Journey through Peru: Condor Cross

After our day of rest, we got up early, packed up and headed out again. We left at 6:30, ready to make it to Condor Cross in time to catch some of the legendary birds in flight. The drive there was more spectacular than I can describe.

Driving up to Condor Cross

Driving up to Condor Cross

The views of the valley and the volcanos were breathtaking.

The Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon

We saw a lot of animals being herded along the road. More than once we noticed the women would actually be knitting or crocheting as they herded animals along the way.

Burros being herded while woman knits

Burros being herded while woman knits

The drive up there was long – at least an hour or maybe two. At one point we went through a deep, dark tunnel.  It was just wide enough for one car, so we were glad nobody came from the other direction!  Olivia thought it was hilarious when our driver turned off the headlights for a moment…we didn’t think it was quite so funny 🙂

Dark tunnel

Dark tunnel

We also passed some ancient tombs in the mountains.  You could see the tombs jutting out of the mountains like termite nests or something.  It reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie…

Old tombs along the mountainside

Old tombs along the mountainside

This was the prettiest view.  The valley was so breathtaking!

View of the valley

View of the valley

Gig 'em, Ags!

Gig ’em, Ags!

We got out at the first point and were shocked by the cold wind (I’m not sure why I wasn’t prepared for it).

Walking the trail

Walking the trail with our guide

Looking for wildlife

Looking for wildlife

The wind was worth it though. We finally were able to see the Giant Hummingbird! It measures 17cm long and is the biggest hummingbird in the world. In addition to nectar they also eat insects.

The giant hummingbird

The giant hummingbird

Condor Cross

Condor Cross

We also spotted a small mammal related to the chinchilla.

Cactus

Cactus

The kids with cactus

The kids posing with cactus

Next, we saw a young condor.

Young condor

Young condor

They are brown in color the first seven years of life. After that they turn black and white with a distinct white collar around the neck. They live 40-50 years in the wild and up to 70 in captivity. At the next stop we saw the big condors.

The Condor against the Andes

The Condor against the Andes

What’s really amazing about these birds is they can go 60 days without food! Since they only consume dead meat, food can be scarce. To conserve energy they live high in the cliffs of the valley and soar on the wind currents.

An adult condor

An adult condor

The view was great from here too. Our favorite part of Colca Canyon was this view though on the way back down, though.

View of the valley

View of the valley

The terraces formed almost an amphitheater and below were three lakes and the river.

The valley

The valley

We were able to stop in the village of Maca on the way back and see inside the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church in Maca

The Catholic Church in Maca

This church was destroyed by an earthquake in the 90’s and after being visited by Peru’s president, was rebuilt. It was amazing to see the elaborate ornate inside, while outside the church there was just an ordinary dusty town.

Original altar

Original altar

The wood was imported from Europe and then painted with gold leaf. Before the Spaniards came, the locals had never seen a mirror. Mirrors were one of the main decorations of this church. They traded gold for the mirrors because they were so amazed to be able to see their reflection.

Sculptures made of wood

Sculptures made of wood and mirrors to decorate

Outside the church Olivia found a llama.

Llama face! (inside joke...)

Llama face! (inside joke…)

This time she was a bit braver. She even got a picture with the eagle!

Eagle

Eagle

Wearing the "eagle hat"

Wearing the “eagle hat”

After lunch we headed back out of the canyon and made our way to Puno. The countryside was beautiful.

A small valley village

A small valley village

It was a long day of driving from there.  About 8 hours or so.  We tried to rest up, because more adventures awaited us in Puno!

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Journey through Peru: Colca Canyon

We stayed just one night in Arequipa (make that 8 hours). It was a 8 hour bus ride from Nazca, so we didn’t get to our hotel until 1am. After just a few hours of sleep, we then grabbed breakfast and packed back up for our drive to Colca Canyon. We had hired a private tour for the canyon, so we had plenty of space to spread out in our van, which was nice. What we saw of Arequipa was beautiful.  It was just a little peak, but it’s on our list to come back to.

View from our hotel in Arequipa

View from our hotel in Arequipa

The drive into Colca Canyon was really spectacular. Once we got to the Alti Plano, we started seeing vicuña everywhere.

Vicuña

Vicuña

They’re similar to an alpaca or llama, but their wool is much finer. In fact, during the time of the Inkas, only the king and other royalty were allowed to wear clothing made of vicuña wool. Recently, the population of the vicuña fell to under 40,000, but once the species was protected the numbers started rising again.

Alpaca

Alpaca

Today there are over 180,000 vicuña in South America, most living in Peru, and about 20 percent in the neighboring country of Bolivia.

At our stop before the canyon, the kids were delighted to find a pen of animals.

