Every once in awhile I feel like a total bad ass. This story recounts one of those extra-bad-ass times. How bad ass? Well, let's just say I hope I have a really big tombstone. Because I want this entire text plastered on it.
It is: The Napkin Story.
(Sadly, I took hardly any pictures while on this adventure, so go google image search "Colca Canyon" and pretend the pictures are on this blog.)
My lovely friend Carol (seen here holding an adorable baby of indeterminate species) and I went to Peru together in 2009, a first trip for both of us. After visiting Machu Picchu and doing all of the touristy Cuzco things, we found ourselves spending a few weeks in Arequipa (an unexpected, but exciting, side trip).
We were in a very large group at the time, and one weekend we decided to all take sightseeing trips. Everyone else chose to go to Lake Titicaca, but Carol and I became interested in going to the Colca Valley. I don't really remember why, but I am going to assume it was because we heard it held both condors and the world's best cake. You would have made the same decision.
Now, we knew someone who had done extensive and exciting work in the Colca, and he said that if we were going into the valley we had better go see the awesome Uyu Uyu ruins. He drew a map on a napkin showing how to hike to the site from a small village named Yanque. But how does one get to Yanque? Well, that wasn't on the map. But, we knew it was near a town called Chivay. And Chivay was in the Colca Valley. How hard could this be ?
So we go to the bus station of Arequipa and try to find a bus going to the Colca. Neither of us spoke Spanish (Carol made much better attempts than I did), so buying the ticket meant wandering around until we saw "Chivay" on a sign, then repeating "Chivay" a lot to the ticket lady to make sure she knows this is really where we want to go (protip: just chant what you want in Spanish, eventually they give in).
Having acquired tickets, we get ready to board our bus, which had cities in Bolivia and Chile written on the side of it. Crap. We realized there was a chance that we would find ourselves somewhere far, far away --somewhere we probably really, really did not want to go to. We got on the bus anyway!
Now, Peruvian buses often operate on a system I have yet to understand. People at the first stop buy tickets and get into seats. Then the bus goes towards its destination, stopping and picking up other people on the way. Sometimes these people are at actual bus stations; sometimes these people are standing in the middle of the frozen tundra on a mountain side. And while it doesn't seem to matter where people wait, it also doesn't matter how many people wait. You pick up every person (and sometimes their farm animals). The seats quickly become full; people start to stand, then they start sitting in the aisles. Everyone is very polite, and it surprisingly isn't unpleasant, however it soon becomes hard to move your arms.
Awesomely, the buses do provide entertainment for all these people: they show movies on little TVs! I was very excited for the Colca movie...until I realized it was about a man who is kidnapped and then tortured for months. It went: "kidnap scene. bad things bad things bad things oh god make it stop bad things bad things. END." I'll be the first to admit that I am a wimp, but the movie was truly difficult to watch. However, this was undeniably better than the time I was forced to watch Twilight: Eclipse on my way to Ayacucho.
Anyway, something around 4 hours (and many torture scenes) later we arrive at our destination. And it was actually Chivay! I know - I wasn't expecting it either! Hooray! I remember coming over the hill, looking down in the valley and realizing that this was going to be so worth it. That descent into the Colca is to this day one of my favorite images in all Peru -- the valley is covered with centuries old agricultural terraces, which frame tiny towns and a winding river that runs through the middle. All of this topped with stunning mountains and glaciers? Yea, definitely worth it.