Ballestas Islands, Pisco Tasting and Sandboarding

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From Lima we jumped on a bus and headed south for about five hours to Pisco (the drink is named after the town because it is made nearby) and then another bus to Paracas (a quiet fishing town).

Along the way I was astonished by the landscapes, huge mountains of rock right next to the ocean and then vast stretches of sand.

Many of these coastal towns in this area were badly damaged during the 2007 earthquake and still appear to be recovering.

In the morning we went on a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas. The islands are nicknamed ‘the poor mans Galapagos’ but were amazing nonetheless. On the way out we saw a giant candelabra which has been etched into the sands above the rocky coastline and then about a bazillion birds including penguins. But my favorite was definitely the sea lions.

It was pretty freezing on the boat but once we got back to land the sun came out. All the English guys on the tour are hoping to get some nice tans so they were pretty happy.

After a short bus trip we arrived at a Pisco vineyard where we were shown how they make the drink and then were able to taste. Pisco is 46% alcohol which is stronger than Tequila so after sampling several different varieties we were all pretty happy and ended up buying quite a few bottles to take with us.

The next stop was an oasis in the middle of the desert called Huacachina. It is surrounded by mountainous sand dunes and has a beautiful lagoon and palm trees in the middle making it an absolutely spectacular sight.

We were able to go for a sand buggy ride in the dunes near the oasis which was exhilarating. It was like being on a rollercoaster because as you came up the dune all you could see was the horizon and you had no idea how steep they were on the other side. We were all screaming but none were louder than Rod, our group leader. After cruising around for a while we got out to take a few photos of the valley and the surrounding mountains which were absolutely spectacular, it took my breath away.

And then the fun really began. We pulled up on top of a huge sand dune and out came the boards. We were told to lay down on the board with your elbows tucked in and legs apart and the buggy driver would give you a push and off you went flying down the dune. It was pretty scary as the dune was very tall and quite steep. I let out a scream but copped a mouthful of sand so I learnt quickly to keep my mouth shut.

Once the whole group had come down the buggy driver would drive around and pick us up so we didn’t have to walk back up the dunes. Thank god!

A couple of the boys were adventurous and attempted to stand up on the boards, but it didn’t end well when one of them stacked it and took a tumble, ending up with a concussion.

Will was not badly hurt and had to get over it pretty quickly because we had planned to celebrate his birthday that night, as the following night, his actual birthday, we were taking an overnight bus.

And celebrate we did! We finished off most of the bottles of Pisco we bought that day and everyone was having a fantastic time (although soon everyone was dreading when it was their turn to take a shot of the Pisco!)

Rod was enjoying himself very much, telling us crazy stories about his travels, often sharing a little more information than we were looking for – earning him the nickname of Notorious R.O.D. and also earning him a quick dip in the hotel pool, courtesy of the group carrying him, kicking and screaming, and dropping him in to cool off. But the stress of the night was a little too much for Notorious R.O.D and he decided to pay us back by projectile vomiting all over one of the group members. It was off to bed for Rod after that!

It had been a day and a night to remember! As I went to bed I was just a little worried about how the flight over the Nazca lines would go tomorrow…

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Exploring Lima

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I spent today exploring Lima, the capital of Peru. After grabbing some breakfast at the hotel, I was thinking ‘what the hell am I going to do today, and how the hell am I going to find my way back once I leave?!’. But, the nice man at reception asked me if I’d be interested in doing a city tour, which I thought would be the perfect way to learn about Lima.

So off I went and jumped on the bus and we headed to downtown Lima or El Centro which is the historical part of Lima. First we visited the Museo de la Nacion where we saw artefacts from many of the pre-Incan civilisations. Very interesting!

Next we went to the Plaza de Armas which used to be the centre of the Inca city however when Francisco Pizarro foundered Lima in 1535 he built a cathedral on top of the Incan temple and his own house on top of the Inca leaders house. However his house has now been become the Government palace. In the centre of the Plaza there still remains an Incan bronze statue which was erected in 1650. Unfortunately we just missed the celebration of Pisco which took place on the 27th July – on this day the fountain does not run with water but with Pisco and everyone is allowed one drink from the fountain. That would be a happy day indeed!

Many of the buildings have been damaged by earthquakes however some of the original facade still remains and is very spectacular.

We then went onto the St Francis Monastery where Franciscan friars live. The church is one of the best preserved buildings in Lima and underground there are catacombs filled with the bodies of the 70,000 people who paid to be buried with the friars. It was a bit unnerving to see all the bones piled up in the crypts but extremely interesting. The monastery was full of beautiful paintings depicting the life of St Francis, alters where the friars prayed and a gold plated room where the friars kept their robes and jewels.

Afterwards we were able to be dropped off anywhere we chose so a group of us decided to get dropped off at Larcomar, a modern shopping/entertainment complex which is located on a cliff overlooking the sea. The view was spectacular, even though it was quite misty so it wasn’t very clear.

