As a rule I am unlucky with my wildlife spotting in the ‘wild’.
A tigerless tiger safari in India, a whale free visit to Hermanus in South Africa, zero dolphins on a boat trip in Mauritius specifically arranged to see the grey beauties, not a cetacean to be seen on a whaling expedition in Iceland (on my 50th birthday as well!).
The Whales Didn’t Come!
In 2001 whilst backpacking in Peru, I paid for a trip to see the condors of Colca Canyon, a two day trip from Arequipa.
It was a long way to go to see some birds, albeit some very impressive ones. With my track record, I was reluctant to commit. What if the broad-winged beasts were elsewhere at this time?
I was given a cast iron guarantee that they would be present. Not a ‘or your money back’ type guarantee, but good enough to persuade me to part with my dollars.
The trip was more than just birds of course – an evening was spent in the freezing cold town of Chivay at altitude. It was so cold in fact that I slept on top of my bed fully clothed!
We ate a fairly decent meal with our fellow travellers which was considerably enhanced by plenty of intoxicating pisco sours, together with a guitar & panpipe group in traditional costume (just like the types commonly found at many British shopping centres in fact!) inevitably including an instrumental version of ‘El Condor Pasa’, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel (I’d rather be a hammer than a nail etc.).
Colca Canyon, Peru
The drive to the canyon was a little uncomfortable but we were rewarded with some stunning views and colourful locals both on the journey and upon arrival.
However it was the feathered creatures that I and everybody else had come to see.
I was a little perturbed to find that we only had a two hour window of opportunity to see the birds of prey, but figured this would be plenty of time to take in their majestic form.
Our minibus parked up alongside several others and we were directed along a path to the cliff edge, where on a rocky ledge sat three condors.
Snap snap snap. Now, when do they take off and stretch their considerable wings?
When the thermals are right so they can hang on the breeze apparently, hovering until such time as they have spotted their prey and are able to swoop for dinner.
Well the trio of inanimate birds, the largest flying birds in the Western Hemisphere, were worthy of a few pictures, but we had all come to see them floating gracefully, their three metre wingspan drawing gasps of admiration.
We waited, and waited and waited. Other minibuses that had arrived before us left, their passengers disconsolate that the birds had remained as flightless as an ostrich.
One hour-fifty passed by. I had done it again. A Jonah of the highest order!
But then, without warning, something stirred. One of the New World vultures stood up, stretched its wings and launched itself off the ledge, soon to be soaring high above the canyon and the Colca River below.
He was quickly joined by his brethren and for ten minutes a minibus full of travellers clicked away in those pre-digital days, praying that they had got a decent shot. How did I fare with my basic Canon? I will let you be the judge of that.
On the subject of Peru, why not join us on Monday 6th July for a presentation from Julia Hammond? Julia has travelled to 120 countries and is an expert on the fantastic country, the third biggest in South America.
There will also be a great presentation on Central Asia from two people who know the region like the back of their hand. See details below.