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The city of eternal spring Arequipa and wonderful valley Colca (page 3 of 4)

Irina Nazarova, Peru (January 2008)
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Terraces in the Colca valley Terraces in the Colca valley
Having reached Arequipa, one cannot help but use the chance to visit the Colca canyon, that until recently was considered to be the deepest in the world – 3400 m. Its record was broken again by a Peruvian canyon - Cotahuasi (3535) that was discovered just a couple of decades ago. But the latter, unfortunately, is less accessible to tourists unlike Colca, where tourist business is paid much attention to.

The Colca valley
Spanish geographer and journalist Gonzalo de Reparaz Ruiz is thought to be the discoverer of the canyon. In 1954 he measured its depth for the first time and registered it as the deepest in the world. In love with Peru, it was him to publish the first country tourist guide with a map. The beauty of the country here really strikes you, even despite the fact that the deepest portion of the canyon with vertical walls is inaccessible for civilised tourists, who use the wheeled transportation.

The Colca canyon
The Colca valley had been inhabited long before the Spaniards came. Even at 5000 B.C. the population of the valley was engaged in agriculture. In the period of 700-1000 (Wary culture) they start to cultivate maze. After the downfall of Wary the valley was inhabited by collaguas, who were the first to build terraces and irrigation canals. The terraces are very well preserved till our days and not as museum relics. Local peasants actively use them according to their primary designation. From the 15th century the valley was under the rule of Incas. When Spaniards came the native population began to drastically reduce. In order to control the situation in some way, as per orders from Spain they founded 14 settlements for the native population.

Artesania from the Colca valley Artesania from the Colca valley Artesania from the Colca valley Artesania from the Colca valley Artesania from the Colca valley

These settlements exist even now and bear the same names in the languages of quechua and aymara (Ichupampa, Cabanaconde, Coporaque and others) and preserve their charm not spoiled by civilisation. Impressive churches (16-19 century) built in all settlements and accompanying us all the way in the valley as mileposts are pleasing the eye.

Church in Cabanaconde Church in Cabanaconde Church in Maca village Church in Maca village

Collaguas (aymara) and cabanas (quechua), people of the valley, which survived the conquista, till now preserve their traditions. It is especially noticeable in women. All female residents of the valley always wear traditional garments, whether they work in the field or go to school or a party. Even if a girl is dressed in modern clothes, in jeans, she will always wear a hat that distinguishes her belonging to this or that clan.

Native population of Colca Native population of Colca Native population of Colca Native population of Colca

From the earliest times Indians collaguas and cabanas were prohibited to make mixed families. Some time ago they used to live separately, but with time, the rules slightly softened. And in our days collaguas and cabanas marry each other, however, belonging to one of the nations is determined by the mother's line. Local women and girls in skirts and waistcoats with hand embroidery, dressed in several layers, look very much picturesque. All holidays are usually accompanied by traditional dances.

Local kids performing national dances Local kids performing national dances
Local kids
In the hotel local kids performed national dances to us, and we were surprised to see the boys wearing skirts and strange headdress with a «veil» that practically completely hides the face. The guide explained that the tradition roots back in the legend, similar to the story of Montecchi and Capuleti. A youth if one of the clans (whether it was collaguas or cabanas)fell in love with a girl from the other one. As long as the parents were against such a union, the boy in love had to change into a girl's dress and hide his face for dating his beloved one. But one day the father of the girl revealed the secret and killed the poor boy. Since then, the youth during the national holidays for dances wear the skirts and the above mentioned hats.

Another attraction of the valley – condors. In 41 km from the settlement of Chivay – main town of the region, there is an observation point «Cruz-del-Condor». It is situated at the height of 3287 m, and the depth of the canyon in that place is 1200 m. Here come all tourists with the hope to see the «flight of condor» which are used to coming there (and sometimes not) in morning hours. Nobody could clearly explain to us why they make their «morning exercises» at this particular place. But one of the most probable reasons is that in the mornings special air streams attracting lovers to hover are formed in this area. Our group was «half» lucky – because of sluggishness of our guide, we came to the observation point at the end of the «show», but still managed to enjoy for 10 minutes the beauty of condors, and on the way there we saw the birds a couple of times. Something was even captured by our photo cameras.

Condor Condor
Andean condor is a bird that arouses respect and reverence among the local population. The span of its wings can reach 3.5 m and it can fly at the height of 5000 m with the speed of 55 km/hr. Pectoral muscles of condor are not properly developed and it prefers to hover using the air streams. In the zoos these birds live up 85 years and in wild nature they can live more than 100 years. They say that when a condor becomes very old to fly and find food, it commits suicide: reaches the maximum height in air streams and then throws itself on the rocks and dies. When our guide told us this story I thought that it was another tale for tourists, but later I found a confirmation to it in other sources.

Crossing Patapampa Crossing Patapampa Crossing Patapampa
Some tourists, due to different reasons, fail to see the purpose of their visit – these amazing birds. It must be very unfortunate, keeping in view all physical inconveniences that you experience on the way. Because on the way from Arequipa you have to come over the crossing Patapampa of 4800 m high. Complete absence of vegetation, volcanoes from all the sides, whistling of the wind – this surrealistic picture is intensified by a number of stone small pyramids on the crossing. According to the guide, these pyramids (apachetas) were built by the first residents of the valley as a token of gratitude to the Gods of mountains for letting them reach the crossing safe and sound as well as a plea to protect them.

Even healthy people experience mountain sickness, and elderly people sometimes get even sick. Some elderly Canadians were travelling around the valley with us in the bus. One of the ladies had to be given oxygen to breathe from the bottle that is always carried by guides. The poor thing had a very pitiful look.

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