Saturday, May 24, 2014

Soaring with Condors at Quebrada del Condorito National Park, Argentina

It didn't take much time for Sergio, Karin, and I to realize we were great travel partners. We capitalized on each others company by taking a day trip to the Quebrada del Condorito National Park. It is a public national park, complete with a tourist center, but apparently not very touristic because getting there was not all that straight forward. 

We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. There was not a house or trail in sight. What had we just gotten ourselves into? We took a gamble and started walking left. After we turned the corner, a dirt road emerged on the side of the highway. Deciding this road must lead to the park, we locked arms, and started skipping in unison, as we were off to see the wonderful Wizard of OZ. Twenty minutes later we saw a sign for the park entrance, and almost cried with relief. Another twenty minutes later we found the tourist center complete with a playground, maps, water, and bathrooms. Now we were prepared for anything.

The main trail is 10km long, and then diverges to two view points. The second view point added an extra hour to the hike and crossed a river. We were very excited to see the river, and maybe a couple condors. While we were walking, it became clear we were the only ones in the park. The trail snaked along the top of the canyon, sneaking past boulders, and splitting fields in half. We found a sign preparing visitors for the dangerous wildlife, poisonous snakes and panthers. Apparently, if you encounter a panther, you should act as if you have seen a bear or a mountain lion, and make yourself as loud and big as possible. As for the snakes, we were instructed to leave our injured friemd laying down in the middle of the path with the bitten body part elevated, while the other person ran for medical help. Lets just say, I was a good kid, and stayed on the path.

At the end of the first 10km, we found a sign differentiating the paths. We wanted to go to the river for lunch, and weren't too fussed to visit the view points. The descent to the river was poorly marked, and we let Karin, our Swiss mountaineering guide, lead the way; when in the mountains, do what the Swiss do. We ate our ham, cheese, and butter sandwiches riverside, but this time without beer. The rocks were warm to the touch, and, after finishing off the sandwiches and Sergio's chocolate, we settled in for a little sun nap. Unfortunately, the sun didn't last and the cold wind woke us up. The rest of the trail went up the giant cliff to our left, and our food coma bodies did not liked the idea of finishing this hike. Sergio, and Karin left the decision of our next destination up to me. I think they assumed I, the slowest walker (also still sick), would let them off the hook and decide to go home, but I have been eating too much meat, and my tummy wanted the extra work out.

While Sergio and I stopped after the first five minutes of the hike to shed layers and apply sunscreen, Karin continued on, and I didn't see her again. I have never been so bad at hiking. This was probably the slowest I have ever walked uphill. Sergio gave up waiting for me, and continued on as well. I was immediately regretting my decision to scale the second hill. When I finally reached the top, I was coughing and my vision blurry, but I was greeted by some friendly yelling, "Thank you! This is amazing!"

I drank some water, cleared my vision, and finally saw where I was, a balcony at the tallest part of the canyon. Below me soared baby condors, learning to fly with the wind currents. Then their parents showed up, and almost knocked us off the cliff, maybe they were hungry. You could see the whites around their head and between their wings. They were on top of us, next to us, between us, and below us. We were in their playground. Just us. There was not a soul in sight, beside these giants. We stood there for almost an hour, watching them float through the canyon. I cannot describe their power. Watching them was one of the most amazing sensations I have ever experienced. I had conquered Argentina; I could go home now.  

When we finally did tear ourselves away from them and head back, we were running on euphoria. We tumbled down that hill, stopping every ten minutes to confirm with each other what we had seen had in fact been real. The happiness brought out Sergio's sense of humor, and he was throwing out puns right and left, like little punches. Then he jumped to the top of a boulder, with his arms in the air, "Attention!"

Standing below him, I stopped and let him continue with his speech, "My fellow hikers, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country."

I applauded my new found Spanish Kennedy. The air squished between my palms echoed through the canyon, and Sergio saluted me before jumping back off the boulder.

Back at the tourist station we rehydrated our bodies, and learned the next bus wasn't for another three hours. We ventured back to the dirt road, and then to the paved highway. We sat on the concrete border meant to prevent speeding cars from falling off the cliff, and attempted to hitch hike. We had collected a Chilean at the tourist center who also wanted to hitch hike out of here, as it was becoming very cold, and none of us wanted to sit there for the next three hours. We traded chocolate, danced to our iphone playlists, and continually added more layers to fight the cold. When I went to put on my warm jacket, I found my water had spilled, and the down was now flat and wet. The need for a ride, was becoming dire.

After I all but gave up, a truck stopped. Not a pick up truck, but a full on transport vehicle filled with pallets, cold metal walls, and no windows. Karin and I were invited to sit with the driver, and experienced the luxuries of seat belts, and windows, while the boys were smuggled back into Cordoba in the dark. As the ride progressed, Karin did most of the Spanish conversing, but one point of conversation kept cropping up, Tinder. Apparently, this young man had recognized me from the popularized dating app. I had added the app on my phone to find English speakers in rural Argentina, and to practice my Spanish, not quite the same reason he was using Tinder. It was a bit of an awkward ride back into town, but, hey, at least Tinder kept us from freezing to death on the side of the road. 


  1. Watching eagles from your boat at Medicine Lake and fledglings at the ravine of the little condor. You're building quite the resume, Alana!

  2. It's really nice that you are keeping this blog, allowing us to share in your experiences. Like walking into a nest of condors. That's really something.

  3. What a tale! I'm happy you're documenting all of this. No one else in the world can claim they watched flying Condors and then were questioned about their profile on Tinder - you should write a novel.