If you have never been to South America, there is something that you need to know, the roads are rough as hell and more often than not, defy logic. Chaos rules here. Roads surfaces and driving conditions change like a baby’s diaper and honking your car horn creates a cacophony of noise that echoes through the streets. In saying that though, road tripping this vast continent is a great backpacking pastime and always leads to a superb adventure.
Leaving Lima, I would be touring several cities in a high intensity, adventurous and culturally concentrated road trip known as the Gringo Trail.
This several week adventure would commence with….
Pronounced ‘Hwa-car-Chee-Nah’, this desert oasis is home to sand….and lots of fun! We arrived here in the heat of the afternoon sun, and I can tell you that in the middle of the desert is not where you want to be at this time of day. As we hid from the heat in the local Backpacker Hostel, we commenced organising our overnight sand dune adventure.
Apart from being home to the surface of the sun, Huacachina is also home to a myriad of adventure sports, like sand boarding. With our guide in toe we jumped aboard the dune buggy and set off to climb the gargantuan sand dunes that were a prominent backdrop to the Eco lodge that housed most of the travelling tourists.
High in the sand dunes there are no speed limits, just a test of your endurance. And our little dune buggy drive pushed the limits to defy gravity. We twisted and turned, up and down the sandy peaks. The rush of wind past my face, sand showering us from head to toe and my white knuckles gripping the buggy frame. I have never screamed so loud, nor had as much fun. That was until we reached the Sand Dune edge. You see it is here that we were to commence part two of the overnight adventure. Sand boarding down this sky scrapper sized dune. Trying not to think too much about my phobia of heights, I dropped my board, lay down, took a deep breath and held on for dear life as I sped down the slope. I didn’t even notice the guide yell ‘just don’t fall’ as I left the top. The adrenaline rush was incredible. And I had the opportunity to experience two more times before we headed to camp.
After all the excitement of sand boarding, I was pooped and quite happy to take a moment and watch the sun set. Sunsets over sand dunes are always something special. I don’t’ know why, but every time I get to witness these marvels of nature I am amazed at the colours a sky can create. The sunset at Huacachina was no exception. The sands were set alight with the flaming red of the sunset sky. The sparse clouds bruised purple with the impending night. The sun slowly dipping and lingering for a moment on the horizon as if a last stitch effort to keep the amazing day alive before being engulfed by the night sky. I felt my breath hold momentarily as if waiting for the sun to reappear. It was a beauty to behold and only got better with the stars later in the night.
Boarding, beauty and brilliant memories. Huacachina had it all.
Nazca, lots of lines but no queues.
While there isn’t much to Nazca city, that is not the reason that we were stopping in Nazca. Home to the Nazca Lines. Mysterious earthly etchings that are suspected to date back to Pre-Inca times, remain a constant attraction for tourists and archaeologists alike.
The Nazca lines are a series of geoglyphs that are only visible from above and cover an extensive area of Nazca. A range of theories exist about the purpose and origins of these lines, some theorists believe there is a connection between the lines and the stars, others decree that the lines are for ceremonial purposes, and then there are some that believe that these images that can only be seen from the sky are the result of the first encounters with aliens. I’m not an expert in any of these fields, so I will just appreciate them for what they are…really impressive geoglyphs.
While in Nazca I did learn more about the local hero of Maria Reiche. I know, her name does not sound Peruvian, because she is a German mathematician that dedicated her life to the preservation of the 500 sq km comprising of some 300 geometric figures. Her efforts were appreciated so much by the local community that she spent that last 35 years of her life residing in the Nazca Lines Hotel, before passing away at the age of 94 years. This room has been retired for use as a sign of respect to Maria Reich and the work that she did in the preservation and decoding the mysteries of the lines. What an incredible woman!
Puno, Lake Titicaca and the birthplace of the Sun
Set by the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, Puno is a relatively unimpressive city. But this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to appreciate. The dilapidated streets, and constant hum of traffic mask an eclectic mix of cultures and curious lifestyles while smoke scent watts through the streets from the fires protecting the families from the bitter cold of the night.
Arriving late at night to the folkloric capital of Peru, we were welcomed with a parade of dancing and music through the streets. The funny thing was that, speaking with the locals, no person seemed to know why they were dressed up and dancing. In fact, asking the question was somehow confusing to them. So I took it that this is the ‘normal’ for people of Puno. And I like it! People of all ages were wearing their traditional attire, ladies together dancing in unison, men following playing pan flutes and singing from their souls. You couldn’t help but get drawn into the merriment and find yourself dancing in the street with the 1000 strong crowd.
Next we were off to explore the far reaches of Lake Titicaca. A Lake so big that it is shared by two countries and tricks your brain into believing that you are at sea level and not some 3830m elevation. My first stop is Islas Uros, a unique floating reed island. These islands have been completely created by man using the buoyant totora reed that grow abundantly in the area. These islands are home to the Aymara-speaking indigenous people, who welcomed us into their home and showed us the time tested process of ‘island construction’. I can’t imagine what people from the tribe would have thought of the first man who decided to ‘build’ his own island. But it worked, and now these island people enjoy a peaceful tax-free existence that relies heavily on tourism.
After a quick lunch and tour of the community, we jumped a boat and headed for Isla Amantani, where I would be staying with a local family for the night. Greeted at the dock but the formidable women of the island, I was immediately entranced by the traditional nature of this community. Not only were they in traditional attire, but the island governance and behaviour supported social norms from previous era. It was lovely to be in a place where time slowed. Arora and her family welcomed me into their home and provided me with a warm bed. I learned that this island, predominantly supported by agriculture, works as a big community. Each family is rostered to provide produce to the other families when their time comes up. Working together, they survive the sometime gruelling environmental conditions that you experience at this altitude. After a celebratory dance in the community hall I fell into a deep slumber that only comes from the quite of a country setting.
Where does my road trip take me next…..well you will just have to wait and see!