The Magnificent Condors

I was once again up at 5:15 (hey I thought I was on a sabbatical) to go on a hike with Marcello to see the sun rise over the canyon. The hike was pretty easy, although every now and then the slight incline caused me to huff and puff. About a half hour into the hike, the gorgeous Colca Canyon came into view. The sky was already pink as we sat and watch the golden pinky shades of the sun make its appearance.

Sun rising over Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon at sunrise

After the sunrise, we hiked back towards Cabanaconde, but not before I noticed that we had apparently passed a bull ring on the hike out to the canyon and I completely missed it. Now I have zero desire to ever see a bull fight, but who am I to judge another country’s culture. I asked Marcello about it and he told me ever town in Peru has a bull ring and it is typically used only once a year during some significant festival. We ended up walking into the ring and to the other side to reach the path. Interesting little side trip.

Cabanaconde bull ring

We had a quick breakfast at the hotel, loaded up the car and headed up the hill towards Condor Cross. Instead of stopping at Condor Cross with the masses, we passed by the buses and vans and drove about a quarter mile down hill towards a little used lookout area about a half hour hike away. Marcello and I jumped out and began the hike (fortunately, mostly flat with a couple small hills). Almost as soon as we reached the lookout we spotted a condor flying very low in the canyon. Marcello said that because of the the cold winds this morning the birds were staying lower away from the winds. (Yeea it was freeeeezing cold, but thank to a lovely Alpaca cap and my heavy duty North Face jacket and liner, I was toasty warm.)

Hiking with Marcello

No sooner had the first condor slipped from view than the news condor appeared against the cloudless bright blue sky. It was magnificent, but this one too swooped down low into the canyon. Marcello decided we should start to hike in the direction of Condor Cross to another lookout point. However, once there, we did not spot a single bird. Marcello finally suggested we head to Condor Cross with the masses. We hiked back up to the road (which was an uphill hike from the second viewpoint … ugh … and we drove back about a ¼ mile, found a parking spot and made our way to the main viewing point. I found a spot on a rock and took a seat while Marcello went to see if there were any other spots open. I told him not to waste his time, there were hundreds and hundreds of people already there so I knew the spot I had was about as good as it was gonna get.

Almost immediately I spotted a condor across the canyon through my binoculars. I swooped low just like the others and disappeared. I spotted another up the canyon and that one also followed the low pattern. Finally, around 8:30, the winds started to die down and the air was warming up. We soon saw three condors coming flying down the middle of the canyon, they swooped up, and the down and disappeared. These were followed by more and more. And as more appeared, the condors began to swoop closer to the main view point where I was sitting.

Condor flying high above
Pair of condor over the Colca Canyon

As me and the others around me were watching, two knuckleheads decided to ignore the sign in front of where we were sitting that said in Spanish, no pass, and climb over the rocks and stand directly in front of where we had all been sitting for almost a half hour. I immediately took the lead and told the two that they could not stand there, they were blocking our view and the sign clearing said they couldn’t be there. The response in heavily accented English from Knucklehead #1 was “where are you from”. “None of your damn business. Get out of our way.” I then proceeded to stare them down and they finally got the message and slunk back to where they came from. The man behind me gave me a pat on the back.

Now while this was going on, the Condor show continued with the condors coming ever so close to swooping directly overhead. Finally, the first condor flew directly over us followed by a number of others. And wouldn’t you know it, Knucklehead #1 returned to stand in front of us again. I immediately told him to move. To which the others sitting and standing around me joined in. Shamed once again, Knucklehead #1 left for good.

Condor swooping overhead
Condor above us
Condor flying above the Colca Canyon
Condor over the mountains

So for the next 10 minutes, the magnificent condors weaved back and forth across the sky and periodically swooping low over our heads to the sounds of the crowds “oohs” and “ahs”. It was an amazing show in the brilliant sunshine.

Finally, like clockwork, the last condor appeared and then disappeared right about 9:00 a.m. It was time to start our drive back towards Chivy. We were going to take a slightly different route from the day before going through the little towns of Lare, Iechupama and Yankue to see the local squares and churches.

Along the way, we stopped at the viewpoint where the Colca Canyon begins. It was amazing to see the contrast between the canyon and the beginning of the farming terraces that are some prevalent in the Andes highlands.

The beginning (or end) of the Colca Canyon

So we reached Lare and we might as well have quit at the first church because nothing we saw after could surpass it. The church had been destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1870. It was lovely. The frescos and colours were gorgeous and the best part was that there was a little museum housing artifact from the original church that had been saved from the fire, including a crèche used at Christmas dating to 1540.

Inside the Lare Church
The 1540 Crèche from the Lare Church

The second church in Iechupama had been partially destroyed in the earthquake in the 5.8 earthquake in 2018 so we could not enter that church. Instead, I decided to across the street to a store to grab some gatoraid (great for replenishing lost minerals when you are in high altitude areas). As I walked across the street some little local girl, who could not have been more than 4, latched on to my my pants and would not let go. She followed me into the store and I am pretty sure the crafty little one had done this shtick before. Bug the tourist enough so that they buy you something and then you leave them alone, which is what I ended up doing so that she would let go of my pant leg. One chocolate biscuit waifer bar letter and I had the full use of both of my legs back.

The Iechupama Church (earthquake damage)

The final church in Yankue was nothing to right home about. It was rather tacky inside, had also been damaged by the earthquake (but to a far lesser extent) and did not have any artifacts. The outside carvings were nice, but that was about it.

We drove on through the highlands and then down towards Chivay. We arrived around 11:30 for some lunch and a quick walk around the market before I had to say goodbye to my trusty guide Marcello and my driver Wilbur. They had been absolutely wonderful.

The guys helped me check in for my bus, we said our goodbyes and before you knew it, I was on the 4M bus was a number of other tourists to Puno.

Saying goodbye to Marcello (l) and Wilbur my driver

The trip to Puno was 6 hours and during that time, we stopped at Patapampa to view the volcanoes, Pampa Canahuas look at the highlands and a number of llamas and alpaca, Patahuasi for a food break, and Langunillas to look at he birds on the lake. The whole operation was run by a woman who was the host on the bus and ran a military style operation. When she said you had 4 minutes to take pictures you better be back on the bus in 3 minutes because the bus was leaving at the 4 minute mark.

When she was handing out drink orders at the restaurant (Inca Tea or Coca Tea), I was actually afraid of her. She was barking at people like a 5 star general. Gesh. We paid for this? The best part …. She sat beside me at the very front of the bus and never said a word to me the entire trip. Hysterical.

No matter. The bus was super clean. The driver was a very good driver (which is saying a lot in Peru). And we arrived on time in Puno. Next up tomorrow. A day on Lake Titicaca.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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