Peru falls lure thrillseekers
The Huaruro waterfall is breathtaking, but a strenuous hike lies between it and civilisation
LIKE many of life’s great adventures, our trek into Peru’s Colca Canyon was born from a spontaneous impulse.
It was our first day in Cabanaconde, a small town nestled in a chasm deeper than the Grand Canyon in southern Peru’s Arequipa region. My boyfriend and I had blocked off several days of our South American backpacking trip to explore the area. We’d just returned from a short day hike and were sipping a cold Arequipena beer at our B&B while admiring the lush expanse of the canyon.
Far off in the distance, a small white waterfall stood out against the wall of green. Alex and I looked at each other, both struck by the adventure itch. The white blip that we’d set our sights on was the Huaruro waterfall, a 76m behemoth accessible from the village of Fure on the opposite side of the canyon.
Though Alex and I pride ourselves on being active, outdoorsy people, we’re far from expert mountaineers, so we hired a local guide named Rosas to lead us.
The night before our trek, Rosas briefed us on our trip. Starting the next morning, he said we would hike from Cabanaconde down to the bottom of the canyon, a descent of about 1 000m. We’d cross the Colca River, have lunch in Llahuar, hike up about 548m to Llatica and then continue up another 488m to Fure.
The next day, we’d set out for the waterfall and then hike back down the canyon to the Sangalle oasis. Then, early in the morning of the third day, we’d leave the oasis to hike up another 1 000m back to Cabanaconde and civilisation.
It was a route that Rosas didn’t do often, but for the three days of guiding, he charged us only $50 (R488) lodging and food for the three of us averaged an extra $25 a night.
The next morning, Rosas came to our hotel to meet us at 7.30am. We walked through the town of Cabanaconde, passing an empty bullfighting ring and a now-defunct soccer stadium. We started the descent into the canyon.
Rosas pointed out all kinds of indigenous herbs and fruits. A plethora of plants with a variety of uses grow in the canyon: muna for indigestion, cactus fruit for asthma and jatupa for insecticide. The canyon also hosts a bounty of fruit – peaches, apples, papaya, several different types of squash, lucuma, corn, mango and figs.
With five hours of descent under our belts, we crossed the rushing Colca River and arrived at Llahuar, a small settlement consisting of two guesthouses, where we ate a lunch of trout, soup and rice overlooking the convergence of the Colca and Huaruro rivers.
After lunch, we ascended to the sleepy town of Llatica. At the end of the first uphill leg of our trip, I was inordinately winded. I maintain that this was due to the altitude (3 600m), not being out of shape. So, Rosas took us to Llatica on an alternate path, along a concrete-lined canal on the side of the mountain.
Once we reached Llatica, we rested and snacked on pichang, the strangest fruit I’ve eaten. You suck banana-flavoured goo from around the seeds and then spit them out.
We’d barely started along the path from Llatica to Fure when we ran into an older Peruvian couple bearing bad news: the path to Fure had been blocked by a rockslide.
They urged us to take a different trail, one that went almost to the top of the mountain and then descended to Fure.
A few paces farther down the trail, Rosas met a younger fellow from Fure, who was more confident about our chances with the rockslide. But we’d have to rock-climb up a 7m chasm. There were no ropes and no harnesses. Alex was excited to use the rock-climbing skills he’d been cultivating over the past year, but I had none to speak of.
Rosas was confident that we could make the climb with the help of our new friend, so we set off. But by then, my legs were shot. Any ascent, no matter how small, proved increasingly difficult, and Fure was still a substantial distance away.
By the time we got to the slide, I was running on fumes. The path ended and in its place stood a substantial rock face.
Our new friend took my backpack up with him, and Rosas followed. He and Alex coached me on where to place my hands and feet. About two-thirds of the way up, I got stuck. I balanced on one toe in a crack in the rock, and used three fingers to grip the rock above my head, unsure whether my next move would land me with a broken leg. With one big heave, I cleared the worst of the climb. Rosas helped me up at the end, and Alex scrambled up quickly behind me.
We picked up the trail again on the other side of the rockslide, and crossed a rickety bridge to Fure, where we were shown to our room for the night: a mud hut with four walls, a dirt floor and a mattress propped up on bamboo and logs.
After a wash in the town’s natural spring and a dinner of soup, squash purée and white rice, we went to bed and slept not as soundly as we would have liked until 6am, when we set out for the Huaruro waterfall. After a relatively mild hour-and-a-half hike that included fording two rivers Oregon Trailstyle, we approached the waterfall. At first, all we could see was a watery mist. Then we turned a corner, and suddenly we were at the foot of a mass of water plunging to the ground. The vegetation was dripping wet from the mist, and the noise from the water’s drop silenced our conversation.
We took pictures and spent time gazing at the waterfall and revelling in the mist. Then, we hiked back to Fure for pancakes before beginning the day’s trek down to the Sangalle oasis, where freshwater pools and a tropical climate awaited us. The hike was mostly downhill and luck- ily drama-free. By about 3pm, we had arrived at the oasis.
Our hostel owner showed us to a half-stone, half-bamboo hut, sans lighting. This hostel was teeming with freakishly large wood bees and other unsavoury insects, and our room was full of holes for them to fly or crawl into. The oasis has four hotels, and I’m fairly certain that ours was the most “rustic”.
Rosas cooked us dinner, a basic but hearty soup and spaghetti that Alex gobbled up. I, on the other hand, lost my appetite after having to pick mosquitoes and gnats out of my food. We ate outdoors at a wooden picnic table, by the light of a makeshift lantern – a candle stuck in the bottom half of a plastic soda bottle. After planning to get up early the next morning for the final ascent to Cabanaconde, we retired to our hut to pack and sleep. Alex started rifling through some of our clothes on the bed, and there, crawl- Rooms from about $60 (R586) and entrées from about $10 (R97). ● Villa Pastor Plaza de Armas, Cabanaconde 011 51 54 241176 www.villapastorcolca.com Basic shared dorms and private rooms starting at about $6 (R58) on Cabanaconde’s main town square. It also has a restaurant and bar, with happy hour and entrées for $4 (R40) to $8 (R80). ing on my sweater, was a small but ferocious-looking scorpion.
Alex took one of my sandals, and squished it, but we were not keen on sleeping that night. We bundled up from head to toe to prevent creepy-crawlies from getting in where they didn’t belong… 4.45am couldn’t come soon enough. Armed with headlamps and flashlights, we powered up the side of the canyon. We arrived at the top to sweeping views of everywhere we’d just been. We’d made it to the other side of the canyon and back again.
We’d worked up quite an appetite, so we brought Rosas to our hotel and treated him and another hiker whom we’d befriended along the way to breakfast. As we ate, we gazed out at the Huaruro waterfall, once again just a tiny white speck in the green canyon. We were exhausted, but we’d accomplished our goal of meeting the waterfall face to face. – Washington Post ● Paraiso Las Palmeras Sangalle oasis, Colca Canyon 011 51 959742637, 011 51 958958162 or 011 51 958958164 In the Sangalle oasis at the bottom of the canyon, this hostel offers camping for about $2 (R20), or private rooms starting at about $4 (R40). The hostel has a swimming pool, hammocks, cocktails and basic backpacker food.
MAJESTIC: The Huaruro waterfall sends mist up and over a lush meadow just outside the village of Fure in the Colca Canyon.