A couple of weekends ago, Mary, Alan, David and I traveled by bus to the Ica-Nasca-Paracus area which is south of Lima. We caught the 7:30 bus and arrived in Ica at 2:00. The bus was a double decker and very comfortable. They served a little breakfast and coffee with lots of sugar! They showed a couple of movies and time passed quickly. As we were getting on the bus, a police was taking videos of the passengers. I later learned that in the pass, there have been problems with robberies on the buses. So, as a prevention or way of identifying the thief, they take videos. At the time, we didn’t realize what the purpose of the video was for…in case of an accident to identify those who were actually on the bus. For whatever reason, it was a little unnerving.
It was an interesting ride as we went through very barren terrain. It was desert, like I have never seen before. The amazing thing to me is that people lived in huts, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, in the middle of this desert. Where they got water, what they did for food, what they did for work remains a mystery.
Another part of the bus route took us through Pisco, one of the towns hardest hit in the August earthquake. Although much has been done to remove the debris from the damaged buildings, you could still see the destruction and tents that people are living in until their houses have been rebuilt.
Once in Ica, we were met by our driver who took us to Nasca…another 2 hour car ride. In Nasca, we took a six-seater plane and flew over the Nasca lines. These were amazing! In all, there are about 70 forms in the shape of animals, plants and geometric patterns covering an area of 386 square miles. However, we only saw about 12 figures on our tour.
These drawings were probably initially made small and using ropes and stakes reproduced to the large size they are today. They were made by the Nasca people removing the dark rocks of the area’s rocky surface to expose the lighter-colored rocks beneath. They then piled the rocks into walls about three feet high to enhance the outline. The figures we saw were of a hummingbird, condor, hands, an astronaut-like figure and monkey to name a few.
These etchings are believed to have been made by the Nasca culture that existed between 100-600 AD. No one seems to truly know the purpose of the Nasca lines but there are several theories. Some of the suggested theories were: astronomy, giant running tracks (?!), part of the pan-American fertility tradition and the most recent one presented by the Discovery Channel, sacred paths which hundreds of people walked during religious ceremonies.
After the tour, we headed back to Ica….another 2 hour car ride, where we were scheduled to go dune buggy riding in the Ica Desert. Now, we had been up since 5:30 that morning, rode for 6 hours on a bus and 4 hours in a car….oh, did I mention that we hadn’t eaten all day except for some dry fruit and nuts? Yes, we did get offered a snack on the bus, but no of us ate it.
So, heading back to Ica, I am thinking…what are we doing this dune buggy thing for, lets just get to Paracus and get settled for the night. Well, it turned out that this was the hi-light of the trip! Oh my gosh, riding the dune buggy through the desert was better than a Disney World ride!!! What a hoot! Our guide/driver, Marcus, took us up and down one dune after another….steep ones, I might add. He also showed us an oasis in the middle of the desert and said that a 2 hour dune buggy ride west would eventually bring us out to the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t have time to go that far, but what we did have time for was sand boarding! When Marcus pulled the boards out of the back of the buggy, I am thinking “Here is a quick way to get a face full of dirt when I fall”. However, we didn’t stand on them, we laid stomach down and rode the boards down the dunes…..another hoot and ride much better than Disney!
We ate a fish dinner in Ica and headed to Paracus. This is a small fishing/tourist town that is surrounded by a National Reserve. We arrived in town about 7:30 or 8:00….long day, but it also turned out to be a longer night. Paracus was hit hard by the earthquake. We didn’t really notice until the following morning and then you could see the deserted buildings with tents nearby that people were living in. Some of the restaurants, along the water, were without electricity….in the bathroom there would be kerosene lights.
Anyway, our hotel was small but very clean and right across from the town square. It seemed quaint at the time. However, on the other side of the town square was the town’s disco that played music loud enough to be heard in Ica….an hour away. The music lasted until 3:00 in the morning. At 5:30 AM, the roosters in cages, located at the other end of the town square, started crowing. Then, at 6:00 AM there was a beeping sound…..like the warning signal of a truck backing up…..I thought, can’t that truck go forward instead of constantly backing up??? Well, it was going forward and the beeping was the horn to alert the local folks the garbage truck was coming through. Needless to say, with all of this activity, I got no sleep…David, as always, slept like a baby!!!!
Our activity in Paracus was to take a boat tour to the Islas Ballestas, islands part of the National Reserve Park. This tour took us past another line formation that is in the shape of a candelabra and was possibly made to honor the cactus that indigenous people ingested during sacred ceremonies. Once at the islands, we were treated to seeing thousands of birds…we saw Pelicans, Humboldt Penguins, Cormorants, Boobies (yes, this is a bird) and several seals. These birds produce quite a bit of waste or “guano”. Guano is a Quechuan (native language) word that is now commonly used by English speakers. This guano was a money maker for Peru in the 1850-1870. It was harvested and used as fertilizer because it contained 20 times more nitrogen than cow manure. People actually lived on the island; we saw the old buildings while on the tour, to harvest the guano. These days, it is no longer a major industry as modern technology has created a better man-made fertilizer.
After the tour, we had about four hours to explore Paracus….which isn’t a real big town. It is a cute town but unfortunately, as I mention earlier, was heavily damaged by the earthquake. It was very evident along the sea wall. We discovered later, that they had been hit in the middle of the night by a tsunami. Several of the beautiful homes suffered damage and one of the major sea-side hotels had been completely shutdown.
Lunch was along the water front at one of the several little restaurants. My fish was very, very fresh and was probably caught that morning! I bought a beautiful piece of tapestry woven in some nearby village….then; it was time to catch the bus. Our ride back was quite….we did get to play “Bingo” for a bottle of Pisco (a grape brandy distilled from sweet grapes). All of us were about 3 spots from getting Bingo, but someone beat us to it!!!
It was a great week-end, with great memories and laughs with our special friends.