Our pick up time was anywhere between 2.45 and 3.00 am.
We were also changing hostels on our return therefore, it was a 2am get up, showered, dressed and pack in readiness. We were the first pick up by the mini-coach and was fortunate to get the seats right behind the driver. By the time we exited Arequipa bound for Chivay, the van was full with different nationalities – Polish; Russian; Welsh; and Italian.
Everyone dozed, except the driver. Other tour company’s shared the road at this hour too, all heading for the same destination. It’s was a 3.5 hour drive and as the dawn broke to gain traction, the terrain was that as if we were on the moon – undulating and baron. Not ugly but a funky attractive.
It was the first time that we had seen an active volcano in the distance bellowing cloud to form a haze on the horizon. Stopping at a viewing point, it was still below zero because we had ascended to just under 5,000 metres. Arequipa lies at 2,330 metres.
As we browed over another extinct volcano rim, we got our first glimpse of Colca Valley, the deepest gorge on the planet – twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. At the very bottom slicing a path, the Colca River and, one of the sources of the Amazon. The valley and its summits attracts adventurists whether it be hiking, mountain climbing, river rafting, or mountain biking. We too left our scream after the reason we had made the journey to it.
To experience a viewing of the Condors.
We still had some ways to lose height; pay the entrance permit fee and stop off at Yanque, one of the Colonial-era villages dating back to the 16 century, for the all included breakfast. Communities here are pre-Inca descendants and still preserve ancient customs and distinctive traditional dress. Solar heating systems on roof tops certainly a modern day improvement.
As we steadily climbed some more to where we again disembarked the coach, we were joining the hordes of others at the Cruz del Condor. The man-made terraces far below made the landscape have a ripple effect. It wasn’t too long, and then there they were, gracefully flying the thermals of Colca Valley.
They are the second largest bird in the world, to the New Zealand Albatross to give you an indication of their wing span. They hugged the cliff soaring without as much of a flap, criss-crossing backwards and forwards. For the numbers of people sharing the experience, there was bugger all volume coming from the crowd. Only when a couple flew close over head did everyone in unison mutter the ‘owwwwwww’ sound.
The show went on for a good fifty or so minutes before the earth had warmed enough to have them climb higher up into the sky, making the photo opportunity more technical with our point and shoot. Didn’t phase us, we were just happy to have watched them do their thing. We got our bang for our 2am rise and shine.
Re-tracing back down the mountain, the next stop was some hot pools to have a soak before lunch and then our return ride home. The question was posed by the tour guide, “Anyone up to try zip lining across the valley?” Total zip line distance, 1,050 metres.
As the shackle was hooked onto the line, the go-pro was activated. There was no count down, just a push and then the “whaaaaaahooooooeeeeeee.” It was an adrenalin rush. Claire followed after some encouraging motivation by the tour guide when she went to get back into the coach deciding not too. The expression on her face when she pulled up after crossing the openness was priceless. She had enjoyed it more than she thought she would.
During 1995, on Peru’s second highest peak Mount Ampato (6,310m), a sacrificed Inca maiden, known to the world as Juanita, was discovered frozen – mummified. It was one of the most important archaeological finds of the last few decades in the Americas. You can google her story.
But don’t just google the Condors. Come and experience them in the flesh.
A sacrifice out of anyone’s life agenda worth taking.
Whilst the bodies still can and, we still have our marbles.