10/05 – 11/05 2010 Piscoed in Peru

Our departure at 4am wasn’t a pleasant one, especially since I had been woken up at 1.30am by some drunken idiot trying to get into my room. The NZ lot had had the same problem the night before but the guy repeated the deed completely sober the next day! I don’t think it was the same guy, but there’s no accounting for intelligence.

We pass a lot of people scavenging through bins as we leave Lima and as the sun begins to rise, it highlights grey sand beaches and an extraordinary amount of litter adorning the countryside and the roadside. They are mining a lot of the sand from the beaches and I think this has had a large impact on the state of them and it is possible that they were nice at some point. Apparently, a lot of natural gas is also being piped through this region and then exported out to Mexico. We drive through a lot of dusty towns full of stray dogs (but they all look well looked after), more plastic but the people are all dressed very colourfully. Our guide tells us that there is an African community living here and they are descended from the slaves that the Spanish first brought over in the 16th century.

Our next stop is the Ballastas on the Paracas peninsula to take a trip to the islands by speedboat to see the sea lions, cormorants, Peruvian ‘bobbies’ and penguins. The islands are reached from the town of Pisco, which was founded in 1640 by the Spanish but the town suffered extensive damage and loss of life in the 2007 earthquake. I have never seen so many birds before and think this is where Hitchcock must have got his inspiration from (R – you would have hated it!). As you can imagine, the place honks and apparently they collect 10,000 tons of guano annually and then sell it for $1 per kilo (some lucky sods come and stay on the island for a month to collect the Peruvian poo and in my mind, this has to rate as one of the crappiest jobs in world)

The sun comes out and it’s quite warm and we continue our journey to the small oasis town of Ica to take a buggy ride over the dunes (again, littered with plastic) and to do some ‘sand’ boarding down the dunes – it’s great fun. After lunch, we visit a small Pisco factory and sample of their produce, including one that is 46% proof. It is Peruvian liquor that is distilled from grapes and was brought to Peru by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century.

Our next stop is just outside the town of Nazca to see the sunset over two of the Nazca lines and once we check into our hotel, we head off to the local planetarium to see a documentary on the Nazca lines and the German woman who dedicated her life to solving them, Maria Reiche. It’s all very interesting but most of us are exhausted by this point and after a quick dinner, it’s off to bed.

Tuesday starts off with a light aircraft flight over the Nazca lines and it makes me feel very ill because of the sharp turns and small space.Still, the lines are fascinating (although the cynic in me thinks they may be more modern!) The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert of Peru. They have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 kilometres (50 mi) between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 200 BCE and 700 CE. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds (97 m), spiders (46 m), monkeys (90 m), fish, sharks or orcas (65 m), llamas, and lizards.

It takes me a while to regain my composure in time for our 3.5 hour drive to Puerto on the Pan American Highway via the Chauchilla cemetery. For many years the Chauchilla cemetery was looted by treasure hunters, who destroyed the place completely, taking away all the treasures the mummies kept in their tombs for centuries. Grave robbers just left behind the corpses, which can be seen today all over the ground. In addition to skulls and bones, you can see several tombs centuries’ old, as well as long human hairs, ceramic fragments and others remains scattered on the dessert surface. It is the only archaeological site in Peru, in which ancient mummies are seen in their original graves, along with ancient artefacts, dating back to 1000 AD. Sadly, it is not being looked after properly and the mummies are open to the elements and will probably all disintegrate over the couple of decades or so.

We continue our journey along the litter lined Pan American Highway to our overnight stop of Puerto Inca, a beach resort. Along the way we pass villages were people are drying out seaweed and this area is also rich in copper and gold. We have a pleasant night sitting around the fire, watching the stars and drinking beers and myself and the Kiwis stay up until 1.30am and drink too much Pisco....

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