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I woke feeling better today but still not 100%. Its another long day with our route initially taking us back through Chivay and along the valley of the canyon to go condor spotting. We see huge swathes of irrigated terracing which dates back to pre-Inca times. The locals all work on a cooperative basis to maintain the terraces and the irrigation channels.

At Cruz del Condor there is a cross, more local ladies selling their wares and a variety of places to view the birds. The local women throughout the canyon still wear national dress (not sure about the men). They have brightly coloured and decorated wide skirts, matching jackets and fabulous hats. To get here they walk from their village, Cabanaconde, which is about three hours away. Seeing them hoist their packs at the end of the day when the tourists left was an eye opener. These women are short, their packs huge and I suspect very heavy. I do not envy them their walk in the heat of the midday sun.


Graceful condor

Their must have been about seven or eight tour buses already at the Cruz when we arrived. Condor spottings were slow and few of the buses left. After a while though there was just ours and one other. It was as if the condors had waited for people to leave because as soon as most of the tourists had gone, the condors came out to enjoy the thermals.

We were treated to an amazing display by a group of eight condors, which included two young birds (identified because they are brown not black). These birds are enormous with solid huge bodies and thick, sturdy wings. They stand 1.2m tall, have a wingspan of 2m and weigh 17 kilos, the same as my backpack. They are also supremely graceful.

Flying by it was as if there were watching us. The flew quite close on a couple of occasions and when they did you could hear the whoosh and whine of the air through their feathers. Stunning. Stef has some amazing photo's.

We walked down hill to a lower viewing point, which is where we got the best photos. I was still bunged up and slightly unsteady on my feet but put it down to my cold. What I hadn't realised was that this was the start of a 45 minute walk, with the bus picking us up at the other end. I soon found myself very short of breath. No matter how deeply I inhaled I couldn't get enough air. Elfer our guide realised we'd dropped behind and came back to check on us. At a point where I was wheezing he took me on a short cut, sending Stef round the main way. I suspect this must be what it feels like to have asthma -  I simply couldn't get enough air.

The downside of getting altitude sickness here is that I'm prone to get it again. Our next two planned stops are high altitude locations and I don't want to miss out on either - Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu - two of the main sights in PerĂº.

We stopped in Chivay for lunch and had time to wander around the market and them it was time to head back. I was consciously breathing deeply, blowing my nose and yawning all the way up the initial 1,300m climb to the highest point. It seemed to do the trick and my head felt clear apart from the cold. By the time we were back close to Arequipa though I'd lost the battle and couldn't get my ears to pop any more.

The sun set as we drove and the stars soon came out to play. Elfer and Pepe (the driver) were in charge of the music. Barry White wasn't too bad but when they started to play Cliff Richard I was quite glad I couldn't really hear.

On the outskirts of Arequipa we hit a trail of trucks and coaches. The strike (protesting at high insurance (US$70p.a.) and fuel prices) is not yet over and the road is still barricaded. Elfer and Nestor got out to see what was happening. Within seconds we were surrounded by locals pushing carts. Initially I could not work it out - they were all children and surely too young to be involved in the strike. The initial threatening feeling subsided when we realised they were trying to cash in on the strike. For 3 soles each, they would take us into Arequipa (or at least past this blockade) in their carts. They were summarily dismissed by Pepe.


One of the 400 local kinds of tatties

Elfer and Nestor returned shortly. Another bus from Giardino's tours had left Chivay earlier than us and had been stuck here since 3pm - over three hours. It had turned out to be a wide move to have been the last leave Chivay. We stopped, started, stopped, started then stopped. In the distance we could see the front of the queue of trucks. As we were still 16km from the centre Pepe was concerned that even if we got through this block there would be more.

I saw flashing blue lights in the distance and then about twenty trucks passed us in the other direction - the police had opened the road. The trucks and coaches that were blocking it had been removed but the rocks from the roadside still blocked one way. Further on, riot police were our at another blockade. The scene looked angry and I was glad that we passed through with no problem. In total we were probably held up for about thirty minutes - not bad considering.

We got back to our hotel in Arequipa at around 8pm. Shattered, thirsty and hungry we decided to stay put and eat in the hotel. Two other couples who had also been on the trip had the same idea and looks of "we're shattered too" were exchanged as they walked in to the restaurant. Fed and watered we were in bed before 9:30 - normally the time we have been going out for dinner!