Saturday, 2 February 2013

Condor Search

Bright and early in the morning we were up and ready to continue our travels toward the Cruz del Condor...the famous spot for condor spotting.  We had been told not to be too hopeful as the condors do not tend to be around in the rainy season, and even if they are, the valley is often filled with clouds or with mist making it impossible to see them.  My heart sank at the prospect that we might have come all of this way in a cramped bus, suffering from altitude sickness, and all for nothing.

At 6:15 on the dot the bus arrived and off we went.  We were scheduled to make a few stops on the 40 km ride to the appointed spot.  The trip there was a rough one as we soon left the paved road for a bumpy dirt one which had originally been constructed to allow machinery access to complete an irrigation project in the valley.  On the way, the guide was busy telling us about the Valley and its inhabitants when he fell silent in mid sentence...the reason?...the valley came into sight and it was blocked solid with clouds.  In the picture that follows you can see the clouds, low in between the mountains...
We were sure we would have no luck at all.
We stopped a couple of times en route and visited  a few interesting sites, including a church and several little markets.
At the markets along the way there was often a girl or boy dressed in native costume looking for their picture to be taken...for a small fee of course...
And everywhere we looked...beautiful countryside with many terraces in view...built in pre-Inca times and still in use today
As we approached the canyon, we were delighted to see that the clouds were begining to lift and we had a clear view to the bottom in some places.

Paul spotted a couple of Condors perched in the cliffs on the opposite side of the canyon (thanks to binoculars which we had received as a gift before leaving)...and we were hopeful that we might see some closer.  The guide told us that no condors had been seen for the past two days, and that they were often found outside the valley as they were looking for prey amongst the cattle who were just delivering offspring.
We finally arrived at the appointed spot, and were very happy to see that the clouds had completely lifted...all that was left was to spot a condor...which we did finally.  There was one behind us on the hill looking in a direction opposite to us.  He was unremarkable as he was not flying...but we were glad to have seen at least one of these remarkable birds.
After a 20 minute wait a Condor came into site, flying up from the valley below. He caught a thermal and we could see him rising ever was amazing to see.  The wing span is about 3 meters (give or take) and it is incredible to think something this large will fly.
In the end we saw four condors, three in flight. 
After this was back into the bus for a hair-raising trip back to our hotel in Arequipa a full 9 hours after our early wake up.  The scenery was again beautiful and we did get a little sprinkle on the way home...and we also saw one more condor, quite randomly above the plains as we drove past.  We are counting our lucky stars having had so little rain during our time here and having seen the rare sight of the condors in flight.

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