Friday 14 December 2018

Fun in the desert. Nasca and Ica

Peru is very geographically diverse . So far we have only explored a small part of the Southern region but we have seen dense green forests, beautiful rocky Pacific coastline, very large lakes, enormous deserts and dunes, deep gorges and endless flat baron planes.

These features along with the great cities and warm hospitality make it a really great place to spend some time. 

The maximum stay you can obtain on the border is 183 days in a 12 month period. We were lucky enough to get this and think that we will be staying to its limit.

Cusco and Machu Picchu were fantastic and with a bit of sadness we left this region in the direction of Nazca the land of huge desert drawings on the flat planes.

Sometimes you have to  to pinch yourself when visiting these places. I can clearly remember  as a teenager reading books by the Swiss fantasist  Erich Von Däniken, who had wacky theories regarding the creation and purpose of these lines, and now I was actually going to see them. 

Maybe if we were lucky we might even see some Alien Spaceships dropping in for quick pit stop.

We will come back to the lines a little later.

The deserts large town of Nazca near the Pacific coast was the centre of the Nazca culture that existed for about 900 years declining in 800AD. 

The whole region is an Archaeologists dream and new structures and artifacts of this culture are constantly being revealed.

The actual town of Nazca isn't the most exciting place but its location makes it a good  to visit  the archaeological gems in the region.

Along with our good friends Annaelle, Mauricio, Jan and Anja we stayed at Camping Wasipunko Ecolodge just outside the town.
The rather eccentric lady who owns it has, over many years, filled the site with interesting collections of various items ranging from kids toys to large diesel engines and sculptures. The whole place was like a museum to recent history being guarded by two large Peacocks with terrorist tendencies.

It was good to simply relax, playing games and eating too much.

There is a traditional cooking method in Peru using an earth oven called Pachamanca. 

It involves heating up lots of large round stones in a fire then placing them in a pit in the ground. On top of this you load on your meat and vegetables then cover the whole area with large leaves and earth. 

Four hours later its all ready to eat .

We have seen this cooking method used in Chile called Curanto.

Throughout the whole of this Andean region you will hear the name "Pachamama" used all the time. 

"Pachamama" ( Earth Mother ) is the ancient godess of fertility and prosperity. She is also  responsible for the successful  harvests, flooding, climate and other natural occurrences that effect daily life.

In view of this most of the indigenous people are constantly paying their respect to Pachamama in the form of sacrificing animals or offering small gifts to her.

For example if a local has a good crop then a small proportion of it is offered up in thanks  in an effort to secure the next crop. A poor crop would obviously indicate a lack of respect.

We even saw locals who having opened a bottle of beer automatically pour a small amount on to the floor as a gift .  

After the meal was cooked we were all invited to make an offering in the form of Coca leaves .

It clearly worked as it was cooked to perfection and tasted wonderful

We visited the ancient burial site of Necropolis de Chauchilla which lies about 30Km south of the town . It was unearthed in the 1920's and due to the incredibly dry conditions the occupants and their clothing  are extremely well preserved .

Now I must warn you here that the following photos are a little scary, but its probably too late as you have already seen them.

Although possible to camp overnight  here I didn't really fancy it.

The ancient ceremonial city of Cahuachi was a great but somewhat  lonely place to spend the night. 
Situated many km into the desert the site is totally deserted at night. 

The famous Pan American Highway ( Ruta 1S ) runs directly through Nazca and connects it with the the town of Ica which lies approximately 150km to the North. 

This major highway literally cuts through the famous Nasca lines. Sadly it actually completely bisects one of the images. Apparently the road was created prior to the images discovery.

This large collection of "geoglyphs" show images of various animals such as a hummingbird, spider, fish, llama, jaguar, monkey, lizard, dog and a human as well as trees and flowers.They were created by scraping away the top layer of soil revealing a different earth below.

There are many theories as to what these lines actually mean and what purpose the had. My moneys clearly on alien interaction.

Viewing them is best from the air but failing this you can get a small glimpse of them from a viewing platform.

Now I have to say that I was in fact a little bit under whelmed by the parts we could see.

