Colca Canyon

Day1: 1500m descent into the canyon.
Day1: 1500m descent into the canyon.

Having written this prior to yesterday’s school shooting in our hometown of Reno, we consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to be spending so much time with our children.

Between Deb and I, hundreds of children have experienced the outdoors during our many years as outdoor educators.  We designed, planned and executed outdoor experiences for other parents’ children.  We have done plenty of trips with our kids – day hikes, rock climbing excursions, sea-kayaking day trips, etc.  But in the Colca Canyon, a sort of confluence of several powerful elements occurred that left us, as a family, elated and closer than ever.

The key element was the alacrity that Lucia and Mac brought with them into the Canyon and maintained throughout the entire trip.  They each carried a daypack, with their water, fleece, etc. as well as a little of the “group gear”.

Heading down into the canyon.  The green terraces on the left was our destination.
Heading down into the canyon. The green terraces on the left were our destination.

As we passed Canyon locals, they clearly marveled at the kid’s mochilitas, little backpacks, and their complexion, hair color, eye color and size. Over the 29 kilometers, Deb and I never heard a whine from either kid.  Both were encouraging of themselves and others.  Mac, for example would simply say, “This is harder than I thought, what do you think?”  At other times, Lucia would cite Dory in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”  Deb and I, having spent the last 15 years of low physical fitness were challenged by this trek.  The kids were inspirational to us.

The kids' attitudes were incredible.  This photo was just after climbing out the canyon.
The kids’ attitudes were incredible. This photo was just after climbing 1500 meters in 6 km out the canyon.

The people we encountered were the second magical element of this trek. Hubert, our guide, was born in a town in the upper canyon and shared with us countless concepts, ideas, and examples of the connections between the people and the natural world.  He coordinated the trek and it was flawless.  Carlitos, the guide company owner and a guide himself, met us on the orientation day and again on the second night with his two German clients – Bent and Ankala – whom we befriended.  Bent and I sat together for dinner – I struggled in Deutch and he struggled in English, so we both decided to struggle together in Spanish.  Somehow it worked.

Tia Ruffina and Tio Mauricio live at the bottom of the canyon in the little town of Cosnihua (population 40) where we stayed the night with them.  They belong to the Cabana culture which has existed in the Colca Canyon since before the Inca came to power.  The Incas influenced this culture by introducing terracing and water aquaduct systems.

We had soup, rice, fresh avocado, and fried potatoes, Ruffina was so nice to us.
We had soup, rice, fresh avocado, and fried potatoes, Ruffina was so nice to us.

Ruffina cooked for us over an open fire and took great interest in getting to know Lucia and Mac.  We would love to come back and stay with her for longer – something we will seriously consider as a few weeks in this world is enticing. The morning of day two was spent with Mauricio in his Incan farm terraces learning about all the things he grows.  Mauricio was quietly sharing his fruit trees, climbing and retrieving a peach, slicing it and handing it to each of us.  The avocados were memorable – locally called “palta”.

Mauricio sharing with us one of five types of avocados.
Mauricio sharing with us one of the five types of avocados he grows.

Each of us had a blanket wrapped over a shoulder and Lucia and Deb wore the traditional Cabana woman’s hat.

Lucia with prickly-pear fungus called cochinilla- a valuable commodity sold for dyes, lipstick pigment.
Lucia with prickly-pear fungus called cochinilla- a valuable commodity sold for dyes, lipstick pigment.

Returning to the home, we dressed up into the traditional dress of the Cabana culture.  These dresses are bought or made each year and paraded proudly in an annual fiesta.  The men’s dress is based from an old local legend that described two lovers who, being from different classes, were barred from marrying.  As the legend has it, the boy sneaks into the girl’s town, like a true Romeo, dressed as a woman with his facial features covered.  The lovers elope.

We dressed up in Cabana traditional dress.  We laughed - as did our hosts.
We dressed up in Cabana traditional dress. We laughed – as did our hosts.

The two cultures of the canyon, many centuries ago, shaped the heads of their children in two distinct forms – however, today, the distinct forms are manifest only in the womens’ hats.  Once the cultures abandoned the head shaping, the hats became powerful cultural symbols of each culture.

The 1500meter ascent out of the canyon began at 4:30AM with headlamps.  Lucia and Mac were dauntless in achieving the edge of the canyon rim just three hours later.  We were elated when we were met with a cheering crowd – especially Carlitos, the guiding co. owner as well as Bent and Ankala, our new German friends who live in Buenos Aires.  Photos clicked and we were all grinning.  The children were celebrities – for having accomplished a trek of 29km and 3500m total elevation gain and loss.

We are finished with the climb.
We are finished with the climb.

As backpackers, hikers, adventurers, Deb and I are delighted to share this passion with our own children. Treks on the Inca Trail, in Torres de Paine and Fitz Roy are planned in November and December and we, as a family, are looking forward to more challenges.  One final note, we got on the bus through sheer magic – a “paying it forward” kind of experience.  We needed lunch, our bags from storage, tickets – and Bent, Ankala didn’t just stand aside and say, “that’s your deal”.

Bent, Ankala, Carlitos on the last day before the race to the bus.
Bent, Ankala, Carlitos on the last day before the race to the bus.

Rather, “team Colca” descended on the buffet lunch line swiftly filling carryout bins with rice, fish, salads, and desserts then collecting forks and everyone piling into the van that would take us to the bus.  One bag, a smallish grocery bag, was left behind.  We did not realize this until the last minute, so Hubert ran to retrieve it – Carlitos all-the-while sweet-talking the bus driver to stay put.  What Carlitos promised I can only imagine but the driver was simpatico about it all.  The bag arrived and we pulled out of the station in Chivay waving a huge debt of gratitude to Bent, Ankala, Hubert, and Carlitos.

overlookwithpacks

The kids are amazing – resilient, dauntless, funny, and wide-eyed.  Traveling with our children unlocks an entirely hidden aspect of travel and our trek in Colca was priceless because of achieving it with our children.

Tragic events remind Deb and I to do what is necessary to make sure we are close with our kids – for the long term.  We are fortunate to have this time to build relationships with them.

Colburn

4 responses to Colca Canyon

  1. sharonjimenez@comcast.net says:

    What a wonderful experience.  The Shindell and Lowell children are so blessed to Deb, Colburn, Rick and Laura for parents.  Sharon

  2. Karen says:

    You guys are amazing. An inspiration for my family for sure. You are missed back home but we all are enjoying tracking your journey! Cheers!

    • dshindell says:

      Thanks Karen! We are enjoying the time immensely. Each day brings new adventures and experiences that can hardly be described.

  3. Denise Johnston says:

    What an incredible adventure. It brings back so many of our own family memories. I look forward to more posts!

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