Lima’s food is meant to be among the best on the continent, so we decided to eat at a buffet restaurant called Mangoes so we could sample a bit of everything. The specialty of Lima is Ceviche, which is raw fish marinated in lime juice with onions and other spices. I don’t usually eat fish, but thought I’d better give it a go (when in Rome! ) and it actually wasn’t too bad. I also got a bit of everything else to try, and half the time I didn’t really know what I was eating, but it was delicious! And of course, I left enough room to get dessert which was also divine – cheesecake, lemon tart, chocolate moose and, my favourite, a chocolate fountain with strawberries. We all had a Pisco Sour which was so strong we all felt a bit tipsy after one!

Back at the hotel, the group who were going on the Gap Adventure tour met up and got to know each other and our group leader, Rod, and then headed off to dinner for more delicious food and drinks.

The next day we had free time in the morning so a few of us decided to head to Huaca Pucllana (‘sacred place for games’) the site of a 1,600 year old pyramid. The pyramid is partly in ruins however they began a restoration program 25 years ago. The pyramid is unlike Egyptian pyramids, it is solid and has flat platforms at different levels where they performed rituals including human sacrifices. We were shown how they hand made the bricks and learned that they developed a system of building the pyramid with gaps between the bricks so that they were earthquake resistant. Amazing that 1600 years ago they knew how to do this!

So, all up I found Lima a very interesting place, particularly the history of the place, and it was great to meet the tour group, I think we’re all going to have a fantastic time.

A few things that I learned were:
– Lima is one of the world’s largest 30 cities and is the 5th largest South American country
– It almost never rains in Lima, they get 5 inchs of rain all year, however it is constantly overcast and always feels like it’s about to rain. It doesn’t get very cold, generally the coldest days in winter have temperatures of 12-14 degrees.
– Peru’s coastline is desert which makes up 10% of the countries land mass, 30% is highlands and mountain areas and 60% is jungle.

The Journey

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I have now arrived in Lima, Peru after a 3 hour flight a 13 hour flight and then another 4 hour flight (Auckland, Santiago and Lima) – and trust me, I have never been so desperate for a shower in my life! The flights were all fine, no dramas at all, but it´s just so long – my whole body is aching. This was the first time I´d flown by myself, without someones hand to hold onto when you take off and land. Apparently I wasn´t the only one who was a bit nervous though, this fella walked up and down the terminal in Auckland praying before the flight, then he was on the flight to Lima too, so I had God on my side I suppose.

Even though I´ve barely seen anything of the country, apart from what I could see from the window of the plane and the bus to the hotel, I´m already amazed by how different eveything looks. The landscapes are completely different. It´s quite barren and very rocky and the mountains outside of Santiago were just huge – like nothing I´ve seen before.

Tonight I´m stayling at the Hotel Britania in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima. Tomorrow I´m going to do a bit of exploring around Lima before meeting up with the tour group tomorrow evening, and then the fun begins!

Hasta luega!

Itinerary

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Three months seems like a long time, but in a place like South America where there is so much to see and do, I think that three months will fly by. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to attempt seeing the entire continent but rather visit a few countries and do them justice.

As I said in my last post, I am flying in to Lima, Peru on the 1st of August and I join my Gap Adventures tour the next day. The tour lasts 21 days and ends in La Paz in Bolivia. I am hoping that I will meet some lovely people on the tour who are continuing their travels through South America that I might be able to travel with.

I’d like to stay a few days in La Paz, I’ve been told the people are very friendly and the markets are a must see. From there, I’d like to head south to see the salt flats in the south of Bolivia and then down through Chile to Santiago. I’m very keen to do a trip to Easter Island from Santiago but I want to try and find a good value tour to go on as it seems very expensive. From Santiago, I think I will travel further south (depending on how cold it is) to the Patagonian lakes district and then across the Andes to Bariloche in Argentina.

Once in Argentina, I am planning to head to Mendoza, the wine area of Argentina and the home of delicious Malbec. I’ve never been a huge fan of red wine but after being persuaded by my friend Helina to try some, I have fallen in love and now I can’t wait to spend some time among the vineyards indulging in some of the finest vino Argentina has to offer.

If Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina then apparently Buenos Aires is the beef capital and anyone that knows me, knows that I love a good steak. So next on the list is the cosmopolitan city of BA. Buenos Aires is also the home of Tango and after doing one Tango class previously I cannot wait to learn more about this very steamy dance.

From Buenos Aires I want to head to the famous Iguazu Falls which sits on the border of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Iguazu Falls are meant to be some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and I’ve been told that you have to see them from the Argentinia side as well as the Brazilian side.

From there, I’m thinking that I might spend some time on the southern beaches of Brazil and hopefully soak up some sun, before heading north to Sao Paulo and then lastly to Rio De Janeiro which is where I will fly out from on the 1st November.

Of course, this isn’t set in stone and there will be many other places visited in between. I’m very interested in hearing suggestions from anyone so please let me know if you think there is a place that I must visit.

Well until next time, adios!

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