And then there were 18...... Yes, weve just left Lima and our numbers have almost halved. It already feels like a different trip and after three months of 24/7 together, it was really hard to say goodbye to some people and really, really easy to say goodbye to others! I am now Josie-less and dont quite know what to do with myself, weve been partners in pretty much all crimes since Day 2 in Rio- a whole lifetme ago! Bless her, shes off to the jungle to do some volunteer work neutering cats and dogs and anything that results in there being less cats in the world is more than OK with me! On the plus side, we do all now have two seats to ourselves on the bus! On the otherhand, the end of the trip is in sight, what a scary thought...
I have been a busy bee since I last wrote, so prepare yourselves for a War and Peace length update! (Whats new, eh?!) Our first stop after Cusco was Arequipa, the White City of Peru. Most of the city was built with a sparkly white volcanic rock called Sillustani and the main Plaza de Armes was absolutely beautiful. The biggest attraction in Arequipa is Juanita- The Ice Maiden. Juanita was a twelve year old Inca princess that was sacrificed to the gods on top of a really high mountain about 600 years ago. Almost as soon as she died, her body was encased by ice and perfectly preserved. I mean perfectly preserved, she has hair and fingernails and all of her internal organs. Creepy but weirdly fascinating! An American discovered her about 10 years ago after a volcanic eruption melted the snow cap on her mountain. She now lives in a glass freezer in Arequipa when boffins arent running tests on her or when the Peruvians arent fighting over where she should be housed. We were really lucky as the day we went to see her was her first day on display for over 5 months. It was a terrific museum, the Discovery Channel made a documentary on Juanita and how and why she was found and you watch that before going to see her, it actually makes a differnece when you understand what youre looking at!
The other big attraction in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Convent. Peruvian cities so far have been incredibly noisy, theres always lots of construction going on, jackhammers and general banging and they use their car horns instead of indicating- its pretty mental. The convent was an oasis of tranquility and serenity, a couple of hours of peace and quiet....priceless! The convent is a UNESCO World Heritage site now, so theres no nuns living there anymore but they had it plush when they did! Beautiful, colourful courtyards, trees and flowers and they didnt have to deal with the public- it makes it easier to understand why anyone would dedicate their lives to the catholic church..
Our next stop was Puerto Inka, a beach stop. I was really looking forward to this one for two reasons- I have really missed the sea but I have missed being at sea level more! We also got to camp on the sand, which was great. It was fantastic to be able to take deep breaths that completly filled my lungs and climb steps without needing to sit down afterwards. I didnt realise how much the altitude affected me until hitting the beach. Unfortuantely, we couldnt swim as the rip tides were too dangerous but I did have a paddle and the Pacific is freezing here too! It was party time at Puerto Inka, we had a spit roast and buckets and buckets of sangria (or cheap and nasty fruit punch to be precise!). There was a few people in fancy dress and a disco playing cheesy toons- a lot of fun, I think..
Onwards to Nasca! I have been really curious about this place since booking the trip. The Nasca people were a pre- Inca culture who lived between 500 BC and 1400 AD. What makes them interesting is that they drew these massive pictures on the ground in the dessert. Really random things from monkeys to hummingbirds. Curiously theres a picture of an astronaut, who, Im pretty sure, didnt exist in 500 BC! Theres great debates and all sorts of conspiricy theories as to why the Nasca Lines are there. Personally, I reckon it has something to do with the availability of hallucinogenic drugs in this part of the world but I really want to believe they were landing sites for spaceships- a theory which could also have something to do with the availability of hallucinogenic drugs...... My favourite one was the monkey. My pictures arent great but if you squint your eyes and tilt your head, you should be able to make out the Humming Bird in the picture below!
