Riding the Panamerican highway from Pisco to Arequipa

Well in order to start my journey along a very small portion of the Panamerican highway, I had to actually get to it. So I opted for the more comfortable and luxuries Cruz del Sur bus company, seeing as it was a 16 hour overnight trip. I was lucky enough to get the last cama seat. Which means lower level, fully reclining and much larger than the ones on the top level. I didn’t realize how thankful I’d be for this as the Peruvian gentleman you gave me his window seat until we started driving the insanely winding roads.

These buses are supposed to equipped with wi-fi, but it wasn’t working which was fine because I just needed to lie down, relax and watch the American films that were showing and it my lomo saltado (beef and rice). After the last movie though and because of the tea I had to go the washroom. Not sure if I picked the worst part of the road or if any part would be bad, but I had to actually lean my head against the door to steady myself. Luckily not peeing all over myself, it than to took my, what felt like ages to get the darn door open.

I got back to my seat just in time for BINGO. They love BINGO in Peru. Anyway, me and my seat mate didn’t win a free trip with Cruz del Sur but we certainly the most animated pair, gasping and ohhhing at every number. Hilarious. By the way this ride started at 2p.m. it was now 10p.m. and time for lights out.

Woken up by the…hmmm, do you still call them stewardesses if it’s on a bus, that acts like a plane. Anyway, at 6:35a.m. the bus stopped and I was ushered off with my cellophane wrapped breakfast in my hand.

Luckily there was a bus to Paracas at 10a.m. so not that long of a wait. I ate my breakfast and left my bags in the bus station and took a stroll around. I can see why people don’t stay hear and opt for Paracas and/or Huacachina. It was great that I got a couple of hours here, as it allowed me to know that on my way back down the coast I head straight to Huacachina.

Saw a church, the Plaza de Armas and had some manjar (dulce de leche) cake and was back on the bus. Happy to be heading to the beach.

Getting into Paracas was super easy. The bus station is right at one end of the beach and they now I have a hotel right there. Which, usually you think would be a scam, but in Peru during off season they always have good deals. You usually don’t even have to ask for a discuito, discount. So for s/25 I took a room with private bath, direct tv. And booked the Ballestas Islands and Park/Dessert tour each for s/35, for the next day, giving me this afternoon to check out this beach town.

The main strip is only about 5 minutes long. Consisting of a dozen fish joints and a half dozen ladies selling the best chocolates I’ve had since India. Although, I wasn’t hungry one of the ladies gave me a chocolate, with the obvious intention that I would buy later. Which of course I did. After walking along the entire length of the beach took 1.5-2 hours I had to bite into the sweetness. It was like a homemade turtle, complete with soft caramel, pecans, all covered in dark chocolate. Hmmmm….sorry. I was having a moment. Okay, moving on the walk along the beach took me through residential and luxury beach front suites. Like the Hilton and Paracas hotels, equipped with private haciendas, beautiful, glassy pools and fountains, volleyball nets and kayaks. Unfortunately, it was almost totally empty. If tumbleweeds could be found here I would have seen them. Instead, just some algae on the edge of the beach, a dead jelly fish and pelican. As I walked further I could see the kite surfers. The only really reason to stay here for more than a day, if you aren’t in one of the luxury haciendas, of course.

I had thought I would take a kite-surfing course while in Paracas, but now standing here and watching them I wasn’t so sure. The wind was so strong and those practicing certainly did not make it look easy. Especially when a little motorboat came in carrying two kite-surfers they had gone down in the deeper water and their kites were deflated. Yup! Not for me. At least not this trip. The Toronto, dude that has been living there for 8 months and teaching kite-surfing also admitted that the winds lately have been too strong for the sport. Maybe next trip.

Well, back to the strip for some fabulous ceviche and fried fish. Then an evening in Pisco, for what else? Pisco. Had to happen. However, I’m sorry to agree with all the travel books. Pisco is not a place you want to hang out. Very grungy and still getting over the last earthquake.

Ballestas Islands the next day were great. Got into the motor boat and crossed over to the Islands which is really engages all your senses except touch. The sight of the passionate waves crashing against the rocks, along with the sea lions, pelicans, penguins and other birds, the roaring sound of the sea lions is deafening even over the crashing waves, and the smell. They don’t call it guano island for nothing. It is just this over powering sweet and sour smell wafting the air and not in a good way, like chinese chicken balls. The Islands also houses the Trident, which is a large symbol in the sand. Know one knows when this was created or why. I can explain though the reason why it doesn’t get covered is because the sand and dust is covered with iron oxide and natural property of the island that protects the surface form the wind. Personally I just think it was just a couple of pre-MTV kids that had nothing better to do at the time then play in the sand.

After a brief break I headed on my tour of the Park, which is part of the Atacama dessert of Chile. What is most interesting here is…nothing. Yeah, nothing. Absolutely nothing lives there,, no plants, no bugs, no flies, nada. It is made mostly of salt, as it was part of the ocean years ago. What I found most impressive was the dry and nothingness of the dessert adjacent to the pacific ocean and all it’s wildlife. The dichotomy just fascinates me, along with the breathtaking views.

