Arequipa is also a starting point for trips to the Colca Canyon and in Cusco we had booked a three days, two nights trip expecting a 'full tour' of the Canyon area with 2 nights in a 3 star hotel in Chivay. Our guide, Blanca, turned up in a 9-seater van with 6 other passengers and we set off through the sprawling and ugly suburbs, round the base of El Misti and uphill through 5 different eco-zones. Huge branching cacti, scrubby bushes and flowering shrubs gave way to bleaker, dryer scrub, then to flat shaped plants and lichens until we were back up at 4,400 metres. On the high ground we saw grazing herds of llama and alpaca and at some distance the terribly shy and undomesticated vicuna. Once over the Pass our driver changed from painfully slow uphill crawling to daring downhill dashes until we reached the little town of Chivay. Four Israeli students were let off at a small, clean Casa and we drove some way into the Canyon with an English couple to their up-market Lodge. Colca Canyon is billed as being twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, but the measurements are taken from the top of the mountains on either side, so there’s a bit of disappointment when you first see it. What is quite fantastic is the terracing down the canyon sides. Mile on mile of terracing contours the valley, glorious shapes cascade down the hills and nowhere is the sound of automation!
We travelled back to Chivay and the next excursion – to the local hot springs. We didn’t have our bathers with us, so knew we couldn’t go in the water but went with our recollections of the Hot Springs at Tabacon in Costa Rica! What a difference! An untidy, ugly selection of buildings with an overhanging smell of sulphur surrounded an old swimming pool and a row of 1940’s style changing lockers. We weren’t at all impressed and as we got to the entrance desk Blanca, our guide, asked for 5 soles each entrance fee. “You must be joking!” Rare to see Brian so taut. “I’m not paying to go into that dump and sit around for an hour – I’m going for a walk!” We wandered off towards the vehicle and within three minutes found the four Israeli students shared our sentiments completely! They had no bathers either and weren’t keen to sit around in underpants! Time to find our Hotel and relax for a while. Wrong. The Hotel 'Posada del Inca' turned out to be a grubby, peeling 2 star hotel and the room we were offered was a complete joke. Just large enough to get a bed in and with the back wall behind the bed showing serious water leakage! We took one ''sniff and look’’, refused the room and our guide telephoned the Travel Agent in Arequipa. A few calls later, before our frustration bubbled over, we agreed to stay at the little Casa de Lucile in a large, clean room with 4 single beds costing about $8 per night including breakfast! As well as this, it turned out that on the second day at Colca we were supposed to look after ourselves, as everyone else was only on a 1 night stop in Chivay and we would have to join another tour on the third day to take us back to Arequipa. Once again, rather like our experience at Taquile, we found we were sharing a tour with people who had paid considerably less. They had the same mini-bus, the same guide, the same experiences and the same accommodation and paid $20 each for the trip! We had paid $132 each for the trip!. Allowing another $20 each for an additional day (which we didn't stay for!), that still leaves a mark-up of about $180 for the trip! After much heated multi-way conversation, the bloke in Cusco refunded us $212, apparently because neither tour had been completed? Whatever, we accepted it as some indication that we were justified in complaining, but it had all rather discoloured our enjoyment.
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