Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Colca canyon and condors

After leaving the beautiful city of Cusco, we travelled by plane to Arequipa, a good jumping off spot for the Colca valley and it’s canyon, the second deepest in the world (the actual deepest is just next door, and still part of the Colca valley). The spot is well known for its regular sightings of condors, a bird which is of central importance to both the ancient and modern Peruvian (and Andean in general) culture. We arrived at the valley in the late afternoon, and went for a nice walk to take a look at the Inca and pre-Inca terraces dotted around the area, before heading to some nearby thermal baths to have a soak – which were lovely until we had to get out and the cold winds that had picked up hit us!

We got up very early the next morning to drive a couple of hours to the actual canyon itself, where we waited for the condors to arrive. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really our morning – there are three main viewing stations, and whichever we moved to, the condors moved to the next one… we saw them pretty well from a distance, but always seemed to miss the swooping directly over heads that other people watching experienced! Finally, after close to an hour of moving from viewpoint to viewpoint, and just before we had to leave, we had some condors fly close enough to see them in detail. They are quite ugly – looking very similar to vultures, but their gliding through the air was hypnotising. The canyon itself was impressive – although it would have been nice to have seen the very deepest part – it was already rather dizzying where we were!

We drove back to Arequipa and had just enough time before our night bus to visit ‘Juanita’, the famous ice mummy found at the peak of a local volcano, in one of the city’s museums. The exhibition was respectful and very interesting, displaying the artefacts she was buried with as well as explaining the likely reasons and circumstances surrounding her sacrifice. With its well-presented displays and limited visiting numbers at any one time, it was definitely one of the best museums we've seen so far.

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