August 30, 2003

Sandboarding, Nasca Lines and lots of Pisco Sour

So.. after a while in Internet darkness I've finally managed to get back online for an update.

Last Tuesday we left Lima with destination Pisco - the home of the national spirit with the same name. The Peruvians are very proud of this grape brandy, and they are particularly keen on serving it as a drink called Pisco Sour (pisco, lemon juice, sugar, egg white and cinnamon). They're really not half bad.. but then again I'm probably getting quite used to them by now.

The first day in Pisco we didn't do much apart from sample the local drink. Had a number of them before dinner, and a fair few during and after. Already on the first night it was clear who were going to be my buddies on this trip.. the rest are all boring as hell really. The two cool ones are Martin, a 35-year old danish guy who just quit his job as a management consultant last week; and Owen, a 29-year old Australian engineer/wanna-be photographer. The three of us (referred to as the rowdy bunch) are the only ones apart from the tour leader who know how to have fun. Our American tour leader, Matt, is a great guy as well, and he's quite keen on introducing us to the local party culture.

After a rather wet night in Pisco we headed to a winery the following day for an introduction to making pisco. Oh my god. The whole process is manual.. and the most high-tech piece of equipment used was probably the 100-year old press used to squeeze the last juice out of the grapes after four blokes had been dancing around in the pool of grapes for around 10 hours. The whole process is quite interesting.. but any worries about hygenic standards were definitely reinforced. The only soothing factor is that pisco contains 45% alcohol and this should hopefully kill off any bacteria and germs before I drink it as a Pisco Sour.

After the tour it was time to sample the local produce.. and that didn't mean sniffing the corks. The five shots of Pisco we sampled at 1pm really livened up the mood (especially seeing the state we'd been in the night before). After having dinner in the winery (and buying a bottle of the local Pisco) it was time to head south towards Ica.

Ica is famous for it's oasis in the middle of the desert landscape that is typical for most of this part of Peru. In the oasis you can swim, enjoy a pisco sour or two and just relax.. but best of all you can go sandboarding and dune-buggy riding. Most of us opted for the latter.. and how glad we were that we did! It was amazing fun. We raced over sand dunes big as mountains, jumping over huge bumps and drove down slopes steep as walls. Talk about adrenaline kick. Next it was time to ride the dunes on a sandboard (really, it's a piece of wood with a couple of straps on). First we made a few runs standing up. The idea is similar to that of snowboarding, but frankly I found little comfort in my decent snowboarding skills. I ended up flat on my ass more than a few times. It was all great fun however. Next it was time to run down the dunes lying flat on your belly. Now we're talking! We were flying down at speeds that even got me worried at times. In the end we were all quite exhausted and sandy (believe me, I had sand everywhere). We drove to Nasca for the night, where showering was the main theme (we even had hot water, not always guaranteed in this part of the world).

The following morning we visited a cemetary from the Nasca culture (now extinct following wars with other indigenous groups). The graves dated from between 300 B.C. and 500 A.D. and consisted mainly of chambers below ground with mummified bodies sitting in fetal position facing the sun. The bodies were usually buried together with artefacts, such as pottery and gold, but due to frequent graverobbing these were nowhere to be seen. Next we visited a local pottery shop where we got an introduction to the making of ceramics according to old Nasca tradition.

The one thing you really want to visit Nasca for though are the famous so called Nasca Lines. These are lines drawn on the hard desert plains by the Nasca people two millennia ago which when seen from above make up drawings of mostly animals ranging from spiders to killer whales. As these figures cannot be seen from the ground, it suggests that the Nasca people might have discovered a way to fly. There are numerous theories speculating in the significance of the lines. Some say its a huge astronomical calendar, whilest others suggest it has something to do with extraterrestrial life. In small three seater planes we got a view of the lines from above.. and I can guarantee that it is truly spectacular! Really makes you wonder about the level of sophistication the South American cultures exhibited at that time and later.

After having dinner and a few drinks in Nasca it was time to board the nightbus bound for Arequipa, Perú's second largest city. To spice up things a little the rowdy bunch decided to stock up with a few beers for the road. Now as it turned out, our tour leader hadn't managed to get tickets for the so called "royal" service which is the standard option for backpackers wanting a decent night's sleep. This service is supposedly quite amazing with huge chairs that lean back to almost a horizontal position, waitresses that walk around handing out blankets if you're cold or bringing you a drink if you want one, etc. Now we ended up on the normal service that Peruvians take. Oh my god. First of all, when we get on the bus there's a Peruvian couple sitting in two of our seats. Apparently the driver had told them that they could sit there for the time being, and when we got on the bus they refused to move as we were tourists. It took around 15 minutes of convincing by the husband, the driver and the rest of the bus before she finally got her ass off the seat and we could get into our seats and start moving. All well in the end.. almost. Sitting down in my seat I really got to feel the size difference between myself and the average Peruvian. Need I say I didn't get any sleep that night? It wasn't just that I couldn't sleep.. it was so uncomfortable to sit in the seat that at one stage I just had to lay down in the aisle to stretch my back. Not even the beers could ease the suffering.

So at 8am we arrived in Arequipa and took a bus to our hotel. At this stage I was completely shattered. It took about an hour for us to get our rooms, and about ten seconds for me to fall asleep once in my room. Woke up at 2.30pm feeling a bit better. We decided to go for a tour of the local "nunnery" (a huge monastery in the middle of the city), which really wasn't worth the $10 we paid nor the one and half hours we spent there. Oh well, it's not like we could've known. In the evening Martin, Owen and I decided to split with the group and go for dinner by ourselves and then head out and make the streets unsafe.

After eating and having drinks in a very nice bar called Deja Vu (they had an amazing live band playing) we strolled over to one of the nicer nightclubs in town called The Forum together with Matt (our guide) and one of his Peruvian friends. As the friend was good pals with the bouncers at this place we got to jump the queue and only paid a mere 3 Soles (less than $1) to get in. Couldn't have gotten a better start to what turned out to be a great night.

Barely had I bought my first beer when Matt introduced me to a Peruvian friend of friend called Sandra. He'd told her that I'd been studying spanish and I was trying to learn Salsa, and as she was a professional Salsa teacher she could maybe show me a few things on the dance floor and talk to me in spanish.. very slick.

In the end I got back to the hotel just in time for breakfast after my best night so far in South America :)

.. and on that note, I'll leave you for this time. More madness to come soon from the other side of the planet.

Posted by markus at August 30, 2003 04:22 PM
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