On our third day in Córdoba, we intended to reach the Quebrada del Condorito (which translates as Little Condor's Gorge), a gorge on whose walls condors can be seen from up close. The gorge and the high plateau that surrounds it at no less than 1,900 m above sea level, called Pampa de Achala, are all part of Quebrada del Condorito National Park, created in 1996. There's a project to raise condors there and repopulate the area with them.
If we'd had our way, we could've chosen the day and enjoy it to the max. But it turned out that you have to buy bus tickets in advance, or you may not get a place. So we got our tickets for Saturday morning on Thursday afternoon. It's the bus that goes along the winding road known as Camino de las Altas Cumbres (High Summits Road), crossing the Sierras Grandes range from Villa Carlos Paz (west of Córdoba City) to Mina Clavero, and we had to get off the bus midway, in a place called La Pampilla.
Well, Friday night was unbearably hot and humid, so we went to bed reviewing the precautions stated in the national park's brochures for sunny days: lots of water to drink, a light windbreaker since the wind blows strong all the time at those heights, some good sunblock, etc. An hour later, however, we heard the familiar faraway rumble of thunder, followed by a steady downpour of rain.
Come morning, there was still raining lightly. We didn't want the bus ticket money to go to waste, but even disregarding that, we would probably have no choice after this — who knows when we could get other tickets. Off we went, with the vague hope that the rain could stop and maybe even the clouds could part. We had a two-hour trip before us into an area where the weather is known to change rapidly, so it wasn't completely ridiculous to think that.
La Pampilla was just a spot along the road. We'd somehow gotten the idea that there were huge signs pointing to where the adventurous tourist was supposed to go, but no. We almost climbed over a fence on the wrong side of the road, until we spotted a sign and a path on the opposite side. We took it. It was cold (10 degrees? 5 degrees?) and there was a drizzle, and wind blowing it into our faces (I had to take off my glasses). About a mile later, shivering and dripping wet, we came to the park rangers' house. We were informed of the various dangers (including pumas) and sent on our way, with the warning that there weren't any other human-built shelters of any kind beyond that point. Yipee.
Soon we stopped feeling so cold. The landscape was soberly beautiful and the road wasn't steep. However, we were literally inside a rain cloud most of the time. By the time we reached the middle point, we were soaked all over, except where our windbreakers had (partially) protected us. We forged on. We got to the last marked spot (number 10), and there we found a sign indicating the way for the place where you could actually see the condors... 45 minutes away.
We turned back. I felt I was going to faint, and Marisa was shivering. We searched for shelter, and found a rock with a top projection that kept the wind and most of the rain from us. We took out the thermos to prepare hot mates... only to find the water had cooled off. By now it was lukewarm — we threw it over our hands to regain the sensation, and then ate our ham-and-cheese sandwiches. That was good.
We retraced our steps. Once we got disoriented and went in a circle for 15 minutes. Soon afterward, though, I sensed a change in light. The drizzle had all but stopped. I put on my glasses. The wind was blowing away the clouds, and a bit of sun was beginning to shine through. Minutes later, a patch of blue sky appeared and expanded.
We found another big boulder to cover from the wind, and took off a couple of layers of clothing, including our socks. They wouldn't dry completely, but they would get warm, as we would. We stayed there for a while, and then headed back, dead tired but uplifted. I saw many details of the landscape for the first time — I realized that before, with the wind and the rain, I'd kept my eyes fixed to the ground and all my efforts concentrated in merely walking on.
The trip was worth it. Even with the rain, the cold, and not seeing a single condor up there, we had a lot of fun.