Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gap Adventures Peru - Day 3 - Nazca Lines, and Ica Sandboarding

The sand whips across the road, but I can hardly see it; my eyelids are pressed together. Particles of dust rip at my face, destructive here on earth as they would be for ships hurtling through the perceived emptiness. As if that wasn't enough, the bottom of my face extended to my lower lids are assaulted by the strands of hair growing wild, and in such numbers from my chin, and cheeks.

For two hours, I've faced this unpleasantness, compounded by pretense of two boys sharing the same name, whose homeland seems to be England. In the back of a rusted taxi, we try to sleep – anything to dull the feelings coursing through us. But there is no respite. there is no sleep. There is only the wind, the dust, and the pain.

And the day started off so pleasantly.

Waking up in Nazca Peru is like waking up in almost any part of the world. One foot out of bed, then the next, maybe a shower, maybe a shave (not in my case – but in the cases of many, I'm sure.) Breakfast at the hostel was 4USD and consisted of bread and jam. No thank you. I can find hostels that will include a breakfast like that for 4USD and throw in a night's stay as well. I devoured an extra sandwich I had purchased the day before.

And then the waiting began. Waiting like I'd never waited before. I checked the sky; the sky was blue. I could see some clouds on the horizon, but they shouldn't have been a problem. The sun was out, the winds were still. And still I waited.

I waited until 8:40am when a car picked me up and took me out to an airstrip. There, I had to sit and wait some more. And so I did. I waited for half an hour. The skies were still clear, I checked. My feet would have tapped were I not commanding myself to just shut down and relax. A false state of relaxation, but better than running around as a child on Christmas morning, not able to open any presents until breakfast was finished. (Why parents do this is beyond me. They are cruel terrible people.)

Then I was called forward. I was detected for metal. I walked out onto the tarmac. I approached the plane. Being the heaviest in the group, as is often the case, you see, I was sent to the front of the plane. Others would have to take a seat to the rear. With their tiny windows. The little seven seater prop plane started up, and we were off. Flying high into the air, over top of the desert.

And why? Why were we flying over the Nazca desert? Why was I so excited to be here? What was down below?

Some lines. That's all. The Nazca lines. It strikes me that most people have no idea what the Nazca lines are. I thought they'd be as well known as the pyramids, or stone henge, or other mysterious things of that nature. They're oh so closely related. But no – you tell someone you're excited to see them and they just shrug. They have no idea.

In the 1950s some people used the lines as proof positive that aliens existed. This may be a little bit of a stretch, but the fantastical nature of them is no less impressive. Well, ok, maybe it's a little less impressive than Aliens existing, but isn't almost everything? That comparison was hardly fair.

The Nazca lines are figures, pictures, and geometric shapes carved into the ground. The designs can be over 200 meters in size. And they can only be truly appreciated when seen from above. The thing is, these lines were created over two thousand years ago! Over two thousand years ago giant pictures of monkeys, and birds, and other such things were created never to be appreciated by the people who made them. Never really seen by those who made them.

Some of the more cynical people that I'm travelling with claim that perhaps they were made so that generations down the line the good people of Peru could charge tourists 62USD to fly over them. I find the possibility of Alien Interference far more likely.

Think of crop circles. Now think of then being made thousands of years ago in the desert. And think of them as being recognizable shapes rather than just pretty patterns. I mention crop circles because if they can be made without overhead observation, so too could these – which is why I think aliens? Not really required, thank you very much.

I will post images of all the shapes that I saw in a following entry. Hopefully others will be as impressed as I was. The only problem? There's no sense of scale. There's no way to really understand how large the objects are, until you're there, hundreds of feet in the air, and they're still filling your camera frame without needing to zoom.

Whatever their purpose, or however they are constructed, that hardly seems to matter. It's just art – beautiful, magical, wonderful.

As the plane landed and I wandered the gift shop the sky began to change. The winds picked up. The cloud cover had fallen. Had we left any later, I would have missed the sighting completely. Within an hour, the dust had blotted out the sun.

