Nazca, Ica and Miraflores: Pacific Coast of Peru

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Peru  , Lima,
Sunday, April 20, 2008

We hopped a night bus from Cusco to Nazca and were stoked to be getting transportation *plus* accommodations for one low low price.  All prepared for a night of catching z`s, we took off on the top level of a double-decker bus.  Besides the fact that the leg room allotted was about half of what we needed, this bus had a striking resemblance to our days of comfort in Argentina.  As we shut our eyes and prepared for sleep, we were immediately lurched from our seats, swaying waaaaaay right and then waaaaaaaay left and back again and as we peeked outside the windows, we realized that this was exactly what the next 8 hours would be like as we crossed the Andes and descended towards sea-level.  At one point where I managed to doze off but Nik was still awake, the bus made a huge lurch and, since we are on the top level, we lurched even more so that Nik plus 4 other guys were staring directly over the edge of the cliff and clenching their bums to keep from pooing their pants. 
But, alas, we made it to Nazca and were greeted by Miguel at the bus station who gave us a terrible deal on a hotel room that we negotiated into a half-decent one.  Once we ended up at the hotel together, he told us that the room was being vacated and cleaned so he would just take this time to tell us all about the magnificant tours he has to offer.  While no one left the room and no cleaning staff entered, Miguel talked about all the expensive airplane tours he had of the famous Nazca lines.  We had already decided that due to the recent crash and poor mechanical records of the planes, that we would pass on the overflight.  When we asked Miguel about the safety of the flights, he responded that whether you crash and die or arrive safely is ´all just a matter of luck´.   Ohhhh how reassuring that we don´t have Six Sigma standards, Codes and Practices and Good Engineering to rely on, but only something as intangible as our luck -  ´Sign us up!!!´...or not.  We ditched Miguel and headed to find ourselves another tour operator to check out the lines from a short tower and crappy little hill.  We noticed though that whenever we asked anyone about the recent crash, they laughed and said, ´Yah, only French people are not flying now´or ´Yah, there was a crash, so what?´ or something to that effect.  Obviously they are trying to protect their industry and tourism business, but they are clearly not interested in addressing any of the issues behind the crash, just covering it up. We were happy to not be flying.  That being said, the tour we had sucked and was expensive - you really can only see the lines from the air.  We did, however, see the Marie Reicht museum.  She was a German who spent about 60 years of her life studying the Nazca lines.  While many of her theories surrounding the lines have today been disproven, she was a pioneer to this area and brought attention to the lines that is still lacking today.  We saw her hippie van, her simple house and a museum with some findings from the area including a very-alive-looking mummy.  You could still see the skin and the tattoos on the skin of the mummy-man.  Freaky deaky. 

The deal with the Nazca lines is that they are a series of geoglyphs (drawings on the ground) formed by the ancient Nazca people between 200BC and 700AD.  These figures are scattered throughout the Nazca desert that has an area of more than 500 square kms.  There are over 70 animal figures and 100´s of lines.  While the lines likely served as highways and directional markers, it is beleived that the large animal geoglyphs were either places were the Nazca people worshipped the properties of that particular animal or they served as offerings to the Gods living in the heavens above.  Some theories suggest that a hot air balloon was made and used by the Nazca people to view and correct their work, but other theories show it was possible to make these lines with the technology available at the time (ie-nothing). 

Without much delay, we were off the next day heading towards Ica and Huacachina.  These two towns, only 4km apart, are famous for their sand dunes - some of the highest in the world! - and lovely oasis.  This place is strikingly beautiful.  It is the northern part of the Atacama Desert - the desert extending from Chile to Peru - and one of the driest places in the world with an average rainfall of just 1mm per year.  The sand dunes are bright, endless, and alternate between soft and rolling and sharp and steep.  The town of Huacachina only has about 115 people and all of them seem to build and run dune-buggies.  We found this amazing hotel there with a backyard garden, complete with a squirrel monkey, a scarlet macaw, a couple other parrots and a pool.  Our room had a back patio overlooking this pool and garden and was fantastic.  Anxious to get out into the dunes, we booked our tour for that afternoon and were off within an hour.  Our guide was a local and had built his own buggy from the frame of an old VW Bug.  It was perfect for four - Nik and I, the driver, and an Israeli traveler who was really sweet.  We were stoked!!

