A few photos taken at the ruins near Pisac, Peru in August 2010.
My first impression when hiking up from the parking area, along with scores of other tourists, to reach the overlook to see the Andean Condors fly about was….eh. It was early morning and and we had to wedge our bodies close to the edge to try to look down into the canyon to see an occasional speck or two fly by. I thought to myself, “This might be another one of those disappointing tourist traps”.
As time went by and the thermal currents warmed, the Condors’ flight paths grew higher and higher until a group of five amazing birds glided back and forth above our heads. It turned into one of the highlights of my trip to Peru and something that I am thrilled I had the fortune to experience.
For more photos of the Andean Condors and my trip to Colca Canyon in Peru, check out my Flickr photostream.
The view from our room/deck at El Albergue, an excellent hotel option in Ollantaytambo.
For more images of Ollantaytambo, check out my photo set on Flickr!
A major attraction in the “White City” of Arequipa, Peru is the Santa Catalina de Siena Monastery. Begun in 1580 and enlarged and rebuilt over time, the walled complex still is home to about 20 Catholic nuns who live in a secluded area of the compound. The remaining areas of brightly colored avenues, fountains, gardens and stark living quarters are open for the public to explore.
To learn more about the fascinating history of the monastery, it’s inhabitants, and the reason why Pope Pius IX sent a strict Dominican nun to straighten out the convent in 1871, visit the organization’s website.
Here are some more photos from my Flickr set on Santa Catalina.
David was out of commission. The motion sickness from our early morning plane tour of the Nazca lines still had him knocked out in bed. I had spent a few hours lounging by the hotel pool reading and relaxing, but now I had to take action. I had to make arrangements to get us out of this town and onto our final destination, Lima.
We had opted to not reserve seats ahead of time on any bus leaving Nazca since we didn’t know how long we would actually be in the town. The weather had been on our side though and we were able to do the airplane tour the morning of our arrival. We could leave the next morning, but I’d have to attempt to make the reservations on my own. I didn’t think it wouldn’t be that difficult.
A bit of an aside here… I do consider myself a good traveler; someone that enjoys experiencing other countries and cultures and respects the fact that I am a guest in a foreign land. I’m not a bossy, arrogant American tourist that thinks the world is a bit backward and would be a better place if they did things and spoke English like we do back home. My big flaw and regret though is that I am not fluent in any other languages.
I’ve tried, I really have. First in high school, taking the required two years of Spanish classes, and later in life with classes in French and Portuguese. Nothing has seemd to stick though. In high school I was even admitted into the Spanish National Honor Society, but I attribute that more to the fact that our instructor, Mr. Dominguez, a nice guy with a wispy moustache and a collection of flared, polyester sansabelt pants…it was 1979… had a serious crush on my older sister. Knowledge that she and I both used to our advantage to become inductees.
Sure, a few words and phrases have stuck here and there, but unless you want to know what color the ball is that the boy is holding, or that the cat is under the table, we aren’t going to get very far in our conversations. As I headed to the reception desk I wasn’t really that concerned since every front desk employee we had come across in Peru was willing to speak to us in English, especially after David began each interaction with them in his fairly fluent Spanish.
My, “Hola Señora, mi español no es bueno. I need to make a bus reservation. ¿Habla usted Inglés?” was met with a simple, “No.”
“Uh….uh,” I gulped. And at that moment I was immediately brought back to the first day of my sophomore year of high school; sitting in the front row of Dr. Frances’ Honors Spanish class. “Uh….uh,” I stammered, as she drilled me in rapid Spanish on why I presumed that I was prepared for her advanced class after studying with Señor Dominguez, her coworker? “Mr..uh..Señor Dominguez said…uh, no, dijo…I think…dijo que podia? …said I could, right?” She responded with a tsk and a scowl and moved on to her next victim.
After class I ran to my counselor and pleaded to have him switch me out of that class and into something I could handle…mixed chorus. (I couldn’t sing either, but at least there were 50 other voices to drown me out). The ex-navy man looked at me sideways, handed me the permission slip and sighed.
Now, thirty years later, the receptionist must have had pity for my terror stricken face and me. She smiled and motioned for me to follow her to the guest computer set up in the lobby. She sat down and started typing and for a moment I thought that maybe she did understand that I needed a bus ticket. After typing she pointed to the screen. I looked at it and thought, “Hallelujah for Google! I’m saved!”
For the next ten minutes we passed the keyboard back and forth between us as we used Google translate to communicate with each other. It wasn’t the option I’d most prefer, but until I finally buckle down and become fluent enough in a foreign language, it will more than likely be an option I will use again in the future. Hey, it worked and it was brilliant of her to think to use it. After just a few minutes David and I had our reservations for the morning bus to Lima. No more stammering required.
My final message to the resourceful receptionist?
When David and I were planning our summer vacations last year, I realized that the best time for me to take a two week break from my work schedule would be during the period in which he would be working his way through Peru on his two month South American journey. Machu Picchu was a given, of course we would to do that together, it was on both of our Must Do lists, but I was even more excited about getting the opportunity to finally see the Nazca lines. A site that wasn’t on David’s radar and initial plan, but something I had to see!
