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In Peru it was just me, the village ruins and the mountains – or was it?

Canyon de Colca in the southern end of Peru; it’s one of the deepest canyons in the world.


Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

It was an extraordinary experience, some would say "spiritual," others, the result of chewing too many coca leaves or, just possibly, early signs of altitude sickness – I had after all, earlier in the day passed over a 4,150-metre-high mountain pass.

During a break from working as a veterinarian in Peru, I visited Canyon de Colca in the southern end of the country; it's one of the deepest canyons in the world. The canyon rim at Cruz del Condor is 1,200 metres above the cultivated lands of the valley floor. It is very grand, and a place where Andean condors are frequently seen rising on late-morning thermals.

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Returning from viewing these magnificent birds, my guide Guillermo suggested I trek up a local hillside to see an abandoned village. He provided me with a machete to hack away at the vines invading the trail and, just as I was about to leave, asked me to report back about how I felt during my visit. Strange words, I mused, marching off up the steep slope alone. Little did I realize this would be no ordinary village – abandoned or otherwise.

The machete was a useful tool, and after about an hour I was standing in the eerily quiet central plaza – me, the ruins and the mountains.

During the ascent I saw brightly coloured birds everywhere, but here there were none to be seen or heard. Strangely gnarled, almost human-looking cacti seemed to peer around the corners of the plaza as if eager to confront this stranger in their midst.

Without warning, a clap of thunder rumbled across the valley followed by torrential rain and yet more thunder. Huddled in one forlorn building, I waited out the storm and wondered whether I had angered the Andean gods. Had I trespassed on sacred ground? Is that what Guillermo had alluded to?

Once the storm had passed I spent an hour wandering through the deserted streets. There was nothing to suggest an ancient graveyard but the intense feeling of isolation and sadness was all around.

After scrambling down the mountain I arrived back at my lodge sodden but nonetheless exhilarated. Guillermo cornered me at the bar and immediately asked: "How did you feel?"

Humbled. Spooked. Mystified, I replied, and he nodded as a smile crept across his face. I was not the first to experience such thoughts. The village he explained, was known as the "village of tears" whose inhabitants mysteriously disappeared a few hundred years ago. Their spirits are said to haunt the ruins.

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He may be right. There were definitely no coca leaves in my trail mix.

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