Since we last got all bloggy, we’ve travelled over 72 hours on busses, spent a day at the highest airport in the world, narrowly avoided violent protests and border blockades, spent a week on the beach, and eaten Elton John’s bodyweight in ceviche. All of which brings us to Cusco, Peru – the final chapter of our South American adventure.
Tomorrow we set off into the wilderness one final time for the rite of Peruvian passage that is The Inca Trail. If you were to aggregate all the online material on this subject, one word would come to the fore – PREPARATION. The Inca Trail is 4 days of mountain passes, unpredictable weather, near-vertical ascents and descents, the highest of which is at a lung-ridiculing 4200m. We took this all very seriously, panicked, and immediately booked a week on the beach – hardly textbook training.
So, last week we returned to the highlands near Arequipa and spent 3 days trekking in the Colca Canyon. Now, we’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing scenery in the last 9 months – Torres del Paine, Mendoza, the Bolivian Altiplano – but the Colca Canyon could go toe-to-footpath with any of them. Over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and only beaten by a few metres to the accolade of World’s Deepest Canyon by its neighbour Cotahuasi. It’s stunning. Which is a lot easier to appreciate when you’re on your way down than when you’re making the 3 hour vertical hike back up to 3,200m in near darkness – a 1,000m ascent over 5km. One guy in our group demonstrated the size of the challenge by repeatedly collapsing, vomiting, and hallucinating that he was in Barcelona. But, we all eventually made it to the top and felt like we’d put at least something in the bank for the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.
On the journey back to Arequipa, we stopped (along with a large army of SLR-wielding Americans) at Cruz del Condor – a collection of thermals on top of the canyon that apparently attract the legendary Andean condor. We walked to the edge and peered down into the abyss. Nada. We started to joke about their absence and we’re rapidly “shusshhed” by a woman who evidently believed that condors are allergic to any kind of human merriment. Just when I was contemplating how the Peruvian justice system would look upon shoving a total stranger into a deep canyon, the murmurs began, necks were craned, and shutters were released. They had arrived.
75 years old. 3 metres wide. 12 kilograms. The awesome potential of the Andean condor. We’d seen them in Patagonia but generally only from a distance. This time, we were treated to the full regal fly-by. It’s only when you see them at close quarters that you can really appreciate their scale. I’m almost certain I’ve flown in smaller planes. The indigenous people believe that condors are the eyes of the gods, sent to spy on them, to check that they are working hard and report back. With this is mind, I took about 200 photos. It’s ok, I already know you’re washing your hair the day of the slideshow.