Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Flight of the Condor

We left Arequipa the next morning heading to the town of Chivay, near Colca Canyon. A smallish tour bus was our ride for the 5 hour trip. Most of it was on good roads but the last 1½ hours was full of pot holes, rocks strewn about and sand traps, not recommended for a motorcycle. The bus barely managed in some spots. The rivers across the road were small and the water level low but I can see them in my mind’s eye as roaring streams, too. We had a guide for this trip and we understood his Spanglish well enough.
On a side note, the people of Peru, when they speak English pronounce it badly. I have heard other Latinos speak English but Peruvians have a hard time with English pronunciation.
We had several stops on the way; at one stop we saw vicunas, llamas and alpacas. On another stop we could clearly see the surrounding volcanoes. The volcano Misty looked like true cone shaped volcano. Pichupichu (Mountainmountain) was immense. Chachani, the other snow caped giant was impressive as well. All are active volcanoes, ready to go off when needed.
Our trip went steadily uphill. At the highest point (4910 meters or 15,000 feet) one person in our group fainted when we left the bus to take pictures. Her skin was white like paper and she was given oxygen. Many of us were feeling light-headed. We piled quickly back on the bus and descended 1100 meters to the town of Chivay, for the rest of the night.
This altitude is not easy on the human system. I walked a few steps and puffed like I had run 100 yards. My blood receives 1/3 less oxygen at this height and my body is not used to it. After arriving in Chivay we had a cup of Matte de Coca and after some time visited the local hot springs. We soaked in the 38 Degree Celsius city pool and after 15 minutes of that felt a bit better yet walking was still laborious. For the rest of this day we just hung out, walked around the town square a bit, and looked at the local population. We were in the land of the Inca. Everywhere we looked, Inca. The church was of the Spanish Colonial style but fairly plain. We had a late dinner during which we were entertained by a local band playing local folk music. A husband and wife danced for us and gave us a glimpse in dance form of the traditions around here. A bit shocking was the physical abuse shown in dance form. We had enough for this day and now living at 3800 meters, our bodies craving oxygen, we retired for this day.
The following morning we were up at 6 AM and on our way for another 2 hour ride to the Condor Sanctuary. The bus driver was good, he knew the way and he could handle his bus. The road built along the rim of the Colca Valley is wonderful, showing us true Inca life. There were smallish farms with terraced fields. What makes the road tough is its remote location. This road is creeping, twisting, descending in its most primitive form thru beautiful Inca farm land, hugging the mountains. To the right are steep drop offs, some 1000 meters. No rails. The surface is maintained but sandy with rocks. Lucky for us the washboard effect was not too bad, we rumbled along without being jarred.
At one point we entered a long tunnel, carved just wide enough for the width of one bus. During the whole 3 or 4 minutes it took to pass through, I wondered how the driver could see or worse, drive the bus in these conditions. Dust from previous vehicles was swirling around the whole cavity of the tunnel. Even though the bus had its lights on, visibility was zero. It was like driving into a sandstorm. I could only see the sidewall for about 2 feet in front of the bus, the rest was yellow, gray. No way could you see a vehicle in front of you. Forget about having trouble and breaking down inside this tunnel, you are a dead man. Forget about being on a bike. I have no idea how deep the sand was or how soft the sand was but what does it matter, nobody can ride a bike in such conditions. And…. forget about oncoming traffic, you cannot see them. And if you could see them what would you do? It is impossible to pass since the road is so narrow. What a road. We finally made it to the end and I was relieved to see sunlight. I am sure the locals have a system for using this tunnel but it was scary for me.
After driving for some more time through wonderful farmland in the Colca Valley, farmland that looked ancient, different and a tad strange, too, we arrived at the Condor Cross, the lookout point for the condors, inside the condor sanctuary. The bus halted and we stepped off and immediately felt the sacredness of this place. There were quite a few people at this spot, but nobody talked. Everybody mostly sat and watched and listened to the wind. Here we are in 2010 and such a spot exists. This was not a rehearsal, there was no priest around, there was nobody telling us what to do yet if felt right to be in awe. People sat on rocks, on walls ready for something. Most folks sat in silence. When a condor was visible, all heads turned to look, some pointed but nobody yelled out. At no time did the birds come close to the people, the drop off to the canyon floor is some 3000 meters at this spot and the width on this spot is not that wide. The birds are interested in food only; they glide around, using the morning updrafts created by the canyon walls to make their flying easier. The light at this early hour is still a bit hazy and since the birds profile in flight is very sleek and their coloration blends in so well with their surroundings they are hard to spot; harder yet to photograph.
I took a small telephoto lens and got some pictures but none is really that good. Yet somehow it was not about the photos any longer. The special area, the Inca, the condor, the weather, and the local conditions all coalesced at this event. It was almost a spiritual happening, a world where things are right, where the feeling of ‘this is how it should be’ prevails over other impulses. It was a good trip and I am glad I saw the Condor in flight.

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