The Soar of the Condor

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Thursday, May 4, 2006

A strange thing happens on the Bolivian and Peruvian buses every now and then, a traveling salesman gets on board. I usually listen for a little while before getting bored by their crap and then I continue listening to music. The locals however appear to love the stuff and buy whatever theyre selling as if its going out of fashion. The face cream salesman that joined our bus to Arequipa did a great trade as usual.

Arequipa is a pretty place, surprisingly Pers second largest city, after Lima. You wouldnt know it as you walk through the central plaza with its white colonial buildings. Despite having a lack of motivation in the last month of two my motivation has come back with a vengance, I think its probably due to the fact that I know I only have 1 month left in South America. Therefore Im trying to do a quick tour of the southern peru gringo trail before heading into north Peru.

With this in mind I booked myself onto a tour to the Colca Canyon, where you can see Condors soar on the airstreams about you, but more of that later. First I had some washing to do. Easy enough, however when you dont empty the money out of your pockets first it becomes a bit more dangerous! I only realised that Id left some cash in my jeans pocket about 30 minutes before my washing was due back from the hostel. I waited patiently and checked my jeans when the washing returned, sure enough it was gone.

I told the man in the hostel and we walked around to where theyd taken the washing. He asked me how much Id lost, he was pretty shocked when I told him that it was 500 Soles, about 90 GB Pounds, about 160 US Dollars. In other words, an awful lot of money round here. He asked me several times if I was sure that they money had been there. I had to reassure him several times that it had been. Rather unsurprisingly no one at the laundrette knew anything about the money and we had to return to the hostel, not too sure what to do next. It was at this point a woman turned up with the cash, all of it! thank goodness for that. In order to restore balance to the universe and maintain my Karma I felt obliged to give her a good rewards, 50 Soles is probably a lot of money for her (but she was honest enough not to forego the 500 Soles).

With that excitement behind me it was time to start the tour the next day. The people on the bus were instantly nice and from a good blend of countries, Ozzys, Germans, Irish, English, Israelis, Peruvians. The day started by driving all round Arequipa picking people up, it'd have been so much easier and quicker to get everyone to meet at one central place, at least I wasn't picked up first!

My first experience of Michael from Ireland was in a shop where we stopped, and to try and make himself understood he was TALKING VERY LOUDLY at the poor woman behind the counter, our bi-lingual guide stepped in and helped to sort out the problem that he was having, which incidently was trying to understand how much money she wanted.

We had a long drive ahead of us, but at least it was through great scenery. Our guide was rather direct, perhaps unintentionally. We stopped half way into the journey, just before climbing into the mountains. Before getting off the bus she announced, "Here we will drink the Coca Tea". Which I didn't drink for the pure reason that I don't like being told what to do. Once back on the bus she was up front again, "Now we will chew the coca leaves", I declined these as well on the way past.

"Now we will take some pictures", she announced as we stopped beside a corral of Llamas. This time I didn't cut off my nose to spite my face and got out for the photo opportunity. There was a little boy of around 5 years old sitting on the wall, so I started talking to him. I asked him if they were his, he replied that 5 of them were, but the rest of them belonged to his parents. Looks like we have a candidate for The Young Entrepreneurial Peruvian award 2006.

After winding our way up the mountain we arrived at the top and got out to "Take Pictures Here!". There were thousands of little stone towers here, our guide explained that people build them here and then make a wish, before telling us that we should make one too. They were really weird, causing the landscape to look like it belonged to another planet.

We arrived in our destination, Chivay, "OK, we will have lunch here". Instead I asked what time I needed to be back for and then disappeared into town to find a more reasonably priced lunch, I wasn't alone! When we got back it was time to check into the hostel Michael was on the bus physically, but elsewhere mentally. He asked "What's going on?", I explained to him that we all had to check into our hostels now, despite the guide had told us this an hour previously.

In the afternoon we took a walk up to the hot springs, through great scenery. It turned out that almost all of the other tour groups going to the Colca Canyon were doing the exact same, the place was mobbed with people. It was still great though, sitting there in the pool watching the sun going down behind the surrounding cliffs.

I'd elected to avoid the "Dance Cultural Show", however everyone else in the group were going along. Although I didn't think I'd like it, I was persuaded to go along, otherwise I'd have spent the night on my own anyway. Within 5 minutes I knew it'd been a bad move. There were several long tables there, setup for each tour group that'd come that night, apparently there were more than one type of restaurant like this in the town. The 'Entertainment' started pretty quickly and I just wanted to eat my overpriced food and leave. It was a painful hour, and I managed to get through it, most of the others in the group appeared to really enjoy the show and I headed off as soon as I could so that my negative attitude wouldn't spoil their enjoyment. I just really hate these type of forced, fake shows that are just put on for tourists, I mean REALLY hate them.

I'm glad I'd got to bed early as we had to be ready to leave at 6:15AM the next day. I'd set my alarm for 5:45, it wouldn't take long to get ready. However the woman from the hostel was banging on all the doors at 4:50AM! Then proceeded to play loud music and use a particulary loud blender to make the fruit juices. I couldn't believe it, I was so annoyed that it actually stopped me getting back to sleep again. It was another hour before I got out my bed and strangely enough I was ready for the specified 6:15 time, but our bus driver and guide weren't, this is typical Peruvian behaviour.

We drove out towards the Colca Canyon, stopping at a little village that put on a dance show each day for the tourists. Mmmmm, I took a walk in the other direction! A little bit before the Condor viewing section our Guide suggested that we could do a little walk along the top of the canyon, sounds good. So everyone started getting off the bus. The guide then jumped on and announced that the condors were flying now so we should drive along, everyone sat down again for the 5 minute drive to the spot. On the way our guide explained a number things about condors, including what they eat, "The condors prefer to eat Carrion"
"What?", shouts Michael.
"Carrion, dead donkeys and other animals"
Someone at the back of the bus explained this section to him.

As we all got off the bus, Michael popped up again "So what's happening?, are we going for a walk or not?", No, we're off to see the condors now.

As for the condors themselves, they started off with just a few doing the show, but after a little while they're were about 15 of them swooping around with corresponding Oooohs, and Aaaaahs from the audience. I loved it when one tourist started talking really loudly to his friend, about 20 people turned round and told him to shut up, quality moment. I hung around for about an hour, and just like the Orangutans in Malaysia, most of the tourists appeared to get bored after 30 minutes. This meant that I was left in perfect peaceful silence to watch the 2 or 3 condors that were still putting on their show.

Michael earned himself the nickname of "Father Jack", which just suited him down to the ground, especially when he didn't realise at first that we'd now walk back down the path that we were originally going to walk down.

We drove back to Chivay and I avoided the recommended eating place again before we all met up for the drive back to Arequipa. As we reach the top of the mountain again, Father Jack shouts out "Why are all these stones piled on each other?", someone at the back explained it to him.

Due to a mix up in bookings at my hostel I didn't have a room to go back to, instead I had to head out and find another one, no real hassle there. However, after I'd been in town for a few hours I returned back to my street and couldn't find it again. All the signs had been removed from the doors and everything was locked up. It took about 10 minutes of walking up and down knocking on random doors before the magic one opened and I could get in and get to my bed, before leaving for Nazca in the morning.
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