We arrived at the border of Peru and after hearing about the beaurocracy at the border, the crossing was actually pretty uneventful, and we sailed straight through. Peru is the third biggest country in South America and it has three distinct regions similar to Ecuador: a narrow coastal belt, the wide Andean mountains and foothills and the Amazon rainforest. The coastal strip is mainly desert (due to rainshadow effect from the Andes), and we noticed this as soon as we crossed the border, going from the lush green banana plantations of Ecuador into dry, arid desert moonscape with no vegetation or any signs of moisture come to that. We soon discovered that this is a characteristic of most of coastal Peru. The only time we came across any green was when crossing the river valleys that come down from the Andes. Here there are large rice paddies and many plantations, including asparagus and sugar cane which are two of the most important export crops.
Anyway we arrived at our destination.....the beach at Punta Sal. We set up our tents on the beach (see photo) and watched the sunset with whales jumping on the horizon. The next few days were all spent on the beach (it's a hard life), however we did manage to make the effort to go into town (Mancora) a couple of times. This involved a 17km ride on the back of a Tuk-Tuk. The first time was an attempt to get some money from the local bank, however half way through the transaction on the ATM, there was a power cut and the machine swallowed Shaun's card (luckily for me it was our joint account and now I hold the only card to it!!). Anyway, Mancora is the most visited coastal resort on the north coast. Surfing is popular and there was a kite surfing competition while we were there.
The journey back on the Tuk Tuk was quite eventful - we even saw a man having a crap on the side of the road!! We also noticed that the sides of the roads were covered in litter.
We generally had campfires on the beach every night we were there. One night some of the group (well the rum club), ended up having quite a lot to drink and decided to stay up all night. They had obviously forgotten they had booked themselves onto a fishing trip the next morning at 6am. Needless to say, when they arrived back from the fishing trip we soon found out that a number of them had been sick! Joel apparently curled up on his side and went to sleep in the bow of the boat, only to get back and find he was sun-burnt all down one side! Despite all the high drama on the seas, they still managed to catch some pretty tasty fish for us.
After spending 4 days at the beach, playing volleyball, swimming, eating (including a whole pìg roasted over a spit on the beach) and drinking (Pilsen or Cristal beer is about $1.50 for a large bottle), we drove south along the coast to Huanchaco. This is a fishing village famous for its high ended, cigar shaped totora reed boats called caballitos, which fisherman paddle beyond the breakers to set out their nets and then surf back later with their catch (see photo). The fishermen have been doing this for years and years and some people say that these boats are the first ever surf boards!
Huanchaco was our base for visiting the famous Chan Chan ruinas (see photo). This is a vast area of crumbling mud walls (28 sq km) which was once the largest mud-brick city in the world. It was built around 1300AD and contained 10,000 structures including canals, temples, pyramids and royal palaces and housed 6,000 people called the Chimu tribe. The Incas conquered the Chimu people around 1460, however the city was not looted until the Spanish arrived. The Chimu capital had 9 sub-cities called royal compounds. We visited one of these called Tschudi, which has been remarkably restored. It contained impressive friezes of fish, waves and sea life and also the mausoleum of a king.
That afternoon we visited the Moche sun and moon temples. This pre-dates Chan Chan by 700 years. The temple of the sun (Huaca del Sol) was originally built with 140 million adobe bricks however it is now a large sandpile and half of it was washed away by the river. We spent most of our time loooking at the Temple of the moon (Huaca de le Luna). The Moche people had a custom of building new temples on top of old ones each time a new ruler came into power. This has helped to preserve the colourful friezes. There are huge walls which have been excavated with geometric designs, seabirds, fish and waves - pretty impressive when you consider how old these cultures were. On our way back to the campsite we drove through the northern capital of Trujillo. Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop as it appeared to be very colonial.
Our final night in Huanchaco was spent at a little restaurant. On the way there we spotted Heinz dancing and trying to chat up some local girls which was very amusing. We spied on him from the restaurant and he ended up getting into the car with them! We found out later though that he never got anywhere!
The following day we headed towards Lima, the capital city founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535. Franciso Pizarro was the first European to enter Peru in 1526 when the Incas were in power. When he arrived he discovered the rich coastal settlements of the Inca empire (which then stretched from Columbia to Peru), and returned to Spain to get more reinforcements for a conquest. He returned to Ecuador where he captured the northern Inca leader. At that time there was a civil war between the northern and southern Incas. Pizarro took advantage of this and entered Cusco the Inca capital and conquered it by 1533. The Inca were then forced to retreat into the mountains and jungles. As Lima was closer to the coast than Cusco, Pizarro founded the capital city there (it was also much easier to export goods to Spain from there). Lima has now become the major political, social and commercial centre and about 1/3 of Peru's 26 million people live here. It is overcrowded, polluted and noisy. Much of the growth is from poor people who have come in search of a better life and most end up living in pueblo jovenes (shanty towns which surround the capital). These lack water, electricity and proper sanitation. Poor indian campesinos occupy these shanty towns (usually peasants who originally practiced subsistence agriculture and who make up 45% of the population). The higher class societies are mainly made up of mestizo middle and upper classes (37% of the population).
