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Peru : Colca Canyon condors

Wednesday 22nd August – Colca Canyon

We used our alarms to wake us, as there was NO WAY we’d naturally wake at 5 am. Breakfast (in the dark, but filling) at 5.30am and collection by bus at 6am. We passed the interesting street statuary (larger than life brightly coloured dancers) and collected the other people, before setting off for the road up to the Canyon.
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We stopped in the main Plaza de Armas at Yanque to watch the local women dance in their traditional clothes a sort of twirling dance called the Hillori. Our guide said it is performed every morning. Now it is said to be a celebration of Quecha peoples over their Spanish conquerors, but it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see it as a pre-Spanish dance of celebration to the sunrise (in keeping with native sun worship). Our guide told us the “history” of the dance- When the Spanish took this valley they wanted the people to adopt Christian beliefs, but the people were not very enthusiastic. So, the Spanish took all the men away to work the mines, locking them in each night. The women in the village had Spanish soldiers billeted nearby. This way the tribe would die out. However, the men knew better. They had a way out, so they dressed as women and snuck back to the village en masse one night. Lo and behold nine months later came a population explosion. The Spanish had no idea what had happened and the women used their beliefs against them, claiming they were virgin births!
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As we drove along our guide told us about the history and customs of the area.
Originally, in pre-Inca times, there were the Hill People and the Valley People. Although originally of the same tribe, they had developed their own cultures over time and their interactions weren’t always harmonious. They bound their infants heads different (back to front or on two sides- later both banned by the Spanish), have different agriculture (terraces with crops, mainly corn and potatoes or Andean plateau livestock hill farming). I would imagine this is a folk recall of the Amyara and Quecha tribes moving north from the altiplano into the colca valleys. Archaeological and linguistic evidence shows this double immigration.
The local Quecha (pre-Inca) in the valleys had already an extensive terracing system, which was added to by the conquering Inca. As we drove I wondered why all the small fields had low stone walls topped with cacti. It was to deter donkeys from entering the field and hoovering up the crops. Apparently if your donkey entered a field the owner could take the donkey until you repaid him. If you refused the donkey went to “donkey jail” until you paid bail (which pretty much everyone did!). We drove along the winding banks of Rio Colca to the village of Maca, which had a very pretty little church (the 17th century Barogue Iglesia de Santa Ana) and courtyard. We stopped for toilets, church visit, stroll because we’d be too early for the condors otherwise.
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Then after 20 mins we carried on up the road, over the river to a tunnel through the rock. The story went that if you could hold your breath all the way through you could have a wish (I didn’t manage). The Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon and home to a stunning array of wildlife. A bit further up, passing terraces and small ponds all the way, we arrived at the Mirador Cruz del Condor (a 2 hour trip in total). Quite amazing! At first we perched by a wooden barrier close to a small statue, looking down/across the canyon and two brownish juveniles crossed several times. We moved a bit right and the two adults took off, sometimes flying solely, sometimes as a pair and sometimes the whole family group. At one point all four swooped overhead only a few metres above us.
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Brilliant! It was quite busy, but there was plenty of space for everyone. When our guide came back he told us we’d been REALLY lucky seeing so many and so close. It was now nearly lunch (we could not believe how long we’d been there) and we headed back down the same road, stopping briefly for some panoramic shots. Then we went back to the same buffet restaurant as yesterday.
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I was keen to try some local fruit, so tried the chirioya (custard apple) which is native to the Andean highlands. Its sort of heart shaped and custardy-creamy and tastes like banana meets strawberry. Another local fruit was the Aguaymento (Peruvian cherry or pysalis), which we already knew.
Then we headed to the coach station. Unfortunately, this is where the Lima guy’s negligence really hit us as the luxury coach we should have been booked on was full, so we were on a rickety “extra” coach for an unpleasant journey to Puno (should have got a refund, but didn’t). We went back the same way as we came up to where the road split to Puno, then headed through the Altiplano towards the large lakes outside Puno (we got off for a leg stretch), through the modern town of Juliaca (dusk) and finally to the bus station at Puno where our efficient lady guide met us and (thank goodness for efficiency) told us she had sorted everything out properly for us. A taxi drove us from the station to our hotel in central Puno. Neither of us was hungry (and we didn’t need the free air!) so we took the lift to our room (good, a bit corporate) and slept.

Colca Canyon- Cultures
The local people come from the Collawa/ Collagua and Cabana Cultures and it was they who started cultivating the valley sides with terraces. Interestingly the Collawas are Aymara speaking (coming from Lake Titicaca) while the Cabanas are Quecha speaking (coming from, probably, the Wari culture). They cropped potato, quinoa and maize. Either they or the Inca carved small colca (granaries of mud and stone) into cliffs or canyon walls. There are still pre-Inca hanging tombs in the area. The Inca arrived at 1320 AD and the Colca area (Caylloma) joined the empire. The Spanish, under Gonzalo Pizarro arrived in 1540 and took the valley, In 1570 Viceroy Francisco de Toledo ordered the people
to abandon their villages and move to centrally located Spanish pueblo (a clear attempt to control the population). Missionaries arrived in 1565 and built the first chapel in 1569. The first road was not built until 1940!
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Colca Canyon- Geography
The Canyon, at 4,160m, is over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and probably the deepest in the world. The river starts at Condoramo Crucero Alto (High Condor Cross) in the Andes, through Colca Canyon, over Majes Plain and to the Pacific. Chivay, elevation 3650m is at the mid point. Above Chivay is livestock farming (mainly alpaca and llama), below is terracing. The area is home to the Andean Condor (Vultur Gryphus), Giant Colibri hummingbird, Andean Goose, Caracara, Chilean flamingo as well as the vizcacha (a rabbit sized chinchilla relative), the zorrino (skunk family), deer, fox and vicuna.
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Posted by PetersF 19:55 Archived in Peru Tagged animals birds peru church colca inca mama chivay yanque Comments (0)

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