Lima, the Ballestas Islands and Nazca Lines

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November 13th 2007
Published: November 18th 2007
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From Huanchaco we travelled to Lima, an eight hour driving day, stopping off at 2 pre inca sites - Sechin (a 10km square complex built between 1700-1300BC) and Paramonga (a fortress built out of mud bricks overlooking the pacific).

We arrived in Lima to be greeted by a grey mist or fog that drifts in from the sea and hangs over the city. It took a good hour to reach to centre through mile after mile of shantytowns - this is a result of the displacement of refugees after the earthquakes in the past few years. They are people still living in tents by the roadside which is a bit of a sobering sight.

We stayed in Lima´s old town which is famous for the balconies on the colonial buildings - there is a strong moorish influence as the Spanish brought over a lot of black workers to construct their buildings. We did the usual sightseeing plus the museums of the Inquisition (I couldn´t understand any of the writing but you just know when something is painful!) and Peru´s gold museum, which is of the "lets have ten artefacts when actually two would do" school of museums, but was still very good. The other main area in Lima is Miraflores, which is very reminicent of Monaco with expensive hotels and shops overlooking a spectacular bay. A good place for dinner and drinks. Lima was the place we tried Pisco sours, Peru´s national drink, which is a cocktail made out of Pisco (a colourless brandy or spirit made out of grapes), lemon juice, sugar, egg white and ground cinnamon.

One of the highlights of the trips so far has been the taxi drives. Heading back into town from Miraflores, our driver had to ask for our fare mid-journey after he had filled up the petrol tank to the same amount (he wouldn´t actually have made it otherwise). He then proceeded to park up five minutes later on the narrowest of hard shoulders (maybe 2m wide) on the three lane motorway into town so that he could add water to the radiator that had overheated but only after had had removed the padlock from the bonnet. We felt he deserved a tip after that. Some other people in our group had a taxi driver who had just bought a new phone and kept turning round to test the camera on it (is that in the highway code?).

On leaving Lima we travelled to Nazca, famous for the Nazca lines, stopping off on the way to donate the clothes and other items we had bought with our charity fundraising (the Movember beard contest and the i-pod challenge) to victims of the earthquakes.

N.B. The i-pod challenge is where the first ten random tracks on shuffle of each contestant´s i-pod is voted on by the rest of the truck. Whilst I helped devise the competition, I didn´t actually take part because I was too inept to actually upload any songs on my MP3 player before I left.

However, the competitive spirit on tour has continued, as I´ve entered into another bet. One of the girls is giving up all junk food for a month, which I said she couldn´t do. If she succeeds then I am taking her out for dinner (and to be honest with an incentive like that I can´t see how she can fail). For those of you who were wondering I am still managing to eat vaste amounts of food, particularly meat. Last nights effort was the triology - 300g of ostrich, alpaca and steak. Hmmmmmmm.

Another highlight of the tour was our visit to the Ballestas Islands, on outcrop of rocks which are home to thousands of birds (including penguins), sea lions and other sea life like crabs and starfish. We took speed boats out to view the Islands but naturally ours ran out of gas about 100m from the jetty when we got back. One of the group compared me to the Sea Lions because they just appear to lie around all day on the rocks getting fatter but I thought that was a bit harsh. The Islands were highly prized for their guano (a polite term for bird shit) and were once 80-100m taller than they are now (that´s a lot of shovelling).

On the same day, we stopped off to do some dune buggying and sand boarding. It was just amazing. The adventure sports guys don´t care about over-protecting the equipment, just having fun, so our driver let rip up these massive dunes and the experience was like being in a rollercoaster. I was initially sceptical about sand boarding (as anyone who has heard my descriptions of trying to ski can understand), but I think I have found a sport that I can excel in. Essentially, it involves lying down, not moving and going head first down a 20 to 30m dune, where extra weight is an advantage to build momentum. I feel like I have been in training all my life. After an impressive crash first time round, I got the second best run of the day. I always said I had it in me to be an athlete! Bring on the 2012 olympics.

