Condors and Coca Leaves

Trip Start May 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2010

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

After a day recovering from our overnight bus journey we decided to do a 2 day/1 night tour to Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world which is a few hours drive north of Arequipa. So, bright and early that morning, team Hunt headed out to the unknown. On our way we passed the most alpaca, llama and even vicuņa that we've seen so far! They're so cute! Arequipa is surrounded by volcanoes - the biggest being El Misti - so the scenery again was very dramatic. We had the luxury of paved roads for the first part of the morning and then the road soon became a dirt track and we rattled our way to the highest point of our journey at 4350m. The change of scenery yielded clear, cloudless skies and toffee-coloured dirt that threw up a very fine dust, which permeated the bus and everything in it (including us!).  

Luckily we had previously had time to acclimatise to the altitude...whereas quite a lot of people on our tour needed regular handouts of alcohol poured on to cotton wool, and a supply of coca leaves, which are supposed to help. We bought some and tried chewing a bunch of these leaves...all it did was taste revolting (just scoop up some leaves this Autumn from your local park....and you'll get the idea) and left our mouths feeling very numb (...clearly not a good idea to chew too much!).  Anything that tastes like that can't be habit forming...  Along the way, we stopped and had some mate, which is coca tea - a lot more palatable after a fistful of sugar.  The coca toffees were also a much better alternative to the leaves themselves.

Once in Chivay we dumped our stuff in the hotel and then headed off to the hot springs just outside for some R&R! WOW! They were so warm...oooohhh we so didn't want to get out.  Heaven! Anyhow, after dragging ourselves away from there our tour group were taken to a local restaurant for dinner and traditional local dancing. All very touristy but good fun. We didn't stay long after dinner as I had a thumping headache (the altitude sickness caught up with so we headed back for a well earned sleep.  Absolutely freezing in the canyon...even the some of the dogs had fleece 'jackets' or dresses on!

We had an early start the next morning to get to the Cruz del Condor (Condor Cross) in time to see the condors - pretty much the only place in the Andes where such close up viewing can be guaranteed.  This was not before we had a random stop in a village (Yanque) with nothing in it apart from local women in their elaborately embroidered traditional costumes with llamas, birds of prey and a megaphone system! Andy went to get a photo with a huge eagle, and these two local woman (and their llamas) descended on him by nudging their way into the photo I was taking of him...and then expected us to pay them! Cheeky! 

Anyway...finally we were on our way again past a landscape which was quite literally like a patchwork quilt set into the'll see what I mean on the photos! Once at Cruz del Condor (along with the other hordes of people!) we were able to look down into and along the Canyon searching for Condors. We didn't have to wait long as after I had elbowed my way amongst the crowds (being small has its advantages!) and obtained us a nice front-row position we soon saw 8 of these majestic creatures soaring around the cliff faces.  After half an hour of Andy madly snapping away, the group took a short walk further along the canyon.  All was quiet until suddenly the sky was filled with condors again - far more than we could see at the actual Condor Cross, and flying closer to us, some at head height.

The last part of the tour took us back to Arequipa via some amazing views of pre-Inca terraces.  At one point there was a rock in the foreground that had been carved to look like the terraces behind it - though no-one is sure which came first!  There were also some ancient Inca tombs in the rock face...God alone knows how they got the bodies up there.

Finally we arrived, dusty and dizzy, back to Arequipa for a hot shower and loooong sleep...
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