Convent, Colca Canyon and Condors

Trip Start Jan 31, 2005
Trip End Mar 30, 2006

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

After spending a few hours at the reception for our Inca Trail guide's daughter's baptism, we headed to the bus station and got on an overnight bus bound for Arequipa. We stayed at the reception as long as we could and left in such a rush that Allison's polarfleece jacket, a luggage lock and one of our prized tubes of Burt's Bees lip balm were left behind as party favors... Bound to happen eventually...

We enjoyed Arequipa a lot, though we were feeling a little lazy and spent a fair amount of time there just walking around and regrouping. It is a nice spot to do that, though - warm, sunny days all year and lots of colonial architecture. Our one touristy accomplishment in the city itself was visiting a huge walled convent built in the 1600s. It is practically a city within a city and beautifully constructed. It had a small amount of notoriety back in the day because it was sort of an elitist convent - the nuns were traditionally the second daughters from the local nobility and they came to the convent with multiple servants and a dowry (at least during its early history). It was one of the most unique places either of us has ever visited - there were "streets" within the convent, uncountable numbers of old-fashioned kitchens (holes in the roof for the smoke), geraniums everywhere and all of the walls were painted white, bright blue or burnt orange/red. The kind of place photographers love - too bad we haven't read more of our camera instruction manual...

After spending a few days in Arequipa we headed to the Colca Canyon, which is about a 3 hour bus ride from Arequipa. It is one of the deepest canyons in the world (deeper than the Grand Canyon) and a lot of people visit it to do some hiking as well as see Andean condors (one of the largest flying birds in the world). We took the bus beyond the canyon's nearest point to Arequipa an additional two hours to the little village of Cabanaconde. When we arrived we found a big local indigenous festival going on. There were a couple different brass bands playing in the plaza and lots of people drinking and dancing in circles. We stuck around to watch for a little while but ended up going to bed earlier than the villagers because we had to get up early the next morning for a planned three-day hike into the canyon.

Before hiking we took a bus about a half hour from Cabanaconde to a spot overlooking the canyon known as Cruz del Condor. Practically every morning from 8 till 9 condors can be seen flying in this area due to morning updrafts from the canyon bottom. The birds were more punctual than most people or buses in Latin America. At nearly 8 a.m. on the dot they started flying by. Over the course of an hour they came and went, sometimes right over our heads, sometimes pretty far away, but still in sight. There were points when we had dozens of huge condors flying all around us. At one point three smaller condors landed on a rock about 50 feet away from us and we all excitedly started taking photos of them - but then we realized the ones on the rock looked like any vulture you would see in the U.S... But for the most part, seeing the birds was very impressive - particularly the older birds with the largest wing spans (reportedly up to 11 feet) who also have interesting fuzzy white collars, which stand out in contrast to their bald heads and necks.

After watching the condors for an hour or so, we started hiking down the road back to Cabanaconde to find the path down into the canyon. As we were walking, though, we started rethinking what we really felt like doing. A combination of a cough Allison had had since the Inca Trail, the fact that we had done a lot of hiking in the previous few weeks and our observation that while the canyon was pretty, it wasn't as beautiful as we expected, and the best views seemed to be from the top, made us decide not to hike down into the canyon and instead just walk back to Cabanaconde. From there we decided to take the bus back to the edge of the canyon to the town of Chivay, where we planned to go to some hot springs, spend the night and then go back to Arequipa.

We arrived at the bus station and went to the ticket counter to buy tickets back to Arequipa for the next day. When we asked if we could buy tickets in advance we were a little surprised when the guy told us no... But then he told us that the reason was that there would be a strike starting at midnight, and the road would be blocked - now that didn't surprise us - could we go a week in Peru without some sort of road block? That further changed our plans and we bought tickets back to Arequipa for later that afternoon. We then made the unwise choice to be coerced into a bus station restaurant, where we ate a pretty terrible lunch, including the smallest grilled trout we had ever seen - maybe 5 inches long including head and tail. (Poor little guys never had a chance!) So, back to Arequipa we went and spent one more day relaxing in the city before taking a bus to the Peru side of Lake Titicaca. The only memorable thing that comes to mind from that day was that we ran into some minor strikes in the city itself - at one point we passed by an intersection where a bunch of taxi drivers had blocked some key intersections and were standing in the road yelling at a cop who was trying to break it up (we even got a photo!) It didn't matter to us that the streets were blocked, though - just turned a bunch of the central city into a pedestrian mall...
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