As great as this town is, if I’m not staying in a luxury hacienda or taking kite-surfing it is time to move on. So off to Huacachina, via Ica it was. By a Cruz del Sur bus (s/20) and taxi to Huacachina (s/6). I didn’t have a hostel yet, but my cabby was very knowledge and showed me a couple and settled with a new one with a great pool. He also set me up on a wine and Pisco tour that was starting right away. So at 9:30a.m. I was dropped off in a what could be most closely described as a Wal-mart parking lot to meet the wine/pisco tour driver and another tourist, Oliver and German guy. We were a great pair, both liking the same drinks. Plus I hate to drink alone. By 10:30a.m. I was singing with taxi driver on our way to the next winery. They give you way more wine and pisco then they do on Niagara-On-The-Lake wine tours. Surprising the wines with pretty good, especially dry, sparkling ones at Tacama. The second winery actually had great creamy Pisco. Which is Pisco, mixed with milk and figs. The last place didn’t have the best wine but did have the most character. Using all the old style wine and pisco holders known as pecha or birds peaks in Quechua, and serving them using a long bamboo stick with a slit in the middle. Oliver bought a bottle of Ica Love wine, which a name of at least one wine at every winery. Then we dropped him off at Soyuz Peru bus for his trip to Nazca. This bus company isn’t as good as Cruz del Sur, but for a 2 hour trip you don’t need luxury and the price is half. I headed back to hotel to eat so I wouldn’t feel so drunk and then walked the town, which took about 10 minutes to actually walk. But 2 hours to sit with a jewellery seller and watch him make little metal flowers for me and teach me how to make bracelets. As the sun began to set I picked myself up, thanked the jewellery seller promising to see him at 10p.m. Not! I know how these Peruvian men work, but that’s another blog post. Off to the pool and then get ready for some sand-boarding. Renting a sand board for only s/5 I headed up the sand dune, along with the sand board renter that offered to escort me. Ha! The climb up was way more brutal than I expected it to be. This is probably why people go up in dune buggies. The view was well worth it though. As for my sand boarding abilities…I had sand everywhere. I mean everywhere. I got back to my hotel, looked in the mirror and just have to laugh. Due to my sunscreen the sand just was caked all over my face. I must have looked hilarious walking through town. After a little late night swim I was beat.

Nazca the next stop on the Panamerica, was a quick ride. Not having set-up the Nazca lines and cemetery tombs up yet I figured I would just let the tourist touts fight for me when I arrived in the bus station, and that is what they did. I don’t agree with the travel books that say ignore them. Sometimes coming unprepared and them haggle for you gets you a great deal. So I settled on a good deal to fly over the Nazca lines and after see the cemeteries and explaining of mining and ceramics in Peru. I just had to wait for the others coming on the other bus. Funny thing, the three guys that I was waiting for were with me in Paracas and Huacachina. I was running with one of the them along the beach in Paracas. Small strip of the highway. I guess you either go one way or the other.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get up in the plane. The planes only hold 2 people, plus pilots. Two of the guys went first while I watched an American special on the Nazca lines. By the time the guys got back the wind was too strong to go up. Add to that one of the guys looked ghostly white and suffered serious motion sickness, I opted not to go up, get my money back and head off on the rest of the ground tour. So we headed on the tour of the cemeteries in a very small car that barely could carry us let along our heavy packs. We had to drop the packs off and even then we did some side of the road car repairs.

Seeing the cemeteries are well worth the trip to Nazca, with 3 original graves and random bones all over is quite the sight. As well the ceramic making was interesting. They don’t use a pottery wheel, instead forming everything by hand. The polishing of the pottery is done using a black rock, which is rubbed on the artists face to get the facial oils and then rub it against the pottery. Now that is a way to get the oil out of my t-zone.

I had a bit of obsession with checking out Puerto Inca (Inca Port), and seeing as it was late already I opted to stay the night in Nazca. Starting off early the next day the only way to get to Puerto Inca is go with collectivos. So I jumped into a mini-van headed to Chala, but with the agreement that I would be dropped off at the road to Puerto Inca. Unfortunately, when we got there the driver forgot, having to do a u-turn on the highway. Luckily it is not nearly as crowded at the 401 in Toronto. I jumped off at 610km and as the wind blew fiercely I watched the collectivo drive off leaving me to walk with my over stuffed packs the 1.8km to Puerto Inca. This was the longest 1.8km I’ve ever walked, but well worth. Puerto Inca truly is a paradise, the ruins, the mountains, the animals, the ocean, the sand and a hammock and the only one there, besides the hotel staff. The Puerto Inca Hotel is the only thing on this little oasis and at the moment I was the only tourist. I spent a glorious, traquil 2 hours here debating the idea of staying over night, when a huge tourist bus drove up unloading 30+ loud, geriatric french tourists. Who were great for getting to take my picture relaxing on a hammock but made my decision to move on easy. So off to Chala in hopes of bus for the last leg of my Panamerica highway trip to Arequipa. Sadly, the earliest one was at 4:30p.m. which meant I’d get into Arequipa at the earliest 11p.m. What can you do. Onwards!

I would highly deter anyone travelling in Peru to avoid the Caminoes del Inca bus, if you can. This bus is severely weathered with broken arm rests and chairs making both fall backwards onto the knees of the person behind. Frequent stops for cheap cheese and yogurt. Not to mention the random ID check for criminals or illegals. Why would be illegal in Peru, couldn’t tell you. All of which I could live with, as well as the large man beside me that kept wanting to chat and listen to Nirvana on his mp3 player. But the worst part of this bus I only realized after I got off at 1a.m., not 11p.m., were the numerous flea bites. Nevertheless, I was in Arequipa and my small portion of the Panamerican highway adventure was now over.

Sleep, sweet, sleep.

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