Lima – Paracas – Cusco
5 – 6 June 2019
After breakfast, it was time to get on the road to Paracas, about 260 kilometres from Lima. The grey fog hung heavy as we drove through Lima’s morning traffic – and continued even as we left the city limits, passing through suburbs with modern steel-and-glass type office buildings. We drove past a huge Ajinomoto factory; Ajinomoto is big in Peru – it apparently is a key ingredient in ceviche…was that why it tasted so good?
An hour out of Lima, and it was still grey, with no hint of the promised blue skies. Really hoped this would clear up, as our flight over the Nazca Lines tomorrow was dependent on the weather. We made a pitstop in Asia (Ah-zee-ah) – at the most fancy petrol station I’ve seen anywhere. It was a well-stocked supermarket, it was an impressive liquor store, it was a cafe with good coffee and snacks – and, most importantly, it had a very clean loo. The Asia beaches, condominiums and resorts are where the rich and famous descend during summer. But today, it was just grey, grey, grey.
We got to our hotel in Paracas just before lunchtime. The San Agostin Hotel, which was by the sea, had a laid back air about it that reminded me of a Port Dickson resort. It was too early to check in, so we had lunch first. The dining room overlooking the pool and beyond that, the sea, was huge – but today, there was just us and a couple at another table. Brownie points for their welcome drink being a pisco sour 🙂 Lunch was, among other things, a tri-coloured ceviche that reminded me of a flag…but of which country??
As we ate, we kept checking our Weather apps against the actual weather. It was still grey, though the forecast predicted sunny skies in the afternoon. By the end of lunch, a corner of the sky seemed to have cleared up, with a vague tinge of blue sky in a faraway sliver. As we drove to the Paracas National Reserve, the entire sky cleared up and was a beautiful and dramatically brilliant blue. I’m sure Dan heaved a sigh of relief too, after promising us blue skies.
The coastline was equally dramatic with its crashing waves and rock formations. We saw what used to be the formation known as El Catedral – the archway that had joined a jagged rock in the sea to the mainland was destroyed during an earthquake some years ago – leaving just the jagged rock, standing high in the sea.
The Paracas National Reserve is just over 3000 square kilometres – two thirds of it is sea and the remaining third, desert and islands (some of which we’ll visit tomorrow). This was the first time I’d been in a ‘desert reserve’ – the landscapes were like watercolours, and the photos don’t quite do it justice. The sun was harsh by now, and the pink and yellow sand shimmered in the heat. Dan pointed out several fossils, many of them pink from the rocks in the area.
We spent a good hour or so there, just taking in the almost impossible beauty of the place, with its gentle hues, crashing waves and cloudless skies.
Before we headed back to the hotel, we made a quick stop to look at flamingoes. We had to view them from a distance – all part of the conservation efforts to maintain the reserve. Didn’t have my ‘safari lens’ so this was more of a non-photographic opportunity. I read that flamingoes were the inspiration for the Peruvian (red and white) flag. Apparently, Jose de San Martin, a Peruvian freedom fighter who designed the first Peruvian national flag, saw a flock of flamingoes flying when he arrived with his army in Peru; he noticed the red and white colour combinations of their wings and was inspired by these free flying birds to use these colours for the flag.
As we drove back to the hotel, our flight over the Nazca Lines for tomorrow was confirmed – yay!
It was an early night after dinner; dinner orders proved to be a real test of GC’s Spanish – she passed with flying colours – though the waiter insisted we order four starters, mains and desserts and then compartir (share)…we had intended to order two of each to compartir. By now too, the ‘agua con gas‘ and ‘sin gas‘ was a cinch (for me, i.e.).
Ballestas Islands – the Poor Man’s Galapagos
The next morning, we checked out, had our bags loaded onto our mini-bus and set off for the fishing pier for our boat ride to the Ballestas Islands. The pier was 1 minute and 37 seconds away from our hotel…which made a nice change from the usual 1 hour 15 (or 45) minutes…which was the usual answer we got when we asked how far away our next stop was. Interestingly, the answer was almost always accurate to the minute, so I’m not even being facetious.
Our early morning boat ride was windy and mostly choppy, in keeping with the rather dramatic landscape of large rocky outcrops, some so completely covered with Guanay cormorants [so named as they are the main producers of guano – which used to be big business…pun unintended – for these islands] that at from a distance they looked like large black rocks. There were sealions, starfish and crabs, all manner of seabirds from pelicans to penguins and Peruvian boobys (yes, that’s a bird!), and a dolphin that made a very brief appearance. It was quite a challenge getting any good images, despite the extremely high shutter speed (from the Ranthambore lesson) – for much of this ride, I just felt like putting my camera down and feeling the waves – and so I did. There were several interesting rock formations too, one in the shape of Jesus (or a generic sharp-nosed, craggy-faced, bearded man) in profile.
We also had a first Nazca Line-type sighting – a candelabra figure on the slope of a hill. When or why it is there is anybody’s guess. Some say it dates back to 200BC based on archaeological findings in the area. As to what it represents, the jury’s out – a sign for sailors? A Masonic symbol? A bit of fun graffiti by a group of druggie friends – as the candelabra also looks like a hallucinogenic plant from days gone by?