Ica is a very touristy town in the middle of the desert. Its existence relies on its natural fresh water lake at Huacachina making it a veritable oasis.

The huge dunes have become a location for desert based activities such as sand boarding buggies and even skiing on sand.

Despite being a bit tacky we did have some fun

The coastal " Paracas National Reserve" which is shown in green on the maps, isn't.

However, it was great place to go to chill out  after the crazy few days in Ica 

It gave me the opportunity to have a go at driving over the dunes in the knowledge that Jan and Anja, in their large truck, were right behind me . Getting stuck on your own  in these regions could be an big problem as you are very remote with no form of communication so travelling with the others was comforting. 

Luckily we didn't get stuck but Mauricio and Annaelle did on several occasions 

Parking anywhere you want miles from civilisation  is simply heaven for most Overlanders. 

Vulture Station

This is an area that we will probably return to in the new year as The Dakar Rally route passes through it.

I want to finish this post with a short video created by our dear friend Mauricio. We think it sums up the essence and attraction of overlanding.

Don't forget you can see more photos and our route using the link at the top of this page

Hasta luego

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Hello Peru.

Over the last year we crossed paths with  many travellers who are heading south and for some reason we both felt that we had subconsciously been fed some negativity about Peru.

Subtle comments like "When you get to Peru they all drive like idiots" and "Wait until you see the bad roads and the rubbish in Peru." etc

Well we entered Peru from Copacabana about 5 weeks ago now and I have to say that so far we have not experienced anything negative at all . In fact I would be as bold to say that it is becoming a real highlight for us and we love it here. 

The geographical and archaeological features are amazing. The towns are really pleasant and the people have been very warm and friendly

Yes there is  an unacceptable amount of rubbish on some roadsides and the some of the drivers cause you to hold your breath , but it is no worse than Bolivia or other parts of this continent we have visited.  

Our last post left us on the shores of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The other part of the lake is in Peru and this was the first area we set off to explore. 

Our first destination was the  village of Llachon. 
The local people here were extremely welcoming. We were constantly waved to by the old women who work in the fields and the local children. It was really nice to get such a warm reception .

From here we booked a small local boat, captained by Freddy , to take us visit the Uru community that live on a collection of small Islands made from cut Totora reeds. 

Traditionally these people would live on these islands only venturing to the shore to trade with their land living cousins the Aymara .

Nowadays technology and tourism have reached them and they have adapted to their new found lifestyle.

Now I could tell you it was fantastic and wonderful and the Uru people lived an idyllic healthy life living off fresh fish and sunshine.

Sadly this wasn't our complete findings and I think we both left these island a little bit shocked and saddened. 

Firstly the Uru we met all looked really unhealthy. Their complexions were really poor and all of them had swollen limbs and fingers.

Sugar plays is a major part in the diet here in Peru, especially with the poorer indigenous people such as the Uru.

Both the adults and the children on the island appeared to be constantly consuming it. The kids had huge bags of sweets and always had a mouth full of sugar .

I can't help thinking that the increased contact and interaction with the outside world has had a slightly  negative affect on these folks .

Putting all that aside they were very accommodating and appeared pleased to see us.  One lady showed us how the raft was built and constantly maintained and how the  Totora reeds that grow in abundance on the lake are their life blood . They eat them, build islands and shelters with them and use them as fuel.

That night we camped on the shores of the lake at Chifron Beach. Around midnight we were woken up by two drunken locals on their motorbike. Well after about half an hour talking to Pat ( I stayed in bed )   through the small window in our toilet they soon gave up and left us in peace. 

Not sure what they wanted but this was the first time we have been disturbed in this way.  
Leaving the lake we headed in the direction of Cusco, the capital city of Peru, stopping on the way for a night in the large canyon at Tinajani.

En route to Cusco we stopped in a touristy layby and one of the girls on the stalls had an Alpaca with her. Now don't get fooled by their cute appearance, underneath that cuddly exterior is an angry spiteful beast. 

It was here that I had a lucky escape. This vicious  creature  lunged for me, but luckily I managed to leap out of the way leaving it only one remaining option  .  Bite Pat..   Phew that was close .

