Where did I last leave you hanging? I believe that I was just arriving in Pisco, dismayed at what I witnessed, a town that looked like it had been ravaged by civil war for 10 years...
Nevertheless, I was happy to be out of Lima, and set about using the afternoon to firm up some of my other travel arrangements (still minus an English guidebook!!). I booked a day trip for the following morning to the ¨Poor Man´s Galapagos Islands¨ of Las Islas Ballestas followed by an afternoon tour of the Reserva National de las Paracas. Then I spent all afternoon in an internet cafe arranging accommodation and my Inca Trail Salkantay Trek for when I arrived in Cuzco..(am leaving for Cuzco tomorrow night...so excited!)
The following day I headed out bright and early to the islands which are a natural wildlife reserve, home to literally thousand of Cormorands, Pelicans, blah blah blah birds (i´m not an orthonologist by a stretch), Humbolt penguins, a colony of 10,000 sea lions, and lest we not forget for the smell we were tormented with during the 2 hour visit...one of Peru´s primary exports= GUANO, or more commonly known as ¨BIRD SHIT. Wow it was bad. Somehow the smell made my already seasick stomach churn all the more and I had to stay seated much of the time, buring my nose into my shirt. The scenery was beautiful, as was the wildlife, but I am just such an, Í don´t know, ¨¨spoiled, over-travelled bastard¨´, that I´m left comparing it to other more spectacular places I´ve been to in the world. I know, I know, its awful. Today I had lunch with a couple who said they knew it was time to head home after travelling through South East Asia when they sat on a beautiful, pristine, white sand, turquiose water beach and thought ¨´Ugh! Another paradisaic beach...I´m so bored with them!´¨ It happens.
I spent the whole day with a small group of women from Argentina, Peru, and Belgium who had met living in Buenos Aires. It was my third day conversing with other people ONLY in Spanish! By this point, I was getting pretty good...and I even made my first joke in Spanish (though I can´t remember what it was at this moment). The afternoon took us to the Paracas Reserve which was interesting because of its vast sand dunes, rugged coastline ....very damaged by the earthquake, with visible 3 foot cracks in the rock caused by exposed fault lines. Our guide had me on the edge of my seat, as it were, as he recalled that day August 15, 2007...when he had taken tourists down to the beach and walked under the natural arch and cave only hours before the whole thing came down in the 7.8 quake. He explained how the shaking had started vertically and then moved horizontal, lasting an agonizing 4 minutes and completely flattening the city. There was a big celebratory mass taking place in the cathedral and all 400 or so souls inside perished.
We also learned about the Paracas culture which pre-dated Inca culture, with ruins dating back to 2100 years BC. They are credited with the design of the Nazca lines where I was heading in a few days...
After a nervous hour waiting at the bus station, with my hands and arms wrapped around my luggage (Pisco is very dangerous...I was told not to walk on the street after 3pm!! WTF!....People are desperate since they lost everything in the quake) I was taken by cab back to the PanAmerican Highway to rendez vous with my bus to Ica. I shared the cab with an annoying buddhist German traveller who kept talking about his infected foot, and how the pain and trouble it has caused him travelling, coupled with the suffering he experienced as a child, was a profound blessing. I bid him adieu with a heartfelt wish that he continued having horrible experiences on his trip that he could learn from...which he seemed genuinely pleased to hear. Bizarre.
The sunset against the desert from the bus was spectacular. I started worrying about the cab I was going to have to take to get to my next stop...the desert Oasis of Huacachina. Everytime I step into a cab on this trip, a small part of me wonders whether I´ll end up at my desired destination or...God forbid, some other locale where I might be robbed, raped, or worse. Its a worry shared by all solo travellers, especially women. Luckily for me, my driver Tony seemed very pleasant and happily chatted to me all the way to the Oasis.
