Packing for a Colca Canyon Trek

packing colca canyon trek

If you find yourself in Arequipa, Peru, you’ll probably start chatting with other travelers who are raving about their recent trek through the Colca Canyon.  If you’re the shy, quiet type, you might not chat about it, but you’ll certainly see two- and three-day canyon treks advertised in your hostel or hotel.  A Colca Canyon trek really seems like the thing to do when you’re in Arequipa, but for someone with little trekking experience it’s hard to know what to bring along.  Here are my packing suggestions, based on a two-day trip*.

Clothing

Wear comfortable, full-length pants designed for trekking, or thick leggings.

Wear a sports bra with a tank or t-shirt.

Wear good hiking socks and hiking boots if you have them (I survived in a pair of ten-year-old running shoes, though having a great pair of socks made that possible).

Wear a hat with a wide bring to keep the sun off your face.

I wore the same clothes for both days of trekking.  I carefully hung them out “for fresh air” once we arrived at the oasis for the evening.

Pack a warm sweatshirt and a lightweight, windbreaker-style jacket.  It’s cold in the oasis in the evening, and you’ll want them in the morning when you set out before dawn.

Pack something to sleep in.  I suggest a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of cotton leggings, plus an extra pair of socks (no need to be hiking weight).

Pack a swimsuit and flip-flops as you’ll be stopping at hot springs on the second day.

Toiletries

Pack a first aid kit with lots of bandages and moleskin (seriously, I was sharing my bandages and moleskin with everyone!) to help fight blisters.  I applied bandages and moleskin to my heels before I started the walk, and after two days I was still happily blister-free!  My kit also included a lot of painkillers, and by taking regular-strength Advil every eight hours or so I think I avoided a lot of muscle pain.  If you’ve ever used an inhaler, bring one!

There is no hot water at the bottom of the canyon.  There is also no electricity in the showers.  If a cold shower in the dark doesn’t appeal to you, bring baby wipes for your body and face wipes for your face.  A travel-sized deodorant along with a toothbrush and toothpaste will be appreciated by your fellow travelers.

Carry a hand towel in your bag in case you want to swim in the river or one of the pools at the bottom of the canyon.  You can also use it to dry off after a proper shower, or for some kind of sponge-bath situation.

Do not forget sunscreen.  I carried a bottle of facial sunscreen and a bottle of sunscreen for my body, and used copious amounts of both.  Reapplication is key on the first day, when you trek in the heat of the day without any shade, though a single application on the second day should suffice as you will be doing most of your hiking before sunrise.  You should also have a lip balm with SPF.

Food and Drink

Your main meals should be included in the cost of the trip (except the last lunch in Chivay).  For some reason my hotel told me that I needed to pack a lot of snacks.  They were adamant that I needed a lot of snacks, and they implied that cookies were the best option.  I’m not a fan of eating a lot of cookies, but I heeded their advice and packed some cookies, some plantain chips and some peanuts.  What I realized was that I was far too exhausted to want to eat during the actual trek itself.  Ultimately, I didn’t consume any of my snacks until the second day, when I’d reached the top of the canyon.  There, one package of sweet, sweet Chips Ahoy cookies kept me from passing out from over-exertion.  My advice is to bring a snack or two, but not more.

As for water, tour operators tend to understate its availability.  While it is more expensive at the entrance to the canyon, at the lunch stop and at the oasis, it is certainly available.  I recommend starting the trek with two 500ml bottles of water (if you can freeze one in the hostel the night before all the better), and restocking when you get the opportunity.  This beats carrying the weight of two litres (as I did, based on advice) and it definitely beats drinking water that is hot after eight hours of trekking in the sun.   You will also find vendors selling soda at the main stops; an ice-cold Coca Cola never tasted so good!

Electronics and Other Devices

There is no electricity in the canyon, so fully charge everything before you go and bring spare batteries.

You will need to wake up early on the second morning, so bring something that can be used as an alarm.

I was glad to have a decent camera to capture the Andean condors we stopped to view.

It’s good to have a flashlight to get around the oasis in the evening and early morning.  A headlamp is useful when you depart before dawn on the second day.

It’s not an electronic device, but if you happen to have hiking poles, or can borrow some, they are really useful.  I’d never used them before doing the Colca Canyon trek; now I will never hike without them!

Money

You will probably pay the cost of the tour before you depart, but you’ll still need a bit of money.

Entering the canyon costs 70 soles.  This is mandatory.

