In the days of magic and mystery, the mighty Condor ruled the mountain tops. He was a huge, powerful bird, but he was also very lonely.

One day as he soared in the sky, he spotted a lone shepherd girl called Maria. She was watching a flock of llamas and gathering berries. He swooped down, landing behind a clump of trees and turned himself into a boy.

He walked out, calling to Maria. She had been warned never to talk to strangers, but the boy seemed harmless and she was bored. They chatted and he offered to help her gather berries. Soon her basket was overflowing with the sweet fruit.

“That’s your work done for the day,” said Condor. “Let’s play a game. I’ll carry you on my back.” He ran with Maria on his back and the two of them burst into fits of laughter.

“Now, you carry me.” he said.

“I’ll try,” she answered “I hope you are not too heavy.”

To Maria’s surprise, Condor was very light. She ran as fast as she could. She felt as if she was running so fast that her feet didn’t touch the ground. She glanced down and to her shock; she was rising into the air. Condor had turned back into a bird and his claws were holding her by the shoulders and lifting her higher and higher!

Up they soared, further and further from the ground until they reached the top of a rocky mountain. Condor carefully placed Maria in a large nest made of twigs. It was freezing cold on the mountain and mist swirled around them.

“I’ll look after you,” said Condor. But Maria shivered and tears rolled down her cheeks. The next morning, Condor flew off to get food. Maria saw to her distress that there was no way to escape. Condor arrived back carrying some raw mice; but of course Maria could not eat them.

Back in those times, hummingbirds were much larger than they are today. One of them saw Maria’s father frantically searching for her. Hummingbird flew down and offered to help. He took a rope and flew up to Condor’s nest, hiding the rope on a rocky ledge.

“The girl can only eat cooked meat,” he told Condor. “The villagers are having a barbecue today” he added. As Condor flew off to investigate, Hummingbird quickly tied the rope to a boulder and Maria climbed down the mountain.

Condor was furious when he returned and found Maria gone. He flew after Hummingbird in a fury, grabbed him in his sharp beak and tore him into 50 pieces. Soon after, Condor began to feel sharp pinprick pains in his stomach. To his horror, he saw a beak appear, then another and another. Suddenly 50 tiny hummingbirds burst out his tummy and flew off.

The little birds flew straight to the field where Maria tended her llamas. Forever after her heart was gladdened at the sight of the magnificent birds flitting from flower to flower.

(Adapted from a South American folktale)


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