Continuing south from Lima en route to Machu Picchu we stayed overnight in Paracas National Park, it’s a coastal desert region – which in itself seems unusual – we toured the various beaches looking for a campsite, and also stopped at some fantastic viewpoints – including the spectacular “El Cathedral” a glorious natural arch, or at least it was until the 2007 earthquake, it’s now an island. We eventually bush camped overnight at Yuquema beach.
Easy set up for camp and a driftwood beach fire soon made it cosy and provided the heat for the BBQ chicken which along with a salad was a perfect beach dinner – we had passed miles of chicken farms en-route so guess it’s the staple meat in this area.
Karen and I had placed our tent near high tide facing the sea, the complete absence of any light pollution meant the view of the stars and milky way was stunning, so we left the tent flaps open for a great view of the surf crashing in and the stars above – it’s just not possible to photograph such a scene but it will live long in the memory.
Fried egg sandwiches for breakfast meant for a hearty start and onward to the port of Paracas for our boat trip to the Islas Ballestas. Previously famous for its guano exports – Spain even went to war over it at one point it was such a valued commodity. Now a nature reserve, in particular a stunning bird colony with estimates of up half a million boobies, cormorants and fantails making it their base, this in addition to the Humboldt penguins, sea lions, turtles and dolphins in the area. Stunning scenery and teeming wildlife made for a very pleasant couple of hours.
We had an hour before departure and opted to have lunch off the truck so we joined Terry, Lesley, Colin and Jane at a little restaurant shack. I ordered the small mixed seafood and Karen grilled fish – we could have comfortably shared either dish they were enormous and delicious. Slightly slow cooking of the fresh food made us 5 mins late back to the truck, to stern looks from some but hey, get a life.
After lunch it was onward to Huacachina, famous as an oasis in the midst of the sand dunes. An optional overnight stay in the dunes proved a brilliant experience. Departure was delayed as Rogan had a minor bump parking the truck for the night, Ithaca has rear wheel steer which makes her highly manoeuvrable but also means the last 3 metres swings surprisingly quickly and has previously caught out Pete and now Rogan. The bus he clipped definitely came off 2nd best as the scrape on Ithaca was a wrecked door, wing mirror and the driver’s side window on the bus.
It caused a minor stir with the locals but was eventually amicably resolved – cash apparently being the answer to most problems in South America even the policeman was apparently glad to avoid the paperwork involved with an overseas driver.
Out in 10 seat V8 dune buggies, two options the rapido! and the more sedately driven one but actually both were exhilarating. You then get the option to sand board at increasingly steeper & higher dunes. Snow boarders could opt for standing up but we went sledging style – fantastic fun and the last dune being a good 100 metres high with at least a 45 degree slope.
Tony, a Man United fan, issued a challenge after the first couple of slopes – final score Liverpool 2 Man United 0 on the challenge for distance. Also unbeknownst to me Vanessa had decided she would do whatever ones I tried and was becoming ever more anxious as I continued with the seriously steep ones. Turns out all those years of riding roller coasters with Jim paid off!
Beating Man U and impressing young ladies – all in a day’s work for an old dog, however biggest laugh and last word to Vanessa as she rocketed 30 metres past those of us already at the bottom on the final descent screaming “F###ing Hell” in her Bolton accent for the longest slide of the day.
Karen was a bit wary of the sand boarding but looking at the dune buggies coming down the same slopes to pick us up I am not sure who had the scariest ride.
The trip included dinner, Chicken, salad and chips brought up from the village. The food was stone cold but nonetheless tasty, the buggy that delivered it also happily brought Kirsten and Rogan after sorting out the truck misadventure to complete the party. They also provided a sound system and a 5 gallon jar of pisco sours which some were to regret next day.
I gave my last beer to Rogan as he had had a rough day and we all settled round the campfire to chat and drink as people slowly drifted off to bed – just an open sleeping bag under stars, the view being just as good as the night before. A few hard core drinkers decided to practice further on the sand boards in the pitch black – a decidedly dodgy undertaking not least for those already sleeping at the bottom of the dune, we chose a safer spot out of the line of fire.
Up early and a trek in the mist to find (dig!) a suitable toilet spot, one final slide on the “ultimate dune” and then a rapid ride back to town which certainly got your attention as the buggy drove along and over the dune ridges at speed.
Breakfast at a hostel all part of the deal and then, having dug Ithaca out of the soft sand where she was parked overnight (Rogan claimed it was an anti-theft measure) we were on our way for the easy 2 hour drive to Nazca and the mysterious desert markings which we were due to take a flight over.
Nazca town is frankly nothing special and really exists just to service the tourists visiting the lines. As you approach the town it is dominated by the Serro Blanco – a 2078 metre high sand dune that is supposedly the world’s highest.
After 2 days bush camping we are in serious need of hot shower and change of clothes so the usual suspects including us upgraded at the La Maison hotel / campsite. Refreshed and relaxed I opted to chill for the afternoon but Karen went with the group to visit a burial site, Chauchilla, from pre-inca times that had been ransacked by grave robbing Huaqueros. Today some of the mummies have been reassembled and put on display but the desert is still scattered with bones, skulls and pottery shards. Fascinating but gruesome.
We volunteered for the 6am departure over the Nazca Lines which turned out to be a good choice as we were back in an hour and a quarter compared to the 3 hours for the 6.45’ers the difference was only the time they spent waiting at the airport as the queues built up. Whereas we were straight onto our 4 seat plane with Tony and Kirsten for the 30 minute flight over the main sites, flight was excellent with the pilot making turns to ensure good views of the amazing geometric patterns in the sand from both sides and considering taken through he plane windows I am pleased with the photos. Also recommend – the travel sickness pills which helped make the flight far more enjoyable than the one taken over Angel Falls.
There is a small viewing tower, which we had stopped at en route, but you can only clearly see the lines from the air. So apart from how, as they are complicated and precise, the other mystery is why? As, presumably, the people who made them could never have seen them in their full glory and hence the speculation about aliens or human flight thousands of years before the brothers Montgolfier or Wright.
We left at 11.00 for another short run to Puerta Inka, a beach campsite.
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