“You have to be kidding me, right?”
Glancing nervously from the toy sized six seater aeroplane in front of me to the pilot, jovially taking photographs of our fellow passengers, I tried to block out everything I’d read online as we’d tried to research our flight over the Nazca Lines. Multiple crashes over the last few decades along with a decidedly chequered history of cost cutting and cover ups had left a black cloud over this remarkable part of Peru, but things had changed apparently. Health and safety came first and foremost these days they said, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. A rusty fire extinguisher onboard and the lengthy row of ambulances and fire engines alongside the runway did little to reassure us, but nevertheless, we boarded.
Five minutes later, any fears we’d had were forgotten. As our pilot swung the plane from side to side, the (now obligatory) co-pilot yelled at us through our headphones – “Right side, the monkey! Left side, there is the hummingbird!” – the plane lurched over to the other side, wing pointed at the ground, and we all gulped down another wave of nausea and peered down in wonder at the lines below. Our 30 minute flight whizzed by, with our safe return to terra firma coming all to soon, but we weren’t done yet. With the lines spread over around 600 square miles, we hopped on a local bus up to a nearby lookout tower for a closer look. It’s still not known exactly why the lines were created, links to astrological constellations and offerings to gods are well versed opinions, but it seems more than likely that there’s a connection to water involved. As we wandered along the dusty Pan American highway, which was inadvertently ploughed straight through the lines before they were discovered in 1928, perfectly straight furrows stretched off all around us towards the surrounding hills, the only valid water source for a part of the world that receives just one hour of rain a year. Quite how the now famous figures – the Balena Whale, the Spider, a selection of birds and a human figure amongst others – would have been of use in conjuring further rains is a mystery, and probably one that’ll never be uncovered.
Another mystery that’ll probably never be uncovered is how we’d found ourselves in Lima a few days earlier, one of the finest gastronomical cities in the Americas famed for its international cuisine, sat in our AirBNB apartment eating a Chinese takeaway from a ropey looking restaurant around the corner. We’d arrived in Lima with the best of intentions, having been given a list of instructions of where to eat and what to see from our ex-Cambridge, now Lima, based friend Emma, who we’d met in northern Peru the previous week. Despite this though we had mixed results in Lima, not only with the food, but also with the city itself.
If I’m honest it’s not really a place we’d been looking forward to seeing – ‘flat’, ‘grey’ and ‘drab’ were words that repeatedly sprung up in our research – we’d heard it was just another city. With that in mind then, we were more than pleasantly surprised to find a city basking in sunshine on our arrival, with plenty to see and do. Parque Central and Parque Kennedy in Miraflores were a hive of activity; a mini marathon saw roads blocked off where a mammoth zumba session was taking place and elderly locals had gathered to dance to popular Peruvian folk music, while there was also an open air film screening and even a huge Panini World Cup sticker swap shop to be found as well.
Having been dragged away from seeing what a shiny country flag sticker was worth these days (in my day you could get a Gheorghe Hagi, a Hristo Stoichkov and about five Steve Stauntons for one of those), we went off to see a museum instead. My inner child was not impressed. Nonetheless, we found Museo Larco to be nothing less than fascinating, not only for the mightily impressive Inca and pre-Inca collections on display, and neither just for the graphically detailed erotic pottery to be seen either, but more for what was not on display. It’s very rare that museums open up their storage vaults to the public, but here they’ve done just that. Several large cobwebbed back rooms are packed to the rafters with carefully sorted and labeled artifacts, that despite being perfectly preserved just didn’t make the final cut for the actual exhibitions. There’s several museums worth of stuff here and it’s actually mindboggling just how much pottery there is unused, but thankfully not unseen.
As well as a wander through the lavish colonial neighbourhood of Barranco and the slightly sickening glitz of Larco Mar shopping centre, where the skies were filled with paragliders, we found ourselves trying to cram in as much into our schedule as possible, both in sights to be seen and in recommended food into our mouths. We saw the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace and plenty of other grand old buildings around the Plaza Mayor, as well as trying Lucama Ice Cream, Tacu Tacu with fried fish and the jaw breaking Turrón, but a disastrous two hour long round bus ride to see the Circuito Mágico del Agua without checking they’d be open saw our final evening here wasted. And thus we ended up watching late night Peruvian soap operas with our fluorescent coloured chow mein. Lima had mostly been a delight, but we left with a definite sweet and sour taste in our mouths.
That said, it was better then the taste of sand that we had soon after. From Lima we broke up the journey to Nazca with a stop in Huacachina, an oasis amongst a seemingly never ending sprawl of sand dunes, which loom threateningly over the town. It was the sand dunes we’d come for, and within an hour of alighting our bus from Lima we found ourselves hurtling through a surreal landscape on board a sand buggy, clinging on for dear life as we raced up, over and along dramatically shaped dunes. At the top of these we were presented with wooden sand boards and one of those unforgettable experiences we’d become accustomed to in Peru. As the sky faded above us with the setting sun, we lay on our boards and tipped ourselves nose first down dune after dune, ending each time in a tangle of arms and legs. Spitting out a mouthful of sand, we smiled up at a pink Peruvian sky, and went back up for another go.