Posts Tagged ‘Colca’

Peru Day 5 – Colca Canyon/Condor Cross

Monday, November 8th, 2010 by virginia

We had a super early start to this day, as we had to make sure we got to the Condor Cross in time. The view that greeted us when we walked out of our little bungalow was just stunning.

Gorgeous view of the sunrise over the river

We were supposed to get breakfast at the hotel at 5:30 am but Josh and I were running late as usual so we ended up missing it. Instead we grabbed a stack of pita bread to go and ate it on the bus. Not exactly filling, but they had to do.

Pita bread for breakfast

After we got on the bus, we headed back toward the town of Yanque to pick up the other people in our group from their respective hotels. Then we stopped in the center square of town where there is a beautiful white colonial style church. In the center of the square there is a large fountain where the children of the town dance for tourists before heading off to school. They wear brightly colored traditional clothing and perform the dance of love.

White colonial church

Local children doing the dance of love

After leaving the town, we made our way toward Colca Canyon and the Condor Cross. We pulled over at different points along the road, where the views of the valleys were just breathtaking. There are colorful agricultural terraces lining the valleys, most of which were built by the Incas and are still in use today.

We also saw the hanging tombs at Choquetico along the way. These pre-Inca tombs aren’t really hanging, but they’re buried in the face of the mountain, way up. Some of the tombs are marked in red, and it’s impressive that they were able to build these so high up on a steep mountain.

Can you see the holes in the mountain face? some of those are tombs.

One of the tombs ringed in red

More tombs

When we finally reached the Condor Cross, the portion of Colca Canyon where condors take flight by gliding on the early morning air streams, it was pretty crowded with lots of tourists. Everyone was perched on the rim of the canyon scanning the skies for any sign of a condor. Since nothing was really happening, we took the opportunity to look at the canyon itself, which was nothing like what I expected. I was picturing something like the Grand Canyon, but at this portion the walls of the canyon were pretty slanted, not steep. There was no layering of colors like the Grand Canyon, but they were pretty deep. It was majestic in its own way.

The cross that marks Condor Cross

People waiting to see the condors

Canyon walls

We waited for what seemed like hours but was probably only about 40 minutes, and no condors in sight. Not even a hint. I was feeling pretty dejected at this point and I was starting to get upset that we went out of our way to go to Colca Canyon just to see condors, and we had wasted our time. Then all of a sudden, I saw something flying low in the canyon out of the corner of my eye. The crowd all around us began making noises of excitement, and we realized that a group of condors had arrived.

Condor flying around the Condor Cross

The birds were absolutely magnificent, soaring high above us and the circling down so that they were just overhead. Their wingspans were ginormous, and they glided so gracefully. There were about six of them, one black and white adult and a few brown juveniles. They didn’t seem to have any sort of agenda; they just circled around us, making pass after pass. We watched them fly around for about 20 minutes before we had to continue on our way.

After leaving the Condor Cross, we drove a short ways and took a walk along the canyon rim. The views were pretty, but still didn’t have the same impact on me as the Grand Canyon. We did get to see a condor fly past us though, which was pretty cool since Condor Cross seemed sort of staged (even though it’s not), and this was “out in the wild” (sort of).

After our short stroll, we got back on the bus and drove to the start of the canyon, where we saw more agricultural terraces. We also got to try cactus fruit, which was super sour. It’s usually blended with ice and other ingredients to make a drink so eating it plain was a bit overwhelming and mouthpuckering.

Near the start of the Colca Canyon

Terraces up close

Cactus fruit

We drove through a few small little towns, stopping to check out yet another white colonial church.

White colonial church

Church innards

It turned out that our route back to Arequipa was the same way we took getting to Colca. We drove back through Chivay and stopped for lunch at the same restaurant, Zacarias. I was kind of upset by that, since we were eating at the same place two days in a row, but luckily the buffet had different offerings. They had cuy! It was deep fried and cut into little unidentifiable pieces, which made them easier to eat. We also had some more alpaca, and my favorites from the previous day, beets and vegetable fritters.

Spinach soup

Beets, vegetable fritters, chicken with rice, vegetable casserole, french fries, fried cuy, alpaca, stuffed zucchini

After lunch we had a little bit of time to kill so we walked around the main square in Chivay, which featured, yes, you guessed it, another white colonial church.

Yet another white colonial church

Afterward, we got back on the bus for the four hour drive back to Arequipa. I was worried that we would feel altitude sickness again when we reached the highest point on the road, at over 4,900 meters, but luckily, we slept through most of the ride and didn’t feel anything. When we got back to Arequipa, we went for a walk before dinner, checking out the Plaza de Armas and the cathedral at night.

Cathedral in Arequipa

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Zig Zag, which was recommended to us by a couple who was in our Colca Canyon tour group. The food was fantastic, and it was one of the best meals we had during our entire vacation. With regard to Colca Canyon, the sights were beautiful and the condors were amazing, so if you have the time to spare, you should definitely check it out. However, it’s not on my list of places you HAVE to visit in Peru. Regardless, we had a good time there and it definitely helped us acclimate to the altitude, which made the rest of our trip seem like a breeze.

Restaurant Los Condores – Colca Lodge, Peru

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I were feeling pretty relaxed and cozy after our soak in the hot springs so we debated whether we should go straight to bed or grab a late dinner. We had an early start to the next day and we wanted the rest but we figured that we would need energy as well so we decided to head up to the main building for dinner. Since the hotel is in such a remote location, the hotel restaurant was our only option.

When we got to the restaurant, we had a choice between the buffet or ordering a la carte. The altitude had sapped our appetites so we decided to go a la carte since neither of us could stomach facing a buffet. After placing our orders, we munched on the pita-like bread that they brought us. It had a sweet,wheaty flavor to it and had a nice chewy texture.

Pita bread

We decided to split an appetizer to start, opting for a dish called the trout trilogy, which was trout served three ways. The trout came from the river so we figured it would be something fresh and local. It was, but to our surprise, the trout flesh was pink like salmon, not like the trout I’ve seen here in the U.S. The trout  preparations included smoked trout, fried in quinoa croquettes, and fried with amaranth.

Trout trilogy

The appetizer platter was huge, and everything on it was really tasty. I was a bit wary when I saw the croquette covered in cheese but it was fabulous – perfectly fried, crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside. The cheese added a little saltiness and a little tang, and I liberally dipped these in the ramekin of salsa for some spice.

Trout and quinoa croquettes

Fresh salsa

We didn’t know what amaranth was when we ordered the trilogy, but it turned out to be little white seeds similar to sesame seeds. The strips of trout were coated in the seeds and then fried, which gave them a nice crunch. We dipped these into the sweet and citrusy sauce that came with the platter.

Fried trout strips with amaranth

Sweet citrus dipping sauce

The smoked trout was Josh’s least favorite dish of the bunch, but then again, he’s not a fan of smoked fish in general. I mean, he doesn’t like lox! Who doesn’t like lox? The trout had a subtle smoke flavor and wasn’t overly salty, which I liked. It was a tad dry though, so I remedied that by pouring the salsa over it. That resulted in a nice smoky, sweet, spicy combination.

Smoked trout

For our entree, we had even more trout. Hey, it was the local specialty! We split an order of trout covered in a mascarpone cream sauce with capers and chopped onions. The trout was well cooked, with a crisp exterior and tender on the inside. The cream sauce wasn’t overly rich, and while the onions seemed like a weird addition at first, they helped brighten up the whole dish. We had our choice of side dish so we opted for gnocchi with pesto sauce, which was surprisingly light in texture. The pesto sauce packed in good basil flavor, and it was a good choice overall.

Trout with mascarpone, capers, and chopped onions

For our second entree, we wanted something lighter so we chose a vegetarian dish that sounded interesting. It was called quinoa tabbouleh and was served with peas, carrots, sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, figs, mango, and avocado in a sweet and sour sauce made with honey and lemon juice. Traditional tabbouleh, which is made with tons of parsley and mint mixed with bulgur, lemon juice, and olive oil, is one of Josh’s favorite dishes. He loves the bright herb flavor and the freshness and brightness of the dish. Unfortunately, this version was nothing like the original. While quinoa is similar to bulgur, this tabbouleh had no herbs and the fruit was an odd addition. The quinoa itself was really bland, while the sweet and sour sauce clashed with the fruit and vegetables. We were pretty disappointed with this dish and left most of it behind.

Quinoa tabbouleh

I was kind of bummed when I found out how far away our hotel was from town because I didn’t want to eat at the hotel restaurant. In our experience, hotel food is usually overpriced and not always as good as local restaurants. What we didn’t know was that dinner was included in our stay. No one from the tour company told us that so I don’t know if dinner is included with everyone’s stay, or if we paid extra for it, and what the spending limit was.

