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.

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August 10 to 11 2011 - Pisco & Nazca

We take a public bus from Lima, filled with Peruvians travelling to the countryside, the ride takes us from Central through to the highway. The suburbs in between are blends of old, new, half demolished, modern and despairing. Construction is everywhere, even throughout the poor districts. At times the poverty is heartbreaking, then you see a beggar with a mobile phone, and you realise that this is a city bursting at the seems to be modern against all the trials of a developing economy, struggling against decades of corruption. Unemployment is over a third of the population, apparently a few years ago it was closer to half if not more of the population. Last month there were elections in Peru, a chance to change for the better. The Peruvians I have spoken to are divided. Some believe this will be a great opportunity while others believe that this is going to be just more of the same as before.

The country side driving south is sand and rock, a desert with green blushes periodically. Many would find it inhospitable, but life clings and thrives amongst the wastes with agricultural ingenuity.

Along the drive, our guide Ali, chooses to correct some misinformation we may have regarding the people of Peru. The first one is that the people called Inca are actually Quechua. The Inca were the kings while the Quechua are the people of the land. Quechua is still a living language and we will meet quite a few people who use it as their primary language and Spanish as their second. When we get to Titicaca, we will need Quechua mostly as they are very traditional people.

We arrive in Pisco in the early evening, and wander through the small seaside town. It is a quaint town offering little besides restaurants and access to the Ballestas Islands, a group of islands that is a wildlife preserve, scheduled for the morning.

When we wake, we make our way to the tour office for our trip. Apparently there has been some bad weather and the Government has cancelled access to islands in the name of safety. We are given the option of driving to a national park where we can see other animals or continue early onto the winery where they make Pisco. If we go to the winery early, it means we will be at the Ica sand dunes for sand-boarding earlier. The group opts for Pisco and sand-boarding.

It's a short drive to the winery, Bodega Dona Juanila, where we are given a guided tour of the winery. The winery practices companion planting with its grapes, growing bananas and papaya. In April, the winery (and all the wineries in the region) host a party to crush the grapes and make the Pisco. It is here we are told that Quechua people are mostly alcoholics who enjoy any excuse to drink and party. They are devout Catholics while the sun is up, but pure Quechua when the sun goes down.

Pisco is a brandy distilled from freshly squeezed and pulped fruit rather than matured wine. It is also fermented in ceramic conical containers and must remain organic without any additives or preservatives, although sometimes other fruits are added to create special blends. It is fascinating to listen to the guide talk you through the very traditional techniques as well as highlight the failures to modernise the process.

When the tour is over, we are taken to the bar for a tasting. There are six to try, and the flavour difference between them is astounding. The Piscos were:

  • Pisco Sour
  • Vino Rose
  • Vino Perfecto Amor
  • Pisco Puro Torontel
  • Pisco Acholado
  • Fina Crema Con Pisco

All the Piscos were quite strong, sitting around the 40% alcohol mark, although the flavours were such that the alcohol didn't override on most. For me the Rose really stood out as a sweet intoxicating beverage, so I bought one to take home.

I learned something regarding the Wine Industry in Peru. There are quite a few Pisco wineries around but there are far more vineyards. Most of the vineyards are leased by Chilean companies for the production of Chilean wine because the Peruvians do not have the capital to support their own industry. Most of the leases are for 30 years and the Chileans get major concessions for this, so much so that the majority of money made from the production of these wines goes abroad ensuring that Peru will not be able to establish itself properly in the market. It's quite a shame really, as the grapes produced here are quite exceptional and give Chilean wine a lot of its character. If some rich person wanted to help the Peruvians get a god start they would set up a sustainability project here, leasing land for grapes, building the proper facilities and offer world class training to the locals with a goal of establishing a world class Peruvian wine, that could grow and offer independence to the people. It could be built as a community project, that would remain the property of the community afterwards, with the profits used to raise the community and help grant them financial independence.

After the Pisco shots, we made our way to the Sand Dunes at Ica.

Now this was a highlight. We all piled into a Dune Buggy, myself at the front and started tearing our way across the dunes. The buggy roared it's way up the dunes, carved wide arcs across their crests and plunged into the hollows between. The speed was exhilarating, and the adrenaline built steadily in all of us as we made our way through the dunes to the first of our boarding sites. We reached the top of the dune and disembarked. Our driver pulled the sand boards out of the back and began waxing them. The sand-boards look much like snow boards, with Velcro straps for front and rear foot holds. The first slope was quite steep and our driver told us that this one would be lying down.

Here's how you prepare for a face first slide down a dune:

  1. Wax your board
  2. Lay down flat on the board, grip the front foot straps with your hands
  3. Tuck your elbows in and rest them on the board
  4. Have your feet and legs in-line with the board
  5. Be pushed off the crest
  6. Open your legs and raise them slightly for speed
  7. Steer with the weight of your legs – higher or lower on each side
  8. Brake with your feet, if you must

It is intoxicating, and you build up quite a speed. I have some video which I will post when I get back home as I have no way of converting it here into a file that will upload and be played easily.

One at a time we fly down the slope, each cheering at the speed we reached and each other. Once down, we run to the next summit. Our driver gets the buggy and drives away. At the top, Mads and myself decide that we are going to try standing up for this one. Mads goes first and does a zigzag down, trying to maintain control, and reaches the bottom having experienced a few nice speeds.

For myself, I think, how much different can this be to snow-boarding? So, knowing I'm going to stack hardcore, I strap in, position myself for a straight downhill run and go. I make it a short way and have to lift the front of the board out of the sand, then go again – fast, quickly digging myself in again, before the world goes cyclic – round and around, direction loses meaning as I catapult myself through the sand. My board is strapped to my feet and I feel it catching sand a few times before I stop. Awesome! That was my best stack ever, and by far one of the most fun.

For the next hour we board two more slopes, before our driver asks: "One More? A Big One?"

We of course say yes, and he drives us to a massive downhill. The photos I took probably don't show the scale of it, but it was huge. I set my camera to sports mode and took enough pictures that I can create a gif when I get home to show the scale and speed.

When we had finished our awesome final downhill, our driver ripped across the dunes once more, gradually taking us back to the village to have lunch and lounge by the pool. A thing to take not of, is that Peru has some of the biggest sand dunes in the world. From Nazca, not too far away, there is a Sand Dune that qualifies as a mountain.

After lunch we drove onward to Nazca, into the hills the road swerves drastically in short curves and hairpins, long wide corners next to sheer cliffs with epic views of the valley then down into the plains and onto the highway to Nazca stretching long into the distance. Planes swoop low, lilting side to side to offer a view to their passengers of the lines not visible from the ground. Halfway through the stretch is a small lookout. Here you can pay 2 Sols to climb and see two of the Nazca lines: The Hands, and The Tree. They are impressive to behold, but really are just patterns in the dirt, be it very old patterns. The wind in the lookout is moderate, but when you reach the ground the wind is negligible, in fact it is pretty much non existent below one foot. Therefore, the wind doesn't destroy the patterns.

Onwards into the town of Nazca, and to our hotel. A relaxing evening before the next day's activities.

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August 08 to 10 2011 - Miraflores, Central Lima, Peru

Lima is on the western coast of Peru, the pacific ocean lapping at her edges. Miraflores is the tourist centre of town, mostly flat and easy to get around. It is a blend of old and new, truly the shape of the developing world. There doesn't seem to be much a plan to the roads as they branch at odd angles, quite the change from Adelaide's grid design. It is a metropolis bursting with life at every second. Traffic is chaos, but it flows across the multiple marked lanes, which are definitely a suggestion for where to go than a rule. Taxis swarm like ants over sugar, their horns blaring at one and all, looking for their fare. If you travel in one, make sure that you barter the fare before you get in. The city has a permanent haze from morning to night, a combination of smog and mist. Many of the city inhabitants and especially the street cleaners wear masks covering their nose and mouth.

