It’s the winter of 1997, and I’m sitting in a small single room in an previous adobe home, which I hire for $25 monthly. I’ve a double mattress on the ground, a small wood desk and a chair, and a single bare gentle bulb hangs from the ceiling. I’ve a couple of clippings and images from again residence taped to the plaster partitions. Mud is available in from beneath the door.
I’m about half-way by way of my two-year stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Bolivia. I do know this as a result of I’m counting the months till I full my service. I spend a LOT of time on this quiet little room studying books and writing letters to residence. There’s simply not a lot else to do on this city. I’m bored.
There may be clearly no web, as a result of it’s 1997. I do have electrical energy, and often there may be working water, which is good, however no TV stations, no radio stations, and the entire city has precisely one phone, which is accessible to be used a couple of hours every day.
My life is remoted and monotonous.
I had joined the Peace Corps simply over a 12 months in the past after I graduated faculty. I wasn’t prepared for a commute to a cubicle. I wished to be outside, and I wished journey. Peace Corps appeared prefer it supplied simply what I used to be searching for.
However identical to these fabulous creators you most likely observe right now on Instagram, the truth on the bottom is kind of totally different from the present. Proper now, I’m lacking my mates again residence, I’m lacking all the brand new films and new music, the bars, and the golf equipment. I really feel just like the world goes ahead with out me, and thrilling issues are occurring, whereas I’m caught on this little city the place time is standing nonetheless.
I’m prepared to surrender and go residence. I consider I’ve executed the whole lot and seen the whole lot I can.
It’s a Wednesday right now, however that doesn’t matter. Every single day is just about the identical on this city. Folks exit to the plaza within the morning to purchase meals or discuss to their neighbors. Then round midday, everybody goes inside for lunch and an extended siesta. If the climate is off, they won’t emerge once more from their houses till the following day. Within the winter, the city is particularly quiet. This sample repeats day after day. This isn’t a spot for a single 22 year-old searching for adventures.
It’s practically 1 pm now, and I ought to most likely go get one thing to eat earlier than the city shuts down for the remainder of the day.
How Many Potatoes Can You Eat?
Its a few 2 minute stroll from my small room to the plaza within the middle of the city. There are three eating places subsequent to the plaza. They’re not at all times open, and when they’re, they usually have just one dish on the menu. I head to the Restaurant “Villa Abecia”, the most important restaurant on the town, and the almost certainly to be open after 1pm.
Meals right here is at all times the identical factor: plain white rice, boiled potatoes, and a few type of overcooked meat – rooster, beef, or pork. The one distinction between one dish and one other is the kind of meat, and possibly there’s a sauce on the meat.
The meals just about sucks. It’s the identical factor day in and day trip. How a lot rice and potatoes are you able to eat?
Reply: so much. If you eat one thing again and again and over, you evolve. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway. I’ve eaten plain boiled potatoes so many occasions that I’ve began to note delicate taste profiles. I may shut my eyes and let you know which number of potato I’m consuming.
I see from a chalkboard outdoors the restaurant that the menu right now is apparent baked rooster, with no sauce, accompanied by rice and potatoes. Yay. I stroll inside and order a plate, and I sit down at a small sq. desk in direction of the rear of the restaurant. There’s no person else within the restaurant however me.
I eat my meals; it’s notably dry and flavorless right now. What the heck am I doing right here?
An Sudden Flip
I’m about to stroll again to my room; pondering I’ve had all the thrill I’m going to get for the day, when a pickup truck rolls up in a cloud of mud and stops on the plaza. Two males get out. They’ve clearly been on the street for hours, and they’re hungry and dusty, as they enter the restaurant.
The 2 males sit down on the entrance desk within the restaurant and order a soda. I can’t assist however overhear their dialog, despite the fact that they’re on the opposite finish of the restaurant from me. It’s quiet inside and there aren’t any different diners.
