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Published: November 26th 2014
We passed through Puno en route to Arequipa.
I found Puno to be a bit uninspiring. As Peru's most famous lakeside town, I was surprised that they lived with their back to Lake Titicaca. The land becomes more industrialised as you move from the town centre towards the shore.
The main point of interest around here are the floating islands, made of bound reeds, on which indigenous people used to live to avoid marauding enemies.These days they are subject to marauding tour groups.
Arequipa is Peru's second largest city and the dusty outskirts do not look particularly welcoming. However, as usual, the colonial city centre provides a pleasant focus for visitors. The main plaza is quite large and is flanked along one edge by a beautiful cathedral. A fair number of old buildings survive, some of them occupied by banks that allow you to enter and have a wander around. One had a display of Peruvian currency through the ages. I learned that there was an Anglo-Peruvian bank in the 1860's, one of the first private banks to circulate paper money in Peru.
We passed a couple of weeks
here. In addition to all the churches and museums, we came across the local prison and the depot where the municipal cleaning operatives leave their wheeli-bins at night.
A short walk uphill from the centre from the centre brings you to a church-bound plaza with nice views over the city and across to the local volcanoes, the chief of which is called El Misti.
A perfectly conical volcano, El Misti is not close enough to dominate the atmosphere of the city, but well within range to wipe out the population with a pyroclastic surge, should it be so inclined.
Despite my efforts, it was not possible to get a decent photo of the cathedral in the foreground with a volcano looming behind it.
We descended to Nasca, another area where ancient people have left their mark in perpetuity. The famous Nasca Lines stretch across the rocky desert, sending their unintelligible messages to the Gods.
I arranged to take a look at them in a light aircraft.
For some reason, I was under the impression that I liked going up in small planes.
When I went parachuting many years ago the near vertical acceleration of the plane was more exciting than the drifting back to Earth. (There was, of course, a briefly terrifying bit in between, and my misjudgment of the final ground rush led to 3 years of troublesome back pain).
I waited for the call in the small terminal, and was then led out to the Cessna with 4 other dudes. After the preamble, we were allocated our seats in the pint-sized plane. Sitting just above floor level, my knees were about level with my shoulders and spread either side of the guy in front. The pilot closed the window and took off in a disappointingly pedestrian manner until we were between sun and desert in a shiny tin can.
Almost immediately the other dudes became active, twisting in their seats to poke their lenses at the windows. The burly German next to me leaned across, not satisfied with his own window, while the Israeli in front turned back and forth, not caring that his arm was scraping along my leg.
For some reason, I have an aversion to being touched by
men in confined spaces, and I began to gip.
The pilot began shouting ' Look, Look, there,there, it's the monkey/hummingbird/astronaut!' and they all writhed around, trying to get the best shot.
By the end of the first five minutes my stomach had crept up my oesophagus and was now gingerly questioning my uvula: 'Can I come out yet?'.
I focused on the horizon, but hell, I had paid 80 dollars for this, so I pointed my camera in the general direction of the sights and clicked away. I would be able to blow up the photo's later.
The flight lasted for 30 minutes. For 20, by inner voice was pleading 'please let it end'. I was concentrating on the horizon, breathing, and maintaining digestive integrity. Sod those antediluvian terrestrial cryptographers.
Finally we landed. I let the others get out first in case my legs let me down.
That evening we bumped into the Israeli dude. He seemed rather indifferent. Perhaps he would have been more cordial had he realised the effort that went into saving him from an acidified back wash.
The town of Nasca is agreeably bland. Unusually for somewhere in the middle of a desert, I was assured that there are no water supply problems even though it might only rain for 10 minutes a year.
We were pleased at the departure of the symptoms of living at altitude for the past 8 months (bloody snot, and lots of it, if you must know).
You might imagine an oasis as being an isolated refuge far out in the desert. Well, one exists only 4 kilometres from the centre of the city of Ica.
We got off the bus and into a taxi and within 5 minutes the driver was telling us: 'It's behind this dune.' The road curled around the bottom of an immense sand dune and we were in the settlement of Huacachina.
At its centre there is a large brown pond and an appropriate handful of palm trees. Mountainous sand dunes encircle the location, probably 50 metres tall.
It is not really an unspoiled idyll though. A concrete path around the lake was added in the 1930's, along with some grandiose accommodations,
now dilapidated. There were some more modern additions and, in retrospect, we wished we had stayed in one of these.
It seems strange to me that this oasis has been here for at least a hundred years, possibly much more. Whatever happened to shifting sands?
I climbed up to the ridge of a dune for sunset. There was a magnificent view of rolling dunes into the distance, with the oasis beneath. A bit special.
Pisco is a drab town between Ica and Lima. There was a serious earthquake here in 2007, and the effects can still be seen around the town. The condemned church on the town plaza stands as a fractured reminder.
Thankfully, the touristic village of Paracas is only a short drive down a coastal road of aromatic fish processing factories.
Bottom end accommodation here consists of tightly packed chalets, although in this case I am not entirely sure of the distinction between 'chalets' and B&Q garden sheds. However, ours was clean and had a proper floor so would be fine for a night or two.
a destination for boat trips to the Ballestas Islands. We were surprised to find that a couple of thousand tourists descend on the village every morning for this activity. Where do they all come from?
We joined the throng one morning. Large speed boats each jet 40 people out to the islands to observe the activities of the sea lions and 20 species of birds that make these rocky outcrops their home. A pleasant couple of hours for nature lovers.
In the 1800's, these islands were the focal point of a Peruvian economic boom, and the remains of the docks and loading equipment can still be seen.
Having been home to millions of birds for millions of years, by the 1800's the landmass of these (and other) islands was covered by considerable amounts of guano, 10 to 20 metres in depth. An industrialising Britain was prepared to pay top dollar for this supercharged fertiliser, and so an industry was born.
Not content with having purloined all the Peruvian gold 300 years before, in 1864 Spain invaded the guano islands in a last hurrah for imperialism. A war was
waged and the Peruvians regained control of their guano. This is not to be sniffed at, as guano exports became the mainstay of the Peruvian economy for a few years until boom turned to bust. Between 1840 to 1880, Peru sold around 20 million tons of guano, at the rate of hundreds of thousands of tons per year, mostly to Great Britain. Peru earned about 2 billion dollars in profit.
The government used the guano as collateral for loans, but then the Germans invented the Haber process for making fertiliser and the bottom fell out of the market.
Pelicans are apparently docile birds, they abound along this section of coast. Linda was sidleing up to have her photo taken with one on a wall when he took a dislike to her and engulfed her face in his open beak. It was all over in a flash but he lacerated her tissue-like skin in several places.
We rushed back to our 'chalet' to stem the flow of blood and douse the wounds with copious amounts of alcohol-based hand sanitiser. We don't know what nasties lurk in a pelicans craw, but no infections materialised and she healed
in only a few weeks:-)
We spent those weeks by the beach.
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