Today's entertainment was the start of a two day tour to Colca Valley, with the main aim of visiting Colca Canyon and hopefully seeing the Andean Condor in the flesh. The very new Mercedes van picked me up at about 8.30am, and the tour group consisted of mainly very young Swedes and Norweigans, with a German or two thrown in for good luck. No Aussies! How unusual. We usually have a better representation than that.
The tour took our group back up to the altiplano that I had descended from on my way from Puno to Arequipa, and behind the three volcanoes that tower over Arequipa. Once up on the altiplano, I got a second, and closer look at the conditions, and they weren't quite as rosy as the sunset may have made them seem the other evening. The altiplano here is incredibly striking, but it's also incredibly dry. There are springs, and wet lands, but they are pockets of green amongst what is essentially a high altitude desert, where very little grows bar some very low lying plants.
That people live in this exposed, parched environment is amazing. Mind you, to get here we passed through the shanty towns outside Arequipa, and I think I would rather live on the altiplano than in those towns, given the choice. The people here farm alpaca and llama, and a few sheep, and herds graze the altiplano right through the national reserve area that we drove through, alongside some wild, but extremely calm vicuna. The vicuna are rounded up every year or so and shorn, and re-released, so must be used to some handling.
We made several stops as we traversed the altiplano, including at one point where we were at 4,910 metres above sea level. Whilst my companions assiduously chewed coca leaves, ate coca cookies, and swilled coca tea, I was busy re-hydrating a rather sensitive stomach and decided that I could do without the local sure for altitude sickness. Fortunately for me, this is one thing that doesn't seem to affect me, and outside a plane, this is as high as I've ever been.
Our tour reached the town of Chivay, in the Colca Valley, at lunch time, and while the rest of the group headed out for a bit of a trek then a visit to the local hot springs, my leg barred me from participating in both activities, and I simply spent my afternoon patiently plotting my next movements as I navigated the local internet connection in a cafe, avoiding the dusty windy environment outside. Chivay is located at about 3,800 metres or so above sea level, which meant that as night fell, so did the temperatures, and rather than eating dinner in an unheated barn of a restuarant with the rest of my group, I instead chose to take refuge in my bed, cowering under the covers fully clothed, to keep myself warm.