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Posts Tagged ‘condors’

(Mid March 2009)

Mendoza has a population of about 112,000. The climate is arid and the pace of life seems a bit slower here. Many of the shops and restaurants shut down for the afternoon siesta. This is wine country although it’s not the main sector. Tourism in the area consists of wineries, obviously, a hot springs retreat, and various day trips to the High Andes. I stayed at the Alamo Hostal – great place!

I never cease to be amazed by mountains and the trip to the High Andes was another encounter with the astonishing majesty of these landscapes. I was dazzled by glaciers, snow-capped peaks, Mount Aconcagua – the highest summit in the Western hemisphere at 6960 metres -, and the soft warm colours and subtle hues which seemed in such contrast to this ruggedness. And, I saw another condor!

Aconcagua is a popular climbing destination and it does claim a number of lives each year.  An international climbers’ cemetery is located nearby. Zig-zag fashion, our bus ascended up Mount Santa Elena to the world’s highest Christ the Redeemer monument at the borderline between Argentina and Chile. It was placed there as a symbol of peace and unity. (Note: when at the top of a mountain don’t leave your jacket in the bus.) Another unusual site was Puente del Inca where a natural stone bridge and the ruins of a spa are stained from the sulphurous thermal springs.

Enjoying a glass of Malbec in Argentina, in the heart of the grape’s growing region, is one of those small slice-of-life moments that I’m truly thrilled to experience. Yerba maté, however, is the Argentine national drink. The leaves are placed into a gourd and the brewed tea is sipped with a bombilla, an elegant straw with a filter attached. Hot water machines for replenishing your thermos are popular at gas stations.

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(Late January 2009)

Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city and also known as the “White City”, is in close proximity to El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu volcanoes and it intrigued me during my research. I arrived early in the morning and checked into La Casa de Sillar. I had read about the Cafe Casa Verde, which is run by street kids, and I strolled over there for lunch.

I wandered through the very memorable Monasterio de Santa Catalina. The nuns lived there in seclusion for 391 years before it was opened to the public in 1970. The architecture and design is very impressive. The monastery is like a self-sufficient secluded city within the city. In centuries past this must have been a very good life for the women who inhabited the community. I find it both appealing for its sanctuary and repelling for its isolation.

The next day I visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos. This is where the frozen Inca bodies discovered on Ampato Volcano are housed. Juanita, the best preserved and well-known, is not on display between January and March so instead I viewed the remains of Serita. Serita would have been between 15-17 years of age when she died. The child sacrifice was to appease the gods after a volcano eruption and is believed to have been a very solemn and important undertaking. Children were of noble birth, although Serita’s status is uncertain, and the actual death seems very cruel – a blow to the head. The culture believed in duality and objects accompanying the bodies were found in pairs. The Inca’s recorded their stories with fabric cords and these were found with the bodies. The film re-enactment of the sacrifice ritual is quite interesting and points out the fact the Inca’s would have been expert climbers.

I looked around for a tour to Colca Canyon. I considered the 3 day/2 night adventure in which you go down into the canyon and camp and a similar one but you stay with a family. I think either of these trekking tours would have been a satisfying experience but I was worried about my fitness level and thought getting back out of the canyon could be too difficult a challenge. The tours were also relatively expensive in comparison to the conventional 2 day/1 night tours. So, being a mild-core adventurer on a budget, I opted for the standard tour offering the creature comforts of a hotel room and hot water.

Colca Canyon is stunning. The road is somewhat rough but the landscape is truly breathtaking. We passed through Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca and spotted a few vicunas – they are wild and their wool is  much more expensive than alpaca. We did see an awful lot of domestic llamas and, unlike their Ecuadorian cousins, they were not the least bit curious about us. After an over-priced buffet in Chivay we checked into our hotels then met up again for a splash in the hot springs pools. For dinner we attended a traditional music and dance pena.

Chivay was cold and wet and the following day it was up early to head for Cruz del Condor. We stopped at a couple villages along the way and arrived there around 9:45 am. Much to our awe and satisfaction we spotted several condors and were able to spend some time watching these majestic birds. The Andean Condors live 60-70 years, are about one metre in length and have a wingspan of 2-3 metres. They are simply magnificent! On the way back we stopped at a couple miradors to marvel at the Inca terracing. Shifting our gaze up the mountain beside us, the guide informed us that important Inca’s were buried in the rock.

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