Entering the hot springs costs 15 soles.  It’s optional but worth every penny.

I tipped my guide 50 soles.  He was exceptionally kind to me as I struggled both down and up the canyon.

Bring small bills and coins to replenish your water and snack supply along the way, and to buy alcoholic beverages or soft drinks to accompany your dinner at the bottom of the oasis.

When the trek was over I had a bus transfer immediately upon arriving in Chivay (there is a 4M bus that meets hikers and takes them directly to Puno after the trek… if you would rather do this than backtrack to Arequipa you need to book the bus ticket a day or two in advance, bring all of your bags with you on the first morning, and constantly remind your guide you’re on the 4M to Puno) but if I’d stayed with the group I would have had to buy lunch on the second day.

And finally, I recommend bringing 60 soles in case you discover you need to ride a donkey back up the canyon.  Many tour operators understate just how difficult the trek can be.  My guide saw me struggle on the way down and suggested that I take a donkey back up.  I struggled with the decision but ultimately decided to make my way up slowly and steadily.  The result was a feeling of amazing personal victory… and a mysterious, asthma-like illness that left me coughing for the rest of my holiday and for which I continue to take medication today.  In my group of nine hikers two other girls chose to ride donkeys up, while in other groups every single person ended up taking a donkey.  Because you just don’t know how the trek will affect you, I strongly suggest keeping sixty soles in your bag, just in case.  (Donkeys need to be booked the evening before, through your tour guide.)

* PS – They don’t really tell you this, but a two-day Colca Canyon trek is just the sped-up version of the three-day Colca Canyon trek!  They cover the same ground.  By Day 2 I was happy to know that the strenuous hike would soon be over and couldn’t imagine another day without a hot shower, but if you want to take things a bit easier you might want to spread the journey over three days.

Mealtime Monday : Enamorada con Entomatadas

entomatadas

If you ask me, Mexican breakfasts are simply unparallelled.  In Oaxaca my hostel had a proper restaurant that offered free table service breakfast each morning.  One day they were serving entomatadas, or corn tortillas stuffed and folded and fried, then bathed in beautiful salsa.  How such simple ingredients work together to create something so delicious is completely beyond me, but I’m not complaining!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Another Silhouette

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On Friday I jumped at the chance to share one of my favorite photos with you.  In fact, I jumped so quickly that I didn’t consider whether or not I had a more interesting photo to share!  Afterwards, I started thinking about my recent trip to Peru, and was immediately reminded of the amazing silhouettes I saw in the historic center.  Dozens of vultures were flying around the main plaza, landing on the cathedral spires and perching atop the light posts.  I was not used to seeing birds of prey in an urban area, and couldn’t resist snapping a few shots of these huge birds!

Who knew it would be so easy to see vultures in Lima?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Silhouette

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When the topic of Silhouette came up for this week’s photo challenge, I knew exactly which photo I’d be submitting!  This is one of my favorite photos ever, taken in West End on the island of Roatan in Honduras.  I spent many fateful mornings and afternoons on this pier, dragging my heavy scuba diving equipment to and from my dive school’s boat (I was kind of out of shape).  However, my happiest memories are of the pier at sunset, when I was free to simply take in the Roatan sunset view sans oxygen tank and wetsuit!

All-Inclusive Resorts, All Alone

all inclusive beach

The last time I went to an all-inclusive resort, I came home and wrote this review on TripAdvisor.

For those of you who don’t want to click through, it describes my time in a beautiful resort in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where my room was lovely, the provided food was good and there was excellent snorkeling right off the hotel’s floating pier.

It also describes some of the sexual harassment that I endured while I stayed in the hotel, all of it from the hotel’s own staff.  On the first night the front desk clerk called my room at 1:00 in the morning, breathing heavily and asking if I remembered him.  In the cafeteria, one of the cooks grabbed a breadstick and held it against his genitals, swinging it around in the air and asking if it was “too big” for me.  There were other incidents as well, and while I can’t speak to this particular property I did return home just in time to see a news feature in my home country discussing hidden cameras and two-way mirrors that allowed hotel staff in some hotels in the area to spy on their guests in the bathroom.

The thing that really got on my nerves was that I had come to Sharm el-Sheikh to learn to scuba dive, but I felt so unsafe on land (thanks to the hotel staff) that I was too scared to sign up for the lessons.  I missed out on my chance to explore underwater (though I finally did learn on Roatan, Honduras, two years later).

