Saturday, December 07, 2002

Piscos and lines...

No, not those kind of lines.

Salud to you all!

We left Cusco to begin what we consider to be the rush-rush part of our trip. In an effort to get to Santiago by Christmas, we're having to pick up the pace, and have a jam-packed agenda for the next 3 weeks. We avoided a 28-32 hour busride to the Peruvian coast, by coughing up the dough to fly to Lima (1 hour), then eventually taking a 3-4 hour bus to Pisco. This is a little town on the desert coastline of Southern Peru, which is the budget place to stay if you want to visit the offshore Islas Balletas. These are a series of very small rocky islands that are home to colonies of ocean birds and sea-lions. Dan and I opted to take a boat tour to get an upclose look at the Peruvian boobys, incan terns, seagulls, cormorants, and humbolt penguins. The only time that humans inhabit any of these islands is for a few months every couple of years when they come to scrape off the guano (bird poo), which is sold as fertilizer. Dan and I have seen our share of marine life on this trip, but I was impressed by a beach dubbed the 'maternity ward' where there are hundreds of sea-lions smashed together, mating, birthing, nursing and training their young. The second part of our tour involved an excursion to the Paracas Peninsula, a desert, sand dune, coastal reserve, where we could see Chilean flamingos from a distance, visit a museum about the ancient Paracas culture, and see some of the crazy cliff formations along the beach, such as the 'cathedral'. That morning, Dan and I had popped a few dramamine, as we both tend to get seasick. I experienced no motion related problems, but could barely keep my lids raised. It was like taking an overdose of sleeping pills, yet being forced to get on and off a bus to view bland surroundings through hazy eyes. By lunch, I was a little less sluggish, and happy to sit in an outdoor restaurant by the beach, having my third serving of ceviche in 3 days. I love it! The fish is really fresh, cut into small chunks, served with slivers of red onions (sometimes celery), sweet yams, and crisp lettuce, and drenched in lemon juice. We also treated ourselves to some fresh fish (grilled sole for me, and picante Peruvian seabass for Dan). The scene was perfectly set with school children splashing in the water, and a musician playing the guitar with a slightly afro-peruvian flair, who was joined for a sing-along by a few locals. One man had an incredible vibratto voice, and sang what sounded to be classic spanish ballads. It was definitely the best part of the day.

The next morning, we left Pisco for the oasis of Huacachina, a short hours jaunt from the coast to the land of sand dunes. Along the way we passed Ica, the ickiest, most putrid town I have ever had to spend 15 minutes in. This town has one of the worst Peruvian problems with trash disposal that I have ever seen. The sidewalks were literal mounds of rubbish, and the surrounding countryside was an endless vista of colored plastic bags and soda bottles. I'm used to third world problems with littering, but this went far beyond 'forgivable'. I was appalled. In Huacachina, 15 km from 'the dump', the waste was still prevalent (although less so) thanks to the general ignorance of the locals and strong desert winds. This was all the more sad, because Huacachina is famed for its desert oasis, of so-called therapeutic waters that are ringed by palmtrees and guesthouses for the weekend traveler. Dan and I were not impressed by the murky water and the floating litter. We actually watched a young boy throw an empty 2 liter Inca Cola bottle into the bush. Despite feeling a little down by our poorly treated environs, we had to admit that the surrounding sand dunes were spectacular. At sunset we climbed to the highest dune for a view over an endless sand desert in one direction, and distant Ica in the other. We also had a good recommendation for a place to stay - Casa Arena which was backed by the dunes, had a pool, outside bar, and was hopping with happy-go-lucky backpackers. They also rented out 'sand-boards' (ancient snowboards), which Dan made full availability of. He must have trudged up the slope (a 20-30 minute struggle) at least 4 times for the thrill of sliding down. At night, we shared a massive hamburger, chicken, potato, corn BBQ with unlimited pisco sours. We had booked a tour to the Nazca lines for the following morning, so I checked out early to get my beauty sleep. Dan, the trooper, hung in for several rounds of pisco shots. Dare I say, NOT the best prelude to a flight in a 4-seater plane. That morning, the 2 hour journey to Nazca was not enough time to cure Dan of a blistering hangover. Once aboard our hot little aircraft, Dan was turning green, unable to stay cool and sweating profusely. I'm embarrassed to say that it wasn't long before I was suffering the same nausea, without the aid of an alcoholic excuse. 20 minutes into a flight, that involved aerial dips over zoomorphic lines etched into the desert, and we were both reaching for plastic baggies. We spent $40 to see one of the wonders of the world, the inexplicable, pre-Incan, sometimes 180 meter designs, only visible in their entirety from the air, to experience violent motion sickness and hangover hell. Sadly, I think we missed the spider, and an ave (bird) or two. The pilot was a little concerned to see us both losing it, so he hi-jacked back to the airport pronto.
*Just a quick rundown on the Nazca Lines - They are huge geometric designs drawn in the desert, some representing gigantic animals such as a condor or a monkey with a coiled tail. They are HUGE, and impossible to discern at ground level. It is believed that the majority were made sometime between 900BC to 600AD, and there is no explanation as to what their purpose is. There are the typical wacky theories, like they are take-off and landing lines for alien spacecraft, as well as the more believable ideas that they are ritual paths for spiritual pilgrimages, or are representational maps of our celestial stars and planets, and might have worked as some sort of agricultural calendar.

Desperately needing to recuperate, we postponed the rest of our sight-seeing until later that day. We had a quick tour of a small pottery shop, and learned how gold was abstracted from surrounding rock minerals, before heading to the Chauchilla cemetery. This is a very popular burial that goes back to 1000 and 1300AD. It was home to over 2000 mummies, which had been perfectly preserved in their subterranean burial chambers, until discovery within the past century. Since then, it has been frequently looted by grave robbers for precious relics. What remains is an eerie landscape of tons of bleached bone shards, pottery fragments, pieces of clothing and rope, with a fair number of intact mummies now exposed in their opened graves. Rain is a rare occurrence in the Nazca desert, so for several hundred, thousand years, some of these mummies and their chambers are pretty well preserved. These mummies were originally buried with all the belongings that they would need for the afterlife, such as cooking utensils, weapons, silver and gold jewelry, fine wraps, and religious objects. Within their grave, they are usually found in a fetal position, have long, dark, dreadlocked hair (the length of their entire body!), and are facing east, where their Sun God continues to rise every morning.

Now, we are in Arequipa, incidentally having just finished visiting another museum about mummies - the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which houses 'Juanita, the ice princess', a frozen Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods over 500 years ago, on the summit of Ampato.

All our best,
Sarah and Daniel


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