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15 October 2012 / leggypeggy

On the road from Arequipa to Chivay

Vicuñas

Vicuñas

Our adventure to see the condors in Colca Canyon began with a three-hour drive from Arequipa to Chivay.

Sights along the 150-kilometre journey included Peru’s largest cement factory, the Salinas and Aguada Blanc National Reserve, wildlife, the rest stop/tourist trap at Patahuasi, and the treacherously high Patapampa Pass.

We saw them all and stopped at some, including photo opportunities to see llamas with their shepherd, as well as a herd of vicuñas in the wild. Vicuñas live in the high Andes. They are related to llamas and are one of South America’s two wild camelids (the other one being the guanaco). Vicuñas have very fine wool that is extreme expensive. That’s because they can be shorn only once every three years, but first you have to catch them.

Llama toys

Llama toys

Llama
Llama

The stop at Patahuasi was interesting. It’s at a main intersection with lots of trucks turning right to head to Cusco. We turned left instead to go to the village of Chivay, but first we took a break at the Patahuasi rest stop.

It’s definitely a pay-as-you-go operation, and some rates are exorbitant.  Forty cents to pee (and you get a few sheets of toilet paper), 40 cents to take a picture of a baby llama and almost $3 for a small bag of chips that should be $1. But isn’t that the norm for rest stops?

But for some, the hardest task on the road to Chivay was catching their breath at the Patapampa Pass. At 4901 metres, quite a few of our travelling companions had blue lips, headaches, overall weakness, queasy stomachs and shortness of breath—all signs of altitude sickness.

Other than blue lips, Poor John and I were pretty much okay. We learned our lesson in the Himalayas last year when we both suffered big time for several weeks going through Kyrgyzstan, China and Tibet. This overland trip, we’re taking altitude-sickness tablets and drinking coca-leaf tea when it is available. They’re working!

Once we left the pass, we dropped 1300–1500 metres in less than 30 minutes, and everyone felt much better. In no time we were overlooking Chivay.

Stay tuned for a brief tour of this quaint village.

Patapampa Pass

Souvenir shops at Patapampa Pass at 4910 metres. Note shopkeeper on the left who is snoozing. Must be the thin air!

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