Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Condor Country

The condor, giant among birds of flight and mythological symbol of the most ancient Andean civilizations, is the most important figure, indeed, the lord and master of the Colca Canyon.
The condor has absolute dominion over the imposing canyon. In spite of its large size, a weight of 10 or 12 kilos and a wing span of from 2.80 to 3.25 rn, the condor has managed to achieve an amazing efficiency of flight, which allows it, almost without moving its wings, to travel over long distances at great altitudes. It feeds on dead animals, that is to say, it's a carrion eater, and it can not grasp or transport its prey due to not having adequate claws such as the eagle or sparrow hawk has. It nests on steep inaccessible rocks, laying one or two eggs of 11 cm long by 7 cm wide, which must be incubated for more than two months. it feeds its young by regurgitation.
The plumage of young condors is a dun brown color which changes to black when they are approximately eight years old. As adults, they have the characteristic white collar and also white markings on the wings. Only the male has the fleshy crest. In captivity condors have been known to live as long as fifty years.
The condor has an extremely important significance to the South American people, as can be seen from the abundant mythological representations which date from pre-Incan times, as well as from the national symbols on the coats of arms of Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. Nonetheless, curiously enough, very little is actually known of this giant of the air. There is no existing population study and many of the birds' habits are still unknown.
Although the bird is found in almost all parts of the Andes, even on the coast, there are few places like the Colca where its presence is continual and where one can observe it in flight from a short distance. The structure of the canyon provides observation points where the bird can be viewed from above and the plumage of its wings and flanks observed. Given its importance to the condor, the canyon has been made a national sanctuary for the conservation and protection of these amazing birds.
The canyon is an impressive rift which runs for 100 km between huge walls which average 3,400 m high. The slopes are very ronounced, almost vertical. At the beginning of the canyon the walls drop from the 5,200 m of the Chila Range on the right to the river at 3,000 m. Farther downstream, after a journey of 100 km, at the confluence with the Arndamayo River where the Majes Valley is formed, they are 900 m. high.
Given the steep gradient of the canyon walls and the scarce rainfall, the area is practically desert. Nonetheless, in some more protected, humid ravines, we find examples of all the ecological niches, from the snow zone to little oases of tropical climate with abundant vegetation and fruit production, such as at Tapay. A cactus called the "tuna" is native to the region, and very abundant, as are other cacti.
There are some small roads, more properly horse trails, which allow one to get down to the river and travel through the canyon, and a few bridges which permit one to reach some of the small villages which lie along the length of the canyon, such as Tapay, Cosnihua, Malata and Llatica. The only road goes to the villages of Cabanaconde and Huambo, located on the left of the river. Today there is a bridge which connects Cabanaconde with Tapay, and downstream from Cabanaconde one to Llatica, and another between Ajpi and Choco.

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