Friday, June 08, 2007

Past Vacations #19: Peru 2006 - Part Two - Nazca Plain and Ballestas Islands

On the morning of day three we boarded a bus and drove south. The bus was big and each of us could have had our own seat. On our way to Nazca we learned that a large part of Peru is Desert. From the coast to the Andes Mountains, the country is sandy desert. Ten rivers flow from the Andes to the ocean and cities, towns and farm land sprout along the river oases.

As we drove down the
Pan-American Highway, the desert was dotted by shanties and tin shacks. All countries of the world have their poor. Peru is no different. One thing I found very interesting is that Peru is embracing Globalization by introducing new crops for export - one crop being Asparagus. The Peruvian people seem very forward looking.

Our first official stop was in the city of Ica. We arrived a little early and our air tour of the Nazca Lines was not ready for us so we stopped for lunch at a resort. We enjoyed a buffet lunch and music. The outdoor restaurant was great. The music, played on traditional bamboo pan flute, was wonderful. They played a mix of Peruvian and western music (including ABBA - HA!). This was the first place where I heard the Simon and Garfunkel song that haunted me the entire vacation.

After our excellent lunch we visited a regional museum. I didn't take any pictures here and I kind of regret it. Most of the rooms were full of stuff similar to the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum exhibits we saw in Lima but the last room was different. This room, the bioanthropology room, displayed mummified remains including the
elongated skulls of people whose head was bound with boards at birth resulting in a deformed, almost alien looking, skull.


After the museum, we were informed that the Nazca air tour was ready for us. The weather had cleared out since morning so the viewing would be spectacular. We were bussed to the local airport where we were divided into two groups. The wife and I were in the second group. While the first group flew we toured the airport and had a chance to get a close up look at an Andean Condor. The plane returned and it was our turn. I had read about the Nazca Lines since I was a little boy. I had always been fascinated with UFOs and other stuff little boys are interested in. One theory about the lines is that they were built by aliens as landing strips. I am much more skeptical today (University education does that to most people) and there is ample proof that this awesome feat of artistry is man-made - a testament of the skills of the pre-Incan civilizations.

The flight to the Nazca Plain and the famous Nazca lines was about 15-20 minutes. The figures are amazing - the largest being over 900 ft long. The lines were made by moving the rocky surface aside exposing the lighter soil below. The plain, part of the northern Atacama Desert, is dry and virtually windless which has allowed the figures to last at least 1,300 years. Today tire tracks from tourist cars and motorcycles are a bigger threat to their existence then the forces of nature. Our tour pilot was hilarious. First he would bank hard to the left then hard to the right to give all the passengers the best view possible. He was obviously having fun. I spent most of the flight with my eye to the view finder of my camera praying that the pictures would come out. If they didn't, I would have missed a lot. Fortunately for me most of them came out. In the pictures you can see the Spaceman, the Monkey, the Thunderbird, the Spider, the Hummingbird, and the Hands. Here is the Alien Landing Strip. On the trip to and from the lines I took some great pictures of the desert landscape - some of my best pictures if I say so myself. We were all happy to get back onto Terra Firma - all the bank-right-bank-left-ing was a little too much for some people and my stomach was a little queasy after that amazing roller coaster ride over some of the best scenery I have ever witnessed.

We got back on the bus and made a brief stop to the
Huaca China Lagoon. Legend has it that a maiden was bathing in the water was discovered by a hunter from another tribe. Her tears became the lagoon and her robe, billowing as she ran from the hunter, became the dunes that surround the oasis. The maiden is said to have transformed into a mermaid and lives in the lagoon. Today the lagoon is a vacation spot for many Peruvians and the dunes are used for "Snowboarding."


That evening we spent the night in Paracas just north of Ica on the Pacific coast. Our guide said we should wear jackets and hats for the next morning. She emphasized the hats. The next morning we got on a boat and headed out to the Ballestas Islands. On the way to the island we got a view of the mysterious Candelabra of the Andes. The Ballestas Islands used to be used as a rich source of guano. Every seven of so years, workers from the Andes would be hired to collect the bird droppings that, after seven years, would be feet thick. The guano was used as fertilizer in Europe. The islands are now part of a nature reserve. Colonies of sea lions, pelicans, cormorants, boobys, and penguins live on the islands. The need for hats and jackets soon became apparent as waves of birds flew overhead and do what birds do best - guano. As our boat cruised around the islands, huge flocks of birds - I mean THOUSANDS flew overhead in waves. I have never seen so many birds in one place at the same time. When I looked up and saw the wave upon wave of birds, I was completely full of awe. On the way back to shore we were escorted by some dolphins.

Later that day we went into Paracas and did a little shopping. During our last meal in Paracas, the guide pointed out that my birthday was only a day away. She also pointed out that our Doctor from Sioux City had just celebrated a birthday. Everyone sang Happy Birthday but, since we really weren't on a first name basis yet, the song faded into incoherent mumbling when it was time to sing the names. We all got a laugh out of that. A chocolate tort was brought out, we blew out our candles, and we all partook of birthday tort. The Doctor and I were given
cool gifts from our guide. We drove back to Lima and went to bed early as we had to get up very early the next morning to catch a flight to Cuzco.

Here ends Chapter Two. Pictures can be found
here. Coming up in the next chapter: Our flight to Cuzco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Ollantaytambo.

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