Day 54: At Altitude (Pt. 1)

Sat. 6th October 2012

Desolate at 3,600m - and this is grassland!Altitude is on our mind today. Arequipa is at 2,300m (similar to Quito) and most of us are generally OK, though a little bit more lethargic than normal (no sarky comments please). However, we are setting off for higher altitudes and the Colca Canyon where we will be hiking tomorrow. The highpoint of our bus journey is apparently at 4,900m and we will be spending the night in the town of Chivay which is at 3,600m. The positive way to look at this is as acclimatisation for the Inca trail which is not many days away now.

Mixed tea - coca & herbsThe first leg of the bus is short as we stop at a small general stores and are encouraged to stock up on coca products which supposedly will help stave off some of the affects of altitude. We buy some coca leaves and some coca sweets. You roll up 4 or 5 leaves and then stick them down the side of your mouth and chew gently for 10mins or so. It is hard to know if they have any effect on altitude sickness, but my mouth went a little numb. Otherwise, they didn’t particularly taste of anything.

Incredible views across the high grassland and to one of the volcanosBetter was the coca tea (better yet mixed with other local herbs with a minty flavour). This was generally reckoned to be peoples favourite. As we drove on, we passed three types of landscape – each quite distinct, but with all of them you wonder how anything grows. First we go through a rocky ‘Quecha’ landscape up to about 3,300m. This is on the steep sides of the mountains and on the slopes you can only see rocks and cactus.

Lamas & Alpacas amongst the marshland at 3,300mAs the ground levels off, we came to a what was describe as grasslands – more rolling hills, scrubby grass with marshy pools. This however is a national park where Vicunas are protected and free to wander wild. Lamas and Alpacas also roam here, but apparently they are all domesticated.

Pacha mamas and little else at 4,900mAbove about 4,300m the landscape changes again and there is only the odd patch of green showing amongst all the rocks. What looks to be moss, turns out to be a plant that grows in small domes. We stopped at the highpoint which was signposted at 4,900m. The view was quite literally breathtaking. We are all feeling the altitude. Nobody wants to walk very far or very quickly. Incredibly, the ground is dotted with lots of pacha mamas – little towers of rocks made by the local people whenever they make a wish to the earth mother.

Pool fed by hotspringsWe are all glad to get into the bus and start the descent down to the town of Chivay for a late lunch. This turned out to be a really good (and good value) buffet – the best we have had so far on this trip. Once settled into our hotel for the night, we are offered the choice of a 45min walk or a 5min bus ride to some swimming pools fed by local hot springs. After our big lunch, a walk seemed like a good option. Also, given that much of the Inca Trail is at this sort of altitude a spot of practice seems to be a good idea.

We were encouraged that the walk was easy enough. There was a choice of 3 or 4 pools, the warmest of which was around 39C or hotter if you stand near the pipe bringing hot water into the pool. It was really quite relaxing, though every now and again, I would get a reminder that our bodies are not at home at this altitude and feel a little woozy. Take it easy.

Dancers in traditional costume - yes, apparently the lampshade is authentic!Shiry – our guide and surrogate mum – has made us keep off the beer for the last 48 hours. I venture to have a beer with our evening meal which is in a restaurant which puts on a show of traditional musicians (the dreaded pan pipes!) and dancers. We all somewhat subdued, and with an early start promised for tomorrow, everyone opts for an early night.


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2 Responses to Day 54: At Altitude (Pt. 1)

  1. Gavin says:

    Dave – just a comment to provide some encouragement for the blogging – it is refreshing to read of far off places while the autmnal drizzle falls outside my window. The scenery there looks fantastic and it sounds as if you are having a great time.

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks, Gav.

    Good to hear from you. Thank you for your support – it is always appreciated even if it is a bit of a surprise that our ramblings are of interest to anyone.

    I hope all is well with you and that Oxford United are flying this season.


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