Spending a weekend hiking a canyon and sleeping in a hut with a group of strangers is not something I would have ever thought I would be interested in. But something important I learned about myself throughout the horrific year of 2016 is that I’m not the same person I was three years ago. And so despite last year being an incredibly tough year, it needed to happen, because I have changed, but I’d obviously changed without even realising just how much, and so it felt like my time in South America was my time to discover who I am now and what I enjoy doing … and it turns out spending a weekend hiking a canyon and sleeping in a hut with a group of strangers is actually up there on my list of things I enjoy, right alongside Skydiving and Red Wine – who knew?
My last stop in Peru was the city of Arequipa where I booked myself onto this Canyon excursion, the Colca Canyon to be precise, one of the deepest Canyons in the world, it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! Before booking I was given a brief overview of the trip; Day one we would drive up to the Canyon and starting from the very top we would descend to the summit where we would then spend the night in electricity free accommodation. Day two, was to involve an early hike back up to the top of the Canyon followed by a day of visiting local towns and the nearby Hot Springs. It sounded great, we were warned it was a lot of walking, but that was fine with me so I signed myself up and was given a list things to pack, including food as only three meals where to be provided over our two day tour.
This is where I learnt something else about myself – I love packing, especially for excursions. After receiving my list I immediately I headed to the supermarket to pick up snacks and water. There I bumped into three people from my hostel also doing the trek; as they rustled through the cereal bars complaining about having to buy snacks, I was genuinely buzzing at the excitement of picking out my own snack pack for the weekend and debating how many bottles of water to take. Things got even more exciting when I saw an aisle selling camping equipment including water bottles that you can attach to your backpack … I know, so wild!
After purchasing eight bottles of water, two boxes of cranberry cereal bars, four apples, two bags of peanut M&Ms, two snickers, two bananas, AND a pink water bottle to attach to my backpack (!!) I went back to the hostel try and pack all this food into my daytime rucksack, along with a fresh change of clothes, my bikini, my microfiber towel, my first aid kit essentials, my waterproof jacket, some thermals and my GoPro. It was a lot to squeeze into my small rucksack, especially all the water, but I more than managed, I had become a packing pro. Plus, I knew that technically I would be drinking and eating away most of the weight.
After a carby meal of pasta and a glass of red, I hit the sack at 8pm to get some sleep. But it felt like my eyes had only been closed for a mere five minutes when my alarm went off at 2.55am. The six of us from our hostel were being picked up at 3.15am, so it was a super quick shower before I dragged me and my heavy backpack to the hangout room why we waited for our ride.
A white minivan eventually turned up at 3.25am and the six of us piled in. Annoyingly we were the last pick-up which meant all the best seats were taken (back row & window seats, obvs). As it was almost a four hour journey upto the Canyon AND pitch black outside, I had planned to sleep on the bus, I think we all had. But being squashed onto an aisle seat, next to a stranger, unable to lean either side of me, it was incredibly uncomfortable. There were legs and backpacks everywhere and I couldn’t spread out, and urgh, it was just awkward. The most annoying thing is that after about two hours, the two girls either side of me began talking to each other. From their conversation it became clear they were travelling together, yet had decided to sit separately. It really bothers me when people who travel as a two-some do this. Why not just sit together and let me sit by myself?
Anywho, after stopping at a restaurant for coffee and breakfast (bread and jam, which seems to be the only thing the Peruvians ever seem to offer tourists for breakfast) followed by a pit stop at a lookout point to watch the Condors where we spotted *drum roll* zero condors, we FINALLY arrived at the top of the Colca Canyon at 9am.
From here, we were going to spend the rest of the day journeying down the Canyon. We would be following a route that would basically takes us on a big wide zig zag route down to a bridge, there we would cross over and have some lunch, and from there we would continue on the trek down to the summit, where we would be having dinner before hitting the sack. So off we went.
Another thing I learnt about myself? I love being outdoors. When I was younger I was so lazy, I never wanted to walk anywhere or do anything strenuous and the great outdoors didn’t interest me at all. I never understood why my Parents always wanted to go on these big walks when they could stay inside, watch TV and eat. That changed after moving to London where I began walking everywhere. But still, I don’t know when this change from indoors to outdoors person happened. But it’s true. Throughout this weekend trekking the Colca Canyon, I realised that I really do want more of my future to be spent outdoors.
On the decent down, our group were all at different paces, but even so we all managed to have a conversation with one another at some point, learning about where everyone was from and what they did. We had three Americans, two Irish, one Scottish-American, two Dutch, one Spanish, one Australian and me, the English girl.
During this trip, I also learnt that I do not need to make life-long friends with every person I meet when backpacking. On my first ever backpacking trip to Asia in 2013, I had this idea built up in my head that I was going to make friends for life when backpacking, a family, people I’d never forget. And yes whilst at one point I had a little Travel family, and I’ve stayed in touch with some real genuine friends I made, I really didn’t need to add every Tom, Dick and Harry on Facebook. Back then a very brief encounter would result in the swapping of FB details. This trip was different. This trip, and especially that weekend, I took the time to get to know the people there and then, rather than just taking names and adding them to a website that offers a very blurry window into mine and their lives.
