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4th July 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 1 - Denver to Lima

I've never been to South America before, so when a last minute opportunity arose to join some friends for a trip in Peru I jumped at the chance.

Not being able to trek the Inca Trail because of permit issues (basically being too late), my goal was to meet the group at Machu Picchu on the morning they finished the hike.

I left home at 4AM to catch an early morning flight via American Airlines to Miami, followed by a 4 hour stop over for the next flight.

I've been to MIA before, but never transited - never again! Upon arrival you have no idea where to go! The departure boards only show the flights for that terminal, and there is nothing to suggest which terminal to go to for which airline. I started to walk in the general direction of the majority of the terminals - I had arrived at terminal A. After a 25 minute walk to terminal F, I was pleased to discover that this was actually the terminal I needed.

The airport is old, in desperate need of upgrading (which they seem to be doing pretty slowly) and needs a better was to transit the terminals apart for a 25 minute walk. No moving walkways, no buses, no train - sucks.

While waiting at the gate my flight to Lima was due to depart from, the previous aircraft that was still on stand went u/s and so our gate was changed - I remember thinking that it was lucky I wasn't on that AA aircraft.

Time finally came to board out aircraft - after everyone sat down and buckled up, the pilot announced that we would be delaying because of a brake issue - crap!

2 Hours later, we were finally ready to depart.

I arrived at Lima at 23:30 (due at 21:30) snagged a taxi and rode down to Angie and Steve's apartment in the suburb of Miraflores.

Now that was a crap day of traveling - next time I'll try to transit via Houston - or basically anywhere but Miami!
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5th July 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 2 - Lima to Cusco

Another taxi back to Lima airport for my next flight to Cusco - LAN are a very nice airline with new Airbus aircraft and pleasant service with plenty of room, This was a stark contrast to the old dirty American Airlines aircraft and old faded cabin crew.

I was definitely on an upward spiral!

On departure we taxied alongside the Peruvian Air Force and Army ramps. Not too many aircraft looked in service, many were obviously stored or just abandoned - An-32, An-26, DC-8, C-130 and Mil helicopters scattered all over the place.

The approach to Cusco is great - sweeping down alongside the valleys in a spiral to reach the airport, you get a great overall view of the area.

On arrival at Cusco airport we parked close to an Air Force An-32, but I was unable to safely take any photos - wasn't keen of having a gun in my back.

Another taxi to my pre-booked room at the Hostel Corihuasi - this would be the same place the whole group would be staying at later in the week. It was a nice basic hotel away from the noise of the main square below.

It was here that I was to have my fist taste of mate de coca (coca tea) - simply coca leaves put in hot water - a very refreshing drink - shame you ca't get it here back home!

views of Cusco

Next I needed to buy my train ticket to Aguas Calientes which is the nearest town to Machu Picchu. So it was another hair raising taxi journey to the main train station of Wanchac where their central reservations agents are based. I secured a train for the next morning at 6AM.

I now had a bit of time to spare, so I decided to visit the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman just outside of the town.

The ruins here are very large and imposing with some single stones weighing hundreds of tones. Unfortunately many of the stones and towers were carted away for the building of the modern Cusco by the Spanish, so the huge building project here is somewhat diminished. In fact there is now only 20% of it left!

I decided to walk back to town as it was all downhill to take in the sights.

Next up was dinner. I found a small restaurant just off the main square and decided on one of the typical Peruvian dishes. Now I can't remember what it was called, but was a kind of round ham, surrounded by bacon and filled with a mushroom type sauce.

It's really cold here at night too - in fact it was colder in the hotel than outside!
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6th July 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 3 - Cusco to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

Another early start and I needed to be at Quillabamba railway station by 05:30.

The trains are state run, and you can tell, as there more staff than you can shake a stick at, but all very efficient. I booked the Vistadome and there were 6 carriages, with 3 staff for each carriage. You are assigned a carriage letter and a seat, so no scrum to get the best seat.

I was lucky as no one sitting next to me for most of the journey. Hurrah!

Just before we left we were informed that there was a porter strike and we would have an armed police escort the whole way. Also if they encountered any trouble, we would simply return to Cusco. (Luckily there was nothing to worry about.)

