Canyons, condors and compressors

The winding road to the Colca Canyon. You can see it snaking back on itself in the distance

These next few days taught us to respect altitude driving! We had to drive a monstrous pass to get to the famous Colca Canyon from Arequipa. Starting at 2400m above sea level, the road twists and turns slowly spiralling up to the heavens before it levels out at 5000m at the top of the pass. We have left the desert far behind and entered the world of cold tundra and plains guarded by even bigger behemoths; volcanic peaks at over 6000m! At least the temperature remained reasonable at 11 degrees and not a mound of snow in sight 🙂
Descending this pass toward the Colca Canyon was just as taxing with innumerable switchbacks and small rockslides dotting the road. It took us 7hrs to drive the 200km from Arequipa to Colca Canyon!

The Colca Canyon with ancient terracing still in use today

Colca canyon is the 3rd most visited site in Peru. It is not longer than Arizona’s Grand, but deeper by about double; 4000m deep ( at max!) .

The view down into the Canyon

This means it’s excellent for Condor spotting – from above! We had beautiful views of these majestic creatures ( they are actually vultures) in El Calafate as they soared the ridges along the glaciers; here in Colca, we could see them from their perspective; at eye level AND above!

Condor in the distance flying over the Colca Canyon

Several of them flew straight by us at eye level, then circled below the viewing point giving us a view of their phenomenal wingspan – 3 metres! What makes these birds so special is that they are the largest land based birds in the world. The Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan in the world, but they are sea based birds 🙂

Condor flying past us. This is a moment I don’t think I will ever forget.

We paid a price for visiting the canyon – the circular exit route back to the PanAmerican coastal road, 150km north from Arequipa took us 8hrs to drive, 6 of which were on ripio ( gravel road in Spanish ).

The road ahead full of twists and turns ……. and NAILS!!!!!!!

Spectacular driving over passes and along mountain sides where the roads sole purpose is to serve tiny villages in the middle of nowhere. This means that in 2 days worth of driving we climbed and descended 10 000m and slept at 2400m and 3300m!

Road tax included a puncture in our rear tyre. In the middle of nowhere on this stretch the RDC tyre gauge ( awesome wireless tyre pressure monitor on board the GS) started dropping…..we extracted a rusted 6inch nail from the rear tyre – where the hell did that come from???? The beauty of tubeless tyres is that puncture fixing is a synch – ram in a piece of snot with an awl and voila ( these are the terms used by overlanders :). Our little compressor which runs off the bike took 15 minutes to get the tyre up to optimal pressure :):)

Step 1: Identify the problem…….

Step 2: Remove the problem

Step 3: Fill the problem

Step 4: Compare the problem to the solution….. I think the nail wins

Step 5: Air air air

Neither of us are high altitude dwellers; we get persistently short of breath, feel lethargic, drink panados for persistent headaches and don’t seem to be acclimatising! Driving the altitude is not a problem, but walking around the towns and villages…….it’s a slow process 🙂 Potosi, Bolivia, the highest town in the world is going to be fun…….4000m!

Categories: Diary | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Canyons, condors and compressors

  1. Dean Morrison

    Great edition guys and well written Andy. Poor Cathy having to do all the hard work 🙂 See you guys in Copacabana or La Paz. Will be great to catch up to discuss the Peru leg of your trip as we will be doing something similiar when we leave Copacabana x

    • Andrew

      Thanks! Who do you think is doing the driving? She has to do something to earn her keep:)

  2. Doug Lawson

    Andy, it seems in the puncture story that you have Cathy (and the pump) doing the menial work while you take care of the all-important photo documentary. Impressive.

  3. will

    You both are amazing. I love the historical perspective you give on each leg of the journey and am inspired by your resourcefulness. there way you have handled the small and big problems is fantastic. Keep writing. i look forward to each episode of your journey

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