Sunday, December 8, 2013

Roughing It: Downtown Lima, Some Catacombs, and Sandboarding in Nazca

My first few days in Lima I settled in.  I got used to Miraflores and the "nice" part of town, but now it was time to venture out and see more of Lima.

I had to go to the bus station to pick up my tickets to Nazca, and I also wanted to go to downtown to see the Plaza de Armas and the San Francisco Church and catacombs.  I told the hostel receptionist about my plan, and she started to give me directions how to get there.  It was confusing at first and I wasn't keen on the idea of taking the buses she was telling me about, so she told me about another line of buses.  I needed to borrow and charge a bus card, and after she explained it to me it sounded much more straightforward. 

Some of the other people staying at the hostel had told me about a market which was near the bus stop, so I decided to check it out.  It had a dizzying array of fresh fruits, foods, and housewares.  There was a huge range of colors and it was bustling with activity, much in contrast with the relatively calm places I had gone to before this.  Here´s the sign from one of the shops selling fruit juice and sandwiches:

It was actually a hot sunny day (in comparison to the overcast and humid days Thursday and Friday), so I settled on a strawberry smoothie and small ham and cheese sandwich.  It was delicious and cost an entire 7.50 soles (about $2.50).  I wandered around a bit but then decided to head out for the bus station.

Taking the metropolitana bus system was surprisingly easy.  I put money on the card and then held it up to a reader which let me through a turnstyle.  I went down the stairs and went left for south or right for north, and there were then 2 or 3 spaces where the buses stop to let passengers on and off.  I was able to take route A or C to get to the bus station, and after one bus went by and it being too crowded I made it on the next one.

Well this certainly makes things easy!

I quickly learned that people in Lima do not have any qualms with violating your personal space, pushing, or shoving.  It reminded me of the metro rush hour in Santiago, but as annoyed as I was I made it to the bus station without a problem.  After getting my ticket it was back on the bus and to downtown.

I got off the bus in downtown and made my way to Plaza de Armas.  I saw people with cameras and phones out, so I cautiously took mine out to snap some pictures.  I found someone to take a picture for me too, and then I went to the church and catacombs. 

Along the way I found a nice treat: churros!  They were selling vanilla, chocolate, and caramel,and I settled on a vanilla one.  It was quite different from any churro I had ever seen before, but it was delicious.

OK, so back to the church and catacombs.  I wasn't allowed to take any pictures inside, but it was good to make me focus on the tour guide.  Lima used to be an important cultural center, and the artwork showed its importance.  There was a lot of colonial influence and of course a lot of religious art.  I think the most interesting part for me was an alternative painting of The Last Supper.  It had the 12 apostles, but instead of a rectangular table it was round.  I'm not much of an art history buff, but it was still interesting.

As we made our way down to the catacombs, the tour guide explained that there were churches for people based on their social status.  This particular church was for poor people.  We went from chamber to chamber and saw bones and skulls sorted into various sections of the ground below us.  It was really eerie.

When I finished there I decided to head back to Miraflores for some dinner to beat the rush hour traffic.  (It was almost 5 by that point, but I only remembered it was Saturday after I was already on the bus).  I settled on some lomo saltado at an upscale restaurant (ok, so I cheated a bit on the roughing it part here!) and made it an early night.

I was worried about getting robbed or having problems in Lima, but I didn't let that stop me from going out to see what I wanted to see.  Some common sense goes a long way, and it was a nice self esteem boost to have navigated around the city on my own.

Back at the hostel I researched options for my two days in Nazca before going to bed.  I woke up around 2:45 Sunday morning and packed my bags for my bus to Nazca at 3:45.  I traveled with Cruz del Sur, and it was a comfortable trip.  I sprung for a VIP seat (it was $35 instead of $27), and the seat was big, comfortable, and reclined.  They put on a movie, but I was content to sleep.  I got a sandwich, tea, and a piece of fruit for breakfast, and we arrived in Nazca at 11.

After checking in at the hostel, I booked a tour to ride a sand buggy, visit the sand dunes,and go sandboarding.  I still had about 3 hours to kill until then, so I wandered into town and came across a huge market.  I got a fruit smootie and then some lunch for 8 soles (about 3 bucks). 

The sun is strong here, and I bought a hat and 3 bottles of water to prepare for the sand dunes. I waited at the hostel, and imagine my surprise when Luis called me outside and a guy drove up in a sand buggy.  Yes, an actual sand buggy.

The driver greeted me as Eduardo and encouraged me to hop in.  I did so and fumbled a bit as I figured out that the seat belt went over my head and then attached to a part from below.  Maybe it`s just me, but that arrangement doesn`t seem too friendly to a guy`s nether regions in the case of an accident or fast stop.  