At least 45 minutes of the 4 hour ride is taken up just getting out of Cusco. As the city is in a valley, the railway track needs to ascend via 5 steep switchbacks in the line. However, instead of the traditional looping switchbacks, they have built the line using the minimum space using line changes at 30 degree angles, locally called El Zig-Zag - this requires the brake man to jump off the train at regular intervals to change the points, so the train can them reverse up the next section of track, until it reaches the next switchback, and the whole episode is repeated again. This line is a narrow gauge line, while the lines on all the other routes are standard gauge.

Zigzagging up through Cusco we were exposed to the poorest parts of the city, which looked very sad – dusty soil roads, half built buildings and stray dogs sleeping everywhere.

views from train out of Cusco

Then it was onward bound to the town of Aguas Calientes.

1st stop is at Poroy, and after this the train then descends from the highest point in the journey into the Sacred Valley, traveling along the Urubamba River for the rest of the trip.

The other stop is at Ollantayambo where the local people are out in force to sell clothing and food.

On arrival at Aguas Calientes I walked to the El Presidente Hotel where I checked in. The town is literally built around the railway line, with shops, restaurants and hotels on what would be the platforms.

My room was small, but clean and quiet. I had a room facing the river that runs behind the hotel, so the only noise I heard was the rushing water.

Next I took a trip to the main square to purchase my ticket to enter Machu Picchu - one for today and one for the next day. Then off to the bus station to purchase a ticket to ascend the hill in one of the constant stream of buses. There is no schedule, they just leave when they are full up.

It's about a 20-25 minute ride from the deep valley floor to the entrance to Machu Picchu around what seems like a hundred switchbacks.

Nothing can really prepare you for the sight of the ruins. After a long steep climb up hundreds of steps with no view, you are suddenly thrust upon the classic National Geographic view of the whole site spread out in front of you. To me, it was bigger and more complete than I had expected.

It's amazing to me that this site wasn't really discovered until 1911.

photos from Machu Picchu

I also decided to take the 30 minute hike to the Inca Drawbridge. This is a narrow cliff-hanging trail that is in the sun and hilly for the 1st 10 minutes, ending in a relatively flat and shady walk to the bridge itself. It's amazing that all these steps were built against such steep cliffs and the bridge was built in such an inaccessible place.

I was going to stay until sunset, but as I was feeling so hot and tired, (I'd already been whistled at by one of the guards for sitting down on the grass), I decided to take an early trip back down on one of the buses.

It gets dark here very quickly and early, as the town is situated in a very deep and narrow valley, surrounded by very high mountains.

I was back in my room by 18:30, went to bed and didn't wake up until 04:00 the next morning!
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26th July 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 4, July 7th - Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes to Cusco

Again up at the crack of sparrows fart to catch one of the 1st buses up the hill to Machu Picchu. The 1st bus leaves at 05:30, but there are plenty and it seems that everyone staying in the town is trying to get up top early. People and buses everywhere and most people were in groups, so I was escorted to one of the buses at the front to take the last seat and off we went.

The idea today was to meet up with my group that would be hiking off the Inca Trail this morning. (Angie, Vanessa, Steve, Dre, Ali, John and Matt with their guide Bobby).

I'd got some duff information regarding the sunrise time. I was led to believe it was around 06:00, but was in fact 07:15, so I just scoped out a good vantage point to watch the sunrise and sat and waited.

Around 06:45 I looked up just above where I was sitting and saw the group arrive and actually I saw Dre's mental hat first!

We all thought it would be hard to meet up here, but in fact it turned out really easy.

They all went down to the main gate to check in all their backpacks, while I sat and waited for the sunrise.

At first the sun just touched the far peaks, before creeping to the top of Huayna Picchu and then slowly unveiling the site itself.

I joined the group with their guide for a guided tour of the ruins. Bobby was a very informative guide with a great sense of humour, and I would imagine that he was a joy to travel with on the Inca Trail.

Along the way we bumped into a vizcacha which looks like a cross between a rabbit and a large squirrel - it's a member of the chinchilla family.

Also in the following sideshow, you can see some of the rocks that have been carved to the same shape as the adjoining mountains.

views of Machu Picchu

As lunchtime arrived, we decide to travel down to Aguas Calientes for food.

