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Published: October 14th 2018
We woke at 5:15 AM to prepare for our 6-6:30 AM pickup at the hotel for the ride to Ica to experience the Nazca Lines Overflight
arranged by Kaypi Peru Tours. Hotel Allpa gave us a box breakfast that included apple-peach juice, an apple, poppyseed cake, three little brioche buns with ham and cheese and we grabbed a coffee to go. Jorge, our guide for the day, met us in the lobby. There were only two of us as we climbed into the small 10 seater van with driver Paulo for our private 4 hour ride to Ica where we would catch our plane for the Nazca Line overflight. Jorge gave us another box breakfast with a meat empanada, poppyseed cake, chocolate cookie, apple-peach juice and water. The meat empanada was much better than the chicken empanada at the water park last night and an improvement on the ham and cheese sandwiches from the hotel.
Jorge was a wealth of knowledge describing the sites, culture and the trip ahead. There are 12 million people living in Lima, the capital city, and 32 million people in Peru. According to Jorge, Lima, with its coastal climate, gets only 15mm of water
the entire year except, when every 8 years, they experience an El Niño year that brings 15mm of rain per day
. Last year was the El Niño year with the rains falling in February and March.
We passed the Larcomar shopping mall with heavy haze and clouds obscuring views of the ocean, the Barranca district was inland to our left. A large electrified cross stands on the point of the The Chorrillos district, known as a fishing village. The cross was built in the 1980s when Pope John Paul II arrived. It was a time of troubles for Peru and the cross intended to symbolize peace. No matter where you go along the road to Ica there are many historical sites. We drove past the ruins of Pachacmac
and saw the remains of temples with holes cut into the side of the hill representing the entrance to ancient Ychsma dwellings.
Following the coast we continued south on the Pan American Highway
, the same route the Incas developed to connect their empire, now, connecting many countries it is the longest road in the world. As we made our way south, the coastal communities turned into
beach vacation spots. In the Chilca district people claim to have seen unexplained lights, UFOs and, although closed now for the winter, there were many roadside tourist stands that sold ice cream, souvenirs, E.T., spacemen, and everything UFO.
Not far from here is Playa Blanco, an upscale summer beach community featuring stark white homes sandwiched between hills and rocky bluffs at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. These Greek looking homes are used by people who work in Lima. Jorge laughed at my Greek reference and said it is the Peruvian Santorini.
After two hours on the road we stopped to stretch our legs and use the very clean bathrooms at the Deli-Bakery restaurant
. It reminded me of the stops we made on some of our Autogrille highway restaurants stops in Italy. The desserts looked amazing with chocolate cakes, apple caramel cakes, lemon meringue and strawberry cakes. Did I say cakes? There was the typical Peruvian food offerings like the Lomo Saltado, mashed potatoes, rice and meat and a chicken noodle soup that included a large potato and half a chicken. Jorge said the soup was about 37 Sols or $11. This restaurant, sitting
below a university astronomical observatory, had its own garden providing fresh produce for the restaurant. I stopped to photograph a man with a hose watering the vegetable beds, to me a curious but refreshing sight for a restaurant.
Jorge pointed out the archaeological site of the Huaca Centinela pre-Columbian pyramids
visible from the highway. Huaca is a ceremonial, religious and sacred place. Around 6,000 BC the Chincha people farmed cotton, corn and sweet potatoes in the desert valley, and raised alpaca, guinea pigs and dogs, but they were also known as great sailors. In the late 1400s the Inca became very interested in the extensive Chincha maritime trading network
. Pachucutec and then Manco Inca tried to conquer these people but failed. The Inca eventually convinced the Chincha to join the Inca empire in exchange for mutual trading benefits. It was then the Inca built a vast palace within the Centinela complex. This was the only site I managed to photograph from the car.
Also in Chincha Alta
is a settlement of people of color that included people brought to Peru by the Incas from Polynesia as well as former African slaves brought
by the Spanish. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl came to Callao Peru with his Kon-Tiki to prove trading and settlements transpired from Peru to Polynesia. Roadside stands advertised to this Afro-Peruvian culture with large iconic African statuary or stuffed dolls
. Later I found similar dolls for sale in the markets in Huacachina.
