Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pollo and PhD (28-31 January 2011, Days 50-53 of 127)

Everyone in Lima (and Peru) loves chicken!

It is everywhere. Pollo this and pollo that - every which way you can eat it! Fried, roasted, boiled even "scrambled" according to one place.

Lima (Pop 8.2m, Elev 60m, Est 1535 by Francisco Pizarro) is huge. It took 2hrs to drive through the mainly chanty-style suburbs to get to our hotel in the most affluent Miraflores suburb by the Pacific Ocean.

Lima is surrounded by a middle-eastern looking dusty semi-desert with humidity and hills with Jesus on top of them. It is crowded (one third of Peru lives here!) with chronic traffic problems having only recently implemented a bus-based "metro" system which operates in the middle of a ring road that surrounds the city.

Most of Lima was destroyed in an earthquake in 1746 and re-built. The 1879 war with Chile also wrecked the city. If that was not enough, Lima was the centre of terrorist attacks from 1986-1992.

Lima is also the capital of Peru and of car honking - making New York sound polite!

My day started with a fabulous run along the cliff-top purched suburbs of Miraflores and Magdalena Del Mar, overlooking a roaring Pacific surf some 60m below.

Our main day in Lima (28JAN) began with a walking tour of the city beginning in the central "Plaza De Armas" which contains the main Cathedral, Presidential Palace, Archibishops Palace and fountain. All in the classic Spanish style and pastels but not as colourful as Trujillo and mainly in yellow, the colour of good luck in Peru.

The 1555 cathedral contains the tomb of the city's founder and has 13 very ornate chapels within it.

The river Rimac also runs through the city and I visited the "other side" which is only for locals (guide told me later) and here I am thinking that everyone loved my fluro-yellow chesty Bonds singlet! Police and armed vehicles are present!

A highlight of the city is the San Francisco Church and Monastery which contains extensive catacombs with some 70,000 skeletons.

We then walked down the main pedestrian only shopping road called "Jiron Del La Union" connecting "Plaza De Armas" with "Plaza San Martin" containing classic white Spanish mansions.

We finished the day with a Pisco Sour in the old world Hotel Bolivar which is much like having a Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel. The hotel has a stained glass cupola in the lobby!

Dinner was a fizzer but the suburb, Barranco was great, centre of Lima nightlife and eating for both tourists and locals. Great views over the Pacific.

The next day (29JAN) I went on an extensive walking tour of Miraflores, enjoying its manicured parks and boulevards and snapping photos of the cliffs along the Pacific.

I also visited the mud-pyramid of Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, 5km from the cliffs, built in 500AD by the "Limas" to worship the Pacific. It uses mud-bricks stacked like books on shelves so that they can flex during earthquakes! Clever!

At 1:30pm we farewelled Miraflores and set on our hottest, smelliest bus trip to date to the coastal town of Pisco, 5hrs away (home to the Pisco Sour drink).

Pisco (Pop 54K, Sea Level) was destroyed by an 8.0 earthquake in 2007. The government did not do much to restore the town. The main church is still not repaired. As a result crime is high so we stuck to the central plaza for dinner. Being so close to the water we enjoyed our best dinner since starting Intrepid - whole snapper for just $7AUD washed down with heaps of local Negra beer! Just as well because Maureen had a dummy spit with our guide "Ally-J" just before dinner. Ally-J has been putting the girls in share-triples, repeats herself a lot (especially during our tour time instead of in the bus or at dinner) and generally is quicker to say "no" rather than "let me see what I can do". The Negra certainly calmed Maureen down.

The following morning we were up at 6am and out the door at 7:30am for our 1hr van ride to the nearby Pacific port of Paracus. We climbed aboard a speed boat with 36 others and sped off to the Ballestas Islands some 30min ride away. On the way we saw the famous "Candleabra" image drawn into the side of a mountain. Most popular theory is that Spanish pirates did this back in the 16th century. Lucky it does not rain a lot to rub it out!

The Ballestas Islands are the "poor mans Gallapagos" - they comprise outcrops of rocks and sea caves/arches containing a heavy concentration of: Sea Lions, Peruvian Boobies, Peruvian Pelicans, Humbolt Penguins and Cormorants.

There are hundreds of seals and thousands of birds perched on these rocky outcrops with the stench of seal and bird poo everywhere.

We spent 60min cruising around, snapping up photos and then I realised that we were not getting off the boat - I had to go to the dunnie!!!

By this stage I was busting and given the 30min cruise back, I had no choice but to literally "piss in a pot" at the front of the boat, next to the driver and with my back to 40 people! What a look! What an effort! Relief never felt so good!

Back at Paracas, we had a quick refreshment and climbed back on the van for our 1hr drive to the sand dunes and lake oasis of Huacachina (Pop 200), 5km out of Ica (Pop 300K). The landscape here is amazing. It may as well be in Syria, Lebanon or Northern Africa. Desert and sand dunes everywhere with a sizeable 300x100m lake Oasis in the middle and all this is only 60km from the Pacific Ocean! Peruvian legend has it that this place was formed by the long scarf of a lost princess and is so well known that it is on the back of the Peruvian 50 Solas Note! I made it more famous by swimming 8 laps (1500m) in it!

