Flight of the Condors

Today’s theme seems to be road trips – or, more specfically, many consecutive hours spent in a vehicle. And, since I’ve been delinquent posting about the rest of my most recent trip to Peru, it’s fitting to tell you now about the little side trip to Arequipa. That meant taking the night bus (arriving at 6:30 am), spending the day in the city, waking up at 3 am for a day tour of Colca Canyon and then back to Cusco on the overnight bus again. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing the trip that quickly to anyone else, but I would certainly recommend doing it.

Colourful Streets

A single day is not a lot of time to explore this historic city – especially when you’re already sunburned from a hike the previous day and tired from not quite sleeping enough on the overnight bus to get there. However, it did give me a good idea of just how colourful its streets are.

The day started with some kind of military procession through the main square. We didn’t see it but could hear it from our chosen location for breakfast. The highlight of that, however, was what seemed to be the 80s lounge act that took over immediately after. She was belting out some real classic American tunes in true muzak fashion. (If I were better at remembering names of bands and songs I’d list some of them here… but, trust me, there were some gems!)

A good part of the day was spent lazing about first in the shade in a park that had a view of the surrounding snow-capped volcanos and then on a patio enjoying a lemonade overlooking the main square, also in the shade. (Did I mention the sunburn?) Later in the day, though, I did venture out to wander the streets – and I’m very glad I did. The colours and architecture reminded me of the city of Morelia, in Mexico. But, I guess their commonality really stems from the Spanish influence.

My walk ended when I found this large park where the entrance was teeming with locals waiting to get in. I walked around the grounds and it was full of life: families having picnics and playing, lovers enjoying the sunshine, friends juggling and catching up. It was clearly the place to be on a Sunday.

At night, the place to be was a rooftop at the city center. The cloud cover put a small kink in the plan to catch the sunset, but there was still lots to take in from above.

Main Attraction

After a very early wake-up call (3 am), we were quickly back to sleep in the tourist van headed out of the city limits and making our way to Colca Canyon. Hours later, after a short breakfast in Chivay, the drive into the canyon was singularly focused to make it to the condor lookout area as quickly as possible. On the way, I was shaken awake to see one condor just to the right of the bus window. We stopped and were fortunate to have it fly directly above us and surprisingly close!

At the actual lookout, it almost seemed as though we might not see any condors take flight  – perhaps they were also feeling quite tired at the early hour… but quickly more and more came into view. This was the main goal of the trip and, thankfully, it did not disappoint.

Life in Colca Canyon

The other stop I quite enjoyed was in the little town of Maca. As per usual, I ventured away from the main crowd of tourists, who were mostly taken with the church. We must have been in one of the very first waves of tour buses since I got to see the locals as they went about starting their day. It was mostly women getting ready for the sell of taking pictures with them and an alpaca, but there was something nice about witnessing them not hustling for money and just enjoying each other’s company.

Also, the town had the most unusual statue. I have no idea of the story behind it – but it must be interesting!

Scenic Drive

Honestly, the tour was pretty terrible – the guide spoke very little and the frequent stops they sold were all very close together, providing the exact same views of the canyon. But, at least those views were quite scenic – especially with the lush greens as a product of the rainy season. The drive back also allows you to see what you missed on the early morning drive up to the canyon: an alpaca farm and the high mountain pass at 4800m.

Lessons learned: a tour is cheap for a reason, but the views are the same no matter the price!

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