Petting the lambs and llamas

Petting the lambs and llamas

In fact, Olivia so connected with them that I could barely pry her away. She sobbed as we walked to the store to get our cup of coca tea. I may or may not have told her I’d put a baby sheep on her Christmas wish list (that list is getting long…).

Watching the animals

Watching the animals

The coca tea was nice. Very earthy and reminiscent of Yerba maté.

Drinking our coca tea

Drinking our coca tea

The leaves were fresh and still had stems attached. Of course John couldn’t have any, because it’s what they make cocaine out of, but I quite enjoyed it. The altitude wasn’t seeming to bother us much, thankfully, but the tea is supposed to help with that adjustment. At this point of the drive we were over 4,000km above sea level.

High in the mountains

High in the mountains

As we continued our drive through the highlands, we saw many more herds of llama and alpaca and a few more vicuña. They were just beautiful against the snow capped volcanos, grazing peacefully in the green marshy valley.

More vicuña!

More vicuña!

At the peak of our drive we surpassed the height of Mont Blanc (4,810 m or 15,781 ft). The structures in the highlands were just amazing.

Ancient buildings

Ancient buildings

To think that some of them had been standing for hundreds of years was incredible! We started seeing waterfalls next, as we made our way down into the canyon.

Small waterfall

Small waterfall

As we drove into the valley we decided that this drive beats every other place we’ve seen, which is saying a lot. It partially compares to Colorado, Utah and Yosemite National Park. But it really surpassed them all for us. It was amazingly beautiful.

The terraces were the next thing we noticed.

Terraces

Terraces

These had been built by the Inkas over 600 years ago. They’re used for farming, since much of the valley is mountainside, the terraces protect the seeds and plants from being washed down with the rain. It’s really ingenious. The farms seemed to consist mainly of sheep, llamas, cows, burrows and some chickens.

We passed more of the beautiful valley and started nearing the canyon village of Chivay (rhymes with bye-bye). Our tour guide knew of a fantastic buffet with an array of local foods. One of our favorites we ate were yummy sweet little balls made out of prickly pear. There were also delicious skewers of meat (“anticuchos” in Peru) that we later learned was alpaca meat. It was a fun part of the day, getting to sample so many local delicacies.

After lunch we walked through a day market, where the kids were the star of the show.

Posing with a local highland mamita and vicuña

Posing with a highland mamita and vicuña

I am afraid our kids may have a complex when we move back to the states. They won’t be the only little blonde kids anymore! Olivia spotted an alpaca as soon as we got there and wanted to touch it. We snapped a picture and the woman quickly asked for her two soles, as a tip.

The dress here in the highlands is very different than anywhere else we’ve been in Peru.

Traditional highland dress

Traditional highland dress

Very intricately woven materials for traditional clothing

Very intricately woven, bright materials for traditional clothing

The women wear elaborately embroidered shirts and skirts and their hats tell you where they’re from. The flat hats indicate the woman is from the valley. The boller hat is of British influence and indicates they’re from Puno.

There were a lot of children in the market and several of them wanted to play with Olivia and Cliff. One little girl, Valentina, wanted her picture with Olivia.

Olivia and Valentina

Olivia and Valentina

One family jokingly asked if we would trade Cliff for their baby. See – it’s important to understand some of the language when you travel or you may end up giving away your first born son!

In the market they sold everything from fresh alpaca meat to dried figs and habas (lima beans).

Perusing the market

Perusing the market

The market

The market

We walked to the edge of town to a bridge where we had a wonderful view of the mountainside.

Beautiful mural

Beautiful mural

Local woman by the mountainside

Local woman by the mountainside

When we arrived to our hotel we were blown away by the scenery.

The canyon

The canyon

We had decided to stay at the Aranwa Hotel Resort so we’d have a nice break in between our two weeks of trekking around. It was a great decision. The hotel was decorated with the Giant Hummingbird.

The giant hummingbird

The giant hummingbird

We kept our eyes out, and though we didn’t see one of those we saw more different kinds of birds than I can remember! We thoroughly enjoyed our time.

Snow-capped mountain

Snow-capped mountain

It wasn’t a moment too soon, either. The kids were crumbling from exhaustion and I’d had one too many nights of 4 hours of sleep.

At the (very) hot springs

At the (very) hot springs

After soaking in the springs

After soaking in the springs

We rested up, enjoyed the mineral hot springs, and had a campfire the last night as we looked at the stars and the Milky Way. The kids ran a fever the first night, but seemed to be doing better by the time we left. We’d traveled in so many buses and cars that I’m sure they just picked up a small cold or virus. The rest was just what they needed.

Enjoying dinner together

Enjoying dinner together

Olivia even got to do a private baking class where the chef helped her make butter cookies, which she thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great few days!

Rolling out cookie dough

Rolling out cookie dough