Friday, September 17, 2004

The Waterfalls of Sogay

On Sunday we went on a trip to the waterfalls of Sogay, organised by the gymnasium at the Club Internacional, where Paola works. The nature of the destination was a mystery to me, but we followed the instructions to bring shorts or track pants and a change of shoes, plus food for a picnic. We bought a chicken, mayonnaise and celery, and spent the evening cutting the chicken and celery into the small pieces of exact form demanded by Paola.

The town of Sogay is about 40 minutes away from Arequipa, on the road to the Picchu Picchu range. On the way we passed through the town of Yanabamba and visited the ruins of its founder’s mansion. Nearby there are some rough cave drawings, supposedly dating from 2,000 years ago. For me the striking feature of this stop was the view back across the valley taking in Misti, Chachani and, its snow cap floating like a cloud in the distance, Nevado Ampato. Nowhere else around Arequipa that I know of can you see the three volcanoes in a row like that.

Sogay is a picturesque little village with a tiny church and plaza graced by a single palm tree. A pathway climbs out of the town through the green terraces and their irrigation canals. A very diverse array of people had come on the two minibuses, ranging from a trainer from the Club gym to an overweight woman in her sixties. This meant that we made tortuous progress up through the agricultural terraces on the way to visit some more basic petroglyphs and the ruins of an old mill dating from the early 18th century.

Eventually the younger people split off and we made our way out of the cultivated valley into the entrance of a narrow, steep canyon with typical high desert vegetation of brush and cactus, fig and yata trees near the river providing shade from the fierce sun. To get to the waterfalls we had to cross and re-cross the river, further splitting the group. There was apparently more water than usual, up to waist level at times, but it wasn’t particularly deep, cold or rapid by the standards of mountain streams. After a series of mini cascades there was a further tricky river crossing and a scramble up the precipitous side of the canyon to get to the main falls, plunging through a crevice in the narrow canyon. Only eight of us out of the 22 got that far.

This should be a popular tourist spot, and in most places would be. The walk passes through most of the kind of countryside you can find in the Colca Valley, and there’s certainly enough cultural, historical and archeological interest on the way. There are great picnic spots on the sunny spots by the river, and the steep, narrow quebrada has a spaghetti-western drama. And it’s all only 40 minutes from the centre of Arequipa. What’s lacking is a few discreet signposts so people can find their way to the waterfalls and avoid trampling local people’s crops or disturbing their cows. Some titbits of historical and geographical information wouldn’t go amiss either. This being Peru, however, unless there’s a whole oversubscribed industry erected around a destination, it doesn’t really get visited. People here have yet to figure out that if you make it easy for tourists to do things they tend to stay longer and you get more of their money anyway, albeit indirectly.

Note: you do need to wear boots or strong shoes. The rocks on the river bed are slippery, and there’s quite a bit of clambering over the steep, slippery sides of the canyon. Trainers don’t quite cut it, as Paola found out, with me having to help her over most of the tricky bits. It’s true that her fashionably-cut tracksuit did look rakish. But in the end it was my “ropa de gringo” for which I’ve received so much criticism for wearing around Arequipa, that held out the dust and mud better.

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