After the 2nd hairpin turn down, one of the local kids ran the whole way down the mountain via the steps, beating the bus at each point and waving madly to us. He was probably around 11 years old and to cap it all was only wearing sandals!

At the bottom the driver stopped to let him on and he walked down the bus looking for the obligatory tip. He them stood at the front and did a manic wave elongating every word - gggggoooooooodddddddd bbbbbbbbyyyyyyyeeeeee etc etc.

As someone in the group commented, "sounds like he's speaking from another dimension." This image stayed with the group for the rest of the trip.

I had my first taste of ceviche (raw fish pickled in onions - trout today) in one of the restaurants below - and very good it was too.

views from Aguas Calientes

I was on the 15:30 train back to Cusco, while the rest of the group were on the 15:55 train. Again I was lucky enough to have both seats to myself.

On the train we were treated to some entertainment by the staff. First off one of them came out dressed in a white mask and costume and danced his way back and forth along the carriage. I have no idea what character he was playing.) Then the other two staff donned various items that were for sale in a modeling show.

photos from the train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco

I waited back at Cusco station for their train which was more than 30 minutes late. While I was waiting the staff had locked the entrance doors to the outside world, to stop the hordes or taxi drives, hotel staff, and people generally selling stuff from mobbing the station itself.

Then it was back to familiar territory in the Hostel Corihuasi, where the temperature seemed to be more than ten degrees warmer than a few days ago.

Had a quick beer and sandwich and managed to score an internet cafe to catch up on all my e-mails.
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29th July 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 5, July 8th - Cusco to Puno

We took two taxis to the bus station at 07:00 for our 07:30 departure. Again, we had assigned seats for the 7 hour ride to Puno, which includes five stops on the way for sightseeing purposes.

Stop 1 - Andahuylillas
This town is best known for its vastly decorated Jesuit church and we had a tour inside, but as I'm strangely repulsed by churches in general, and the fact that it was at least twenty degrees colder than outside, I took a quick peek and decided to explore the real world outside. What little I did see of the inside of the church was garishly decorated with gold everywhere - poor church my ass!

Looking around the town square was much more interesting for me. There was one building with very details painting on the outside walls, most were faded except one of an old aircraft. It was here that I think I took my most iconic photo of the trip - a resting dog at the foot of an old door!

There was also strange algae type material hanging from all the telephone lines which had been shed from the surrounding trees.

views of Andahuylillas

Stop 2 - Temple of Wiracocha in Racchi
This structure once supported the largest known Inca roof, via 22 circular columns – most of these are now just foundations. This used to be one of the holiest of shines in the old Inca Empire.

The rest of the site is a huge village of round homes made of rock.

Temple of Wircocha plus Racchi Village

Stop 3 - Sicuani
Next stop Sicuani - how was the town? What was there to see? I hear you ask - I have no idea.

Our coach traversed some very bumpy dirt roads, performing a couple of three point turns to negotiate the narrow streets, and then reversed into a gated compound. This is where we were to have lunch.

A couple more coaches turned up and did the same and sometimes turfing out a coach that had been parked too long, so it could disgorge its tourists behind closed gates. Were we an embarrassment to the local population, or was it that the restaurant was too embarrassed to be serving so much food in such a poor area, who knows.

Anyway, the food was great. The business had even gone to the trouble to fly a few flags from selected nations, the funny thing was the American flag was upside down!

As there was not much to report here, I may as well make mention of Ali's newest acquisition. alpaca slippers. You see, the Inca Trail hike had taken a great toll on his feet, so these slippers would be more comfortable, and as it happens, a magnet for any horny dog that would happen by.

Stop 4 - La Raya
We next stopped at the top of La Raya Pass, the highest pass in Peru at 4,335 m (14,222 ft) and the border between the Puno Region and the Cusco Region.

Not a trick is missed here, with vendors and local people posing with lamas to extract money from the altitude sick tourists.

By the way I think the bloke in the last photo below is related to Ali!

views from La Raya Pass

Stop 5 - Pucara
This is a really sad town. It's very poor and dusty with really not a lot there.

