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La Hacienda courtyard
La Hacienda courtyard
The next morning we both felt much better and ate a light breakfast prior to our 6:30 am departure through the Colca Valley to view the Andean condors that typically soar over the canyon walls at 9 am. The temperature was only 30 degrees but skies were sunny and bright. Our first stop was at the schoolyard in Yanque. Each school day the children would dress in traditional costume to perform traditional dances in order to raise money for their yearly end-of the year trip. This year the children were planning to visit Cusco.

The Colca Canyon, regarded as one of the most scenic regions in Peru, remained unexplored until the late 1970's. The canyon forms part of a volcanic mountain range that is more than 62 miles long. The Colca River, which is one of the sources of the Amazon, cuts through the massive canyon that is nearly 11,150 feet deep. Snow-capped volcanoes, narrow gorges, artistically terraced agricultural slopes predating the Incas rising up steep hillsides, and remote traditional villages provide stunning vistas. Descendants of the Collaguas and Cabanas who pre-date the Incas, these villagers maintain their native languages, ancient customs and distinctive traditional dress. Their churches are small but richly decorated. Agriculture is the primary source of income. Many of the local women would set up roadside stands to sell fruit or textiles to tourists.

Traveling along the narrow, winding, dusty, and bumpy road, we reached the Valley of the Condors about 8:30 am. Although there were several viewing areas in which to watch for the condors, Carlos suggested that we move further down the road as condors were often frightened of noise. Within a few minutes we witnessed pairs on condors slowly rising from the depths of the canyons and gradually gaining altitude with each pass before heading out along the river in search of prey. With wingspans of 12 feet, the condors are the largest birds in the world. Because of their size, they are unable to lift off from the ground, instead taking off from cliff perches. There is some concern that the number of resident Andean condors has decreased dramatically within the past several years that may be the result of the rapid hotel development and increased traffic near the canyon. We were fortunate to view approximately 12-14 condors during our visit.

About 11 am, we hiked about a mile along the rim of the canyon. The sun was getting much warmer so we were grateful that the climb was not steep. As Carlos knew several of the local women, we stopped at several of the roadside stands to purchase and taste passion fruit (red, orange and green varieties) or to make souvenir purchases.

We again enjoyed a buffet lunch in Chivay and this time Carlos called ahead and requested that guinea pig be served. We returned to the Colca Lodge close to 3 pm. Altitude continued to be exhausting so while Dick napped, I took a walk down to the river and generally explored the property. Upon my return and feeling the beginning of an altitude headache, I prepared a coca sandwich with a piece of ash acting as the catalyst. That certainly was the cure. Our room was comfortable and rustic with high beamed ceilings and what appeared to be heated flooring. There was no TV or Internet service in the rooms. However, the main lodge did have Internet connectivity. Again, we were both sleeping by 9 pm. Early bedtimes meant that we were unable to enjoy their dinners.

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