HIGHLIGHT: Nazca and Palpa Lines
On Monday, October 9th, We decided we had to leave Lima and its excellent cuisine behind since we had accomplished the 30+ chores/errands on our To Do list and head on south.
But we got off to a rocky start. The Miraflores suburb where we were staying is on the cliffs. The first road we wanted was down at the beach level. No problem getting down but at some point we needed to re-climb up. And we missed the underpass to return to the top road, so we had to backtrack for about a mile until we could do a u-turn on the divided street. Second time we found the underpass and made it through another industrial area in southern Lima.
First off I must say the area north of Lima and now south of Lima on the PanAmerican Highway is some of the most desolate, depressing and dreary scenery I have ever seen and I generally can find Something interesting about all the landscapes we have driven through. Hundreds of miles of beige sand dunes hundreds of feet high. Not even white sand. Made even drearier by constant high fog. The only interesting thing was the miles of sandy beaches.
And as one is driving by, one spies hundreds of small empty stacks no more than 8’x8′. No roads to them, no tracks through the sand, no electricity or sewers. The only thing we could figure out is that they are temporary housing for migrant workers; but what those migrant workers are doing since there is no agricultural, construction or industrial areas nearby is confusing.
After we had taken one road construction detour and was pulling back onto the Highway, there were 6-8 police trucks with about 20 officers pulling people over. At least this time I didn’t feel they were targeting the gringos because they were pulling everybody over. Our lights were on, our seat belts were cinched and our documentos were in order so they let us go.
But not more than 2 miles down the road, a single police truck with one young cop and one old guy started their lights and motioned for us to pull over. The young guy asked for our documents and David handed them to him. Then the old guy got into the act. Dave asked why they pulled us over. No answer.
The old guy said lights weren’t on and we said yes they were on and still were on. Then he said seatbelt wasn’t strapped and we said Dave undid it so he could reach his wallet for his driver’s license (after the young cop asked for it.) Then when Dave said ‘We’re not paying a bribe.’ things got tense. Old guy is yelling at top of lungs with hand on hip gun holster saying ‘No respecto de Policia, en Estados Unidos, no respecto de Policia.” And wouldn’t let Dave get a word in. Finally he ran out of steam and we said we wanted all of us to go to closest Policia station and get it solved there. That’s when he handed back our documents and said to go. Sour note to add to dreary scenery.
We made it to Paracas National Park and found the beach access parking lot and the kite surfing company. We boondocked there for the night after watching the wading birds and flamingos and having a Pisco Sour to de-stress from our police encounter and resulting arguments.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10th, we drove straight through to Nazca where we knew we could park and sleep in the small airport parking lot for approximately $10/night. At least in this part of the PanAmerican when we started to climb, we started seeing rock formations with different natural striping from iron deposits in the lava flows so was more interesting.
Our goal in Nazca was to book a flight over the Nazca Lines. The first thing that happened when we pulled into the parking lot was we were met by one of the air companies’ representatives before we could even get our doors open. We went into the airport with them and they explained the various options as to length of flight, size of plane, custom or group tour and whether the air flight included just the Nazca Lines or also included the Palpa Lines – just north of Nazca. We decided to go all out and booked a flight over both sets for 7am the next morning in a two-seater with Aero Santos. (Not counting the pilot and co-pilot/tour guide’s seats.) (Wishing it would have been Randy flying us.) Dave took his Dramamine and we settled in for the night.
Bright and early on Wednesday, Oct. 11th, we caught our flight. Sunny, clear and not too windy. (Unlike the previous afternoon’s dust storm that caused sandy grit to drift into the camper even with door and windows closed.)
This hour-long flight over the Nazca and Palpa Lines was one of the most unique, awe-inspiring and unreal experiences of my life. We have flown in small planes before so that wasn’t the highlight. We have seen desert landscapes before so it wasn’t that either.
It was the sheer number of easily recognizable figures of animals and humans etched into the desert sands. I had known there were generally 8-12 figures but from the air, we could easily discern hundreds of geometric figures as well. And these ‘drawings’ are large. One of the hummingbird ‘drawings’ is three football fields long – 300 yards. From carbon dating, it has been established that these were created around 500bc. This area gets little rainfall and lack of water erosion has preserved them. And various Archeological studies have shown how they were made.
But no one has any valid idea of why!
After that flight, one can easily understand why some people think they were created by aliens. Made one feel very small and insignificant.
