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Field Notes Close to home or in a far away jungle, there is always something marvelous to see.

Colca Canyon and Cruz del Condor

PERU | Sunday, 4 April 2010 | Views [418]

Andean condor (male)

Andean condor (male)

In retrospect we probably could have done it on our own but sometimes a tour is the easy way, even if it costs more.  We were the first to be picked up so we sat in the front of the bus.  Not only was the view better, we didn’t get vertigo on the winding, climbing three-hour ride.  The higher we climbed the greener it became.  Still no trees, but there was grass and shrubs and in the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca we saw our first vicunas, one of four South American camel species.  Later we saw their larger cousins, llamas, and the smaller domesticated alpacas.  At every stop there were little girls in native dress holding a baby alpaca for a photo op . . . and some dinero.

 The road turned to dirt after the turnoff for Puno and continued to climb.  Eventually we crossed a pass at 4,900 meters, just over 16,000 feet above sea level.  That’s the highest we have ever been without a plane!  Then we descended to Chivay, a measly 12,000 feet, where the group would spend the night.  Connie and I elected to travel on to the village of Yanque, 7 km away.  We aren’t into groups and the trip to the hot springs didn’t excite us either.  We had a small rustic inn to ourselves and entertained ourselves wandering the trails looking for birds.            

The villagers were friendly, especially “the papas muchachos,” the potato harvesters who posed with their crop.  The fields are divided by stonewalls which date from Inca days and the farming methods haven’t changed much since then either.  Cattle still pull plows and donkeys carry people and goods.  We saw ten new birds before a thunderstorm sent us scurrying home.  We shouldn’t have been surprised; we could easily have been in Colorado.  We even had a snow flurry on the trip in.

We had a hearty potato and onion omelet for dinner then buried ourselves under heavy woolen blankets in our heatless room.  We slept well despite barking dogs and braying donkeys until 5:00 when the fireworks woke us.  Easter comes in with a bang in Peru.

The group from Chivay picked us up at 6:45 and we headed up the canyon.  Culca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, though very different.  The views were spectacular and the Spaniards much have seen pretty much the same thing in the mid-1500s.  The hillsides were a maze of terraces constructed by the Incas.  Our guide spoke English but generally ignored us, the only non-Spanish speakers, so we didn’t get the full story.  Seeing was more than enough.

 Cruz del Condor was the end of the road for us, and the highlight.  This is where you can often see Andean condors and, sure enough, the appeared right on schedule.  They are huge with a 12-foot wingspan.  They flew right above us and right below us, spiraling on the canyon’s updrafts.  A month ago I had never seen a condor and now I have seen both the California and Andean and have photos to prove it.


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