Condors, canyons and coca leaf

Trip Start Mar 31, 2010
Trip End Apr 25, 2010

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Where I stayed
La Casa de mi Abuela

Flag of Peru  , Colca Canyon,
Friday, April 9, 2010

I was dreading the 5am wake up call this morning as I still felt terrible. So for me it was a breakfast of coca tea and flat coke to help counteract the effects of the diarrhea that had also kept me awake for most of the night. No sooner had we descended down the mountain to begin our trip, I began to feel loads better and the journey to Colca Canyon (the worlds deepest canyon) felt less daunting and we couldn't wait to get there. 
The Colca valley and canyon are stunningly beautiful, masses of cacti, stupendous mountains, rivers, snow covered peaks and  Inca terraces in what seem to be the most inaccessible places. And of course condors! The canyon is 3,269 at its deepest, and our guide explained that due to the recent movement of the Nazca plates resulting in the Chilean earthquake, the elevations in the area have changed. Meaning that the mountains have got higher and the canyons deeper!
Once again walking was difficult as we hadn't yet got acclimatized so we chewed coca leaf to help counter the effects of altitude, carefully following the instructions of our guide who seemed to manage to carefully fold several leaves, chew them, keep them in his cheek for ten minutes and then spit them out in one piece.  We hadn't quite got the hang of it, and ended up with unpleasant mouthfuls of dried green leaf that, no matter how we tried, couldn't be got rid of and we were to be found swilling and rinsing our mouths behind the nearest shrub.  Coca sweets are much easier, but why don't they make a sugar-free variety?
We trekked along the canyons edge delighting in and photographing the magnificent scenery, while watching hummingbirds and various other indigenous birds, that we prefixed with the word 'Andean' ('Andean spotted thrush', 'Andean white-throated sparrow' etc) making them up as we went along as we hadn't a clue as to what they really were!
Sarah had her binoculars so we were really hoping that we would actually see some condors. And we were lucky.  The magnificent creatures put on a wonderful display as we watched in awe of these massive beautiful birds swooping and swirling around in the sky above us.  Unfortunately they were quite difficult to photograph with our cameras but we had a go. You can see the poor results below!
We didn't make it to Condor Cross, the prime spot for condor spotting, as it involved a steep climb up a hill. Instead we decided to relax at the viewing point to take in the amazing scenery and, to conserve our breath and energy in the hope that we might soon get used to the altitude.
Next, a bumpy ride back to Arequipa after a short stop in Chivay for what turned out to be an expensive lunch.  It was a buffet - most had been eaten by other groups by the time we got there and what was left was cold.  We all complained about it, however it began to dawn on us that as tourists we were there to be exploited by the locals - whether its paying for photos of llamas and children or being overcharged for food so that the tour guide gets a backhander - this is the Peruvian way.  We were beginning to 'get' it!
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