The trip started out by almost missing the bus. I was traveling with two other friends and the one friend was extremely late. We did everything we could to hold the bus, but when I looked out I saw one of the men throwing my backpack onto the ground as they drove away. Luckily, our friend appeared and we ran after the bus like crazy people. Definitely not what I wanted to do that night, but it makes for a great story (the picture to the side is the bus pulling away before we got it to stop).
The bus ride from Arequipa to Cotahuasi is about 10 hours give or take. The bus makes three stops along the way where you can pee in a hole for a small fee (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do) and buy some bus snacks at the bodegas. It’s nearly impossible to sleep well on the bus since the roads are not paved, but since I brought my pillow I was able to find a comfy position and catch a few Zs.
We arrived in Cotahuasi at 4 am and had planned to meet other friends at the bus terminal at 5:50am to take another bus to the giant waterfalls in the canyon. Well, since traveling is expensive and the hostel was going to charge us for that night, we decided to sleep for a while in the terminal and wait. Well, if you know anything about South America you would know that nothing ever goes as planned or leaves on time. But, that’s part of the experience! At 6 am we found out the bus had left at 5:30. So we had two options: pay for a taxi to take us there, or hike 6 miles (which actually turned into 10). The obvious answer here is hike 6 miles because, come on you, only live once!
Please enjoy this picture of me in the terminal at 4 am :)
As you can imagine, after a 10 hour bus ride and hour nap in the terminal I was dog tired, but I have a serious disease called FOMO (fear of missing out) which forced me to go. The views along the way were AMAZING. Some of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I had never been to a canyon before, but the feeling of just being surrounded by mountains is humbling. You know there is no quick way to get out and you realize just how small you really are. All around you there are huge mountains towering over you. Some are so big that your eyes have trouble processing what you are seeing. And there is something pretty cool about hiking 10 miles before 10 am and being the only people around.
Plus… the morning sunrise was totally worth it.
After the hike, I was dead. The rest of the day all I could think about was food. I have never felt that accomplished in my whole life. We celebrated by visiting the thermal baths in town for lunch and relaxing. I ordered trucha frita (fried trout) that was caught out of the river next to the restaurant. This is what it looked like…
Needless to say I was so hungry I did not even care.
After sleeping the rest of the day and night, I was ready to take on the second and final day in Cotahuasi. My one friend, Sarah, was traveling to a tiny village in the mountains called Puyca. Sarah and her sister work for an NGO called the Pad Project. The mission of the project is to bring reusable pads to women and girls around the world. For example, in Peru women struggle with their periods because it is a taboo subject that many do not talk about. The mission of our day in Puyca was to pass out and show the girls how to use the pads and to inspire them to be proud of being women. My job was to hold up the underwear and be silly to make the girls laugh and break the ice.
The drive to Puyca was 2 hours through the mountains of roads that could give anyone a heart attack. On one side of the road was a steep incline, and on the other there was a straight drop. Despite the ever-present sense of doom, the views of the canyon from this road were incredible. Waterfalls, snow covered mountains, cliffs, rivers, you name it (sometimes you drive by a random cow and they try to race the car). I just wish pictures could truly do it justice.
We also had the opportunity to hike up to the ancient ruins on the mountain that towers over the city. The coolest part about these were that they were totally isolated on this mountain. No tourists, no lines, nothing besides us and the sounds of the wind whistling through the canyon. It is a pretty amazing feeling to sit on the top of a mountain and know you are the only one there. To breathe the fresh mountain air and hear nothing. I can, without a doubt, say that this was the most peaceful experience I’ve ever had.
Coming to Peru has definitely been a stretch for me. I have never liked doing things alone and I have always depended on others to help me be happy. But doing things like going new places, trying new foods, experiencing new cultures, and seeing the nature in this beautiful country and really helped me to feel at home and has helped give me the confidence to stand on my own. Cotahuasi Canyon will always have a special place in my heart because it has taught me so much about myself.