Tuesday April 3
03.04.2012 - 03.04.2012
Up and off by 0700 for the drive down the Colca Canyon to see the condors. I restart altitude pills and several others look a little pasty also as we set off in the crisp air of another brilliant sunny day - ideal for condor viewing as we are told by Pedro, the local guide hired to accompany us with Juan this morning.
The trip seems somewhat perilous but our bus and drivers continue to impress us with their capacity and skill. We hug the side of the canyon on a rough dirt road that serves several small communities but also crosses a few streams (without bridges), deteriorates into 4x4 rutted trails at points, and frequently features sheer drops of 1200m + to the canyon floor now far below. Two tunnels (we have seen very few on this trip) do not inspire confidence in this landslide-wracked country, but all is well as we stop in a very small town and on the roadside next to some pre-Inca hillside tombs.
We arrive at the condor viewing site to join ~100 others watching 15-20 of the majestic birds (the colony is thought to be ~30 here) soaring on the strong thermal currents rising from their nesting sites below the cliff edge. It is a riveting sight so we all snap photos, shoot video or just gawk in wonder at these huge carrion-eating birds with wingspans up to 3m or so. Within 30-45 minutes the "show" is mostly over as the condors soar down the canyon (apparently they can easily cover 100km and back in a few hours) in search of more prey, leaving a few juveniles behind to entertain the crowds.
The rest of the gang take a walk along the canyon edge with Juan and Pedro but I take advantage of the break to catch up on some lost sleep, before we all reboard and and retrace our steps to Chivay for lunch. Once agaihn reduced to Dieta de Pollo (chicken noodle soup) as the pills kick back in, I am fairly quiet company for Ric whose walking/hiking regime seems to be working for him. We manage a little walkabout in the Chivay market before getting back on our bus to head for Arequipa for the night. Sleep overtakes me again so I miss the winding climb back to the still foggy summit above the canyon, and much of the bleak Altiplano terrain, until Ric tells me we are near Arequipa itself.
A bustling city of 3m at ~2000m the city has a rich history and a vibrant future as the economic center of this active mining region of Peru.
El Misti (5800m) is the volcano 17 km away that visibly overlooks the city and has erupted several; times over the past few centuries, covering the area with ash etc. Arequipa is known as "the white city" since many prominent buildings are constructed of sillar, a white volcanic rock that retains its colour.
We walk from our hotel along the traffic-choked streets (small independent taxis are everywhere competing for fares and spewing exhaust) and happen upon a Semana Santa procession of several religious floats carried on their shoulders by lots of sombre suited men, preceded by very loud brass and drum marching bands and followed by devotees with prayer candles, all walking very slowly around town.
We met Eduina and Russell, Rosy and Steve and had just settled inot our dinner on the upper balcony of the Plaza de los Armas, the main square with the central cathedral on one side, when the entire procession wound its way around the square in front of us.
Semana Santa is serious business here. We choked our way through the exhaust funes back to the hotel after supper and turned in early. A day in Arequipa tomorrow before our eveniing flight back to Lima and the end of our group tour - where does the time go?!