All of that brings me to this summer, and my rash decision to book another solo all-inclusive holiday.  Why solo?  Mostly because it was an impulse buy and I didn’t want to spend time texting dozens of people to see who didn’t have plans in the last weeks of August.  A few days after I booked the trip the price actually doubled, so I’m glad I jumped on the deal when I did.  Why all-inclusive resorts?  Because it was cheaper than any airfares I could find to the same destination (Cuba) and I feel like I earned some R&R after being so sick in Peru.

A lot of travelers look down on all-inclusive resorts and say they’re not “real” travel.  I certainly agree that an all-inclusive holiday doesn’t come close to other types of travel in terms of immersing yourself in the culture, seeing amazing sights, practicing your language skills, interacting with the locals and even learning through your mistakes.  However, an all-inclusive vacation offers something else: a chance to relax.  I didn’t just get sick in Peru; I got sick in Peru but pushed through the pain (and the puke) to make the most of my trip, all while working remotely on assignments and papers for my full-time grad school course load.  If that hasn’t earned me a few days of sitting on the beach (with lots of sunscreen, under an umbrella, reading good books) then I don’t know what should.

My travel motto tends to be “_________ isn’t going anywhere.”  In this case, Cuba isn’t going anywhere.  I can go to all-inclusive resorts, sit on the beach and drink pina coladas for a week this summer, and Cuba will still be there next year or the year after if I want to return to see the country, experience its culture and meet its people.

Unboxing : Ipsy August 2014

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What was the best part of my day?  Sitting in the nail salon and receiving an email with shipping notification for my Ipsy August 2014 bag, then clicking through to discover that the status was “Item Successfully Delivered”!  It took every ounce of self-restraint not to jump out of the chair mid-pedicure to run home to my mailbox!

So, what was inside?

ipsy-lord-berry-liner

The first thing I pulled out of the orange and white bag was this Lord and Berry Mini Kajal Kohl Liner in Black Silk.  I’m a huge fan of Sephora’s house brand black kohl liner and am happy to have another one on hand.    I tested this on my wrist and it went on like silk with very little pressure needed.

ipsy-manna-sheer-glo

The next item I unpacked was this Manna Sheer Glo Shimmer Lotion.  I’m thirty years old and I work in a professional environment, so I don’t tend to use a lot of shimmery products.  That being said this pinkish lotion contains very fine shimmer particles, so I might be able to mix it with my body lotion on my upcoming tropical vacation.

ipsy-jersey-shore-balm

Up next was this Jersey Shore Sun Mongongo Nutrient Dense Anti-Aging Lip Conditioner.  It has a fresh and fruity scent which the packaging credits to “Mandarin Green Orange Ginger”.  I was a bit confused by that but apparently it’s “Mandarin Green Orange” and “Ginger” essential oils that give this product its kick.  I received a sample of Jersey Shore Sun sunscreen a few months ago and really liked it; I wish this balm also offered some sun protection.

The next two items were the “big ticket” products in the Ipsy August 2014 bag!

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First, there was a half-ounce sample of Glam Glow YouthMud Tinglexfoliate Treatment.  I’ve received Glam Glow samples in the past and not used them up before they dried up on their own, so I’ll be using this ASAP.  I read online that this sample alone is worth $21, more than making up for the cost of the subscription (which is $15 USD including shipping to Canada).

ipsy-urban-decay-mascara

The final product was a 3 ml sample of Urban Decay’s new “bigger, blacker, badder” (ummm…) Perversion Mascara, packaged in a booklet promising to help me “dominate” my lashes.  I can never have too many mascara samples so I will be filing this, and all of its innuendos, away for future enjoyment.

Once again I feel like Ipsy considered my beauty profile when it prepared my beauty bag, and I feel that the bag was a good value compared to the purchase price.  I’m especially happy about the quick shipping to Canada again this month.  If you’d like to receive a bag filled with beauty goodies each month head on over to Ipsy.com.  (If there happens to be a waitlist you can often skip it by sharing your new subscriber status on Facebook.)

Do you subscribe to Ipsy?  What did you get this month?

Mealtime Monday – Chifa

chifa-lima

Before arriving in Peru I read that as a vegetarian my dining options might be limited.  I recall reading one blog that suggested I’d be limited to lettuce and french fries.  That didn’t sound terrible, but I was hoping that more options would present themselves, and they did once I left Lima.   In Lima, however, I did find it difficult to find enough really good vegetarian food to tide me over for my four-day stay.  One thing I quickly learned was that the local Peruvian-Chinese hybrid known as chifa usually had more than one or two vegetarian dishes to choose from.  This photo shows my first chifa meal: a ring of vegetable dishes, each in a different sauce, surrounding pineapple in sweet-and-sour (but mostly sweet!) sauce.  It was served with a bowl of rice and a pisco sour in Lima’s adorable Chinatown district.

