Friday, June 25, 2010

Flight of the Condors

We arrived in Arequipa late, after a handful of typical delays (leaving late, stopping at random stops to pick up extra passengers, getting stopped by the police, detours and outright stops for road work) to find that the person from the hostel was still waiting for us.  Even better, she was patient and helped us figure out our plans in Arequipa so we could buy our bus ticket onward before we even left the bus station.

We stayed at Marlon´s House, a sister hostel to the one we had stayed at in Puno, and if the building wasn´t quite as new, the staff was just as friendly and showers just as hot.  Which, when it comes down to it, is all I really need.  I´ve had it with cold or, sometimes even worse, lukewarm showers.

The next morning we were up for a 2:30am pickup for a tour out to Colca Canyon, a six hour ride away.  There is some dispute between what the tour guide told us and what our guidebooks say, but I´m going to go out on a limb and say that Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world, at something like 13,400 feet deep, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US.  I guess there is something deeper in Nepal, but it is considered a gorge, not a canyon, or something like that.

After a few innocuous stops for stretches and snacks and plenty of chances to buy souveniers, we finally came to the point.  We got out of the van, hearing we had just missed them, but as soon as David and I situated ourselves on the lookout we saw them - the amazingly huge Andean Condors.  With a wingspan of between 9 and 11 feet (!), they were easily spotted as they rose out of the depths of the canyon and began making lazy circles first below then over us.  They gave us a show for almost 45 minutes, and we saw at least seven of them, males and females.  Truly spectacular.

The canyon, though far deeper, isn´t as picturesque as the Grand Canyon.  It just doesn´t have all the nooks and crannies, or that beautiful desert asthetic.  But the old Incan terracing, still used by locals for agriculture, was still impressive and we took quite a few photos. 

We made several more stops along the way home, giving no attention at all to the locals who had captured birds of prey (owls and eagles but no condors at least) hoping tourists would pay for a photo.  We did try some local cactus fruit, which though very seedy sort of tastes like kiwi, one of the more tasty fruits we´ve tried down here.  For lunch our tour bus took us to a typical tourist buffet, but David and I knew we could do better than $7.50 each so took off wandering the town.  We finally found a place and had a 3-course meal for less than a dollar each.  Granted, they were out of the two things we could read from the menu, so we had no idea what we eventually ordered, both of which turned out to be filling if unexciting.  (I THINK mine was pork.)  But still we felt proud of ourselves.  I´m very interested to weigh myself when I get home, my pants are all hanging off of me so I´m pretty sure I´ve lost a fair amount of weight, but without effort as I´ve never gone to bed hungry.  I think I´m just not stuffing myself like I would at home, and we have far less desserts.  I guess that is all it takes!

Along the way home we saw plenty of wild llamas and alpacas and vicunas, and stopped at another high pass, at 16,100 feet, where we built a little stone tower and made a wish.  (No, I´m not telling or it won´t come true!)  By this point we are pretty well used to the altitude.  Still, we knew it was downhill from here on out and were happy about that.

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