This was annoying to me because if the buffet had been included in our package, and we had already paid for it, then obviously we would have gone with that. If I had paid extra to eat a la carte without knowing, that would have made me furious. Luckily that wasn’t the case, but maybe we would have ordered differently if we knew that we could spend X amount of soles, considering that the cost would have already been factored in our tour rate. Either way it wasn’t the hotel’s fault, it was an issue I had with the tour company, and we tipped the server on what our dinner would have cost based on the menu prices.

So, back to the food. I was pretty pleased with our appetizer platter and with the trout entree. It was a lot of trout, but everything was prepared differently and had different flavors so I wasn’t overwhelmed or bored by the trout. The tabbouleh dish was pretty bad though, and definitely not something I would eat again. The restaurant had a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and service was attentive. It’s probably a place that is only frequented by hotel guests, but there were prices on the menu so I guess you could walk in if you were in that neck of the woods. As far as hotel food goes, this was really good, though prices seemed pretty high. We did enjoy our meal overall, and it was a nice way to finish our day.

Restaurant Los Condores
Colca Lodge
Fundo Puye S/N – Yanque. Caylloma – Valle del Colca
Av. Luis Gonzales 622

El Balcon de Don Zacarias Restaurant – Chivay, Peru

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 by virginia

During our drive from Arequipa to the Colca Valley, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called El Balcon de Don Zacarias in the town of Chivay. Lunch was included as part of our tour package but that wasn’t the case for everyone in our group, and Josh and I were pretty disappointed not to be able to explore restaurants in the town by ourselves. In our experience, tour package restaurants for the most part have served us pretty lousy, bland food that is designed for tourists. See most of my China posts for reference.

Nevertheless, since we had apparently already paid for lunch as part of our package, we grudgingly trudged up the stairs and into the restaurant. We were further disappointed to see that it was a buffet, and the few patrons in the restaurant were all clearly tourists. Josh and I took a quick stroll around the buffet to see what the offerings were, and I was pleased to see that the food did look pretty interesting, as we didn’t recognize any dishes. Everything looked homemade and kind of rustic, no fussy presentations or decorations in sight, so I was hoping that we would be eating authentic Peruvian dishes, not a watered down version of Peruvian food for tourists. With everything arranged in pyrex dishes on a long table, it looked sort of like a potluck, rather than a restaurant buffet.

Some dishes on the buffet table

Josh and I both started out with some soup – squash for him and chicken soup for me. The squash soup wasn’t like the pureed butternut variety we typically eat here. Instead there were cubes of different kinds of squash mixed in a creamy yellow soup that was surprisingly light and not too rich. The chicken soup I had was plain but soothing, with a clean chicken flavor. There were thin strands of noodles inside but they were long and kind of hard to spoon up so I mostly just drank the broth.

Squash soup

Chicken soup

I started out with a “feeler” plate, taking a little bit of most things so that I could try as much as possible. Half of the buffet contained raw salad items, however, which I avoided because I wasn’t sure how they washed their vegetables. I did eat things that were peeled though, like beets and tomatoes without skin. Maybe I’m just being paranoid but even though we’re adventurous eaters, we do take some precautions to try and avoid getting sick.

Beets, salsa, beef, bread, pork, quinoa, llama, alpaca, chicken, vegetable fritters, french fries in the middle

The meats were all in stew-like sauces, so it was hard to distinguish between them. It was the first time that we tried llama and alpaca though. The llama was very strange, since they have to dry the meat before cooking it. The result was very tough and gristly, almost like eating cartilage. Flavor-wise, however, it was fantastically gamey. I loved the taste but couldn’t get past the texture. The alpaca was inoffensive, with a texture similar to veal or pork, and tasted mostly like the sauce it was cooked in. The beets were fabulous, just plain roasted but super sweet and intensely “beety” in flavor. I took seconds of that, as well as the vegetable fritters which were a mix of corn and squash and were also sweet and fresh-tasting.

For dessert, there was fruit in a sweet, white syrup, a flan-like custard, and a passion fruit flavored pudding. Nothing super exciting, but not bad either.

