June 27, 2010 – June 30, 2010
Today after a pancake breakfast we set off to walk down to the floor of the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world (officially deeper than the Grand Canyon in USA). Terraced fields around us as we walked along a stony path, used for centuries. Blue skies, clear air and silence but for our footfall. 'Buenos dias', we were acknowledged by the few local people we passed. And then the beginning of the descent, so deep we could not see the bottom. The mountain range across the canyon stood majestic in faded puples and reds, tall cacti framed our steep, stepped path snaking ever downwards and our eyes were divided between our dusty boots to watch our step amongst the stones and the breathtaking view across and down into the depths, toward the river we could hear roaring at the bottom.
The climb down took us 3 hours. At the start Lisa rushed on ahead, as she knew there were natural swimming pools at the bottom where the temperature was higher, but as the day got hotter she slowed and found it more difficult. Harry and I walked together alternating who used the walking poles. He was carrying a backpack with water like Will whilst Lisa and I were free from any burden. Will hung back and occasionally called down to us from above to look up and have our photos taken. We were overtaken by a 70 year old plus lady carrying a heavy bundle, a teenage girl in sandels and then by a man with 4 mules. We asked him if he would meet us later and let us ride his mules back up to the top and he agreed for 40 soles per mule (about 10 pounds sterling).
By the time we reached the bottom we had drunk 3 litres of water between us and were thristy again. I was completely exhausted, my legs weak and wobbly and Will had to help me over the last few hundred metres to the group of cabins around a pool entitled 'Paraiso Palmeras', Paradise Palms. Truly it felt like paradise. Palm trees shaded a grass lawn with hammocks, or you could sunbathe by the swimming pool, fed from fountains poured from clay pitchers on either side. The young man charged us 2 soles each for the use of the pool (50p) and showed us into a grass roofed cabin to get changed. I asked in pigeon Spanish if we could have lunch there and he said, "One moment, Mother what goes on in the kitchen today?". He told us: vegetable soup followed by mashed potato with meat stew, so we agreed. Oh how lovely the water felt, cool and refreshing, so luxurious after the hot and dusty descent.
Harry and Lisa were looking forward to the mules very much, and at 3 o'clock when the bright sun suddenly disappeared over the mountain ridge they were very keen to be up and off to find Juan the muleteer and his animals. It was so scary, and so far up. We had to keep swapping mules because none of them could take Will's weight for long. All the mules were sweating, and although Harry was way up ahead, loving every minute, Lisa had tears on several occasions because she felt sorry for the mules and didn't like it when Juan swung his piece of rope in a threatening manner to make the mules go faster. Once he threw a rock at one of their bottoms. "Come on, you can do it, it's all right, just a little further" Lisa kept saying to her mule in encouragement.
We had known the trail was steep, narrow and precipitous on the way walking down, but the feeling of danger and excitement was magnified on the way back up. Sitting high up on a mule I could see over the edge of the path better than when walking, whilst the mule's movements were not completely predictable for me. It chose when it attempted each steep step up, and which line it took around the bends. I just had to keep my weight forward to help it and hang on tight. Towards the top the mules were exhausted and Will and I were both concerned they may get fed up with our weight and try to unseat us. At each bend my heart gave a flutter. Sometimes a stone would be dislodged and fall into the canyon. What if a mule in its exhaustion took a wrong footing and toppled over the edge? What a responsibility we would have failed to fulfil as parents, no matter who it was who toppled! Near the top Will's and my mules began a rivalry to overtake each other to get away from Juan's circling rope. Any time there was any widening in the trail my mule would lurch forwards violently to try to get ahead of Will's, heedless of overhanging trees or the steepness of the steps. Immediately Will's mule would flatten its ears back and bear its teeth, veering across to block our path.
Juan told us the mules make the journey down and up the canyon again once every day. What a terrible life! Nevertheless I was very glad of them for I felt sure that neither Lisa nor I would have ever made it up the canyon on foot before nightfall without them.