We were taken to the Museo Litico Pucara which seems to specialise in just monoliths, and no photographs are allowed, and as they took everyone around in a big group, the small rooms got kind of cramped. So me, Ali and Dre snuck outside for a piss and to wait in the shade.

We also went out to the main square, where there wasn't a lot of anything happening apart from the customary selling of stuff to the tourists.

There are also a lot of the cattle statues made here that you see on the roofs of my of the houses, it's supposed to symbolize strength in the family.

views of Pucara

Then the drive to Puno via Juliaca.

Juliaca is a very busy town. Our guide told us that it is the centre of industry in Peru. Over in the distance there was a cement factory spewing out all manor of crap into the air. Apparently most of the concrete made is exported, it's a shame they couldn't keep some back and repair the pot-holed roads!

Juliaca is swarmed by trici-taxis, which are simply bikes made into tricycles with a double seat for the passengers, much like a rickshaw. There were literally hundreds of them swarming everywhere and there also bike repair shops everywhere as well.

This is where we really saw the driving habits of Peru come to a head. There would be an old truck slowly making his way down the narrow dirt street, then a car would overtake the truck, then our coach would overtake the car as he was overtaking the truck and all this would happen while another truck would be coming in the opposite direction, forcing him to brake or run off the road. At the same time, everyone would be leaning on their horns, as if that made any difference.

Anyone on a bike, including the tricycle taxis, would be expected to get out of the way of anything bearing down on them. This usually involves them steering off the bumpy, pot-holed dirt road, onto the side, which is a rougher and more pot-holed version of the so called road!

The funny thing was, with the seemingly mad driving, we didn't see a single accident or wrecked vehicle.

We finally arrived in Puno and we were picked up from the bus station by the minibus that would take us to the port the next morning.

The hotel was the plushest we had stayed in the whole trip - and they had very nice coca tea as well. Although it was the best hotel, that night I had the worst sleep of any night on this trip. I'm guessing it was a combination of my late night double espresso and the constant honking of horns into the night that helped.

For dinner that evening, I decided to be adventurous. I ordered a local dish called cuy. When it came out it looked like road-kill. The poor animal had been flattened and was still attached to its legs and head , claws, teeth and all. The skin reminded me of old KFC chicken skin, and the meat was fatty, stringy and chewy - I wouldn't recommend it, but it's traditional in quite a few South American countries, and the people who live in the more remote areas keep these animals to eat, much like cattle, but obviously on a smaller scale.

Oh sorry, I forgot to mention what cuy is.... guinea pig! (Maybe this was another reason I didn't sleep well.) The photo below links to a set that Matt took of me and my dinner, plus posing with my meal by the rest of the crew.
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5th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 6, July 9th - Puno, Lake Titicaca, Islas Flotantes and Isla Taquile

Late start today! It's an 8AM pickup by our minibus for the 10 minute trip to Puno's port. Shoved some much needed coca tea down my neck, left the bulk of my small amount of luggage with the hotel, and ready for the off.

Our guide would be a guy by the name of Julio, who was, I think around 22.

The port was bustling with people and boats and we found ours, blocked in by another two, and stepped aboard. We had chartered our own private boat, so there was plenty of room to stretch out.

Our boat pushed through the throng and out onto the open algae, yes, algae everywhere near the port this time of year due to the pollution, but after a mile or so we were on the normal waters of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, at 12,507' AMSL (3,812 m). It covers approximately 3,200 square miles and is around 120 miles long by 50 miles across at its widest point.

Our first stop was only 20 minutes away on the floating reed islands, or the Islas Flotantes, inhabited by the Uros people.

As we approached our boat had to pay a toll to enter, and this was done at full speed with the hand-off being perfect.

boat trip photos

The people originally started to live on these islands centuries ago to distance themselves from the Incas and Collas, who were becoming aggressive towards each other. The islands are made from the totora reed, with the base being made from the roots and they really do float. To stop them being moved by nature, they are anchored at various points to the lake floor.

We were told that each island lasts approximately 80 years before becoming too rotten to repair, when they will simply build a new one.

We arrived at our prearranged island to see how the villagers live. We were shown how they cook fish and other various ways of island life.

