29 Peru

PERU August 2006

Then it was getting used to 3,23 Peruvian Soles to the dollar; (having just been accustomed to 520 Chilean pesos and 7,95 Bolivianos per $). The Pan American “Highway” runs all the way along the West coast of South America. We were about ¾ of the way up, heading north.

Jolly nuns and the ice maiden.

We digressed from the coastal route, through barren hills, to visit the beautiful convent in Arequipa. Here behind high walls in brightly painted quarters with flowered courtyards, high-class nuns from Spain had kept slaves and had lived it up in style for three centuries...

In her own museum “Juanita, the ice princess” lies in a glass walled refrigerated “coffin”. She was an Inca-child-sacrifice. A mountaineer found her recently, high up on an Andean peak wrapped in richly patterned textiles where she had been offered to appease the gods 500 years before. She had been almost perfectly preserved in the snow.

We were parked in Arequipa when a passing taxi driver saw our 2x20kg cooking-gas cylinders mounted on the back. He did not to know that we had just emptied one and that we were resenting the usual hassle of trying to find a place to have it filled. He stopped and indicated how to get to a gas filling plant. Nice things also happen!

We were back on the winding coastal road. We noticed frequent perfectly round damage-indentations in the smooth tar road. Then we saw a sign: “It is forbidden to burn tyres in the road”. We never found out why Peruvians burn tyres on the roads??

The beautiful blue bay of Puerto Inca was the port for Cuzco from whence fresh fish was once transported by runners; to arrive fresh in the Inca capital 240km away. Now there is a charming restaurant next to the ancient ruins... We sipped the pisco sours and sampled “ceviche”, Peru’s most popular dish (fresh fish marinated in lemon juice and chilli peppers).

The oasis-resort village of Huacachina has giant sand dunes around a small lake with graceful palm trees. Tourists flock here for sand-boarding and to rent dune buggies.

An sms on the satellite phone sent us into the town of Ica where we found an Internet café to sort out a business crisis back home. We discovered a gem of a museum. We were amazed by the fine multi-coloured belts, cloths and cloaks created thousands of years ago: They were woven, knitted and embroidered from materials like cotton, llama wool and feathers. Skulls with holes and healed lesions showed how head surgery (trepanation) was performed way back.

At each toll booth on the Pan Americana we had to argue that Dipli was not a truck –traffic lining up behind us.

The Nasca lines.

After taking some airsick tablets we flew in a 6-seater aircraft over the stony desert to admire the mysterious Nasca lines. These huge shapes were created by removing the dark stones, piling them on either sides of the Lines to expose the light sand, thus creating geometrical, plant and animal designs. Jan liked the spider and the monkey; Leone’s favourites were the humming bird and the tree. They were made from about 400BC to 1000AD. Their purpose still remains a mystery. Nasca was where, on our previous visit to South America, we had turned off to drive up to Cuzco to visit Machu Picchu with our daughters.

The shanty homes of Lima start 50km from downtown. In horrific traffic we made it to the Hitch Hikers Hostel in Miraflores, where we had heard we would be able to park at night. The security gates were opened and Dipli squeezed into the courtyard. It is a very clean place with free internet and friendly staff. We were also able to arrange to park there for 2 months while we went back to SA. This was important as the crime situation in Lima is nearly as bad as in Johannesburg.

Airline folds; tickets worthless.

When we went to confirm our flight we were told that all Varig flights had been grounded because of financial problems. After much effort we were given seats on Lloyd Air Boliviano leaving the next day for Sao Paulo, via La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz! Then SAA to JNB; all of which took nearly 48 hours. After 2 busy but rewarding months in South Africa, seeing friends and family and welcoming our new grandson, we found that our return tickets to Lima were now worthless. We battled to find seats, (due to the Brazilian Grand Prix). We had to take the long haul via London and Miami to Lima. We were in transit but we and our luggage and our travelling plans were thoroughly investigated, by the US officials in Miami (fortunately we still had valid US visas).

Inca Gold

Our last Sunday in Lima was an unforgettable day: Morning in the amazing archaeological museum. Lunch in the central plaza with the cathedral and white painted buildings with carved wooden balconies. The evening we came across a magnificent folklore show put on for locals; not another tourist in sight. (Unfortunately camera batteries were flat).Replete with water and diesel and food from Vivanda Supermarket (Lovely name), the Pan Americana Norte took us away from the ever-foggy Lima. We had no idea where we would be spending our nights. We did not know that we would park within sight of ancient historical sights three times and that there would be two nights on the beach. A surprise was to find a green hilly nature reserve in the brown barren region. The yellow flowers and the trees and the grass gain their moisture from the coastal mists in Reserva Nacional Lomas de Lachai.

Most towns in the desert were a collection of woe-be gone unfinished buildings, but trade was busy and blue and yellow three wheeled motor-bike- taxis were frantically dodging Dipli. (And visa versa)

Years ago we climbed this brown Pyramid of the Moon as a family. Now the Moche culture’s Huaca de la Luna has been excavated to reveal 6 levels of ceremonial platforms with multi-coloured wall paintings and reliefs. As often in those times, depicting human sacrifice and the priest drinking blood.

The dogs with the brush cut.

The Inca’s had kept hairless dogs as pets. We saw some with their smooth black skins and a tuft of blond hair between the ears and a brush of fair hair on the thin tail.

After many archaeological sights like Paramonga, Chavin, Sechin, El Brujo, Tucumé we were almost “ruined out”. Then we were awed again, by the splendid new ‘Royal tombs of Sipan’ museum in Lambayeque! Theses noblemen had been buried in splendour 1700 years ago. The burial places with their riches were discovered in 1987. Exquisite pottery, beaded necklaces (from shell) and many large masks, breast plates and other adornments from gold, silver and copper had accompanied them to the afterlife.

The ancient fort in the clouds.

We could have continued through Northern Peru to Ecuador along the dreary coastal road but then the guide book mentioned this rarely visited sight high up in the mountains. As the condor flies, it would have been close… First there was tar with big pot holes. The track was hewn from cliffs above raging rivers, like the Utucubamba, which feed into the mighty Amazon river.

The narrow dirt road twisted and turned and snaked its torturous way up. Dipli was overheating. The 200km had taken two long days. We were enveloped in saturating fog. The sun came out and there was the ancient pre-Inca city of Kuélap. We walked 3km up. Trees with orchids and bromeliads were growing from the stone relics. The 17m high walls had been built with stone blocks weighing up to 200kg. About 3500 Chacapoyas people had lived within the ramparts. Apart from some llamas we had the atmospheric place to ourselves. When we got caught in a thunder storm we slipped and slided back down the muddy path, to find that Dipli had a flat tyre!

On the way back and all the way to the Ecuador border at La Balsa, past sugar cane and rice fields in the valleys, we had to make do with camper-sized slivers between road and river, to park overnight.

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