Nazca Lines – Superior Irrigation or Superior Civilisation?
From the pier it was a short drive to the Pisco airport for our Nazca Lines flight. Flying from Pisco was a bit more expensive than flying from Nazca itself, but given that the Nazca airport was another 3 – 4 hours’ drive away, Pisco was the obvious choice. The airport was all shiny and new – and empty, save for the Aerodiana counter where we checked in for our flight.
I was wondering if we’d all get window seats – apparently not…so fingers crossed that at least some of our assigned seats were window ones. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the little 12-seater Cessna had only window seats. We were soon belted in and took off for the skies. We flew over the Paracas National Reserve – even more spectacular than our ground-level view yesterday. It was a 90-minute flight and we all had our leaflet-guide, telling us the order in which we’d see the various geoglyphs.
The highly skilled pilot and co-pilot were fab, pointing out each of the geoglyphs first for those sitting on one side of the plane, then the other. In my head, and from long ago NatGeo magazines, Nazca Lines = weird and wonderful giant drawings on the earth. In reality Nazca Lines = actual straight lines (about 800 of them), geometric shapes and those weird and wonderful giant drawings. There are several hypotheses on what exactly these 2,000-year old lines and shapes are…irrigation lines, signs for the Gods, drawings made by aliens and/or superior beings? Who knows?? When a recent NatGeo article says (using 5 multi-syllable words in one short sentence), “No single evaluation proves a theory about the lines, but the combination of archeology, ethnohistory, and anthropology builds a solid case…”, you know that no one really knows.
The thought crossed my mind that there may not be any deep, meaningful reason behind the Nazca Lines – they could well be the result of some Nazca teens indulging in some mindless graffiti…
Whatever the reasons, it was mind-blowing flying over these lines and shapes. I could only conclude that it had to be built by a superior civilisation (even if it was by graffiti-loving teens, they must’ve been pretty talented)…and strengthened my belief that civilisation is regressing. Could the Nazca Lines be more evidence of a ‘Golden Age’ or Satya Yuga, the ‘age of truth’? And if we’re now in the ‘age of destruction’ or Kali Yuga…could this be why we find it unfathomable that something like the Nazca Lines could be created by mere humans, therefore attributing them to aliens or the Gods.
In recent times, there was an uproar as the Pan-American Highway bisected the Lizard geoglyph, and then, last year, when a lorry driver ignored signs and drove over part of the Dog geoglyph (more evidence of Kali Yuga and human stupidity). From the air, it looked like some effort had been made to repair the damage across the legs of the Dog (pic below) :
It was an exhilarating 90 minutes, dipping and diving over the vast Nazca desert, sometimes quite low, the pilots pointing out the formations in quick succession…”on the right side, directly under the wingtip”, “coming up on the left…” – they certainly knew their stuff.
Back on land, all airsickness at bay, it was time for our drive back to Lima for the flight to Cuzco. We stopped for tea at a little place in Paracas. A quick word about tea – which featured prominently on this trip. We found out early on (at LA actually) that Shiv was rather well-prepared for this journey. She had packed various tea bags and mini-packs of milk, and oh, a teaspoon too (Note: this teaspoon will take centrestage as our adventure progressed). The place we stopped at for tea, didn’t really have tea (that hadn’t expired i.e.) – so we got hot water and the aforementioned teabags were brought out. This is certainly a first for me (bringing food from home i.e.)…and just a short hop away from travelling with cup noodles…
Anyway, the tea was much appreciated by those who were feeling a bit airsick from our aerial adventure.
As we left Paracas, the sky got less blue, and by the time we reached Asia for our petrol station stop, it was positively grey. The fog and greyness descended quite definitively as we approached Lima. I wondered what the suicide rate was here if people had to live encapsulated in this damp greyness for five or six months of each year.
We had plenty of time before our flight to Cuzco – enough time for empanadas at the airport branch of … Tanta! It’d been a long day and I dropped off to sleep on the one and a half hour flight to Cuzco. Arriving in Cuzco (it was a super smooth landing – this has been a constant with LATAM), walking to the baggage belt, I felt Extremely Tired…almost as if he’d read my mind, Dan said, “If you’re feeling very tired and a bit breathless, it’s normal.” I’d forgotten about the altitude (though I had taken my Diamox that morning).
It probably was a combination of altitude and real tiredness after all the travelling today, but we’d barely driven out of Cuzco city, when I (and I think all of us) fell asleep, waking only when we reached our hotel, the Terra Viva in the Sacred Valley – about 90 minutes later.
This has been the nicest hotel we’ve stayed in so far. There was a food pack waiting for us – a healthy Peruvian pulao-like dish – rice with vegetables, olives, the ubiquitous corn and nuts – with some fruit and trail mix; Shiv’s teaspoon came in useful for the rice 🙂
The bed was super comfortable, and the shower, perfect. Showered and Diamox-ed, I slept well. Tomorrow, our Machu Picchu adventure begins.