The most reliable place in Peru to meet a Condor is probably the Colca Canyon near the city of Arequipa. With ease one can observe these large birds here. Their 2 - 3 m wingspan is sufficient to soar calmly in the very first weak morning thermals between eight and ten o'clock at the edge of canyon. Later on, when the strong west wind passes through the canyon, they are already gliding in higher regions. They can soar up to heights of 7000 m, while other vultures and eagles suffocate already near 5000 m. Thus size not only helps with weak thermals but has also has to do with large lungs.
If you wait only a little, you will almost certainly see some of these
big birds pass by. In air they are not very shy, they approach as close as 3 m and you
can clearly hear the rustling sound of the air through their wings.
The Colca valley ist famous for its ingeneously terraced fields, which gave the whole beautiful mountain range its name: 'andenes' = steps.
Launch directly at edge of canyon, near Cabanaconde.
At almost all of my starts condors were present. Sometimes I even had the impression, as if the large sail made them curious.
View into the gorge of 1000 m depth
A green island at the bottom and huge black smoking areas at the slopes where the indigenas burn the wicked dry ichu gras and shrubs to gain fertile land.
View into the canyon
In the beginning I can still soar in the warm updrafts and keep above the edge of the canyon, a nice place to fly. Then I drop below the edge and from there on flying becomes rather demanding. The upwinds are too close to the cliffs. The condors can take better advantage of them with their small size (at least in the comparison with a paraglider). In the center of the canyon it is quite turbulent so it goes rapidly downwards. I'd say unless you're a bird it is hardly recommendable to fly into the canyon.
Half controlled landing in paradise: Eden is the name of the place situated in the green island Sangalle inmidst the canyon 1000 m below the edge. I land exactly two meters away from the swimming pool. An industrious campesino has built a resting place for canyon hikers down here. They didn't expect a flying guest from above. On the entire island there is no free area, everything is covered with palms, bushes, bamboo huts and swimmingpools (three of them).
The punishment for the bad flight follows immediately after the bath in the lukewarm water: 1000 meters ascent in the heat of the afternoon with the usual heavy luggage on the back. Later I am told that, while I was desperately flying various emergency maneuvers deep down in the canyon, high above me at the edge soared majestically calm a condor. Probably very amused about the awkward giant bird below or maybe in hope of a big breakfast.
Second launch at 3950 m, 150 m above the Cruz del Condor, in order to avoid having to fly into the canyon. The landing fields are again 150 m lower than the Cruz, so that 300 elevation meters remain to search for thermals. In the weak morning thermals that the condors use this was still too little. After three flights here, I change to a still somewhat higher place at 4300 m. This again required anew the laborious removing of thorny shrubs, but from there I had the best starts to the canyon.
Comfortable night camp
From the diary:
"Dreams in the dusk. A fox sneaks along. Later I learn that fox and condor always belong together. There are of course a lot of places with foxes without condors, but hardly the reverse: The condor shows the fox by its soaring close to ground that a carcass is lying there and only if the fox with its powerful instinct considers the area being safe, and demonstrates with a first bite that the motionless animal is in fact dead, only then the at ground extremely shy condor lands as well. (which is at least, what biologists in the valley told me)
Just before falling asleep a large owl bird sweeps directly above me and makes me start up again. At dawn I am awaken with the singsong of a hummingbird in the shrubs vis-á-vis. Thus condors are by far not the only feathered friends that fly around here.
As in the Cordillera Negra I am covered by a thick layer of hoarfrost when I awake. The thermometer shows -16 degrees, but rolled up into the paraglider it is still cosy and warm.
In the morning I have to wait a long time for the correct wind. Two condors pass by only a few meters above me, withdraw into a narrow niche to soar there. Even if I could take off now, I would not dare to follow them there with my paraglider. But I must wait anyway for the wind... "
Flight above the Cruz del Condor
View into the canyon
Probably my best flight here. I can circle for four rounds with a young condor in the same upwind. Only a short while, but better than nothing. All flights here were short so far, 10 - 25 minutes. Either the upwinds are too weak, or flying is rather demanding.
Since I always land on the same field, there is a regular female attendance: eight year old Misha. She goes to school, asks lots of questions, always remains in a respectful distance.
She also wears that fancy hat of the local costume. As she notices my constant looks towards the sky she says quite earnestly: "No condors today. Today's sunday, today the condors are resting in their nests."