I can inform by his accent that one in all these males is a gringo – a foreigner. That is very uncommon, to see one other foreigner in my city, even when he’s simply passing by way of. We’re nicely off any vacationer paths – nothing to see right here.
I stroll up and introduce myself. It seems the foreigner speaks English. His identify is Richard, and he says he’s knowledgeable photographer. The opposite man is Richard’s driver. The sodas arrive and I sit down at their desk.
I’m questioning to myself what the hell is Richard doing right here on this little city? He says he’s by no means been to Bolivia earlier than. His Spanish is struggling a bit. So why come to this dusty outpost excessive within the Andes? Can I belief this man?
Richard explains he makes his cash as a contract photographer, however his ardour is to discover canyons. He has revealed books in regards to the Grand Canyon, the Copper Canyon in Mexico, which is 4 occasions bigger than the Grand Canyon, and the Colca Canyon in Peru, which might be the world’s deepest canyon. These are all wonderful sights to see. They appeal to throngs of vacationers and hikers and so they encourage folks like Richard. Richard is a canyoneer.
Richard goes on to inform me that he has recognized a canyon about 50 miles from right here that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, and should rival the Colca Canyon. It’s seemingly one of many deepest canyons on this planet, and it’s nearly unexplored and unmapped by fashionable canyoneers. I’ve lived right here for a 12 months, and I’ve by no means heard of this canyon. Richard referred to as it the Pilaya Canyon.
Richard got here right here on a visit to take a look at the Pilaya Canyon, and to maybe inform its story. I’m nonetheless undecided whether or not all of that is true. You’d assume if there was some huge canyon a couple of miles away, I’d have heard of it.
Richard’s Spanish was not excellent, and his driver didn’t communicate English, so Richard may use somebody like me to translate. He asks if I wish to go take a look at the Pilaya Canyon with him.
Okay, what the hell. In about quarter-hour, I’m able to go.
Into the Unknown
We drive 2 hours south on the primary freeway till we come to a barely noticeable grime monitor heading left. The driving force believes that is the turnoff to the Pilaya. By the seems to be of it, this little street may see a single automotive per week. We go left.
Quickly the street turns right into a dry wash and disappears. We drive down the wash. Largely, it’s simply treeless desert filled with mud and rocks and solar. Often we cross a shade tree or a distant goat corral. The truck is supplied with an auxiliary fuel tank, so we’re fairly certain now we have sufficient gasoline.
One other Sudden Flip
We proceed down the dry wash for 3 dusty hours. It twists and turns into a pointy valley, and we’re surrounded by steep hills. There may be now a bit stream working within the valley. We flip a bend, and the valley opens as much as reveal tender inexperienced orchards. Immediately, there’s a lovely farming valley unfold earlier than us. This is likely one of the most idyllic mountain valleys I’ve ever seen. It’s like a postcard.
It’s laborious to explain how remoted this valley is. It looks like we should be the primary outsiders to see this place in many years.
We cease the truck lengthy sufficient to speak to some locals and ask about entry to the Pilaya Canyon.
At this level, I discover that the locals we’re speaking to have blue eyes and blond hair. This isn’t regular to see in Bolivia. I’ve blue eyes, and I’ve simply spent the final 12 months in my city fielding questions from curious children about why my eyes are blue, and whether or not everybody else has blue eyes the place I come from. Individuals who develop up on this a part of the world might by no means see somebody with blue eyes, besides an occasional overseas vacationer within the metropolis. It’s like seeing somebody with inexperienced pores and skin – it’s fully surprising.
However this little valley down the lengthy grime wash is filled with blue-eyed Bolivians. They even communicate Spanish with a distinct accent. Richard says that is frequent, for folks residing in huge canyons to be remoted and to develop totally different accents, language, or customs.
I feel the folks right here should be direct descendants of early Spanish settlers. And it seems to be like not a lot has modified since these settlers arrived. This place is sort of a real-life Shangri-La.