They can also eat the reeds, and of course we had to try this. You simply peel the outer part of the reed away like a banana skin, and eat the inside, and it really wasn't that bad.

It's here that you see the little guinea pig pens, where the villages keep them to eat at a later date!

We were then sent in pairs to individual homes to see inside, and to be dressed in traditional costume, before dancing with the village. Don't look for pictures of me dancing, someone had to take the photos!

photos of Islas Flotantes

Next we went on a short ride on one of many reed boats, in our case a twin headed catamaran, there were also trimarans that we spotted. We were rowed over to another island to take a quick peek there. A couple of the kids from the village came along for the ride too.

On the other island we were offered stuff to buy etc. This island also had a tower to climb up and get a feel for the whole area.

Then it was back to the boat for our couple of hours ride to our next port of call, the island of Taquile, or what was to become a running joke "the island of [huge pause] Taquile" - this was how Julio always said the name of the island.

boat trip to Taquile

We arrived at a remote part of the island, whereas most boats go to the other end nearer to the main square, as most tourists here are day trippers.

We were greeted at the small dock by the family that would be hosting us. A fairly steep walk led to the house, where there was room for six of us here and two of the group would be staying at another house up the hill.

Taquile (sorry the island of [pause] Taquile) is only 6 km long with a population of around 2000.

First up, we were shown the various crafts, like weaving and knitting, which the islanders perform to make a living. We were then shown typical food and how they prepare things like flour to bake bread.

The islander's income is also boosted by tourists like us that stay the night and they are given a good cut of the cost of our trip to host us, so there is no hostility there, unlike in the past.

Next up we were treated to a very nice lunch of king fish and rice.

We then took a 1.5 hour hike up to the main village square. We saw a lot of sheep, mostly with different coloured ribbons on their heads, so that the islanders know which sheep belong to whom.

For the entire hike one of the villagers that accompanied our group and our guide was knitting the whole way, up rocks, along dirt tracks, it didn't matter, he continued to knit.

The boys you see in the photographs were creating their own fun by flying home made parachutes made of plastic bags and stones.

After looking around the village square, we went to the edge of the island to see the sunset, where we also saw the main dock where most boats come in.

We then walked back to the house in the dark, luckily we stayed high the whole way, so it was either flat or downhill.

Dinner was potatoes and rice and then the family built a make shift bonfire, while they encouraged us to dance to the old man and his music, it was very windy and the bonfire did threaten to get out of control some times, but this didn't deter more kindling being thrown on!

Then it was off to bed under the weight of 4 heavy blankets.
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8th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 7, July 10th - Isla Taquile, Isla Amantani and Puno

I woke up pretty early and decided to take a wander to see the sunrise.

We had breakfast of pancakes and a type of fried bread with coca tea, yum!

Steve played with the youngest boy, first off using a stone and a piece of wood and then rolling the stone down the wood, the boy was enthralled.

The next game was using a piece of string the boy was dragging around. Tying it up to a plastic bag and what do you have? A kite!

Julio later told us that the adults here have little time to play with the kids as they are so busy working, so any playtime with the tourists is welcome.

An old man played his ukulele type instrument to us while we waited for the boat to turn up from another part of the island. The boat had been moved due to the winds that night.

photos from Taquilie

We then left at 8AM for the shortish trip to our next island, Isla Amantani, which doesn't have that many visitors.

The houses here are very different from the ones on Taquile. They seemed to be built with a more modern flair with colour, instead of the usual mud-like appearance.

We passed lines of adobe being dried in the sun. These are the bricks that they build their houses from. They are composed of water, sandy clay and an organic material like straw, shaped into bricks and left to dry out in the sun.

views of Isla Amantani

We hiked for around an hour and a half to reach the top of Pachatata (Father Earth) where there was a temple. It's closed for most of the year, and nobody is allowed to enter at this time. Julio told us that we had to walk around the outside walls of the temple to bring good luck, so guess what we did next!

There is another peak right next to Pachatata called Pachamama (Mother Earth).

Julio told us that we were now at the highest point on Lake Titicaca, I can't tell you the height, and I can't find it referenced anywhere, but I believe him.

Back downhill (yippee) for lunch in a family house. The doors here are very low, as the people are pretty small. We were all warned not to bump our heads, but of course Steve and I did on the way in and Vanessa did on the way out doh!