After returning to earth and getting a breakfast in the airport cafe, Dave slept off the residual effects of the Dramamine and we decided to spend another night in the airport parking lot. (Generally after the last flights land around 3pm, the airport staff, the cafe workers and the t-shirt and tourist stuff vendors leave around 6pm, it is deserted. That night it was us and one other Overlander camper and the security guard. And that afternoon, flights were grounded even earlier since another dust storm reduced visibility to about 200 yards.)
On Oct. 12 we left Nazca and headed back up into the Andes. Our next destination was Cusco which we will use as a staging area to go down into the Amazon Basin to a reserve adjacent Manu National Park.
As our drive took us up, we started seeing more rock color combinations other than just beige. Road was in decent shape and we found out why when no more than 45 minutes after leaving Nazca we came upon our first road construction delay of the day. The flag woman said 12 or12:30. She said “doce y media” and we thought we mis-interpreted it. But no, we were stopped along with 100 other vehicles from both directions for 2 & 1/2 hours so that it was 12:20 when we could go through the approx. 2km. section being re-tarred. After getting through this section, we had two more shorter delays.
But after climbing up and up (highest point of the day was 10,261′) we arrived at the wind-swept grasslands known as pampas. That is when we started to see wild guanacos.
Also, although it is the dry season, when we were up on the pampas, it started to rain. So it was cold, windy and wet.
Consequently, we didn’t get as far as even halfway to Cusco. We stopped at a very basic restaurant, La Finca de Pachan, outside of Lucanas to have a late lunch and since the owners have allowed Overlanders to park overnight in their upper parking lot before, we opted to stay there for the night at 10,241′. It was in a shallow cleft in the mountain so the lot was protected from the wind.
Oct. 13th: After having one of the oddest breakfasts of our trip at their restaurant, we headed back out on PE-30A northeast towards Cusco.
After filling up with gas in Puquio, we climbed up and down the Andes several times and reached at the highest point 14,854′. At times it was only us, the trucks, the llamas and alpacas on the road. And for another day, it was raining, windy and cold. And another road construction delay, but this time for only 45 minutes.
Around 1pm, we descended into the Rio Apurima Gorge. This gorge went on for miles and was gorgeous. At times, the Gorge was, perhaps, only 100′ across and at other times opened up wider so that there were banana and other fruit tree orchards. In places, there were thermal bath resorts.
We stopped at another Overlander app recommendation – Hotel Tampumayu at 2:40. Pulling up to one gate which was chained and locked, I rang the buzzer and a staff member motioned us to another gate which was also chained and locked. (Because as usual, there were no signs to indicate the correct entry.) But he unlocked the gate and let us in and we parked on the grassy area above the river and I checked in.
We were told the restaurant would open at 3:30 so we chilled for about 30 minutes. When the young chef arrived, we ordered our meals. Dave had the standard lomo saltado and I had beef in a three pepper sauce. Both were good so we ordered dessert crepes for postres.
At that time, we thought we were the only ones staying there. But after dark and in the rain, a troop of 9 Gringos pulled in on their huge touring motorcycles along with their support truck to stay the night. They were on a bike ride from Arequipa to Cusco. Later a three vehicle caravan from Peru Adventures brought in more Gringos. But those groups all stayed in the hotel. So evidently the Hotel is a tour group stopping point.
October 14: After a specially requested breakfast of ham and cheese omelettes, we headed northeast on PE-30A which soon turned into PE-3S. We followed the Rio Apurima Gorge for quite some time until we climbed up into the large town of Abancay. After leaving Abancay, we climbed once again up into the Andes and through rain and fog, but spotted our first snow-capped mountains since leaving the Cordillera Blanca range in mid-Peru.
First we followed the Rio Berbejo and then the Rio Colorado valleys. Highlight of the day was when we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, they were celebrating the re-opening with a new owner. So in the middle of our lunch, they ushered us out, locked the door, gave the key to Dave for him to re-open with fanfare and photos. Then 5 minutes later, ushered us out again into the rain and some official made a long speech and then cut the ribbon. So our 50 soles bill was the first earnings of the new owner. I hope he frames the bill paid by the Gringos.
The second river gorge was extremely scenic
so after numerous photo stops, we decided to boondock in the small town of Limatambo on its main plaza instead of pushing on into Cusco. It was relatively quiet except for the three young boys shooting the pickup with their plastic guns. That stopped when I stormed out of camper and confronted them and flagged down a passing policeman who gave them a talking to.
The next morning October 15th we were awakened at 6am by crews setting up sound booths and stages for a festival. So we had a quick breakfast and scooted out of the plaza before we were penned in.
Foggy and wet drive into Cusco. Will follow up our drive into Cusco to campground through narrow streets and damaged camper jack in next blog post.