Further south is the district of Pisco
, known for its liqueur and wine. Pisco liqueur is distilled like brandy and is strong, similar to grapa but while grapa is made from the grape and skin, Pisco liqueur is distilled only from the grape resulting in 38-43%!a(MISSING)lcohol. Both the wine and the aperitif are too sweet for my taste. It is here that we began to see some vineyards, more agricultural areas, less palms and in the distant foggy haze we could make out the outlines of the Andes mountains.
We drove through the rambling outskirts of the city of Ica
, population of 260,000, a strong contrast to the less urban areas we have driven by for the past 4 hours. We stopped to walk around Huacachina
, a small, green palm-treed oasis surrounded by massive desert dunes located in the outskirts of Ica.
According to Jorge, legend has it that Huacay China was a beautiful princess who lost her lover and in her sadness she cried tears forming the lagoon and then in desperation turned into a mermaid who still lives in the lagoon. A statue dedicated to this sad mermaid sits overlooking the lagoon.
Several people were rowing in small thatch covered boats on the small spring fed lagoon, and on the far side people were swimming. Jorge said the water was not very clean. We walked up another street where vendors were selling touristy trinkets. I was sucked in when I saw a “Pashmina” that had many figures from the Nazca lines. For 20 Soles (around $6) I had a lovely handmade “trinket” to keep me warm. Nearby, Jorge pointed out a collection of African “Mammy” dolls
that were like those sold years ago in the states. He explained that this culture in Chincha Alta proudly collects them as they are representative of their people.
On a parallel street there is an imposing red and white hotel, Spanish influenced in its architecture, called Mossone Ica
. We walked into its beautiful courtyard with its lush tropical
plants but I was rudely told not to take any pictures inside so I simply walked out. I later found that many reviewers had similar upsetting experiences there. Too bad.
Enormous sand dunes were visible from the far side of the lagoon and while I thought we would do the sand buggy ride
after the Nazca lines, Jorge said simply “Do you want to do this?” I said yes! He said it would be an extra $75. I had thought the buggy ride was included. Things lost in translation. But we were there, it was an experience I’d never had, so I talked Dave into it. Huacachina is home to the largest sand dunes in South America so how could we pass this up? Paulo and Jorge drove us to the base operation for the dune buggy rides. We were originally told it would be just the two of us but when we were presented with an almost full buggy I said I wasn’t interested in being in the back with nothing to see. The whole operation was very confusing and we were tempted to leave but we eventually got our own buggy and were charged $70
US instead of $75. Lots more lost in translation. Note: I later read that the dune buggy rides go for about $10 (US) for two hours. Looks like we really got taken here!
I must say the ride was exhilarating, especially struggling to make it uphill through deep sand and at the crest, rocketing down with, to me, no visible path ahead. It felt like being on a roller coaster but we were skidding around in sand, not on defined tracks. Our buggy stopped for some time at the top where people were gathered with sand boards but only one person rode a board standing up and strapped in, the rest laid down head first to take the steep plunge. If I hadn’t hurt myself the night before I probably would have gotten sand in my teeth as I assume most of them did as they were alternately laughing and screaming. We roller-coasted over to another hilltop, this one overlooking the sprawling city of Ica and in the haze, the distant Andes mountains. The desert seemed endless behind us with the city of Ica sandwiched in between.
When our sand journey was over we
piled back into the van to head to the Ica airport for our overflight, originally scheduled for 1pm but as I see, timelines are not always observed, especially as concerned the sand buggy itinerary. We were ushered into a room filled with Asian people watching a Japanese movie with Chinese subtitles that was loosely about Peru, Nazca and Machu Picchu. Yes, you read that right! Jorge told us to wait and there would be a National Geographic movie about Nazca after this one was over. Our movie finally started around 1:50 and when it was half way through Jorge said we must come to get ready for our flight. We passed through security, Dave, narrowly making it after setting off alarms with his knee brace, then were ushered into another room where we waited another half hour for the plane to arrive. We waited to be escorted to the small 12 passenger MovilAir plane and finally loaded into our seats. Each seat is a window seat but I promptly changed my seat since I was unable to see through the wind strut. Dave chose to stay put near the pilot but sacrificed his view to be better able to hear.