Papaya and pineapple in syrup, flan, passion fruit pudding

The food at Zacarias really wasn’t upscale or gourmet, but I actually liked it much more than I thought I would. Yes, I’m sure it’s still designed for tourists, but the food seemed genuine and there weren’t any cop-out dishes (ie., plain chicken or beef, American food, etc.). The only dish we knew was french fries, but they were made from flavorful, starchy Peruvian potatoes, not the McDonalds variety. I don’t know if you need to be part of a tour group to eat at this restaurant or if you can just walk in, but if you find yourself in Chivay for whatever reason, it’s worth checking out. The restaurant and the facilities are clean, and the buffet was a nice way to try lots of different dishes. I still like to think they were authentic homestyle Peruvian dishes, though I don’t know the names and won’t be able to order them elsewhere. Regardless, the food was tasty and we left with our bellies very full.

El Balcon de Don Zacarias Restaurant
Av. 22 De Agosto, Valle Del Colca
Chivay, Peru

Peru Day 4 – Colca Valley

Monday, November 1st, 2010 by virginia

We had an early start to this day because we had a four hour drive from Arequipa to the Colca Valley. We woke up a bit later than we should have so we barely had enough time to bolt down a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet.

Omelet, chicken with red peppers, potato tortilla, tamale with chicken

Our tour company sub-contracted out our Colca Valley tour so we ended up being on a small bus with about 20 other people. It was the first time we were in a group for an extended period of time, since our city tours had either been private or with a group for just a few hours. It was nice to interact with others and we met a lot of nice people from different countries.

As we drove out of Arequipa, the landscape got much drier while the mountains and volcanoes in the distance got much clearer. Once we got into the Aguada Blanca National Reserve, however, we drove by multiple herds of alpacas, llamas, and vicunas grazing on little green bushes that manage to grow in the arid conditions. While all three types of animals are somewhat similar, we could see the differences between them. Vicunas look more delicate, with long, thin necks, and their brown fur is prized because of its softness. Alpacas and llamas look almost identical, but alpacas are slightly smaller and have fur on their faces, while llamas look more clean shaven.


Herd of vicunas

Volcano and a pair of vicunas

We stopped at a rest area midway through the drive to make a pit stop. We also had the opportunity to purchase either coca tea or chachacoma tea, which are good for altitude sickness. Since we were heading up into the mountains, and because we had brought coca leaves with us already, we decided to try out chachacama tea. It had a very floral and herbaceous flavor to it, and reminded me of juniper. We were relatively high up at this point, altitude wise, but Josh and I weren’t feeling any of the effects yet. The tea was tasty but we weren’t sure if it really had any healing properties to it.

Chachacoma tea

Native woman at the rest area with her alpaca who was giving Josh the hairy eyeball for taking her picture (he did give her a few soles for it afterward)

After we got back on the bus, we really started to climb higher into the mountains so our tour guide told us it was time to bust out the coca leaves. Josh and I purchased a package at the beginning of the bus ride, when we stopped at a convenience store to stock up on water and drinks. The package of coca leaves only cost us a few soles, and there was plenty to share with the people around us. To chew the leaves, we wrapped a small stack of about 5 leaves around a piece of thick black resin that is made from burning quinoa. The resin substance helps with the flavor of the coca, and activates its healing properties. We tucked the little packet of coca and resin in our cheeks and chewed softly. The coca is supposed to make your mouth slightly numb, and counteract the effects of altitude. While Josh and I experienced just a slight numbness, we really didn’t feel much from the coca. It got a bit uncomfortable after a while, and the taste wasn’t wonderful, so we spit it out after about half an hour. It wasn’t something either of us really enjoyed, and we never did chew more coca after that, though we continued to drink coca tea.

Package of coca leaves for chewing

We passed some more herds of animals, and our bus pulled over to the side of the road so that we could get out and take some pictures. When I climbed down the stairs of the bus, I almost pitched forward and fell. I thought maybe the coca leaves had affected me more than I originally thought, but I realized later that it was because the altitude had made me slightly lightheaded. It wasn’t too bad at this point, I was just more careful when we moved around.

Pretty scenery

Llama taking a drink

After we got back on the bus, we climbed even higher into the mountains. I was really feeling dizzy at this point, and at our next stop, we finally understood why. We had reached the highest point on our trip, which was over 4,900 meters above sea level. That’s over 16,000 feet! When we got off the bus here, Josh and I were REALLY feeling the effects of the altitude. It was a struggle to walk, and it felt like our feet were in lead boots. Our balance was off, and our heads were foggy. It was like our bodies were moving in slow motion, and there was nothing we could do to correct it. We quickly snapped a few pictures (we had really great views of the volcanoes here) and promptly returned to the bus.

