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Published: June 25th 2017
Geo: -16.39, -71.53
After winding up our jungle adventure, it took a mere two boats, one bus, three planes, and a Peruvian taxi (where duct tape is used to secure the doors), to deliver us to Arequipa. We're not really sure why we came to Arequipa but, almost immediately, we were glad we did. It doesn't sit too high on the must-see destinations of Peru but it deserves a much better fate. In the area around the main square, it's about as pedestrian friendly as any city in South America and the colonial architecture is outstanding. Mix in some very nice people and restaurants that dare to move beyond a ham & cheese menu, and you've got the makings of a very nice visit.
After a much needed trip to the only McDonalds we've seen on this leg of our journey (yes, we know it's not really food, but there have been times in our world travels that those Golden Arches have shone brightly in the distance like an alluring beacon of comfort and familiarity), we did hit the high points of the Cathedral of Arequipa on Plaza de Armas, La Compania, and the Monastery of Santa Catalina (this was a fabulous
walk through religious history).
But the big reason for our stop here was to catch an early morning bus that was heading out to the nearby Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), for a few hours of Andean Condor viewing. Compared to the colourful macaws and parrots we had just seen, these flying critters sit at the other end of the scale when it comes to beauty but they are also the big boys of the bird world. Because they are so heavy (up to 33 pounds/15 kilograms), even their enormous 10-foot (3-meter) wingspan needs some help to keep them aloft. For that reason, these birds prefer to live in windy areas where they can glide on air currents with little effort. Andean Condors have faced persecution over the years from farmers who believed the birds posed a threat to their livestock and, as a result the Andean Condor is considered endangered- perhaps a few thousand South American birds survive.
Employing my time-tested secret of good photography (take a hundred shots and one of them is bound to be in focus), I grabbed a primo spot on the cliff
side and started snapping away. They may not make the centerfold of Field & Stream but there is something captivating in watching these massive hunters float gracefully on the thermals (DH is quick to suggest that I need to be careful in who I call "massive" given that my own paragliding attempt to ride the thermals in Nepal resulted in a fairly rapid death spiral attributed to extraordinary weight issues). We did see a couple of aborted attack dives but for the most part the birds seemed to be putting on a bit of an air show for anyone even pretending to be a photographer. Like all things in nature, there is no guarantee that you'll see even one condor flying but for us, this was a big Wow and we'd highly recommend it as a destination even if you have to take multiple planes, boats, and broken down automobiles, to get there.
Given our pending dinner reservations at Pizza Hut back in Arequipa, we had to make our way back but we were able to spend a couple hours in Chivay, another very traditional Peruvian town with a style of dress that's very different from any of the others we
have seen to date. The town also seems to have a very non-traditional quirky side with weird and shockingly realistic statues of characters from everyday Peruvian life, as well as imaginary and ostensibly terrifying human-animal hybrids that looked like they might come to life any moment and run you out of town (or, even scarier, start serving ham & cheese sandwiches). Not sure why someone thought this Nouveau Art was needed in a dusty Peruvian town but it does add a sense of fun.
With the bus working its Chinese-built engine to the maximum we made it to the highest point (4900m) along the Patapampa Pass for some spectacular views. We even had time to build a sad looking Inukshuk but with DH (where the 'D' stands for “Don't Do heavy labour”😉 only contributing pebbles I'm not sure we've done Canada proud. It doesn't seem to matter how long we spend at higher altitudes we always find ourselves desperately short of breath (DH says I'm always like that in her presence?)- maybe it was all the anticipation of our dinnertime pizza (hold the ham & cheese)??
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