The only way to see the Nasca Lines is from above, so we went up in little cessna planes for a scenic flight. Seriously, the planes were about the size of coke cans! Five of us piled into each one and were literally pulling up our windows as the plane was taxi-ing down the runway! When wed come to a line, the pilot would take his hands off the controls and gesture wildly to expain what we were looking at. Then, hed flip the plane 90 degrees onto its left side and circle the line so the people on that side could take photos and then swing onto the right side and circle again so the rest on board could snap away. Not for the feint hearted! After about the fourth line, I was green and was very weakly lifting my arm to take pictures, hense their lack of clarity! I wasnt the worst by a long stretch though and more than a few unfortunates spent the flight with their head in a brown paper bag, cursing sangria... An unforgettable day!
Before our stomachs had time to settle after the flight/ rollercoaster ride in Nasca, we were on our way to the Ballestas Islands. Known as the poor mans Gallopogos- its the closest Im going to get on this trip. Its my own fault for just ignoring the whole budget thing! As the Humboldt current runs from the Antartic along the pacific coast, these islands are a haven for a lot of wildlife. Sea Lions, Penguins and lots and lots of birds, including vultures- pretty cool! We did a boat cruise around them, you obviously cant set foot on them as theyre a wildlife sanctuary. Given the amount of birds, theres an awful lot of guano (thats bird sh*t for the northsiders!) on the island. The smell is something fowl (he he!). Bizzarly, guano is one of Perus biggest exports. They sell it to Europe as fertilizer- its nice to know Im not the only one buying copious amounts of crap in South America...!
Our last stop before Lima was Huacachina, an oasis in the Atacama Desert. I cant remeber the last time I had so much fun or laughed as much as on this excursion. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Lima lightweights. Theres some of the biggest sand dunes in the world here and the idea was that dune buggies would take us to the dunes, wed sand board down them and then sleep under the stars. The dune buggies came to pick us up, they were like jeeps with metal bars around them. I dont know why but I just expected them to collect us and drive us to the dunes. How thick am I? Pacho, our driver, thought he was Evil Kinnevil and drove us through the desert Dukes of Hazzard stylie at about 150 miles an hour- I loved it! We spent more time in the air than on the sand and he drove up every dune he saw, just to fly straight back down it! I have never heard so much screaming in my life and it beat the hell out of every rollercoaster Ive ever been on! The sand boarding was a bit of a let down after the buggies but standing at the top of a 500m high dune, preparing to slide down it on a pretty small piece of wood didnt do a lot for my stress levels. Great fun, just the right mix of adrenalin and excitement. After an amazing sunset, we had a BBQ and Pisco Sour party and danced the night away to yet more cheesy toons. We slept wherever we fell on the sand. The stars were something else. It was like being in a planetarium. The sky looked dirty there was so many and they came right down to the tops of the dunes. Spectacular, spectacular! Ive said it before but I mean it this time, no more Pisco Sour for me. Cheap alcohol and egg whites do not a pleasant hang over make...
Finally to Lima. Didnt like the look of it on the way in. Slums and piles and piles of rubbish. So I was pleasantly surprised by the microcentre with its beautiful squares and colonial buildings and by Miraflores, an affulent suburb by the sea. Id like to say I killed myself sight seeing but I just loved Miraflores and spent two girlie days there. It was nice to forget we were scaldy backpackers for a couple of days! We went to the cinema, had a four hour long lunch in a restaurant on a cliff overlooking the sea, got petticures- that type of thing! Its Josies birthday on Monday, after all! I felt so sorry for the poor girl who had to touch my hobbit feet- after all of the walking, they were disgusting and she actually made a face when she saw them- mortified! It was a very quiet and sad bus that departed Lima for Huaraz- a total dump surrounded by the beautiful Cordillera Blanca mountain range, the second highest in the world. Yep, back at altitude and more walking, that petticure was a waste of time! I did manage to get a pretty good Chicken Tikka Masala though, cooked by an English guy. Ridiculously expensive but it means I can stop dreaming about them now..
Miss you Jose! Happy Birthday!....youre not really dead to us...kind of, but not really....