Sunday, September 19, 2004

And the really amusing part is...

That on Monday I went and told Lisbet pretty much what I wrote in my post about the waterfalls of Sogay, and how it ought to be a tourist spot. Wednesday afternoon, she brightly informed me that she had "sold" it to two American tourists, and that *I* was to be the guide...

The couple had only one free day in Arequipa, wanted to see the Colca Canyon, but didn't have time to do the two-day trekking trip and weren't inclined to sit on a bus all day with 15 other tourists to do the one-day "conventional" sightseeing tour. Lisbet, apparently quoting me more or less verbatim, told them that there was "another trek" that could be done in one day, taking in waterfalls, views of the mountains, typical Arequipan countryside and no other tourists. They thought this sounded good, and ended up handing over the $20 each that Lisbet charged them.

When I found this out, I was rather horrified and panicky. I was not at *all* confident that I could find the way to the waterfalls again and told Lisbet there was no way I was going out there to embarass myself with two tourists who had paid $20 each. Lisbet took this in her stride. Chewing thoughtfully on her pen, she immediately started trying to think of people who might know the area and could go with me. Pretty much all the likely prospects were unavailable, but at that moment Rafael had the good fortune to walk into the office. Rafael works as a guide to the Colca Canyon and is from Cabanaconde. He said he more or less knew the town of Sogay, but had never been to the waterfalls.

Nevertheless, I thought it could work if he went with me. As the tourists didn't speak any Spanish, we could put on a bit of a charade, saying that Rafael was a local who had friends and cousins in the area. Then he could wander off to ask for directions at any point on the pretense that he was "saying hi" to somebody. Still a little nervous about the price Lisbet had charged, I insisted that she pack *plenty* of food for lunch. She in turn told me that under no circumstances was I to say that this I had only been once to the falls and that this was an experimental trip.

The next morning Rafael and I went to pick up the tourists from the hotel. Kathryn and René (he originally from Slovakia) were a pleasant American couple. I kept them occupied with small talk while Rafael tried to find a taxi that would take us to the place where kombis leave for Sogay. We weren't making a good show of it being a regular, smoothly-run tour when the first taxi driver refused to go any further after realising where we wanted to go and deciding it was too far. The Cruz de Characato, where the kombis leave from, is indeed a good way into the outskirts of Arequipa, but the second taxi driver was kind enough to not only take us there but also agree to come and pick us up when we got back.

The kombis in fact normally only run as far as the town of Quequeña, but Rafael convinced this one to take us to Sogay, to where we were the only passengers. By now I think the American couple were figuring out that this wasn't something we did normally, judging by the number nervous glances and expressions Rafael and I were exchanging. I tried to keep them as occupied as possible by bombarding them with titbits on Arequipan geography, history, society and politics, something I managed to keep up throughout the afternoon.

In Sogay, Rafael disappeared for a bit while I and the tourists ate apples in the shade of the plaza. When he returned he was looking confident, and I was certainly impressed when he strode ahead out of town, announcing that there would be a stop at a "natural bathroom" in five minutes. Rafael was a legend; we took pretty much exactly the same route we had taken on Sunday, stopping under the same shady tree for a rest and a drink, while he also proved a fountain of information about the various medicinal and narcotic qualities of the vegetation along the route, all stuff he knows from the Colca. Kathryn and René seemed to be pretty enamoured of the countryside, the cows and donkeys, and the fact that there weren't any other tourists.

The one point it went a bit wobbly was when we started to get deep into the canyon and the track began to run out; I was of the view that it was time to go down to the river, but Rafael insisted we had to swing up the canyon wall and take a route that would lead later back down to the river. Rafael later told me that the second person he had asked for directions in Sogay had told him to take this path, but clearly they hadn't gone that way for a while. I had explained to Kathryn and René that our worried-sounding conversation was a mild disagreement about which was the *quickest* way to the falls; I thought we should go up the river while Rafael thought it would be quicker to take the uphill path.

When the uphill path completely petered out and Rafael turned round sheepishly, I did some quick covering - Rafael was now in agreement with me that the river would be quicker; there must have been a landslide or something since he last came. We now had to go back down an extremely steep and slippery track, which Kathryn found rather testing. Luckily, the couple were pretty good-humoured and didn't seem to mind having a bit of an adventure. With a bit of further luck we found the path to the river on the second attempt, and from there it was all plain sailing. We had spent so much time faffing about by the river on Sunday trying to help people across that it was all familiar to me.

The one unexpected thing was that the river level had dropped considerably; arriving at the last river crossing I announced confidently that at this part everyone definitely had to get wet, before plunging in, crossing, and heroically liftng myself onto a rock on the other side. René, who came behind me, hopped across three successive stones about a metre away from where I had started to wade, without even splashing himself. Well, they had been completely submerged on Sunday...

We had lunch there on the rock, discovering that Lisbet had been true to her word and had packed an immense lunch. The tourists were surprised and impressed, and although I absolutely stuffed myself we didn't even finish two-thirds of the food. Afterwards we made the tricky climb/scramble down to the falls, just precipitous enough for Kathryn to be a little scared and for René to help her out a bit.

After a long walk back to the village in the fierce sun, our cover was completely blown when we had to admit that we had no idea where to go to catch a kombi back to Arequipa. A villager herding donkeys suggested the crossroads; when we headed down there a local woman tending her fields confirmed that kombis to Arequipa passed by there - but even the Americans understood when I asked her "¿con qué frecuencia?"

Fortunately a taxi passed by within five minutes; the driver apparently reguarly offers a "collectivo" service between the Cruz de Characato and the nearby villages. We stopped in Quequeña so Rafael could call the other taxi driver and tell him we were on our way. He was there within five minutes of our arrival at the Cruz de Characato and took us all the way back to Santa Catalina.

In the end I think Kathyrn and René were happy enough with their trek - they didn't complan a bit and in fact thanked me sincerely for the experience. I still think the trip could be converted into a regular one, taking in the petroglyphs near Yanabama and a stop in Quequeña, which is a beautiful little town. We just have to work on some reliable and economic form of transport.

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