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Day Two in the Colca Canyon had one of the most magnificent birding sights in South America.  Andean Condors. 

First we travelled down one side of the canyon, past the cascading terraces, the toil and backbreaking effort now hidden within their beauty; across a little bridge that connected the sides until we reached Condor Cross.  Already 4 large coaches and about 15 mini-buses had disgorged their tourists and the place was heaving with people.  We took up a position to the left of the actual cross and only had to wait 10 minutes until a ripple of excitement from the right heralded the first sighting of a Condor.   To get up out of the deep canyon the condors have to circle upwards on thermals takingAndean Condor large sweeps past the hundreds of cameras, videos and binoculars trained on them.  Two young, brown winged condors followed the adult bird, graceful, easy and majestic with the 6 long, finger-like primaries twitching ever so slightly to make adjustments to angle.  In total we saw 10 condor, six flying up from the canyon base and four appearing from the other side of the mountain.  At one point I could see a group of 4 condors through my binoculars, as they gathered to fly off in search of carrion and rotting carcasses.   Later in the year they fly off to the coast for three months and a gargantuan feast of baby sea lions on the offshore rocks and islands.  

After the 8.30 “show” people and minibuses started drifting off to visit the small villages of the canyon and we stopped at various miradors along the way, to admire the amazingly complex systems of terracing which gives such a serene and pastoral look to the canyon.  No mechanisation to be seen but still loads of donkeys in the valleys and villages.  I thought the villages looked quite poor; adobe houses with corrugated iron roofs and muddy courtyards full of grubby people, children and animals.  The invading Spaniards recognised the importance of the region for its agricultural richness as well as the rich mines of Caylloma.  The trip back to Arequipa was long and a bit tedious, back to our Mediterranean hotel, cable TV and big comfortable beds!


Just one more monastery … this time the Church of the Recoleta Convent / Monastery.  It has been Franciscan Monastery in Arequipa converted into a museum, suffering like the Santa Catalina Convent, from a severe lack of fresh novices.  Another peaceful, graceful place with easy dimensions, flowers in pots, circular fountains in the middle of cloistered squares and a feel of quiet contemplation.  The life of a Franciscan monk seems to have been a mix of austerity and academic striving as well as being heavily into collecting.  There were rooms full pre-Columbian dusty pots and ceramics but none of the blatant sexual ones!  Two crumbling mummiesA glass case with crumbling mummies.  A room full of Natural History samples; stuffed birds rather bedraggled and less than life-like; a big stuffed Anteater; some mothy-looking small primates; spiders, butterflies and insects stuck through with pins; fish and some well-taxidermied  crocodilians.   Another room was devoted to “Amazonia”  various bits of mothy clothing,dusty items of primitive hunting gear and other forgettable stuff.  Of course there were a couple of rooms of boring religious bits and pieces … and we almost missed the real gem – the Biblioteca or Library.  On the second floor a huge room houses a  vast collection of old manuscripts, books and prints.  All catalogued, numbered and in neat, ordered sections; books on Natural History, Geography, Philosophy, Medicine and of course heaps of theological works.  The men who left their home countries to ‘serve, minister and convert’ in distant parts of the world liked to have their reference books to hand and many of the Friars were very cultured men.   Did the seclusion here give them less bodily temptation and greater rigour of the mind?  They most certainly didn’t lack intellectual stimulus. 

Back to Lima for the trip home, and contemplation of what we had seen, experienced and thought of this part of South America.

Would we do it again?

Not the MP trek, although to reach such a wonderful place the way we did, gives it a forever special place in our trip dossier.   South America has such a richness of culture and beauty of land that it would be a pity not to enjoy much more of it!   Peru is but a tiny part. 

What were the top three highlights?

  1. Arriving at the Gate of the Sun with our goal of Machu Picchu perched tantalisingly on the next mountain.
  2. Feeling so well at altitude, in part due to the air quality and part due to the magnificence of the High Andes.
  3. Watching loud, raucous, colourful, free-flying macaws in the Amazon.

What, if any, were the disappointments?

  1. The feeling of being taken as rich (!) suckers by the Canadian running Peruvian Andean Treks.
  2.  Puno (beside lake Titicaca) and the floating Uros islands.

Two small kids in Pisac


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