National Geographic : 1993 Jan
according to the two survivors, their raft flipped in less than a minute. The Poles re covered the raft later that year ("The darkest trip of my life," Zbigniew said), but Cholo's body was never found. Still, Duilio, high-spirited and tough, has already kayaked the Colca once, an experi ence he says was marred only by the noto rious Reparaz Canyon, a chain of three diffi cult rapids so blocked by boulders that they're all but unscoutable. Reparaz, he says, ripped him out of his boat and shook him so violently he cannot escape the memory. He must return para sacarse el clavo, as the Peru vian expression has it: "to remove the nail." FROM AREQUIPA we make our final drive into the dry, purple Andes, to about 15,000 feet, cresting the rim of the upper Colca Valley in late afternoon. A black-chested eagle hov ers at eye level, then banks and dives, its immense shadow rippling across the quilt work of farm terraces thousands of feet below. Like many Andean rivers the Colca carves an inhabitable valley in its upper reaches, then dives to sea level. The river changes names five times: It's called Paco Paco at the source; Chilamayo for 7 miles; Colca through the 155 miles of its high valley and breakneck plunge; Majes for 37 miles, in which it broad ens and flattens out; and Camana in its lit toral, which begins 30 miles from the Pacific. It is the Colca gorge, the most precipitous drop-some 3,000 feet over 50 miles-that we will attempt to navigate. If any one mood dominates the Colca, it is one of isolation. The Inca gained control of the valley in the 15th century, but they never really conquered it. Nor did the Spanish, who took over in the 16th century, though they did manage to kill off much of the native population. Life here changed so little down the centuries, in fact, that when American historian Robert Shippee wrote about the area in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC in 1934, he described it as "a forgotten valley of Peru." Colca Canyon (right) cleaves the Andes insouthern Peru. Earthquakes, avalanches, and the turbulent river constantly carve new features. The V-shaped river gorge, accessible only by boat, plunges to more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon (inset).