Lunch consisted of soup, dried potatoes of different varieties and squeaky cheese. The villagers dry their potatoes so they can last a few years in storage.

Then it was back to the boat and back to Puno.

I forget what I had for dinner that night, I must have been tired.

A quick word about the traditional Peruvian drink pisco sour - it's pretty good, but it's also pretty potent. It's made from a locally produced white grape bandy, with lemon or lime, egg white and sugar. We decided that they were like women's breasts. one is not enough, two are just right, but three are too many.

Then back to the posh hotel where I slept like a log.
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11th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 8, July 11th - Puno, Lima to Nazca

It was another early start for our flight back to Lima.

Back at Steve and Angie's house, we had a couple of hours to do some laundry and order some pizzas.

Then it was into the car, where 5 of us would be driving down to Nasca, which took about 5 hours all told.

We arrived a little late, and via the tourist information found a place to stay just out of all the tourist areas.

We rang the bell and a few minutes later the owner came out in dressing gown and slippers, he had obviously been in bed!

We couldn't park the car in his garage area, as the road was being dug up, so Angie and Vanessa went with him to another road where he started banging on various doors and garages. Eventually, he woke someone up, and the car was safely parked. I guess they all know each other and use each others spaces for secure parking.
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16th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 9, July 12th - Nazca area, Ica and Paracas

We booked a flight for the Nasca Lines at the hotel for later, and ventured out to do some other sightseeing.

First we headed out into the desert to visit the Cementerio de Chauchilla, but on the way we spotted a makeshift graveyard in the middle of the desert.

The Cementerio de Chauchilla (Cemetery of Chauchilla) are a series of tombs containing mummies dating back to between 1000-1300AD. Until quiet recently, these mummies were scattered across the desert after being ransacked by tomb raiders, but now they have organised things for the better.

Best comment of the day: "Hmmm, I feel like KFC."

On the way back through the desert, we came across a couple of very new and ornate gates that led to nowhere, how odd!

We popped into a little museum near the airfield called Museo Inka Wasi which was run by a real life Shaman. Inside there were trophy heads, a condor mummy and many other artifacts collected over time.

We then arrived at the local airfield to await our flight over the Nasca Lines.

We were shown a video, which I think I'd seen many many years ago in the UK, about the lines and the life of Maria Reiche who spent most of her life studying the lines.

Covering an area of the pampa of around 500 square km, the lines are still an archaeological mystery. They consist of over 800 dead straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant drawings, all are almost impossible to see from ground level, in fact only in recent history a main road was built intersecting a drawing of a lizard, which couldn't been seen from ground level.

There are many theories about the lines. The one that probably makes most sense is that they were made between 900BC and 600AD and were used as worship to ask the gods for water. Most of the straight lines point to mountain peaks or symbolic mountain peaks, where the water would flow from.

All the animals are created from only one continuous line and the theory is that the people would walk exactly in these lines as a symbolic gesture for the gods. Of course the more they walked these lines, the more distinct the lines would become.

The lines were created by removing the dark sun-baked stones from the surface and piling them up on either side of the line, exposing the lighter coloured gypsum below. One reason that the lines are still here after all this time is that it hasn't rained here in over 2000 years!

To give an idea of the scale of the animal drawings that you'll see in photos I'll quote some measurements: the condor has a wingspan of 130m (426ft), and the lizard (no photo) is 180m (590ft) long!

The weirdest thing is the so called astronaut or spaceman, which looks like an alien, it is carved in the rock at an angle and seems somehow out of place with the other lines.

We flew in a 6 seat Cessna 206, and the pilot did a great job of banking so we could take photos of each animal we saw.

photos of the lines and other views around Nazca

We then took a glimpse of the highest sand-dune in the world at 2078m (6817ft) high, Cerro Blanco.

There is one place that you can see some animal drawings on the pampa without flying, it's a tower that is near to where the lizard has been cut in two on the Panamericana. You can see some straight lines as well as the drawings of hands and tree. It's still hard to see these drawings from this tall tower, so you can forgive the builders of the road for not noticing the lizard.