The locals confirmed that the canyon is actual, and that we’re solely minutes away from the sting of it, a spot referred to as the “Salto” or drop-off. We requested for a information to take us there, however no person wished to go. It seems that the blue-eyed locals don’t go into the canyon. They dwell in isolation on the sting of one of many deepest canyons on this planet, and so they keep away from it solely. I don’t know whether or not that’s because of superstitions or to practicality.
We drive a couple of minutes additional, and cross a small farm space that was deserted some many years in the past. It’s referred to as “Las Animas”, or The Souls. Supposedly it’s named after individuals who have been misplaced within the canyon over the generations. There’s nothing left now, however reminiscences and decrepit buildings. It truly feels colder right here, however that’s most likely as a result of we’re in a deep ravine, and the solar is beginning to go down. That is the final cease earlier than the rim.
We drive a bit additional and attain the Salto, the canyon rim. As we step out of the truck, we are able to really feel the push of air rising from the big void beneath. It’s hundreds of ft all the way down to the muddy Pilaya river. From right here, we are able to solely see a small portion of the canyon, not the complete panorama.
By now the solar is setting, and we resolve to spend the evening. Again within the village, one of many village elders is type sufficient to present us beds in his home for the evening. Not lengthy after darkish, he informs us that some people within the village wish to meet us. They’ve killed a goat, and they’re roasting it. Come eat.
Friends of Honor
We stumble within the moonlight by way of some orchards to a small adobe constructing. I stoop all the way down to enter the doorway, and the room is stuffed with candle gentle and maybe 40 folks. There’s a massive feast at hand: roasted goat meat, corn, wine, and naturally, potatoes. We’re the company of honor.
We spend the following two hours consuming, ingesting, and making quick speeches of friendship and gratitude, combined in with guarantees of nice issues to return. We’re actually honored. Clearly, not numerous guests come right here.
On our method again to our visitor home, there isn’t any moonlight. It’s pitch black underneath the timber, and I stub my toe on some heavy rocks within the path. One way or the other, we handle to search out our beds at nighttime.
The subsequent day, we’re up with the dawn. Our aim right now is to scale the 13,000 foot mountain to the east, the place we are able to achieve a complete overview of this canyon. We hike up for hours, passing a number of small Inca ruins alongside the way in which. We attain the highest earlier than midday. We glance again all the way down to see dozens of Andean condors hovering beneath us on the canyon drafts. A few of them are curious and are available in for a more in-depth have a look at us. These birds have 10-ft wingspans, the most important flying hen on this planet. They will decide up a small goat.
The Magical Pilaya
To the north, east, and west, The Pilaya Canyon spreads out beneath us, and it’s breathtaking. We are able to see 9,000 ft straight all the way down to the river backside. The canyon is the 6th deepest in the world, 50% deeper than the Grand Canyon. It’s huge, superior, implausible and impassible. But hardly anybody has ever heard of it, a lot much less visited it.
It’s laborious to consider that I’m solely about 50 miles because the crow flies from the monotony of my single little room and the routine of my every day life.
As we descend the mountain, Richard is happy. He loved seeing a brand new surprise, and his journey was definitely worth the effort. There was an opportunity the Pilaya Canyon may be deeper than all of them, maybe the deepest canyon on this planet. It seems that it’s not, however the pursuit of it was all Richard wanted.
Again to Actuality
I’m quickly again in my little room and my every day routine. However I’m refreshed and joyful to have the fortune to expertise all of this.
Generally alternative knocks if you end up least anticipating it. Typically it takes longer than you would like. The Pilaya Canyon was an journey ready on my doorstep, and all it required was a bit luck and some steps into the unknown.
In right now’s social media world, it looks like everybody takes the identical images and runs the identical routes. Our nationwide treasures are overwhelmed. However there are nonetheless astounding locations off the overwhelmed path that you simply’ve most likely by no means heard of. The world will reveal wonderful issues to you, for those who simply let it.