We spent two days camping, which apart from the flight over the Nazca lines meant roughing it by the pool and in the hammocks. The flight itself was typically South American. First we had to pay a departure tax even though we weren´t leaving the district, let alone the country. Then we had to wait over half an hour as crew had to remove a bull from the runway. The flight itself was excellent - we were in a six seat plane and the pilot would bank sharply either side so we could get good views of the lines. The Nazca lines are spread out over a 500 sq km arid plain surrounded by mountains on all sides (in fact the valley is just as impressive as the lines). From the plane the lines are pretty easy to make out and include a humming bird, spider, monkey and what looks to be a space man. However, they are a lot harder to make out on the photos.

Before we let Nazca, we visited the Cemetery of Chauchilla, which is pre Inca (I´m sure you´ve noticed that when it comes to timeline of South American history, everything in my mind is either pre or post Inca, as it´s pretty much all I can retain without writing it down). It is a fascinating place because the civilisations had developed a technique of mummification that preserves the bodies (skin, hair, and internal organs) for 1500 years plus. The bodies are dried in the sun and fire and then wrapped in locally grown cotton and then buried in well constructed tombs in the higher, drier, desert away from the rivers where very little moisture can reach them. Unfortunately, a lot of the graves have been looted as with many cultures in South America, the dead were buried with possessions for the afterlife including gold, jewelry and garmants.

From Nazca we camped one night at Peurto Inca, which is sited next to the original Inca trail linking their main port to their capital Cuzco. As well as the road there were other interesting Inca buildings to see, which we ignored so we could have a game of beach football against the locals. As one of our group said he has never seen a team get so outplayed before and win 5-1. The local team foolishly played an attractive passing game full of good touches and movement, whilst our Anglo-Saxon team resorted to last ditch tackling, all six behind the ball and long-ball hacks whenever we got near the ball. There was also a fine performance from your´s truley who transfered his form from the Sheffield Tuesday night six a-side league. As they got more frustrated we hit them on the break and also used our corners effectively where we had (literally) a two foot height advantage. The game was finally stopped when they managed to score a goal (apparently they had been waiting for that moment) which arrived from a corner, their striker poking in the rebound after one of their guys had volleyed the ball into my face from point blank range.

From Peurto Inca, we travelled to Arequipa, which is where I am writing this entry. For the past ten days or so we have been following the Pacific highway which goes the length of the continent and some of the driving has been breathtaking. Most of yesterday was spent almost suspended from the side of sheer rock faces or sand dunes overlooking vertical drops into the ocean. The landscape inland is also interesting, as for the most part it is arid mountain or desert but every so often we come across very green lush valleys where rivers carrying melt water from the Andes allows farming. One such valley was just Olive groves where we could buy olives straight from street vendors. The other thing about following the pacific highway is that we´ve managed to see some great sunsets as the sun dips over the pacific and the Andes mountains.

Arequipa is at altitude and we will be spending the next month or so at 2500m and above. We have to pack our bags carefully as any canisters can explode due to the change in pressure which makes a deoderant stick a potentially dangerous weapon! Yesterday, I could feel the pressure on my ribs but once I had drunk the mate tea which is made out of coca leaves (prescribed remedy) and drunk several cocktails and done karaoke (not prescribed remedy), I felt a lot better.

Apart from the main points above, it is just the little things that keep me amused. Way back in Quito I bought a pair of 2$ flip flops which I thought were Nike but as has been pointed out are actually Nkie. What makes it more amusing is that the main strip at the top is made of a flurescent blue material which if I wear socks with them makes be look like Puff Daddy (apparently).

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25th November 2007

Mellor - It all sounds great - seems that you're packing loads of stuff in. So how long are you with this tour group for then? Will you be with them over Christmas or making your own way by then?? Had a chuckle at the thought of you canyoning (I tried it myself in Oz and have to say, was far from elegant as a abseiled / fell down a waterfall!) and can empathise with the sandboarding. All essential experiences to have ... Guess this is making the world of local government seem pretty dull?!
28th November 2007

Rubbish. U cud have made the point it was me who made you aware of the Nkie´s

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