We then drove north as far as Ica which is famous for its chocolate (of course I ate some). Dinner for me was sea bass, before we continued to drive to Paracas to stay the night in the Hostel Mirador, which reminded me of the old 50's style holiday camps.
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18th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 10, July 13th - Paracas, Islas Ballestas, Sand Dunes to Lima

Woke up to a dreary misty day for our trip to the Islas Ballestas or locally known as the guano islands. We were taken to the small port by a minibus where largish looking speedboats were rapidly arriving, loading up, and departing full of people wearing their orange life vests.

We ended up being one of the last boats to leave, ours looked a little older than the rest, and this attracted the attention of the authorities, who poured over the boat and the captain's paperwork looking for mistakes. Luckily they didn't and we were given permission to depart.

As we got to the edge of the harbour where speed was restricted, the captain had to radio for permission to leave, but the radios didn't really work very well. He shut down the engines so that he could hear the faint reply, and after a few failed attempts to radio his intentions, started up, and left for the islands. We never did hear any reply, I think he just got fed up and left!

On the way out we saw the three pronged Candelabra, a drawing that has been etched into a hill on the shore of the mainland, but no one knows why it was drawn or when. It may be linked to the Nazca Lines further south or may be much more modern.

The Islas Ballestas are colonised by millions of birds who over years have deposited bird-poo up to as much as 50 metres deep over some parts of the islands. During the mid 19th century this became Peru's major export to Europe and the USA as fertilizer.

Nowadays modern technology has taken over in the fertilizer industry, and the birds are left to their own devices. You can still see the structures on the islands used to haul the poop onto the ships below.

We saw sea lions, pelicans, penguins, cormorants, boobies and brightly coloured crabs. The weather was iffy and very dull.

On the way back we passed many of the brightly coloured old fishing boats and were lucky enough to catch a school of dolphins in the bay.

Apparently there were not as many birds as other times in the year and it's funny how so many people come each year to see a load of bird shit on a rock!

We then drove a couple of miles to the Paracas National Reserve (Reserva Nacional de Paracas). We went to the high cliffs, where the ground seemed to be very crumbly, especially if you went close to the edge!

Half the party were convinced that they had seen a condor - take a look at the photos and let me know if it is! Maybe it's a vulture?

photos from Paracas

We then went looking for a tour company that could sort us out a trip to the sand dunes for a ride in a beach buggy and to try some sand-boarding.

We donned ski goggles and were taken on a 10 minute ride along the road to reach the dunes. Both drivers just drove flat out over the crests of the dunes, sliding and skidding around every bend. The beach buggies were surprisingly stable, and there wasn't a time were it didn't feel safe.

We then tried sandboarding, with the bindings just being glued on Velcro straps to put your feet through. It was difficult to get the bindings really tight, and before we were launched, the guides "waxed" the boards by smearing squeezy packets of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter on the bases.

Angie went first, and decided to sit on the board, she was pushed by the guide and went down the steep slope at a great rate of knots without falling off. Vanessa and Matt followed suit leaving Dre and I to try standing up.

Dre tried first and fell off about every 20 feet. Next up I managed to get about a quarter of the way down before falling off and watching my board career all the way down to the bottom (stupid straps!)

We then had to walk all the way up again in the soft sand - you'd think we could have got a ride back up? Noooo!

Matt managed to ride standing up on a gentler slope, and I managed my second trip down in one go without falling off. Yay!

Then it was back to their base via the 10 minute drive on the highway.

We then ate lunch in the posh hotel and drove back to Lima.
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19th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 11, July 14th - Lima

Now a few relaxing days back in Lima - no travel - ahhhh...

We went for a trip down to the black market (Polvos Azules). You can buy anything here straight out of the factories, complete soccer kits for any team, and country, DVD;s that haven't been released, shoes, clothes... and the list goes on and on.

Now you would imagine that a black market would be a temporary market, with stalls etc outside. No, this is indoors and takes up two stories of a permanent building!

I got roped into playing football (soccer) in the local team that Steve plays in. Now, I haven't played for at least 15 years I would guess, so went in goal so I wouldn't get so knackered, yeah right!
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20th August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 12, July 15th - Lima

We went to the Indian market today (Mercado del Indios). Most stalls were selling very similar items, except one I found, that had some very original stuff. This was also the stall that had various spiders and butterflies mounted in glass frames.

