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Day of the Condor

Condor at Cruz del Condor

Condor at Cruz del Condor

As I promised you, here is one of my photos of the condors at Cruz del Condor in the State of Arequipa. We were standing on the south side of Colca Canyon at a place that is famous for its thermals, which the condor population uses in the mornings as if it were an elevator to reach maximum altitude with minimum effort.

Because I do not have a super-telephoto lens that weighs half a ton, I had to enlarge the condor in this image. Even when they’re rising on a thermal, condors are lightning fast—at the same time that they are gigantic. The Andean condor has a wingspan of up to 10½ feet. Curiously, there are larger birds: the Southern Royal Albatross and the Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans, whose span can be as much as a foot longer.

Still, it is the condor that captures the imagination of South Americans. I’ll never forget seeing my first ones in Argentina in 2011, while Martine and I were taking a bus from El Calafate to Puerto Banderas to see the glaciers on Lago Argentino. Then, too, there is that most pervasive of songs, “El Condor Pasa,” a zarzuela composed by the Peruvian Daniel Alomia Robles in 1913 and popularized by Simon and Garfunkel in their Bridge Over Troubled Water album. If you’re not familiar with the tune, click here. In Lima, at the Palacio de Gobierno, I even saw a Peruvian military band goose-stepping to the music as they played it.

Paintings of archangels done by the Quechua painters of the Cusco School of Art are wearing the wings of mature condors, which are two-toned.

We in California have our own condors, which we are trying desperately to save from extinction. I saw a couple of them once at the Santa Barbara Zoo (below) looking very disconsolate from their extended captivity.

California Condors at Santa Barbara Zoo

California Condors at Santa Barbara Zoo

God knows they are not the most beautiful of creatures, but they come close to being among the most magnificent.