October 28th - 29th 2003
After wandering around the ruins at Puerto Inca, we started the long journey to Colca Canyon near Arequipa, hoping to catch sight of condors the following day.
The road was fast until we turned off to head for the Colca Canyon. We took a gravel road to the South West end of the Canyon, the opposite end that all the tour buses take from Arequipa. Along the gravel track we bumped into Marco, of Cusipata, a company which specialises in rafting and kayaking in the area. He was taking a few guys out to the canyon to go canoeing for a few days. The guys were making a video of their run down the canyon and we spent a few minutes with their cameraman perched on the weasel bonnet as we raced along the track next to their jeep.
Along the way we stopped to chat to some gold miners processing their ore. The ore was crushed with water by a large rocking stone on which the men stood. Mercury was then mixed with the resultant slurry to separate the minute gold particles. The mercury/gold mixture is then heated to evaporate the mercury leaving the pure gold behind. Bearing in mind our Spanish skills, that might not be exactly how it works but it sounds reasonable!
We had to move on quickly as it was getting late and we still had a couple of hours drive before reaching the first village where we hoped to stay the night. Needless to say we did not make the village in time and ended up wild camping. Luckily we found a small turning which led to a disused quarry, well away from the road. So we set up camp, cooked some pasta and went off to sleep, aiming to get up really early to reach the mirador where the condors were supposed to fly in the morning.
Up at 6am, we drove towards the Cruz del Condor and found the village of Huambo after about 30 minutes driving. It was then another hour and a half to Cabanaconde and a further 30 minutes to the Cruz del Condor.
The Colca Canyon itself is said to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, with the roads on either side reaching altitudes of 4000m. The first mirador we came to was deserted apart from a Scandinavian lady and her local guide. They had not managed to see any condors that morning and did not feel that we would be lucky. About five minutes drive further along the road is the actual Cruz del Condor where all the tour companies bring hoards of tourists to sit and wait for the condors to appear - it is supposedly the best spot to catch them as they fly up in the morning thermals. We parked and a park official promptly came to charge us 5 dollars each. We waited, and waited, and waited, but to no avail. We caught sight of a couple of condors far down below in the canyon, but not quite at the close quarters we had expected. All the tourist buses started to disappear and eventually we had to call it a day as well and continued along the canyon to Chivay for some lunch.
As we drove up from Chivay to the pass to head south to Arequipa over the Altiplano (4800m), the weather got darker and darker until it started to snow. The road was in quite poor condition for a while - highly corrugated and gravel surfaced - until we entered the Aguada Blanca National Vicuna Reserve, where we had a section of good road for about 10km. But this soon turned back to rough road and we had quite a bumpy ride - but at least we got good views of the volcanoes in the distance. Just after Jura, we were back on tarmac again, following the railway line all the way to Arequipa (about 78km).