Sunday, October 25, 2015

Flying High in Peru


Map picture


The last two days have been a blur of activity, which have left both Lisa and I exhausted. We have also had some exciting adventures.

On Friday afternoon, October 23rd, the ship reached the port city of Callao. It is the gateway to Lima, and on my long ago visit, Callao was a small city quite distinct from Lima; not so today. Today the population of the Lima metropolitan area has grown to over 12 million people, and one can no longer tell when driving from Callao into the Lima.

Our afternoon tour was to visit the world famous Larco Herrera Museum, located in Lima. This private collection houses the largest and most complete repository of Pre-Columbian artifacts in the world. “Pre-Columbian” is a term used to designate native art which existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish to Peru. For one hour we were guided through the museum by one of the curators, and the exhibit was nothing short of awesome. It included pottery, and mummies, along with Incan gold and silver. This was a special treat, but alas, that was where the tour went sour. After the wonderful tour, the group was told that we had two hours to look at the gift shop, walk around the grounds, or have an included light snack in the restaurant. Basically we were to “kill time.” Here we were in one of the most historic cities in the world, and we were told to “cool it.” I was really disappointed we did not at least drive to the main plaza in Lima. And so enough of Callao, we’ll move on to yesterday, which was much more interesting.

Our ship anchored at the small town of Paracas. Even though Port Authorities had promised that we could anchor close to the marina, on the morning of our arrival, the Captain was forced to anchor over two miles off shore. This was to be a very long day with our being gone from the ship for almost 12 hours. In the morning, Lisa and I had arranged to sign up for an optional, and very exciting tour which flew us out to see the enigmatic and famous Nazca Lines. Then in the afternoon, we would join the rest of the ship driving inland to visit Tambo Colorado, a well-preserved 15th Century Incan Palace.

So first let me talk a little about the Nazca Lines. They were first discovered by an archaeologist around 1929. Located on a high arid desert plateau and until their discovery, they were literally in plain sight, but simply not recognized. To explain, let’s realize that the plateau is composed of a dry and quite hard white base over which is a thin layer of small stones. When the stones are removed, then the white dry desert is revealed. And so, the brilliant discovery in 1929, was that large areas of the desert had stones removed, but not in some random pattern, but in such a way that seen from above they painted patterns; patterns which produce what are termed geoglyphs. There are hundreds of figures in the 50 miles of the plateau, some depicting monkeys, sharks, llamas, and lizards. There are gigantic trapezoidal patterns, many of which look remarkably like dirt runways. I am told that from the ground, these “patterns” are not visible. They can only be seen from the sky. Since there are no high mountains nearby from which native people could have seen these figures, so how then did they produce such excellent and complicated designs, and for what purpose? I will tell you that if you strip away all the hype that has been written about this phenomenon, in truth, no one really knows who or how these lines were produced. The standard answer which is given to tourists is that they were made by the Nazca people between 200BC and 700AD, but there is not a shred of proof to back this up. There is also a theory that aliens were somehow involved, but again there is no proof simply another theory in a long line of theories. Ever since I first read of the Nazca Lines when I was in High School, I had always dreamed I might one day see them in person. Therefore my flight yesterday could be said to be a “bucket list” item.

We were awakened at 6am in preparation for our long day. First there was the long zodiac ride to shore, then the drive to the airport. To my surprise in order to fly anywhere inside Peru we needed our passports, and of course a full security check, for a 3 hour flight in a Cessna Caravan. I figured we would get some airplane banded together with duct tape, however, to my surprise, our aircraft was equipped with some of the most modern equipment available. After takeoff, we climbed to 9,500ft. We flew southeast along the edge of the Andes which towered to our left. After approximately 145 miles we started our descent, and I could see on the electronic maps being used by the captain that we were going to enter some type of restricted airspace, and from his traffic display, I counted 10 aircraft inside that area already. The aircraft had descended to 3,000ft. and stayed at that altitude the entire time we flew over the Nazca plains. The reason became quickly apparent because aircraft were visible both above and below us all doing the same tour, but at different altitudes; popular place!

Sadly, this is where the experience waned. We were only 1,200 feet above the ground so it was difficult to see an entire geoglyph since some of them covered large areas. When we arrived over a figure, our pilot banked 45 degrees into a tight turn to show us the figure, but seeing only parts of lines made it almost impossible to figure out what I was seeing. I’ll also mention that a turn that steep was required because we were so low to the ground, and it was quite scary for most passengers – in fact, some got sick. Adding to the discomfort, when the pilot had circled a few turns left, he immediately swung into a steep turn to the right, not a pleasant experience.

So all in all, I am really glad I finally got to see the famous lines, and fully enjoyed the experience, however, I am a little disappointed we flew so low and did not get a really good view.

Our original plan upon returning to the dock after the flight was to return to the ship for lunch, then join the afternoon tour. However, with the ship so far away and our tour running late, there simply was no time, and so we decided to stay at the pier and join the group when they came ashore. At the pier, there was a small terminal building, inside of which was setup a small café with tables. We picked a table – not hard because we were the only patrons, and proceeded to grab one of our guides to help with the translation of their menu. After deciding on lunch, we called a waitress over, and he helped explain our choices. That bombed because they did not have that item. OK, so we picked another, and another, and yet another, but always the answer was the same – we don’t have that! Finally in frustration, I put the useless menu down, and asked what they did have. Ham and cheese sandwiches, sodas and beer, came the response. Well, OK we’ll have that! As an afterthought, Lisa asked for some potato chips, which seemed to cause some problem, but she left to get our order. The pre-made sandwiches were located in an uncooled plastic display case, but hey, the beer and sodas were cold.

Now before we could get the food, Lisa had to go to the “Cashier,” a women sitting inside a glass enclosure with only a small opening in which to pass payment. Here the fun begins. The waitress cannot figure out how to write up our bill, and so someone else is called over. This continues until we had five women and a man who appeared to be the top dog trying to figure out the bill. Poor Lisa stood at that counter for almost 20 minutes before they completed the transaction. By the time we had finished eating, we noted that we never got the potato chips, but alas our waitress appears with Styrofoam container inside of which is a really nice order of fresh home-made fries, all hot and delicious. Turns out that was the best part of our lunch.

Our afternoon tour drove us for about an hour northeast along the Pan-American Highway to where we stopped at the Incan ruins known as Tambo Colorado. These impressive ruins have only been recently excavated and offered an excellent insight into just how impressive the skills were of the Incan builders in the late 15th century. A Tambo is essentially an administrative center for the Incas, as well as serving as a waypoint on the old Incan Highway. That impressive road structure stretched down the Pacific coast for over 3,000 miles, and Tambos were located along the road at selected intervals.

Tambo Colorado is in an excellent state of preservation, and it is even possible to view the last layers of paint that were used. Believe it or not, they city had water flowing through it which was used for their toilet and bath system. We managed to tour the main parts of the structure in about an hour, even reaching the highest levels open to tourists. I really enjoyed this, and I hope the pictures do it justice.

Tired but in good spirits we made the hour long journey back to the pier from which we could see that the ship had been allowed to move closer in our absence. I figured that would make for a faster return, but sea conditions had changed dramatically. When we had departed that morning, it may have been a long run, but the sea was so smooth it looked like a mirror and there was not a breath of wind. Now the waters had a meaner look, and we had strong winds. In the end, let’s just say it was a wild ride, and everyone was soaked to bare skin. Ah, the joys of adventure cruising.


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