March 29, 2013 by jiejie768
On Thursday, March 14, the post-lunch schedule (pre-lunch activities recounted here) featured a guided hike into the beginnings of Colca Canyon and a visit to Chivay’s hot springs.
We were a bit road-weary, so the hike sounded hard, but we figured the hot springs would feel all the better after a bit of exercise. The hike left from a small village about 10 minutes from Chivay — the chief city in Colca Canyon — so we boarded the bus (again) and dropped off at their respective hotels a few of our fellow travelers who weren’t feeling so hot.
The bus let us off in the central plaza of Yanque, which had a picturesque little church and no open ice cream suppliers (much to Meg’s chagrin).
Foiled in our attempts at a frozen treat, we followed Ali out of the village and onto a path along a ridge at the very entrance to Colca Canyon. It was a pretty impressive sight, with the river cutting a wide swath and green slopes rising on either side, but Ali assured us it was nothing. The depth of the canyon at this point was a mere 100 meters, whereas the deepest point plunged more than 3,100 meters from ridge to floor. On our trip, the deepest gorge we would see was an impressive 1,000-meters deep, so I can’t imagine what it looks like at its full glory.
The primary point of this hike was to catch of glimpse of the canyon’s namesake: the colcas. The river, canyon and valley all bear the name Colca, but as it turns out, none of them were named for each other.
Colcas, we learned, were caves in the side of the steep canyon walls where the native people used to store various goods that needed cooler temperatures. Essentially, the colcas were low-tech refrigerators used to store beans, potatoes, vegetables and even meat.
Essentially, the colcas were low-tech refrigerators used to store beans, potatoes, vegetables and even meat.
Basicamente, las colcas eran refrigeradores primitivos en que guardaban frijoles, papas, verduras y aun carne.
Essentially, the colcas were low-tech refrigerators used to store beans, potatoes, vegetables and even meat. …
Oops, apparently, I was channeling Ali there for a minute.
Roundtrip, the hike lasted about an hour and a half, and after snapping some photos of the Yanque church, we piled back into the cozy confines of the Mercedes van and headed for the Chivay hot springs. Meg and I have now visited three hot springs in South America — Aguas Calientes, Peru, and Banos, Ecuador, being home to the others — and Chivay’s are a solid second in the rankings. The pools were pretty warm — not as hot as I would have liked — but spacious and with waterside bar service. Banos has by far the best hot springs experience I’ve encountered anywhere on the planet, and the baths in Aguas Calientes are an embarrassment to the name of its town (“Hot Waters”). As such, I’d say Chivay’s springs are decent middle ground.
After an hour at the springs, it was time to (finally) check-in to our hotel and take a load off for a minute. I’d hoped to visit our hotel (OK, really our hotel room’s private bathroom) upon arriving in Chivay four hours earlier, but had not been granted that privilege.
So I was happier than I care to admit to finally be granted access to our lodging space. After I’d, um, examined the hotel (bath)room to my satisfaction, it was about 6 p.m.
Our tour had arranged an optional dinner for us at a spot outside of town, but we decided to venture out on our own for this meal and picked a place in the charming central plaza. Before settling on a restaurant, however, we took a spin through the town’s cathedral, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it unique among the many churches I’ve visited in my travels.
Instead of the omnipresent gold accoutrements favored by most Vatican outposts, Chivay’s cathedral was painted in a bright array of pastels that brought to mind the Easter aisle at your local Target (man, I miss Target). As Chivay is a town of, maybe, 5,000 people, the cathedral was much smaller and less ornate than its Arequipenan counterpart, but it’s distinctive and unusual decor left a deeper impression on me than it’s larger, more ostentatious brethren.
(Side note: We saw a few churches in this part of the Andes that didn’t have the Stations of the Cross. Meg would like to know why. Any Catholics out there have the answer?).
We ate a decent little pizza place that had the best bread basket I’ve ever had. Seriously. It was pan chapla — basically hollow English muffins — cut in half and baked with butter and garlic served with a tomato, onion and cucumber concoction that tasted like heaven in food form. The main courses were average at best, but the bread and that veggie spread will be a flavor I seek in vain for the rest of my days on Earth.
After dinner we crossed the plaza to a watering hole claiming to be the world’s highest Irish bar. This gave us pause as Meg and I had previously visited a bar in Cuzco — Paddy’s Irish Pub — claiming to be the world’s highest Irish bar. McElroy’s, Chivay’s Irish outpost is 11,925 feet above sea level, a good deal higher than the 11,156 feet at which Paddy’s sits, and Meg and I were confused. Further research, however, reveals that Paddy’s claim is to being the highest “100-percent Irish-owned” bar, and, McElroy’s was clearly owned by a Peruvian gentleman. Glad I could put that controversy to rest for everyone out there.
The bar sported a decent ambiance despite the fact that Mikey, Meg and I made up the entire clientele upon entering.
Undaunted, we ordered some drinks — Pisco sour for Meg and chilcanos (Pisco, lime and ginger ale) for Mikey and I — and drank in the scene. Nearly every inch of available space – walls, ceiling, tables, pool table, etc. — in McElroy’s is covered in signatures and drawings of those who came before us.
It’s been my experience in Peru, at least in Ayacucho, that bars are few and far between. There is no place (that I know of) in Ayacucho that resembles a neighborhood hangout the way the Tav (Ellensburg), or Hattie’s Hat (Ballard) does back in the States. There are more of these in tourist-centric towns, but I’ve rarely ventured into them. Thus, I was excited by the idea of hanging out in a bar, having a drink with a good buddy, and, especially, shooting some pool.
McElroy’s features a giant pool table right in front of the bar. This, as much as anything, is what drew me to this particular establishment (it’s advertised on a sign outside). It was even free to play. There was a reason.
I’m not a great pool player by any measure, but it wasn’t long before I realized that something was fishy. There is a mysterious slant to either the table or the floor that makes balls roll away from literally every pocket. It’s almost as if there is a slight incline toward the center of the table from each side.
Adding to this difficulty, is the fact that the pockets are about 15-20 percent smaller than they should be. I swear to you that this is true. There is, basically, EXACTLY enough space for the ball to fit through the opening and enter the pocket. Clearly pool was free, because the length of the game led to several additional drinks being ordered as we needed something to do while we slogged along the seemingly interminable path to the finish line.
Despite the table’s shortcomings, we had a good time, and after about an hour, I finally put the 8-ball into a side pocket and the game was over. We left our signatures on the cue rack, and I drew a block-W on the table to denote my victory (Go Dawgs!). As we were leaving, the bar begin to fill up with other tourists, and a part of me wanted to stay and get to know some strangers. Unfortunately, our ride was leaving for Condor Crossing at 6 a.m. the next morning, and Ali had assured us (MANY times) that only happy thoughts would bring the condors into view; hangovers and early risings do not breed in Ryan happy thoughts. So it was that we paid our tab and headed back to the hotel with not enough hours between us and 4:30 a.m., when our alarms were set to go off.
Catch up on all our travels with Mikey:
- Day 1: Lima to Arequipa
- Day 2: Arequipa — Monasteria Santa Catalina
- Day 3: Arequipa — Turtles, Beer and Burritos
- Day 4 (Part 1): Into the Canyon