We all hopped in and after a mandatory push-start, the engine (pulled from a more powerful Nissan) was roaring and we were tearing through the dunes, eyes streaming with tears, our faces being whipped with little bits of sand, and all of us flying around despite our seatbelts inside the dune-buggy, and it was F-U-N!! So fun!! We ripped up and down steep hills and every direction we looked was amazing!  After about 10 minutes, we pulled up to a short section where we would try our first sandboarding experience.  Nik was awesome, obviously, I was not good but did ok, and the Israeli who had never stood at the top of a hill with a board on his feet was pretty freaked...! But after a few practice runs, we were set.  We all piled back into the buggy and tore around some more, screaming and laughing the whole way.  We then mastered the intermediate hill and finally hit the big momma hill and it was awesome!! It was so much fun, though much heavier than snow.  After this we parked ourselves to check out the sunset over the dunes.  On our way back to Huacachina, our driver really gave ´er - and as we were tearing up this really steep bank, all laughing with our mouths wide open, we hit a bump and this sent literally a huge stream of pure sand directly into my mouth and down my throat - it was alllll inside my teeth, so nasty!! And funny!! After emptying the cups of sand from our shoes and getting the first of several days worth of sand from our ears, we cruised the tranquil little oasis-town of Huacachina.
We had heard a rumour of a chocolate factory in the nearby town of Ica and decided to check this out the next day before heading to Miraflores.  We left from our hotel bright and early and got to the chocolate factory just as it was opening.  All the workers were happy to have us there taking photos of the entirely manual process and we were happy to be there to eat all their free samples.   Next on the tour was a visit to the famous Pisco bodegas in Ica.  Pisco is a brandy made from the distillation of grapes and is popular in both Chile and Peru - in fact, the true owners of this drink is a popular debate between the two countries.  I thought it would be funny to say, ´Hey I heard Pisco comes from Chile`while tasting at our first winery, but the acoustics must have been bad cause no one thought it was too funny (ok, except Nik and I).  It is said that after the Spanish introduced grapes to the Ica region of Peru, the poorest quality grapes were discarded to the peasant people.  Some of these peasants began to distill the grapes, creating a strong and cheap alcohol.  Sailors began to ask for this ´firewater´to drink on their voyages to deliver export wine from the nearby port of Pisco to Spain.  As such, they began to refer to the brandy as ´Pisco´and the drink gained popularity.  It is between 38% and 48% alcohol, looks like pure water, has a slight aroma of grapes, and tastes like crap.  Seriously, I don`t know who drinks this stuff.  Our guide kept saying `It`s just like water` and he also drank it as such.  I started giving him my samples in addition to his own, and then he would go and sneak some more, so I think he may have had just a little *too* much passion for his work, but who am I to judge eh!  Ica was one of the areas hardest hit by the August 15, 2007 earthquake (8.0 on the Richter scale) and we were able to see much of the destruction still existing today - mainly due to how slowly aid and funding is becoming available.  
After our Pisco/wine tour in Ica we took the next bus to Lima.  Not actually Lima, but a suburb of it called Miraflores.  We were a bit freaked out about arriving after dark into Lima because so many people had told us horror stories about getting robbed and what not.  So all throughout the bus ride we kept mentioning that we wanted to get out at Miraflores and the guy kept nodding and saying ´Si, al puente´.  This meant ´yes, at the bridge´ we thought to ourselves, well I guess he means we are going to get out at the bridge that is leading into Miraflores.  Not the first time we were let out at the side of the road.  So when we were supposed to get out, we pulled underneath an overpass and then piled out of the bus.  No real problems, it was easy to get a cab and then we headed to our hostel which was in a really great location in Miraflores.  One thing to mention is that Lima is huge (7.7 Mil), we were still about 20min drive away from downtown where we got left off the bus and our taxi ride to Miraflores was another 20min to the centre of that suburb. 
A little history of Lima...It was founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro as the city of Kings (same bastard who killed off a lot of Inca's and the 2 last remaining Inca Kings), it was used by the Spanish as the main city (capital) in South America, it was used as the main port for silver and gold exports to Spain (transport of metals done by mule from Bolivia to Lima, then loaded to ships, sent to Panama on the Pacific side, unloaded to mule train again and loaded on to ships again heading for Spain on the Caribbean side), and since Peru's independence from Spain, Lima has served as the capital of the country.  Today, nearly 1/3 of the population of Peru lives in Lima.   Lima beans were also cultivated by the Spanish in the Andes around 2000BC and then distributed to all the Americas and Europe from the capital of South America, Lima.  As such, they are called Lima Beans. 
That night we checked our email and got a reply from some one that had been following our blog since Sucre in Bolivia.  Katie, who moved to Miraflores with her 3 kids for them to learn Spanish and visit with her husband`s family, invited us to a dinner at her apartment.  Bitchin´ - we were really excited - home cooked meal and also we could finally have a chance to meet her and her family. 
So that day we dolled ourselves up, I shaved and Sarah got a bunch of wax jobs done.  Then we leisurely bummed around Miraflores looking for info on Paragliding.  Unfortunately we never got around to Paragliding, since there was no wind for about 20 days.  No worries, shit happens.  We also bought this delicious Alfajore cake for desert at Katie's place.       
