Monday, July 08, 2013


 condor en vuelo


When the invitation arrived for the last blogtrip to La Rioja I could not stop smiling. The sighting of condors in the Quebrada del Cóndor was the first point of the route to be revealed. I was so happy, but what followed was even more interesting. The motto that La RIoja province was keen on promoting was "a return to the origins". I imagined -and then checked- that they were referring to the red walls of Talampaya and its prehistoric fossils. In my heart, however, I was preparing for a reunion with other kind of origins. Origins for me are not just a matter of time, but an attitude that undresses the scabs do not need. Every traveler needs those other sources: freedom, simplicity and serenity. The recent trip to often overlooked La Rioja province put me face to face with all three ...

Many times I receive mails asking for tips from  first time travelers. They consult for brands or budgets,  backpacks best suited for a particular country, etc. As I don`t want to sound like Mr. Miyagi I answer those specific questions and I shy the rest...which is the main thing: without these three sources no trip will flourish. Freedom is the main one, and the condor is the best metaphor.

But can you see condors in La Rioja? I have to admit I knew nothing about the existence of the Quebrada del Condor Nature Reserve. The five bloggers of La Rioja BT actually wondered if the place would not be pure myth as darkness enveloped the van that brought us from the airport of La Rioja. Condors did not appear anywhere. We traveled almost 200 km south from La Rioja capital and arrived at Angel Vicente Penaloza Department. Asphalt greeted with a white handkerchief in Tama, where we take a detour to Pacatala gravel. From there we started to follow different rural roads, climb the Sierra de los Quinteros up to 1,010 meters. I noticed with pleasure that our driver was lost. That meant it was not a place of passage, and that nature that awaited us had other priorities that proper road signs. There are places out there that deserve them.

posta los condores

desayunos hospedajes rurales

                                                   Ordering my notes at the hotel

We were so tired that it was a relief to see that we were waiting in the hotel Posta The Condors. It was one of those rustic isolated rural lodgings all decorated with wagon wheels, plows, mud and lots of stone. In our room the fire sizzled with burning coals. In the dining room, a shelf with books in English tells us that international tourism is already aware of this paradise and do not mind at all the lack of wifi or cell signal: the connection offered is of another kind. This contact happened the next morning.

finca las higueras

The tansfer left us on a path where we walked half an hour. You need to have good shoes to overcome stones and thorns pepper trees and giant cactus, but it is a very low-level terrain which difficulty is suitable for all ages.

cactus gigantes

The Quebrada del Condor is a canyon several hundred feet deep, with Chocallo River shaking at its bottom. Here we stand, right at the edge of the unfathomable precipice . In vertical walls the condors had their rookeries and nests. That is, we were higher than their nests, and saw them whirling up from below! sometimes one, sometimes in groups. The quality of the sighting was outstanding, one of the few places in the world where a human can be at less than 10 meters away. Instinctively I took my camera ...

The show starts suddenly and with the entire orchestra. There was no time for explanations preamble as three condors flew not far from our heads. We could not believe it! Also instictively, I shed a tear at the bottom as if the condor and I had been old acquaintances, as if they had something  in common with me and with all travelers.

I want to share the pictures I took without too many words because I was silent, huddled next to Lau in the rocky canyon rim, watching the sky and nothing else.

condores volando en grupo
                                                     Some glided in search of the sun

pareja de condores

                                            Some liked to soar together...

The condors get to have a wingspan of 3 meters and are the second largest bird in the world, after thewandering albatross (3.50 meters) that we had seen in Antarctica. They were, until recently, pursued by the stallholders and locals, mostly goat breeders. There is a myth that rural condors feed on newborn goats, and some even say that they have been sighted to take one in its claws. The problem is that condors do not have claws to hunt! They are scavengers that feed on rodents unfortunate enough or on the wastes of pumas. The situation reminded me crowned eagles in the province of La Pampa and the brave volunteers who raise awareness about preservation. Here in La Rioja, stallholders before shooting into the sky now guide tourists to point their telephoto lenses. All happy.

dique de olta

                                                        Sunset was a show.

atardeceres espectaculares

                                                           No credit card can pay this.


How to get there:

Where to stay: Posta Los Cóndores, 22 km south of Pacatala, 44 km south of Tama. To date 7/2013, $ 790 (u$s 1 = 5.40 pesos) double room with full board. They organize trips to the two condor sighting spots  ($ 140 and $ 220 by horseback) and have options for trekking, rappelling and zip line with prior notice. Go by reservation.

Backpackers: no hostels or campsites. I can only think the option of renting a car for the day or hitching a ride with other tourists. Independent travelers can hire an excursion to the condor from the inn even if they don`t take a room.

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