Sunday, 5 May 2013

Nuns, mummies and lots of sand

Hello from Arequipa, Southern Peru. It has been quite an eventful few days since leaving Lima, so this blog may be quite a long one.

Paracas National Reserve
First stop after the chaos of the capital was Paracas National Reserve, a desert peninsula with a vast array of marine bird life. In the park we bushcamped on the beach, which was nice if a bit chilly when the sun went down. Rather than go on another boat trip bird watching, I decided to hire a bike and explore the area around Paracas. Give me a bike, rather than a boat any day of the week!

Next stop was Huacachina, a small oasis in the middle of the desert surrounded by the largest sand dunes I have ever seen. The big attraction here is to go sand boarding, which basically involves sliding down huge sand dune on a bit of wood. Great fun even if you do get sand absolutely everywhere. After sliding down some huge dunes, we spent the night out in the dune, which was good, but not really a proper desert ‘night under the stars’ experience as you are still close to Ica, a major town on the coast (you could even see the May Day fireworks from our camp). The big V8 dune buggies you go out in were however great fun!

Nazca lines next. Cut into the stony desert 22km north of the town Nazca, the Nazca lines are a huge tourist attraction in Peru and something they are very proud of (a bit like Stonehenge back home). No one really knows why they were created nearly 3,000 year ago, but the current thinking is that they are offerings dedicated to the worship of water and fertility, these two elements being paramount to the coastal people in this arid environment. Personally I like the rather odd theory put forward in 1980 that the lines are the tracks of running contests?

Close to Nazca is also the cemetery of Chauchilla where grave robbers have unearthed an amazing collection of 1000+ year old mummies. Bit of a macabre tourist attraction, but very interesting where the dry desert environment has perfectly preserved the bodies. Their hair was probably the most impressive feature, where many of the mummies had the most amazing long dreadlocks.

Puerto Inca
Our final day by the beach, where we camped next to the Inca ruins of Puerto Inca, the main port for Cuzco. Apparently on the 240 km road to Cuzco, there was a staging post every 7 km so that with a change of runner at every post, messages could be sent in 24 hours. My highlight of Puerto Inca was taking a sea kayak out into the bay to ride some really rather large waves. Good fun.

After a number of days on the coast, it was back into the mountains to Arequipa, a very pretty colonial city in the shadow of El Misti volcano. The city has many fine Spanish buildings and is the main commercial hub in Southern Peru. I have one free day to explore the city and therefore decided to visit the two big attractions; Santa Catalina Convent and the Museo Santuarios Andinos, home to ‘Juanita’ the Inca ice princess.

Sanat Catalina Convent is a huge site in the heart of the city where 450 nuns use to live in total isolation from the outside world. Quite a strange place to visit, but very interesting none the less.

The Museo Santuarios Andinos was more my type of thing. A small, but fascinating museum explaining the Inca tradition of human sacrifices to appease the mountain gods. The highlight of the museum is ‘Juanita’ the frozen Inca princess found on Mount Ampato. She was a beautiful 12-14 year old girl who from the age of 3 knew that she was destined to be sacrificed to the gods. She was found perfectly preserved in 1995 at the top of Mount Ampato, a nearby 5,000+m peak. It is strange to think that the Inca believed so strongly in human sacrifices, but presumably they had their reasons.

Tomorrow we leave Arequipa on route to Cuzco, ancient capital of the Inca empire.


There is a surprising amount of sand in Peru

Giant sand dune

Nazca lines; upside down tree

Mummies at Chauchilla

Cemetery at Chauchilla 

Santa Catalina Convent

Arequipa Cathedral

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