Colca Canyon – Flight of the Condors

Greetings, friends. It has been an animal-filled couple of days. We saw bunches.

We left Ariquipa by bus in the morning and headed for Chivay, a tiny little town located at an altitude of about 3.7 km (12,000 feet for you gringos). That’s pretty high, and the journey there went through an elevation as high as 4.9 km. Folks, thats three times as high as Denver, and you can definitely feel it. Walking up a flight of stairs at that altitude requires a rest at the top. We tried several remedies to fight off the symptoms of altitude sickness, including tea and candy made with coca leaves (yes, that coca; they use it for everything up here). I also ate some Maca toffee. Maca is a root that is colloquially known as “Incan Viagra”. But that’s another story.
IMG_2176.JPGSome mountains along the road to Chivay.

IMG_2102-0.JPGThese little stone towers are offerings to the volcanic mountains. You can see them along the roadside.

The altitude sickness is for real, and we all felt a bit weird. Bex had a pretty good headache for about 36 hours. I was mostly OK, but definitely felt the effects when walking and climbing.

IMG_2174.JPGOur new friend Dave. We are enjoying some Coca tea, served up to help fend off the altitude sickness. We were at an altitude of about 4.9 km, which is about three times the elevation of Denver.

IMG_2175.JPGAlpacas grazing along the road.

IMG_2183.JPGThese are vicuñas. They have the softest fur of Peru’s many indigenous fur creatures. They are shaved once every two years, and their fur wholesales for about $500 per kilogram.

We decided to take it easy after arriving the first day. We met a fellow traveler named Dave, and he and I went with some of our tour group to a local thermal spring (volcano heated), where we lounged around with some locals in the hot water and drank a pint. Bex skipped the hot springs, took a nap and tried to shake her headache. I found a lucky sol (the Peruvian currency) in the murky water of the spa. We finished the day with pints at an Irish pub, which I was shocked to see in the middle of nowhere Peru. Guinness, alas, was not available.

IMG_2179.JPGThe chapel in Chivay, Peru.

IMG_2185.JPGMore lil stone monuments. “Volcanos, please don’t erupt on us.”

The following day began early; we had a 0530 breakfast call. Then we jumped on a bus and began the journey toward the Colca Canyon. We stopped a few times along the way, to see awesome stuff and / or to have a photo op with an alpaca. There are tiny Peruvian women everywhere with pet alpacas (and occasionally pet birds of prey), and women selling hand made scarves and sweaters.

IMG_2164-0.JPGA Peruvian woman feeding alfalfa to her pet alpaca. There are many tiny Peruvian women with pet alpacas. For a few coins, gringos can feed them (the alpacas, that is).

IMG_2184.JPGTres alpacas.

IMG_2171-0.JPGA view of the Colca Canyon, the second deepest Canyon in the world.

IMG_2177.JPGI got to hold a baby alpaca.

IMG_2178.JPGI love alpacas.

IMG_2182.JPGBex and me in front of the Colca Canyon. It’s a pretty severe drop off behind us.

IMG_2186.JPGThe Colca River.

IMG_2187.JPGMountains on one side of the Colca Canyon.

The major destination of the day was Cruz de Condor, a condor sanctuary which offers spectacular views of the Colca River and of the condors who live in the rocky mountainside high above it. The visit was timed to coincide with one of the active periods in the condor day. They were out and about.

IMG_2191.JPGA condor, looking for food. They are scavengers.

These condors are Andean condors, and are impressive to see. The largest birds have a wingspan of over 3 meters. They can live to be 70 years old, and they are monogamous for life. Partnered condors often fly in formation, with the male flying directly above the female. We were scheduled to be at this site, viewing the birds for 90 minutes. When we arrived, that sounded like forever, but the time flew by as we watched these magnificent birds, sometimes as many as ten at a time, fly around and even directly over us.

IMG_2190.JPGFour condors in flight.

IMG_2192.JPGA condor in flight. The feathers on the end of each wing can be articulated like fingers, to change direction and altitude.

IMG_2189.JPGThese two might be mates.

After the condor viewing was over, we began the journey back to Arequipa. The views along the way were brilliant, often looking down from the mountainside down into the Colca River. We saw many beautiful and spectacular views of the terraced mountainsides.

IMG_2180.JPGThe Colca River, and a view of the Incan terraces.

IMG_2163-0.JPGA look down into the valley.

In the South American Andes, farmers have used terraces, known as andenes, for over a thousand years to farm potatoes, maize, and other native crops. Terraced farming was developed by the Wari’ and other peoples of the south-central Andes before 1000 AD, centuries before they were used by the Inca, who adopted them. The terraces were built to make the most efficient use of shallow soil and to enable irrigation of crops.

The Inca built on these, developing a system of canals, aqueducts, and puquios to direct water through dry land and increase fertility. These terraced farms are found wherever mountain villages have existed in the Andes.

IMG_2181.JPGYou can really see the Incan terraces here.

IMG_2188.JPGThe Colca Canyon.

IMG_2193.JPGA view from above of the Incan terraces along the Colca River.

IMG_2195.JPGBecci with a hawk. No, she is not punching that old Peruvian woman in the face.

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