|We spent a day in Colca Canyon which is famous for being loads bigger than the Grand Canyon. It’s not as wide, which is why many concede that the Grand Canyon with its endless girth is the more aesthetically pleasing sight, but on statistics Colca Canyon is impressive, over four times deeper than the Grand (the deepest bit is about 4.5 km from top to bottom!). The sight was impressive but we really went there to see Condors.
We were unsure whether or not we would see any. We were on a tour and they made it clear that you are not guaranteed to see any. Also, there are only a few thousand condors in South America and in Peru only about 200, so we figured the odds were against us. However, we were wrong! We stood on a viewing platform high above the canyon and after twenty minutes over a dozen turned up, floating in the canyon thermals. It was really spectacular. The biggest ones have a wingspan of about fifteen feet, as big as three human beings lying head to toe. We didn’t see any quite that big, but there were some that were easily two metres wide, perhaps slightly bigger. They just soared around us for over an hour, and from our vantage point we could see them from below, above and in front of us. They would swoop back and forth as if they were a Red Arrow display. At times they would be about five foot above us and you could feel the wind rush through your hair and the whooshing sound was like a giant kite swooping over you. Truly awesome and one of our favourite wildlife experiences so far on the trip. To be able to watch them that close for so long was a real privilege. Suffice to say I took LOADS of photos, but I’ve stuck a few on the blog as a taster (Dad, plenty more to show you when we get back, along with some video footage that belongs in the archives of National Geographic!).
In my ignorance, I had always assumed that the condors were predators, so big and powerful they were like Great White Sharks of the Andes. If you believe the myths they could pluck a small child from the ground. Unfortunately, even when I know the science is guff I am such a sucker for animal myths. I want to believe a Great White could jump from the water and attack low flying aircraft or that the God of Condors can pluck a grown man and carry him over mountains. Such was my enthusiasm I smeared essence of rabbit over my head and kept up a low, yet rhythmical, chant, saying “Take me, take me!” But no Condor took the bait and it was at this crushing moment I discovered that they are basically in the vulture family and are just scavengers. One cool thing I learnt from our guide which automatically brought the winged titans back into my high estimation is that one of their common tactics is to find large cows that are near the edge of a cliff and swoop and buzz them until they fall off the edge and die. Only then does El Condor fill his gluttonous beak with beef. I only wish I could have seen this bloodbath and captured it on film.
Anyway, ridiculously cool, and one to tick off on my wildlife in South America list. El Condor, we bovine who are about to die, salute you.