Colca Canyon, Atacama Desert

September, 2004


September 12th

Arequipa to Colca Canyon

Unable to get a reservation at the Colca Lodge until today, we postponed our drive from Arequipa. Backtracking an hour to the north, we left the paved highway and began a three-hour run over gravel and loose rock at a speed seldom exceeding 10 mph. Things turned from bad to worse at Yunque, just past Chivay, where the road began to look like a rock-pile. The Jeep rocked from side to side as I tried to avoid the sharpest of the pointed rocks.

The high-point of our trip, 16054 feet above sea level

September 13th

Breakfast is served at 6:00 AM so one can make the hour and a half run to the Mirador where Andean Condors fly from 8:00 to 9:00 AM. Dust flies from the gravel road as a multitude of busses, vans and cars converge. Our Condors were running late... none appeared until 8:30, soaring on the developing thermals of the early morning. Starting deep in the canyon, they glide higher and higher, until they soar above the assembled crowd. Many of the tour busses, making time for their passengers to purchase trinkets at local markets, left at "Condor Curfew", 9:00 AM, missing half an hour of the best viewing.

September 14th

Retracing our path to Arequipa meant spending another three hours on the "road" back to the highway. Departing at 6:30 AM to beat the sun of mid-day, we found ice on many puddles and small pools beside the road. Cresting at more than 16,000 feet above sea-level, this was the high-point of our trip.

Zone of Vicunas. Nothing Else, just Vicunas

September 15th

Arequipa to Tacna

Arequipa is definitely in the middle of a desert. Like Los Angeles, water stolen from some other place keeps it green. There are no plants of any sort on the highway leading south; even cactus can't stand it here. Tacna is a shopping area for folks from Chile, about 20 miles away. The main street is lined with pharmacies, optician's and dentist's offices. Hawkers lure passing tourists in for new glasses and dental work.

This San Jose is smaller than the one in California

If you blink, you miss it

September 16th

Tacna to Iquique

The border crossing from Peru to Chile was taken as a sign as to how the rest of the country would treat us. Even easier than the entry into Peru, it took only an hour and cost nothing, a good omen.

South of the border, down Chile way, there is sand, rocks, dirt, more sand, more rocks and more dirt. Nothing lives here. Dust-devils by the score wandered the sand between the Pan American Highway and the Andes, visible to the east. The road was good for long stretches at 70 mph, interrupted several times by a long descent into a canyon, crossing of a river and another long stretch up the far canyon wall.

Iquiqui provided us with a Holiday Inn, Colonel Sanders, McDonalds and a convenient ATM. I checked out $100,000 dollars of Chilean currency, equivalent to $160.00 US. Our evening meal was $16,000. Putting 10 gallons of gas in the Jeep cost $20,000. It's fun to throw $10,000 bills around.

September 17th

Iquique to Calama

Another five loooong hours of looking at 350 km rocks and sand... About half-way, a little lizard crossed the road in front of us, breaking the monotony. The temperature is reasonable for a desert, about 30C, 85F

September 18th

Drove 100 km to San Pedro de Atacama on the advice of some folks we met in Cusco. We turned around within an hour and came back to Calama, blowing an entire day.

The only thing interesting about our lodging...