This is our third trip to Peru and every time we have seen something different. The first was by ship to Lima where we explored a city rich in Spanish culture and history but modern and vibrant. We came back to see Machu Picchu, truly one of the wonders of the world and spent two weeks in Cusco surrounded with an odd mix of international tourists and indigenous people. We enjoyed both visits immensely and looked forward to coming back.
On this trip, we discovered a whole new Peru. First, riding in from the north, we encountered the endless desert that runs along the entire coast inland as far as the eye can see. Massive sand dunes have been formed over the centuries but not much else. No vegetation exists so we were surprised to find shanties dotting the landscape as we approached Lima. These turned into full blown slums spread high up the dunes and eventually became the suburbs of the capital city. Getting into Lima was a nightmare! Peruvian drivers must get their training in India because the don't give an inch and have no patience with lost tourists. We finally hired a taxi to take us to the hostel in Miraflores we had stayed in on our last visit. There we changed oil, brake pads and had our laundry done for $3.00-bonus!
Leaving Lima, we started off on what will be one of the high points of this trip. First we went to Nasca to see the famous lines carved in the desert almost two thousand years ago. Steve and RA had been before so Ross and I took the plane ride over this vast expanse to see these curious images of a monkey, spider, condor, hummingbird, 'space man', and various straight lines that look like runways.
The road from Nasca to Cusco climbs to 4500 meters and the views are almost beyond description. First, the high, barren landscape of the coast where nothing grows or lives. Then it gradually evolves into high desert with scrub and LLAMAS! Well that's what we first thought but it turns out they are vicuña, a rare relative of the llama. Soon we found herds of llama and their much cuter cousins, the alpaca with their beautiful big eyes and plump, furry bodies. All of this along the most amazing, twisty tarmac we have encountered since Columbia.
We skipped Machu Picchu because we had all been there within the last two years and instead took another fabulous road to Arequipa where we took a tour to the Colca Canyon, home of the Andean condor. This canyon is the deepest in the world and the condor is one of the largest birds in the world with a wing span of three meters! We left our hotel at 3:00AM in order to see the condors at daybreak and we did-having five sightings. One large male flew so close we could see his eyes and wing detail.
A funny thing happened on the way back. We stopped in a town square and two little girls spotted us and started dragging their alpaca over to have us take their picture, for a small sum. They appeared to be about 3 and 5 years old and were dressed in traditional garb. I got them posed with the alpaca, whose name was Maria, but it looked away as I was about to shoot so I called “Maria” and with that, the three year old hauled off and slugged Maria on the side of the head! The poor alpaca dutifully faced the camera and both girls said “cheese”. Another Kodak moment!