South America Part XII - Arequipa and Nazca

We had one more area that we wanted to visit prior to heading home. Arequipa, Peru had a couple of sites that we wanted to see and then there is Nazca. We had read that we could take a flight over the famous Nazca Lines at a very reasonable price and this was high on our list of “Things to do”.

We had stayed in e mail touch with our Canadian friends, Nancy and Stephen. They had covered the same territory a few days prior to our visit and gave us some valuable insight as to busses, crossing borders and hotels. Their advice often came in handy.

We reached Arequipa in mid-afternoon and were lucky to get the last available room at the hotel selected. We were within a very short walk of the Museo Santuarios Andinos and the Monastery of Santa Catalina.

In Sept, 1995 the anthropologist Dr. Johan Reinhard jointly with Dr. Antonio Chavez of the Catholic University of Arequipa discovered the frozen mummy of a young girl. The 6,380 meter altitude had sheltered the mummy for over 500 years. During the eruption of a nearby volcano the hot ash released the mummy from the icy encasement. It has been determined that the young girl, named Juanita after Dr. Johan, was sacrificed at age 12-14. The mummy was brought to the Catholic University and later on to the USA where tests were done and the girl herself was released from the mummy cloths.

The museum is one of the most outstanding we have ever visited. The tour can be taken only with a guide. After viewing a video explaining the discovery and the cultural background surrounding the sacrifice, you are allowed to view all the artifacts found at the sight and to see Juanita and one other mummy found in nearly perfect condition. We realize that it all sounds gruesome to many of you. The tasteful and respectful manner in which it is all presented releases one from those creepy feelings and it ends up being a really awesome experience. I guess you will just have to trust us on that one!

The Monastery of Santa Catalina takes up an entire block…20,000 square meters, almost a city within a city. The monastery was built in 1580 by a rich widow who only accepted novitiates from the richest Spanish families. All the nuns had to pay a dowry. Usually nuns were forced to accept a vow of poverty. These nuns brought black servants with them and had parties and concerts within the walls as they were growing up.

This lasted until 1871 when a very strict Dominican nun arrived to clean things up freeing all the servants and slaves. In 1970 the government of Arequipa forced the monastery to install electricity and running water to bring it up to code. At this point the nuns were too poor to continue running the convent on their own. The remaining nuns retired to one corner of the monastery and the rest was opened to the public. They have a web page – doesn’t everyone now? –

Two of the photos are taken in the convent which is a photographers haven. We continued on to Nazca after one full day in Arequipa. Nancy and Spephen had warned us about the arrival in Nazca, that there would be more than the usual number of hawkers and pushers to get your business at the hotels and the flights over the lines.

We wanted to arrive before dark and could find only one bus that would “promise” to do so. The bus line was so awful and we were late anyway. Arriving after dark was accentuated by the fact that the electricity in the town was out. Now that is really dark! We knew which hotel we wanted to stay in so it was a matter of luck to find the fellow who was hawking that hotel.

The Nazca culture developed with the disintegration of the Paracas culture in 200 AD and flourished from 200-800 AD. In the first years of the 1900’s many pieces of pottery were discovered by the Huaqueros initiating the interest in the culture. The lines are another story altogether – perhaps one should say, mystery. Maria Reiche, German mathematician, lived in Nazca for years and studied the lines. They are thought to have been made by the Paracas and Nazca peoples from 900 BC to 600 AD. They are huge animal and geometric forms shaped in the desert by removing the darker sun-baked stones from the surface of the desert and piling them up on either side of the lines exposing the lighter gypsum laden soil. The lines can only be seen properly from above. There is a 180 meter long lizard, a 90 meter long monkey with an extravagantly curled tail and a condor with a 130 meter wingspan. There is also a huge hummingbird. Part of the mystery is why a desert culture would worship animals found in the jungle. Current theories favor the forces played by the shaman in the early cultures and the relationship of the shaman of the desert culture with that of the jungle cultures on the other side of the Andes Mountains. Besides the “why” of the mystery, a lot of time and guesses have been entertained to figure out the “how” in the mystery. The figures are extremely well formed in their likenesses. The geometric lines run as true as if a ruler were used for miles on end.

We tried to take some photos from the air and found it impossible. The ride in the Cessna 172 was a good one although a bit wild. The pilot flies the route every day of the week for 20 days out of the month. It was a bit disconcerting, at first. As he put the plane into a steep bank to the left around the first figure, he was turning in his seat to ask us if we had a clear view. Then he entered a steep bank to the right back around the same figure.

We were delighted with our last stop on our trip. How nice to have something so exciting to see at the end of seven weeks of traveling!

We were definitely ready to end the weeks of traveling as we headed home on non-stop busses. With a little added expense we took the international bus across the border from Peru to Ecuador. The town of Aguas Calientes was just across the border into Ecuador. The last photo of the street that the bus had to travel was taken from the upper window of the bus. You can bet that that part of the trip was a slow one. At one point the bus had to pass a truck going the opposite way on that street…quite unbelievable.

We actually met up with Stephen and Nancy in Guayaquil and traveled with them again on the last leg of the trip. You can imagine that we had a lot to share about our separate parts of the trip. Satori was safe and sound when we got back. Since then we have been readying her for the trip south to La Libertad, Ecuador where we will haul out and work on bottom paint.

We will be hauled for one month and will have plenty of work to keep us busy that whole time. After deserting her for four months this year, we think it is time to give her some TLC.