Casma is a small town straddling the pan American highway. The main point of interest for the tourist is that it is only 5kms away from Sechin.
After grabbing breakfast I jumped into a tuk tuk for the short drive to the entrance. Getting there just after 9am I had the place to myself.
Tucked into the side of a rocky hill was the temple complex of Sechin. It was small but the reason people come here is to see the many stone carvings along 3 sides of the temple wall. Each of them display what happens when you get caught on the losing side of the battle! I hanged around the site for a couple of hours, with beads of sweat slowing forming, under the morning sun. After that I went on a bimble into the hinterland...nice! I even managed to hit a dog right in the ribs with a stone when it wouldn’t leave me alone!
The next day was Thursday and I was on the 09:30 bus to Lima, at 10:25 the bus turned up. The journey to Lima was one of never ending sand, occasionally broken up by dusty towns hunkering down under the hot sun. I arrived in Lima just in time for rush hour and the 5 mile taxi ride to the Miraflores district cost just as much as the bus ride!
The room in the hostel I had booked was great (it had an outdoor space for fag enjoyment) and was only one block from the central park of Miraflores aka gringo central. After a chill out and a shower I went for bimble and was I in for a shock. Turns out a couple of months ago the mayor of Lima (bastard) decided to ban smoking in pubs both inside and out!!! You can't even smoke in “the beer garden” was I happy???
In the morning I updated my facebook status bemoaning that fact and then went out for a breakfast. The hostel does a free breakfast but after one sip of what they called coffee I was glad that there was a shop downstairs that served the “real thing”. Caffeined up I headed to the sea which was only about 800m away. I had forgotten that Lima had cliffs so I was pleasantly surprised.
I was in Lima for 5 nights and I hadn't planned on doing much sightseeing. I had cable, Wi-Fi and a proper Irish bar (complete with an Irish barman called Patrick) only 6 blocks away. The next day I was online and got a surprise. My old dive buddy, Philippa, was flying into Lima the next day!
Sunday morning found me walking back from the Irish bar at 4am. The last round of the MotoGP season was at 8am, I woke up in time to watch it!
At 9pm I was hanging around the park waiting for Philippa (and her friend who was also called Philippa, which was in no way confusing) to jump out of a taxi. As I was waiting I was trying to remember the last time I saw her...turns out it was way back in the spring of 2007. Once all the “hugs and kisses” were out of the way she started complaining about my attire! Safely seated in the nearby English Bar I found out why they were here. A 10 day holiday in Peru to walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.
They were flying to Cuzco on Tuesday morning, so we spent Monday sightseeing.
Tuesday morning found me on the 10am bus to Ica, 4 hours down the road. However I wasn't staying in Ica but rather in a small oasis 5km west, surrounded by sandunes several hundred feet high.
The small oasis resort of Huacachina used to be a playground for the Peruvian elite, nowadays it caters mostly for backpackers...what a shame! The hotel I decided to stay in was, like most other places, having building work done (it's the depths of the low season) but I found it only to be mildly disturbing.
The main activity here is sitting in a dune buggy whilst someone else drives you or sand boarding. Neither of those appealed to me, so I decided to do nowt instead.
Two days later I got an email from my mate Bryan. Turns out he is going to be in the north of Chile for two weeks in nine days time. As I was planning on popping into Chile for a few days (you can't extend your visa in Peru any more) before heading back into Peru and over wintering in Cuzco it kind of works out quite well. (I must remember to email him back to make sure he brings me a jar of Marmite!)
Right now its Thursday evening and on the weekend it's the Huacachina Open Sand Boarding Championship. You know what that means...yep, I’m on the bus to Nazca in the morning.
Arriving in Nazca in the middle of the afternoon I got a quiet little hostel near the main square and then gratefully crashed out till the heat of the day had been replaced by the desert cool of the evening.
The town itself I found to be enjoyable (the cold beer next to the ashtray may of helped) and as it was a Friday the night was a busy one. The next morning I went to the local museum, which may have been small but it was still really interesting. After that I went for a little bimble around the town before spending the afternoon back at the hostel, out of the heat and definitely in the shade.
Sunday morning found me at the local airport waiting for my 100 dollar 30 minute flight over the Nazca lines in a light aircraft. The plane didn't take off till 11am and the late morning turbulence made for a slightly bumpy flight.
The lines themselves are really easy to see, however the figures “walked into the sand” were a little harder to spot. It was also hard to hold the camera steady, so it was a case of putting it onto rapid shooting mode and holding the shutter button down.
Back at the hostel, looking at the pictures after processing them I was really happy with the results.
In the evening I left the hostel and got the 10pm overnight bus to Arequipa nine hours away.
Arriving in Arequipa (the 2nd largest city in Peru) I went through the usual routine and then got a taxi to my pre-booked hostel in the historic centre of the city, 1 block from the main square. As I wasn't able to check in till 11am I dumped the bags, found a coffee shop and enjoyed the fresh mountain air.
The city is known as the “white city” as all the old colonial buildings are made from the local volcanic rock, which is white. The volcano is easy to see from most places within the city...it's that close!!
Once 11am came around I checked into my room and then chilled out on the 3rd floor terrace right outside my door.
The following day (a Tuesday) I went sightseeing around the town. The main square with its big cathedral on one side and two storey colonnades on the other three sides was impressive. The “Ice Mummy” museum is one place not to miss on a visit to this city. A few blocks from the main square is the old convent. It occupies an entire block and it is like a “city within a city”. It has over 80 houses and several narrow streets, all contained behind a towering stone wall. Nowadays only about 20 nuns live here and they are no longer in permanent seclusion.
One main attraction of the area is the nearby Colca Canyon. It is over 3000m deep, which makes it deeper than the grand canyon. I was thinking about doing a 3day/2 night walking tour of the canyon until I found out that the 2nd day was spent going uphill!!
I chilled out here for a few more days but on Friday morning I got a bus to Tacna, six hours away.
The guide book said that the hotels filled up quickly in Tacna, especially on the weekends...mmm
It took me 5 hotels to find one with a spare room and then it was a huge triple (and no I didn't get a single rate) but I was only staying here for two nights. The town of Tacna is known as “the heroic city” because it used to be part of Peru, then Chile won the war and took it over but the locals didn't like that and decided for themselves that they would rather be Peruvians than Chileans. The town is rather nice, laid back and easy going.
On Sunday morning I got on a bus and crossed the nearby border and entered Chile.
I was staying in the town of Arica, 20km south of the border and once again I was revisiting a place I had been to 17 years prior. This time it had a bus station, a pedestrian street lined with shops and the only thing that was familiar was the old church but it was surrounded by a brand new plaza.
I was staying in the local “surf” hostel and the big sofas and wide screen tv in the chill-out yard got used a lot (if you don't surf there ain't much to do in Arica, the direst city on the planet) but that was what I needed.
After 3 nights I left and headed south for 5 hours, travelling across the bleak Atacama desert before arriving in the coastal town of Iquique.
The only reason I was here was to hang out with my mate Bryan (who was here on a paragliding holiday...finally he had gotten around to flying the wing he brought after learning to fly with me in Pokhara three bloody years ago!!!!)
So that's what I did.....
(Sadly a jobsworth at Heathrow Airport security decided that a jar of Marmite was just far to dangerous to allow on an aeroplane....You Bastard!!!!)