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South Coast

Written on: Sunday February 17th, 2008

A journal entry from: Peru

First things first. The south coast of Peru is a much better place to visit than the north. The people are more used to tourists, and don't stare incessantly. There is more English spoken, so when you stumblingly order the chicken with red wine sauce in terrible Spanish, the waiter will repeat in english to check, then say it in Spanish so you don't make a fool of yourself again.

Our first port of call in southern Peru was Nazca, home of the famous Nazca lines. These are geometric figures, wide trapizoids, perfectly straight lines, and animal pictures, all drawn in the desert. The Nazca people, 1500 years ago, lifted the rocks from the surface of the ground and moved them aside, exposing the whiter soil underneath.

"Whoopdy do," I hear you say. "I can draw in the sand!"

Not like this. These drawings are massive... hundreds of meters across. They simply cannot be seen from the ground, they are just too big. In fact, modern man never knew of them until the 50s. How they were drawn on this scale, nobody really knows. Our fight over the lines was certainly a highlight of our trip.

Time was beginning to run short, so we headed up the Andes to Arequiepa, then Puno. Puno is notable for two things, only one of which we knew about- It is the gateway to the world's highest navigable lake, Lago Titicaca. The other we literally ran across as we rode in our mototaxi up the hill. We turned a corner and were face to face with a marching band dressed to the nines in riotous coloured masks, giant shoulder pips, brightly endowed jackets, and bells on their boots. Turns out Puno also hosts Peru's best festivals! Each night we stayed here there were dancers in the streets, parades, and general celebration. A very welcome surprise!

The other reason we came to Puno was for the Isla Flotantos, or Uros islands. These are, quite literally, floating islands. Turns out that the Uros people, generations ago, needed to escape warlike tribes around them, so they wove a whole bunch of reeds together and shipped off onto the lake. These islands, of which there are hundreds, are about 30 meters across and hold two or three families. Their life conists of fishing and weaving, playing up to the tourists, and continually replacing the reeds which make up their solid ground.

From Puno, we headed north, to Cusco, a wonderfully cosmopolitan city high in the mountains. And the gateway to the piece de rèsistance of our trip- Machu Picchu. It was in Cusco I first ate guinea pig, in Cusco we spent our anniversary, and we saw our first Catholic church built atop Incan ruins.

But Machu Picchu was certainly worth the effort to get there. It is an awesome thing, to walk amongst walls built to honour the mountain gods. To peer out from a balcony to a 500 meter drop, and know that this floor was built with hand tools, by an ancient civilization and has withstood several large earthquakes. The scenery takes your breath away, and then you realise the effort that must have gone to make this place. A city in the clouds, forgotten.

In almost every photo of Machu Picchu, you can see a bluff rising behind it. An almost vertical escarpment of rock, plantlife clinging precariously to it.

Have I mentioned the Incans were completely insane? Well, they saw this cliff, and thought, "Hey, that's a neat vertical surface. Let's build an outpost!"

The walk to Wayna Picchu is one of the few times I've felt vertigo. There is an Incan path built, switching back on itself so many times you get dizzy, so steep it may as well be a ladder, in many parts carved striaght into the mountain rock itself. It takes a good hour and a half to climb, but is spectacular. Stunning, even. To be lifted so high above the world (twice as high as the highest point in Australia) with one of the most enigmatic wonders on the planet spread out beneath you. To have ancient Incan terracing behind you, the simultaneous taming and worshipping of the mountain.

Since then, we've just been winding down. Cusco, Lima, Beunos Aires. Tonight, we are back in the land of ockers and meat pies. We've already decided on our first meal... Dominoes. I can't wait to hear someone call me 'mate' again.

 

From Pok on Feb 17th, 2008

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