GET OUT: Andean Adventure

By on November 3, 2015

Heading south for an exotic hot spring respite.

The author soaks in the obscure hot springs nestled in Colca Canyon, Peru. (Photo: Matt Berman)

The author soaks in the obscure hot springs nestled in Colca Canyon, Peru. (Photo: Matt Berman)

Jackson, WY – The bus trip from Puno to Chivay, across Andean High Plateau, was possibly even more beautiful than the one from Cusco to Puno had been. Carrie and I traveled high above tree line for the majority of the trip, eating choco con queso (an ear of steamed hominy served with a chunk of soft cheese), and watching Vicunas, distinguished from their stockier cousins, alpacas, by their lanky necks and giant eyes, nibbling the bright green pampas grasses at the base of glacier-capped volcanoes. Pink flamingoes migrated here for the South American summer, maintaining their red feathers by eating red worms from freshwater lakes and rivers of the High Andes, instead of the shrimp they usually eat on the coast.  The migration from a coastal ecosystem to the high mountains seems as dramatic as any on earth.  I would expect them to fly north or south along the coast, not high into the mountains. Doesn’t the air feel cold to them at 15,000 feet?

On the rim of one of the world’s deepest canyons, we found the town of Chivay, which looked interesting and unique. However, we immediately left for the neighboring town of Yanque, where we’d arranged ahead of time to stay in a hostel that our guide book claimed had a hot spring. Carrie and I had soaked in hot springs all over the American West, from the Eastern Sierra to Yellowstone. Just getting to Colca Canyon had taken us many hours of riding in airplanes and busses and taxis. After all that bumpy distance traveled, if there was a hot spring anywhere close by, we were going to find it.

Our final taxi ride of the day brought us to the front door of Hostel Tambo, on the outskirts of town.  We rang the bell, but no one came. After a few minutes, we gathered up the nerve to push open the solid wooden door on our own. We grabbed a key from the slot behind the desk, walked through a garden of orange poppies and potatoes, to the small, dark room we’d reserved online.

A minute later, a woman in traditional dress came to us. She carried a bright red shawl over her shoulders, and had never heard of the website we had used to book a room. She allowed us to haggle the price down to the exact price we had agreed to online. We found it very difficult to understand the woman. Her native language wasn’t Spanish either, but I eventually discerned we were to follow her to the hot springs along the river, below town.

We followed the woman and her shaggy dog, that seemed to know exactly where we were going, through the dusty, quiet town, over cobblestone streets, past a crumbling white church and toward the river. Donkeys and street dogs shared the road with occasional cars. Cacti bloomed along the cliffside. We weren’t sure we were headed to any sort of hot spring, but it was a great tour of this tiny Andean town.

The climax of the journey to the springs was a swinging bridge straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. My fear of heights almost kept me away, except that I knew I had to make it. We were almost at the springs. I couldn’t look down and had to practice breath control to make it across. All that was well worth it. The pools were clean and as hot as I could tolerate. They reminded me of my favorite springs in Yellowstone National Park. The price of the hot spring was nominal and we had them all to ourselves. Our personal escort waited inside the open-air building with her dog, staying there for a while after we left. I guess that meant the springs were open for business, though I don’t know if any of the other tourists, mostly there to see the Andean Condors that call Colca Canyon home, could possibly find their way to her hot springs, especially considering there was now no one watching Hostel Tambo.

The adventure of finding these springs tucked into an unsigned canyon made the feeling of soaking in them more memorable. The next day we searched for the Andean Condors, but it was the wrong time of year. Those springs were easily the highlight of our trip to Colca Canyon. PJH

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