Later we went to a superb restaurant that specialised in seafood and especially ceviche.
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21st August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 13, July 16th - Lima

By now everyone had gone back to the USA except me. Steve and Angie took me into downtown Lima. When we got there it was full of people celebrating some festival – all the men were dressed in gangster clothing complete with wooden machine guns.

I found out later that this festival is called La Virgen del Carmen, and is mainly celebrated in Cusco and Pucara. That would explain the Virgin Mary being carted around then... but not the gangsters! There were lots of brightly coloured and elaborate costumes on display. All the following photos were taken with Angie's point and shoot camera that I borrowed.

photos from Lima

On our way to find a bite to eat a young boy was hassling us to buy finger puppets. Instead Steve asked him if he was hungry, he was genuinely taken aback by this, but followed us for a sandwich and a drink.

We decided as we were being stupid tourists that we would take stupid tourist photos.

Later we went to a theatre called Teatro Canout in Miraflores. They did quick and funny sketches of normal life in Peru, using only improvised instruments and clay pots etc. Although I didn't understand a word, you didn't need to as it was acted out so well in a visual sense.

After this I was taken to a remote back street to sample some street food. On the way we encountered two police cars, and here I got a sense of how they are thought of by the public, while Angie's Peruvian friend was driving.

The first encounter involved a police car heading at us in the opposite direction down a narrow street. He stopped next to us and asked if we had seen a grey car. "No" she replied. He then asked us to pull over further down the road. Again "no" was the answer and we drove off. Afterwards she told us that it would be far too much hassle to stop, so she simply didn't!

Later on we jumped a red light turning right, and unluckily, a police car was on the opposite side of the junction. He put his lights and siren on and followed us.

Two blocks later, and still driving he started to shout through his external speakers on the car to pull over and stop. No response and we carried on driving. Two blocks later he shouted again and this time we pulled over.

After the policeman inspected all the paperwork he said that he would give her a ticket. After much debating, pouting, pleading and indignation, a bribe was decided upon and we paid and went on our way.

Afterwards we learned that you can bribe the police because they are paid so little. Also if you give up your licence, you have to retrieve it down the police station and that would take hours of waiting and a $200 US fine. We paid a bribe of $20 US, after the policeman explained he needed gas in his car and that there were two of them.

Anyway, on to the snack of the night - cows hearts on skewers (anticuchos) with a side of tripe. The cows hearts were good, but the tripe was... well... tripe. We looked for a bin to throw away the tripe leftovers, but they had all been taken away as everyone was packing up for the night, so we left them on the plastic table and as soon as we stepped away all the street kids pounced like vultures on the leftovers, well at least they would be full that night.
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22nd August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 14, July 17th - Lima

My last day, so went back to the black market and purchased seasons 3-5 of 24 on DVD - that's 18 disks for $20 US.

Rode on a combi for the first time, in fact it was the first time Steve had rode in one as well! These are just private minibuses that are on a set route and pick anyone up for 50c (Peruvian), basically very very cheap! Usually they are Toyota or Nissan 9 seaters and usually they are old and falling apart.

We visited the art museum across the road form the black market. (Museo de Arte de Lima)

photos from Lima
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23rd August 2006 - Peru Trip - Day 15, July 18th - Lima to Denver via Miami

A long arsed day back home: Miami sucks! It took more than 2 hours to get through immigration, security and customs - it seemed to be very disorganized.

There are no signs to tell you where to go if you need to change terminals and no idea who flies from which terminal. Oh, and it takes 25 minutes to walk from one to the other with no moving walkways, no bus, no train and no signs. Oh yeah, I mentioned this on day 1, well it's so bad I'll say it again!

Also American Airlines sucks. First my flight went u/s, AFTER we were boarded. Two hours sitting in the heat - nice!

They also keep the seat belt signs on for far too long. We must have been in the cruise for at least an hour, with no turbulence, I was gagging for a piss. Bastards

Anyway, enormous thanks must go to Angie and Steve for being such great hosts and organizing so much for us all, it was great!

When's the next one?
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