Exploring Nasca, and the Night Bus to Arequipa
Craig and Steph's First Adventure Life Trip: Peru
Afterwards, we headed to the aqueducts. These aqueducts are very old and still function as a means of getting water from the mounatins to Nasca (a distance of 25 km). The Nascas dug trenches which are filled by spring water. They lined the trenches with rocks and then covered them...creating in effect a stone pipe. At various points there are access points to the aqueducts. Trails spiral down to the level of the water table, and there is a veritable manhole cover which can be lifted to access the water. The people of Nasca still use these aqueducts to provide them with clean water. The only stipulation is that they need to maintain the aqueducts and clean them out once a year. It started to get a bit buggy near the aqueducts, and I got a few small bites. We put on some deet bug spray, and then the bugs totally left us alone. This would be just about the only day we would encounter bug bites on the entire trip. Kike was a great local guide. You could tell that he loves Nasca, and that he is quite intrigued by its history. He took us up a hill to view a trapezoid which had been carved into the Nasca desert. We saw the desert close-up. It is covered with small rocks (slightly larger than gravel). When these rocks are pushed aside, a dark brown layer of soil is exposed. If you rub this layer with your finger, you can expose a layer of lighter colored gypsum. You can tell that this is how the Nasca Lines and figures in the desert could have been made. But the scope of them is truly amazing. They are each made with one contiguous line. The shapes are so perfect and precise...and they are so large! Kike told us about Maria Reiche, a German woman who studied the lines. She believed that the figures marked the location of the sun at the equinoxes, solstices, etc., perhaps as a kind of calendar which would let the people know when to prepare for rain. Reiche's work was taken over by Germany after her death, and only parts of it were released. Kike is disappointed that the published books do not contain all of the specifics of her research about the Nasca lines as they relate to the heavens, so he and his friends have vowed to camp in the desert at various times of the year and create a celestial calendar that relates to the the placement of the Nasca Lines. Kike is really into astronomy, and he and Craig had some great conversations about the stars of the Southern hemisphere.
We were then told that we would visit a "small mummy museum". The original itinerary had called for a visit to Chauchilla, where mummies sit exposed in the desert, but Carlos learned that Chauchilla was closed to tourists for two weeks for some unknown reason. So when we were told of a mummy museum, we pictured a little conventional museum (like the Julio C. Tello Museum in Paracas yesterday). The van pulled over to the side of the road and we crossed the street into someone's yard. A boy was balancing on a soccer ball and a woman was cooking over a fire. There was laundry hanging on a line. Where was the museum? It turns out that (as you would expect) grave robbing has been a big problem in Peru. Many Nasca mummies were dug up for gold and textiles that they may have been buried with. In an effort not to damage the textiles worn by the mummies, grave robbers would break the arms and heads off of mummies so that they could more easily remove the clothing. A woman who lived in the area was appalled by the broken skeletons which would litter the ground in the wake of the robbers, so she started to collect the bones and keep them on display in a little reed shack in her yard. This is the "mummy museum". We entered the shack and saw all kinds of skulls (some with skull trepanation scars, and some with head deformations). There was even one skull with hair that must have been four feet long. There was a plastic bucket full of femurs. Best of all there was a mummified baby, just sitting there in a cardboard box. It looked like something out of the X Files. Very creepy and very well preserved. We couldn't get over the fact that all of these things were just sitting here on this woman's property. It was much better than a conventional museum. We saw the woman herself, who looked very old. After this we went to a bank in Nasca and changed some money. The bank didn't give us a very favorable rate. We were glad Carlos was with us because it seemed to be a very bureaucratic thing. He had to put his bank card into a machine just to get a number at the bank. There were armed guards standing at the door.
Next we returned to the airport for our Nasca Line flight. We watched the video about various Nasca Line theories, and then hopped into the 4 seater plane with just the pilot and Carlos. It was very hot in the plane, and of course, our motion sickness medication had since worn off. Craig sat in the front and Carlos and I sat in the back. We really saw the lines and figures in great detail from above. You could even see that the monkey has 9 fingers (which some think symbolizes 9 years of drought, and that the figure was created to get the gods' attention so they would send rain). We saw the whale, the astronaut (the only Nasca figure on the side of a hill...the rest are on the pampas), the hummingbird, the monkey, the hands, the condor, the dog, and some others. Our pilot circled each line several time counterclockwise, followed by several times closkwise. He titled the wings so we would get a better view. After a while Craig and I each started to feel dizzy and needed to close our eyes. The circular motion and the extreme heat in the plane caused us to be pretty uncomfortable at times. But it was worth it. We really wanted to see the lines and they are amazing, but three loops in each direction around each figure was a bit excessive. The flight lasted about half an hour, and it cost us $40 U.S. per person (and that was with Carlos getting a deal for us).
After the flight we went back to the Hotel Della Borda. The grounds are just so beautiful! They have llamas and alpacas, chickens, dogs, hummingbirds, parakeets, beautiful flowering trees (including a red bougainvillea near the pool table)...just gorgeous. We ate lunch at around 4:00. Craig had fried chicken, rice, and french fries. I had sopa de criolle (Creole soup with noodles and what seemed to be a chicken broth) and papas a la huancayna , which were cold boiled potatoes in a yellow peanuty mustardy sauce. Carlos has bistek el pobre (poor man's beef) which had beef, french fries, rice, a fried egg, and fried bananas all piled onto a plate, almost overflowing. For dessert we had a mixture of vanilla, strawberry, amd lucma ice cream. After that we went for a swim in the pool. It was chilly but refreshing after a hot day in the desert. Then we changed back into our clothes. From the room we could hear a llama which was apparently upset by the noise of the power generator, because it kept squawking at it. Then we went to the lobby and tried to call home from a pay phone. We didn't have an international phone card, but Carlos told us you can dial direct from a pay phone for under 10 soles. Well, you need coins for the phone, and all we had for soles were bills. We tried to get change in coins from Juan Carlos and some other folks at the hotel, but noone seemed to have any coins. We ran into Carlos and he generously let us use some of his change. But after much fooling around with the phone, we came to the conclusion that it was just not to be. The lady at the desk said they had been having problems with the phone service. We settled our tab and played a couple games of pool. We each won a game.
A taxi took us to the center of town, where we waited in a hotel lobby for the night bus to Arequipa. The bus was scheduled to leave at 9:30, but as Carlos had predicted, it was an hour late. While waiting, we walked down the street and bought a phone card. After much help negotiating the phone (thanks, Carlos!) we were able to speak to our parents. Then we went back to wait for the bus. Carlos was a little concerned, as there was to be a strike the next day. What started out as a strike in the city of Arequipa had expanded to be a nationwide strike to protest President Toledo's plan to privatize water and power. The strike was supposed to start at midnight. We weren't sure what that meant for us. Strikers in Peru often block roads, and throw rocks at cars that break the picket line. Tear gas often is used by police to get things under control. We were afraid that no matter what happened, this might make the U.S. news via CNN, so we were glad we got to explain this to our parents ahead of time and let them know that we were in Carlos' capable hands. Wouldn't want them to be worrying. We were on the upper deck of the bus, which had padded comfy seats that recline. We were served tea and a biscuit. Movies were playing with the sound turned way up ("The Man Who Knew Too Much" was just ending when we boarded, followed by some Jackie Chan movie. Yeah, Jackie Chan is conducive to sleep!) Anyway, we dozed (me more than Craig). It was a bit chilly on the bus. We found out after the fact that the bus provides blankets if you ask for them. Oh well!)