It took only 30min drive to transfer from Oasis Lake to Peruvian Pisco Winery. Here we learnt the secrets of making Peru's favourite spirit - Pisco, which is actually very close to Cognac, made by single-distilling the fermented Quebranta white grape but no barrels. Instead fermentation is in concrete vats but the still is copper. Unlike Cognac there is no blending of vintages. We tasted 6 different variations including Quebranta wine (sweet) and finished off with another Pisco Sour cocktail.

By this time we had enough juice in us to brave the 30m metal tower that overlooks the famous UNESCO protected "Nazca Lines" just 20km outside the desert town of Nazca (Pop 53K, Elev 563m) where we stayed the night.

There are 800 lines forming 300 shapes belonging to 70 plants and animals over 50sq km of flat, arid, rocky desert some 80km from the Pacific Coast and at the foot of the Andes. They were discovered in 1939 by American scientist Paul Kosok on a routine survey flight and since then no one has any evidence of who formed them and why.

The most popular theory is that the "Nazca" peoples created them between 200BC and 600AD as an astrological calendar. I reckon Aliens put them there so that they can land here later! They are actually very weird. From the tower we saw the 'hand", "lizard" and "tree".

The total time on the road from Pisco to Nazca was 4.5hrs. Our dinner in Nazca was at a very local place where there is no menu, just what they have on that night. For only $4AUD we had a beef and vegie soup (big bowl), turkey and rice and a can of beer! Mostly farmers and families ate here. Now you know just how poor Peru is.

31JAN was a free day in Nazca. In the morning I went for a run towards the highest sand dune in the world, Cerro Blanco at 2,078m and got within 4km of the base.
People actually "sand board" off its huge smooth slope! The landscape out on my run was breathtaking and piping hot - rockie desert mountains and gun barrell roads just like Route 66 across Arizona!!! I then relaxed with a movie, streamed on my little laptop (used to write this blog) via the hotel wi-fi. I have been watching one horror movie each night for the last 4 nights this way - unreal!

At 3pm in the arvo we set off on an organised tour of the ancient 'Nazca" peoples burial ground in Chauchilla, 30km from Nazca. What a place. Out in the middle of no where in a large barren plain between the rising Andes lies a large burial ground where you can see a dozen open tombs in the ground with crouching mummies inside including babies and a parrot! The "Nazcas" where pre-Inca and lived between 100BC and 600AD.

We returned to Nazca to see how their pottery was made - the special feature is that it is light and strong - much like bone China. We concluded the tour with a visit to a local Gold Miner who explained to us in "Play School" style how the locals mine for gold under a co-operartive arrangement. Each miner averages 500g of Gold per year.

STOP PRESS: Golfin solves mystery of Nazca Lines:
After the another great identical local dinner we attended a 60min lecture at the Nazca Lines Hotel to hear everything about the famous Nazca Lines and Maria Reiche, the lady who studied them the most. It is during the lecture that I solved the mystery of the Nazca Lines. Much to my disappointment, they are not the work of Aliens but indeed the Nazca people, who in my opinion worshipped the sun, moon and stars and actually projected the path of these celestial bodies onto the ground as they traversed the skies.

They did this by using long reeds which they pointed to the star by looking along it and dug the other end into the ground to make a mark. They did this every 30min like time-lapse photography and then joined the dots in the day to create the lines. The larger geometric shapes that look like runways are the result of mapping the movements of the moon and sun which cast a wider "light" shadow (lots pf dots and much wider). I came to this conclusion when I saw the model of Nazca Lines in the hotel lobby (most lines where straight like "paths"), combined with the IMAX style rotation of stars that we saw during the lecture. I reckon this can be proved by generating a computer simulation of the paths on the ground that the 100 most brightest stars in the 100BC-600AD rotating night sky would have generated on the ground as the earth rotated at that time and then comparing it to the lines in Nazca. As a matter of fact I reckon there were many more that erosion from rain would have eliminated. i have contacted the local Peruvian authorities for my honourary PhD. QED.

NEXT BLOG: to cover our ascent back up to the Andes from the Pacific (Arequipa to Cusco in Peru) due 6FEB.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: 1) Thanks to Craig Edwards who explained why there are so many unfinished buildings in South America - Gov charges a tax on completion so people delay... 2) Thanks to Paul, our guide from Ica, for the interview on the making of Picso. 3) Thanks to Jess who supports my theory on the Nazca Lines.

HINTS & TIPS: 1) We should have stayed in Paracus instead of Pisco which is seaside, much nicer, safer and allows a sleep in the next morning before walking to the boat for the Ballestas Islands. 2) The optional tours in Nazca (Inca ruins, cemetery & gold mine) should be included to make them cheaper and have something to do. 3) Do not attend the Nazca Lines lecture unless you reckon you can beat Golfin's explanation!!! It costs $7AUD and you can hire a video for that much money!!!