adult condors were glyding over the deep chasm, looking for prey (or just looking cool). Our guide, Alain, said that this was very good luck, as most people go specifically to see the condors but often leave disappointed because they don´t come out. Seeing this as a good sign, I swallowed my initial reaction to turn around at seeing the tiny line of the trail zig-zag dizzyingly down the cañon, and followed Claudia and Alain.
We treked non-stop for four hours until we reached the cañon floor. For the first part of the journey, it wasn´t too bad, and I felt we made good time. After crossing a suspension bridge, we walked a bit more uphill to a tiny hostel to have lunch. Roy´s, as it was called, was truly a heaven on earth. On a tiny patch of grass in the middle of that massive cañon was an oasis of shaded, thatched huts and lean-tos in which to sleep, camp, ear, or just check out the amazing view. We had rice, scrambled eggs, and a really nice soup; after eating, we took some time to soak our feet in a pool of cold water that they had set up.
After this quick break, it was time to move on. We snaked our way back up the cañon a bit while Alain explained the history of the region, and showed us different herbs that could be found there and told us how they could be used. This all went on until about 2 until we began to climb a more steep path, and Claudia began to have difficulties catching her breath. From this point on, we slowed our pace; we made a lovely pair - when we climbed, Claudia needed to pause to catch her breath, and when we descended, we had to go slow because my knees had started to act up. Despite all this, Claudia was a trooper, and kicked the metaphorical ass of her first hike ever; I, on the other hand, started to feel like a big baby! We decided that the next day, it would be a good idea to take mules back up to the top because it was a very difficult and steep path to use.
For the rest of the afternoon, we got to walk through various native villages, and even visit small museum that Alain had helped set up to help the native population explain their culture; in all, it was a very informative experience, and helped explain some of the things I worked with at The Field Museum. Around dusk, we passed through the last of these villages and started our final descent into the camping area where we were to spend the night. Needless to say, by this point our reserves of energy were cashed, and my knee no longer wanted to function. Somehow we made it down before dark, but not before both my hands, behind, and a large portion of my pride were bruised.
We crossed another suspension bridge, and climbed a small bit to reach The Oasis - a nice little hostel with grass huts, and a pool that gets filled every day with water from the river. Needless to say, we were too tired to enjoy a swim, but Alain made a nice dinner of rice, alpaca fillet, and red wine. After dinner, we went to our hut and promptly passed out - Claudia fully clothed, and myself with a random kitten that had adopted us sleeping against my face. A few hours later, I woke up sick to my stomach, and didn´t get much sleep after that. At 330am, Alain woke us up to leave with the mules. It looked like dawn was breaking through the gaps in the hut, but when I walked out, I was greeted by a brilliant crescent moon and a sky full do stars, it was absolutely breath-taking.
When I finally saw the mules, apprehension set in; was I really going to trust my safety to one of those things? I guessed I had better, since I knew he had the advantage on me, with four feet to my two. I mounted awkwardly, shrieked a little when it took off to follow its ranchero, but then managed to chill out when I realized it was on autopilot and only wanted to follow his leaders. For the next hour and a half, I loosened up more, to the point where I was able to relax, let the mule do his job, and enjoy what was certainly the most beautiful moonlit scenery I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. All went very well, until we get closer to the top, and things got more steep. A combination of things started to freak me out about my mule ride: my stirrups were too short, forcing my knees out, rather than keeping them close to the mule in order to hold tight; the actual foot part of the stirrup was too small for my feet, so I kept slipping out when the mule jostled me (exactly when I needed to hold on the most); and lastly, as the descent became more steep, the mule jostled me more, and my already-tired hand just couldn´t hold on to the saddle any (it was taking most of the weight because my legs couldn´t hold on). I needed to get off... but what wasn´t the mule stopping? We had decided to stop near the top where some old women were selling food and beverages in the growing dawn (most treks exit the cañon at that time, so they made their living off the tourists), but my mule wanted to join the other mule that Claudia had already vacated before I could even get off. Of course, I shrieked a bit again, then the ranchero came and held the mule for me to get off. That was it for me - dark or not, I was walking the rest of the way. After collecting myself, Alain and I pushed on, and we hit the top of the cañon in about 20 minutes (not too terrible, considering). Claudia and the ranchero had gone on with the mules. so we walked through the terraces, back to the town in order to meet them.
From there, it was breakfast, a bus to relax in some hot springs, and then the bumpy return trip to Arequipa through the amazing scenery of mountains and dessert that I had missed the day before. We arrived exhausted, but glad that we had gone. All in all, though it was embarrassing at times, I feel that we did pretty darn well for the inexperienced gringos that we were, and had a great time while we were at it. No pain, no gain, right?


Anonymous said...

You better check out Machu Picchu!

Anonymous said...

Are you lost in Peru? Or do you just have no internet access. More adventures!!! Maybe Claudia will stay there and marry an alpaca herder.