On Saturday the sixth of August 2011, I began a trip 25 years in the waiting. It is a journey that I have dreamed of doing since I was a child. I'm off to South America, specifically Peru & Bolivia with a relax at the end in Buenos Aires. To say I'm excited would be an understatement.

This journey began for me in 1985 when I lived in Port Lincoln. It was a beautiful summers day, the sun a rich golden warmth that eradicated the edge that lingers in people after Christmas and New Years. Children were everywhere frolicking along the foreshore and through the waters, jumping from the Jetty and enjoying all that could be from the day. The morning drew to afternoon and my sister and her friends started to wander further than my mother wanted them to. She sent me to bring them back closer to her view.

I stepped into the blue water lapping the shore, took a few steps into the pitiful surf, and fell. Electricity shot through my body, screamed into my skull, nerves became alive like never before. I yelled, but not understanding the pain, thinking it was probably just a stubbed toe, I reached into the water and pulled my foot free and into the air. My mind went white, my voice pierced the golden joy of summer, the water darkened, staining with the rich blood pouring forth from my foot, opened like a baguette.

During my stay at the hospital where they repaired my foot as best they can, I received a gift from my Grandmother. It was a calendar with pictures of places around the world. In the calendar I found two that I had to see – The Pyramids of Giza and Macchu Pichu. I have carried a picture of Macchu Pichu with me since then, and finally on the 21st of August 2011, I will be there after having hiked through the Andes for the previous three days.

Below are the entries for the Peruvian leg of this trip.

August 12 2011 - Nazca

NAZCA, is a town of approximately 60,000 people, with the primary industries being mining, tourism and agriculture. Mining has boomed over the last 3 years with the Nazca - Brazil Highway project, and in order of importance, they mine Copper, Iron, Gold, and Quartz. The mining has increased the cost of living and commerce here and has begun to increase the distance between rich and poor (there is no middle class here in Peru).

Farming in this district faces a major issue regarding water. The majority of its water supply is flow on from the wet season in the Highlands and the aquifer. As such it is dependant on a good rain season to support its crops of Cotton, Chickpeas, Butter Beans, Gold Corn (animal feed), White Corn (eating), Black Corn (drinking – Chicha Morada), Pumpkins, Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Watermelons. The farmers use a range of mulch and drip water systems to maximise the water they have access too and maintain their crops for the longest season.

Dried seaweed is a new enterprise for the area, attempting to cash in on the dry environment and the recently released lands. The seaweed gets sold overseas to manufacturers of fertiliser and cosmetics. It's early days, but the hope is for expansion due to the cheap labour and supply.

Another industry that is expanding is based around the Prickly Pear Cactus, which is used to trap the parasitic Cochineal Beetle which provides a red dye prized by the textile and cosmetics industries and once was a primary food colouring. These beetles get a very good price on the market and Peru hopes to get a larger share of that market.

Nazca is also home to the largest sand dune in the world, Cerro Blanco, 2080m high, 9km wide. It stands high against the sky, a mountain of sand.

Nazca is full of wide roads (for Peru) packed with cars driving to destinations unknown and taxis honking for fares. The streets are alive with commerce, women selling fresh bread from carts, fresh fruit stores hawking their wares, and randomly a DVD salesman with a portable screen and speaker trying to attract children to get parents to buy his product.

Our little group needed to get some supplies so we walked around town exploring. It is here I realised I should really have learnt more Spanish, or rather any Spanish at all.

Chauchilla Cemetery is an archaeological sight located just outside Nazca from a pre-Inca civilisation. It strikes me that my understanding of this region is quite low, as in the books I have read and what little school taught regarding this land, very little of it beside the Inca myths (which are mostly Quechua) has any relevance. For example, the books refer to the Inca and pre-Inca peoples. What they should tell you is of the great diversity of peoples that were pre-Inca, and vastness of their accomplishments prior to Inca establishing their massive empire. The Nazca were one such civilisation and so are the Ica Chauca. The mummification processes they used and the structure of their burial chambers show very complex funerary practices.

