Peru has some of the world’s most fascinating anthropological treasures. Among these are a series of curious hieroglyphs decorating the sands of the Nazca Desert, only 400 km away from Lima. These stone drawings are called the Nazca Lines and they cover more than 80 km of relatively uninhabitable land and the origins are traced back to somewhere between 400 and 650 AD. The many figures dressing the landscape are hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, llamas, lizards and gods, each visible from space – and not so much from the ground level. There are several theories behind the purpose of these images, some more complex than others, such as homage to gods, navigation points for the locals and even a landmark for ancient aliens. Many of you must be thinking, “This must be a breathtaking sight!” I would ask the same question as well since our attempt to get there fell somewhat short. Nevertheless, it is a funny story and will serve to answer a reader’s request via e-mail regarding this Peruvian gift to the world.
|The monkey, one of the more famous lines in the sand|
This was our first trip out of Lima on a long week in 1996 – Brian was still with us at that point – and we were always keen to discover our host country’s most famous tourist attractions. People come from far and wide to see this place and there are many documentaries where you will see the lines, perhaps better than from the observation tower onsite. We brought our beloved Plymouth Voyager to Lima, Peru from Canada, so we were happy to make this trip in our familiar and spacious van filled with adequate provisions for desert exploration including a very large vat of water – much needed if you read on. We had enjoyed very much the neighbouring Chilean Atacama desert, so we felt prepared to tackle this one. We managed to make it to the town of Ica – more or less of a midpoint on the map - where we had reservations at a beautiful hotel in the middle of the desert, called Las Dunas, on a full tank of leaded gas. This gasoline is extremely poisonous for vehicles from North America that require unleaded gas. Yes, that meant our van was not immune to this kryptonite. I am not certain that our fearless leader, Dad, had any idea what he was intentionally doing to his car – in all fairness, it never occurred to the rest of us, as he was the only driver at the time. Obviously, the car would run more or less alright on flat surfaces, but every so often, the engine would overheat, expelling clouds of steam from under thr hood – and some unfriendly words from the old man directed at the car. In the beginning, we were all puzzled by this, but every time the engine would be slightly overworked – especially climbing a hillside stretch of road - we were forced to come to a halt because the engine indicator seemed to be off the gauge. Poor Plymouth. The large vat of water came in handy after all as we had to fill up the radiator every time.
We eventually made it to Ica after several hours of fumes - both from my Dad and the car – and the ensuing stops. The hotel was a fantastic place for a family vacation. There were tennis courts, a basketball net, a large swimming pool and a cross between a regular and the biggest sand dune I had ever seen. The curious thing was you could sandsurf down the dune but you had to be willing to smash face first into thorny bushes at the end of the run. There was also a mini-golf course where you could pick your own clubs. We took a dabble at golf, choosing a driver, several irons and a putter, without knowing the real difference. Maman was the more seasoned golfer who had recommended the irons and the lack of a need for a driver as the distances from the tee off to the green were not much. Since no one else was using the course, we decided to try combinations of tee offs and greens to have a longer field of play and a better challenge. I started the swinging lineup with the driver. For the more seasoned readers, you will know that my mother was right and for the rest of you, always listen to your mother. The irons cover shorter distances and the driver is meant to be used for really long shots. I hit the ball, making a wonderful clicking sound from a calculated swing and we all watched the ball travel like a bat out of hell as it curved over the hotel building and out of sight. We were shocked by my fantastic long shot, but once we came back to reality, we were concerned that the ball could have hit someone. Brian and I ran off to conduct some discrete reconnaissance to make sure everyone was fine yet demonstrating a very nonchalant attitude until my brother saw the ball was in the pool. Hole in one! He asked a kid that was swimming to collect it noticing we dodged a real bullet – someone else dodged a real golf ball.
The following day, we set off on another 200 km day trip down the Panamerican Highway – at this point, traffic is redistributed through one lane each way – passing by little towns named after saints and sacraments. These places looked pretty basic however, chapeau to the citizens as the land does not seem to bare much in the shape of agricultural products to outlive the dry desert. It seemed rather odd as well at the time that most of the sand dunes were covered in various layers of trash, including the unmistakable E. Wong plastic grocery bags. The other peculiar aspect was that there was quite a traffic flow on these desert roads. Every few minutes or so, there was a small combi (those elegant looking second hand Toyota vans with Japanese markings on them) passing by packed with locals. Our poisoned Plymouth breaking down every fifteen minutes did not seem to disturb the traffic parade. On the contrary, we were probably a source of great entertainment for the passers-by. Nothing more fun for some than watching a bunch of gringos in a bad situation. You have no idea how much they enjoyed the Mr. Bean series, probably because it was a foreigner going through terrible situations, but we all have our own guilty pleasures when it comes to this man. Everyone in Canada seems to have seen the famous Christmas episode where he gets his head stuck in a turkey, whether they care to admit this or not. It was also tough out in a desert plain to find an appropriate place to relieve yourself from excess liquids as it was impossible to do this without any audience and we couldn’t really get to the nearest bathroom quickly because of the car breaking down. Eventually, this routine got the best of our father and we were no longer willing to risk ourselves as a group to get to the Nazca Lines, unfortunately never having the chance to ever see these in the future.
Instead, we spent the remainder of our trip, listening to Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and driving around the vicinity of Ica. We came across a wonderful oasis named Huacachina. There was a really small town, maybe something over a handful of rustic old buildings and a nearby vineyard at Ocucaje, which my father declared produced among the world’s worst wine, next to a small lagoon. The only way in is following a system of dusty roads and trails off the beaten track, so be wary. We ate lunch there in one of the few buildings, on a wooden deck/covered terrace, ordering the special overlooking the lagoon of stagnant water surrounded by large sand dunes. It looks like any major windstorm could push the dunes into the water, eliminating the areas easy access. Our meal was decent – some of the best places to eat in Peru are the more humble ones - which included an Inka Cola jell-o for dessert. Our waiter was so pleased to announce this and serve his establishment’s unique culinary creation but were were somewhat disappointed. It was like chewing cream soda. It was a shame we did not make it to the lines but we discovered that jell-o could be made using Inka Cola - never had it again though. Make sure to try it at your own risk.