Camping Quinta La La became our home for the next 10 nights in Cusco. The owner Millie was delightful and she had lovingly been storing some truck parts for us in her living room for about the last 5 months.

Cusco town centre was really nice and we were lucky enough to meet up with our old friends Jan and Anja and Mauricio and Annaelle again. 

The restaurants were great and the weight was soon  piled back on .

We were lucky enough to be there for Halloween . The Plaza  was full of thousands of families all dressed up. The spooky theme appeared to be secondary , just getting out and dressing up in you favourite outfit was the order of the day. The atmosphere was fantastic. 
I think we could learn a lot from these events  back home.

Cusco is seen by most travellers as the gateway to one of Peru's major archaeological gems ... Machu Picchu, which sits about 100km directly North West . However, its nearest access point by road was actually about 250 km from Cusco.

There are several ways to get there . 
The first is hike for 4 days along  the Inca Trail directly from Cusco.

The second is to drive to the nearest point at the Hydro electric plant near Santa Teresa , leave the vehicle and walk 15km to the remote town of Aguas Callientes, and then either get a bus or walk to the gates of the attraction and return the same way either the same day or stay overnight in Aguas Callientes.

And lastly get a luxury train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo  to Aguas Callientes, taking in the views and a nice breakfast, then get the short bus ride to the mountain top city. 

Its at this point that I would love to say we loaded up and walked the Inca Trail. However, we didn't, we got the train from Cusco  and very nice it was too. We did waive to several weary looking walkers as we passed them, whilst drinking a glass of wine. 

We stayed over night in a local hotel and the next day , in perfect weather, set out for the the city in the sky.

Visiting Machu Picchu was a big event for us . We have always wanted to see it and at times along our journey to get here we felt that it was always slightly out of reach. Now call me a softy but when we got there and stood on the viewing area looking down at the ancient city I really felt quite emotional. I was so proud of Pat for getting there . 

Little bit of history and culture time 

Machu Picchu sits at about 2450 meters above sea level in the  Eastern Cordillera Mountain region of Southern Peru above the Urubamba river. 

This  Inca Citadel  was constructed in the mid 15 century and was a major city in the then ruling Inca Empire. 
This Empire at its peak covered most of western parts of  South America spanning  from Columbia and Ecuador down to the bottom of Chile.

Sadly the invasion of the Spanish saw the Inca empire rapidly diminish and eventually die out. However, evidence of its existence is apparent over most of the Pacific side  of the continent.

After the city was abandoned it was left mostly unattended and over the next 400  years nature consumed it , completely hiding it from view. 

In 1911 an eminent American Explorer  called "Hiram Bingham "  was searching the region for the " Lost city of the Incas" when he discovered the overgrown  Machu Picchu. Believing that he had found his goal he organised the clearing and restoration works to begin.

It is however, now widely believed that the location  he was looking for was in fact the nearby city of Vilcabamba. 

The restoration is still ongoing to this day and in 1983 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Incas were great Builders and Architects . Their love of steps is still very apparent throughout the region. 

However, unlike many other ancient civilisations of this period, it would appear that they hadn't mastered or found use for written text, so most of the assumptions that are made about their culture and civilisation come from preserved paintings, pottery and textiles.

The Sun played a huge part in their religion and culture and 300m above the city sits the Inti Punku or Sungate. 

That night we collapsed exhausted in our hotel room and the next morning woke up wondering how to spend the day as our return train back to Cusco wasn't until early evening. 

Well we didn't have to wonder for too long, having received a phone call from our friend Anja telling us that Jan had fallen ill and they needed me to drive them back to Cusco in their truck from the Hydro electric Plant.

That afternoon I took the train to their location and we set of on the slow overnight journey back to Quinta La La. 

Pat however, in true team spirit,  got the luxury train and had to endure nice food, fashion shows and a visit from the devil.

Thankfully over the next few days Jan made a full recovery.

We left Cusco heading for the regions of Nasca and the coast. 

Hasta Luego

Don't forget you can see lots more photos and our route on the aptly named "Route and Photos" page of this blog