We headed straight toward the old town where none of this poverty is obvious. The old town is full of colonial buildings which have been restored, making the centre very attractive (and very European). Our tour leader told us the city was dangerous and that we wouldn't like it, but in fact we found it a vibrant city full of life and enjoyed our stay here. This is despite being covered in a coastal fog (called garua) the whole time we were here.
When we arrived in Lima, the first thing we had was a hot shower in our plush hotel, which was much needed after a week or so of camping. All showered and relaxed we decided to invite the others in the group around to our room for a few drinks - this soon turned out to be lots of drinks! We even managed to find a porn channel on tv - although it was very badly tuned in and you only got glimpses of rude bits every now and then which caused a few laughs. It ended up being quite a rowdy night - in fact there were complaints made about us, however it was a good bonding session, as by this time the truck has already split into different groups (we are in the coolest one of course!).
The following day we went site seeing with Joel and Bell. We started at the heart of the city, the Plaza Mayor (see photo), which is surrounded by restored colonial buildings, including 2 palaces and a cathedral. Most of these buildings are not very old (1924) as they have been rebuilt following damage from earthquakes. However, in the middle of the square is a large bronze statue which dates from 1650. Outside of the Palacio de Gobierno we observed the changing of the guards (quite bizarre marching involved). We then went to the Monasterio de San Francisco, which is one of the oldest churches in Lima (obviously the main religion in Peru is Roman Catholic due to the Spanish conquest). In fact Peru didn't become independent until 1826. The monastry is in Baroque style with Moorish influence and the wall tiles are amazing. But the best thing is actually beneath - the catacombs estimated to hold 70,000 bodies. They are still excavating, but some of the bones are on display in the catacombs. After a local lunch we headed to Mercado Central which occupies a whole city block and where you can buy absolutely anything tacky imaginable. This merges into China town which is bigger than London's. There is actually a sizeable community of Japanese and Chinese Peruvians that imigrated at the turn of the century to set up trading enterprises. In fact one of Peru's previous presidents was actually Japanese! We then found Plaza San Martin, which dates from the early 1900's. There is a statue of Jose de San Martin in the middle of the Plaza (he was one of Peru's liberators).
That night we decided to sample the nightlife of Peru (well it was Jo's birthday). Jo being a big football fan (well QPR) wanted to go to a footy theme bar on the Plaza de San Martin. This turned out to be quite a quirky night as in the bar there were wax work figures of footballers including Pele, Maradona and of course Beckham!
We also picked up 3 more people in Lima:
Andonia - an ozzie lady who was a faith healer and believed in an american indian religion!
Nicola - a very demanding individual who most people ended up hating, but in the end she was ok!
Anabelle - a posh chick who was out to score as many locals as possible!
Louise - a young english girl who soon got it on with Fuz!
We left Lima and headed south to Huacachina, through once again a dry, arid landscape (now getting quite monotonous). We got loaded into dune buggies and drove onto the huge sand dunes (see photo). The dune buggies took us up and down nearly verticle slopes until stopping to let us try some sand boarding. This was quite a laugh although the sun went down quite quickly so we only had time for 3 slopes. We then camped out in the middle of the dune desert sleeping out under the stars, eating bbq meats and drinking the national drink Pisco (a white grape brandy) with the guides. After a few pisco grandes we ended up noisily singing songs around the campfire. We woke to see the sunrise over the endless high dunes and found we had sand in every orafice! After brekkie we headed inland towards Nazca, obviously famous for the lines and geoglyphs that cover a large part of the desert south of the town.
The Nazcas lived pre-inca from 200AD to 800AD. The lines and large pictures of animals they created on the ground were found in the early 1900's by archeologists, who concluded that they were part of a large astronomical calander. Despite being told that a lot of people are sick on the flights over the lines, our flight were pretty smooth despite being in a 3 seater plane (see photo). We missed the first whale but managed to see amongst others a large monkey, an astronaut, a condor, a spider and a hummingbird which you couldn't see from the ground. It's amazing how these were done considering the Nazcas couldn't see them from the air.
We headed back to the coast and camped overnight in a picturesque (but still dry and arid) little bay called Puerta Inca, where there were some Inca ruins and a hotel complex. Unfortunately the night we stayed there was a 15 yr olds birthday party which started at 11pm and went on til the small hours of the morning (4.30am to be exact). Apparently the 15th birthday is equivalent to an 18th. Needless to say not much sleep was had. Mums/Dads - why didn't you give us such a party at 15!!
On Sunday we packed the truck up early for the long drive to Arequipa, only to discover that the road had been closed due to a motor rally!! Thankfully we only had to wait til 12 before we could set off along the arid coast and then inland toward Arrequipa ....to be continued........