Ruth on the road travel blog

Off out of the city again

Cuddly vicuña

Llamas and alpaca. The alpaca are the smaller, woollier, tasty ones.

Andean rabbit substitute

Andean geese

They said this is the highest toilet in the world. I don't...

Chivay, our stop for the night. Would you believe there's an Irish...

Relaxing in the hot springs at sunset

Oh god, not ANOTHER sunset

Lady with baby alpaca poses for the tourists. I ignored the bloke...

Swallow's nests? Nope, prehispanic tombs.

Inca terraced fields

The road to Cruz del Condor

Waiting at el Cruz del Condor

Don't you just love the hat?

But these were my favourites

After a couple of hours waiting, desperation sets in

Result! Finally, the condors appear

well worth the wait

He passed right overhead

Tour got off to a bad start. The guide, who was clearly bored out of his mind nursemaiding yet another whole bunch of stupid tourists, seems to enjoy telling us that most of the condors are at the coast or in Patagonia at this time of year, and it's not his fault if noone in the tour agency told us that, everyone knows it. Since half of us are only along to see the condors, we are all severely pissed off.

Still, that's tomorrow. In the meantime, there are various cuddly Andean animals and endless spectacular mountain scenery to see. We reach Chivay, our night stop, in the early afternoon, but I don't feel like looking around. The altitude is getting to me so I retire to bed until it's time to go off to the hot springs- something I almost never pass up. Later it's Charlotte's turn to succumb I go out alone. There is some local folk music and dancing laid on, but wild horses couldn't drag me in there, I wander off and find a cheap local restaurant for a quiet supper.

The next day we're all feeling better, despite having to get up at 6, and pass a few interesting sights, like the tombs built on a cliffside, and a few unintersting ones- like the locals dressed up to have their photos taken by tourists- on our way to el Cruz del Condor. When we arrive, before 8 am, there are only a dozen or so people there. But as time passes, more and more buses arrive, disgorging either more tourists- or Peruvian women in their wonderfully embroidered clothes and hats, to sell us alpaca jumpers, gloves, you name it. The thing that tempted me most was the embroidered hats with the brims turned up at the back, but I know how silly they would look on me.

John appears too, having hiked through the Canyon. Colca Canyon is the second deepest known canyon in the world, the nearby Huassomething Canyon being the winner and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Fron where we are sitting, exchanging hearsay about when (and if) the condors are likely to turn up today, it's over a kilometre straight down. There is brief flurry of excitement as a few people spot a condor-a tiny speck near the bottom of the canyon- for a couple of seconds. We also see the world's largest hummingbird, the imaginatively named giant hummingbird, feeding from yucca flowers. But that's all.

Our scheduled time is up. About half the tour buses have left and most of our companions are back in our van, ready to go. But four of us- me Charlotte, and two Belgian girls-aren't shifting. We've heard the condors showed up at 11 am yesterday and it's only hald past nine. Having had a very frank exhange with the guide yesterday, he knows exactly what we all think. So he says we can stay another half an hour. Nothing happens-excpet that more people leave. But we're not shifting. I ask around about the possibilty of getting a bus back later, we could stay in Chivay another night and wait here as long as it takes. Charlotte's not so keen, she is ready to go back with the tour. But in the end it's academic. Around 10.30, when there are only about a dozen people of the hundred or so who were here at 9 am still waiting, the condors appear. At first one materialises overhead and soars over to the other side of the canyon, where it alights and effectively disappears. The another appears near the bootom of the canyon. It's almost a kilometre below us and hard to see. In fact at times you can only see its passing shadow, the black and white of the bird itself merges so well with rocks. Slowly it spirals higher and higher and we can see it is a large male, and after one final pass directly overhead it soars out of site over the mountains behind us and it's gone. And so are we.

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