Somewhere between the city of Arequipa and Colca Canyon I looked out the bus window and saw this beautiful sight. I knew I had to snap it even though conditions weren’t ideal. The weird segmented “creature” in the water just left of center is a reflection of my watch band off the window.
On the right side of this photo is El Misti, Peru’s best known and most active volcano. Its proximity to Arequipa (about 16 kilometers) would mean a major disaster for that city should it have a major eruption. It’s had many rumbles over the years but no major eruption in about 2,000 years, although our guide kept making reference to a big one about 500 years ago, and I did find data to back that up. As usual, internet “facts” are only as good as their source and I’m not skilled at weeding out the bad info. Nor am I so inclined today. If our guide is any indication, the citizens of Arequipa take a rather fatalistic attitude about El Misti’s ability to wreak havoc on their beautiful city.
High in the Andes we were able to observe the vicuña. How high? I’m not sure. I know that we stopped a little later and were at 16,000 feet, so this wasn’t much below that elevation. The wool of the vicuña is the softest, most desirable, and most expensive of all the Peruvian wools. Our guide told us that one sweater from the vicuña yarn would cost $3,000 to $4,000 in American dollars. One factor is that this beautiful, graceful animal can be shorn only every three years and must be caught from the wild. In the days of the Inca, only royalty could wear this superfine fabric. I suppose that would be true today as well at those prices.
The photo on the right shows local vendors hawking their wares at the highest point we achieved on this magnificent journey. This is the spot where we stood at 16,000 feet above sea level. When we first got off the bus I felt a little light-headed, but I acclimated quickly. We had stopped along the way up to drink more coca tea, and we had coca candies to munch on all along the way. I have never suffered from altitude sickness, soroche, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I followed the advice of the guides, the literature, and fellow travelers. Altitude sickness can be quite dangerous and is not to be taken lightly.
Here I am hale and hearty. Our guide took my picture so I could prove I was there. Unfortunately, the marker doesn’t give the elevation. This moment felt like a huge accomplishment. I don’t know exactly why. I hadn’t hiked up or anything astounding like that, but I felt as if I were on top of the world, and ready to conquer whatever else I might encounter. And so we’re off to eat lunch; then on to Colca Canyon Lodge where we will spend the night and partake of the wonderfully soothing natural hot springs. I’m pretty sure I can “conquer” a bit of food and some hot springs. 🙂