We drove a few blocks and made a few turns, and we picked up two more people: Martin and Alex from Germany.  We chatted during the ride, but as we made it from the main street to the highway to the offroad terrain it became too loud to talk.

Our first stop was the see some aqueducts that the Nazca had constructed.  Nazca gets 2 hours of rain per year.  Needless to say, they need to conserve every drop of water they get.  They built them this way with rocks in a terraced manner so that the rocks would protect the ground from falling and destroying their access to the water.  It also allows them to tap into the water below the ground.

We then continued on to see the ancient pyramids.  The Nazca civlization dates back to the time before the Incans, and they constructed about 25 pyramids for the purpose of celebrations, honoring their god, animal and human sacrifices, among other things.  Eduardo told us that there are more pyramids, but there isn`t funding for people to come and do any type of excavation.  Unfortunately they stopped letting tourists walk through the pyramids about 10 years ago, so we could only get pictures from afar.

Our next stop was to see some preserved skulls and bones.  Some graverobbers came along and dug up some graves to sell the jewels and anything of value, and then they left the skulls and bones behind.  Due to the sun, sand, and dry weather, the bones and skulls appear very white.

About 20 minutes later we drove through a small group of houses, and then Eduardo told us to get out.  He had to let air out of the tires in order to drive through the sand.  A few minutes later we piled back in, and then we made our way to the sand.

Seeing the white sand against the blue sky was beautiful.  There was no one there except for us, and it really made me appreciate the beauty of nature.  

We made our way up one of the dunes.  I thought, "OK, where are we going......?"

Before I could finish the thought by saying "now", Eduardo had us going down a sand dune at almost a 90 degree angle.  We were caught off guard but it was so awesome.  Eduardo drove us around up and down various dunes for about another 10 minutes, and we loved it.  At times I flew off of my seat, and it was really exhillerating.

Notice that we can´t see the sky because we are going straight down.
We finally stopped near the top of a dune, and Eduardo told us to go to the top.  The view was amazing, and we snapped some pictures.  Then Eduardo brought up the sandboards and showed us how to ride them.

That´s the sand buggy down there.
The first step was to put some wax on the bottom of the board.  Then we started simple with sitting on the board and riding it down.  As simple as it was, I still managed to fall off my board near the end.

Wax on, wax off.  Sorry, I couldn´t resist the Karate Kid reference!

After making it back up to the top again, the next step was to lay on the board and go face first.  I wanted to get a video of what it was like, but I also didn´t want my camera covered in sand so I had to settle for a picture from the top.

Here goes nothing!
I managed to stay on this time!
Then it was to the real thing: strapping the sandboard onto your feet and riding down that way.  Due to my amazingly bad coordination I didn`t give this part a try.  Eduardo gave really good instructions on how to put on the straps and brake, and I actually think it was more entertaining watching Martin and Alex go down the first few times than actually participating.  

While the Germans were sandboarding, I talked with Eduardo.  He told me about his dreams of traveling to the United States and of expanding his business.  The sense I got is that he is doing pretty well and has developed good relations with others in the tourism business in Nazca, but he wants to expand and to be able to offer more tours.  (Right now he only has one sand buggy that can hold him and 3 passengers).  He told me how he wants to improve his English and is grateful to the private schools that have started up in Nazca.  His daughter used to be in a public school and the resources weren`t there for her to learn, but now she`s learning English and all of the basics at age 4.  When I told him about Amazon and how there are books for learning English there geared towards tourism, he thought I was talking about the jungle and had never heard of the website.  As I explained the website to him, it really hit me how different our realities and lives are.  Despite that, here we were connected through this tour and a love of adventure and travel.

The sun was starting to go down, and the wind was picking up.  After getting some last pictures, we got into the buggy and started to make our way back.  We made one last stop to see the sunset and knock the sand out of our shoes and socks.  

Here I´m pretending to think something very philosophical.

We got back to Nazca at about 7:15, and after thanking Eduardo for the amazing trip we decided to get some dinner together.  Martin had to catch his bus about an hour and a half later, so he had his huge backpack with him.  The three of us must have been a sight as we walked into the Chinese restaurant: a tall and thin blond haired blue eyed German, me, and a short guy with darker skin with a backpack that was almost bigger than him.  

lemon chicken
We talked about Germany and our travel experiences, and after the meal we parted ways.

The fountain in the main square
When I got back to the hostel it was almost 8:30.  It was a long but rewarding day, and I really enjoyed getting to connect with others and share in the adventure.

What`s happeneing tomorrow? A flight over the Nazca lines, some exploring of downtown, and a visit to the planetarium to do some stargazing.  We`ll see how it all goes.

1 comment:

  1. What a great adventure! I felt as though I was living it myself as I read this.