Flight of the Condors...

Trip Start Oct 05, 2012
Trip End Apr 01, 2013

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Monday, December 17, 2012

From the melting heat of Nazca, to the much cooler temperatures of Arequipa and then on to the Colca Valley where I found myself in a snow blizzard. Yes, the last few days have been full of such contrasts...!!

I left Nazca on yet another night bus. One too many in too short a period of time if I'm honest - especially as my neighbour was some idiot who couldn't keep his arms and legs within his own seat zone, and who snored in my ear for the whole 10 hours!! On arriving in Arequipa I probably felt the worst I have yet after travelling overnight and therefore opted for a very easy day. Arequipa - the second largest city in Perú as all locals will tell you - is a really pretty city. I was staying in the centro historico and found strolling (maybe more akin to crawling given my tiredness!!) was just the perfect way to spend the day recovering from the bus journey.

My main reason for coming to Arequipa was to visit the Colca Canyon, which at apx. 4165m is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It would also be my first real experience of Andean landscapes in Perú, and there was the added bonus of hopefully being able to spot the Andean Condor. I considered doing a proper trek into the canyon, although really only for a minute or so as in all honesty I knew I wasn't properly kitted out, nor was I acclimatised enough to the altitudes. And so, I chose the second option - a much easier 2 day/1 night trip involving yet more time on buses...

So, the first day takes you from Arequipa to the main town in the Colca Valley called Chivay. Easy I thought, sit back and enjoy the ride, watching the beautiful scenery of the altiplano combined with vicuña and alpaca herds all whilst accompanied by a very apt pan pipe soundtrack... The altitude was increasing the whole time, and around 1.5 hours after we left Arequipa we were bundled off the bus and into a restaurant for some mate de coca to help with this. Nice (heavily laced with sugar for me though!!) however very difficult to drink as the leaves tended to find there way to the top of the cup and end up in my mouth - and I really do draw the line at chewing the leaves as the locals do!!

It was then on, passing through the Highlands and the highest point of the road at an altitude of apx. 4910m...in the middle of a hail/almost snow storm it finally felt like December for me!! Thankfully we didn't stay at this altitude and descended into the Colca Valley and the town of Chivay which sits at an altitude of apx. 3635m. Positively low compared to the Highlands...!! Luckily the weather here was slightly better - no snow, only rain which unfortunately continued and was still raining when we went out for a group dinner. This was at one of the very touristy restaurants...one of those where there is a folk music show going on as you try and eat, and there's of course a CD for sale. I really enjoyed the music, but there was some very dodgy dancing going on and some quite frightening outfits - the Condor depicted by a black balaclava with a painted face resembling a cross between a clown and the Scream mask particularly stands out!! I did get to try alpaca though which was very nice.

And that was the end of the first day. Or so it should have been, but I hadn't taken into account the freezing cold night at such an altitude. This, combined with the fact that my 'hotel' had no heating and very badly fitted window frames, meant I had a very long battle just to get warm enough to fall asleep. I finally managed this by wearing trousers, a t-shirt, thermal top, fleece, 2 pairs of socks and a wooly hat. I also took extra blankets from the other bed in the room, which turned out to be so heavy that it felt like I was sleeping under a concrete duvet!! An interesting experience, but one that very much affirmed I made the right decision not doing the trek as it would have been much, much colder at the refuge in the valley.

Day 2 started early with breakfast, then a drive along the valley through the agricultural landscapes of the local people, and then finally onto the road along the rim of the canyon. I could hardly believe how sunny it was by the time we reached our final destination - the Cruz del Condor!! At an altitude of apx. 4800m, this is a spot renowned for watching the Andean Condors as they leave their nests in the canyon below and soar as they follow the air currents created by the depth of the canyon. This is one of the biggest tourist draws of the Colca Canyon and there were of course hundreds of other tourists there by the time we reached the miradors. Not to be disappointed though, it wasn't too long before the first Condors were spotted. Or atleast, the general consensus was that they were young female condors...given they were flying deep in the canyon (the bottom of which was apx. 4100m below us) they looked tiny, and unidentifiable to my untrained eye!! This wasn't the only ones we spotted though, as after about 45mins of sitting watching we were all rewarded with 3 soaring condors almost at the same level as the miradors. Truly spectacular, especially with the incredible background of the Andes and the hanging clouds!!

This was the final stop of the tour as after this we back-tracked through Chivay for lunch and then on through the highlands again (even snowier than the previous day!!) and arrived back into Arequipa late afternoon. Stunning scenery and a definite recommendation. Just take lots of warm clothes... ;-)

One final thing in Arequipa which I did before I left was visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which I had previously ruled out as I felt I was too tired to appreciate it. Thankfully, I had the morning before my bus left for Puno and so was there when the gates opened at 9am. I have to say, I think this is my favourite place I have visited in any of the cities so far. It's basically a walled city set within the centro historico and as you along the principal street and through the courtyards lots of open doorways lead you into a labyrinth of smaller spaces which were used as the nuns cells, kitchen areas, internal courtyards and areas of worship or schooling. One particular gruesome find for me was the preserved heart and tongue of one of the Bishops!! The whole complex is beautifully preserved and restored and really was fascinating to go to. I'm not sure if it was because I was there so early, but I only saw another 4 people during the 1.5 hours I spent which made it see even more tranquil and relaxing!!
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Pigwig on

The Condors look amazing, really striking against the sky. Did you actually eat Alpaca? Tasty? Can't believe you were in snow, didn't realise. Teeth look so white or is it that you are so brown now ; )

curlsandtales on

Yes, I did actually eat alpaca. And again on the Jungle Trail too. Nice, if not a bit chewy... My tan has faded now...sob sob... Too much rain and cold because of the altitude :-( xx

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