Hiking down the Canyon I had one-to-one conversations with people, we had group conversations, we took photos of each other, we shared jokes, but at no point was I building anything up in my head about seeing these people again or making sure we became friends. I enjoyed the people for what they were, my hiking buddies, companions on that particular excursions.
However before the end of the hike the group had split in half due to a few people being injured and tired. A few of us decided to trek on to the summit and find the resort by ourselves. That was another thing I discovered about myself – I’m much fitter than I give myself credit for. I may have my foodie rolls and double chin, but I was incredibly impressed to find myself at the front of the trek most of the time. During the second part of the descent, I began to see others struggling, girls younger than me where continuously stopping for breaks and were almost in tears. I had to give myself a pat on the back, it was tiring of course and my feet were hurting and I honestly couldn’t wait to get to the resort and relax, but I was still doing it, I was still enjoying it and I was powering through.
Eventually, a group of us found the resorts. As our guide was behind helping an injured girl down very slowly, we had to find our resort by ourselves. As we looked around all the resorts were teasing us. We wandered through them all, smelling meat on barbecues, hearing Bob Marley play through speakers and watching people chilling out with cold beers. There were bright blue pools with water fountains coming out of them. I couldn’t wait to kick off my walking boots and get my bikini on. But every time we asked a resort owner if they had a reservation for us, they shook their head. Eventually one man told us he knew where we staying and pointed towards the bushes. We passed all the resorts, including all the pools, all the barbecues and a load of goats and sheep, went through the bushes, then the trees and down a path and finally arrived at our hidden away resort.
We couldn’t even hide the disappointment on our faces.
There was no barbecue, no music blaring out, no party people chilling with ice cold beverages and sun loungers. There was a pool but it was filthy, full of leaves and dirt. There was one broken sun lounger and two chairs crawling with ants. We decided to look at the positive – we had made it! We took off our shoes and all sat around the pool with our feet dangling in, only one of us was brave enough to go for an actual swim and he only lasted about 30 seconds.
That night we had a few beers, a group dinner (soup, followed by rice and meat) and all got an early night in our huts. I’ll be honest I wasn’t impressed with the accommodation, but we had been pre-warned so I wasn’t too fussed. There was a few puddles surrounding my bed, and I’d found two big dead moths and a dead bug on my pillow, but I rather bravely brushed them, wrapped my scarf around my head, got under the covers and squeezed my eyes shut trying not to think about the insects.
Another thing learnt – I still hate bugs and spiders but I’m a lot better than I used to be as 2013 me would not have been able to just shut her eyes and sleep in that bed.
I must have been exhausted as the next thing I remember is my alarm going off at 4am. I went to get a shower, but as I felt the ice cold water shock my skin like the blade of a knife, I remembered about the lack of electricity and decided against it. Instead did a wet-wipe wash, festival style, and brushed my teeth in the dark.
At 5am, with the sun barely up, we began our hike. Unlike our descent on the previous day, we would not be doing a wide walk that was to zig zag. Instead we would be doing a hike straight up and we were told it was going to take three hours. Being the competitive person I am, once I heard “three hours to the top” the Runner in me woke up and I knew I would be doing everything I could to beat that time.
But if I had thought it was going to be anything like the day before, I was wrong. Day one we had dropped about 1200m in altitude throughout the course of the day. Now we were going to trek up to the top, reaching 3,300m in a much quicker time. I was lucky enough not to get altitude sickness during my time in Peru, but the shortness of breath really got to me. And it was no different on this hike. Three of us broke off from the group, racing ahead and at first it was fine. But after an hour of upward hiking, clambering over big rocks all the while feeling like I constantly had to catch my breath, I was beginning to really struggle. As I took a much needed break I watched on as the other two raced ahead of me, but I was unable to keep up at their pace. But power on I did (whilst knocking back lots of water and some peanut M&M’s) as I was still determined to beat a time of three hours.
Towards the top my legs were beginning to feel incredibly weak and I was using my hands a lot when going over rocks. A big cross made out of sticks stood tall at the top and everytime I felt like I was getting closer, I scramble over another big rock only to realise that I still hadn’t reached it. But finally, after just two hours and six minutes (and a lot of sweat) I reached the top of Colca Canyon *does a mini fist pump*
I was honestly so proud of myself, especially after I learnt a lot of people couldn’t complete it and had to be brought up by Mules. I celebrated at the top with a banana and a snickers and lots of photos. I felt a similar feeling to my runners high taking over me and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face; I felt so happy that I had not only completed the hike and done the Colca Canyon trek, but that I had ben brave enough to come on this trip alone and take on this whole experience.
Once all the group arrived at the top, we went for breakfast (where we actually got some eggs this time) and then we spent the afternoon soaking our tired feet and bodies in the natural hot springs of Arequipa before visiting Chachani Volcano. Incredible!