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Published: November 12th 2014
Very early on Sunday morning, four of us met in the hotel lobby with our bags – Cristina (the tour guide), Carol (from Adelaide), Barry (from Sydney) and myself. Our transport arrived on time, but to our surprise it wasn’t a van or minibus, but an SUV. As we will be spending nearly three weeks on the tour, and most of us were spending time elsewhere, we had a lot of luggage. It only just managed to squeeze into the boot, and then we all had to squeeze into the car. Needless to say, none of us were impressed. Cristina apologised profusely and said that she would see what the tour company can do. However, it was before 6am on a Sunday so nothing was going to be done today.
We left Lima and due to the early start, the traffic was light. We had a four hour drive ahead of us to the coastal town of Paracas. The drive was uneventful and we arrived in time for our boat tour out to the Ballestas Islands which are just off the Paracas peninsula. The Islands are apparently called the Peruvian Galapagos. As this was an optional activity, Cristina
wasn’t with us and we joined a regular tourist boat. The first destination was a carving of a cactus on the side of a mountain facing the water. It is similar to the more famous Nasca Lines, and is similarly mysterious.
From the cactus we continued out to the islands. The islands are a wildlife sanctuary and features thousands of birds including blue-footed boobies, pelicans and Humboldt Penguins. Being birds, they naturally cover the islands in crap. However, due to the richness of the bird’s diets the crap is actually guano and used to be harvested there in great quantities. Now it is harvested in much smaller quantities because it is important to the ecosystem of the islands. The islands are also a popular for sea-lions to sunbathe. Because of all those things, the smell was terrible! We darted around the islands with lots of photo opportunities.
We headed back to land and jumped back in the car. We continued on to another place that I can’t remember the name of, where we had a small tour of the traditional Pisco-making equipment. Nowadays they only use the traditional equipment during a festival in March.
At the end of the tour we had some sampling of Pisco in various guises. One was pure Pisco, one was mixed with a sweet wine they also produce, one was a pre-mix for Pisco Sour and another was a mix that included milk and tasted a lot like Bailey’s. I liked the Pisco Sour pre-mix the best.
We had lunch there and continued on to our destination for the night – Nasca. Along the way we stopped at a watchtower near a couple of the Nasca Line images. Although the tower looked a bit rickety, it was solid enough for us to climb to the top and view the “Hands” and the “Tree”. They were pretty cool to see, but Cristina said they are not the most impressive ones. For that reason the three of us were going for an optional flight over the lines in the morning.
We got back in the car and headed into Nasca. The hotel was out of the city of Nasca so we stopped for supplies (Monday was going to be a 10 hour drive to Arequipa) and we had to visit the flight company to get
weighed. With all that done, we headed to the hotel. The hotel looked lovely on the outside – a beautiful hacienda-style building. My room was a little disappointing, and wifi didn’t work in the room. However, we weren’t going to be there long because we would be leaving early in the morning. Dinner at the restaurant was fantastic though, probably the second best Carbonara I have ever eaten.
Another early start on Monday. We had a basic breakfast at the hotel before the tour flight company picked us up. There were a couple of busloads of German tourists staying at the hotel and one of them was with us for the flight. She didn’t seem interested in talking with us though, so I guess she didn’t speak English.
The airport at Nasca was fairly basic, but very busy. The sole purpose of the airport is for flight tours over the Nasca lines. There looked to be about six companies offering flights and Cristina said each company has flights go every hour, so it’s a busy place. Before too long though we had paid our taxes, gone through security and boarded our plane. Clever me
managed to hit his head on the plane wing mere moments after being told to watch said head, so I have a small bump on there. The plane was a six-seater and we had a pilot, co-pilot/tour guide, the German tourist, Carol, Barry and me.
