A Tale of a Manic Mule
Let me start this tale*, with introducing myself. My name is Mani the Mule. I live inside the Colca Canyon, near Arequipa in Peru. The Colca Canyon is known as the second largest canyon in the world and is famous for the soaring condors and the unique flora and fauna living inside the canyon. I am lucky enough to live inside this canyon. I live together with my friends in an oasis. A lush green pasture at the bottom of the Colca Canyon. As there are no roads, me and my friends carry goods from the rim of the canyon to the bottom to supply the oasis. My friends call me Mani the Manic Mule after I rescued a girl on her Colca Canyon Hike. There have always been 2 sides to my feelings, but on this day I experience some manic feelings.
Read more: Appealing Arguments to Travel to Arequipa, Peru.
It was a lovely Sunday in Mai. My friends and I are digesting some hay and enjoy a fresh breeze blowing through the canyon. Winter is coming and we praise ourselves lucky to be in the canyon on such a lovely day. It is a good day for condor viewing and the tourists who come to our oasis would probably get a good show. They will first do the Colca Canyon Hike before they get to us. I’m all giddy and excited for them! What a nice day.
Mani to the rescue
It is around lunch time when my owner comes to get me. I’m surprised. We normally stand in the shade of the trees of the oasis all day and only go up really early in the morning. My owner puts a rope around my head and saddles me up. Where would we be going? What would we be doing? I have a bad feeling about this.
But my owner pulls me along and we walk away from the oasis in the Colca Canyon. My owner talks to me. I like it when he does that. He tells me he received a phone call from Juanita. She sells soda drinks at the bridge in the canyon. She needs our help and my owner and I would come to the rescue. I feel all strong and invincible. Mani the Manic Mule will help someone today. What a great day.
My owner walks on his bare feet, sometimes ahead of me, sometimes behind. He walks quite fast. I’m sweating. I hate sweat. We’re almost running. I worry where we are going. Why such a hurry? I struggle to keep up with him. How is this possible? I am a fit mule; I can do this Colca Canyon hike, right?
My owner tells me we can make a lot of money today. I move my ears. Money is good for my owner, but it will not get me any extra snacks tonight. It probably means I have to work really hard. I exhale in despair. Why did we set out on this adventure?
Manic Mani the Mule meets the Colca Canyon Hiker
After 1.5 hours of speeding through the Colca Canyon, we finally reach the bridge at the bottom. What a relief. I’m so happy to make it to the bridge! We climbed a lot and then descended to the Canyon floor. My feet hurt from the constant down-hill movement. Maybe my mule shoes are not fitted properly. How am I going to make it back to the oasis?
At the bridge at the bottom of the Colca Canyon, we meet a girl. She is a traveller and not from Peru. I look at her. She looks like a nice person. She also looks very lonely. How is it possible she is all alone here at the bottom of the Colca Canyon after her Colca Canyon hike? Where is her group and why did they leave her there on her own? Isn’t that the one rule when hiking, never leave anybody behind? How long has she been waiting here by herself?
I feel for her. I nicker to see if she looks up to me. She does! Yeah, now I can have an even better look at her. She is a healthy girl but I see tear marks on her face. She is sweating even more than I do! The tears have left a mark on her face, but she puts on a brave face. She is busy putting on her shoes and then I see the problem! The girl doesn’t have any skin on her feet!
A hiker can’t walk anymore
No wonder she can’t walk anymore. What would it be like for me to walk without my horseshoes on my feet? I’m eager to help her. We need to get her away from this bridge and bring her to the oasis. But I worry how I will carry her across the Colca Canyon. She looks heavy. And a bit insecure. Will she sit still on my back?
My owner helps the girl on my back. For a moment I wobble on my legs. She screaks in despear. Owh, this is going to be a drama! What a nightmare. I should have never left the stable this morning. I hope the other mules won’t see me like this. But I hear the girl take a deep breath and I decide to do the same. We can do this! There is no other option. We need to finish this Colca Canyon hike.
A Mule Ride in the Colca Canyon
Together, we start our journey to the oasis. At first, the girl is really tense and uptight. I can feel her muscles cramp up as I try to keep a steady pace. We trot over cobble stones, I pass a stream and we go up and down. I worry constantly. Will she fall off? Can she sit still? Would she fall on the ground and hit her head? I tell myself not to try to trample her when she would fall. Really dark and depressing thoughts occupy my brains during our Colca Canyon hike.