But blotted out sun is no reason to pack up and head home. No sir. That's just more reason to head out further into the desert. Two hours away, the town of Ica houses some of the best dunes for Sandboarding. Having passed it up once who was I to say no again? And for only 16USD, and dune buggy rides to the top, well it was looking pretty perfect.

Once the taxi ride ended, and we were released back into the wild, it became a far more tolerable existence. And once we boarded the dune buggy?

There's a section in Halo 1 where you can obtain two Warthog vehicles, and two rocket launchers. The game will auto save right before the moment when the two rocket launcher armed Warthog drivers are staring one another down on the beach. In first year University I may have avoided a class here or there by playing out this section of the level. What you would do is try to ram into one another as best you could, causing the vehicle to spin out of control. And once you'd knocked one Master Chief from his vehicle it would be a rocket launching battle to the death. This was a personally created mini-game that I've often wondered how many other people played out. This was quite possibly the most fun I'd ever had with Halo – a big shout out to Matty P with whom we at times would only leave the game for meals, before returning back to it (hey – it was University. That's what you do.) The only thing that offered us more reason to stay away from school was, perhaps, Yoko from Japan / Natasha from Canada.

I'd always wondered what it would have felt like to be zipping around in those vehicles. Now I know. Thrashing through the desert in the worlds greatest off rails roller coaster – up and over the peeks in the dune buggy, ramping up the sides and then back down again like some real world modern Turbo Train. The between the legs seat belts were obviously designed by women as each bump was less than ideal, but plowing through the desert in one of these open carts was beyond any expectation.

And then you were at the top of the dune. I strapped the board to my feet, leaded over the edge, rode about three feet and then fell. Stood up again, and fell. Tried to stand. Fell. This was repeated until the bottom of the hill. But let none say that I did not try sandboarding! Perhaps some instruction, or some baby slopes would have been a good way to start? But no. Watching the skateboarders and snowboarders in our mix repeat with equal results made me feel much better about my own effort.

I had tried and then tried and finally tried some more. But I was in no mood for more pain. No. I would look towards the future- zipping down the hill, my belly on the board, picking up as much speed as I could. Though not as rewarding as my failed attempts to stand up, neither was it as painful. Each slope was cushioned by more zipping through the sands in the buggy.

Part of me wondered what it would have been like out here on a clear day. Another part of me loved the invisible expanse.

After our ride, the way back would be more harrowing than the ride there, and it would last an hour longer. The car that took us from Ica to Nazca had cracked windshield, a hose going into a pop bottle under the hood, and doors that could only open from the outside, or by reaching a hand through the window that could not roll up.

On the other hand it was more roomy.

The sand picked up to the point that cars directly in front of you became obscured. The sun lost its battle with the dust, and for one moment or two our driver decided to change into the wrong lane, while driving into a blind turn. Still, three and a half hours later we made it back.

Standing in my hotel room, I emptied my pockets of sand, and attempted to shake out my clothes as best I could. I then focused on my hair. Knotted by winds, glued with dirt, face covered in dust. This was going to be a challenge. A lot of hair was lost in the ensuing moments. Still – by the end of my microcosmic war, I could brush straight through without pain, and so all was worth while in the end.

There was no more time to waste! We headed out to dinner. Dinner was cooked underground. It is now my opinion that the best food comes from underground. Underground corn? Suburb. Underground pork and chicken? The best. Underground potatoes? Sweet or regular – take your pick – both good. And tamales? No longer just a word to me – fantastic! Dinner was a delicious feast, cooked for hours by hot rocks in a pit buried beneath the surface of the earth. And it was absolutely marvelous.

Then it was off to catch the night train to Arequipa. After Dukes of Hazard finished playing at 11pm the video system was mercifully put to rest. It was time for sleep. Day three of Gap Adventure's Peru on a Shoestring trip? Magnificent!


  1. "Underground corn? Suburb"


    That dinner does indeed look delicious.

  2. This place looks like very great and the food looks good. I can come there so i can ride for Ica Sandboarding.


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