Thursday late morning and afternoon, January 31, 2019
The Colca River is the longest river in Peru, stretching from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. On its journey, it creates the deepest canyon in the world, over 2.5 miles, more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. This area was inaccessible by road until the 1940’s. Even then, the outside world was not aware of the canyon, which was first navigated in 1981 by a Polish rafting expedition. The expedition suggested that this canyon was the deepest in the world, and that was later verified.
We drove from Colca Valley to Colca Canyon, through a tunnel that was built as part of the Majes-Siguas irrigation project in the 1970s that built a 63 mile long aqueduct to bring water to the dry lands around Arequipa.
The Andean Condor is the largest flying bird in the world, considering both wingspan and weight, with a wingspan of almost eleven feet. It is the national symbol of Peru. This bird is considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Condors don’t make nests, as they can’t carry anything. They prefer rock ledges or caves on mountain faces, with wide open spaces. They use thermals that rise and spiral off the cliffs to soar for hours, looking for carrion. They rip open the tough skin of their kills, making it easier for other animals to feed on the carrion as well. Andean Condors have been known to prey on small live animals, but their short talons are not well adapted for hunting.
The condors mate for life, and can live up to 100 years, and lay one or two eggs per year. The young will stay will the parents for several years, as they don’t reach maturity until about age 5. The young have brown feathers. At about age 8, the feathers turn black with with patches on the wings and a ruff of white feathers. The male has a crest on its head which distinguishes it from the female.
Cruz del Condor, about a mile above the river, is an excellent place to view these magnificent birds. The total elevation here is 12,416 feet. We waited for a while, constantly scanning the skies around us, until we were rewarded with our first sight of a flying condor. Our trip in the cold was rewarded!
While not a pretty bird, the Andean Condor is magnificent, especially in flight. There were three condors perched on a nearby mountain that we watched for a while. We saw several flying, took too many photos, and decided to return to our vehicle. On the way, we saw people pointing and shooting photos, so we checked it out. First, we saw two on a ledge, then we saw three, then four, and finally six. There were two adults, and four juveniles. The ledge may be where their home cave is located. We watched as they fluffed their feathers, communicated with each other, and soared.
On our way back, we stopped in the village of Chivay, to do some shopping. The center square and the Main Street have some statues that reflect the local culture. Chivay is the largest village in the Colca Valley, with about 7,000 people. Twice a week, there is a large market where people come to sell their goods, and the population doubles. It was delightful to watch the people, many of whom were dressed in their local attire, with lots of layering of skirts. There were so many beautiful hats, belts and dresses, colorful and with lots of bling. I did get my Cabana hat, and I was looking at some of the embroidered jackets, but resisted them (I’m kind of regretting that now.)
As we left Chivay, a thunderstorm was approaching. It was still raining when we reached the lodge, but we went to the hot pools anyway. Ahh – so very relaxing.