Chasing condors in Chivay….


We had our shortest truck journey so far on this trip (five hours), to reach the town of Chivay. I actually quite enjoy the long journeys on the truck; there’s time for reading, chatting, sleeping, contemplating and gazing in wonderment at our constant companion, the Andes. I’m not sure I’ll feel the same way after nearly four months on the road, but ‘vamos a ver’. We arrived in town on the same day that the Peruvian national football team were attempting to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. I wouldn’t usually watch a Peru vs. New Zealand football match, but national fervour had been evident everywhere we had been in the past week. Everywhere except Chivay it seemed. I thought it would be a fun experience to see the game in a bar with locals, but they were nowhere to be seen. Instead I settled for pizza and an early night as we were up at 0500 the next morning.

The reason for the early start, and indeed the reason we were in Chivay, was to visit the incredible Colca Canyon and it’s famous Andean condors. Colca is the world’s second deepest canyon, and is almost 3,400m at its deepest point. And for all you geography buffs, no, the Grand Canyon isn’t the deepest canyon in the world. Colca is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, but the world’s deepest canyon is, in fact, the nearby Cotahuasi. Anyway, that’s enough geography for one day. We stopped at some truly breathtakingly scenery, before trekking to the best viewpoint for condors spotting. Our guide was very knowledgeable and sensed that the giant birds would in fact come to us and lo and behold, within five minutes of hiking, we saw  shadows being cast on the foliage by the giant wings of a condor. A collective gasp went up when it glided directly above us, using the early morning thermals to get lift.

We continued hiking to the designated viewing platforms, but it wasn’t necessary given the show the birds were putting on for us throughout the walk. As it was a sunny day, and as we were technically not on a major road, we could ride on the roof seats for the journey home. We were treated to an incredible five-condor flyby while marvelling at the landscape from the unobstructed rooftop view.

The following day we drove to a small Quechua village called Raqchi, where we were treated to a homestay with a local family. I was a little anxious given that my Spanish is virtually non-existent, but I needn’t have worried; Papa Peo and Mama Concepçion were full of warmth that required no words, and one of our Peruvian guides was staying with us and helped translate where needed. Listening to Mama and Papa tell their story, I was filled with happiness as their eyes sparkled reminiscing about how they met and fell in love. It also gave me an appreciation for everything I have in my life, although it did make me miss my partner, Ken, and home.

Any homesickness was quickly dispelled when Papa signalled for us to change into one of his ponchos, and we headed to one of the other houses for a traditional ceremony to honour Pachamama, a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. Pachamama is the earth mother, and is toasted before festivities by spilling a small amount of beer before drinking. The indigenous community believe that we should give back to the earth before taking, and only taking what is appropriate. It made me think that I, and perhaps many of us, could do better at this. Once the solemn ceremony had been performed,  the music started up, which in turn meant the dancing commenced around the fire. It turned into quite a raucous affair and everyone went to bed in high spirits. 

The homestay was probably the one part of the trip that I was most anxious about, but my fears were completely unfounded. It turned out to be the most educational and thought-provoking; not so much in what we were taught in historical terms, but with regards to the local folks’ ethos for life, something I hope to apply to some degree upon my return home.