Southern Cross - Lima to Arequipa

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2011

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.

Frank Sinatra

We left Lima after spending a few days relaxing and trying to get ready for this start of this our last tour and set off south for Pisco - famous for the grape used in Pisco Sours, just about the best cocktail you can hope to drink.

I quite liked Lima, but then as someone who prefers the city that was sort of expected.

We'd stayed in Miraflores which is I guess the Kensington or Richmond of Lima. Quite upmarket, relatively touristy and felt pretty safe at night. The impression of security was somewhat undermined when you looked up at the fences and walls surrounding the houses and apartment blocks and saw electric wires or barbed wires. Nonetheless Lima was a good place to spend a few days getting things sorted and doing a spot of sight-seeing.
Whilst we were hanging around we found a couple of marvellous restaurants: La Trattoria di Mambrino in Miraflores and L'Eau Vive in Central Lima (which is a mix of Trafalgar Sq + Westminster + The City). The latter was run by French Carmelite Nuns so understandably had a French feel to it. It also served the best steak I've had in 8 months on the road and for that alone it deserves a mention.

We met up with the rest of the group where I discovered that I for the first leg of the trip I would be travelling with just 6 females (inc Claire):  One fellow Brit, one German, one Canadian, one Norwegian and our tour-leader, a bubbly fast-talking Peruvian.

Our first full day was not to be a drive to Pisco, but rather a drive to nearby Paracas. The reason? Pisco, in GAP's opinion, was these days just too dodgy. A poor city with high petty crime levels (not that having your luggage or your wallet is petty) it had gotten worse since the 2007 earthquake that had raised buildings and taken jobs with it. So a bus ride to Paracas it was. And it was a public bus which meant 4+ hours on an aging bus with no air-con and a TV at the front of the bus blaring out to whatever 'action’ film was being shown. Some people could open their windows but this just lets in the dust and the filthy fumes from the decrepit trucks that travel Peru pot-holed roads so most of the time people kept their windows shut whilst we sweltered inside.

As we drove further out of Lima the townships became noticeably poorer. The roads became dustier and the houses one storey high adobe mud-shacks replacing the security-monitored apartment blocks of Miraflores. Eventually the townships ran out as we drove south thru’ the desert. As we neared Paracas the desert started to become greener and we passed Vineyards and fruit-farms. In the Ica region around Paracas farmers have drilled down to access the underground water that eventually flows out to the Pacific ocean.

After a night’s sleep we headed out for a busy day. First up was a boat trip to Ballestas Islands – another ‘Poor Man’s Galapagos. The Islands are a series of volcanic rocks sitting off the coast and are home for thousands of Humboldt Penguins, Nasca Boobies, Cormorants, Terns, Gulls and Sea-Lions. And in the 60’s the islands were a rice source of guano, (Quichua (the language of the Incas) for "the droppings of sea birds"), which is an intensely effective phosphorus fertiliser.  The advent of artificial fertilisers meant the demand has fallen away and now the birds are left in peace to crap on the islands (and unlucky tourists in boats) bar the twice yearly ‘dig’. The fur-seals and sea-lions bask on the beach are bark or honk so loudly at each other that even 200m or so off the beach you can hear them.

After the island tour we took our private (this time) bus to a Pisco grape vineyard – something of a pilgrimage for Claire – to see how Pisco (of the Sours fame) was made. After a quick tour we were finally able to start the tasting. Claire didn’t hold back and by the time we’d finished getting thru the different varieties on offer (neat, mixed white and red grapes, with cream etc), it was fairly easy to doze on the coast as we drove thru’ the desert to a real Oasis where we stopped for lunch.

The highlight of the day tho’ was the drive to Nasca. As we drove thru’ the desert the surrounding landscape had started to get rockier and signs of agriculture had disappeared and then we when thru’ a tunnel cut into the rocks. When we came out the other side beneath us was a green and lush valley where field after field of chillies were being grown. We pretty much raced thru’ the small town as we headed to Nasca until we stopped at rickety town built seemingly at random alongside side the desert highway to Nasca. But after clambering up to the top it revealed two Nasca line drawings, apparently of a pair of hands and a tree.

Fairly obviously you can’t really see the Nasca lines from the ground; the tower was a little better but to get a ‘decent’ view of these strange lines you have to fly over them. And that’s what I did. Claire didn’t on the basis that too many of these little plans have crashed but presumably because I’m insured she didn’t mind me going up in one. So I boarded a 6-seat Cessna piloted by a couple of giggling young pilots and up we went for about 40mins. The ride was like being in a 4x4 going over some especially bouncy terrain only went it turned (or banked) the view was either blue sky or sand several hundred meters below. The carvings are huge. And surreal, without the picture guide you would not know what all of the lines represent. But they were impressive, some are clearer and more visible than other and it’s mind-boggling to think about how and why the lines were carved. The flight was great fun as the little plane banked and swooped over the images to ensure that both side of the place were able to get a view down below.

Safely back on terra firma we hung around our hotel until it was time to go to Arequipa – not a journey we were looking forward to as it was a 10 hour night bus. We weren’t expecting much, something along the lines of a battered up old minibus that we’d be sharing with chickens, goats and screaming brats. Instead we had a quite modern double-decker coach equipped with air-con and reclining seats. Admittedly it stunk. A whole bunch of GAP travellers in smelly shoes wasn’t good. Sleep was difficult as the coach swerved and swung its way around the twisty desert roads that led to Arequipa but on the whole it wasn’t as bad as we feared.

As for Arequipa itself, well it was pretty nice. Admittedly we’re seeing the GAP view of the city which means staying fairly central and not out in the poorer areas (as we were in Cusco) but nonetheless Arequipa seems as full of churches and shops as Cusco but not quite as manic or dusty. After a quick lunch of empanadas we visited the Monastery of Santa Catalina and wandered around quite happily in the pretty and tranquil grounds for a couple of hours until the lack of sleep and the altitude (Arequipa is at 2,000m) caught up with us and we crashed out for a couple of hours

The next day we travelled up to the Colca Canyon.

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Andy Howell on

And hello back from Istanbul where I am spending the weekend working. Bloody typical 25 degree and blue skies at home and here I am in the rain in Turkey. Eric Von Daniken. Blimey what a nutter. Mind you he had me completely convinced when I was watching Athur C Clarkes Mysterious World (eight uears old). Bigfoot as well. And them crystal skull thingies....

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