Saturday, September 10, 2016

Lima, Lots of Bird Poop, & the Nazca Lines

I’ve already discussed the food and a brief introduction to Peru in the last blog, so I’m just going to jump right in.

A few highlights of my time in Peru… part 1:

My tour of Peru both started and ended in Lima.  I had about two and a half days in the beginning and one day at the end, which I think was sufficient to see the main sights and do some souvenir shopping.  Lima is an interesting city.  Much of the city is big, poor, and dangerous for tourists.  Traffic is terrible and mass transit is useless.  But the hub of tourism – the Miraflores neighbourhood – is swanky swanky swanky.  It feels like a scene right out of the nice parts of Miami.  Perfectly safe to walk around even at night, my accommodation and most of my meals were located in Miraflores and the adjacent neighbourhoods.

I visited the historical centre of the city, exploring the catacombs beneath the Monasterio de San Francisco and Lima’s cathedral, where the remains of Francisco Pizarro are buried.  Pizarro was the Spanish conquistador who conquered the Inca empire.  He had been buried there for ages, but in 1977 another set of bones was found during excavations and DNA testing proved that the newly found bones were actually Pizarro’s bones.  The bones were switched out.  Not at all a hot mess…

Lima doesn’t disappoint in the museum arena.  The Museo de Arte de Lima (oddly shortened to MALI) houses a great and not-too-overwhelming collection of mostly older artifacts and artworks spanning the history of Peru.  Further away from the centre of the city, the Museo Larco  is a massive private collection of artifacts of the ancient cultures of Peru.  The main draw:  the Erotic Gallery, featuring all sorts of sculptures, vessels, and more depicting penises, vaginas, and all sorts of sexual acts.  The ancient Peruvians – Inca, Nazca, and the rest – were a kinky peoples.

The Circuito Magico de Agua is an awesome fountain, music, and light show.  It cost 4 soles – less than $2 – and was by far the best fountain, music, and light show I’ve seen – even better than the one in glittering Dubai.  The Choco Museo – a chain of chocolate restaurants and shoppes (each with a small museum inside) around Latin America – has a location in Lima and we decided to finish off our travels with a chocolate making class.  Yummy!  And fatty!  Lima also had plenty of souvenir shopping, though I bought the majority of my souvenirs in Cuzco.  Details to follow.

A few hours south of Lima lies Paracas – a small coastal town with two claims to fame.  The first is a giant geoglyph in the shape of a Candelabra carved into a hillside in the desert just down the coast.  Archeologists are unsure of its origin, but many believe it is likely related to the Nazca Lines.  A bit further out are the Islas Ballestas.  Though uninhabited by humans, this island group is inhabited by any and every type of bird you can think of:  penguins, boobies, terns, cormorants, pelicans, seagulls, oystercatchers, vultures, and more.  The birds practically cover the islands like carpet.  With that many birds in the area and that many birds flying overhead, it felt like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  I was also concerned about getting pooed on.  Speaking of poo, the island’s main industry is guano mining.  The bird shit builds up and up and up, and every few years humans come over and mine it for fertilizer.  We also saw sea lions and so much krill that parts of the water looked red.

The only other attraction in Paracas is an odd “museum” that we went to.  Our group entered an elevator with seats in it, which then took us up and down showing us various dioramas of life in the area.  The entrance is through a restaurant.  The whole thing is mind-blowingly odd.  I’m also unsure of just how safe it is…

Our group stopped in the town of Ica on the way from Paracas to Nazca.  There, we visited a Pisco winery – a type of brandy made by distilling wine.  We did a sampling and then realized that we hadn’t had lunch yet.  Who’s ready to party?  Not far down the road is the Huacachina Oasis – an actual oasis in the desert.  These things actually exist!  Who knew???  Giant sand dunes surround the whole area, but this little spot has a lake and lush vegetation all around it.  It is quite built-up with tourist accommodation and restaurants and adventure sports like sandboarding.  I decided to just have lunch and watch the topless men try to walk the tightrope that was installed over the lake.

Home of the famous Nazca Lines, this is definitely the most mysterious site that I’ve visited on my gap year.  Giant lines and figures are carved into the desert and they weren’t discovered until the 1960’s when someone took the first flight over the area.  They are believed to have been carved by the ancient Nazca people (before the Incas) as a way to appease the gods during a great drought which brought the downfall of their civilization.  There are plenty of straight lines carved into the earth as well as a series of trapezoids.  But more elaborate figures are the showstoppers here:  a whale, monkey, spiral, dog, hummingbird, condor, spider, parrot, heron, and more.  There’s even an astronaut!  Well, it’s not quite an astronaut but it sort of looks like an astronaut so that’s how it’s called these days.  Carvings of a tree and a pair of hands are visible from a viewing platform, but the rest are only visible from the air on scenic flights.  We had a tiny 8 seater plane and just like my tiny sightseeing plane in Botswana, I was moments away from spewing uncontrollably.  The plane rotated almost 90 degrees to the left to give that side a good view, and then 90 degrees to the right to give the other side a good view.  And that happened for every geoglyph that we saw.  I’m getting too old for this shit.

The Nazca people are famous for more than just the Nazca Lines, though the lines do steal the show.  Our group visited a pottery workshop where old Nazca pottery is restored for museums, and new pottery is made for tourists.  Just like in the gallery in Lima, there was plenty of erotic pottery on display for tourists to buy.  More impressive was the Chauchilla Cemetery which features a remarkable collection of mummies from the Nazca era.  Grave robbers took a lot of the relics in the past, but guards now protect the site and plenty of remains are still on display.  Finally, Cahuachi is believed to be the most important Nazca site and was only discovered relatively recently.  The pyramids at the site are currently being excavated.  It was interesting to see how similar styles stretched down to South America from ancient Mexico and Central America, but to be honest, these aren’t nearly as impressive as the Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacan.

My tour of Peru continued from Nazca up into the highlands of the Andes, starting with Peru’s second largest city and onto the world’s most hilariously named lake.  You can guess it.  More about those locations in the next installment.  But first, let me take a selfie.

With Denise and Lenora at our chocolate-making class!

To see more photos of my time in Lima, follow this link:

To see more photos of my time in Paracas, Ica, and Nazca, follow this link:

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