We were soon aloft flying south over the arid desert and mountain terrain below to see the Nazca Lines,
designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site
As we learned from Jorge, and what part of the movie we could see, the animals represent figures of fertility on the ground. Many of the ancient Nazca geoglyphs were created using poles and a series of strings to “measure” areas to be cleared of rocks and topsoil which would reveal the lighter colored sand beneath that would define the shapes. The lines are only 5 inches deep and these little valleys and warm air are said to protect the lines from strong winds, but I wonder. Still, there they remain after being exposed to the desert elements for over 2,000 years. The jungle animals depicted here show that there was communication with the people far north in the Amazon jungle. The coastal people were great fishermen so the whale is representative of that enterprise.
These ancient people created aqueducts near the Nazca Lines. It was hard work living as an agrarian society in the dessert. Water was needed to support crops and the lives of the
people. Building these line drawings was hot work in the dry desert so the location of the aqueducts “near” the lines was prudent. But near is relevant. Even flying in a plane from figure to figure it was easy to see how far they were from each other by foot.
The pilot said he would make two passes for each of the twelve figures so that people on each side of the plane could get a good look. The opportunities he gave were so quick and the plane so bouncy that it was very difficult to get a decent shot, and for some, no photo option at all. Moving from side to side across the two empty seats, I was able to photograph and make out many of the shapes but I also saw lots of mysterious lines and triangles, trapezoids, spirals and confusing arrows, zig-zags and wavy lines. We were given a map of 17 shapes
to guide us as we peered through the plane windows on this route, however this is a small representation of the over 70 animals and plants, some of which measure up to 1,200 feet long! In April of this year
Peruvian archaeologists discovered 50 new geoglyphs using drone technology.
I will say going in the morning is probably better than the middle of the day or afternoon as we did because the light and morning winds are supposed to be much better. I will say the sun’s shadows helped define the lines but as we were leaving around 3:30 PM the haze made the landscape less clear. And if anyone is prone to airsickness, I would suggest taking dramamine since there were several scrambles for those necessary bags after we landed.
With my passport stamped (it seems you need your passport everywhere in Peru) and our certificate of accomplishment in hand, we left for lunch. Jorge took us to the La Olla de Juanita
restaurant located on a narrow road called the Ruta del Pisco
filled with tasting rooms from nearby vineyards. La Olla de Juanita restaurant was an open air restaurant attached to a tasting room. We ate first. We both had cream of asparagus soup with Parmesan cheese and the classic Peruvian dish pollo saltado (resembling an Asian fusion version of a Peruvian dish of sautéed chicken with onions and tomatoes, rice,
and the now ubiquitous French fries). We washed it down with a glass of delicious passion fruit juice. The restaurant was nearly empty at 4:30 PM. I wouldn’t say it was terrible but it was not the nouvelle cuisine of Peru. After lunch we moved next door to the Tres Generacions La pureza del Pisco
tasting room. We tasted Pisco liqueurs, wines and a coffee cream. All too sweet for my taste but nice to try.
By around 5 PM we were on our way north to Lima for another 4 hour drive passing the same arid landscapes followed by irrigated farmland and then the beach areas south of Lima. Having gotten our own private van and drivers made for a very safe and convenient trip. We were able to keep cameras or iPads, jackets or other apparel locked safely inside the van with Paulo nearby avoiding having to carry things that became unnecessary to have. Plus I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anywhere in Peru. These drivers, city or highway, are worse than those in China or Italy!
On our return to Lima as desert gave way to agriculture we passed vineyards, and
fields with bags of onions with bright orange skins. Refineries and protected wetlands, enclosed chicken coops with tightly packed chickens inside, and finally the center for UFOs ( we didn’t see any) followed by the surf of the Pacific seashore came into view. And then the allergies began in earnest with stinging eyes, sneezes and stuffy nose. It’s winter/springtime in Peru.
We got back to the Hotel Allpa tired and cold. The maid service had remade the bed and had left the windows open. We tried to turn the heater on but the batteries were dead. To warm up we decided to go out for hot tea at Cafe Cafe
two blocks down the street from our hotel. What a fun place. Two men were playing Peruvian Andes pipe music outside but it was warmer inside so that’s where we went. I ordered rooibos tea with pineapple and coconut served with a piece of chocolate. Dave got a coffee with milk and his piece of chocolate. Soup was warm so that’s what we ordered. Mine was zucchini pumpkin, which I loved. Dave ordered the chupe, a Peruvian fish soup served with a fried egg on top and he was not impressed. Sated and tired we walked back to our hotel at 10:30 PM and called it a night (or a very long day and night).
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