I arrived in the dark and it took a while for me to find my hostel. I checked in, dismayed that there was no window in my dorm room...and wandered outside to grab some dinner. Having not spoken to a soul in English in over 3 days (the German dude did not count)...I couldn´t face another meal alone, and invited myself to sit at a table with 2 Australian girls and their mother. It was so nice to talk in English...but, I must admit...after listening to them chatter wildly about their wonderful friends and family reunion hiking the Inca Trail, and how 6 of them were continuing on to Bolivia, and how Mom had flown 36 hours to come spend a week with her daughter...I began to feel very sad about my going it alone. They left when I was still waiting for my meal to arrive...and I admit a few tears were flowing by the time I asked for my check. It was such a picturesque setting, even in the night, the sky full of stars, a nearly full moon reflecting against the lakes backed by mountainous looking sand dunes...but all I longed for was a companion that I could share it with.
The following morning I met up with two girls who had staggered in drunk to my dorm room at about 3am. They were the craziest travellers I have ever met...arriving in Peru with no money, working in Lima for a month for room and board, hitch hiking on local trucks from town to town, walking the train tracks to Machu pichu because they couldn´t afford the bus or train... They´d been in Huacachina for 6 days and talked to all the locals as if they´d been friends since childhood. We went for breakfast, stopped on the way for Lauren to try and talk one of the local drunks who was still sleeping in the street after their night of revelry into having breakfast with us, an effort which she thankfully gave up on after ¨´Rodofo´´ walked into a lampost and promptly fell down. I listened to another hour of their insane bohemian, drunken stories...and was relieved to go back to my way of travel...heading back to the room to grab my laundry and a book by the pool....how very boring and conservative of me.
That afternoon I decided to go sandboarding, an activity that Huacachina is famous for. Well, the company I went with had their marketing all wrong. The sandboarding was fun, but HOLY SHIT, the sand buggy we drove up the sand dunes in was absolutely, undeniably, the most insane, bone jarring, neck twisting, stomach churning, gut wrenchingly terrifying thrill ride of my life. These drivers are completely bonkers. I wondered how many people had died being crushed by the rolling steel mass of this cage like rollercoaster of an all terrain vehicle, as they careened around sweeping dunes at breakneck speeds and gravity defying angles. We would accelerate up a sand dune that was near vertical, and I kid you not, literally launch at the crest of the sand before crashing down the other side where the driver would immediately accelerate so that your stomach fell away with the drop like you were coming down a theme park thrill ride.
I had sand in every single crevice of my being by the end of the three hour...um....ordeal? I was still sneezing gobs of sand 2 days later! And they should have warned contact lens wearers like me that they would be rendered blind by the sand blasting your face while they raced around the moonlike landscape. The scenery was spectacular, and felt like we were on location for the next Star Wars movie. The sandboarding itself was fun except that my feet were too small and kept coming away from the velcros straps invariably throwing me into a cartwheeling fall, head over feet. After two descents, someone said ´´Did you know that someone died here last week?´´ WHAT? Apparently someone fell off their sandboard and broke their neck. Lovely.
I went down the next four dunes on my butt, using the sandboard like a toboggan. Way more fun, and a tad more safe.
I was so late getting back to the tour place that I literally had to run (sand clumped in my shoes) back to my hostel, deciding that I just had to shower and change before grabbing a cab back to the highway in time for my bus to Nazca. I still had sand all over me, but it was bearable for the 2 hour journey. I just made my connection.
Nazca is famous for the Nazca ´´Lines¨´ ...strange shapes of creatures and symbols that can only be seen from the air. There were many theories that I had read about why these Lines were created and how, and I was hoping that my pre flight would include some more information about their genesis. Unfortunately that was not the case.
After cabbing it to my hotel, we were greeted by a roadblock for another Easter Procession...so I walked the last 4 blocks through hundreds of people, with all my bags, still crunching with sand, to my place for the night. Setting down my bags, I ran out into the street again and joined the throngs of candle waving Catholics eager to throw flowers on the statue of the Virgin Mary...and a glass coffin with an ephigy of Jesus inside. I turned left out of the crowd, ran ahead of the procession and then doubled back on myself to get photos ahead of the crowd. It was quite beautiful.
