Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 38 - Stuck in Chivay

The receptionist promised us a breakfast and wake-up call at 3 am. After all, we had a 4 am bus to catch to Cruz del Condor, a region of the Colca Canyon. At 3:30 am, we got a knock on the door, telling us the time. Nobody moved from their beds. Someone asked if we should get up. I said sure, let's do it. Still, nobody moves. I'm not going to be the first one up, I told myself. After what seemed like forever, Nikhil took the brave first step and left his cozy lair. After that, it was a rush of rolling sleeping bags, clicks and zips, pulling of shoes and buttoning of jackets. We ate the bread and jam while speed-walking to the bus terminal. Finally, we reached the terminal at 3:50 am. The bus didn't show up for thirty more minutes.

When our ride finally arrived, we saw the long line of passengers pushing through the doors. Since this was the first bus to the canyon, the vendors and cooks planned on being the first ones at the canyon to set up their goods. An hour later, we were at the canyon. A guide kept pestering us, insisting that we had to buy the boleta touristica, or tourist ticket to go into the canyon. We walked away from the cement-constructed lookout point and toward the road to Cabanaconde, another village two hours away. A clear path down to the canyon had a "Do not enter" sign in front of it. We entered.

The Colca canyon is supposed to be deeper than the Grand Canyon and the second deepest canyon in the world. We were at a mini cliff overlooking the valley. The sun rose five minutes later, directing its rays right into my eyes. After a few minutes, a cluster of birds emerged in ones or twos from the distant mountains. They soared gracefully, their wingspan stretching an easy four or five feet. These were the condors, so big and so close. For twenty minutes, we witnessed thirty such condors as sunlight slowly flooded the canyon. The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

As I sat on the cliff in post-condor-emergence-at-sunrise-shock, I heard a shout from above. An upset guard beckoned us to come back us. Apparently, we were on the condors' perch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent amongst the camera-clicking travellers. The condors continued to glide above us and below us, displaying perfect form in pairs and effortless swoops and turns. I'm fairly certain they looked at each other and said "Let's do it guys. It's showtime."

When the afternoon bus reached Cabanaconde, we had an hour to look around. Hoping to catch a view of the Colca Canyon from here, we chose a direction and just walked. Instead of a canyon, we ended up on a farm. Half an hour later, we walked back. I didn't mind. Seeing the condors at sunrise had made my day.

Back in Chivay, we tried to get the 4 pm bus back to Arequipa. It was sold out. So was the 4:30 bus. A Huamanga bus company banner hung in an unattended office. You may remember, this was the company where my wallet was stolen. There was a sign that read "Arequipa: 4:30 pm." We would take it if we could, that's how desperate we were to get out of Chivay. After an hour of waiting, another company's receptionist informed us that Huamanga just had a banner but no one ever came to the office. It was a fake. Next availablebus was at 1 am. Without going into pointless detail, I'll sum up the night in two words: painfully. slow.

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