A major feature of the the city is the parks (parques) and there are plenty of large and small green spaces. I went to quite a few on my wanderings:

  • Parque Del Amor
  • Parque Raimondo
  • Parque El Faro
  • Parque Salazar
  • Parque Domodossala
  • Parque Central (Kennedy Park)

One thing that will stand out to anyone visiting the parks is how well they are maintained. Public servants scour the parks collecting leaves and rubbish, tidying the flower plots. Another thing is that no-one walks, sits or lay on the grass.

The Parque Del Amor is on a cliff overlooking the ocean, it is two lovers embraced and kissing. The statue is simple, beautiful and entrancing. The walls around the statue are mosaic and filled with messages of love.Parque Amor

The other parks are all very nice, but none stood out like the Parque Del Amor.

There was an information booth nearby so went I went to ask why the monument was built. The young woman staffing the booth couldn't answer as it was her first day. I walked on to the next park which was a lighthouse monument, with no English signs, so I double backed passing the Parque del Amor, and along down the coast.

Peruvians, or rather, Limians, passed me by running along the coast, I passed by a small grove that had a range of bars and ignored it, thinking it merely an oddity. I came across another such park and found some people slinging ropes and rings over the bars. It dawned on me, the pairs of runners were Trainer and student and these parks were for fitness. I kept moving and soon found myself at a park with two resistance machines: A Chest Press and a modified rowing machine. I took a photo and another team ran up and started at the machines. I kept moving.

Statue in a Park, LimaThe next park was actually a shopping centre, 3 levels of stores easily recognisable regardless of nation. It is the wealthy stores, where the kids hang out looking cool. The park above had a pool of water with a rock plinth rising forth with an eagle head on top. There was an information booth nearby, so I walked over to ask the purpose of this monument. The young \man behind the desk spoke English relatively fluently. I asked my question, he asked if he could see a picture (we were barely 10 metres from the statue) so I showed him one. He looked at it, stroked his chin and said “I think it's an eagle of some kind. Sorry I don't know, it's my first day.”

I decided it must be everyone's first day and that tourism in Peru must have such a high turnover of staff because of people like me asking questions they are not used to. I thanked him for his time and began more exploring.

Statue in a Park, LimaMany may think my course of exploration strange, but it consists of moving in a grid along the streets until I have crossed every avenue, street, boulevard, lane, etcetera in an area, once the grid is done, I start again and capture the next grid. Thus, I get a feel for the area, and see the true face of where I am. Miraflores turned out to be pitted by the same faults as home – Gambling is far too readily available, a proliferation of options regarding fast food, and the poor hiding from our eyes. One thing that truly marks the difference between Australia and Lima was the proliferation of security. Seemingly every corner of Miraflores had a security officer, There was security at the banks, grocery stores, on street corners, in the parks... Everywhere someone could think of putting a security officer there was one. If it wasn't security, it was policia, or tourista security, or tourista policia. I felt incredibly safe on these streets (although I still took all the standard precautions while travelling the developed world) There was even a security officer on a Segway. The security were always smiling and bid me buenos dias or ola as we passed. It's a great difference, and one appreciated to a traveller.

I wandered the streets for hours, tracing everything back to my hostel. There were commercial streets, dining, gaming, drinking, accommodation, residential. If there was a street for it, it was here. Around 8pm I found the place I wanted to dine (I skipped lunch because I wasn't hungry). It was an expensive place, but o the menu it had Guinea Pig and Alpaca. I knew I needed to eat here. I ordered:

  • Pisco Sour (National Drink Of Peru) – Pisco served with lemon juice, egg white and cinnamon.
  • Lomitas de Alpaca serrana – Loin of Alpaca flambeed in Pisco served on a bed of Sweet Potato with onions on top.

The waiter brought my drink with a bowl of corn kernals lightly fried but not to the point of popping, then lightly salted. As a pre-dinner snack they were excellent.

The Pisco was beautiful, sweet, sour and creamy. Pisco is Peruvian brandy.

Alpaca is initially dry on the palate, but smooth and rich with pepper. The onions were flambéed with the alpaca until just tender. The sweet potato is just that, beautiful and smooth – butter and cream. Individually each part is quite tasty, but together they are exquisite Each ingredient complimenting the other, the textures complimenting each other throughout the entire mastication. This is rare in western food. Food snobs have taken the simple flavours and ingredients and turned them into something no longer attainable, turning the home cook into an untrained version of the pompous Master Chef.