Not that hungry, I bought some fruit from a street stall, and after wandering around the city munching away for about an hour, I headed back to my room, re-de-sanded myself in the shower, and collapsed into bed.
The following morning I woke early, took some travel sickness pills, ate a tiny breakfast and headed out to the local airport. The plane was a 5 person Cessna, and being solo, I got to sit next to the pilot. Despite the medication, I still felt very sick, especially when the plane banked and circled again and again around each figure allowing us to get a good look and hopefully a photo of the shapes below. Overall, the lines were much harder to detect than I had imagined...and despite it being a curiosity satisfier, I was left feeling a bit disappointed in myself for wanting to do this just to have ´´ticked it off´on my to do list of Peru.
Oh. I forgot to mention my next wondrous experience with my lovely bus company Ormeno. I had booked a trek to the Colca Canyon for the following morning, and the company were picking me up at 8am sharp from the bus station in Arequipa. I had checked, rechecked, and triple checked with Ormeno staff and website to ensure that the bus would not be late. I was assured, repeatedly, that the scheduled arrival time was 6am, but normally it arrived around 7am, and occasionally in heavy traffic 730am. However, on arrival in Nazca at 11pm the night before, I reconfirmed my ticket only to be told, mockingly I might add, that the bus to Arequipa NEVER arrives before 9am, and that EVERYONE should know this. I was infuriated...and was told that I should book the afternoon bus leaving Nazca at 3pm, getting me in to Arequipa at midnight. Could I do this over the phone in the morning? Of course, no problem, I was told.
Liars. All of them. In the morning I called, having decided to take the afternoon bus, and was told ´´no its not possible, you must come to the bus station to change ticket. Must come soon as its Easter weekend and nearly no seats left´¨. So, after my flight...instead of being able to take advantage of the free lunch and pool at the next door hotel, I had to taxi it another 20 minutes to the bus station, and 20 minutes back to my hotel just to change my stupid ticket. And when I got to the bus station, the guy at the counter just looked at me blankly and said he couldn´´t change my ticket. I learned how to give violent protest in Spanish...to which he shrugged his shoulders, picked up the phone, mumbled for about a minute to someone, then handed me back my ticket and said ¨´its ok...come for bus at 3pm´´. THAT was what I HAD TO COME IN PERSON FOR? To listen to your initial refusal, then one minute phone call? No new reservation, new ticket, new seat assignment? I left in a huff, telling him that not one person working for Ormeno had told me the truth yet. Ugh.
After a mountain of cab fare, I packed the rest of my stuff and set out in sun baked Nazca to find a winter jacket for my high altitude trek to the Colca Canyon. Where was I going to find this? In the parched desert? I was having no luck, then stumbled on place that had a few reasonable coats, and grabbed the only one that fit, paying way too much for it I´m sure.
The bus to Arequipa was about 9 hours....and they played 3 action packed, violent, LOUD, movies back to back. Crash, followed by Death Sentence, and a Jet Li film to finish us off. By the time the martial art film came on...about 2-3rds of the bus was trying desperately to sleep, so I went downstairs and suggested that they put the movie on in English with Spanish subtitles (all movies were dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles...weird huh?) and turn the volume down since all were trying to sleep. She nodded, seemingly in a daze. They changed the movie into English...but then turned the volume UP. Jesus. I jammed in my earplugs and tried to sleep listening to the sounds of incessant fighting. Oy.
The bus was late. I got in to Arequipa at 3am, was dropped off at my supposedly open 24 hour hotel, looking forward to my 4 hours of sleep...only to find that no one answered the door and I was left standing on the street, in the dark, with all my bags, wondering if I was facing a cold night alone on the street....I´ll leave you there...wondering what happened as this letter is long enough by now!!