Monday, August 23, 2010

Pisco, Islas, Nazca

One of the tremendous advantages of staying with family in Lima was the opportunity to make a short trip out of Lima down to Nazca and back again. Leaving most of our gear at José & Jorge’s place in Surco, Alix and I jumped on a bus for a two-hour ride to Pisco.

Our first impressions were pretty poor- the truth is that Pisco is a bit of a dump. We soon found out why- there was a pretty serious earthquake in 2008 and despite the fact that we are talking about almost three years ago, the reconstruction work has not happened in any kind of reasonable timeframe. The roads in Pisco are unpaved, and mounds of dirt everywhere on the roads hint at unfinished sewerage or cabling installations. The town is badly in need of a few engineers: the buildings that are finished are pretty shoddy, and the use of a plumb line might ensure the walls are straight when they build them. All the buildings in Pisco seem bent out of shape, like the brickies couldn’t stack the bricks properly, and the carpenters don’t quite understand what vertical is. It bugs me.

Pisco is located 235kms south of Lima, just below it is the Paracas peninsula and below that is the town of Nazca. We came to Pisco with two things in mind: firstly to catch a boat out to the Islas las Ballestas, a small island that is home to thousands of sea birds and kind of watch them flying around; and secondly, perhaps a bit more predictably, to get Pisco’ed in Pisco. Our first night was annoying, a group of French idiots talked loudly until 2am in the hostel until I yelled at them to shut up.

The morning after our arrival saw us on a boat ride to Islas las Ballestas. Unknown to me, our boat ride included a quick pass by another local tourist attraction known as the Candelabra of the Andes. Seen from the sea, this is a giant rock carving of something that looks like a candelabra, or a trident, or a Datura plant, or something. No one knows what it is supposed to be, who carved it or why it was carved in the first place. That it was made by people, and that they did it by carving huge trenches into the rock hard sand is all that is known about it.

To add more interest to the mystery, the candelabra was damaged in the 2008 earthquake and somehow it ‘fixed itself’. At least that’s what the tour guide told us on the boat. He seemed like a dodgy sort of bloke anyway so I wasn’t inclined to believe him. The last person who wrote a theory about the candelabra was an eccentric dream-catcher sort of bloke named Frank Joseph, who reckoned it was a picture of the Datura plant, which ancient Peruvians apparently used as a hallucinogenic drug. The fact that it looks nothing like a Datura plant is not much of a problem, just take some Datura and it soon will.

The Islas were cold, pretty, and completely covered in bird shit- highly valuable bird shit that the Spanish mined and exported as fertiliser, hence the odd, broken down wooden structures around the island. There were loads of birds and a few bemused looking sea lions.

Once off the boat we relaxed in the sun, drank coffee at a beach side café, then joined a tour bus around the Paracas peninsula. There wasn’t much to it really, but it was a pleasant way to kill an afternoon and see some rather dramatic coastline.

Soon we were back in dilapidated Pisco. Despite the fairly dismal surroundings, people here are pretty jovial. I get the impression that Pisco folks much prefer to eat, drink, talk, smoke and dance salsa rather than work. Alix and I went to a local ‘Pisco Disco’, drained several pisco sours and listened to the local band, an event that involves lots of jugs of beer, cigarette smoke, girls with too much make up and jewellery and lots of singing- the popular Peruvian songs have well known lyrics and the locals love to sing along. A girl up front in a short skirt danced a particularly sexy salsa and got a free beer for the dance. At one point Alix was the only gringo girl in the pub and she attracted the lion’s share of the wolf-whistles and suggestive gestures that go with a night out in Pisco.

The next day we caught a bus through a landscape of sand dunes to Ica and a connecting bus to Nazca. Nazca was a better town than Pisco, the streets were paved, which is a good start. Early in the morning after our arrival we headed out to the airstrip to do the one thing that Nazca is famous for- a flyover of the Nazca Lines.

Security at the airstrip was tight. A month previously a group of 8 people booked a private flyover in one of the larger light aircraft, a 12-seater Cessna they call a ‘caravan’. Once they were aboard the plane they hijacked it, tied up the pilots and flew the plane themselves to the Amazon jungle where they released the hostages, refuelled from a cached fuel dump and flew away. The inevitable result of this was the installation of metal detectors and airport security staff with grim expressions at the terminal entry.

Once inside the airstrip we boarded a 7-seater Cessna for the flyover. The plane was cool. I’d never been on an aircraft so small before. It elicited a childlike enthusiasm from me, like riding in a billy cart with wings and the engine of an outboard motorboat. To get a good look at the bizarre geoglyphs carved in the desert the Cessna banks sharply to the right or left, and when you are cranked over you can really feel the pull on the sharp turns.

The geoglyphs themselves are one of the great mysteries of the world. There are plenty of ideas about them, but none of them make much sense. I’ve heard a few versions from tour guides and museum staff, something about irrigation channels mixed with a complex understanding of celestial movements and an ancient religion, the huge pictures of animals and weird trapezoidal shapes make up a celestial calendar that was read by priests who were high on hallucinogenic drugs and communicated with the gods. If you read that last sentence and it didn’t make much sense then consider yourself getting properly into the spirit of the thing.

The spider

The hummingbird

The tree of life

After the flyover I needed to go back to the hostel for a little nap, the banking aircraft had churned my stomach and I wasn’t feeling so good. One girl we spoke to actually vomited while on her flight, I was simultaneously sympathetic and relieved that she wasn’t on the same flight as we were.

A short rest later I was ready to drink some more Pisco, but we decided to go to a local museum instead. The museum was a small taste of things to come, the displays were of creepy mummies wrapped up in the local Nazca style, where instead of laying the mummy out flat they bundle the corpse up in the foetal position into a reed basket, with the head sticking out the top. Local archaeological efforts had unearthed several significant tombs, but these were nothing compared to what we were soon to experience as we travelled out of Lima once again, this time to the North of Peru.

No comments:

Post a Comment