|Much more our style.|
Where better than the old road?
So this weekend we’ve headed west. Headed left and away from our stated intentions of trying to head towards the conurbation on the Atlantic coast. We’ve headed up a hill of elongated hairpin bends, to Parque Nacional Los Condoritos, to watch the condors teaching their chicks how to fly. By definition Parques Nacionales are rustic places, so we know that the camping area will be 'walk-in', ergo, car free, power free, amp free. It’s also toilet and shower free. So the potential is there for few quiet nights.
Used as we are to early starts, we’re first off the mark, away as the sun is just broaching the horizon, on a walk of a couple of hours to a gorge in the high country. The cloud and the mist that gave us a wet night is slowly pulling out of the valleys, leaving the tussocks sprinkled with dewdrops. We’re first on to the spotting site, but white guano spattered rocks are the only evidence of activity. A want of sun has made the thermals slow to activate, so maybe our haste was misguided.
We wait and we wait. Is this another figment of the imagination, another ’you should have been here yesterday’ scenario? Then I remember the rules for iconic fauna fossicking: Rule One: take a picture of the notice board that explains why you’ve made all that effort to cycle 40kms uphill. The threat of photographs on this occasion was enough. Away to our left, a black dot is spiralling in tight turns, the ascent is fast, then another blot joins it. Then another, and another. Rule Two: initially count in single digits, then convert to herds, flocks and mountain ranges.
Slowly they float towards us. Absolutely no doubt, they’re massive. Flying surfboards, Andean condors. The Sierras de Cordoba are the appendix to the western cordilleras, the easternmost outpost of the Andes - and the condors. A range that has drifted off from the main chain, sitting in the middle of the country, surrounded by flat Pampa. An indolent, lazy bird, the condor leaves wing flapping to others, nesting on cliffs where it can launch forth and sail effortlessly out onto the thermals, climbing high with what seems like consummate ease. Of all the numerous birds that we watch, we see not one single wing flap. Now another is climbing away above us, sweeping low, crossing the sun, strafing our position with a shadow. It’s only now that I understand where we had been going wrong with our earlier identifications. ID boards at another spotting location a few weeks ago had shown distinctive areas of white on the wings. I had assumed that this would be on the under-side, an assumption I still feel to be natural, as not everybody can be an Attenborough and go condor-watching from a microlight or an aeroplane. Now we are looking down on them as they float effortlessly up the gorge into the cliff and onto their roost sites, so it’s now that we see the white banding, the positively identifying feature. It’s a display of flawless, majestic control over aeronautics, a swirling dance that turns macabre when you see pictures of them on the ground. Hooked of beak, baldy headit, scrawny neckit, hoppit gaitit, wi’ a gown o’ rumpled black feathers, the avian epitome of a Dickensian ‘school’s heedie’, or the beadle that creeps around the kirk on a Sunday morning.
|Our very best condor picture|
Fat chance. One, both or the whole menagerie of rodents dine out on our front porch, all wear hobnailed boots and eat with their mouths open. Eating out on others, for every conceivable item of ours of potential edibility has been stashed tight in roll top bags. Others are more generous and not so houseproud. Pans of part-consumed meals lie scattered around, joining the shoes, jackets and bedding hung out to dry in the rain. Maybe rain is surprising.