Peru falls lure thrillseek­ers

The Huaruro wa­ter­fall is breath­tak­ing, but a stren­u­ous hike lies be­tween it and civil­i­sa­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - JESS RIGHT­HAND

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.vil­la­pas­tor­ 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.

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