The journey from Cuzco to Nazca was our worst in SA so far. It was supposed to take 15 hours but our “Formula One” driver did it 13 hours. We zigzagged all through the night, barely staying in our seats. On the plus side we didn’t encounter any bandits – they would have had a hard time stopping us. As the sun rose we saw a dry, grey-beige, sandy landscape. The sky was also grey-white and it all blended into a kind of nothingness.
In Nazca we took a ride in a small plane to see the famous and enigmatic Nazca lines. As per our guidebook – “ Etched into the pampa are a series of enormous geoglyphs and geometrical lines and shapes that were only discovered during the early part of the 20th century. Some represent animals such as a 180m long lizard, a 90m high monkey with an extravagantly curled tail and a condor with a 130m wingspan. Others are simple but perfect geometric figures. They were made by removing the darkened stones from the desert surface to expose the lighter coloured stones below.” One theory is that of Maria Reiche (a German mathematician) who believed that they are part of a huge astronomical calendar made by the Paracas and Nazca people from 900BC to AD600 with 7th century additions by Wari settlers from the highlands. We also saw part of a video where the people walked along the lines as part of a ceremony to “obtain” the spirit of the animal inside them. This was after taking some hallucinogenic drugs, of course. Who knows, but they were definitely worth seeing. Personal favourites include the spider, monkey and astronaut. Although Peter suspects this last one is a fake.
Whilst in Nazca we also visited a centuries old cemetery – Chauchillas. (En route we pass the world’s highest sand dune – Cerro Blanco at 2078m). The graves are actually adobe tombs and several are open for us to see. The mummies are in the foetal position. This represented leaving earth in the same way that they had entered it. They were in “sacks” which were tied at the neck, exposing their heads and they faced east, looking for the sunrise each day. Around them were pots of food and drink for the afterlife. Some of them are believed to be priests or shamans as they had never cut their hair. Their bleached white skulls had 2 to 3 metre hair attached. The tombs would be reopened when a family member died and there was a separate tomb for each generation. The grave robbers looted thousands of graves around here and there are human bones and pieces of clothing lying around in the sand.
Peru’s capital was founded by conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535 and it is not a pretty city. It’s overcrowded, polluted and noisy. It also has a dismal climate and for 9 months of the year it gets “garua”, a coastal fog that blots out the sun and blankets the buildings in a fine grey mist. Basically Lima had no sky. Still most travelers end up passing through and we were no exception. We hung out for a few days. There were a couple of good museums. One was the National Museum which told the history of man in Peru up to Incan times. The other was a private collection of pre Incan gold, jewellery, mummies, ceramics etc. (Obviously looted from graves at some stage). The collector also had on display an impressive and vast collection of arms from throughout the world, including skean dhus and dirks from Scotland.
We also visited the main plaza with the President’s Palace (here we watched the changing of the guard), the Cathedral with Francisco Pizarro’s remains, the Archbishop’s Palace and Government buildings. Nearby is the Monastery of San Francisco where we took a tour that included the famous catacombs. Here there are the bones of 25,000 people which have been arranged into patterns or piled up in groups i.e. all the skulls together. It’s all rather bizarre and definitely spooky.
We travel up the bland Peruvian coast and then turned right into the mountains. Here we are greeted with greenery, blue lakes and snow capped peaks. There’s some great trekking in this area but we decide to only stay a couple of days. We visited some little mountain towns and saw the giant puya raimondi plant which is endemic to Peru. It grows up to 14m high and one plant can have 18,000 flowers on it when in bloom. We also took a minibus and horses to reach Nevado Pastoruri (glacier & ice caves). Unbelievably, it was at this glacier 5000m up in the middle of nowhere that we bumped into Gaelle, a former Herbert Smith colleague – what a small world. Jackie and Gaelle had a good old natter about all the HS people - were your ears burning?
Next we travelled back to the coast and the city of Trujillo. From here we visited a couple of important pre-Incan archaeological sites. The Huacas del Sol and de la Luna are Moche temples that are about 1500 years old. It is pretty amazing that they survived because they are made of mud – they don’t get much rain here. The Huaca del Sol is massive and 140 million adobe bricks were used to build it. The Spanish had heard a rumour that there was gold inside so they diverted a river to destroy the building (there was nothing but more mud bricks inside). Now, less than 40% of the original pyramid exists but it is still huge and impressive.
The Huaca de la Luna was the best preserved with clear, brightly painted walls decorated with birds, masks, spiders, snakes etc. Each new king would build a new level on top of the old one filling in the passages with mud bricks. They were, however, careful to protect the high relief art on the walls as they buried them. That is why, today, the artwork is so well preserved even though it is made of mud. To make these buildings, citizens were obliged to pay a tax in the form of mud bricks. As they had no system of writing, each family had a unique symbol that they impressed into the bricks so their quota could be identified.
We also visited Chan Chan. This was a city built around 1300AD by the Chimus and it contained about 10,000 buildings. The whole city was decorated with designs moulded into the mud walls and the more important areas were layered with precious metals. Today we see a lot of crumbling mud walls but also some spectacular friezes. We walked back in time through the temples, ceremonial plazas, administrative buildings and visit the royal burial mounds. The entire area is huge, about 14sqkm. It’s pretty impressive.
We head further north and stop for a couple of days in the quiet, border town of Tumbes. We treated ourselves to a posh place and chilled out by the swimming pool with a beer and enjoyed the heat. Now, we’re sitting by the pool and a man sneaks onto the property to try to sell us his wears. Was he selling cold beer or water or sunscreen or postcards or even finger puppets? No. Did he want to shine our shoes, move to his hotel or take a ride in his taxi? No. Any of these we could understand. Nope, he was selling clip on desk lamps!! Unf…ing believable!
We also decided to splash out on an “International” bus to get across the border into Ecuador. Thus avoiding the harassment and overcharging of taxi drivers, vendors and potentially border guards at immigration and customs. Bribes are not uncommon here! It was quite a surprise and relief to arrive in Guayaquil, Ecuador and NOT have to push our way through a pack of screaming hotel touts. And, surprise surprise, the taxi drivers are sitting in their cars waiting for us to ASK for a ride. What a great country, we like it already!
Click here for Ecuador Travelog