With true Latin American style, the 160km bus journey to Cabanaconde - the starting point of our hike - took a lengthy 5 hours. With true backpacking style, we neglected to pay the 70 sol fee required to trek around the canyon...
We planned a four day hike, taking in three towns along the way.
On the first day we headed towards Llahuar. The 5 hour hike was largely downhill as we dropped more than 1,200 metres in altitude, however, things weren't that simple with multiple points that saw us constantly going up and down the canyon. The directions weren't all that informative either, with a few lines telling us to pass the bull fighting arena, and little else. To keep things clear, the bull fighting arena was full of horses...
Thankfully, our first stop appeared perfect for a relax after the day, with the accommodation built just above the river, and multiple options for thermal pools to rest our weary limbs.
Fortunately, the pools weren't as hot as these geysers we'd seen along the way:
Here's a shot from the start of the hike. I believe it's our route you can see towards the back of the canyon, heading down in switchbacks.
As we found for each stop on our hike, all the options for accommodation provided you with dinner, but this first one was my favourite.
We'd gotten into a habit of asking about meals given my preferences against red meat, and Justin's hatred of fish. Here in Llahuar, we were assured we'd be eating a vegetarian meal. When our main course of pasta came out, we found on top sat tuna!!! Fortunately for me, I loveeeeee tuna! But Justin? He can't stand it. The poor guy ended up passing his meal over to Jack and I, and managed to get an egg to eat - definitely not sufficient after all that walking!
It didn't stop Justin being the first ready the next morning (read: every morning) though. Eventually we started the trek up towards Fure - another 5 hours of walking, 600 metres of altitude regained.
This was the most difficult day for me! Having hiked downhill for so long the previous day, my knees were feeling the pressure, and it didn't take long for everything else to get sore as we headed uphill!
The three of us, along with two Europeans, were the only foreigners staying in the town. We spent the evening playing cards together, and even attempted to teach some of the local kids the game! I don't think they'd ever seen playing cards before! Two young boys of around 5 years of age took care of our discarded cards as we played, attempting to have their own game that looked somewhat similar to our own.
As usual, Jack made friends with the local animals. These two couldn't get enough attention from him, stretching the ropes holding them as far as they could to ensure they stayed nearby:
Day three took us back down 500 metres to Sangalle - also known as the "Oasis".
The usual up and down the canyon continued, however this time we could see our destination for a large part of the journey. Here's Jack pointing it out. You can see our track winding around to the left side and then eventually down behind Sangalle.
Just like our first night, Sangalle bought us a relaxing afternoon, with the town apparently built for tourists with a multitude of swimming pools ready for our enjoyment, and excellent views surrounding us.
For me, this was the last stop for hiking. I'd decided to take a mule up the following morning back to Cabanaconde - best $20 I've spent!
I can only imagine this last day was the worst for the guys. We were aiming for the 9am bus back to Arequipa.
The hike was a continuous incline of about 1,200 metres with a suggested timing of three hours.
The guys started heading up, and my group on the mules started after them.
Impressively, Jack beat my mule up, and Justin wasn't far behind us. Both guys managing the trek up in less than half the recommended time!
It was here that we were finally asked for our tourist ticket - the one we hadn't purchased. Jack told the man we'd left it in our big bags at the hostel. With a 'deposit' of 10 sols, he arranged to meet us before the midday bus. However, with the excellent timing of the guys, we made our 9am bus as planned!
Now it was time to head down into Chile and increase our little group to eight!!