Colca Canyon: Complex Stars

Katherine Vilchez is a student at the University of California – San Diego and an ISA Featured Blogger. Katherine is currently studying abroad in Cusco, Peru on an ISA Fall 1 program.


Las extraño.

October 6, 2012. Sometime around 8pm. Colca Canyon, Arequipa, Peru

Colca Canyon

On this day we hiked down the Colca Canyon in the morning which took us about 3 hours to get to the basin where an oasis-like place lingered.  I knew the hike back up was going to be difficult.  The path had an elevated, zig-zag, loose soil, rocky texture.  I left the oasis around 4:15pm when there was still sunlight.  As I looked up at the canyon that I was about to climb I could see that the  shadow made by sunset was beginning to rise and eat up the canyon.  My marvelous plan: Walk up that canyon at a pace where I was always at the border between sunlight and shadow. This way the sun would illuminate my path upward but I had the shadow to keep me cool at times.  The climate in the Andes highlands is made of dry air that blankets brown mountains, pastel trees and plants all spotted in everlasting rocks.  It is not the tropical rainforest with coconut trees you find on cellphone wallpapers.  It is land where the apus (mountains) demand their presence known and are not apologetic about it.  They don’t make hikes easy.  They may have never been made for go-hard hikers.  They stand in dry weather and wear endless rocks: big, small, loose, bulky, dusty, wet.  Even though you can’t miss them in sight, they are quiet.  The hike I was about to take up a canyon of 13,650 ft (4,160 m) deep (twice the height of the US Grand Canyon) was not going to be an adventurous walk with lots of adrenaline rush.  It was just gonna suck.  I was the last one to head out in the group, I had a big backpack and at least one liter of water on me.  My biggest fear was getting stuck at night alone with just a small flashlight and empty quiet canyons surrounding my every direction.

Racing Inti

At the beginning of the hike back up my main goal was the sun. Stay up to pace with the rising sunlight… reach the top of the canyon in inti’s company.  Let gravity get the best of me and slow my pace down…be forced to deal with solitude in pitch night.  I don’t think I was ready for that type of solitude.  It’s one thing to choose to be in a room by yourself or take a stroll alone for some me-time. It’s another thing to be hiking up in the middle of steep Andean canyons only to find yourself alone in thought and company with only the darkness to talk to.

About 2 hours into the hike, I realized 1) the other group members might not wait for me since we all said we have flashlights just in case 2) the people I was with were not the friends back at home who stumbled harmoniously with a mindset of collective support 3) the sun was setting at a faster pace than I imagined 4) I might have to do something I have been avoiding for a long time: making my peace with the night.  A storm of anxiety, desperation, resentment, and fear started drizzling inside me.  My lungs hurt.  I wasn’t sure if I was breathing hard because of walking uphill for so long or because my body had to somehow let go of the fear…or both.  Empece a llorar.  Me sente en una piedra y llore.  Llore porque me dolian las piernas, mis pulmones y mi conciencia. Extrañaba a mis compas de San Diego que se hubieran quedado conmigo aunque tambien les hubiera dilatado la caminata.  Llore porque ella no me espero o no se preocupo mucho por el hecho que yo quizas estaba sola en una parte de ese canyon…siguio caminando porque su espiritu la llamaba  Su cuerpo le pedia caminar y no parar.  Llore porque quisaz tendria que decir la verdad para poder perdonarlo.  Llore porque quisaz esa verdad causaria mas daño y era mejor tragarmelo con una taza de miseria e incomodida.  Llore porque en ese momento necesitaba una voz carnal de Dios y El decidio confiar mas en su creacion que rendirse a las inseguridades humanas. I cried because the air was so dry and it was hot and rocky and I didn’t want to be there anymore.  I blinked and could see the sunset through my tears.  Why was this canyon being so difficult with me?  Why wouldn’t she let me climb her without testing my human weaknesses? Llore porque me sentia cansada de ser una ajena en mi propio pais.  Ya estaba cansada de tener miedo.  Como saludarle a la noche?  Que decirle al encontrarnos?  Pero ni modo tenia que seguir caminando.


Thankfully I was accompanied when darkness came in.  I would have made it alone but who knows in what condition and mindset…I suppose that intimate encounter with the night is a pending date.  I asked myself if I had been the person in the front to almost reach the top of the canyon, would I have waited?  Knowing myself, would have I actually gone through the thought process of saying “hey maybe the last person hiking up needs company so I should wait for her/him? To be honest, no I most likely would have not.  I would have kept walking keeping my good pace so I could make sure I wouldn’t get left behind.  Lesson learned, vida. Lesson learned.  Gracias amiguita con pelo de mil sunsets.  Gracias por dar luz a un hermoso fenomeno de la humanidad:  consideracion. A veces con tanta politica y teoria siento que pierdo lo humano, el contacto humano y intimidad de ser humano una persona con emociones complejas. “God always puts people in your path to help you or teach you something…don’t miss the opportunity”  My compañera with hair of a thousand sunsets, thank you for your presence. Opportunity accepted.


Around 8pm. Colca Canyon, Arequipa, Peru.

Buenas noches estrellas.  I might not have been so alone that night if I had gone solo the rest of the way.  Between heavy breathing, sounds of stepped on rocks, and gulps of water, I looked upUp was an encuentro of stars.  Probably the brightest and most saturated community of stars I had ever seen.  They were like the rocks I was standing on. Endless and everywhere. The sky was an illuminated reflection of the canyons. Or the canyons were pastel reflection of the sky.  The purple and blue soil holding up the stars had depth and I could fathom just how big those astrological valleys were.

Estrellas.  They brought me peace, reminding me of why I was here in Peru, loving and hating that canyon, loving and hating this trip, fearing darkness but loving the night’s inner organs—wavy and massive speckled with fiery balls of heat.  Maybe that is the nature of this land. The climate in the highlands is difficult, stubborn, and puts up a fight.  It wasn’t meant to be at the disposal of everyone.  Te lo tienes que merecer.


Las extraño.



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