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Condors and Arequipa

sunny 75 °F

As the adrenaline rush of successfully making it out of the canyon wore off, our sore feet and tired legs made my heart leap as I saw Roberto waiting with the van. I drank a cup of coca tea for breakfast, building up energy for the rest of the trip through the canyon and back into Arequipa. Our first stop was the biggest attraction in the canyon, Cruz del Condor.

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This cross doesn't seem too special, but people don't come to look at Cruz del Condor. They come to the area for the amazing view of the canyon, and to see the largest South America bird in flight. At 8am every morning a family of Andean condors rides the rising air currents, sometimes flying within feet of the spectators (we saw at least 6 different birds flying through the canyon beneath us). Here is Megan with the view in the background, and a picture/video of the condor flying directly over our head (enjoy the quality of the video as it starts half way through, Megan thought she was taking a picture).

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After appreciating the condors for 30 minutes, we set off back towards Chivay. We stopped off at a couple spots along the canyon for Roy to point out some interesting sights. One of these sites featured burial sites in the canyon wall from the time of the Incas and the pre-Incas. These burial sites were literally on the side of the canyon wall, seemingly unreachable by people. The sites were carved out of the cliff face, the body was placed inside, and then sealed in by packing rocks in the opening. They are hard to see, but in the picture below you can see 8 burial sites on the far left sitting on the white rock about 20 feet above the vegetation hill (they look like stacks of pebbles). A much larger and more important site is visible in the center of the picture. You can tell it is important because of its size and because it has been painted red, which over time has stained the rock beneath the site.

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While looking at the burial sites, we also spotted a viscacha (cousin to the Chinchilla that the residents will catch and eat). The viscacha scurried away when we tried to get closer, and Roy noticed a rock sitting on the canyon rim. It turned out to be a very special rock, as it had been carved centuries ago to mimic the landscape of the canyon. The Incas and pre-Incas worshipped 4 primary things: the earth, the mountain, the sun, and the water (especially water flowing from a mountain as this is where the gods lived). Sacred objects often blended several of this spiritual objects together. This rock was likely sacred because it combined the earth and the mountain (since the rock had likely fallen from the mountain and was shaped to resemble the terraced land), and because of its proximity to the burial sites. From this picture you can also see the extensive modifications the Incas and pre-Incas made to the canyon to make it inhabitable and farmable. Terraces extended as far as the eye could see and are still in use today.

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While Roy was climbing back up from the rock, a man passed with his herd of goats and sheep. I had no clue where he was going. I couldn't remember any pathways leading off the road for miles. The reason I took this picture was to document the world's worst herding dog. The man was constantly running around the road keeping the herd together and beating the heinies of stragglers. His dog on the other hand, leisurely strolled up the pathway.

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A little further up the road we came to another small town. This town had a large, beautiful, white church. Roy dropped Megan and I off to explore the area. It was hard to tell how old the church was, but one of the bell towers had 1865 written on it. The inside was decorated much differently than my church back home. There were no windows and the walls were covered with tall wooden structures with pictures and mannequins of saints. The paintings and mannequins were very graphic, Jesus often being blood covered with gaping wounds. Mirrors had been inserted decoratively between the paintings. I later found out that people originally put mirrors in the churches to entice the locals to come into the church.

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We left the town, stopped in Chivay for lunch, and then headed back to the tops of the mountains. At the highest point of 16,000 feet, we stopped to take some pictures. Mounds of stacked rocks surrounded the area (these stacks had sacred meaning because they mimicked the mountain and were often created to bring good fortune to the person who made them). As was the case anywhere a tourist might show up, women sat on the side of the road selling their wares.

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From here we had several hours of driving ahead of us, mostly through the dusty highlands that we had passed through on our first day. 3 days of hiking and waking up at 3 am caught up with our group, as Megan, Roy, and I all took naps.

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As we came back into Arequipa, it was hard not to see the gigantic eyesore on the horizon. A giant concrete plant sat right off the highway. It used the volcanic ash and rock rich land to produce the concrete.

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Arequipa sits directly in the middle of 3 volcanoes, some that have erupted recently (and threaten to erupt again soon). The volcanic rock surrounding Arequipa is white in color, and Arequipa is called the "White City" because these bricks are frequently used in construction of buildings. Now, when I hear "White City", a grand image of a majestic city comes to mind. However, no buildings in Arequipa were very majestic, a large majority seem run down. Nothing was over 2 stories tall, and everything looked old. If I had to name Arequipa based on appearance, it would be something like "Dusty, Gray City with trash littering the road side). I was surprised at the appearance of the second largest city in Peru, it seemed much smaller than I expected (especially for being home to a million people).

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Half of all Peruvians live beneath the poverty level. The average income for a Peruvian is $50 a month. Driving into Arequipa these facts really hit home. The "houses" were basic at best. The buildings did turn a little nicer as we got more into town.

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One thing that did not turn nicer as we came into the city was the traffic! Street lights were infrequent, but I don't think it would have mattered as no one paid attention to them anyways. It was a free-for-all, as drivers flew through blind intersections trusting that a meager horn blast would protect them from a collision. Pedestrians played Frogger as they dodged traffic. I was incredibly thankful that we opted for a private guide instead of renting a car as we originally intended. There was no way I would have survived driving in this city.

We were dropped off at our hostal and made our goodbyes to Roy and Roberto. The hostal was fantastic. It had two open courtyards and everything had a rustic authenticity. It also had hot-ish water for showers!

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I made a quick phone call to my dad to make arrangement to have money wired to me in Cuzco (our destination for tomorrow). After reassuring him that I had not been kidnapped and that he wasn't paying a ransom, he agreed to send the money. Megan and I ventured around Arequipa and looked for a place to eat. We saw a sign that said "salad" on it, and thinking that they may have an English menu, we went in. Well, there was no English menu, and the waitress knew no English. After making several chomping motions with my mouth and repeating "sí" to every question we were asked, the waitress left awkwardly. Eventually a mystery meal was brought out to us. It consisted of some type of fried meat, sitting on top of a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and broccoli. It was delicious. We spent nearly 2 hours at the restaurant, but not once did another patron come in. This would be a common occurence throughout our stay in Peru, I'm not sure how much Peruvians actually eat out. Someone suggested that everyone eats a big buffet lunch and then only snacks lighty at dinner.

We walked back to the hostal, took showers, and then passed out. We had a 5am flight to the tourist capital of Peru, Cuzco (and eventually up to Machu Picchu).

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:10 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains churches animals historical world_heritage_site

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