Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chivay: Entrance to Colca Canyon

We peered down upon Chivay from high up in the Andes, winding down a narrow dirt road through the mountains in our bus from Arequipa. Up to this point, the road had been riddled with potholes and lined with cacti and stone sculptures that looked like a hobby for a lonely mountain dweller. The structures weren’t much- smaller rocks stacked on bigger rocks stacked on even bigger rocks. It passed time for the Peruvian builder, and passed time for the American admirer.

As we crept up the mountain reaching the highest point of our trek, Patapampa, the landscape vaguely resembled an arid desert: cactus and sand, and dry air. As the wind picked up, our bus was pelted by the dust and stones and cacti remnants. Then green. The desert turned into lush grass and wildlife. The volcanoes snowy peaks played hide and go seek with us as we veered and turned around and around the mountains. Sheep farms, llama farms, and cattle started to appear in the distance both up and down the steep slope of the Andes.

Four hours later, Chivay appeared, as if someone was in the process of building a lego model of a town, but kept running away when they saw the bus. The town from so far up seemed too small to house humans. It was spread out and flat, dotted with tin roofs on the mountainside; aluminum foil crumpled and laid out to catch the sun.

As we rolled down, avoiding tumbling over the edge, the town began to grow in size but never in complexity. There was the bus terminal with its three wheeled, motorized rickshaws lined up ready for action. Buzzing in and away from the buses carrying tourists or locals to their not so far destination, these rickshaws could have been wound up as much as they could have been fuelled.

Chivay is no more than its Plaza de Armas. A small, simple place hidden within the hills, it’s about ten square blocks of a romanticized Peru. The women, descendents of women that have been there for hundreds of years, wear their typical garb rich in color and alive with heritage. They carry around their children on their back in bright papooses of purple, blue and green. Men, long given up their old time clothes, sport their jean jackets and cowboy hats as they herd their animals in the nearby farms.

The roads here are cobblestone at the town center and dirt everywhere else. Small houses, or rather abodes, clutter around the plaza and market as small playground and soccer field guards the entrance from the mountains. This place is simple, sleepy, and, for the most part, undisturbed.

Backpackers and hikers flock to this small village to begin their journey through Colca Canyon, so sometimes English is heard more than Spanish at the local restaurants. These adventures huddle in and around the towns handful of hostels as they plan and prepare for the rest of their journey here in Colca. Down the road they join locals in a set of pools heated by the nearby volcanoes. A relaxing start to a getaway sure to be filled with plenty of hiking and breathtaking views.

Although Chivay is must while in Colca, with eyes fixated towards the heavens trying to understand where it is you stand, it is not a place to linger for more than a day or two. It is put away and disconnected, and, besides a hike to the pools, there is little to do. Move on to Cruz de Condor for the birds, or far down the road to Cabanaconde for views to send you back shivering.

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