December 27, 2004: This was the big day. We were flying to Peru to begin a vacation that would take us from Machu Picchu to the Nasca Lines and points in between. We drove to Houston and picked up Angela. Got to the airport and parked in plenty of time. Checked in with no problem. Got on the plane and settled in. And waited. The pilot announced that there was some problem with the fueling equipment and that there would be a five to seven minute delay. Judy and I looked at each other. We'd been very apprehensive about the trip, and we wondered if this was why.
We waited for about ten minutes, and the pilot repeated the same announcement. We waited. About fifteen minutes later, the pilot came on the intercom again and repeated that there was some difficulty with the fueling equipment. It would be another five to seven minutes before we could get going.
The next announcement came about fifteen minutes later. It seemed that the problem wasn't with the fueling equipment after all. They'd changed the equipment, and the plane was still taking on fuel very slowly. "I'm not going to make any more predictions about how long this might take," the pilot said.
It took about an hour. So the six hour flight became quite a bit longer. We were on the plane for over seven hours before we landed in Lima, Peru.
Naturally the guy in front of me kept his seat shoved back in my lap for the entire trip, and he seemed to be infected with some form of the St. Vitus Dance. Nothing unusual in that. Most passengers in front of me have some similar disorder.
Two movies were shown on the flight, on screens about the size of an Etch-a-Sketch. The first was I, Robot, a real piece of trash. For whatever reason, it was censored. I say, "For whatever reason," since the second movie was Bad Santa, shown unaltered.
We arrived in Lima around 12:45. The population of Lima is over 7,000,000 people. Only about half of them were in line in front of us at the check-in. We waited in line for about 45 minutes, but the check-in and customs check went smoothly aside from the wait. We traded in $100 for Peruvian soles and got on the bus to the Suite Service Apart Hotel in the Miraflores district (one of 49 districts in Lima, each with its own mayor). We arrived about 2:30
Judy and I got a room on the 11th floor. The elevator went only to the 10th floor, so I had to haul the bags up a flight to our "suite," which had a bedroom barely large enough to hold the bed. We had a kitchen, but the stove and refrigerator didn't work, not that we would have used them. We took a shower in the gentle flow of water and went to bed.
December 28, 2004: A beautiful day. We got up early and had a continental breakfast at the hotel. Then we took the bus to the Larco Archaeological Museum, a private museum with a huge collection of pottery and beautiful grounds. Like most museums in Peru, this is a private museum. Peru doesn't have the infrastructure for public museums. The collector of the pottery was, according to Miguel, our guide, "a digger." That is, he actually went out and searched for pottery and dug up many of the pieces in the museum. Attached to the museum was another building that contained what Miguel claimed to be "the world's largest collection of erotic pottery." Who's to say he's wrong?
After looking at a lot of pots, we went to lunch in the Miraflores district at the d'Mariecarmen Restaurant. I had grilled chicken, to be on the safe side, and a Coca Cola normal. The café was located on the second floor of a little area of shops of all kinds. Judy bought her first jewelry of the trip in one of the shops, and I bought a giant bottle of water, making the mistake of getting it con gas. Judy and I aren't fond of gassy water, but we made the best of it.
From the restaurant we went to the Gold Museum, another private museum filled with Incan gold and other artifacts. The collector in this case was a diplomat, and he had all kinds of things besides gold, including military armor from Japan, a sword from the Charles and Di wedding, and hundreds of other diplomatic "gifts." The gold was accumulated, not dug for, and it was an impressive collection.
After we returned to the hotel, we went out to eat with Angela, Darah, and Olga. We walked for a long way and eventually came to a place called "Eddy's." It looked clean, and the menu was interesting. We decided to eat there, a fateful decision for some of us.
Judy, Angela, and I had halamacas, a kind of Venezuelan tamale that was pretty good. There was also a pork chop and some kind of salad. I took only one bite of the salad. Judy ate a good bit of hers, and Angela ate more than either of us.
We walked down to the square after dinner. The cities in Peru are really bustling at all hours. The same is true in the small towns. People are out walking, talking, sitting, socializing. It's a lot different from America.
Judy and I went back to the hotel, leaving the others at the square. We needed our sleep since we were to get up early for a 9:30 flight to Cusco. We got some sleep, but the next morning we were both sick with food poisoning.