Rock commemorating the altitude where we were

Stacks of stones that people leave behind to indicate they were there

Nice view

We really weren’t feeling well at this point, so we recharged our batteries by drinking some sweet orange Fanta soda (my favorite drink in foreign countries) and nibbling on some Lay’s potato chips. The sugar and the food helped settle our stomachs a bit, since we both had started feeling nauseous, but the headache and dizziness persisted. Fortunately it was all downhill from there, and by the time we reached Chivay, a small town along the way where we stopped for lunch, we were feeling much better.

Town of Chivay below

After lunch, which was a buffet at a local restaurant called Zacarias, we were dropped off at our respective hotels. Most of the people in our group were staying at various hotels in the town of Yanque. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous after seeing a few of the hotels people were getting dropped off at, and I grew more and more apprehensive as we moved away from the center of town. Most of the places seemed pretty rustic, and I was not happy to be so far away from everything. We were the last stop, along with a handful of other people, and we seemed to go a long way out of town, up some mountains and around some narrow bends. All of a sudden, we saw some beautiful grounds down in the valley below us, and our tour guide announced that it was the Colca Lodge, where we were staying. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, as the buildings were beautiful, the grounds well kept, and we had hot spring pools at our disposable, plus spa facilities.

After we checked in, we were taken to our room, which was actually a little bungalow attached to a long row of bungalows that faced the river. Our view was breathtaking, and we could hear the water running downstream. It was incredibly soothing, and while Josh ran to the main building to send a few emails, I sat on the little terrace in front of our bungalow and just took in the scene.

Row of bungalows

Picture perfect view out the window of our bungalow

After Josh got back, we took a little hike along the river, on the side opposite the hotel. There was a small bridge that we walked across, then we hiked through some tall grass and down onto the rocky riverbed.

Crossing the river

View of the river and the spa buildings

View of the river and the surrounding valley

When we grew tired of hiking, we went to check out the spa facilities. It was quite nice, with lots of massage rooms that had views of the river, as well as private jacuzzi tubs that also overlooked the river. Prices were pretty steep though, even for NYC, so we decided to pass. Instead, we went back to our room, changed into our bathing suits, and went to the hot spring pools. There were 4 or 5 small pools altogether, and we decided to join a group of Belgians who seemed to be having a good time. The water was warm, not super hot, and we just sat in the pool for a few hours until the sun went down. The air outside cooled significantly so we kept warm by sitting near the source of the springs, which was really hot. We ended up having the pool to ourselves when the Belgians left, so we just sat there looking up at the stars. We thought we saw the Southern Cross, but it turns out you can’t see it now from Peru. Too bad. It was an absolutely gorgeous setting though, and we felt calm and relaxed.

Watching the sunset from the hot spring pool

After sunset

Moon shot

When our fingers and toes got way too wrinkled, we headed back to our room and showered before going to dinner. Since we were basically in the middle of nowhere, we had to eat at the hotel restaurant. Apparently dinner was included in our stay, though no one told us beforehand. We weren’t hungry, probably due to the altitude, but we were feeling great after the relaxing soak in the hot springs. Although it was a long morning, with the four hour drive from Arequipa to the Colca Valley and our first bout of altitude sickness, our day ended on a very positive note. It turned out to be the only down time that we would have until the very end of our trip, and we definitely enjoyed every minute of it.

Quick Update from Peru – Flight of the Condors

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by virginia

Yesterday morning we took a four hour drive from Arequipa to Colca Canyon, where the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s not quite the Grand Canyon, but the valleys are green and there are lots of terraces where the locals farm all sorts of vegetables. We also saw herds of llamas, alpacas, and vicunas (all similar species).

We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, the Colca Lodge, which is in a valley right on the Colca River. We had an amazing view of the river outside the window of our bungalow, and the sound of the running water was incredibly soothing.

The Lodge also has several outdoor hot spring pools. We relaxed in the warm water for quite a while, where we watched the sunset and gazed up in amazement as the sky filled with stars. Josh was trying to figure out which constellations we were seeing, as we’ve never seen stars from the southern hemisphere.

But really, the highlight of our time in Colca Canyon was this morning, when we woke up super early to get to Condor Cross on time. This is where condors take flight on the early morning winds, and these majestic birds were truly a sight to see. At first we waited for what seemed like ages, and no condors in sight. Then, all of a sudden, it was like someone released a whole flock, as condors started circling over head and below us in the canyon. Their wingspans were pretty incredible, and when they stretched out all their feathers we could see their beautiful coloring. They’re such graceful birds, and we were lucky to be able to see them soaring all around us.

Condors crossing the canyon