Danny in the Andes: Pre-Andes Adventures

Let’s get back into this.

Last time we talked about the buses that carried our little group through Peru. Well, parts thereof. As we discussed, it’s a big country, and our tour allowed us to see a wide variety of places. Let’s talk about a few of them, shall we?

Nazca

If you know the name Nazca, you probably know it for the Nazca lines. A series of drawings in the desert that can only be seen from the air, and thus were forgotten for centuries. Near those lines is the actual town of Nazca, which is… a place people go when they want to see the Nazca lines and then leave really quickly. It’s a tiny place. Ellard, our guide, did not advise walking into town, feeling that the town square was safe but the surrounding town was… less so.

Now that I’ve limited Nazca’s appeal to the World Heritage Site it’s next to, it’ll probably seem weird to admit I didn’t actually see the Nazca lines.

See… maybe you were hoping to go easy on your credit card, since you hadn’t 100% paid off the trip itself. Maybe you were trying to see how long the cash you picked up before you left was going to hold out. And if those things are true, maybe you balk a little at the fact that between plane fare, park fees, and other fees I can’t quite recall the Nazca line tour came out to $140 US for a half hour flight.

Whereas, if you chose not to take the flight, you could a) sleep in, and b) lounge by the pool all morning. If you’re not going to see another hotel with a pool this trip, that option has a certain appeal. And lord have mercy the water was incredible. On a hot day in the desert it was the exact, and I mean exact right temperature. Sun, swimming, and the Welcome to Night Vale novel made for a perfect and relaxing morning, followed by lunch in town with the ladies (save for late riser Tayla, who was on the group’s tightest budget, and was just getting into her pool groove, and elected to stay at the hotel).

The restaurant strip near the town square of Nazca reminded me a little of the walk to Moulin Rouge in Paris. Or Chungking Mansions, a shopping centre in Hong Kong that I can only assume was named ironically. There are people stationed outside each restaurant on a mission to get every person they see into their restaurant. Some would find that entertaining. I find it kind of awkward. That’s more attention from strangers than I really need. Menu could be interesting, though…

Fried rice with which species, exactly?

Fried rice with which species, exactly?

Post-lunch, Maria (the only one of us to do the Nazca line flight) took her turn at the pool while the rest of us headed further into the desert for a tour to the sand dunes. We got a chance to see the heart of the former Nazca civilization, the aqueducts that provide Nazca its water to this day, as well as old burial sites… which sadly have been just super looted over the centuries. Still, it means we didn’t have to keep our distance. So if super close looks at old bones is your thing, that’s the place for you.

Then the buggy broke down. And not just a little. After a series of alarming clunks, our tour guide pulled to a stop in the middle of the dunes in order to search our tracks for pieces of the engine.

Into adventure!

Spirits remained high.

That’s not the most comforting thing that can happen to you mid-desert.

Fortunately, the same company had a second tour that was just behind us. Once their people were deposited at the top of a dune for some dune-boarding, the second buggy returned for our roller-coaster ride through the dunes. Which, as it turns out, was a way more thrilling ride than the actual dune boarding, and involved way less climbing back up the steep-ass sand dune in between. Don’t get me wrong, sandboarding was fun, just closer to crazy carpeting than anything else.

IMG-20160307-WA0015

Adequate thrills, ahoy!

We returned to the hotel with just enough time for a decent shower to rinse a surprising amount of sand off of ourselves before our traditional Nazca dinner.

Not that anything could free us of the sand. Not completely. I couldn’t wear my shorts again for the rest of the trip for fear of my phone or iPod being damaged by the sand I couldn’t get out of my pockets. My camera stopped working, meaning I had to take all of my pictures on my phone. Which, yes, is technically superior to my 11 year-old digital camera, but still.

Totally worth it, though. Good day.

Arequipa

With Arequipa we were now firmly out of Spanish-influenced Peru and into Inca territory. We weren’t what you’d call well-rested, but bounced back for our tour of the… I’m going to be using this term a lot… town square. Which we were excited to learn was going to end with crepes. Ellard is a good guide, because not only does he know the historical facts, but also where to get crepes.

I like crepes. Is that clear? I think it’s clear. God I should find a place to get a crepe this week… sorry, I’m back.

