Back at sea-level! Yehhy! We do love the mountains, but life at over 12,000 ft can provide a few wobbles in your physiology. It’s a welcome change to now have the soothing sound of rolling waves and the smell of the salty sea air. The drive from Cusco down to the coast is a long and painfully winding road, but finally we’re down at the Pacific coast, back on the Pan-American super-highway, looking forward to following it north all the way to Ecuador.
Change of pace
This coastal phase of our wanderings sees us doing less of our usual slow bimbling pace and more of a slightly accelerated tempo. We’re heading to Lima for a final meet up with our friends Jimmy and Karen before they fly back to UK. Then we have another very exciting target-date, this time in Quito, Ecuador to meet some more friends from UK. Mark and Lindsey are flying out to meet us for… dah da da daahhhh…. drum-roll please…. a Galapagos cruise! Blimey! How exciting is that? 🙂
But first things first! We arrive down off the high ground from Cusco for our first night at low-level in a long time. The desert landscape in that area reminds us very much of our years in the Middle East, but there is also mucho sea-haze. This seems to hang around for most of the day, obscuring what might otherwise be pretty and photogenic views of some of the world’s largest sand dunes.
In the middle of said desert landscape is the town of Nazca, yes… place of the famous ‘lines’ known (funnily enough) as the ‘Nazca Lines’! Hereabouts lie the famous lines in the desert floor, which form patterns that can only be properly identified when seen from the air. Although they are spread over a huge area and are around 1,500 years old, they have only been discovered in the last 100 years since aviation came to Peru. Even today speculation is still rife as to exactly which civilisation did the drawings and what they mean. Clearly they must have been drawn by aliens, otherwise how did the ‘artists’ see the shapes from the air, eh? 😉
The most authoritative of the many Nazca Line theories originates from German mathematician Maria Reiche. Reiche spent over 40 years until her death in 1998, studying and meticulously charting the lines. She now has a local status approaching sainthood and an interesting museum/planetarium explains her work and her theories. Our new-found up-tempo pace of travel means that we don’t have time to arrange a flight over the lines to see them properly from the air, but we do stop for a climb up some nearby towers from which a few of the line-drawings can be identified. All very interesting stuff.
Next we stop off at the Paracas Peninsula for a night-stop in the coastal desert amongst some extraordinary birdlife. We really loved it there, it’s the essence of what a blustery rural coastline is all about; but talk about frustration!!!! Have you ever tried to take a good photo of a flock of pelicans stealing a fisherman’s catch? They’re tricky little critters… never stop moving!! 🙂
Celebrations in Lima
It’s just a few hours from Paracas up to Lima. We’re interested to explore our next capital city, but we’re not here on just any old routine sight-seeing mission… No Sir! We’re here to meet our co-investigators Jimmy and Karen, to research some of the city’s pisco sour cocktails. The four of us had a great time together up in Cusco, but one of the disadvantages of high altitude can be a reduced tolerance of alcohol. Now, not only can we do justice to a sampling of Lima’s finest pisco sours, but we have the small matter of someone’s (well, mine actually 🙂 ) birthday to celebrate. Jimmy and Karen most kindly treat us to splendid pisco sours and a fabulous lunch in one of Lima’s best restaurants, overlooking the ocean. There is really nothing better for a birthday than to share it with great friends, delicious food, some pisco sours… oh… and the obligatory bubbly too!! Blessed!
Anyway, after more fun exploring Lima, it’s time to say a final farewell to Jimmy and Karen as they fly back to UK. Big hugs and thanks to them both for a great time in Peru, for including us on their awesome activities (sleeping on cliff faces, hiking to Rainbow Mountain) and for a very special birthday celebration. Mwah XX!
Before we move on from Lima, let’s see how it rates in Cuthbert’s League Table of South American Capital Cities. Of the capitals we have seen so far we have ranked: 1st – Buenos Aires, 2nd – Santiago and 3rd – Montevideo. La Paz isn’t even a runner-up and really needs to pull its socks up! (ok… we know it isn’t really a capital, but it is the seat of the government and is by far the major city of Bolivia). Here, we are pleased to announce that Lima has probably pushed Montevideo down to 4th place! We’ve had only a few days to reach this vital judgement, but we really like the Miraflores area with its shops, restaurants and cliff-top walks. The old town is atmospheric and China Town has great dim-sum restaurants. So what’s not to like 🙂 ?
Iveco warning signs
As we leave Lima for our sprint up the coast we have a looong drive ahead: almost 2,000 km to Quito. On our way out of town we decide to drop in on the Iveco dealership to buy a few routine consumables for Cuthbert. With hindsight, we’re not entirely sure why we were stupid enough to rely on the GPS location provided by Iveco. We have tried in many South American cities to find Iveco dealerships with the GPS coordinates presented in the Iveco manual, but not one has been in the advertised location! This time we ignore the manual and refer to the website instead, but that was wrong too! Infuriating!!! Even if you have never been to Lima, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that it is not a city whose back-streets are well suited to touring in an overland truck. The one-way systems, narrow streets, wayward buses and rampant tuk-tuk drivers cause a great deal of stress to the overland truck driver (and his navigator 🙂 )! How can Iveco get this soooo wrong???? We eventually give up in exasperation and make our way out of town.
Back on the Pan-American Highway we make good progress but soon get warning bleeps from Cuthbert’s on-board computer. Warning ‘Check Engine 024’… it’s code for something to do with pressure and the turbo… apparently. Bugger! 🙁 This calls for a bit of investigative work by the Driver/Mechanic (aka Marcus) and we need to make an early night-stop. So much for our ‘sprint’ up the coast! Cuthbert’s ailments set us back half a day, but Marcus susses it out, fixes it and we are on our way again next morning (geeks can click here to see the full techno-geekery).
Snags aside, we are still scooting along much faster than we would normally travel. The main Pan-Am Highway up the coast is the fastest, but not the most scenic, route through Peru. It’s rough, dry, scrubby desert and we pass through some of the most littered areas that we have seen in the whole of South America so far; but on the plus-side there are lots of nice little seaside villages to stop at and it’s such a delight to park-up right by the sea again. Each afternoon we find a nice seaside spot for Cuthbert and walk at sunset along the beach admiring the piers (yes, they seem to like their piers here in Peru almost as much as we do in UK!). As we progress north we leave behind the coastal fog that seems to shroud central Peru for much of the day (maybe a seasonal thing?). Eventually temperatures warm-up, and I mean ‘eventually’! We have been in the tropics all the way up this coastal stretch but have been astonished at how cool it has been, it rarely hits 20C! Not until we are just over five degrees south of the equator does it really feel ‘tropical’. Finally, in the very far north of Peru, we can dig out our shorts for day-time and abandon the duvet at night.
We’ve made good progress with our coastal sprint, so we allow ourselves the ‘luxury’ of staying-put for a few nights parked-up on an amazing beach. Ahhhh! This is the life! 🙂 Palm trees, soft sand, warm ocean with small crashing waves, marvellous! It’s hard to drag ourselves away from this. If it weren’t for the mounting excitement of our imminent Galapagos trip, we’d probably still be here this time next year!
So… for now it’s ‘Toodle-pip’ to Peru (we’ll be back!) and a big smiley ‘How do you do?’ to Ecuador. Galapagos turtles… here we come 🙂