Once up in the air, it was a very short time before we saw the first geoglyph – a whale. In order for us to see each of the images from both sides of the plane we had to do some pretty tight turns, which was exciting. But we flew over each of the big images and I got lots of photos. As we were flying near the hummingbird, we crossed over the road we had driven down the day before and saw a semi-trailer truck on its side. It must have happened during the night or early in the morning because we hadn’t seen it and there were police walking around. Anyway, the flight was pretty awesome and well worth the US$100 because you just can’t see them properly from the ground. They also cover a huge distance – 500km2
Once we landed it was straight into
the car for the ten hour drive to Arequipa. In the end, it took closer to 12. Along the way we stopped to try some local olives – well, I didn’t because I don’t like them. The drive was along the coast for most of the way and there was some very spectacular scenery. It was all desert pretty much, but there were plenty of windy roads and cliffs. The most exciting event was having the rear tyre explode on the car. Thankfully it was on a straight stretch of road, away from the cliffs. We weren’t sure if there was something on the road or if it was just something wrong with the tyre. But we all agreed that 5 adults plus a lot of luggage probably wasn’t helping. Our driver, with some help from Barry, got the spare on in pretty good time and we were soon on our way. When we stopped for lunch, the driver went and got all 4 tyres plus the spare replaced which was a relief.
We then continued on, leaving the coast for the climb up the mountains. The drive was pretty uneventful until we got to Arequipa. Through
a combination of roadworks and general Peruvian city traffic, it took a long time to get into the centre of the city. We got to the hotel at about 7:30, but Cristina then told us we were doing better than her last group who didn’t arrive until 4:30am because of a landslide. I am not surprised she didn’t tell us that before! Anyway, we all retired to our respective rooms, thoroughly exhausted.
In the morning we met in the lobby of our hotel for a walking tour of Arequipa. Unfortunately Barry had been ill for most of the night so he didn’t join us. For the tour, we had a local guide Maria. Fortunately we were no longer travelling in the car and have a van for the next portion of the tour. First stop was a highpoint of the city where we could see some of the farmland near the city, three nearby mountains and a view of Arequipa.
After a short talk and some photos we hopped back into the van and went to another part of the city. Here we got out for a walk around some of the older building
of Arequipa, made from the volcanic stone found nearby. We had a quick look at a nearby church then stopped for a taste of a local delicacy – Queso Helado. It is a sort of ice-cream flavoured with cinnamon and tastes awesome! I bought a small cup to eat and we hopped back into the van to head to the main square.
We had a look around the main square and then headed into a church that was originally built by the Jesuits before they were kicked out. It was nice, but nothing spectacular. The highlight was the small chapel with all the walls painted and the small dome. Of course, that was the only area you weren’t allowed to photograph. We then headed back to the square and into the Cathedral. There Carol and I were shown around by a guide from the Cathedral. While the cathedral is pretty new, it was quite nice. The museum was the most impressive part, although you weren’t allowed to take photos in there either. Some of the items were spectacularly made, and would be worth a fortune. A lot of precious stones, gold and silver went into making them.
From the museum we climbed up to the roof which took more effort than normal thanks to the altitude of Arequipa. The bells and the tower were pretty cool, as was the view.
Next we headed to a nearby convent. Again Carol and I were left with a guide from the convent. It was a really nice place and I had hoped to get some great photos, although I don’t think they turned out as well as I hoped. The convent has been repainted in the original colours, a really nice blue, a red or just white. The tour was very interesting though and we could visit approximately 85% of the convent. The nuns nowadays confine themselves to a small portion during the day when visitors are there because they maintain their tradition of seclusion.
From there we left Maria and Cristina, Carol and I had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Carol and I tried a Peruvian dish called Causa, which is kind of like a mashed potato sandwich. The mashed potato was made from potato, lime juice and salt and layered around a filling of chicken, egg, avocado and tomato. And that was
pretty much it for Arequipa. Because of the altitude the tour doesn’t pack a full day. That was fine by me and I went back to my hotel room and relaxed for the afternoon.
Tomorrow we head off for Colca Canyon which is at a higher altitude. Hopefully we see some condors there!
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