Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arequipa to Huacachina and back

While Kate tells some of the strange anectdotes of our trip, I´ll give a picture summary of the last week. On our last day in Arequipa last week, we went to the market, which was gigantic. There was all kinds of food, but we are always impressed with the sheer number of types of potatoes available. There are hundreds of types local to the area, and the market is full of them:There was also a church and monestary whose cloisterwalk had been converted into an upscale shopping center and cafe location. Most everything was closed, but we enjoyed walking around:
At the end of the day, we wondered how we might get a photo of El Misti behind the cathedral in the town square. There are restaurants all around the square, so we randomly chose one that was in line with the cathedral and the mountain. When the waiter saw us taking pictures from the table during sunset, he asked us if we wanted to go up to the rooftop for a better view. of course we took advantage of that offer, and we took a whole bunch of photos, but here´s one with Kate:
After we came down to pay, the waiter directed us into the kitchen and started explaining things to us. We had seen before that the restaurant called itself "pre-incan" food, but we just had a salad, chicha (local maize beer that tastes somewhat like vinegar and smelly feet), and some pudding that we had never heard of before, so we didn´t really know what we were eating. He explained to us that the owner had researched indiginous pre-incan food and he used only ingredients and methods available to those people. No cooking oil, no metal pots, no garlic or other european food. It was quite interesting. He started by showing us the diversity of potatoes again:
Here you can see them cooking in earthenware pots, and on the other side they had a charcoal grill covered with large round stones:
it was a pretty neat dinner experience, so we vowed to go back for a real meal one of these days. But first, we had to catch our night bus to Nazca, which is about a 9 hour drive or so. We went first class (about $30 or so), which was kind of this funny capsule on the downstairs part of the bus with cushy reclining seats. It was not a good sleep on a bumpy bus, but it made for good smiles when we started out:
We did a whirlwind tour through Nazca the next morning. We did not do a flight because they are expensive, somewhat dangerous, and I´ve seen all the pictures already--I mostly wanted to see what the natives saw when they made their famous drawings. The famous Nazca lines were formed in the desert by removing the top rocky and oxidized layer of the desert floor. It´s actually pretty easy to make very visible lines due to the geology there. You can see the effect very well from a hill that we used as a lookout over the desert:
Because the slightest path creates a very visible line, the government has rightfully outlawed all ground access to the archeological site, which covers hundreds of miles of the driest desert you can imagine. They get less than a centimeter of rain a year here, so any line made in the ground lasts for thousands of years. And last they did. The Nazca people covered the desert with amazingly straight lines, some of which still remain a mystery. Certainly some would have been used for travel or transport, but others seem to align with the stars, perhaps as a form of a calendar, or perhaps as part of religious beliefs:
The most famous and perplexing part of the desert, though, is where the pre-historic people drew figures in the ground, some only visible by airplane, without any high-tech help. We went to a lookout tower to see a few of them. Below is the tree:
It´s actually hard to see it´s a tree from the photo, but it was quite striking in person. There are also other crazy figures, like monkeys, hands, and even the so-called astronaut, which we did not see.
Instead of spending more time in Nazca, which is honestly quite a dusty and depressing little city, we went to the resort of Huacachina, which is nestled in a field of huge sand dunes. Here´s Kate traversing the very steep side of one of the biggest ones, on the way down to our hotel:
Of course, we took a cab to the hotel, but we played on the dunes afterwards. It was actually quite a vertigo-inducing experience, since the leeward side of a dune is very steep and one of the largest dunes dropped down leeward right onto the edge of our hotel. I eventually got the courage to climb to the top, which was about 1000 feet above the resort. There are a bunch of hotels around this little lagoon there, we´re in the one that has the blue pool right touching the edge of the closest dune in this picture:
And from the top of the dune, you look out over a sea of seemingly endless dunes. They apparently go for about 70 kilometers until they meet the Pacific Ocean. There are apparently some very untouched beaches at the end of the dunes here because it is only accessible by a long ride on a large dune buggy. We did not do that ride, though.
Instead, we tried out sandboarding! First, we took a few practice runs by walking up the dune next to the resort (that´s me boarding down the dune):
The next day, we went on a dune buggy tour where they drove us in a group to the top of the dunes. Kate is showing off her sandboard here:
I took a video of Kate doing a belly board down a big dune (, and then one of our fellow tourists, Brenna, showed us just how fast you can go ( and ended up with some skinned elbows at the end and a lot of sand in the face. As our luck would have it on this trip (remember our radiator blowing up on the Uyuni trip?), we blew out a tire just before heading up to view the sunset:
It almost knocked the tire off the rim, so we had to call in another buggy to bring us a spare.
Although we missed the proper sunset, our guide gave us an extra hour after the tour, and we got to do some more sandboarding in the twilight. Here´s me with my board:
Our last day in Huacachina, we took a private taxi tour to two vinyards in the town of Ica. Ica is not much of a pretty town, but it has a lot of agriculture, especially wineries, and it is famous for its Pisco, which is a type of brandy that is clear since it is not aged in Oak. Did I mention that all the while in Huacachina and Arequipa we´ve been enjoying the local specialty, Pisco sour? Well, we got to see how they make their wine and Pisco here. Here´s one of their stills for distilling the wine:
They had a warehouse full of big oak barrels that are not used anymore. I believe they were 10,000 liter barrels. They also showed us their modern concrete-lined 100,000 liter containers, but the warehouse full of them was not as photogenic.
Kate posed in front of the newer-style barrels for aging wine, and in the background are the clay barrels that they used for fermenting the grapes. The newer vinyard that we saw did everythign on an industrial scale, so they only have them as museum props in the background, bu the artisinal vinyard we saw still made everythign the old-fashioned way.
Our last day in Huacachina happened to be July 28, which is a huge independence day festival for Peru, so there were parties everywhere. There was a big party at the vinyard, and Huacachina was gearing up for another party. We saw them inflate a giant beer bottle at our hotel as we were checking out to catch another night bus back to Arequipa:
That was yesterday. After a long and half-sleepless bus ride (and smelly too, because someone did not hear the directions that the bathrooms in the bus are for "urination only"), we made it back to Arequipa for a lazy day of catching up on sleep and internet updates. We have a couple days left here to see some museums and enjoy the beautiful weather before heading up the mountains to Cusco on Saturday (another night bus). Then we will make ourselves at home for another 3 weeks of Spanish lessons. We´ve been using Spanish as much as we can here, (did all our tours of the winery and Nazca lines as well as restaurant and hotel stuff in spanish), but our last few weeks have nonetheless been somewhat touristy, so we will be back to hard work again in a few. But there´s lots to see in Cusco, too, so we´ll keep the updates coming. Hasta la proxima!

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