Arequipa was a free day. Recommendations included a convent, a famous mummy (or at least a well-preserved mummy), and a monastery. I opted for a bus tour of the city, getting a good sense of Arequipa as a whole. Highlights? My first sighting of a restaurant whose sign included an adorable (and realistic) cartoon guinea pig gesturing for you to come in and devour the flesh of his kin. This gets more common in smaller towns.

Also, a building in the… downtownish area that was done up like a castle, complete with Smurfs waving from the windows. An adorable, if questionably legal, family restaurant? That’s what I thought too. But no, once we got closer, it turned out to be a dentist’s office. Not sure unlicensed Smurfs and medieval décor are going to lure in the kids like you think, Mr. Dentist.

Arequipa was unique in one way. Apparently the more rural areas in the hills view Arequipa as a great place to go for new opportunities. Which isn’t odd, people do that in cities around the world. No, what made Arequipa different of the cities we saw was that people don’t move to Arequipa. They sort of shimmy up next to it.

Arequipa is surrounded by unofficial shanty towns. People come, put up a house, maybe open a garage or a restaurant, but do not officially live in Arequipa. Which is a problem for the city, because they don’t pay property taxes. Pretty sure they have power, though, I guess they pay for that? I doubt entire neighbourhoods are running off an extension cord to the nearest outlet.

This was one of the LESS shanty shantytowns.

This was one of the LESS shanty shantytowns.

 

Arequipa is also the first city where we went drinking together. Happy hour drinks, two for 15-20 soles (7-10 dollars). Which started as “Maria and I split a happy hour special” and turned into “Hey, now I have two drinks” before long. Right around the time Amy showed up. Probably a coincidence. She’s a lovely girl of strong moral character, who said she wasn’t?

Turns out “I Never” has a phone app. We learned some things about each other.

Good night. Noisy hostel. Did not sleep great. But frankly “did not sleep of great” nights really outnumbered “fully rested,” and I didn’t die, so whatevs.

Chivay

Time to leave the “big smoke” as people say. Not people I like or respect. Why did I say “big smoke,” off to a terrible start on this section…

Nestled in the Andes.

Nestled in the Andes.

Chivay is a small town near one of Peru’s more impressive natural sights, the Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest canyons, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.

Observe.

Observe.

Also a good place to see giant condors. Which, yes, are immense, majestic birds. Birds that are super hard to get a really good compelling photos of if all you have is your phone and it’s super bright out so the screen is hard to see but damn it you’re trying your best.

Gonna have to trust me a little on "big" and "majestic."

Gonna have to trust me a little on “big” and “majestic.”

I got to spend some time with Maria, checking out a church and the local market. Fresh juice, ice cream, and addressing the fact that when I was picking out one day’s worth of stuff to bring to Chivay (leaving the bulk of our luggage back in Arequipa), I neglected to bring my swimsuit.

Yes, that’s right, sports fans, I created an opportunity to play “What Did Dan Forget to Pack” mid-trip. That is dedication to a bit. Or to not thinking about what I need to bring with me for the day leave me alone I have a condition.

I needed a swimsuit for the hot springs. That would have made this part clearer. Kate, Amy, Maria, and I had a relaxing trip to the hot springs that afternoon. Not much more to say about than that, except it was a nice time. But that’s why I now own three swimsuits, which just… it’s insane. That feels like way too many swimsuits for someone who is in water once a year. Gonna have to do some river rafting this August, that’s all there is to it.

Okay. Shake it off. Proper story.

Our guide for the Colca Canyon portion of the trip brought us to the local dinner theatre that night. They performed a variety of local dances, including a traditional wedding dance, and a dance sequence meant to indicate catching and curing malaria. Although the curing involved more suggested sexual activity than I think is medically advised.

Here’s the thing.

Midway through the wedding dance, their first number, the worst case scenario came to pass. They started wandering into the audience and pulling people out.

Few facts about me… I enjoy scuba and rafting, I love cheese, I gag on eggs, and I hate, I hate, I HATE audience participation. And mere minutes after the chilling realization that it was happening… they came for me.

I mean, it could have been worse. I only had to make and dance through arches. I did not have to catch or cure malaria. Others were not so fortunate. Or were more fortunate, I guess? Really a matter of perspective.

Also I found out I like alpaca. But did not bother to order guinea pig because, like always, it was the most expensive thing on the menu. Seriously, steaks cost less than guinea pig.

Next time… our tour through the south comes to an end, and the road to the Inca Trail begins.

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