Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pavement National Park Pizzas

We thought we had a steal of a deal on the bus to Arequipa. Ticking all the right boxes of heating, toilet, tv etc. But of course they lied to us. There was a toilet but it was disgusting and the door didn´t shut. There was a tv but the ancient video player didn´t work so there was no point. The heating was non-existant. It was also meant to be a direct-ish bus, stopping only at Juliaca on the way but instead, as soon as it had left the station it picked up every single person it could until the aisles were crammed. Oh, and the rain leaked in through the roof. Lovely. Won´t be taking Ciba again.

Arequipa the town made up for the bus journey. We stayed in "Colonial House Hostel" just a few blocks off the main square and it was fantastic. Huge rooms, roof terrace for breakfast, great staff. Booked the Colca Canyon tour through them as well.

At this point I have to point out that although the roof terrace was great, and in fact the breakfast tasted great too, the breakfast was ultimately bad. After our early start for the two day tour of the canyon (staying the night in the nearby town of Chivay) I was very very ill. The breakfast came back up at a nice viewpoint (to quote, "Don´t be sick here, it´s a national park") and then anything I tried to eat or drink came back with a big rejected note about 10 minutes later. To add insult to injury, while I was vomiting up my mate de coca tea at lunchtime, I saw something big drop into the toilet. I had my hands holding the stuff in my shirt pocket so I thought it was something I had eaten before but upon flushing it turned out to be the sunglasses that were hooked onto my t-shirt underneath. Bummer. Ignoring the fact that the person before me had spent about 20 mins on the bog and that I had just sicked up a litre of mate de bile I reached in and rescued the specs, washed them in soap a couple of times, then again in some pocket disinfectant (kills 99% of germs in 15 seconds apparently). Somehow though, I just didn´t feel the need to wear them again.

After learning not to eat or drink anything and make sure I sit down at every available moment the tour wasn´t too bad. The canyon is just absolutely massive. In fact they say it´s the biggest in the world. We didn´t have great luck with the condors as we just saw one huge condor gliding just above the heads of the people at the other lookout. We saw a couple of others but they were high (in the air, not drugs).

With the tour finished we headed back to Arequipa, stayed for a couple of hours before setting off again to Nasca. This time we had learnt our lesson and booked a decent bus with a decent bus company Cruz del Sur. The difference was astounding. You didn´t even have to go to a platform, they had their own waiting room. You get drinks and food on the bus, a decent film, great service etc. So cossetting.

We arrived at Nasca around 5am on Friday. By 6am we had a room and a flight touring the Nasca lines booked. By 8am we were at the airport waiting to fly. Organization is happiness. Before going up in the plane we got to watch a video about all the different theories on the Nasca lines (there´s loads of very very big, very very straight lines, plus there´s several interesting shapes of a spider, monkey, hummingbird, whale, "astronaut" etc). After a bit of a wait while the different tour companies jostled for their flying windows we finally got to go up in a very tiny plane. It seated 6 including the pilot. That meant I got to be co-pilot, honestly. I didn´t have a joystick in front of me and I had to be careful I didn´t knock any of the other buttons and switched, but I was sitting right next to the main man as he shouted out the names of the different shapes we were flying over. The lines and shapes are great, though they were hard to photograph and I´m not sure how the pictures will turn out.

After flying over the lines I had my first food for more than 2 days. A great breakfast at the hostel´s roof terrace (another hostel, another roof terrace) but it turned out not to be a great idea. Still have a dodgy tummy even now and have to watch what I eat. No projectile vomiting or anything like that, just felt bad.

Oh, on the same day we did a tour around the area looking at a couple of museums, how they processed gold and some ancient aquaducts for irrigation. As I wrote that I could feel myself dropping off. I know it sounds boring but it was really very good, when the ex-miner showing his rocks got out his guitar and started singing Beatles hits, I was won over.

Bought a new pair of sunglasses to replace the toilety ones. Twice. First pair was great, huge buggy things that I really liked. Unfortunately a few minutes after walking out of the shop I realised they weren´t good as they really did have a fishbowl effect, warping the pavement in front of me and making me unsure of my steps. Shame. Went back to the shop and exchanged them for another pair of Oakey rip-offs (only 25 soles / $7). More flashy than buggy these ones.

The original plan was to go to Pisco next but after umming and ahhing for a bit we decided on stopping at Ica on the way. We were also planning on going by bus but a taxi driver suggested that it would be quicker to go by shared car. Well, it was an experience. A huge, old, American Dodge something-or-other driven by some old codger. We were the first to come forward for the car so we had to wait a bit for it to fill up with other people. And fill up it did. The bench seat in the front held the driver plus two passengers, then the rear bench seat held me, Eva, a silent guy and some guy that couldn´t stop talking, drumming his fingers or singing along to the great Cuban tunes that the driver had a huge stock of (have to get some Daniel Santos tracks). With Eva squashed on my lap and the guy talking about Puskas, Inca Cola and everything else, we blasted our way down the straight road to Ica.

One advantage of getting a car to Ica is that it didn´t just drop us off at the bus station but instead drove us around until we found a hostel to stay at. The first attempt at a room was a failure with the rooms not in good condition. It looks like we´re sleeping at the Siesta hotel. Sounds good, but I´m not sure what it´ll be like as when we checked in there wasn´t any electricity. But if there is electricity later, then there should be hot water. Which is nice.

Some quick words about Ica. I don´t know anything about Ica, I just knew that we were already on our way towards Lima but don´t want to spend too much time there so want to break up the journey somehow. There is a splendid looking oasis nearby with the possibility of sandboarding, plus some vineyards, so it sounded good. We´ve got a short tour booked for tomorrow to visit the above. However, there´s something strange about this town. It´s in our Footprint guidebook but it´s not mentioned anywhere in my Lonely Planet. I don´t think it´s in most of the other books either as there are hardly any other tourists here. After walking about we spotted two sets of tourists (5 people in total). Everyone looks at us as we´re quite different. A new feeling. Another thing. I think this is maybe the first "unsafe" place we´ve been too. In the hotel and the tour office, they advised us to stay off certain streets. No problem, that´s the case in most places, but in Ica, it´s restricted us to just a few blocks. A bit unnerving. Well, we´ll have an early dinner (if I can eat it) and then scuttle away to our room. If there are no more posts on The Hungary Years after this, then I´m probably lying in some Peruvian gutter.

Or maybe I just can´t get to an internet cafe.

Updated with photos (29-Nov-2005) - Click for pics

The view from the roof terrace at breakfast.

Baby Alpacas are so incredibly cute. They also have impossibly tiny mouths that have trouble eating a section of mandarin.

Where there are tourists, there's someone to sell them something.

Huge condor. Shame we were standing at the wrong viewpoint.

Cocla Canyon. Deepest in the world apparently.

Yep, it's real, not a statue.

Not putting up the whole Nasca lines picture set as it needs someone at the screen to point out the shapes. But here's a clear one of the hummingbird.

Our mean machine ride

A distinct lack of any speedometer in the dash, but it's better with a selection of cool Cuban music.


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