Friday, 9 August 2013

Southern Peru - Lunahuaná, Ica, Paracas, Huacachina and Nazca.

We started our journey down the south coast of Peru by stopping in Lunahuana, a small town in the Lima province that survives mainly on the fishing and tourism. It's famous for its 'chupe de camarones' (a prawn soup) and its canoeing and four-wheel biking. Unfortunately, we only had time to do the canoeing but we all got well and truly soaked!

We continued south until we reached Ica, which reminded me a lot of home. It's a deserty-arid kind of climate and thus there's an abundance of wineries. The difference is that most specialise in the production of pisco, a Peruvian white alcohol that I really can't liken to anything else I've ever tasted. It's made from grapes, yet doesn't even remotely taste like wine... It's much stronger! We tried a few samples at a few wineries and were even treated to a proper display of the Marinera (a traditional Peruvian dance from Trujillo), with the horse and all!

Later that afternoon, on the way to the dunes at Huacachina, we came across this crazy palm tree with seven heads! It's roots can grow horizontally above the ground, thus it's strange appearance.

Finally we reached Huacachina (I'd been hanging out all day to see the dunes) and we went on a really fast and turbulent dune buggy ride over what seemed to e the Sahara Desert. We also got to sand board on our stomachs down the dunes (they're huge so you accumulate quite a bit of speed!) and saw a stunning sunset over the endless expanse of sand.

The next day we got up ridiculously early to go to Paracas, a small village on the coast which is the gateway to the amazing Balleastas Islands. On the boat trip out, we came across this strange drawing of a cactus (or candelabra?) on the side if a hill. Apparently it was made by a local tribe hundreds of years ago and hasn't eroded away because the wind never hits this side of the hill!

We were also treated to a close view of hundreds of little penguins and (not so little) sea lions when we reached the islands. On the way back to Ica, we detoured by a national park to see some very Great Ocean Road-esque landscape and even a beach with red sand!

We'd loved Huacachina so much the day before that we begged to go back en route to Ica. We hadn't had the chance to see the oasis there so we checked it out before foolishly deciding to climb up the huge dunes to see the sunset again. It had been fine the day before because the buggy took us to the top, but this time we had to climb the massive dunes (which of course, being made of sand, made it impossible to climb anywhere). After slipping and sliding all over the place and nearly giving myself a heart attack, I reached a good vantage point to sit and relax the beautiful view.  

Our final day of the trip was spent in Nazca, to see the famous Nazca Lines. Essentially the only thing we did all day was the very turbulent flight over the lines, but it was well worth it. The lines themselves are spectacular, assumed to have been created by the Nazca people hundreds of years ago. The drawings of monkeys, birds, dogs, astronauts and all kinds of other animals and creatures can only be seen from the air, and thus archaeologists think that they may have had some astrological significance. What is even more impressive is that they created these without the aids of modern technology, and the area is more it less completely flat so they couldn't have supervised the construction from above. The lines of the drawings are perfectly straight and accurate too! How they made them, I have no idea, but they are definitely worth a visit!

Amazonian Adventure - Iquitos Days 2, 3 and 4.

Setting off from where I left off, we continued our jungle adventure by leaving Iquitos and heading off by boat to our accomodation in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. I was blown away when I saw our accomodation- a series of small jungle huts joined by wooden walkways, a jungle bar (akin to something you'd see in a James Bond film) and a beautiful swimming pool. We were surrounded, however, by dense rainforest and the vast expanse of water that is the Amazon River- far away from everything, without internet and only with electricity for certain hours of the day. It was tranquil though, with plenty of hammocks and an amazing library with books from around the world in many languages to enjoy and relax- very different from the hustle and bustle of Lima that I've become so accustomed to.

We wasted little time in making the most of our short stay in the Amazon, setting off in little boats to fish for pirahnas, to search for wild sloths in the treetops and to see the Victoria Regia (gigantic lily pads and waterlillies only found in the tributaries of the Amazon River). We visited a local tribe or two, where we learnt to shoot poison darts and were able to experience their isolated way of life. I got to hold a wild sloth, and we visited a local jungle library, where we were able to play with the little kids. They tried to teach us to climb the jungle trees, which we were all hopeless at! 

Perhaps my favourite experience of our time spent in the Amazon was when we were returning from one of our excursions in the boat along the river one afternoon. Someone asked our guide if it would be possible to swim in the Amazon River, and to our surprise, he said we could. We thus all stripped off and jumped off the boat into the warm water, screaming and laughing with glee at the spontaneity of the whole situation. I had such a great time trying to not only keep my head above the surface in a rapid-flowing river, but also enjoyed a spectacular sunset and the company of some of my favourite people in the world. It was such a beautiful moment, one I definitely won't forget quickly! And don't worry, we weren't completely bonkers- piranhas don't actually swim in the Amazon River itself because the current is too strong for the nasty little buggers. Instead they swim in the little tributaries off the main part of the river.

I was also fortunate to have my 19th birthday during my stay there (and for those of you who know me well will realise how behind on posting I am!). The resort staff made me a cake and they all came out during lunch to surprise me, singing 'Cumpleaños Feliz' with the other exchange students. I really enjoyed celebrating my special day surrounded by so many of my close friends, and in such a unique location. I spent the remainder of the day drinking piña coladas in the pool and relaxing in a hammock before heading back to Lima that night. 

It was such a fantastic and relaxing trip, and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat!