animalia, aventura, natural wonder, Peru, South America, ye olde worlde

sour drinks, sour smells, sand in my pants and soaring lines

Bec / 02/06/2013

Islas Ballestas is a small outcrop of rocks off the coast near Pisco, a small town decimated by an 8.0 Richter scale earthquake back in 2007 that hasn’t really recovered since. Nearby Paracas is faring a bit better in terms of rebuilding and has fish processing and tourism to boost its economy. What this means is when you board your speedboat for a trip to see the islands, you cannot escape the pungent odour of fish slapping you in the face like Monty Python.

On the way to the islands is a 127-ish metre tall candelabra carved into the side of a hill with several theories as to its purpose for being. Perhaps pirates, ancient cultures or aliens. Either way it’s impressive and difficult to take a photo with any kind of context of scale.

Continuing on and it’s best to keep your hat or jacket hood on to save being unceremoniously wished good luck by the thousands of overhead boobies. Yep, Peruvian or Nazca boobies in their thousands upon thousands roost on the islands, leaving a little bit of space for cormorants, gulls, terns and Humboldt penguins. Yes, penguins! As we puttered past the rocks we also came across crabs and sun baking sea lions. We were under constant guano threat from overhead as birds swirled all around reminding Ivy of Hitchcock’s classic. We escaped un-guanoed. Which is lucky for more than the obvious reason, we could have been accused of stealing the product – guano is collected and exported to Europe for fertilizer, mmmm yum. And you thought your job was bad, imagine putting birdshit-collector on your speed dating application, hmm?

Back on deserty terra firma we headed for Ica and Huacachina – a tiny oasis hamlet surrounded by giant sand dunes and dune buggy companies. Kristin, Camille, Lauren and I strapped into a roll cage on roids and with Evil Kineval at the wheel, hurtled up, down, over and around the dunes, occasionally losing our seat but thankfully not our breakfast.

The noise is the first thing you notice and then the complete lack thereof when the engine is cut. It’s spellbinding how quiet it is at the bottom of a dune and there’s only the whistling wind for company at the top with views across to the foothills of the Andes, the city of Ica one way, and sand, sand, sand the other.

Evil waxed our sand boards with a candle, told us to hold on and pushed us down a three level dune, catching us up with the buggy at each level. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale of the dunes, it’s a long way up and it’s a fast way down, but I haven’t a clue how tall the dunes would have been except to say once we were at the base it seemed a terribly long way up to the top level. And that’s why the gods invented buggies.

We strapped back into the red rocket and took off again, finding lagoon oases, plenty of dunes to climb and tip over the brink to barrel down the other side, you could tell Evil likes his job. We asked for another boarding opportunity so he found a steep slope to send us down. Kristin wanted to try going upright but discovered it’s nothing like snow boarding. Still she didn’t tumble to the bottom to her credit. The rest of us stuck to whisking down on our stomachs…not comfortable for the pubis but also a low centre of gravity should we have managed to fall the 2cms off the side and make our own undignified way to the base. We all survived, squealed like I do on a roller coaster and thoroughly enjoyed the adrenalin rush, despite still finding sand in the clothes we wore days later.

We stopped by a winery to learn how pisco is made – just like any fermented and distilled grape spirit really. The neat, non-aromatic one tastes just like window cleaner and sits at about 42% alcohol. The aromatic one is just as powerful, could also clean windows and is slightly more drinkable if the life-threatening need arose. It’s a bit better when watered down with wine into a strong sherry style drink, or semi-prepared into pisco sour. I’ve got a bottle of that to butter up my porter on the Inca Trail, let’s hope he likes it a helluva lot more than I ever will.

Finally as we drew closer to Nazca we stopped for a view over the mountains and valley town of Palpa – a strip of verdant green on the river bed bounded on both sides by soaring desert beige ridges. Closer to Nazca we paid 2 soles each to climb a metal tower that barely gets tall enough to view the lines in figures of hands and a tree – the famous Nazca lines.

Ivy, Camille, Kristin, Lauren and I boarded six-seater Cessnas the next morning for a whizz around the lines from the only decent vantage point – the sky. The whale, triangles, dog, monkey, condor, hummingbird, frigate bird, astronaut – yeah, because they had them thousands of years ago – flamingo or alcatraz and the tree and hands again to see how the tower just doesn’t do them justice. The pilot showed us on both sides of the plane which means banking hard left and right to come back for the second passes which didn’t agree with the others but no one needed the supplied sick bags 🙂

The figures are not alone, scratched into the earth. Hundreds of lines traverse the landscape, criss-crossing and spiraling, going for miles and miles in all directions, dead straight and sometimes over hills and small mountains. Many line up with cosmic events and solstices and still no one can tell us why or how for sure. Whatever their purpose then, their purpose now is to keep the visitors flocking and a charming female co-pilot in a job.

Lunch was lovely but moreso the free show we got from the cutest perhaps-four-year-old boy in the back of the restaurant stacking soft drink bottles from crate to crate. Glass bottles. Bottles that clank and clink and break when you go that little bit too far trying to see from what height you can drop them safely. Upside down, sideways, didn’t matter until dad came out and told him probably “for the last time junior, they go this way!”. This brought on the most theatrical bout of the sulks with protruding bottom lip, downcast eyes and turning to put his forehead down on his hands. It probably didn’t help when we might have giggled at him, but only because he was cute and it was in that awwwwwww kind of way when watching a puppy try to negotiate stairs. He got bored and played with the stereo when the music stopped and mum came out to ask him to put more cokes in the fridge. Eager to please he did such a good job he came back into the restaurant wiping his hands like Pontius Pilot.

With another unwelcome night bus that night some of us made the most of walking around the handicraft stalls and haggling before hooking into the best priced Havana Club rum I’ve ever seen – 30 soles for 1 litre. 30 soles runs at about 12USD. I KNOW!




































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