But luckily, she doesn’t. It’s almost a miracle but she remains in the saddle. After half an hour, we reach a lunch spot. She descends from my back and leaves us alone. I feel relieved. The weight is lifted from my back. I do not have to carry her across the cobble stone hills and paths anymore. She will stay here and I’ll return to my friends in the shade of the oasis. Hurray, I feel so happy all of a sudden.
The Journey Continues
But my owner straps on the saddle even tighter. I feel a knob in my stomach. I feel sick and I’m thirsty. But above all, very tired. My feet can’t carry me anymore. I have no control over my legs anymore and feel I can tip over at any moment. Then I tremble and shake. I start to bellow as I feel so awful. Why did we set out on this adventure today? Why didn’t we just stay at home this morning? I’m so blue.
But I look around me. I have no idea where we are, but it looks desolate. There is only one little house here. No roads. No bus goes out of the Colca Canyon. This girl clearly can’t walk anymore and I have been called to carry her. I take a deep breath and brace myself. We continue our Colca Canyon hike.
Enjoying the Colca Canyon Hike
As we move deeper into the Colca Canyon, I feel the grip of the girl’s hand loosen on my saddle knob. I look up and take in the sharp edges of the Canyon. The sun is already behind the rim of the Canyon and nature’s pallet is painting a pastel picture. I try to enjoy the views. The greens, the trees, the cacti. I see some birds zoom by and take mental images of the waterfall throwing its water down the cliff. But it is difficult. I can’t feel my legs anymore. My back is beyond sore and I know I have bruises on every part of my body.
I’m sweating, my hair sticks to my forehead but when I try to shake my head to move it away from my eyes and we almost lose our balance. So we continue in discomfort. What a nightmare. Why in a mule’s life should I endure this? I am not built for this? I am not a horse! But then again, I’m no donkey either, so I follow my owner.
Making an ass out of myself
We wade through a river. I almost lose my bearings on the slippery rocks. We pass a little village and I bow my head in shame. I feel like such an ass. I hope no other mules will see me like this. They will laugh and think I am a big baby. I am curious though, what those little guinea pigs in cages are, but we have to continue. No time for chatting or stopping. We move non-stop.
And then finally! I can see the oasis! My heart leaps with joy! We made it. We are almost there. I can stop moving and rest. Just a little further. I am so happy!
Death by Donkey or Murder by Mule
Or not… We go up again. And down. The weight is weighing heavier and heavier on my back. The girl is getting tenser and I need to give it everything I have, to keep it together. To keep us together. As we’re almost at the bottom of Colca Canyon again, I lose my grip. We slip. We slide. I see us tumbling into the river below. On the hard rocks. She will smash her head and not notice I’ll fall on her and break every bone in her body. Even if we’d survive, there would be no way we would make it out of this canyon. We are doomed. As we slide down, I close my eyes for a moment, this is it. Goodbye oasis, goodbye Colca Canyon, goodbye Peru. Death by donkey. Murder by mule.
It’s like I can almost hear her thoughts. They are so loud in my head. I get angry! I am not a donkey! Those stubborn bastards, I’ll show them who Mani the Manic Mule is. I grasp myself with the last power I have. Rocks tumble down into the river. The weight of the girl shifts almost over my head. I pray to a God I do not believe in, she remains in the saddle. I slowly troth back on the rim. Steady ground underneath my feet. We are safe. We made it. No death by donkey today!
Saying goodbye to Mani the Manic Mule
I feel like crying but I am so tense, I cannot let go of my feelings. Fear is raging through my body and adrenaline rushes through my veins. My owner pulls us along and we almost gallop to the oasis. I can’t really remember those last miles to the oasis but all of a sudden, it is over. The girl climbs from my back and I feel the cool air against my body. The girl looks at me. I look at her. I can feel how she feels and I feel her pain. Her despair and discomfort. I can feel her relief and joy she made it through the first day of the Colca Canyon hike!
With the blink of an eye we say goodbye. I drink my water and she walks away. Unstable on her feet, her face covered in pain. I join the other mules. They ask me what I did. How my day was. I cannot explain. It was gorgeous to walk through the Colca Canyon but it was an awful experience and I never should have done it. But I am proud to help this foreign girl and bring her safely to the oasis. The other mules make an ass out of me and tell me I’m manic as I had such a contradictive day. I bellow. The Colca Canyon hike is over and I will never forget it.
*Disclaimer: of course, this story is fictional. I use the character of Mani the Manic Mule to give a voice to my story of 2 sides of my Colca Canyon Hike. Read more about my travels in South America and Peru here. To see more amazing images of the Colca Canyon Hike, check these pictures on Instagram.