(cant get apostrophe to work on this keyboard plus most of the keys rubbed off & relying on memory so apologies for typos and punctuation!)
From Arequipa we travelled up along the west coast of Peru. One of the most surprising things to me about Peru has been the amount of desert land. You know about the jungle and the mountains but never realise the whole west coast along the Pacific actually has an annual rainfall of zero! Some areas are just sand dunes whilst others are able to be cultivated somewhat due to underground rivers that come down from the highlands. Whilst Arequipa was clear and hot now that we are down from altitude, up along the coast apparently is always covered in grey clouds particularly Lima which is very smoggy.
Our first stop was the town of Nazca famous for the bizarre, giant drawings in the desert believed to have been done about 2000 years ago but the thing is no one is exactly sure what their purpose was. You cant see anything from the ground - you need to take a flight to be able to see them which obviously people 2000 years ago couldnt do. So there are all sorts of theories that these drawings were done by aliens or by humans as communication signals to the aliens. Others believe they are some form of complex agricultural calendar and indicators of water sources. Who knows?
We took a flight in a tiny 5 seater plane which was a bit stomach lurching as the pilot had to bank up at steep angles so we could fly right over the drawings. Theres a very clear monkey, humming birds, condor, whale, and "astronaut" (see above) as well as all sorts of pointing arrows and trapezoids. My photos not that clear but hopefully you´ll get an idea.
I mentioned earlier that some areas are just covered by huge sand-dunes and so our chance to try our hand at sandboarding - ie like snowboarding but on sand! What we hadnt really realised was that we were also being taken on a crazy dune-buggy ride in order to get to the biggest dunes to try boarding. So we strapped into a 9-seater buggy that looked like something out of Mad Max and taken on a insane trip over the tops of the dunes. It was just like a rollercoaster ride but you really didnt know what was over the peak of the next dune and half the time we seemed to be at impossible angles. But we survived and after that the sandboarding was reasonably tame! (But good opportunity for silly poses photo session - see right). Its actually hard to get moving on sand - not like snow at all so in the end the most effective method was to lie on the board and get launched off the top of a dune. Sand just got everywhere - very important to keep your mouth closed on the way down as much as you may want to scream!
As if we hadnt had enough of being thrown around the next day we headed out to the Ballestas island in a speed boat. Luckily a pretty calm ride. The islands are pure rocky outcrops that are home to thousands upon thousands of birds as well as seals and sealions. There are even small Antartic penguins here which were very cute. The craziest thing is that the bird droppings here are excellent fertilizer and so people actually work at collecting the droppings from the rocks. At one stage there was huge wealth to be made in Peru from bird-droppings!
Tour groups are only just returning to this area after the earthquake in August. We stayed in Paracas as most of the hotels in Pisco have been destroyed. We passed through the centre of Pisco and there are few building left in the main square. The most tragically hit was the church as 200 people were at evening mass at then time of the quake and only 3 survived. A lot of people are living in tents in the space where their house once was. A lot of the houses here are still made of adobe mud-bricks and not able to withstand quakes. Theres lots of construction going on outside town but it will be a long time before everyone gets re-housed. Just hope they build something that will survive better.
It was a bit odd being back in a big city when we arrived in Lima. Theres over 9 million people and most of it single storey so it seems to go on forever. The centre is very American with thousands of casinos and the usual fast-food restaurants. We had a good last night out with the group - I completely broke the bank on the most outrageously expensive dinner weve had - actually cost about 15 euro when you convert it! So this is the end of travelling with this group - some are heading on to New Zealand and Australia on their Round-the-World trips, others are on their way back to work. For me, next stop Ecuador!