Thursday, November 4, 2010

Peru Part I

My South American adventure started in Lima, the capital city of Peru. I have to admit, I hardly saw a thing of Lima; I was so tired out after my whirlwind trip of Mexico, I just wanted to lie down and watch movies. So that's what I did for one night. The next day I caught a bus to Huacachina, which is a surreal little oasis town near the southwest coast. The place is literally a big lagoon in the middle of a desert of sand dunes surrounded by backpackers and restaurants. But the place was packed with gringoes (that's what Western tourists are called here) mainly because of one thing; sandboarding. So that afternoon I strapped myself into some snowboarding boots, grabbed a snowboard (which felt really weird in such hot climes) and hopped into the big dune buggy. The ride in the dune buggy was fun enough; our crazy Peruvian driver laughed maniacally as we squealed in delight going over the bumpy sand dunes. Every now and then we would stop at a nice looking dune and we would all take turns sliding down it, either on your feet or stomach. All my snowboarding practise in Japan didn't really help that much on the sand... it was a completely different ball game. The only way to get to the bottom without falling off (which I did many times) was to just go straight down. By the end, I had sand in places one should never have sand.

Afterwards we went for a sandy dinner of pizza, before showering and deciding to hop in on a wine tour with a couple of Norwegian girls, an English guy, an American, a Portugese girl and a couple of Belgians. But this was like no wine tour I've ever been on before. First the taxis took us to the middle of nowhere, which was apparently a winery. From the outside, it looked like someone's old rickety shed, with a nightclub next door. So the guy showed us a big cement pit where they make the wine the traditional way, by squelching the grapes with their feet. Then we went into the shed where there were heaps of stone vats full of wine. There were also lots of stuffed animals looking at us and a lot of dust. Unsure of how hygienic it was, we tasted a few wines and a Peruvian spirit called pisco. I swear I could still taste the dirty feet in some of the less mature wines. They certainly tasted different to any wine I had ever tasted before. So we selected a bottle of one for the group and after a few glasses, we were ready to hit the dancefloor at the "nightclub". I use the term nightclub quite loosely as it was basically a whole lot of young locals dancing to music in a carport type thing with some flashing lights. They all stared at us as we showed them how gringoes dance and after a while, everyone joined in together in a big multicultural dance fest.

Things were winding down at the winery, so we all hopped in a couple of cabs and went to another bar back in Huacachina, but no one seemed to be dancing, so of course we fixed that. There was a big group of young Peruvian girls just standing watching, so we pretty much made them join in and before long the dancefloor was pumping. Meanwhile, right on midnight, an older lady who had been keeping an eye on the girls ushered them all out the door. We asked her in Spanish how old the girls were and she said 14. Turns out she was their teacher; they were on school camp and they had a midnight curfew. Ha! I'm pretty sure that would never happen on a Flinders camp. I think they had a good night though. I know I did.

My next destination was Nazca, to see the ancient Nazca lines drawn in the sand in the middle of the desert. I wanted to get a flight over them, but then I heard that three British tourists had died in a plane crash just the week before, and for once I decided to err on the side of caution and just go to the lookout instead. I think I'm glad I saved my money because I spoke to an older lady later in my trip and she said it was the biggest waste of money. The flights are only half an hour and she said they all got sick because the plane wobbles around so much. So I got to see some of the lines and I lived to tell the tale so that's enough for me. For those who have no idea what I am talking about, the Nazca lines are huge pictures in the sand thought to be thousands of years old, drawn by the Nazca people, but it is a mystery why they drew them. There are symbols of a hummingbird, a monkey, a spider and many more, but they are so big you can only really see them from the air. This led many people to believe they were drawn for extraterrestrial beings, but the more likely reason is that they represent some sort of agricultural calendar or offering to the Gods or something.

After Nazca I caught a bus to Peru's second biggest city, Arequipa. This place was charming, very Spanish-looking with big cathedrals and cobblestone streets. I had another night out on the town with some people from the hostel, then did a three day hiking trip to the Colca Canyon, which depending on who you talk to is either the deepest or second deepest canyon in the world. Our guide thinks it's the deepest. We saw some big condors from a lookout then began the hot, dusty descent into the canyon. The best thing about a canyon hike is that you get the good view before you even start hiking. The downhill stint was pretty taxing on the old ankles and knees, but we rewarded ourselves by dipping them in the nice cool river at the bottom. Then we walked to a little village. One thing that hasn't ceased to amaze me in this trip is the strange desire of people to live in the most isolated places, despite the difficulties arising from such a choice. These villagers were so cut off from the world; most of them looked like their skin had spent just a little too much time being cooked by the sun, so even though they all looked about 90, for all I know they could have been 35. The only way they get supplies into the canyon is via mule, which meant water was expensive. Goodness knows what they do with their day, other than farming... actually, they did have a dusty old soccer pitch and I am told that the people get VERY excited when it's football season. I will have to take their word for it.

So we left our basic lodging at ridiculous o'clock then continued on to the next place we were staying, a lush little oasis in the dusty canyon with a few cool blue pools scattered around the place. We nearly lost two older German ladies in our group who insisted on leaving before us so they wouldn't hold us up, only they got lost so we ended up having to wait even longer for them. We all had a dip in the pool then lazed away the rest of the afternoon. Early night, as we had to get up at 4:30am again the next day to begin our arduous climb out of the canyon (it's alright, good training for the Inca Trail...) before the sun came up. I have to say, I was grateful for the early start, as the sun was HOT when it got going. Our group climbed the 1000m in two hours, which was a pretty good effort, and I am glad to say we beat the mules, which some people decided to ride to the top. May I point out that they do have the advantage of two extra legs... it only takes them about 1.5 hours, but they left an hour after us, so we still beat them :P

So we concluded our tour with breakfast of fried eggs at the village at the top and then we went to the hot springs to have a cold beer and soak our sore muscles. I slept pretty well that night, then caught a bus the next day to Puno, my last destination in Peru before crossing the border to Bolivia. But I would be back again for Peru Part II!


1 comment: