Flight of the Condor

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leaving Cusco was strange, we had decided that 11 days was much more than we needed there and it was time to move on but we also knew that the only road left was the one taking us to Lima with a couple of stops on the way to the end of our tour. As the end of the tour was not the end of our trip entirely it seemed unfair for me to be too upset, as for others it really would be home time, but I couldn't help feeling like I was really going to miss everything about the tour…well not peeing at the side of a road (although I think Steve is strangely fond of it!)

The bumpy uneven roads finally showed us the way to an over night stop before Colca Canyon.  The main attraction at the canyon is the giant condors that soar around in the mornings on the thermal airs rising from the canyon floor.  This means it’s important to get up early to see them so we stayed in a small village near to the national park entrance.  For our evenings entertainment we went to some naturally heated thermal hot springs for a warming swim on a very chilly night.  Following that we went for a meal at a place that could only be described as more 'touristy’ than we would usually have chosen.  There was a live band, who weren’t too bad, playing tradition Peruvian music but the shocking part was a demonstration of traditional dancing.  For anyone who has questioned Morris dancing in the past I suggest you count your lucky stars that our traditional dancing is so comparatively sane!  The name of the dance translated into ‘The more I hit you the more I love you’ so we were dubious from the start and rightfully so…a man and woman came onto the dance floor in the middle of the tables and the man assumed his position on the floor and started moving his hips up and down looking like a fish out of water while the woman squatted over his head and covered his head up with her skirt in a can-can ruffle type flourish.  This of course brought about a stunned I-don’t-want-to-look-but-I-can’t-look-away expression onto most of the diners faces, but more was to come.  Once she was done ‘ruffling’ the woman stood up and pulled out a whip which she repeatedly hit the man on the floor with more and more aggressively until I was quite sure that bruises would be forming.  Following a change in the music the pair then swapped roles and went back to the beginning of the dance finally finishing up to everyone’s relief, or so we thought because then they wanted to drag ‘volunteers’ up from the audience to participate in another round of this madness.  There are very few times I will use this phrase but thank goodness for the Americans!  A jolly couple from Texas jumped at the chance saving the rest of us and we averted our eyes to save them any more embarrassment than necessary.  One way or another the restaurant did cure me of my hunger but more so through loosing my appetite than enjoying the food!

The next morning we got up at 5am and rebuffed the hostel breakfast at a pricey  3 each (which we later realised to our cost meant we didn’t get any food until 4pm that day!) then started heading out to see the condors, first we drove through the Colca Valley which in itself was beautiful.  Stunning Inca and pre-Inca terraces that for a change are not owned by the government but instead still in use by the local people who farm it in the same way it would have been used hundreds of years ago.  This simple fact alone made me feel very inspired by the place.  I know there are many reasons to make sure that countries preserve their history/landmarks and use these to generate tourism however this is something different.  I felt that for the first time in any country I have visited there was a real sense that we were not just visiting the countries historical sites but the actual history of this place was so intrinsically part of the local people there that it was still alive.  I love that it wasn’t taken away from them to ‘preserve the history’ because to me the simple fact they are still using it and it’s visible to see is the best preservation of its history that there could be.  It’s really no surprise that it is being used when you start to understand just how much planning went into these terraces.  There is one giant rock placed by a clear view point of the valley by the Inca’s which has carved into it a ‘blue-print’ of where all the terraces were going to be, and now are, and if you pour water onto the top it moves down the terraces showing the drainage system that fertilizes all the levels and in actuality comes from the glacial melt in the mountains above.  It clearly had to be planned out with attention to detail that far exceeds my understanding to the point that it still works to this day, I can barely find the words to describe what it looked like let alone how it works!

Next stop was Colca Canyon, I’d love to tell you more about the canyon itself but in truth we didn’t really get to see much of it.  Our one and only stop was Condor Cross which is near the entrance to the canyon so we mainly got to just see it in the distance and in truth if you want an impressive canyon The Grand Canyon has the winning hand in that game, but if your looking for giant pterodactyl like birds swooping over your head you can’t do much better than Colca!  We first saw the condors from a distance and even then they looked HUGE, incredibly majestic and completing big swooping circuits from the canyon floor right up to the view point and above our heads.  Needless to say we were not the only people there to witness the spectacle, the view point was crammed with people all trying to elbow each other out of the way to get to the front where you could look down into the canyon and see the condors starting to rise up.  Everyone there seemed to have enormous SLR cameras to capture the moment, and I mean with lenses as long as my arm!  I was worried when I lost Steve for a while that he was trying work the situation to his advantage and elbow people over the edge to grab their cameras from them, instead he had other plans.   He had decided to ignore the very clear sign that said ‘Do not pass this point’ in about 5 languages in order to get the best vantage point (for those of a nervous disposition this was not a cliff edge just a random patch of grass we were not allowed on).  When one of the park guides came to confront him he did a very good job of pretending not to understand Spanish and pretended to be Polish but unfortunately the guide spoke more languages than Steve could pretend to not know and he was escorted back to the thronging masses.

When we finally settled into positions that meant less elbows and more condors we were treated to a fantastic show of swooping and acrobatics with one particular condor coming straight for us and only pulling up at the last minute.  This of course makes it very hard to photograph them as if you are zoomed in on one and it starts coming straight for you with a three meter wingspan you do have to move the camera to check for sure how far away it is as a self-preservation instinct.  Therefore I missed a lot of great photos.  Little did I know it at the time but at that very moment of terror one condor decided to not only swoop but also poop on me and unfortunately I didn’t notice my newly decorated fleece until 5 hours later once I had used it as a blanket for the coach ride home!  A souvenir of a lovely day out at least.

Lots of Love

Amy and Swooping Steve

P.s completly forgot until I was adding the photos but we had a tornado at the side of the road on the way back and then about four appeared going all the way up to the sky!!  Very exciting, but we couldn't convince the driver to drive into it so it's not really a very long story...!
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