The cemetery is 1km long and 250m wide and contains between 400-500 tombs. Excavations were started in 1996 and sadly most of the graves were empty, having been robbed over the preceding centuries. Currently there are 12 tombs open and available for viewing by the public. The area surrounding the open tombs is littered with debris left by grave robbers, small bones and desiccated fabrics, things that they saw no wealth in. The remaining tombs contain as much as was left and are laid out to allow the public the best view and understanding of these peoples and their practices.

The first tomb contains a mummy sitting foetal in a woven cotton basket facing the east, complete with hair and teeth, but sadly the fine alpaca and vicuña fabrics have been stolen as well as the gold adornments and ceremonial bowls and other items of wealth.

In the Ica Chauca culture, the royals elongated their heads, beginning at childhood with binding placed around the skull, and through early life until the skull growth was of the right shape to continue. In this way the royalty ensured their visual differences from the commoner. Binding is interesting in that it occurs amongst societies across the world, and it makes you wonder where and how they got the idea for it. These skulls have been especially looted as they fetch a very good price on the black antiquities market.

The next tomb includes a baby, wrapped in cotton. The baby, the same as the adults, would have been wrapped in fine textiles but would not have had the same level of physical wealth as the adults, but was still in the foetal position facing the rising sun. Once more the tomb has been looted.

Another tomb contained a shaman or other powerful figure, this was marked by dreadlocks over 1 ½ metres in length. Other tombs still contained eyes in their sockets, the skin stretched over fingers, or curled back over the face. In many ways people would find this grotesque, but in a few centuries our descendants will most likely be doing it to our graves and wondering at the bizarre funerary practices we used.

The Ica Chauca chose this place specifically for the properties of the area. Their mummification process involves keeping the entire body intact, unlike some other cultures that remove the internal organs. This area has a very high salt content, combined with the dry sand and low moisture means excellent preservation of the body. To mummify, the body would first be washed, then salted to dehydrate, then covered with herbs and resin to preserve. The body would then be wrapped in Cotton to absorb the excess liquid, then dressed according to their station. The body would then be placed in the cotton basket, weaved in a spiral to symbolise eternity, with a range of leaves and herbs at the bottom to keep moths from infesting. Over time the fluids would pool at the bottom and mix with the sand, which shows us where the bodies would have been.

The tombs themselves were excavated as rooms. The wealthy dead were the more elaborate with inner and outer mud brick walls, a roof made with wooden branches as cross beams, thatch of mud and leaves, then sand around 50cm thick. The wealthy were buried deeper, with the roof still at the same height, whilst the poor were shallower with no walls.

It was a fascinating experience.

Nazca Pottery; We visited a local ceramics store. The owner/operator was trained by his father-in-law who was a Grand Master of the Nazca style of pottery keeping the traditional method alive. Nazca pottery differs from Ica Chuauca in that Nazca pieces appear glossy decades and even centuries after they have been made. Our host talked us through a rough guide to the process.

He uses Andean clay, which he makes himself. He collects the clay and puts in a container with water for 30 days, then filters it. He then mixes in sand to get the right consistency.

He then starts to mould it. All pieces are made by hand, gently sculpted and spun on a Nazca ceramic wheel. Once the right shape has been made, he sun bakes the piece then polishes and paints. Nazca is only painted in oxides and he makes all of his own paints, gathering the ingredients and mixing them to his own specific recipe. The brushes are made from baby hair because of how fine it is. He has a range of sizes to achieve the necessary lines. Once the piece is painted he fires it in his traditional Kiln at around 900 degrees centigrade over night. The pieces are in the centre of the kiln with a ceramic cover over the firing area, covered by the heated carbon. This heating binds the oxides to the clay creating a permanent stain. After the pieces are cooled, they are stone polished, with the oil from the skin closing the pores then laid in the sun for 3-4 days. A quick wash and dry and the piece is perfect.

The designs used here are only traditional Nazca, taken from countless archaeological relics and images and replicated meticulously. Nazca pieces are almost always pairs, for ceremonial, decorative and domestic use. The pieces are quite stunning and when you compare the artefact with the replica, the colours are barely distinguishable, the only difference you notice is that the replica is whole. It is a stunning process, and well worth looking into experience when you visit Nazca.

Other Peru Articles:

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