An altitude of 4900m& the Condors of Colca Canyon!

Trip Start Dec 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 22, 2008

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Flag of Peru  , Colca Canyon,
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 6 & 7 - The hot springs of Chivay and the condors of the Colca Canyon!!
An early start saw us heading out from Arequipa for a long days drive with a very appropriate named guide called Jesus, what were we letting ourselves in for!! Leaving the town and shanty towns behind it was into the hills and a real change in landscape, what we were experiencing now was more what we had expected of Peru, stunning & vast mountain landscapes & valleys all around us, this time a mix of browns/ greens in contrast to the previous grey, with beautiful snow capped volcanoes all around.  As we wound round the many mountain roads the vista just got better and better.

To get to Colca Canyon though you have to drive over the highest pass we have experienced yet at some 4900m, eeek!!! To reach this rather anxious destination for a few of us, the bus kept climbing and climbing for a couple of hours, the effect of the altitude becoming all too evident. Many of us found simple tasks rendered us breathless and needing to sit down at very regular intervals. Stopping off at various viewpoints to take photos Nik discovered that her and this thinner air didn't really mix, probably not the best mix for a claustrophobic! Stopping on route for some dodgy green leaves in water, ie 'Cocoa Tea' the locals answer to prevent altitude sickness but migh it didn't taste the best but everyone tried it in hope it may just do the trick.
As we entered the national park area the usual dogs and pigs crossing in front of us were replaced by Llamas of different shapes and sizes. Reaching the highest point there was the usual market stalls selling lots of stuff that nobody wants, except Nik and Sue perhaps and with that Nik bought a llama jumper! The indigenous women though who sit at this altitude coming from the mountain hills are pretty incredible and you do feel at times that you really must buy something to support them, well that's Nik excuse anyway.....By this point most people couldn't move round to quickly and were in need of the coca tea to help with the effects of this rarified air, Nik already felt spaced out and dizzy on the way up and a few others had fallen asleep/were bleary eyed, yet another sign of altitude effecting.
After, down through the Peruvian andes towards the town of Chivay passing numerous Inca terraces and random small holdings dotted over the countryside was a relief to many as we came down towards a slightly more normal height, 3600m, this was going to be a good test for the Inca Trail that was for sure!! Passing through the town of Chivay we arrived at our gorgeous hotel for the evening this place was incredible perched on the side of a valley overlooking the very end of the Colca Canyon the views were magnificent, including a random llama sitting about just mad eh! Nik by now was succumbing to the sickness of altitude and headed to bed whilst a few of us took a guided walk around d the small village and beautiful surroundings. After a brief respite we were taken to some hot springs just down the road a really random place in the middle of nowhere with a boiling hot pool to soak and relax in including a few pisco sours for some. To be chilling in these hot springs surrounded by rocky mountain scenery was quite a lot for us all too take in especially the irish boys who couldn't quite believe it, the sun setting too was a very surreal end to the afternoon.
Back at the hotel the evening meal was an incredible buffet and we ate way too much; it was great to have that full feeling once again but for Nik it was all too much and soon after she was running for the room then straight to bed for the night with a temperature, not really a normal sign of altitude sickness so not too sure what was going on there. A few others by now were getting pretty sick too so here's hoping everyone is better for the early am start and condors tomorrow!

The incredible gliding Condors of Colca Canyon!

Next morning, thankfully the paracetamol had reduced Nik's temperature back to normal but now Sue seemed to be getting the same side effects, not good! After a very early breakfast and Oxygen also for two of our troupe who were very under the weather; it was back on the bus and head towards the condors of Colca Canyon. The 2 hour drive took us through some magnificent scenery, more Inca terraces with over 10,000 hectares in this area,  farms, small workshops, men and women arable farming with oxes, donkeys dotted everywhere and whole familyies walking down the road pick axe and shovels on their backs and all with the backdrop of the canyon somewhere in the picture. After a quick toilet stop in some very random village where we also got to look at the local cathedral astounded by the gold within it considering the poverty of the area, this was the last stretch to the condors. To get near  the viewpoints meant going through one of the strangest tunnels ever, it was about a 100m long, very small and low and just full of dust! The driver just couldn't see a thing thank god there was nothing coming the other way. Nik was not happy as weren't a lot of us. So eyes shut was the best option!
After we finally reached the canyon, our guide suggested a walk up to the viewing points. Along the rim of the canyon the views were outstanding, the depth of this place staggering as it was even deeper in points than the Grand Canyon and with the sheer rocky mountains and green valleys, it really did portray all those pictures we had seen of the Peruvian landscape expected, but no birds as yet. However as we neared the masses of spectators there were various oohs and aahs as three condors took to the sky this flight was short lived and we had to wait some 30 mins before we saw them take to the skies again. But what a sight over such an impressive gap in the land these beautiful birds soared around us using the thermals to effortlessly glide from one point to another most with a wing span of 3 metres. On and off for an hour these 5 condors entertained the masses it was wonderful. To see these wondrous creatures was a real privilege and to learn also that they turn from brown to black at 7 years old was most bizarre also, we could have stayed here all day just watching them.
We did have to leave tho and head back to Arequipa, back through the nasty tunnel, more views of the staggering terraces and some random small Inca tombs in the Cliffside dating back to AD then a lunch stop at Chivay we were back on the road. The bus seemed to be a bit ill at ease and needed some coaxing up the many hills. We stopped at many lookouts for more pictures including the most random of ice blocks on the side of the road followed by some mad Llama festival that our guide said we were very lucky to see. Basically locals from all over bring their llamas here, put them in pens and leave them to 'mate' but all we could see was them all standing there looking bored and eating, looked more like a good excuse for the locals to get together, play loud music and have a beer! Then we headed over the dreaded high pass again back down to our hotel for the night after some 3 hours travelling. All in all, a wonderful 2 days but unfortunately Sue was now not doing too good.

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