It’s strange that the tour agencies sell the Colca Canyon tour as an easy trek, because on the second morning, before breakfast, you are expected to gain 1000m in altitude on a steep relentless path. It’s really quite quite a bugger. We wake at 5am and I take the wise decision to eat something, a packet of biscuits, before joining the group mingling around in the cold of the early morning darkness. Up on the path we can already see headtorches lighting the path. I don’t have a headtorch, in fact only about three people in our group do, which means that the first hour or so is spent bunched up behind one of the people who had the sense to bring one, trying to remember how the path looked when it was lit up.
It’s not too serious, since soon a thin light washes away the darkness of the night and the path becomes readable. Our group spreads out, Patricia tells us to wait at the top, and I soon find myself passing slower groups and moving relatively quickly. I was using the climb as a kind of test: if I did it fast and felt ok at the top then I’d probably be ok to try one of the big volcanoes around Arequipa: Misti or Chachani. If I died before reaching the top… well, that would be that.
About three quarters of the way up, having passed most of the other groups, my legs start acting like whining toddlers, screaming at me to stop and threatening to pull me down the mountain if I don’t listen. I take a break and watch a few similarly lonesome walkers catch up. A burly bearded man from Italy, from South Tyrol, passes me near the top and offers the sage advice: “you can go slowly, but you should never stop”. When I reach the top he congratulates me and then lights another cigarette; he’s now halfway through his celebratory 20-pack – it seems the rum-and-cigarette-themed rest stop of the first day was on to something after all.
It’s 7:15, and up at the top I am surprised to find a group of middle-aged German hikers who, much to my annoyance, scaled the path quicker and seemingly with less problems than I did. Most of them are carrying ripe bellies and completely grey hair. It’s around then that I decide that the big mountains will have to wait, that I’m just not that fit.
Over the next 90 minutes the rest of our group arrives, in twos and threes and fours. We cheer them as they approach, sweaty and exhausted, and the Brazilians open their sacred pot of peanut-butter and offer it around as a form of celebration. We still haven’t eaten breakfast, so the offering is well-received. When we do eat breakfast, in a village close to the top of the trail, it’s a bit disappointing. I was expecting a recently killed wild boar to be bronzing on the spit surrounded by an array of crispy guinea pigs, freshly-congealed cheeses, rice, cakes, scones with cream and jam, porridge, peanutbutter and jam sandwiches, and every variety of potato that Peru has to offer (around 4000). I wanted something worthy of our early morning struggles. Instead we were given a petridish of scrambled eggs and some crap bread.