Desert beaches, desert dunes, desert lines, desert ruins, desert mummies
Out of Lima, back into the desert for a long long drive. I end up on the Paracas peninsula, a rocky desert blob surrounded by nice ocean. For it being a desert it has a surprising amount of bird life going on. I camp on a cliff next to the beach. The views are great but it’s quite windy and cold. I had planned to meet up with Nicolas here so we could do a supposedly slightly tricky shortcut drive to Ica tomorrow together. But with the big goodbyes from my new Dutch friends in Lima I had forgotten that my phone wouldn’t work in Paracas and of course we hadn’t discussed a meeting spot. So no meetup today.
The next morning I want to go to the toilet of this “campsite” but all the doors are locked. I ask the park ranger if I can use the toilet but he says I can’t because there is no water because were in the desert. I look slightly confused at the guy. We might be in the desert but we’re also on a beach. So I suggest I get a bucket of water from the ocean. But no that’s not an option. After some discussion he let’s me use the toilet in the ranger station which does have water. As long as I don’t tell anyone else. Sure…. I drive further down the peninsula for some great views, bird spotting and maybe I’ll find Nicolas. But nope, so I decide to have a look at the road myself. I start driving down the dirt road towards the Gran Laguna. The road goes through sandy hills, rocky formations and in between all the gray and brown I spot some bright pink flamingos. They look very much out of place here. At the Gran Laguna I need to take a steep turn, but the road looks really bad and in the distance I see it change into just two wheel tracks in some steep sandy dunes. Nope, nope, nope, nope. I’m not driving that. Not even with someone with 4WD to pull me out. So back I go to the main entrance and the boring paved road to Ica. On the way up I see Nicolas and two other overland vehicles. They’re going to try the road (Nicolas tells me later that the road was terrible, even with his 4WD it was hard to get through, no way I would have made it. So good call). I head to Ica and from there to the close by Huacachina. A little oasis surrounded by a few hundred meter high sand dunes. It’s really touristy here and quite noisy with all tourists going on sand buggy tours through the dunes. All camping options are ridiculously expensive: almost 14 euros to park in the parking lot of a hotel, the most expensive campsite outside of the US/Canada (to be fair, the price is per car, not per person and they do have power, really fast internet and a great kitchen and swimming pool). My excuse to go for the expensive campsite: it’s my mom’s 60th birthday today so I need good WiFi to make a video call home. After making good use of the WiFi I decide to climb one of the dunes for a nice sunset view. This climb is another good example of how I’m terrible at choosing what other people do. I often end up at campsites by myself and when I later talk to other people they were just around the corner with a whole bunch cars at the other campsite. Here there were two dunes you could climb, one on either side of the oasis. They both are equally tall, similar hike up and similar views. I was early so both dunes were empty. I hike up one of them (not that easy to go up 200m on very steep sand dunes) and enjoy the view. When the sun finally starts setting there are some 30 people on the other dune and I’m all by myself. Typical… But it does give some nice pictures.
If I say “Nazca”, you obviously say “Lines”. I was warned beforehand by many people about the anticlimax of this famous site, but it is on the way so no reason not to stop. The lines were made by the Nazca people by moving top soil and rock away showing a lighter colored soil underneath. Because it barely ever rains in Nazca (it’s a desert), the lines are still visible after hundreds of years. Actually before you get to the Nazca Lines you get to the Palpa lines. Similar lines made in the desert but closer to the town of Palpa. One difference is that some of the Palpa lines are made on the side of hills so they are easier to see. There’s a little viewing tower on the side of the Panamerican highway you can climb to get a better view of the Palpa lines. At this spot the lines show multiple human figures but there is quite some damage to the lines so the rusty wobbly viewing tower was actually more interesting than the lines. The next viewing tower was at the Nazca lines which are on the flat ground and not really visible from the ground. From the tower you can see two large figures and some very straight lines going on for hundreds of meters. From the viewing tower it is also clear that the Panamerican highway crosses straight through some of the figures. A last stop was at a rocky hill in the middle of the flats. From the top you could see multiple ridiculously straight lines going for hundreds of meters all pointing at this rock. Pretty cool. That night I camp at a parking lot in Nazca together with Nicolas who made it here to for a joined dinner.
There are some other interesting sites near Nazca that I want to have a look at. The first one is the ruined city of Cahuachi. It’s at the end of a 18km long very bad dirt road but it is described as a desert Macchu Picchu without any tourists. After a 45 min drive over these 18 kilometers of washboards and shitty bridges where I wasn’t sure if it would carry my van’s weight I made it to the city. Well, they were right about the no tourists, the Macchu Pichu part is quite a bit of a stretch. It’s just another adobe desert city. I think I’ve seen enough of those. Luckily the second site I visit is way more interesting. The Chauchilla cemetery is a pre-Incan site with loads and loads of mummies. All mummies are placed in the graves where they were found, because it’s so dry here they don’t rot away. After some quality mummy time I start putting a dent into the two full day drive from Nazca to Arequipa with nothing to see on the way but desert mountains and desert beach. This night I make it to Puerto Inca. This is a site where in Inca times fish was caught here and freshly transported by runners to the capital Cusco which is hundreds of kilometers away in the mountains. There is not much to see anymore but it is a nice beach campsite. My last night on the beach for the next four months or so. The next time will be after Santiago de Chile.
More desert driving. The first 200km follows the coast and there aren’t more than a few villages on the way. After my last beach lunch it’s time to take a left and head into the mountains. And mountains I get: after 20km I’m already at 1000m. From there I can see some huge snowy mountains in the distance. This will be the view for the next 150 kilometers all the way to Arquipa. In Arequipa there is another hotel parking lot, but it ‘s really central and there are six other cars, loads of new friends!