Sunshine in the desert — warm at last!

Departed Lima in the rush hour, our conclusions are: Debbie indifferent about Lima, Sven reaching a view that he quite likes the place. It’s yet another very heavy, overcast day. We wonder if Lima ever sees the sunshine!

We’re travelling south and the drive down was a complete surprise. Beyond the beaches which are popular with the Limenos, the landscape becomes one of desert for miles and miles and miles. At the Paracas Peninsula, one of the world’s great marine reserves, the road starts to make its way inland towards Ica & Nazca and the desert continues, with many areas, oasis, tumbledown shacks looking very Arabesque in style. Then slowly as we start to trek south-east the Andes start to come into vision rising up out on the east side. Further south we have a short stop at Ica, famous for the grape brandy Pisco that is used in the popular Peruvian cocktail – Pisco Sour.

We next arrive at Huacachina – a fringed palm lake surrounded by huge sand dunes. It is an increasingly popular stop to warm up after visiting the Andes. Sand-boarding is a major pastime in the area. Sandstorms are frequent often lasting for 2/3 days at a time. There are numerous shelters built against the storm made from dry palm leaves and bamboo that get built as a 4-walled hut.

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-006The desert stretches into flat barren plains with straight roads running south – it was just like being back in Arizona again. At around 375kms outside Lima the sand dunes started to take on more of a rock formation requiring us to meander around the hills for a while. Captured between the sand dune rocks are small agricultural oases and a few settlements. What was alarming were the number of tiny little chapels with crosses and flowers all along the road – can’t stop wondering that this is not an ad-hoc pray point but an indication of the large number of fatalities – which given the straightness of the road is the concern. Tuks-tuks are seemingly a popular mode of transport further south, since Ica they have been running around all over the place!

We arrive in Nasca and find our Hostal, The Walk On Inn. It sounds scouse but is run by a Dutchman who has married a local girl. The road outside has been dug up to replace the sewers and there are deep trenches and loose dirt everywhere. It looks like the World War One trenches and hopping over the ditches with full backpacks is exciting!

Nazca is a growing town in this god-forsaken wilderness. It is a one trick pony, famous for the lines that were created by the ancient Nazcans 1800 years ago. The lines depict animals (most of which are not endemic to this desert) such as monkeys, hummingbirds, parrots and herons and also geometric lines that seem to run at random. All the lines are enormous and plainly designed to be seen from the air. No one knows what purpose they served as the Nazcans left no written material of any sort.

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-022In the afternoon, we took a small plane for the half hour flight to view the lines, and see the dramatic landscape or mountains, sand-dunes and wide, veined dry river beds. A six-seater (including pilot) Cessna 206. The plane bumps along between the afternoon thermals and when we reach the first sand picture (a blue whale), Mr Pilot banks the plane sharply first one way, then the other. My stomach and head become disconnected. Once we have done this manoeuvre two or three times, I give up all thoughts of photography, hand over the camera to Debbie and try not to throw up over the controls.

When we get back on terra firma, I am told that it was all very interesting. How did the Nazcans create these images of animals that they had probably never seen? If they did manage to cross the Andes to experience them, why on earth would they return to this wasteland?

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-010To try and understand the various theories we rode 10km out of town, for 2 soles each, to the ‘Torre Metallica’ – a platform where we can see some of the Nazca Lines without being sick. From the top we can see the line drawing of the hands and of the tree. Having exhausted our interest, we have to try to stop a bus back to town. They do not run regularly so the wait could last some time.

We discuss matters pertinent to the universe: The difference between Y fronts and bras. I argue that they both perform the same function – to lift and separate, but Debbie disagrees and does not feel that wearing my underpants across her chest is quite the fashion statement she is seeking. Just as the debate is about to come to blows, the bus arrives and we travel in silence back to town.

These Nazca Lines are a mystery, confounding academics and amateur theorists alike. Some feel they are offerings to the gods, others that they form an ancient calendar and one crackpot (do you remember the book ‘Chariots of the Gods’?) that they are a result of aliens landing and interbreeding with the locals! You will no doubt be delighted to know that I have solved the puzzle with an irrefutable theory of my own: The whole thing is a scam.

Consider the evidence. One, the lines were supposedly constructed by the ancient Nazcans, but the animals are not seen anywhere this side of the Andes. Two, the geometric lines do not even approximate anything at all (not the equinox, not the compass). Three, the lines are etched into the surface of the desert to a depth of about 5cm. But the sandstorms here last up to 3 days at a time so how long would it take for the lines to disappear over 1800 years? Finally, the lines were not ‘discovered’ until 30 or so years ago by a mad German woman. So, there can be no doubt that the lines are Nazca’s equivalent of crop circles. The locals were having a jolly jape. A very effective one, for it turned Nazca, a town with nothing to offer, into a growing conurbation with tarmac roads, schools and a hospital. Desperate academics looking for a cause could not wait to tell the world how they had discovered something remarkable. Fools, all of them.

There is very little going for Nazca, starting with being woken by a cock crowing at 2.30am. It’s still the middle of the night for goodness sake! Gradually his mates join in and by 6.30 it seems that, right outside our window, there is a choir of cocks being conducted by a drunkard. Suddenly I miss my shotgun.

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-020However, other activities available include sand-boarding and gate-crashing a luxurious hotel to use their pool – we are becoming true backpackers!! We chose to do both and depart for the sand dunes in a beach buggy. It looks like it has been made from mecchano and Eduardo, our driver and guide for the day, clearly feels he missed his vocation as a rally driver. It takes about an hour to drive into the desert to reach pure dunes, classic hills of driven white sand that appear to have razor sharp edges. Eduardo drives over the top edges with a cry of ‘Oh ho!’ as we fly into space before racing down the far side. I am glad he knows what to expect the other side of the dunes because it’s impossible to tell before it’s too late to turn back.

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-003When we are bored with all this fun, Eduardo offers us some sand boarding. Being the sort of people who live life on the edge, we enthusiastically agree
After 45 minutes we have sand in every orifice and sore bottoms but are still alive.

Despite travelling through the desert we arrive at a small village that is home to 15 families. It seems impossible that such barren terrain can support one family let alone fifteen. They have a very poor and very harsh existence but are able to survive due to water supplies provided by underground aqueducts. It is not exactly plentiful but enough to eke a living from a hostile terrain.

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-017A few miles from the village are, in a very grim fashion, some open graves. We are told that they were the final resting place of some ancient Nazcans and that tomb-robbers had discovered the graves and stolen anything of value. There are whitened bones of every part of the body strewn all around, some with hair, muscle and flesh still attached. Broken pottery, rope and bits clothing lie next to skeletons; there must have been 100 or so corpses interred here.

nazca-peru-suenson-taylor-012As a town Nazca has offered some entertainment, notably a large, children’s parade. Led by a band in which the bass drum had to be carried by two youngsters, all the town’s young kids followed in fancy dress. Their mums had been busy concocting all kinds of outfits without two being the same. At the back, on an open truck, the birthday princess rode with three or four girls-in-waiting. From time to time, the princess would hurl sweets into the watching crowd and the older children would push, shove and virtually kill each other to collect them.

Unfortunately before James had a chance to share his new theory on Nazcan history with the locals, we caught the overnight bus to Arequipa.

Sunshine in the desert — warm at last!
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