That night we went to Katie's place, which was a really nice apartment about 3 blocks from where we were staying.  When we got there we met her 3 kids, Madison, Hunter and Sydney.  We talked about their travels, our travels, family, school, how they found us and then we played Wii (video game system) for a little bit.  After getting my ass handed to me by a 9 year old while playing Wii, it was time for dinner
Dinner was really really good; it was nice to have a change from grilled chicken and French fries.  On the menu that night was a delicious green salad with blue cheese and a nice vinaigrette with home made croutons followed by green beans, mashed potatoes and a really smoking good meatloaf.  To drink, we had wine and Inca Cola which is my new favorite in Peru.  Then we had our Alfajore cake for desert with some really strange ice cream.  The ice cream was called lucuma, it's a fruit that is common in Peru, it tastes like caramel and is actually healthy for you (the fruit not the ice cream), really good.  Then Katie and Madison show us this ice cream container for stuff sold in Peru, its called Brownie ice cream.  The container is hilarious; there is a black dude smiling on the ice cream container promoting the flavor which is printed right next to his head in giant letters, obviously Brownie.  I am not sure they knew what they were doing when they decided to put this combo on the container - it is shockingly inappropriate...and funny.  After dinner we took some photos, thanked all of our new friends very much for dinner and a great evening of company and then headed back to the hostel.
The next day we bummed around again, looked at a photo exhibit in the centre of Miraflores which was sponsored by the UN Council on Climate Change.  Sarah was calling the shots for the next 2 days since it was her birthday.  We then headed to the mall, which was supposed to show films in English.  This mall is actually built into the side of the cliff over looking the Pacific, it's a really modern nice mall and it was pretty good to bum around in.  We saw a movie there - Sarah`s pick of a romantic comedy - which was pretty entertaining since we hadn't seen one in about 9 or so months.  That night we left Miraflores and took a night bus to a place called Huaraz, close to the Cordillera Blanca.  
When we rolled into Huaraz around 6am we were immediately bombarded guys we like to call ´bus station vultures.´  They only show up to the bus stations when buses come and then like to buzz around the bus station looking for Whities like us to either sell tours to or get a hostel/hotel.  So this one guy (Elvis) starts talking to me and he has a hotel for 30 soles per night (both of us, about $12 CDN) including breakfast.  I immediately jump on it because we have been paying close to that in all the places we have been in, plus there is breakfast.  First mistake, no breakfast included as advertised.  Next, when we are checking in he tries to sell us a ruin tour of Chavín de Huántar (reason we were in Huaraz) and then starts talking a mile a minute about trekking and hiking and how many days we are in Huaraz.  So I book a tour with this dip-shit because I know how much Sarah hates looking for tours and since it was her birthday I wanted her to have a nice day
We eventually got a good 4 hour sleep in that morning and then headed out to the town.  We had read about and seen a little bit of the mountain range that surrounded Huaraz and were thinking about doing a 4 day hike around the range.  But, after getting harassed by a lot of tour companies and then again by our friend Elvis we decided to buy a ticket to Trujillo the next day, and leave Huaraz.  We really hate being treated like cash cows and we especially hate being lied to or taken advantage of down here (South America).  It has happened a lot of times and when we get fed up we tend to really dislike the city or town and then leave very shortly.  Later that day we also found out Elvis charged us 15 soles ($5 CDN) more than other places do to get to Chavin, so we were really pissed, plus he lied about the size of the group (30 people, not 6 as promised).
The next day we were off to Chavín de Huántar which was the closest ruin to Huaraz.  This ruin was supposed to be really neat and have an intricate underground labyrinth.  It did have a neat underground tunnel system which was why we were there, but, for the 6 hour bus ride we took, it really wasn't worth it.  Not to put down the ruins, but, we had already seen a heap of them in Cuzco and Machu Picchu so these one really weren't anything special.  The ruins did have some really neat carvings in the structures and also had 28 carved head surrounding the main temple. 
The Chavin culture was another pre-Inca civilization that had many characteristics that have seemed to follow into the Inca culture.  The ruins site, which was a temple, had many carvings and also they had some engineering feats which enabled their buildings to withstand earthquakes.  Some of their building techniques features inclined walls (5 degrees), large boulders at the bottom, earth infill within the walls and a layer of large blocks followed by a layer of tiny blocks followed by a layer of large blocks and then repeated.  This last system of large-small-large blocks was so that the small blocks were used as a sacrificial blocks, when an earthquake was large the wall would shake and the release of energy would come at the point of the small blocks.  Some would release the energy by popping out and then the earth infill would fill the space left by the small block. 
Pretty neat I have to admit with the engineering of the walls.  But, after all these ruin sites and lots of guides and archeologists explaining why ancient civilizations did certain things or how the shape of the puma, snake and condor can be interpreted in everything (mountains, boulders, carved holes in the rock alters,....the list goes on) we were just at our limit of looking at ruins.  We headed back to Huaraz that night and then jumped on the night bus to the coast, Trujillo.  Time for us to get a tan.           
 Love, Niko y Sarita xoxo
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