WPC : Texture on Lake Titicaca

lake titicaca texture

The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is all about finding texture.  Here is a textural illusion from my recent trip to Peru.  What appears to be beverage containers tossed onto the grass is actually beverage containers tossed into Lake Titicaca, in an area near Puno where the algae has grown so thick that it looks, feels and acts like grass.  Fortunately the water was much cleaner, and bluer, once our boat sailed beyond Puno’s shores.

I’d love to check out all your textures too!  Leave a link in the comments!

Ipsy August 2014 – Sneak Peak!

ipsy august 2014

Post-publishing edit!  To see the products after they arrived, click here!

I know that a lot of you have subscribed to Ipsy after seeing my awesome unboxing photos.  I wanted to do a quick post to let any current subscribers know about a special secret this month – a Glam Room Sneak Peek!

Every month Ipsy sends out four or five beauty samples that are tailored to your custom beauty profile.  You can see what I got in April, May or June if you’re considering subscribing and want to get a sense of the samples.  I didn’t do an unboxing in July because I was out of town, but the cosmetics case was bright pink and inside there was a BareMinerals eyeshadow duo, derma e BB cream, Pixi Beauty tinted lip balm, full-sized Pop Beauty bronzer and pure~lisse facial moisturizer with SPF 30… not bad!  Once your package ships mid-month you can log into a section their site called your Glam Room and check out what you’ll be receiving (of course, if you can restrain yourself you can also wait for the surprise!).

For Ipsy August 2014, however, subscribers have the option of getting a sneak peek inside their beauty bag weeks in advance!  Log into Ipsy.com and click on your Glam Room, then follow the simple instructions (I think it involves a Facebook share?) to see what you’ll be receiving later this month.  The photo above shows what will be in my personalized beauty bag, which is white with sunny orange polka dots this month.

If you haven’t subscribed yet then it’s probably too late for August, but now is a great time to sign up if you’d like to receive those rich, indulgent autumn makeup colors, along with skincare and haircare targeted to your fall and winter beauty needs, in September or October.  Just head over to Ipsy.com and sign up!  New subscribers can often skip the wait list by doing a quick Facebook share too!

Are you an Ipsy subscriber?  What will you be getting this August?

Do You Have a Travel Plan B?

plan b 1

Call me crazy, but there is one thing I never travel internationally without: Plan B.

Plan B is the brand name for emergency contraception here in Canada.  It used to be available only by prescription, but is now available over the counter.  Some pharmacies sell it on the shell alongside the condoms, while others still keep it behind the counter (but no prescription is required!).  I’ve seen prices range from $36 at a big-name drug store to $18 at Costco (you don’t need to be a member to use their pharmacy).   You can even buy it on Amazon for $39.99 (buy it in advance so that its efficacy is not affected by the time it takes to ship).

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When you buy Plan B you might be surprised by the size of the box, but it’s just for marketing purposes on the shelf.

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The actual contents of the box are very small, and can easily be slipped into your travel first aid kit.

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See?  Each of the two pills is smaller than a penny, and the enter package is about half the size of a credit card.

Emergency contraception is not “the abortion pill”.  Emergency contraception prevents ovulation and/or fertilization from taking place in the first place, much like a regular birth control pill.  Emergency contraception can have side effects, and I would not recommend using it is a primary form of birth control.

Why do I pack it?  Sadly, the fear of sexual assault is very real.  I was attacked once while I was living abroad.  My attacker was a lunatic and it was mid-day in a busy place, so it didn’t have time to escalate to rape.  However, if circumstances had been different I could have found myself a rape victim in a highly-religious country, where I spoke little of the local language and had no family doctor.  Carrying emergency contraception gives you a little sense of control over an uncontrollable situation- if something does go horribly wrong, you will have done everything possible to prevent an attack from resulting in a pregnancy.

The last time I bought Plan B was before my trip to Eastern Europe in 2010.  I brought the same, unused pills with me to Central America, Mexico and back to Europe in the following years.  When I went to pack for my Peru trip I noticed that the pills I had on hand had expired, so I bought a new package this summer.  If all goes as planned it will sit, unused, in my luggage on many more trips between now and 2017!