Where condors fly

Trip Start Sep 01, 2005
Trip End Jul 21, 2006

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Friday, June 9, 2006

I took an excursion from Arequipa to Chivay and the Colca Canyon, a place where I would have a good chance of seeing a condor. The tour cost 20 dollars including transport, guide, and overnight accommodation in Chivay. It started when I was picked up from my hotel along with a dutch couple and Lucy, coincidentally from Macclesfield, who were also on the tour. The bus ride took us over a mountain road reaching an altitude of 4500m. We stopped at a cafe for coca tea which helps with the altitude. A friendly alpaca approached all the tourists here trying to beg the leaves from our cups. We set off again and our bubbly guide, Liliana, pointed out vicuņas, the wild cousins of llamas and alpacas. We arrived in the town of Chivay at around mid day and had an excellent buffet lunch of traditional Peruvian foods.
After lunch we went for a walk around the nearby village of Coporaque. many terraces were visible around here which were similar to the Inca ones I`d seen, though much older. The terraces built on hillsides all over Peru led the Spanish to name the mountain range after their word for terrace - Andino. Liliana brought us to a simple stone tomb once used by the people here. I raised my camera for a photo but decided against it when I saw the human bones disturbingly scattered around.
Later we went to the hot springs at Calera to bathe in the volcanic heated waters. This was great fun, though at 38 degrees Celsius it got too hot after a while and I had to keep sitting out on the side. It got dark while we were in the pool and rather cold so I had to get out and get dressed very quickly. We finished off the day with a meal at a local peņa restaurant. The food was bad but the music and traditional dancing were great.
The next day we were up at 5:30 to visit the canyon. We drove out to the canyon and Liliana took us on a walk by the edge. In this part it was 1200m deep and its gets deeper elsewhere. It is claimed that Colca Canyon is the deepest in the world, deeper even than the Grand Canyon, and looking down to the distant river at the bottom I could easily believe it. After an hour our walk brought us to the Cruz del Condor viewpoint.
Condors are best seen between 7 and 9 when they catch the morning thermals to rise high into the air. There was no guarantee that we would see any but we waited patiently with cameras poised. Then, slowly gliding into view, some of these incredible birds appeared. With their wings barely moving they circled as they rose up higher looking for carrion to feed on. I found it amazing that these huge birds could fly with such little effort but they seemed to do so with only slight tail movements. In total I saw nine condors and one even flew just a few metres above my head. It was easy to see why the Incas regarded these magnificent creatures as sacred.
After watching them for over a couple of hours we boarded the bus for our journey back to Arequipa.
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