Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Desert lines, monsterous bus rides, and relaxing in Arequipa

After our stay in Pisco, Sarah and I caught a bus to Nasca. Nasca is a small desert town in Peru, notable primarily for the "Nasca Lines." The lines are giant pictoglyphs imfamous with both fans of ancient civilizations and UFO conspiracy theorists because -while they were made long before the airplane- they are only visible from the sky. So, the first morning Sarah and I were in town we arranged to take a tour by airplane.

The lines were everything I´d hoped them to be, and pretty much everything you´d expect giant drawing in the desert to be. My favorite was a large, waving "astronaut" carved into the side of a mountain. For about 35 minutes, our small plane circled the desert, our pilot distractedly pointing out drawing of triangles, hummingbirds and monkeys carved into the desert below us.

Unfortunately, the tour was also over by 9am, leaving Sarah and I with a day to burn in Nasca, a place which even the owner of our hotel described as "a dusty, half horse town with nothing to do." Then, immediately after saying that he arranged an interesting tour of several locations for us. The most note-worthy of which was a trip to the Necropolis: An ancient graveyard in the middle of the dessert. With out guide, we drove out to the Necropolis, down a dusty road surround by dust devils.

The Necropolis itself was a series of excavations dug directly into the desert floor. Each containing mummies, bones and artifact from the Nasca and early Inca culture. With their long and still intact hair, the mummies were creepy and amazing. And even more amazing is that all of it was basically out in the middle of the desert, where you´d think opportunists and robberies would steal them away, as they´d obviously done in other times past.

Finally, it was time to board the Night Bus to Arequipa...

The Night Bus to Arequipa™

The idea was to take a overnight bus, so that we could sleep on the bus, not have to pay for a room, and arrive early in the day to sight see in Arequipa. Unfortunately, before we left, we ordered a plate of fries from our hotels restaurant which came with what might be described as a spicy relish to dip them in. And the relish was really good. This then led to my stomach being a little sketchy to begin with as we boarded the bus.

Now, imagine being on the top floor of double-decker bus, loaded with passengers, with all the windows and shades closed, recirculated sweaty air, at night... going down a mountain pass in which the road zig zags back and forth every 300 yards or so. The bus literally cranky around 180 degrees with each switchback. And imagine riding that bus with a less than ideal stomach.

Finally, imagine having a guy sitting in the row behind you throw up. And then having him spend the next two hours locked in the bathroom, vomiting loudly the whole time.

Needless to say, I didn´t get much sleep. I didn´t get ill luckily, but spent pretty much the whole night inventing new methods to keep my stomach relaxed and stable.

Meanwhile, Sarah (who usually suffers from motion sickness worse than I do) managed to sleep soundly through the whole trip.

Anyhow, we arrived in Arequipa shortly after dawn. And check into a probably the nicest hotel we´ve stayed at yet. An old colonial building. Clean, with a roof terrace, a private bath and a small balcony overlooking a busy street. All for 40 Soles (about $13). (See Sarah´s latest entry) And, its a good thing the hotel was nice, because Sarah and I spent most of the afternoon and evening napping and reading in it. Since the night bus had left me in shambles.

When we arrived in Arequipa, it was warm, and Mount Misti loomed over the city, like Mt. Rainier... if Seattle had literally been built right at the foot of Mt. Rainier. By the time we were ready to venture out into the city though, clouds had rolled in and it was raining, sheets of water running down the street. But, for a couple from Seattle who had spent the last several days in the desert, the rain was refreshing. And we spent a relaxed night eating crepes (because nothing says "Peru" like crepes, right?) for dinner followed by a beer at a small pub.

That night, we were awoken by another small earthquake. I get the feeling they are a little more common here than in Seattle. (Update: As I finished typing this, Sarah found a story online saying that Pisco, where we felt the first earthquake, had been hit by a 6.5 earthquke -which is what we feltlast night, 8 hours away in Arequipa- sounds like it only did light damage and their were no deaths, luckily.)

Today, we woke up to more sun, and after some tea on the roof terrace, we set out to explore the city center. We checked out the plaza, some cathedrals and some colonial homes; but the highlight of the afternoon was checking out the St. Catalina Monastery. While 30 or so nuns still live in privacy in one corner of the monastery, the majority of it was opened to the public in 1974. With its small plaza and squares, tiny winding streets, and it´s red and blue walls, it was the perfect way to spent a day relaxing and exploring.

As I type this, Sarah and I are in small internet cafe off the Plaza de Armas. The clouds have rolled in again, and soon we´ll be hunting for a place to have dinner. Tomorrow night is another nighttime bus ride, wish me luck!


Rick said...

"gaint waving astronaut" there you go proof positive. Your description of the bus ride reminds me of a seaplane ride where I was trying to keep it together gastronomically speaking. Keep of the good work your I almost feel like I am there with you.

Tim said...

I was curious to see some pictures of the stuff you saw. I've included some links to photos for other people who are traveling the world by proxy like me.
Astronaut and Monkey
Collection of Nazca line photos
Chauchilla desert cemetery 1 and 2

Tim said...

I was also curious about how the lines were made. Here is what I found:

"The methods used were:
* rearranging stones to long straight lines
* “sweeping” the plateau from the dark stones scattered over the surface and thus revealing the lighter underground
* digging trenches, some 50cm deep"

"The Astronaut is the only figure engraved in the rocky slope of a hill."

"In this example you can see technique 1 and 2. This off tapering line is 20 meters wide at the wide end. The ground which is part of the line has been cleansed from stones; the borders have been highlighted by lines of bigger stones."

"The third technique: A trench."

Text and pictures from this website.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Tim! The picture of the monkey looks almost exactly like one I took...unfortunately, we´ve mostly had semi-ancient computers and haven´t yet uploaded our pictures. Maybe in Cusco??

The General said...

Tim, thanks for posting those photo links! As Sarah said, we´ll try to get some of our pictures up soon.

The desert cemetery pics are defiitely the same place. But, it looks like the Peruvian tourist board (or something like it) has cleaned things up a bit. There are no longer bones and remains just sort of litered around. Instead, several of the tombs themsevles have been excavated, and the bones and other artifacts are on display inside them. It is still creepy though, because the ground looks like its got little white wood chips scattered over it... until you realize it isn´t wood, its bone flakes.

Tim said...

I definitely look forward to seeing your pictures. Please do post them when you get a chance!

Sarah said...

Sounds like you are both having an awesome time and seeing some fantastic sites. Looking forward to seeing photos when you get the chance to upload. Keep safe.

Sarah (from