Flight of the condor!

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South America » Peru » Arequipa » Colca Canyon
April 2nd 2011
Published: April 20th 2011
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So the next day expectations are high as we rise really early to be able to get to the condor watching spot in time for their morning warm up sessions. We stop at a small town on the way where the local ladies were making the most of us tourists, dressed in their highly colourful and decoratively embroidered costumes, and holding huge birds of prey on their arms and on their heads for us to photo and then of course we duly had a go ourselves - solas expected for this privilege.

As we turn off the main road and head towards the Colca Canyon Wilo pipes up with ´Are you all ready for a road massage´ and he wasn´t kidding as we got jolted and bumped on the rough track. One side the drops got steeper and steeper as we got further and further along the canyon and views got more and more impressive. Along the way we see the change of scenery. Everywhere there´s lush green fields carpeted with beautiful splashes of yellow flowers - margueritas Wilo says - and there´s lots of cactus too. The crops range from broad beans, wheat, quinoa, garlic and of course potatoes. Much of the canyon´s slopes have been terraced over the past 500 years and look so lush and green, creating stunning geometric shapes in the early morning sun. Some of the lower fields are separated by stone walls packed with soil - just like the clawdd walls in Wales - only instead of being topped with grass to stablise the wall these are topped with little catti!

We arrive at the very busy Colca Canyon Cross - the best place to spot condors - and all go off to pick our spots to sit and wait. We don´t have to wait long as a condor soars into view as a tiny spec below us. I was glad of my binoculars and was surprised to be the only one there with them! Over the next hour or so we would wait and wait, cameras poised, until someone spotted another condor coming into view and the cameras would go into overdrive. At one point one huge male condor decided to put on a spectacular display flying within metres of the people up near the cross. It put into perspective how massive these magestic birds really are, completely dwarfing the people below him as he soared and dived just over their heads.

I picked up my geocaching photo at the cross - a virtual cache this time as they wouldn´t have been allowed to place an actual box here - so still no place to put my little Paddington Bear travel bug! Then all too soon it was time to head back to our hotel to prepare for the big walk we couldn´t do the day before because of the rain. I was gagging to get into the wilds and do some hiking and soak in all the new scenery, plants and birds. Unfortunately most people in my group are suffering in varying degrees to the high altitude we are at from normal headaches, to debilitating migranes that make you feel sick! As we set off up the mountain path people say they are feeling a bit dizzy and disorientated and a lot of them are getting more breathless than they normally would. Again I seem to have lucked out and haven´t suffered any symptoms at all so their enforced slower pace suits me as it gives me more time to bird watch and take photos of all the lovely wild flowers.

As we reach a plateau the spots of rain that have started suddenly turn into a complete downpour - so much for no rain Wilo! And then all of sudden there is a huge BANG!!! We all jump out of our skins as a huge clap of thunder coincides with the flash of lightening giving no warning at all! A few more of these pass over as we huddle under some wood and reed shelters and then the storm passes and we continue on our way through another canyon. From being at the front I gradually fall behind the main party as I keep spotting more wild flowers I´ve never seen before and birds to watch through my bins. Big grins as I take it all in. Sooo in my element out in the wilds walking and enjoying the fab new sights. In some ways it is similar to mountainous scenery back home but whereas we would have gorse peppering the hill sides here in Peru it´s cactus. In some of the cactus plants I notice very painful looking nests made out of cactus spines. Max tells me that if you look inside these nests they are in fact lined and very soft, but the spines are there to deter the snakes looking to steal the eggs. Very clever little finches!

As I catch up to the rest of the group on a break I hear Wilo and Max telling us all about shamans in the area. Max had one come to do a prediction for him and his wife to see how their future health would be. After much rubbing of guinea pigs over their backs and other such strange things the shaman guy said that Max´s wife would have a terrible illness and die in the next few weeks but strangely enough if Max paid him 600 solas he could give her something to cure it!! Max´s wife was hacked off that he didn´t see her as worthy enough to pay the 600 solas!! Needless to say she is still alive some years later and very healthy! We also find out some interesting snippets of information about the 2 pre Incan groups of people that used to live in the Colca Canyon area. At that time they used to practise the art of head binding of babies and young children to alter the shape of their heads. One group making their skulls tall and pointy and the other making their skulls flattened on top. When the Spanish came with their catholic religion they outlawed this practise. Now the ancestors of these two groups wear different shaped hats instead - round topped and flat!

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