From the shabby mining town of Mazuko in the Peruvian Amazon, it was a tough two-day ride to bucolic Colca Canyon near Arequipa in Peru’s south. It rained heavily on the first day, but it didn’t seem to matter that much as it was so damn hot. But as I climbed out of the Amazon basin, wet and tired, up a never-ending and steep river valley the temperature dropped dramatically and enveloped in a thick, damp mist, it started to lightly snow. I emerged on a vast, desolate mountain plateau (Altiplano), absolutely freezing, but at least, it had stopped raining! I managed to ride over the plateau for a few torturous hours before the temperature got the better of me and I spent the evening in a strange plateau town called Azangaro in a warm hotel with cable TV and hot water.
The next day it was bright and sunny but still very cold. The road was superb (a branch of the Interoceanic), so I made good progress and arrived in Chivay in the Colca Canyon, mid-afternoon. On the way to Chivay I traversed yet another mountain pass of 4800 meters (I used to think this was high), and as I was doing so, I am sure I heard the forever-loyal moto scream “get off me you bastard.” On the top of the pass there was a viewing platform where I saw one of the most dramatic sights of this trip so far (I told you, South America keeps giving and giving). Across the vast plateau, there was a row of extremely high volcanoes, some over 6000 meters high and just to top things off, one of them was smoking! This alone seemed to make the last two days of hell-riding worth it. And I’m sure there is a lot more to come (hell-riding that is).
Chivay is a small, friendly, and typically South American town in the Colca Canyon, a deep Canyon and fertile valley that has been home to Andean people and their agricultural practices for many centuries. I found a basic hotel just off the Plaza de Armes and had dinner with a lovely Italian chap that narrated his hilarious story of driving an old Italian ambulance from Milan to Mongolia. Then I went to bed early so as to discover the Colca Canyon and Valley early in the morning (and the nightlife in Chivay didn’t seem that hot).
In the morning I rode about 40 kms up the canyon to a condor viewing platform that I was assured was the best place to see the depth of the canyon and perhaps even some condors. But the condors go home about 930AM, about the same time that I got there, so I had to settle for the view of the deep canyon. And yes the canyon is deep, but to say that it is the world’s deepest or second deepest as does much tourist-orientated propaganda, is a means to appeal to the inner inner-hillbilly in us all, the hillbilly that needs simplistic hierarchies to measure and bring meaning to a world that is largely un-measurable (or as us Australians say, ‘best little town in the world mate’)
That said, the number one hierarchical sight in the valley is the agricultural terracing that utilises ever patch of fertile land, right up onto the canyon ledge. This has been a practice of the peoples in the traditional, Andean towns in the valley for many centuries. The view of the terraces from the edge of the canyon is beautiful. I spent three nights in Chivay exploring the valley and preparing myself to ride back over the 4800-metre pass (past the smoking volcano) and along the frigid plateau to Puno. The Italian guy (with the ambulance) introduced me to cheap Peruvian rum, which seems to do the trick.