December 29, 2004: I was violently ill, throwing up several times. I did manage to hump the bags down the flight of stairs to the elevator, and I was actually feeling pretty good by the time we got to the airport. Little did I know.
The fun began in the long check-in line. It was warm inside the building, too warm. I got almost to the counter when a very weird feeling came over me. I said to Judy, "I think I'm going to pass out." The next thing I knew, I heard people calling my name. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on the floor.
Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. One second I was awake, and the next I wasn't. My body shut down completely and instantly.
I got up and stood there for a few seconds. I felt OK, so I picked up my backpack and said, "I'm fine."
I was wrong. The next thing I knew, I heard people calling my name. Wow, I thought. Deja vu. Except that it wasn't. I'd passed out again. And this time I had a lap full of vomit. I felt like a character in a Ken Bruen novel.
A helpful airport guy who could almost speak English hurried over with a wheelchair and rushed me to the restroom, probably to get me out of the sight of the other passengers, who no doubt thought I was some kind of degenerate old man.
I got myself cleaned up and came out (still in the wheelchair) to discover that the airport doctor was waiting for me. He gave me a prescription for some pills and a really nasty-tasting glucose drink. He also advised me not to fly to Cusco.
I told him that I felt fine (which was true) and that I was not staying in Lima. I had to sign a release saying that I was flying "against advice."
As it turned out, I was right to go. I was fine, and even the flight didn't bother me. By the next day I was completely rid of all the evil microbes that had taken residence in my body and ready to do some climbing in the ruins at Saqsaywaman. I figure that if you can clamber around on a mountain at an altitude of about 14,000 feet, you're doing OK. I had not a touch of altitude sickness (or sorochi, as it's called).
As for Angela and her friends, none of them got sick at all. And Angela ate exactly the same meal that Judy and I had. Go figure.
One thing I learned from the experience was how it would feel to be pushed through the airport in a wheelchair. Pretty good, actually. People defer to you ("I hope the old pervert doesn't leap out of the chair and attack me. I'd better move aside.). The people in the group feel sorry for you (and probably revolted as well; after all, I vomited in my lap).
The plane was delayed about forty-five minutes, which in this case turned out to be a good thing. I was happy to have some time to recover, and by the time we took off, I was feeling pretty much myself again. The flight attendant had been warned to check on me early in the flight, but she must have been reassured by my appearance, as she didn't bother to check again.
When we arrived in Cusco, we got on the bus for the trip to our hotel. The bus stopped, but the hotel was nowhere in sight. Our group leader asked what the problem was. He was informed that the bus couldn't get to the hotel, a comment that brought on a heated conversation in Spanish, as it was two blocks to the place, and one of them was up a steep hill, not a good deal for people with heavy bags. And not a good deal for those who weren't likely to be able to climb the hill even without the bags (not me; I was fine).
There was nothing to be done about the situation as far as the bus was concerned. Anybody could see that it was far too big and long for the narrow streets. Those who weren't up to the walk got taxis (a mere two soles for the ride, about sixty-five cents). The hotel sent a truck for the bags.
By the time we got to the Hotel Amaru, Judy was pooped. The food poisoning had combined with the sorochi to do her in. She went to bed in her jeans and blouse and didn't move for the next day and a half. The group went out to explore, but I figured I'd lie down, too, just to be sure I was ready for the next morning's excursion.
Later that evening Angela and Darah brought us some bottled water and GatorAde. I drank three or four bottles of it in the next few days, and I'm convinced it helped me to recover quickly. Judy drank some, too, but she was comatose the next day.
December 30, 2004: Since Judy didn't feel like making the tour, I said I'd stay with her in the room. She insisted that I go, though, so I did. The first stop was Saqsaywaman, a huge Incan ruin. The gigantic boulders (up to 125 tons) used in its construction are fitted together perfectly without mortar. The guide slipped a dollar bill into the space between several of the boulders and slid it up, down, and sideways. There's always just that little bit of space. The place was either a fortress or a temple or both. Archaeologists are still excavating. Every June there's a Festival of the Sun held there.
From Saqsaywaman we went on to Tambomachay. The guide said it was probably an "inn," where the Incas bathed. Others think it was a site devoted to the worship of water. We bought a few souvenirs here, including an Inca cross.
The next stop was Q'enqo, which means labyrinth. There's a sacrificial altar in an underground chamber, and some believe that both animal and human sacrifices were made there. When the Spanish came, the Incas covered this place up, but it was found not long afterward. Twenty-eight mummies were found in a pit near the altar.
Returning to Cusco, we visited the site of the Incan Temple of the Sun. As in most cases, the Spanish destroyed the Incan temples and built their churches on the foundations. A good bit of the temple foundation is still visible, and some of the walls have been restored.
We also visited another cathedral, Cusco Cathedral. This was a remarkable place. I never saw so much gold leaf and silver (the silver is very pure). Lots of paintings and carvings, too. Several people said that it was as ornate as any cathedral they'd ever seen, including those in Europe.
Our final stop was a restaurant called Tunupa. Everyone got a free "Pisco Sour," a drink that tasted a little like a whiskey sour. It's made from grapes, however, not whiskey. It's apparently very popular, and I believe we got one at every other place we ate. The food was served buffet style, including the alpaca, which I didn't try. I had a "cereal lasagna," which was pretty good, and a chicken dish, but I was careful and didn't eat much. I didn't want to get sick again. The dessert selection was huge, and I had the Black Forest Cake. It was great.
After lunch we took some photos on the square, and I walked back to the hotel. Judy was still conked out but feeling a tiny bit better. We decided not to go out that evening (Judy didn't feel like it, and I was still full from lunch. We had to get up at 4:30 the next morning, so I showered and went to bed early.
December 31, 2004: This might be the place to say that I'd bought a new battery for an old digital watch that I intended to take on the trip, not wanting to take one of my better ones. As it turned out, taking the old one was a mistake, because even though the battery was just fine, the watch's alarm had quit working. Since there were no phones in any of the rooms where we stayed, except for one, this was a problem. However, the hotel sent someone to knock on the door at 4:30 and wake us.
Judy was still a little rocky, but I managed to hump our bags downstairs to the room where they'd be stored while we were in Aguas Calientes. She managed to eat a little of the continental breakfast (or at least drink the orange juice), and she walked to the bus.
We got to the train station in plenty of time, more than 30 minutes early (the train was due to depart at 6:15). The first thing I did was look for the conductor, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. When I found him, I sang the line I'd been waiting for years to sing: "Pardon me, boy, is this the Machu Picchu choo-choo?" A guy from our group heard me and asked why. I told him that it had been my lifelong dream to sing that line in that place. He said he was glad he could be there to share the moment.
We boarded the train and found our seats. We weren't on the fancy train named "The Hiram Bingham," which has a dining car with white tablecloths and nice seats. We were on the train that everybody takes if he wants to travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and beyond. The one on which the toilet doesn't flush. There were some funny horrified looks on the faces of people coming out of the bathroom late in the journey, which took about four hours.
Or which would have taken four hours if we hadn't been delayed yet again. The train does a lot of backing and filling before it ever gets out of Cusco, and once it just stopped completely. We were told that something was wrong with the locomotive and that a part would have to be replaced. It would take "about 15 minutes." Amazingly enough, that's about what it took, and we were off again.
The train doesn't go through the best parts of Cusco, if there are any. Judy and I were amazed at the living conditions. People live in mud houses (sun-dried brick or adobe, if you want to be fancy), with dirt floors and mud courtyards. Most of them have doors and windows, but some of them don't. I suspect that a lot of them don't have running water or electricity, but everybody washes. There was washing hanging on lines near nearly every house. We saw several women washing clothes in buckets. No matter how dilapidated a house looked, there was someone living there. We passed one place that looked so bad I was sure no one could possibly live there. And while I was thinking it, a woman walked through the doorway.
Lots of dogs in Cusco. Dogs everywhere. No fat ones, though. We didn't see a fat dog on the entire trip. And on the entire trip we saw a total of about three cats. Either there aren't any, or they all stay out of sight.
When we got into the countryside, the scenery was spectacular, and we got to see a lot of the rural way of life. People live pretty much the way they did in the Middle Ages. Whole big families live together in a few rooms, with the cows, sheep, pigs and whatnot living in the courtyard only a wall away. Early in the morning we saw people leading the animals out to graze. They'd stake them for the day and get them in the evening. Some animals, mostly pigs, were just roaming loose around the houses.
And people were farming. We saw people plowing with a couple of cows, maybe oxen if you're being charitable, hitched to wooden plows identical to the ones we saw in the museums, the ones used by the Incas.
At one of the stops about three-quarters of the way to Aguas Calientes, a couple from Spain got on the train. The woman sat across from me, and her husband sat behind me. There was some problem when the conductor came for their tickets, and it turned out that their guide had put them on the wrong train. Another guide was supposed to meet them, but of course he wouldn't be meeting the train we were on. The woman put up a good front, but I thought she was upset. She looked really sad to me, and I felt sorry for her. She and her husband were in a mess, but at least they could speak the language. I don't know whatever happened to them.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes and walked right to the hotel. The train runs right through the center of the little town, and the sides of the tracks are lined by shops. We didn't buy anything. We checked in at the hotel and looked over our room, the best of the trip. It even had a phone. It overlooked the Urubamba River, which was rushing by pretty fast and making a noise that would be great for sleeping. But we didn't have time to sleep. We had to catch the bus to see Machu Picchu.
The bus ride was great. We could see why the Incas decided to build there. Every window on the bus had a view that was unbelievable. There's no way photos could do the place justice, but we took plenty when we got to the top.
Everyone stopped to eat lunch before we went into the "park." Judy and I weren't hungry and ate cheese crackers and a candy bar. Then we entered the park, to see the sights we'd come to Peru to see. And seeing them was worth the whole trip. I'd do it again, even knowing that I was going to faint in the airport. There was one amazing view after another, everywhere we turned. I could have stayed a week, just taking it all in.
Judy did very well for someone who'd been so sick. She didn't do all the climbs, but she did most of them. At the end of the day, I climbed up to "the watchtower," and that was the toughest of all. The next day several people went up on Wayna Picchu, and I wish now that I'd done that, too.
At the end of the day's touring, we took part in a "smudge ceremony," which was, I think, part of the reason a lot of people had made the trip. It's a "cleansing by smoke" deal, where people get in a circle and get sage smoke wafted over them. Afterward we all mentioned something he was giving up from 2004 and something we were looking forward to in 2005. Judy and I had never done taken part in anything like that, so it was kind of interesting for us, particularly at that time and that place.
After the smudging, I climbed up to a building called the Watchtower, probably the highest point of the ruins. Judy elected not to go with me, so I met her at the eating area near the park entrance when I came down.
We left the park around 5:30 and went to the room to get ready for our New Year's Eve dinner, which was at the Inca Wasi Restaurant. Judy and I, sticking to the safe stuff, had grilled chicken, and it was pretty good. There was a band named Kuntur Taki playing during the meal, and I bought one of their CDs.
When we returned to the hotel, Judy decided she couldn't make the New Year's Eve party that was being held on the patio. She went to bed, but I went to the party. Since the patio was about six feet from our room, I'm sure Judy heard most of it. I stayed until 11:00, and then I went to the room. I was still awake when the 12:00 celebration took place, but I slept very well afterwards.
January 1, 2005: We started off the New Year with a continental breakfast in the hotel. We planned to go to Mandor Falls, which we were told was a "three-hour round trip of leisurely walking." We were also told that the walking would all be on level ground. That turned out to be a little misleading, since most of the trip was along the railroad right-of-way, meaning that we had to walk either on the clinkers or on the crossties. If you've ever tried walking on either of those surfaces, you know that it's far from easy. And you can't look up at the great scenery around you because if you do, you'll break your ankle. Also, "leisurely" wasn't exactly the right word. It might have been an easy trip for someone in good shape, but not everyone in our group was in good shape.
What it came down to was that Judy couldn't finish the journey. She and another woman decided to turn back, and Don Neumann, one of the group leaders, did as well. Unfortunately, Judy had already hurt her foot, but she thought she could walk back.
The rest of us plugged on. When we got to the spot to turn off for the falls, we entered the rainforest. The walking became much more interesting, and it was also easier. In a way. It was interesting because of the sudden scenery change. We'd been walking along in a valley with the mountains towering over us and the Urubamba River rushing alongside us. Now we were in the jungle. It was hot and steamy, but at least there was a path. Unfortunately the path was uphill, and it was muddy. In spots, very muddy. And in spots, it involved a little bit of climbing.
We persevered, however, and eventually got to the waterfall, which was quite a sight, small but powerful, generating quite a cooling breeze all by itself.
Then came the bad part: we had to return the same way we'd come. We all moved along at a good pace and actually got back to Aguas Calientes in an hour and a half or a little less, almost overtaking the ones who'd turned back.
By then it was time for lunch, which was in the Inkaterra hotel dining room. The Inkaterra is a very fancy and expensive place, unlike the places we stayed. But the food wasn't that impressive. It was OK, but not anything special.
After lunch, Judy tried to stand up and couldn't move because her foot was hurting so much. It was getting close to time to catch the train back to Cusco, so I went back to the hotel to get our bags. Judy said she'd find some way to meet me at the train.
One of the interesting things about Aguas Calientes is that the shopkeepers along the tracks pretty much allow their kids to play right there in the railroad bed. It looked pretty dangerous to me, but it was common in Cusco to see kids playing ball in the streets. The way the cars zip along those narrow streets, the traffic fatalities must be pretty high. The traffic is something else I should mention. There aren't a lot of traffic lights in Cusco, or in Lima, for that matter. And nobody seems to bother much with traffic rules. There's lots of honking of horns, and everybody goes pretty much where he wants to. I was amazed at how smoothly the traffic seemed to flow. I don't remember any traffic jams even in Lima with its seven million people. There were kids playing marbles between the rails.
But I digress. Back to Aguas Calientes: I hadn't seen anybody playing marbles since I was in grade school, but it's a popular game in Peru. Now and then some of the kids would just go off and leave the marbles where they were, intending to come back and pick up the game later.
In all the worry about Judy's foot, I'd forgotten that she had my train ticket. This wouldn't have been a problem if she'd shown up at the train station, but she didn't. I couldn't get into the enclosure where everyone was waiting to board the train without my ticket. I decided that if she didn't show, I'd just spend the night at the Inkaterra and ride back to Cusco the next day. But I didn't have to do that, as Tim showed up with my ticket, saying that Judy and a couple of other women had been allowed to board the train on the lower level.
So I got on the train and we headed back to Cusco. The train ride was five hours going back because of the mountains, so we got off at a place called Poroy and took the bus back to our hotel, saving about an hour.
On the early part of the ride back we saw a lot of people working in the fields. Everybody in the family works, from the little kids on up. Later we saw people, mostly the kids, going out to bring in the livestock that had been grazing during the day. It's a way of life more like the frontier in the U.S. than anything we experience now.
The bus took us through some of the rougher parts of Cusco, and I saw one huge pile of garbage with a couple of dogs on top of it, looking for something to eat. It was well after dark by the time we got to the hotel, and Judy was tired, so we showered and went to bed.
January 2, 2005: At 8:00, after another continental breakfast, we were off to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas, otherwise known as the Urubama Valley. We drove up into the mountains near Cusco, passing by the locations that we'd already visited (Saqsaywaman, Q'enqo, Tambomachay). When we got to a good spot overlooking the valley, the bus stopped for a photo op, and of course for some shopping. We didn't buy anything, but I did take Judy's picture with some women, llamas, and a kid in colorful native dress. As we went down into the valley, we stopped at a small market where we did buy some souvenirs (Judy got jewelry). Judy and I got back to the bus a bit early, in time to see the bus driver being passed his cut from everybody from whom people had made purchases.
We went on to visit Urubamba (the town, not the river), Ollantaytambo, and the big market at Pisaq. This last place is where people come from all over Peru to sell their wares. We got there early enough to get a good parking place for the bus, and we scattered out to see what we could find. Judy and I bought a flute and a t-shirt for Allen and some more jewelry for Judy. After we made our purchases, we wandered around looking at all the things for sale: jewelry, blankets, scarfs, bowls, you name it. Again, since we're not really great shoppers, we were among the first to get back to the bus. Getting out of the lot proved interesting, as the street leading to it was very narrow, and there was a car in front of us that was taking up a lot of room. The driver maneuvered around it, getting a nice round of applause.
For lunch we stopped at the Tunupa restaurant in Ollantaytambo. It was a nice place, just off the highway, with some beautiful flower gardens. Lunch was served buffet style, and I had several of the salads and a chicken dish for the main course. Chocolate cake was the dessert I picked from the big selection. After lunch, Judy and I wandered around and took some pictures. We didn't walk down to the river, though some of the group did. Some people also did some more shopping, since there were people with their stuff spread out on the ground on the way to the river.
After lunch, we left for Chinchero, which meant that we left the valley and started climbing the mountains. On the way up we passed two abandoned buses, and I said to Judy, "Did you notice the stalled buses?" She said, "I wish you hadn't mentioned that."
Sure enough, not five minutes later, an ominous kerplunk sounded under the hood of our bus, and we coasted to a stop. Everyone got off the bus. Judy thought we might have to push, but that would have been quite a job, considering that the bus was headed up hill. Instead, the driver ran off with two big plastic buckets and fetched water from a river. He poured the water into or onto something. I thought maybe he was pouring it into the radiator, so when it all ran right back, I was a little worried. Someone said he seemed to be pouring the water right onto the engine block. That worried me, too. At any rate, after about three trips to the river and six buckets of water poured somewhere or other, the driver said we could get back on. Sure enough, the bus started, and we were off to Chinchero again.
Chinchero turned out to be a small town with an unimpressive colonial church. Or at least it was unimpressive on the outside. Inside was a different story. While Alfredo, the guide, was telling us about it, he and Ken, our leader, got into a little tiff. Alfredo was a little bit on the anti-church side of things, and the group we were traveling with was mostly Catholic. Ken told Alfredo to skip the editorializing and get to the facts. After that, the argument was in Spanish. Alfredo gave in, but not with good grace.
We left the church, and some people did some shopping with the sellers in the courtyard. Not far away were a lot of the men of the village. They spent the afternoon drinking chicha, a corn beer. Alfredo said that they always poured out the first drink on the earth as an offering to the old gods. Christianity and the old ways are still a little mixed in Peru, at least according to Alfredo. Ken didn't want to hear too much of that.
We visited the village's little museum, and then it started raining. Getting back down the hill to the bus was quite an adventure for me and Judy, since the cobbles were really slippery, but we managed it safely.
The bus managed to get us back to Cusco before dark. We went into town the same way the bus had entered on the previous evening. This time there was a man standing on top of the garbage heap instead of a couple of dogs. He was digging through it, maybe hoping to find something the dogs had missed.
We passed a church that was having a New Year's celebration. The street was jammed with people and cars, and it wasn't easy for the bus driver to get through. I tried to take a picture through the bus window, but it was blurred, so I dumped it.
Back at the hotel, Judy and I decided that we'd go out to dinner for a change. As we were getting dressed, it started to rain. And then it rained even harder. It never seemed to let up, so we figured we might as well have some cheese crackers and candy, which we did, and washed them down with bottled water. And so to bed.
January 3, 2005: Up early again, humping bags downstairs and having a continental breakfast prior to the flight back to Lima. This time the bags were hauled to the bus in taxis, and we walked down. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, and surprise! the flight was delayed, this time by the weather. A heavy fog had moved into Cusco, and after we boarded the plane, we were marched off and back into the airport. After we'd been sitting around for a while, they started canceling flights, so naturally I got worried about what might happen if ours was canceled. But it wasn't. After about three hours, the sun came out and our flight was called. I was in line to get a Coca-Cola normal for Judy and a muffin for me, but I left it happily to board and fly to Lima.
We got to Lima too late for the morning's planned activities, so we went directly to the Union Regatta Club for lunch. This meal was the most elaborate one of the whole trip. It consisted of an appetizer course of cerviche (I passed), then a fried fish course (I passed again), a chicken course (not bad), and a beef course (very good, probably the tastiest food we had on the entire trip). The service was slow, but nobody seemed to mind. The place was just about empty, so we could look around at the yachts and the Pacific between courses.
After lunch, we went to the hotel, which had overbooked the rooms. One couple (Warren and Christine) had to stay across the street (they later said it was by far the best room they had). Judy and I got assigned to the same room on the eleventh floor again, so I had to drag the bags up the final flight.
We got settled in time to go back downstairs for a short bus tour of Lima. We went to the major square of the city, bounded on one side by the presidential palace, where we saw the changing of the guard, and on another side by a huge cathedral. The square was full of people, as most squares in Peru seemed to be.
When we got back to the hotel, Judy and I elected to read for a while and then go to bed early, since we were getting up at 3:00 a. m. the next day for a trip to Nasca.
January 4, 2005: I dragged the bags downstairs and to the elevator, and we got on the bus, leaving the hotel around 4:00. It was a six-hour drive to Nasca, and the change in geography along the way was amazing. At one point we were driving through sandy desert that looked like something from a movie (Hidalgo, maybe). At another point the road ran between towering dunes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. And at the end of the trip we climbed into the mountains again to get to the Nasca Plateau.
In some of the desert areas, we saw a lot of structures that looked like some kind of animal pens, nothing more than four walls made of some kind of grass mats. We asked the guide about them, and he told us that people lived there. Squatters who come down from the mountains can obtain claim to the land if they live there for a certain number of years (he wasn't sure how many). We wondered why anybody would want claim to that land. There's no water and no electricity, but maybe there's a chance that the government will provide those things after five or six years. The people in the mountains must be really desperate to come to live in such terrible conditions.
The plan was for our group to stop in Paracas (in the Pisco province) for a boat tour around Islas Ballestas, where we were to see penguins and sea lions. We stopped for little while, but the boat trip was canceled because the tour leaders were certain we'd never get back to the airport on time if we stayed in Paracas very long.
So we went on to Nasca, where we visited the site of some old wells that had once been used to irrigate the valley, the water coming from an undergound river, now mostly dried up. When the water went away, so did the people who'd inhabited the place, which gets no rainfall at all. (The Nasca Lines are located on land that looks like the surface of the moon, except with less vegetation.)
We also paid a brief visit to a potter, who demonstrated the art of making pottery, Nasca-style. Several people bought pots, but we didn't.
Then we went into Nasca to wait for the plane that would take us up to see the lines. My theory is that we spent as much time visiting the wells and the potter, along with waiting, to have taken the boat trip to Islas Ballestas, but nobody asked for my opinion.
When the time came to fly over the lines, Judy and I went in the first group. The plane was a little Cessna (I think) that had room for five passengers and a pilot. We belted ourselves in and roared off down the runway. In a couple of minutes we were over the lines, with the pilot banking the plane sharply so passengers on both sides would have a good view of the lines. His maneuvers were wasted on Judy, who could hardly see any of them. I had no trouble seeing them and got pictures of most of them. Judy could see the lines in the pictures just fine.
I was surprised that I didn't get sick on the plane, considering my tendency to get motion sickness even in express elevators. But I was fine, thank goodness.
After everyone had a fly-over, we got on the bus and went to downtown Nasca for lunch. The asparagus soup was excellent, and the chicken was pretty good, too. A musical duo entertained us while we ate, and after lunch I took a few photos of the area around the restaurant. Then we got on the bus for a nonstop six-hour drive back to Lima and the airport.
As we went through the little towns after dark, we could see the people all out on the streets or in the little bodegas. There's a lot of socializing, since I guess very few of them have TV or other entertainment at home.
We arrived at the airport right on time, at 10:00 p.m. Don and Ken got us checked in as a group, saving some time, and we went to the boarding area to wait. The security was fairly tight at the boarding area, and those who hadn't been searched earlier were searched at that time. We hadn't really been searched at check-in, but our tickets indicated that we had (and we'd been questioned), so we were spared. However, when I went out to get Judy a Coca Cola normal, I was searched on my return, even down to having my shoes removed.
We boarded the plane right on time, and of course there was a delay. I suppose it was inevitable, but still, after thirteen hours on a bus, I wasn't looking forward to a six-hour plane ride, much less one extended to seven hours because of a delay. This time, there was some problem in the airspace of Guayaquil, Ecuador. We never did find out what the trouble was, but after about an hour, we took off.
The flight to Houston was smooth and without problems. We got through customs with no trouble and got out bags. We rode the bus to the car park, where the car started instantly. Considering our luck so far, I'd worried that the battery might be dead.
But the bad luck (and the final delay) came later, as we hit Highway 59 to take Angela home. There was a terrible wreck, and traffic was moving very slowly, when it moved at all. Eventually we got past the wreck, delivered Angela, whose cat was overjoyed to see her, and headed to Alvin.
We got home, and our cats wanted out immediately. Sam was so happy we were back that he kept crying at the door so he could come in and see us. After he was satisfied that we were really home, he'd go out for five or ten minutes before coming in to check on us again.
We got unpacked, and that evening we had a real American hamburger from Whataburger for supper. Home at last.