On the way from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon, the road traverses the altiplano--an average of 4000 m/12000 ft above sea level.
Wild vicuña and their domesticated llama cousins kept us company in the thin air, with snowcapped volcanoes on the bright, cold horizon.
To know who belongs to whom, the Quechua-speaking herders adorn their llamas with red-yarn 'earrings.'
Vicuña wool, once the exclusive property of Inca royalty, is gathered only once every few years; each animal produces only about a pound of wool a year. A few decades ago, only a few thousand were left in the wild; fortunately, they've recovered and still thrive on the Andean plateaus.
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The Colca Canyon in Peru is the world's second deepest canyon and is known for its population of condors, the majestic birds with a wing span of ten feet. But when we went to the condor viewpoint early one bleary-eyed morning, we sat for hours (along with a few hundred other tourists) and saw barely anything--just fleeting glimpses far away. We headed back to our hotel, in some disappointment, when our sharp-eyed guide suddenly stopped our van and urged us to follow a trail to the ridge. There we discovered a dozen condors, soaring up the canyon walls, sometimes just a few feet from where we were standing. Our family of five were the only people there, and we felt very lucky to have this private viewing.
While visiting the Colca Canyon in Peru, we stayed at a hotel that was at elevation 11,000 feet--and had an amazing hot springs.
In the thin air, the view of the stars was amazing, especially as you floated in the warm waters of the hot springs late at night. This was the first time I was able to see the Milky Way in all its glory--and to be able to take a photograph of it. (This is a 30-second exposure.)