As a child of the 70’s I was swept away by the mystery of the lines carved into the rock and sand of the Peruvian desert. I remember watching, back then, the American documentary Chariots of the Gods, based on the book of the same name by Erich von Däniken. I was persuaded, as any daydreaming boy would be, by his thesis about the origins of the Nazca lines. Of course they were runways for space travelers, duh! It made perfect sense. Just like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming was the perfect landing pad for extra terrestrials, and Amelia Earhart and everyone else that went missing near the Bermuda Triangle was actually captured by UFOs. (Only to be returned to our planet years later when 5 notes were played by a giant synthesizer at that same Devil’s Tower, thanks to the scientists in Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
David was accommodating to my interest, he always is, and within a few minutes he figured out a schedule for our trip that would allow us to spend an entire day in Nazca. We’d have the opportunity to see the lines on either the day that we arrived or the morning before we had to depart for Lima. In return I would have to sacrifice seeing Lake Titicaca which David would do before I met up with him in Cusco. My two-week vacations never leave me enough time to see everything on my wish list. There’s never enough time to see everything, so I was willing to skip the lake for the mystery of the Nazca lines.
We didn’t make reservations for a tour of the lines before we left Chicago since we read that fog could be an issue and planned to wait until we got into town to see which day would be the best for our tour. We did however make reservations to stay at a decent hotel, the Casa Andina Classic – Nazca. We would be arriving in Nazca early in the morning after an overnight bus ride from Arequipa.
Here are a few things you should know about Nazca, the overnight bus from Arequipa and the lines in the desert:
After the long bus ride, we arrived very early in the morning. Groggy and a bit disoriented, we were met at the bus depot by that said guy with the topknot, Christian. He began walking us to our hotel since it was located a short distance up the street. He worked us well and talked us into a tour on a small 4-passenger plane that could take us at 8AM that morning. I really thought he was sent by the hotel to meet us, but it wasn’t until we were checked in and went back down to the lobby to finish our tour arrangements that we realized he had no affiliation with Casa Andina.
David and I looked at each other and said, what the hell, let’s just go for it. The morning was sunny, he told us he would get us on the first flight before there was a chance of fog rolling in, and his brochures looked professional enough. We agreed to the price of a tour on a 4-passenger plane and jumped into a cab with Christian and were off on an adventure.
After first stopping at the office of his tour company to fill out paperwork and watch a bad copy of an introduction to the Nazca lines video, we headed to the airport. It is a small facility with numerous tour operators and many tourists milling around trying to make arrangements for a flight. The outfit that we signed up with looked as good as any of the others and after a few minutes of final preparation, including haggling with the airport official to let us do the flight even though David didn’t have his passport with him, we were shuffled off to our plane.
It was a small plane operated by a pilot and co-pilot (probably both brothers of Christian). Two young girls from Sweden sat behind David and me. We all had headphones to listen to the co-pilot as he pointed out the different configurations and after a few minutes we were off the ground and flying over the desert.
There are thousands of lines cris -crossing the desert floor, with many of them going completely straight for hundreds of yards. Then, scattered throughout the straight lines are strange and sometimes comic stick figure drawings of animals and plants and bugs and people. It’s amazing to see them and to realize that they have been there for hundreds of years and that it is just about impossible to see them from ground level. In fact, it wasn’t until planes started to fly over the desert in the 1930’s that they were “discovered”.
In order for the passengers on both sides of the plane to get a good look at the drawings, the pilot kept banking the plane left and right as we passed them. The co-pilot would call out what we were seeing as we flew by. “Muhn-key, Muhn-key!” he yelled as we passed over a drawing of a monkey with and enormous tail that wound around and around in a giant spiral. “Colibrí…. the Hummin’bird,” he said pointing to one of the many bird drawings.
At this point, not yet ten minutes off the ground, the plane banking back and forth started to get me feeling a bit nauseous. I took a deep breath and stared out at the horizon, trying to fix my eyes on a stationary point. It’s the thing that I do naturally whenever I start to feel motion sickness coming on and it usually helps. After a bit of concentration I was able to over come the feeling and go on. David unfortunately didn’t have the same luck.
Suddenly after hearing the co-pilot yell out “Astro-knot…Asto-knot!” while pointing to a curious looking man with googley eyes staring up from a hillside, I heard a commotion and look over and saw David coughing into the motion sickness bag. Argh, poor guy, once it started with him, there was no stopping it. My focus turned away from the lines and I tried to comfort him as the dry heaves continued. As I rubbed what I hoped was a comforting hand on his back I turned around and saw that one of the two Swedes was also holding a bag up to her face. I looked at her partner, smiled and shrugged. Like I said, a lot of people get sick on this flight.
After a few more minutes of “Perro! Perro!… The Doggy!” we were flying level again and heading back for a landing. I think the entire flight lasted about a half hour…25 minutes longer than David would have liked. Once on the ground we tipped the pilot and co-pilot, and ran to look for Christian who was holding a taxi for us to take back to the hotel. “Just get me home,” David mumbled as we spotted the car.
The rest of the day was spent with him sleeping off the sickness in bed and me sitting by the hotel pool, sipping beer and thinking about the amazing thing I had just experienced. After thirty plus years I finally had the chance to see what I had daydreamed about as a young boy. Yes, the current understanding is that the lines were made by the Nazca civilization to mark the locations of underground aquifers, but to me they will always be landing strips for the gods.
A few disclaimers:
These images were taken on a recent trip to Peru. It was the first time I used the Hipstamtic app on my iPhone and I really liked the way some of the images turned out. I think I took more pictures with my phone than I did with my digital camera. Unfortunately when I downloaded the images to my computer I discovered that many of them were blurred. Not something I noticed on the small phone display.
If you are interested, check out the Hipstamatic website and take a look at some of their monthly contest entries: