First, a note I forgot, something great that Carmen (our Colca Canyon guide) told us.

We were hiking on that tiny trail, looking at remote villages on the opposite side of the canyon. The villages have no electricity or running water, but Carmen said all the people there vote. Traders travel to the villages and bring back newspapers, which they post on the walls of the town squares. People who can read announce the news for those who can´t. On election day, tables are set up in the one-room school house. Turnout is massive.

Peru has many incentives to encourage voting; it becomes difficult and expensive not to vote. Political graffiti for the recent election and the upcoming runoff is everywhere. I wish my Spanish was good enough to speak with people about this. Alas.

* * * *

temperature: 24 C / 74 F
elevation: 588 m / 1,929 f

This was the crunch part of thetrip, the long travel days we opted for (endured? nah, too strong) in order to see the Nazca Lines. Allan was somewhat disappointed in them, though still glad we went. I was thoroughly impressed, and thrilled to have seen them.

We easily could have flown from Arequipa in the south to Trujillo in the north, changing planes in Lima, and saved a lot of time. But when we planned this trip, we both agreed it was ridiculous to be so close to Nazca, an ancient phenomenon unique in all the world, and not see them on account of some travel inconvenience. And so: The Schlep.

Allan was sick on our last day in Arequipa, so that didn´t help. His illness (gone now) did give me the opportunity to spend some time alone in the town, where I learned two things. First, how women walking around without men are treated here, and second, how the pharmacies work. The former, disgusting, not unlike Italy, Mexico, or for that matter, certain neighbourhoods in New York City.

The latter, as in many countries, pharmacists can dispense drugs without a prescription from a doctor. We have gone into farmacias before, to buy aspirin or lip balm. But in this case, I described Allan´s symptoms, the druggist asked questions, and then dispensed what would be prescription drugs in the US or Canada - but only a small amount. He said if mi esposo was not better when those drugs were finished, we should see a doctor. He was kind and efficient, very professional. Hooray for Inka Farma.

Because Allan wasn´t feeling well, we spent our last day in Arequipa, after the monastery tour, mainly waiting in the open courtyard of our hotel. Arequipa´s thick stone walls (earthquake protection) and trees keep the courtyards cool even in the mid-day heat. It´s always hot and sunny in Arequipa.

The afternoon and evening dragged, but eventually we took a taxi to the Terrepuerta (cool name - there are aeropuertas for planes and terrepuertas for buses), for the overnight bus to Nazca.

This leg of our journey, including our flight over Nazca and our hotel in Ica, was arranged by the Arequipa travel agent. The logistics are somewhat complicated and their fees are miniscule, so I recommend it if you travel independently, i.e. without a group. It´s a 10-hour bus trip on the Panamericana, and best accomplished at night on a sleeper bus.

We paid quite a bit extra for this sleeper bus, but if you have to spend the night on a bus, at least you can put your feet up and recline, right? But once again, we find that paying for supposedly "first class" travel in this country is a complete waste. The bus company put everyone on the cheaper bus. We figure there weren´t enough passengers (off season) to fill a sleeper bus, so they pocketed our money and stuck us all on the cheap bus.

About 10 other passengers were similarly disappointed - and angry. We found empty seats, so at least we had two seats each and could stretch out a bit. It also took a passenger revolt - led by our Redsock - to get them to turn off the DVD player, showing a movie, with volume, no headphones, that no one wanted to see.

So, 10 hours on a bus, semi-sleeping, mostly just resting. We arrived in Nazca tired and annoyed, but also determined to set the experience aside, not dwell on it, and to enjoy the unique experience of the day.

At Nazca, agents were meeting their assigned tourists at the bus and ferrying people into town, where they check your luggage and tell you what time you fly. Then it´s back in the van to the airstrips, one after the next, each with cheesy souvenir shop and snack bar.

Everyone watched a video about "the mystery of the lines," as it´s always called, which was somewhat informative and somewhat unintentionally hilarious. Then they called us and one other woman for our flight.

We had paid for a longer flight that would cover the Palpa Geoglyphs in addition to the Nazca Lines. For the Nazca Lines alone, the flight is only 30 minutes; the Palpa figures give you another 30 minutes in the air. Too short either way, but more is better.

The plane was a four-seater - the pilot and the other tourist (an American woman with a Southern accent) in the front, us in the back. The pilot told us to watch the wingtip, that he would point it at the figure.

The ground below was desert - spare, brown, sand and rock - empty space. The pilot would say, "On the right, in 10, ´the condor,´ in 5 seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1," and then bank sharply. And there in the middle of the desert, we would see the huge, unmistakable figure of a bird on the slope of a brown hill.

The figures are huge, some 180 or 130 metres long, and only visible from the sky. In fact, they were only discovered by the modern world in the 1920s, when aviators first flew over Peru´s coastal desert. This gave rise to the silly stories about their origins. If you´re around our age, you may remember the "Chariots of the Gods" nonsense. Hey, primitive peoples couldn´t have planned and built such wonders themselves, right? Bah.

After we saw a figure, the pilot would say, "And now, to the left," then circle and bank so the passenger on the left side, which happened to be me, would get a better view. When the plane flew straight and level, it was fine - lovely. But when it circled and tipped, our stomachs would rise and fall, sometimes alarmingly. (We were given barf bags when we got in the plane, and several people in Arequipa warned us not to eat breakfast before the flight. Good advice.)

After a while, it got so I dreaded the words "And now, to the left...", knowing my stomach was about to somersault. I felt like saying, That´s ok, I can see out of the right window... A few times I thought I would lose it, but all three passengers hung on, no bags needed.

In total, we saw about 20 shapes of the 70-plus that exist, plus many lines, angles and geometric shapes made by the same people. The figures are astonishing. Everytime one would appear, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I would gasp.

It was over too soon, anticlimatic in that sense, but still unique and exciting. It wasn´t the up-close experience of Machu Picchu, where you feel the presence of the builders, but it was something I´ll never forget nonetheless. My favourites were the monkey, the condor, and of course, the dog. For more information about the Nazca Lines, do Google, and Google Images should be good, too.

Back in the dusty village of Nazca, we had several hours before our bus left for Ica, two hours further up the coast. There are a few other things to see in the Nazca area, but I got the feeling it would be a long, dusty trip into the desert to see a pile of bones or a stone aqueduct, with no context and no explanation, then back in the van. (Strange that tourism is undeveloped around the Lines. I wonder what it will look like in 10 years.)

There´s one decent hotel in Nazca, with a courtyard pool and a bar, where many people hang out after their flight, but Nazca itself is a few blocks long, consisting mostly of shlocky souvenir stores and restaurants. Ica is supposed to be more pleasant. The idea was to eat and drink in a nice hotel in Ica, while cutting some travel time off the next day´s trek. It kind of worked and kind of didn´t.

* * * *

While waiting for our bus to Ica, we spoke to the local travel agent, trying to get some compensation for our non-sleeper-bus trip, for which we paid first class. Everything is cash only here (some businesses have Visa signs in the window, but won´t accept credit cards anyway), so there´s no way to get your money back. We were trying for a free bus trip later in our journey, and maybe a lift to the airport in Lima.

The Nazca travel agent couldn´t call Arequipa (imagine a travel agent who can´t make long-distance calls!) but he emailed and asked the Arequipa agent to call us. Both agents tried to suggest we got on the wrong bus, but when we explained the situation, they were sympathetic, especially to the idea of paying twice as much for nothing.

The Arequipa agent asked me to email her so she´d have something in writing, and said she´ll start using the competitor bus company, fully appreciating how bad this could be for her reputation.

Eventually I negotiated a free bus ticket from Ica to Lima, and a taxi waiting to take us to the Lima airport. The taxi was at our own expense, but with the mad crush of taxis at every stop, an arranged transport is very nice.

Aerial photos of the Nazca lines here.

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