Parque Amor at NightAfter that scrumptious dinner, I made my way to a Ca. San Ramas, to get a feel for this rather crazy stretch of night-life It is maybe 100 metres long,lined on both sides with restaurants and bars. The staff waiting outside literally beg for your business offering free drinks to get you to enter. One even offered me a free Zumba party and cocktail with my dinner.

Instead I made my way back to Parque Del Amor to get a picture of it at night, then back to the hostel for a nightcap and strangely enough meeting a member of my troop for the next month.

The next day I wandered west of the area I had previously explored (it is a big suburb) for a few hours and saw the chaos of peak hour for the first time; minibuses laden with people swerving in and out of traffic to get the most fares and to get the destination first. To Australians it will seem like the most insane way to operate a public transport system. There are literally dozens of buses coming and going, many with the same suburb following before diverting paths. I wanted to get into Central, so I caught one of these crazy buses packed to the gills with people (Sol$1.5) from Calle Arequippa to Ave Tacna. From there I wandered the streets visiting:

  • Monastery Santa Domingo
  • Cathedral Santa Francisco
  • Plaza De Mayor
  • Palacio Arzobispal
  • Palicio De Gobierno
Lima, PeruLima, PeruLima, Peru

Lima, Peru


The Monastery Santa Domingo was excellent. It is home to the first black saint and the first saint of the Americas. It also has two other saints. It was built in 1604 and has some beautiful chapels to the saints and a library that I would kill for. Books here date from prior to the construction through to modern day as it is still a fully functional monastery. I was guided through the monastery for an hour and met a nice Canadian couple.

Lima, PeruThe Canadians and I then made our was to the Cathedral Santa Francisco to tour the catacombs. There are thousands of bodies in the catacombs, most buried in mass graves. There are tunnels liking the other cathedrals and monasteries, all blocked now. The Cathedral was offering a mass to a recently deceased monk who is to be the first person interred in the catacombs in a decade or more. It was quite a momentous occasion.

Lima, PeruI spent hours walking Central through the Plazas and parques, enjoying the bustling city. At 5:45pm I realised that I needed to be back at my hotel to meet with the tour group an go to dinner. I made my way to one of the bus stops looking for a bus to Miraflores. I found one in the mad scramble and jumped aboard, flesh pressed with flesh, the minibus was tight, peak hour traffic swarmed like midges and I truly wonder how it is I survived. It took me an hour to get back to my hotel, winding through strange suburbs and seeing a different Lima than I had previously. This Lima was more run down, there were damaged buildings and unfinished constructions, but the Limians seemed happy gathering outside a cafe or restaurant. The Peruvians are a very interesting people.

When I returned to the hotel, I found my group already into the introductions. We drank a Pisco Sour together and made our way to our first dinner... at the same restaurant I had eaten at the night before. It was a tough decision as to what I should eat, having already had the alpaca. I was about to choose the guinea pig when Alem (our tour guide) told me that the best guinea pig is in Puno. So I had the goat stew instead and more Pisco. The meal finished early and everyone retired. I stayed up and watched some Spanish TV - Justified season two, dubbed. It was strange to see a show I know dubbed into another language and I can't help but feel that they got the voice actors wrong. None of them seemed to have the red-neck qualities of the original.

I woke early and hit the street again, we would be leaving at midday, so I stuck local and walked to a pyramid excavation and restoration of Huaca Pucllana. Sadly it was closed, so I made my way around the perimeter trying to get a look at it. I couldn't see much but it looked like it would be great in a few years. I may just have to return here to see it again. Back to the Hotel for breakfast where I met up with Paul and Nathan. Breakfast today consisted of a variety of fruits: pineapple, rock melon, watermelon, grapes, bananas (10cms long, very small), and olives, ham, haloumi, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, a range of breads, and polenta in a banana leaf. We ate and introduced ourselves then went and bought supplies from the local Supermarket. Upon returning again to the hotel, we all packed up our bags and loaded them into the private bus that would take us to the bus station then by public bus to Pisco.


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